Southwest: Pueblo Spiritualism
Continuing on with our trip around the Southwest now we will examine the largest group and the group that most people are familiar with: the Pueblos. Most specifically I will examine spiritualism among the Pueblos which falls into line with a lot of the Southeastern beliefs.
The Pueblos not unlike the Cherokees that we talked about a little while ago were firm believers in balancing the universe. The pueblos basic beliefs centered around the wakan. Wakan is power that is infused into everything on earth and this power can be either evil or good. Because of the fact that wakan can be either good or evil this brought up some issues about who was evil and who was good within the society. The main embodiment of this issue was the idea of the Kachina monsters that appeared in witchcraft and other rituals to chastise children (Rochete 2010).
These monsters and the notion of evil wakan was an explanation of why there was no always peace and harmony among the people, especially between communities. Most of the unrest between communities was attributed to witch and the story of how death came to be was explained by an evil act of Two Heart who was the first witch. As you might imagine the accusations of witches in the society became prevalent. It became almost a way to keep people from exhibiting egotistical behavior claiming that great success was a result of witchcraft (Rochete 2010).
Like I had mentioned the Pueblos believed in balance just as the Cherokee did but they had their own ideas of how to balance the universe. One if the ways they helped maintain this balance was the reciprocity between the living and the dead. The thought was that the ancestors did this to make sure that the present people were taken care of, so the present people had to do it to take care of those in the future (Rochete 2010).
Most of their ceremonies and rituals were held or at least started in a structure called a kiva. The idea of the kiva comes from the mythological origins of the Pueblos where in the. All humans and other life lived in a subterranean world beneath this one. The humans though became too numerous and were constantly fighting with each other so the harmony was broken in that world. To fix this, humans along with their plants and animals emerged from a hole that connected the subterranean world to the world above. This hole was called a sipapu which means “navel.” The place that they came out of was also said to be the place where they would journey to the underworld and also where the Kachinas would emerge during special ceremonies that they were needed for (Rochete 2010).
The kivas then were built to represent the sipapu. The kiva is built as a stone walled
Chamber is actually sunken into the ground to symbolize the microcosm of the universe. The latter that lead down into the kiva symbolize the path down into the underworld. There is also a stone lined hole in the center of the kiva to symbolize the sipapu (Rochete 2010).
The main way that they maintained the balance was though was through ceremonies and rituals which are common among nearly all North American Indians. Most of these rituals were to identify specific concerns such as water, fertility, health of plants and health of animals. The Pueblos had a very elaborate calendar of rituals and these rituals corresponded with the pueblo’s subsistence activities (Rochete 2010).
The most important aspects of these rituals are the use of objects and symbols as a kind of conduit between the humans and the supernatural. One prominent symbol was the use of clouds of tobacco to represent rain clouds in rituals for praying for rain. Another prominent symbol was of the snake that was mainly used in the Hopi Snake Dance Ceremony. This ceremony was performed in late August to coincide with the start of the planting period. The snake was a powerful symbol of lightning. To get the snakes some members of the society would go into the desert and capture the snakes. The snakes were then ritually washed and were placed on the shoulders of the dancers while they danced. The dancers would then carry the snakes in their mouths to the center of town and then released them (an artist's rendition above). Then the migration of the snakes back into the desert would then bring rain (Rochete 2010).
Just like the Cherokee the Pueblos also believed that sports and other physical activity was also a sacred part of their society. Races were very prevalent and important in the Pueblo’s society. The members of the community (the men) would race from far out corn fields into the village where they would be rewarded by the spirits. These races were supposed to symbolize hard work and even symbolized rain which was often thought to be just like a runner and vice versa (Rochete 2010).
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for October 14, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
Photo Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art http://www.nmartmuseum.org