Thursday, July 31, 2014

"IN SEARCH OF AZTLÁN" (Luis Leal Interview, July 31, 1999)

Q: How did the word "Aztlán" come into existence?

A: The concept of Aztlán was originated by the poet Alurista in the year 1969 at the conference organized by Corky Gonzales in Denver. At that time, he read a paper called "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" and included a poem. In this "Plan Espiritual De Aztlán" Alurista says that Aztlán is the homeland of the Chicanos. And he associates this with the land, precisely. He [took] the concept from the Mexican Revolution Zapatista, [who said] that the land belongs to those who work it.
"Plan Espiritual De Aztlán" was published the following year in a periodical named, precisely, Aztlán, published in the Center for Chicano Studies at UCLA. The periodical took out the word “Espiritual” [from the title] which is very important, because Aztlán, as a concept, cannot be pinned down geographically, but spiritually. It unites all Chicanos. Before this concept of Aztlán existed, Chicanos were all divided. Tejanos, in Texas, Nuevo Mexicanos, in Arizona, Californianos. But there was no concept [that] united all of them, [but] since [the arrival of the term "Aztlán,"] we have this idea, that we are a people that have a homeland which is a spiritual concept.

Q: There’s a difference in the concept of Aztlán with respect to how it’s received in Mexico and how we perceive of it in the United States. Could you explain that difference?

A: The word Aztlán was not used in Mexico. When [historians] talk about the Aztecs, they say that the Aztecs came from a place called--not Aztlán--Azatlán, which means "the place of the herons" or "whiteness." However, there was a novel, in nineteenth century Mexico, called El Nuevo Aztlán, New Aztlán. This is fiction, the after the conquest, [when] a group of Aztecas decide to leave [their] city. They go into [a] river, and they come to place which is like a paradise. There they establish a new homeland, which is called Aztlán.

The word Aztlán, however, was mentioned by the historian Friar Diego Duran, whose work in 1581, called Historia De Las Indias, tells us that king Montezuma the first, or, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, wanted to know where they had come from. So he called all his advisers and told them to look for Aztlán. So these people transformed themselves into animals and went up north looking for Aztlán. Finally, they came to a place on an island. There they found their goddess, Coatlicue, and this place was a hill that has a curve at the top. According to Duran, you could become young again if you went up [the hill] and came down. The farther up you went, the younger you became when you came back. And now, uh, the, the (mumbles--Spanish?) all my songs why did you leave me? This so-called hechiceros went back and told Montezuma about what they had discovered. But’s that [is] all we know about the word in [Mexico].

However, among Chicanos, since 1969, the word is so common, especially in 1971. You have quite a number of works with the name "Aztlán." Alurista uses the word Aztlán. I, myself, have a book called Aztlán in Mexico. When you say "Aztlán," immediately, you think of the Chicano culture and not necessarily one region. I think that’s why the word--the concept, rather--is so important.

Q: Do you see any contradiction in Chicanos identifying themselves as coming from Aztlán, even though they are by law American citizens?

A: I don’t see any contradiction. We all live [on] the American continent, whether you are from Mexico or South America. But [even though] the word has been appropriated by those living in the United States, I don’t see any contradiction. Because having two cultures is worth twice as much as having only one culture. And that implies language. We must keep our language. Now, we are usually criticized for this, but other ethnic groups do the same thing, and they are not criticized. The Irish celebrate Saint Patrick's Day and dress up in their own costumes, and no one says anything. Germans [are celebrating] right now, here, in Santa Barbara. This week, the Greeks are celebrating their festivities, [dressing up] in their costumes, their dress, speak[ing] their own language. No one says anything. So why shouldn't [we] speak Spanish just like we speak English? Knowing two languages is worth much more than knowing only one. Thousands, millions of dollars are spent in the schools, in the universities, teaching Spanish to the students. I don’t see any contradiction. And I, myself, have always kept my Mexican culture [and] have adopted American culture. And I have lived [happily] within these two worlds.

Q: We're looking for the actual location of what once was Aztlán. If we were to find it, how important would that be for Chicanos and Mexicanos here, and what would the impact be for the United States?

A: I don’t believe the geographical place where Aztlán is important. We could say that there may even be several Aztláns, because the pilgrimage of the Aztecs from Aztlán to Tenochtitlán, which they founded in 1325, took hundreds of years. Sometimes they'd stay a hundred years in one place, then they went on to another place. So they may have started up north, like Roberto Rodriguez has shown on his map, the map that was used in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. On his map, there is a place called "The Home of the Aztecs." This might have been one of the homes of the Aztecs, and then they may have moved south, and established another one in Northern Mexico, in Nayarit. Most Mexican historians say Aztlán was on an island off the coast of Nayarit. I, myself have a film taken from this island, showing the city and especially the structure of the city, which is identical as Tenochtitlán. Some of the Aztecs came from that island and [founded] Tenochtitlán according to what their God had told them: an eagle on a cactus plant, eating a serpent, which is today, the symbol on the Mexican flag.
There [was] a historian who [said] that Aztlán was right here, in Santa Barbara, because there was an island here with the largest concentration of a indigenous people. And when the first expeditions came, the indigenous people that came with them called this island "Tenochtitlán," which means Aztlán, also. So [Aztlán] might be right here. But what does it matter? [It] doesn’t mean anything. I mean, it says that if you're in Texas, you also might be in Aztlán. So it is a spiritual concept that unites all Chicanos rather than a geographical location. 

Q: Given that Aztlán may be, as you say, a spiritual concept rather than a geographical one, is it still important to try to document the existence of Aztlán? And if so, how might that be important to Chicano activists?

A: It is very important to have documents. That is the aim [of all historians]. The more documents we have, the better.

Now, these documents help the activist because they have to prove that what they say is fact, that they are not just demagogues. [We always hear]: "Where are your documents? Can you prove it?" That's why I think this is very important. The more documents we have, the better it is to establish this history, especially the written history. Because the oral history is something else. The oral history is very important, but it is difficult to document, and that's what the Chicano scholars have been doing for the last thirty years. Thirty years ago you didn't have a single document written by a Chicano about our own history. It has been the work of the Chicano scholars that has recovered this history. [Our history] has been completely ignored [by the] majority [of] historians, because they consider it [not] worth studying. They say [we didn't] have any history, [we didn't] have any literature, [we didn't] have any arts. But the [Chicano] scholars, in the last thirty years, have documented these [things], and more documents are being discovered. That is why it is so important to have these maps, these texts, and so forth, in hand, to prove that we have had a history.

