As I wrote a few days ago, in anticipation of the demise of Open Salon, I installed a Firefox addin, DownThemAll, which promised to "batch download" most of my blog posts at the click of a mouse.
It did. And it also sucked all of them down from Open Salon permanently. I will be reposting them as they were that day, comments and all. What really hurts is that the stats they had--this one was up there pretty high on the "views" list--are now wiped out, too.
You may comment again, of course, 'way down at the bottom. But...the damage is done. I just want them all back up here for "history's sake. Enjoy!
I’ve been thinking about this since the final installment of my “Common Cold Chronicles” because I know that my “woo-woo” spiritual side may seem incongruous to a lot of folks who otherwise enjoy my little missives.
But my take on the “spiritual” realm is a bit different than most realize because of something I learned about “religion” while on the Hopi rez and in dealing with other indigenous cultures. And if you are devoutly religious…change the channel now. This isn’t for you. Just sayin’.
I’ve written before about the coming of age/initiation ceremonies on Hopi. It features a grueling underground kiva experience which ends with all the so-called “spirits” removing their masks to show the youngsters who have endured four days of fasting and really strenuous “spiritual” and physical activity that the “spirits” they grew up in awe and afraid of are actually only their male and female relations.
The message is: YOU are God. And God’s “work” is actually your work. Those kids have been scared shyteless of those spirits for most of their lives up ‘til then, believing they came down from the sky to teach and discipline. And it’s quite a shock to suddenly learn that all that teaching and discipline is on their shoulders from then on.
They do believe that there’s a “divine energy” in us all that comes from the sun, possibly their sole deity.
Hopi Sun Diety
But it’s given to us to use here on earth. There’s no “God” up there directing the play. And over time, they’ve developed a system of “myths” designed to give everyone a part in the play and to help guide them toward behaviors that maintain balance.
The word Hopi means, most notably among other things, both “peace” and “balance.” They believe that they are here to teach us humans how to maintain that. And an awful lot of the indigenous people of the world agree with that. Tribal elders and traditionalists elsewhere often tell me they believe that when Hopis fall those “end times” everyone keeps trying to predict will truly be upon us.
They’ve literally got the world on their shoulders, these Hopis. And they know it.
But as I watched and learned, I realized that when they seem to be worshiping or praying to a spirit or god, or are told, as I was, that they are “like” a god, they’re not worshipping or being “adopted” by anything. They’re almost using the spirit as a teaching tool.
So Hopi katsinas are like “sacred flash cards,” each with a specific…shall we say…archetypal personality and “lesson” one can learn from him/her. When a village asks a particular katsina to “dance” in the plaza, it’s a sign to the villagers that this particular katsina’s virtues are sorely needed, or a sign that this particular katsina’s “dis-ease” is spreading rapidly and needs to be quelled.
A Modern Hopi Social Dance
It’s all rather Jungian, I think, isn’t it?
Many West African religions are quite similar—in fact their spirits “dance” in plazas, too. So my Oya experience was a lesson in what I needed to do and be and what I needed NOT do or be. The goddess Oya has positive and negative attributes that her story teaches.
So when someone says “Oya wants you,” that’s both an honor and a chastisement. And though there are very specific physical “hints” that a spirit “wants” you that I did experience…I’m not “possessed” by that goddess. I am meant to remember both sides of the story…and behave accordingly.
A devotee of Oya dancing for joy
The big ceremonies held in the honor of those spirits can be pretty serious and elaborate. And in the African ones, there’s sometimes a lot of possession and whatnot—no denying it. People yearn to be possessed and especially while their less “blessed” friends and family are looking on. To get “tipsy” and be “ridden” by a spirit is a singular honor.
A Zangbeto ceremony in Benin
In some African American churches you see the sistahs all “getting happy” in the same way to this day. The stumbling, “fainting,” “holy dancing” and the speaking in tongues and such—it’s all the same. And the competition to do it louder and more elegantly—but energetically—than anyone else in the congregation is there, too.
Hopi katsina dancers would feel right at home with this African regalia
But in the end…it’s theater. The real priests and elders, etc., know that they are the spirits, and that by doing their acting jobs well, they keep the community balanced and free of conflict.
So…all the sturm und drang is pretty impressive. But in the end…it’s all up to…us. Prayer is a way of centering the self to get the job done. As are all of the various ceremonies. That’s the big “mystery” that a lot of people refuse to accept because they need to believe the spirits are real, but the initiated know and accept and act upon it.
So when I speak of the Universe or Spirit or Oya…I do know that they are all “me,” not some spirit in the sky. The stories and “toys” and “costumes” are part of the play. Fun to use…but there’s no “magic” in ‘em. Not the objects themselves.
We’re the magic. If we want to be…
Hard work, this divine intervention…