Q: As you said before, the concept of Aztlán was formed in the '60's, and once that happened, it unified Chicanos. In what ways has the concept of Aztlán motivated Chicanos in the struggle?

A: The concept of Aztlán has several meanings. One of them is finding our roots, especially [our] indigenous roots that have been forgotten. Now, once this concept was established and accepted, it has given Chicano scholars and activists and others a concept, a sense of a homeland. A sense that they are a people that have something in common, a common identity. They are not just [members of] regional groups. [This gave us] a unified vision. I've just now written a manuscript called La Posia Angelina that is going to document the history of [over two hundred Chicano] poets, in one city only, that up till now have been forgotten. And the same thing has been done by scholars in history and in folklore. So that's why it is so important to have an overall concept uniting all Chicanos, whether it is in the Southwest or elsewhere.

Q: In recent years, some people say to us "Why don’t you go back to Mexico?" Does the concept of Aztlán turn that argument around? Doesn’t it say we are where we came from?

A: [That idea of "go back where you came from"] was used before to all ethnic groups: Italians were told to go back to Italy; Germans go back to Germany. But in the case of the Chicano, you cannot say that. You can tell a Frenchman "go back to France" if you want to, but you cannot tell a Chicano "go back to Mexico" because he has never been in Mexico. He [and his ancestors] were born here. This is his home.

So how [the idea of Aztlán] helps, well, with the maps, it shows that [we] were here before 1848. [We] were here before Texas became independent. [We] were here before 1821. When Mexico became independent. And [we] were here even before the Spaniards came. The natives were here, in the Southwest, even before Columbus discovered America. So why should they go back to [what is] a foreign country to them? Of course, if you were born in Mexico, and they tell you "go back to Mexico," well, why don't they go back to where their ancestors came [from]? I think that would be the answer. Most Americans came from somewhere else

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thomas Jefferson, from Query 6 (on Productions Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal) in Notes on the State of Virginia (i.e. a direct response to Comte de Buffon's theory of a naturally degenerative biotic and cultural environment in the New World)

 Our quadrupeds have been mostly described by Linnaeus and
Mons. de Buffon. Of these the mammoth, or big buffalo, as
called by the Indians, must certainly have been the largest.
Their tradition is, that he was carnivorous, and still exists in
the Northern parts of America. A delegation of warriors
from the Delaware tribe having visited the Governor of Vir-
ginia, during the present revolution, on matters of business,
after these had been discussed and settled in council, the Go-
vernor asked them some questions relative to their country,
and, among others, what they knew or had heard of the ani-
mal whose bones were found at the Saltlicks, on the Ohio.

Their chief speaker immediately put himself into an attitude
of oratory, and with a pomp suited to what he conceived the
elevation of his subject, informed him that it was a tradition
handed down from their fathers: "That in ancient times a
herd of these tremendous animals came to the Big Bone Licks,
and began an universal destruction of the bear, deer, elks,
buffaloes, and other animals, which had been created for the
use of the Indians; that the Great Man above, looking down
and seeing this, was so enraged that he seized his lightning,
descended on the earth, seated himself on a neighboring
mountain, on a rock, of which his seat and the print of his
feet are still to be seen, and hurled his bolts among them till
the whole were slaughtered, except the big bull, who, present-
ing his forehead to the shafts, shook them off as they fell;
but missing one at length, it wounded him in the side; where-
on, springing round, he bounded over the Ohio, over the Wa-
bash, the Illinois, and finally over the great lakes, where he is
living at this day." It is well known that on the Ohio, and in
many parts of America further North, tusks, grinders, and
skeletons of unparalleled magnitude, are found in great num-
bers, some lying on the surface of the earth, and some a little
below it. A Mr. Stanley, taken prisoner by the Indians near
the mouth of the Tanissee, relates that, after being transfer-
red through several tribes, from one to another, he was at
length carried over the mountains West of the Missouri to a
river which runs westwardly; that these bones abounded there;
and that the natives described to him the animal to which they
belonged as still existing in the Northern parts of their coun-
try; from which description he judged it to be an elephant.
Bones of the same kind have been lately found some feet be-
low the surface of the earth, in salines opened on the North
Holston,.a branch of the Tanissee, about the latitude of 36J°
North. From the accounts published in Europe, I suppose it
to be decided that these are of the same kind with those found
in Siberia.* Instances are mentioned of like animal remains found in the more Southern climates of both hemispheres; * but they are either so loosely mentioned as to leave a doubt of the
fact, so inaccurately described as not to authorize the classing
them with the great Northern bones, or so rare as to found a
suspicion that they have been carried thither as curiosities
from more Northern regions. So that on the whole there
seem to be no certain vestiges of the existence of this animal
further South than the salines last mentioned- f It is remark-
able that the tusks and skeletons have been ascribed by the
naturalists of Europe to the elephant, while the grinders have
been given to the hippopotamus, or river horse. J Yet it is
acknowledged that the tusks and skeletons are much larger
than those of the elephant, and the grinders many times
greater than those of the hippopotamus, and essentially dif-
ferent in form. Wherever these grinders are found, there also
we find the tusks and skeleton; but no skeleton of the hippo-
potamus nor grinders of the elephant. It will not be said that
the hippopotamus and elephant came always to the same spot,
the former to deposit his grinders, and the latter his tusks and
skeleton. For what became of the parts not deposited there?
We must agree then that these remains belong to each other,
that they are of one and the same animal, that this was
not a hippopotamus, because the hippopotamus had no tusks
nor such a frame, and because the grinders differ in their size
as well as in the number and form of their points. That it
was not an elephant, I think ascertained by proofs equally
decisive. I will not avail myself of the authority of the cele-
brated anatomist, who, from an examination of the form and
structure of the tusks, has declared they were essentially
different from those of the elephant, because another anato-
mist, equally celebrated, has declared, on a like examination,
that they are precisely the same.

* Clavigero says: "Non mi sovviene che appo qualche nazione Americana vi sia
memoria o degli elafanti, o dogl ippopotami, o d' altri quadruped! di si fatta gran-
dezza. Non so che fin ora, fra tanti scavamenti fatta nella Nuova Spagna, siasi mai
ucoperto un caroamo d' Ippopotamo, e quel ch' e piu, ne anche un dente d' elefante.—

* 2. Epoques, 276, in Mexico; but, 1. Epoques, 250, denies the fact as to S. America.
t22. Buffon, 233; 2. Epoques, 230.
J 2. Epoques, 232. Buffon pron 

Walter Mignolo, "The Myth of Global Citizenship," a section from an essay titled "Citizenship, Knowledge, and the Limits of Humanity"

The Myth of Global Citizenship

Those of you who have the tendency to trace the history to its initial moment and to the origin of human time would find out that people have always moved across lands and seas and across continents. However, people moving around the globe before the sixteenth century did not have a "global view" of the globe as we have today, thanks to the world map drawn by Gerardus Mercator and Abrahm Ortelius.5 Furthermore, there are no traces in the long and hazy past of wandering human beings (and wandering living organisms); that they had to show passports at the frontiers; or that there were clear delineated frontiers. Frontiers that demand passports do not have the same long history of getting lost in the hazy times of the human species. Citizens, foreigners, and passports are part of a short history of the same package that constructed an imperial idea of the "human" and traced the frontiers with "the less humans" and the "non-humans." The paradigm of the "human" defined by Christian men of letters during the Renaissance became the paradigm of the "citizen" defined by secular philosophers during the European enlightenment. "Citizens" is the frame that allowed for the definition of the "foreigner," which was the translation, in secular terms, of Christianity's "Pagans" and "Gentiles." Members of the community of faith did not need passports or the administrative identity that was required of citizens (name, birthday, town of residence, and—as technology and urbanization developed—street name and number, driver's license, and telephone number). 
If one is stubborn and persists in finding antecedents of citizens as social entities or citizens as a concept, as the origin of humanity proves to be difficult, one could take a short cut back to Roman history and to the ideas of civitas and most likely develop from there an argument showing how the idea of the city and its dwellers, the citizens, evolved. And, most likely, a large percentage of historians looking at the history of humanity from that "uni-versal" point of origin would jump from Roman civitas and the birth of citizenship to post-French Revolution, and find that the citizens are fully grown up and ready to go. The Kantian cosmopolitan citizen was ready to march all over the world—starting from France, England, and Germany (Kant's paradigmatic example of civitas, reason, and sensibility) and to move at his will (because the idea of the citizen was modeled first at the image of Man), through the globe.6
But let me try another route, neither that of the hazy past of humanity nor that of the partial and provincial Roman origins. Miguel León-Portilla, a well-known scholar of Anahuac (Eurocentered scholarship refers to it as pre-Columbian Mexico) and the transformations of Aztec civilization during the Spanish colonial period, explored the meaning of the word Toltecáyotl and defined it as the consciousness of a cultural heritage.7 He pointed out that in ancient Náhuatl (the equivalent of ancient Greece), the word tlapializtli means "the action of preserving something" (León-Portilla 17). It is not something in general that is being preserved, but "what belongs to us" (17). Tlapializtli is connected in Nahuatl vocabulary with yuhcatiliztli which, according to León-Portilla, literally means "the action that drives us to live in a given way" (18). This is, understandably, the basic knowledge human beings have for building communities. Hegel and then Heidegger, for instance, used the term dwelling to name a similar kind of experience. We can say now that dwelling means a certain way of living in the experience of European history, whereas yuhcatiliztli means a certain way of living in the experience of the communities of Anahuac.8 More recently, Afro-Caribbean intellectuals have brought to light the sense of dwelling for African communities that descend from the experience of the massive slave trade by imperial Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An equivalent to Hegel's and Heidegger's dwelling is, at the same time, just the opposite in the hierarchy of the human in the modern colonial world. Thus, what is universal is the human drive to build communities grounded on memories and experiences that constitute the house, the dwelling place of different people, and not the way that that experience was defined on the bases of European imperial histories and memories (by which I mean, since the Renaissance, because before then the very idea of "European history" is problematic). Let's go back to León-Portilla. A third concept is toltecáyotl or toltequidad (equivalent to anglicidad or hispanidad; i.e., the word that names the identity of a given community; that defines a sense of belonging and a logic of exclusion). Now, toltécatl has been derived from the word Tollan, a word describing the place where the Toltecas (a community from where the Aztecs emerged) lived; tollan, in Nahuatl, could be translated as "city" in the Latin tradition. Thus, toltécatl came to refer to a certain type of dwellers in Tollan that, in translation again, would be the people of wisdom, artists—briefly, the elite of Tollan. Consequently, toltécayotl was the expression describing a certain style of life of all those who lived in a Tollan, i.e., in a city. León-Portilla makes the educated guess that toltecáyotl describes a certain set of habits that, in the west, were described as civilization. Now, if Tollan is equivalent to city and toltecáyotl to civilization, then all the inhabitants of a Tollan who follow the rules of toltecáyotl are citizens (from civitas, in the west, from where "citizens" and "civilization" were derived). But alas, for Christians, Tollan was a place inhabited by barbarians and pagans; and when the very idea of citizen emerged in the west (in the eighteenth century), the memories of Tollan had been already significantly (if not totally) erased from the memory of Mexican indigenous memory. And, of course, there was no particular interest on the part of Western scholars to investigate a history that could jeopardize their own roles and disciplinary ground. It is not by chance that a Mexican scholar, León-Portilla, revamped a history buried under the noise of five centuries of imperial–colonial "histories": that is, not a history of Europe grounded in Greece, but histories Europeans wrote about a past that did not belong to them; a past to which they did not belong; a past that did not belong to the knowledge, memories, and being of the historian telling the story.
The logical conclusion is that looking for an ontology of a Western and post-Enlightenment concept of the citizen won't do. It would be more advantageous to look for the conditions that, today, make the idea of global citizenship a myth and an illusion, an illusion of the modern or postmodern idea of globalization that even a Marxist like Masao Miyoshi described with certain enthusiasm in the early 1990s as a borderless world. Today, global citizens have to cross colonial and imperial differences; and those two frontiers, apparently invisible and most of the time unconscious, are very much ingrained (like a blue chip) in the brain of gatekeepers in the frontiers of southern and eastern Europe, in the consulate and embassies of western European countries and the US around the world, and in the US south, as well as in the so-called civil society. If you have a Brazilian passport in Japan and you are not an employee of the Brazilian Embassy in that country or a CEO of a Brazilian branch of transnational corporations, your citizenship status is far from flexible. It would be closer to black citizenship in the south of the US before the civil rights movement. All is relative, as the dictum goes, and global citizenship only applies to a very small percentage of the world population, those belonging to the political and economic elite. The rest, the civil and political society in France and Germany as in Bolivia or Tanzania, Russia, and Uzbekistan, are subjected to the rules of the imperial and colonial differences.
Before describing the noninstitutional frontiers created by the imperial and colonial differences, let me make a disclaimer. I am not assuming that global citizenship shall be defined by the desire of the entire population of the world to be citizens of the European Union or of the US. Neither the western European population nor the US population are knocking the doors of 190 or so countries to move over there. Beyond that double directionality, global migrations (to which the very idea of global and flexible citizenship is wedded) are going on everywhere. However, whatever particular case you look at, you will see that the rules of the colonial and imperial differences are at work. What is important for my argument is the directionality of migrations for which the very idea of citizenship is today at stake. It is obvious that there are more Nigerians, Bolivians, Indians, Ukrainians, or Caribbeans who want to migrate to Europe or the US than people in the US desiring to migrate to any of those places. We do not know of any stories of Anglo Americans dying in the Arizona desert when marching to cross the Mexican border.9 Similar examples could be found outside the US and Europe. For example, there are more Bolivians crossing the border and migrating to Argentina and Chile than there are Chileans migrating in mass to Bolivia. Argentineans and Chileans who move to Bolivia are not people but capital. And, as we know, global capital is much more flexible than global citizenship. The directionality is parallel to the US and Latin America or Europe and North Africa: people move from the south to the north and capital moves from the north to the south. In the case of Chile and Argentina, the geographical parameters do not apply, because capital moves to the north and people to the south—the racialization of the Bolivian population and colonial difference are equally at work.10
Well, you may say, that is natural: people move to find better living conditions and, right now, better living conditions are in the US and Argentina and not in Nigeria or Bolivia. And better living conditions mean more money. Fair enough. However, better living conditions are also a myth and an illusion for immigrants from a lesser country in the global distribution of wealth, who largely would have difficulties enjoying the privileges of the nationals of the better country. I would ask, then, what are the relationships  among capitalism (in its current, global form), citizenship, and racism? Why does capital move freely while people do not? I say people and not citizen because not every person is a citizen—and that space (the space between the person and the citizen) is divided by racism, upon which the colonial and imperial differences have been built in the social and political imaginary of the modern colonial world. You are not stopped at the gates (of frontiers or embassies) because you are poor, but because of your religion, your language, your nationality, your skin: whatever is taken as indicator of the colonial and imperial differences. Being poor and white is not the same as being poor and of color. In a country like Bolivia, the connection between race and poverty is more evident than in the US where, today, poverty is reaching a vast sector of the white population. Racism is the condition under which the agents of the state and of capital decide who shall be poor, because in the capitalistic economic system, poverty cannot be avoided: it is ingrained in the very structure of the system.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I abhor the term Native American. It is a generic government term used to describe all the indigenous prisoners of the United States. These are the American Samoans, the Micronesians, the Aleutes, the original Hawaiians and the erroneously termed Eskimos, who are actually Upiks and Inupiats. And, of course, the American Indian.
I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins. The word Indian is an English bastardization of two Spanish words, En Dio, which correctly translated means in with God. As an added distinction the American Indian is the only ethnic group in the United States with the American before our ethnicity.

At an international conference of Indians from the Americas held in Geneva, Switzerland at the United Nations in 1977 we unanimously decided we would go under the term American Indian. We were enslaved as American Indians, we were colonized as American Indians and we will gain our freedom as American Indians and then we will call ourselves any damn thing we choose.

Finally, I will not allow a government, any government, to define who I am. Besides anyone born in the Western hemisphere is a Native American.

C. Hart Merriam, from The Dawn of the World: Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan [Miwok] Indians of California (1910)


As told at Wal'-le and Hā'-cha-nah
He-le'-jah the Cougar or Mountain Lion-man
Oo-soo'-ma-te the Grizzly Bear-woman, wife of He-le'-jah
Paht'-ki-yu the Raccoon-woman, another wife of He-le'-jah
Pe-tā'-le the Little Lizard-man, who gave the people five fingers


HE-LE'-JAH the Cougar or Mountain Lion had two wives, Oo-soo'-ma-te the Grizzly Bear-woman and Paht'-ki-yu the Raccoon-woman. Their children looked a little like people but still were not people. Every year there were more children, and as they grew up and had children of their own, the children came to look more and more like people, only they had no fingers.
Then Pe-tā'-le the Lizard gave them five fingers and they became real people (Me'wuk).

* * * * *


The Northern Mewuk say:
Bears are like people. They stand up, they have hands, and when the hide is off, their bodies look like the bodies of people. Bears know a great deal. They understand the Mewuk language, and their hearing is so sharp that they hear a person a long way off and know what he says.
Bears, like people, like to dance. Once an old Indian saw some bears dance in the forest. He saw Oo-soo'-ma-te the old she Grizzly Bear and a lot of little bears. The old she Bear leaned up against a young pine tree with her left hip and bent it down, and sang moo'-oo, moo'-oo. The little bears caught hold of the bent-over tree, hanging on with their hands over their heads, while they danced with their hind feet on the ground.

* * * * *

THE mythology of the Indians of California goes back much farther than our mythology: it goes back to the time of the FIRST PEOPLE--curious beings who inhabited the country for a long period before man was created.
The myths of the Mewan tribes abound in magic, and many of them suggest a moral. They tell of the doings of the FIRST PEOPLE--of their search for fire; of their hunting exploits; of their adventures, including battles with giants and miraculous escapes from death; of their personal attributes, including selfishness and jealousy and their consequences; of the creation of Indian people by a divinity called Coyote-man; and finally of the transformation of the FIRST PEOPLE into animals and other objects of nature.
Some explain the origin of thunder, lightning, the rainbow, and other natural phenomena; some tell of a flood, when only the tops of the highest mountains broke the waves; others of a cheerless period of cold and darkness before the acquisition of the coveted heat and light-giving substance, which finally was stolen and brought home to the people.


The more important features of Mewan Mythology may be summarized as follows:
The existence of a FIRST PEOPLE, beings who differed materially from the present Indians, and who, immediately before the present Indians were created, were transformed into animals, trees, rocks, and in some cases into stars and other celestial bodies or forces--for even Sah'-win-ne the Hail, and Nuk'-kah the Rain were FIRST PEOPLE.
The preëxistence of Coyote-man, the Creator, a divinity of unknown origin and fabulous 'magic,' whose influence was always for good. 1
The existence (in some cases preëxistence) of other divinities, notably Wek'-wek the Falcon, grandson and companion of Coyote-man, Mol'-luk the Condor, father of Wek'-wek, and Pe-tā'-le the Lizard, who, according to several tribes, assisted Coyote-man in the creation of Indian people.
The possession of supernatural powers or magic by Coyote-man, Wek'-wek, and others of the early divinities, enabling them to perform miracles.
The prevalence of universal darkness, which in the beginning overspread the world and continued for a very long period.
The existence at a great distance of a primordial heat and light giving substance indifferently called fire, sun, or morning--for in the early myths these were considered identical or at least interconvertible. 2
The presence of a keeper or guardian of the fire, it being
foreseen by its first possessors that because of its priceless value efforts would be made to steal it.
The theft of fire, which in all cases was stolen from people or divinities living at a great distance.
The preservation of the stolen fire by implanting it in the oo'-noo or buckeye tree, where it was and still is, accessible to all.
The power of certain personages or divinities--as Ke'-lok the North Giant, Sah'-te the Weasel-man, and O-wah'-to the Big-headed Lizard--to use fire as a weapon by sending it to pursue and overwhelm their enemies.
The conception of the sky as a dome-shaped canopy resting on the earth and perforated, on the sides corresponding to the cardinal points, with four holes which are continually opening and closing. A fifth hole, in the center of the sky, directly overhead, is spoken of by some tribes.
The existence, at or near the north hole in the sky, of Thunder Mountain, a place of excessive cold.
The presence of people on top of or beyond the sky.
The presence of people on the underside of the earth. (This belief may not be held by all the tribes.)
The existence of Rock Giants, who dwelt in caves and carried off and devoured people.
The tendency of the dead to rise and return to life on the third or fourth day after death.
The prevention of the rising of the dead and their return to life by Meadowlark-man, who would not permit immortality.
The creation of real people, the ancestors of the present Indians, by the transformation of feathers, sticks, or clay. 3 Of these beliefs, origin from feathers is the most distinctive
and widespread, reaching from Fresno Creek north to Clear Lake. 4
The completion and perfection of newly created man by the gift of five fingers from Pe-tā'-le the Lizard-man, who, having five himself, understood their value.


In addition to the more fundamental elements of Mewan Mythology there are numerous beliefs which, while equally widespread, vary with the tribe and are of less importance. Among these are the tales of the elderberry tree--the source of music and other beneficent gifts to the people. In the beginning of the world the elderberry tree, as it swayed to and fro in the breeze, made sweet music for the Star-maidens and kept them from falling asleep; its wood served Tol'-le-loo for a flute when he put the Valley People to sleep so that he might steal the fire; and today it serves for flutes and clapper-sticks in nearly all the tribes and plays a vital part in their ceremonial observances.
Other widespread beliefs are that the great hunters of the FIRST PEOPLE were the Raven, Cougar, and Gray Fox; that Mermaids or Water-women, who sometimes harm people, dwell in the ocean
and in certain rivers; that the echo is the Lizard-man talking back; that certain divinities have the magic power of accomplishing their desires by wishing; and that the red parts of birds--as the chin of the Humming-bird, the underside of the wings and tail of the western Flicker, the breast of the Robin, and the red head of the Mountain Tanager and certain others, indicate that these parts have been in contact with the fire.

Sacred Songs Nos. 16 and 9 of Daniel Brinton's Rig Veda Americanus, the 7th volume of his LIBRARY OF ABORIGINAL AMERICAN LITERATURE

XVI. Hymn to the Goddess of Food.

XVI. Chicomecoatl icuic.

1. Chicomollotzin xayameua, ximiçotica aca tona titech icnocauazqui tiyauia mochan tlallocan nouia.
2. Xayameua ximiçotica aca tonan titech icnocauazqui tiyauian mochan tlallocan nouiya.
Var. 1. Xaia mehoa.


1. Q. n., yn ti chicomolotl, id est, in ti centli ximeua, xiça, xixoa, ca otimouicaya in mochan tlallocan.
2. Q. n., xayameua, id est, ximeua, xixua, xiça, ca otimouicaya in mochantzinco in tlallocan ca yuhquin ti tonatzon.

Hymn to Chicomecoatl.

1. O noble Chicomolotl, arise, awake, leave us not unprotected on the way, conduct us to the home of Tlaloc.
2. Arise, awake, leave us not unprotected on the way, conduct us to the home of Tlaloc.


The goddess Chicomecoatl, "seven guests," was the deity who presided over food and drink. Hence in the first verse she is referred to as Chicomolotl, "seven ears of corn," and is spoken of as a guide to Tlalocan, or the home of abundance. Father Duran, who gives a long chapter on this goddess (Historia, cap. 92), translates her name "serpent of seven heads," and adds that she was also called Chalciucihuatl, "Lady of the Emerald," and Xilonen, "goddess of the tender ears of maize." Every kind of seed and vegetable which served for food was under her guardianship, and hence her festival, held about the middle of September, was particularly solemn. Her statue represented her as a girl of about twelve years old.

IX. Hymn to the Goddess of Artists

IX. Xochiquetzal icuic.

1. Atlayauican ni xochiquetzalli tlacya niuitza ya motencaliuan tamoanchan oay.
2. Ye quitichocaya tlamacazecatla piltzintecutlo quiyatemoaya ye xochinquetzalla xoyauia ay topa niaz, oay.
Var. 2. Icotochiquetzalla.


1. Q. n., ompa niuitz ynixochiquetzal tamoanchan.
2. Q. n., choca piltzintecutli quitemoa in xochiquetzal xoyauia no umpa niaz.

Hymn to Xochiquetzal.

1. I, Xochiquetzal, go forth willingly to the dancing place by the water, going forth to the houses in Tamoanchan.
2. Ye noble youths, ye priests who wept, seeking Xochiquetzal, go forth there where I am going.


Xochiquetzal, "plumage of flowers," was the deity of the artists, the painters, weavers, engravers on metal, silver and goldsmiths, and of all who dealt in fine colors. Her figure was that of a young woman with gay garments and jewelry (Duran, Historia, cap. 94). In the Codex Telleriano-Remensis she is assigned as synonyms Ichpochtli, the Virgin, and Itzpapalotl, literally "the obsidian butterfly," but which was probably applied to a peculiar ornament of her idol. On Tamoanchan see notes to Hymn IV: Tamoanchan. This word Sahagun translates "we seek homes," while the Codex Telleriano-Remensis gives the more intelligible rendering "there is their home whither they descend," and adds that it is synonymous with Xochitlycacan, "the place where the flowers are lifted." It was the mystical Paradise of the Aztecs, the Home of the Gods, and the happy realm of departed souls. The Codex just quoted adds that the gods were born there, which explains the introduction of the word into this hymn.
The term atlayauican, which I have translated "the dancing place by the water," appears to refer to the "jar dance," baile de las jicaras, which took place at the festival of the goddess, in the month of October. Duran informs us this was executed at a spot by the shore of the lake. Ceremonial bathing was carried on at the same festival, and these baths were considered to cleanse from sin, as well as from physical pollution.

Zitkala-Ša (aka Gertrude Bonnin), "Why I Am a Pagan" (1902)

When the spirit swells my breast I love to roam leisurely among the green hills; or sometimes, sitting on the brink of the murmuring Missouri, I marvel at the great blue overhead. With half closed eyes I watch the huge cloud shadows in their noiseless play upon the high bluffs opposite me, while into my ear ripple the sweet, soft cadences of the river's song. Folded hands lie in my lap, for the time forgot. My heart and I lie small upon the earth like a grain of throbbing sand. Drifting clouds and tinkling waters, together with the warmth of a genial summer day, bespeak with eloquence the loving Mystery round about us. During the idle while I sat upon the sunny river brink, I grew somewhat, though my response be not so clearly manifest as in the green grass fringing the edge of the high bluff back of me.
At length retracing the uncertain footpath scaling the precipitous embankment, I seek the level lands where grow the wild prairie flowers. And they, the lovely little folk, soothe my soul with their perfumed breath.
Their quaint round faces of varied hue convince the heart which leaps with glad surprise that they, too, are living symbols of omnipotent thought. With a child's eager eye I drink in the myriad star shapes wrought in luxuriant color upon the green. Beautiful is the spiritual essence they embody.
I leave them nodding in the breeze, but take along with me their impress upon my heart. I pause to rest me upon a rock embedded on the side of a foothill facing the low river bottom. Here the Stone-Boy, of whom the American aborigine tells, frolics about, shooting his baby arrows and shouting aloud with glee at the tiny shafts of lightning that flash from the flying arrow-beaks. What an ideal warrior he became, baffling the siege of the pests of all the land till he triumphed over their united attack. And here he lay,--Inyan our great-great-grandfather, older than the hill he rested on, older than the race of men who love to tell of his wonderful career.
Interwoven with the thread of this Indian legend of the rock, I fain would trace a subtle knowledge of the native folk which enabled them to recognize a kinship to any and all parts of this vast universe. By the leading of an ancient trail I move toward the Indian village.
With the strong, happy sense that both great and small are so surely enfolded in His magnitude that, without a miss, each has his allotted individual ground of opportunities, I am buoyant with good nature.
Yellow Breast, swaying upon the slender stem of a wild sunflower, warbles a sweet assurance of this as I pass near by. Breaking off the clear crystal song, he turns his wee head from side to side eyeing me wisely as slowly I plod with moccasined feet. Then again he yields himself to his song of joy. Flit, flit hither and yon, he fills the summer sky with his swift, sweet melody. And truly does it seem his vigorous freedom lies more in his little spirit than in his wing.
With these thoughts I reach the log cabin whither I am strongly drawn by the tie of a child to an aged mother. Out bounds my four-footed friend to meet me, frisking about my path with unmistakable delight. Chän is a black shaggy dog, "a thorough bred little mongrel" of whom I am very fond. Chän seems to understand many words in Sioux, and will go to her mat even when I whisper the word, though generally I think she is guided by the tone of the voice. Often she tries to imitate the sliding inflection and long drawn out voice to the amusement of our guests, but her articulation is quite beyond my ear. In both my hands I hold her shaggy head and gaze into her large brown eyes. At once the dilated pupils contract into tiny black dots, as if the roguish spirit within would evade my questioning.
Finally resuming the chair at my desk I feel in keen sympathy with my fellow creatures, for I seem to see clearly again that all are akin.
The racial lines, which once were bitterly real, now serve nothing more than marking out a living mosaic of human beings. And even here men of the same color are like the ivory keys of one instrument where each resembles all the rest, yet varies from them in pitch and quality of voice. And those creatures who are for a time mere echoes of another's note are not unlike the fable of the thin sick man whose distorted shadow, dressed like a real creature, came to the old master to make him follow as a shadow. Thus with a compassion for all echoes in human guise, I greet the solemn-faced "native preacher" whom I find awaiting me. I listen with respect for God's creature, though he mouth most strangely the jangling phrases of a bigoted creed.
As our tribe is one large family, where every person is related to all the others, he addressed me:--
"Cousin, I came from the morning church service to talk with you."
"Yes?" I said interrogatively, as he paused for some word from me.
Shifting uneasily about in the straight-backed chair he sat upon, he began: "Every holy day (Sunday) I look about our little God's house, and not seeing you there, I am disappointed. This is why I come to-day. Cousin, as I watch you from afar, I see no unbecoming behavior and hear only good reports of you, which all the more burns me with the wish that you were a church member. Cousin, I was taught long years ago by kind missionaries to read the holy book. These godly men taught me also the folly of our old beliefs.
"There is one God who gives reward or punishment to the race of dead men. In the upper region the Christian dead are gathered in unceasing song and prayer. In the deep pit below, the sinful ones dance in torturing flames.
"Think upon these things, my cousin, and choose now to avoid the after-doom of hell fire!" Then followed a long silence in which he clasped tighter and unclasped again his interlocked fingers.
Like instantaneous lightning flashes came pictures of my own mother's making, for she, too, is now a follower of the new superstition.
"Knocking out the chinking of our log cabin, some evil hand thrust in a burning taper of braided dry grass, but failed of his intent, for the fire died out and the half burned brand fell inward to the floor. Directly above it, on a shelf, lay the holy book. This is what we found after our return from a several days' visit. Surely some great power is hid in the sacred book!"
Brushing away from my eyes many like pictures, I offered midday meal to the converted Indian sitting wordless and with downcast face. No sooner had he risen from the table with "Cousin, I have relished it," than the church bell rang.
Thither he hurried forth with his afternoon sermon. I watched him as he hastened along, his eyes bent fast upon the dusty road till he disappeared at the end of a quarter of a mile.
The little incident recalled to mind the copy of a missionary paper brought to my notice a few days ago, in which a "Christian" pugilist commented upon a recent article of mine, grossly perverting the spirit of my pen. Still I would not forget that the pale-faced missionary and the hoodooed aborigine are both God's creatures, though small indeed their own conceptions of Infinite Love. A wee child toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.

Charles Alexander Eastman (aka Hakadah and OhíyeS’a), from The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation (1911)

The native American has been generally despised by his white conquerors for his poverty and simplicity. They forget, perhaps, that his religion forbade the accumulation of wealth and the enjoyment of luxury. To him, as to other single-minded men in every age and race, from Diogenes to the brothers of SaintFrancis, from the Montanists to the Shakers, the love of possessions has appeared a snare, and the burdens of a complex society a source of needless peril and temptation. Furthermore, it was the rule of his life to share the fruits of his skill and success his less fortunate brothers. Thus he kept his spirit free from the clog of pride, cupidity, or envy, and carried out, as he believed, the divine decree -- a matter profoundly important to him.
It was not, then, wholly from ignorance or improvidence that he failed to establish permanent towns and to develop a material civilization. To the untutored sage, the concentration of population was the prolific mother of all evils, moral no less than physical. He argued that food is good, while surfeit kills; that love is good, but lust destroys; and not less dreaded than the pestilence following upon crowded and unsanitary dwellings was the loss of spiritual power inseparable from too close contact with one's fellow-men. All who have lived much out of doors know that there is a magnetic and nervous force that accumulates in solitude and that is quickly dissipated life in a crowd; and even his enemies have recognized the fact that for a certain innate power and self-poise, wholly independent of circumstances, the American Indian is unsurpassed among men.
The red man divided mind into two parts, -- the spiritual mind and the physical mind. The first is pure spirit, concerned only with the essence of things, and it was this he sought to strengthen by spiritual prayer, during which the body is subdued by fasting and hardship. In this type of prayer there was no beseeching favor or help. All matters of personal or selfish concern, as success in hunting or warfare, relief from sickness, or the sparing of a beloved life, were definitely relegated to the plane of the lower or material mind, and all ceremonies, charms, or incantations designed to secure a benefit or to avert a danger, were recognized as emanating from the physical self
The rites of this physical worship, again, were wholly symbolic, and the Indian no more worshiped the Sun than the Christian adores the Cross. The Sun and the Earth, by an obvious parable, holding scarcely more of poetic metaphor than of scientific truth, were in his view the parents of all organic life. From the Sun, as the universal father, proceeds the quickening principle in nature, and in the patient and fruitful womb of our mother, the Earth, are hidden embryos of plants and men. Therefore our reverence and love for them was really an imaginative extension of our love for our immediate parents, and with this sentiment of filial piety was joined a willingness to appeal to them, as to a father, for such good gifts as we may desire. This is the material or physical prayer.
The elements and majestic forces in nature, Lightning, Wind, Water, Fire, and Frost, were regarded with awe as spiritual powers, but always secondary and intermediate in character. We believed that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree, though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself. The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied Force, and as such an object of reverence.
The Indian loved to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with his brothers of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls had for him something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent and irresponsible child. He had faith in their instincts, as in a mysterious wisdom given from above; and while he humbly accepted the supposedly voluntary sacrifice of their bodies to preserve his own, he paid homage to their spirits in prescribed prayers and offerings.
In every religion there is an element of the supernatural, varying with the influence of pure reason over its devotees. The Indian was a logical and clear thinker upon matters within the scope of his understanding, but he had not yet charted the vast field of nature or expressed her wonders in terms of science. With his limited knowledge of cause and effect, he saw miracles on every hand, -- the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in lightning flash and in the swelling deep! Nothing of the marvelous could astonish him; as that a beast should speak, or the sun stand still. The virgin birth would appear scarcely more miraculous than is the birth of every child that comes into the world, or the miracle of the loaves and fishes excite more wonder than the harvest that springs from a single ear of corn.
Who may condemn his superstition? Surely not the devout Catholic even Protestant missionary, who teaches Bible miracles as literal fact! The logical man must either deny all miracles or none, and our American Indian myths and hero stories are perhaps, in themselves, quite as credible as those of the Hebrews of old. If we are of the modern type of mind, that sees in natural law a majesty and grandeur far more impressive than any solitary infraction of it could possibly be, let us not forget that, after all, science has not explained everything. We have still to face the ultimate miracle, -- the origin and principle of life! Here is the supreme mystery that is the essence of worship, without which there can be no religion, and in the presence of this mystery our attitude cannot be very unlike that of the natural philosopher, who beholds with awe the Divine in all creation.
It is simple truth that the Indian did not, so long as his native philosophy held sway over his mind, either envy or desire to imitate the splendid achievements of the white man. In his own thought he rose superior to them! He scorned them, even as a lofty spirit absorbed in its stern task rejects the soft beds, the luxurious food, the pleasure-worshiping dalliance of a rich neighbor was clear to him that virtue and happiness are independent of these things, if not incompatible with them.
There was undoubtedly much in primitive Christianity to appeal to this man, and Jesus' hard sayings to the rich and about the rich would have been entirely comprehensible to him. Yet the religion that is preached in our churches and practiced by our congregations, with its element of display and self-aggrandizement, its active proselytism, and its open contempt of all religions but its own, was for a long time extremely repellent. To his simple mind, the professionalism of the pulpit, the paid exhorter, the moneyed church, was an unspiritual and unedifying, and it was not until his spirit was broken and his moral and physical constitution undermined by trade, conquest, and strong drink, that Christian missionaries obtained any real hold upon him. Strange as it may seem, it is true that the proud pagan in his secret soul despised the good men who came to convert and to enlighten him!
Nor were its publicity and its Phariseeism the only elements in the alien religion that offended the red man. To him, it appeared shocking and almost incredible that there were among this people who claimed superiority many irreligious, who did not even pretend to profess the national. Not only did they not profess it, but they stooped so low as to insult their God with profane and sacrilegious speech! In our own tongue His name was not spoken aloud, even with utmost reverence, much less lightly or irreverently.
More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things, while seeking only the material. They bought and sold everything, labor, personal independence, the love of woman, and even the ministrations of their holy faith! The lust for money, power, and conquest so characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race did not escape moral condemnation at the hands of his untutored judge, nor did he fail to contrast this conspicuous trait of the dominant race with the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus.
He might in time come to recognize that the drunkards and licentious among white men, with whom he too frequently came in contact, were condemned by the white man's religion as well, and must not be held to discredit it. But it was not so easy to overlook or to excuse national bad faith. When distinguished emissaries from the Father at Washington, some of them ministers of the gospel and even bishops, came to the Indian nations, and pledged to them in solemn treaty the national honor, with prayer and mention of their God; and when such treaties, so made, were promptly and shamelessly broken, is it strange that the action should arouse not only anger, but contempt? The historians of the white race admit that the Indian was never the first to repudiate his oath.
It is my personal belief, after thirty-five years' experience of it, that there is no such thing as "Christian Civilization." I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable, and that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.
* * * * *
THE public religious rites of the Plains Indians are few, and in large part of modern origin, belonging properly to the so-called "transition period." That period must be held to begin with the first insidious effect upon their manners and customs of contact with the dominant race, and many of the tribes were so in influenced long before they ceased to lead the nomadic life.
The fur-traders, the "Black Robe" priests, the military, and finally the Protestant missionaries, were the men who began the disintegration of the Indian nations and the overthrow of their religion, seventy-five to a hundred years before they were forced to enter upon reservation life. We have no authentic study of them until well along in the transition period, when whiskey and trade had already debauched their native ideals.
During the era of reconstruction they modified their customs and beliefs continually, creating a singular admixture of Christian with pagan superstitions, and an addition to the old folk-lore of disguised Bible stories under an Indian aspect. Even their music shows the influence of the Catholic chants. Most of the material collected by modern observers is necessarily of this promiscuous character.
It is noteworthy that the first effect of contact with the whites was an increase of cruelty and barbarity, an intensifying of the dark shadows in the picture! In this manner the "Sun Dance" of the Plains Indians, the most important of their public ceremonials, was abused and perverted until it became a horrible exhibition of barbarism, and was eventually prohibited by the Government.
In the old days, when a Sioux warrior found himself in the very jaws of destruction, he might offer a prayer to his father, the Sun, to prolong his life. If rescued from imminent danger, he must acknowledge the divine favor by making a Sun Dance, according to the vow embraced in his prayer, in which he declared that he did not fear torture or death, but asked life only for the sake of those who loved him. Thus the physical ordeal was the fulfillment of a vow, and a sort of atonement for what might otherwise appear to be reprehensible weakness in the face of death. It was in the nature of confession and thank-offering to the "Great Mystery," through the physical parent, the Sun, and did not embrace a prayer for future favors.
The ceremonies usually took place from six months to a year after the making of the vow, in order to admit of suitable preparation; always in midsummer and before a large and imposing gathering. They naturally included the making of a feast, and the giving away of much savage wealth in honor of the occasion, although these were no essential part of the religious rite.
When the day came to procure the pole, it was brought in by a party of warriors, headed by some man of distinction. The tree selected was six to eight inches in diameter at the base, and twenty to twenty-five feet high. It was chosen and felled with some solemnity, including the ceremony of the "filled pipe," and was carried in the fashion of a litter, symbolizing the body of the man who made the dance. A solitary teepee was pitched on a level spot at some distance from the village the pole raised near at hand with the same ceremony, in the centre a circular enclosure of fresh-cut.
Meanwhile, one of the most noted of our old men had carved out of rawhide, or later of wood, two figures, usually those of a man and a buffalo. Sometimes the figure of a bird, supposed to represent the Thunder, was substituted for the buffalo. It was customary to paint the man red and the animal black, and each was suspended from one end of the cross-bar which was securely tied some two feet from the top of the pole. I have never been able to determine that this cross had any significance; it was probably nothing more than a dramatic coincidence that surmounted the Sun-Dance pole with the symbol of Christianity.
The paint indicated that the man who was about to give thanks publicly had been potentially dead, but was allowed to live by the mysterious favor and interference of the Giver of Life. The buffalo hung opposite the image of his own body in death, because it was the support of his physical self, and a leading figure in legendary lore. Following the same line of thought, when he emerged from the solitary lodge of preparation, and approached the pole to dance, nude save for his breech-clout and moccasins, his hair loosened daubed with clay, he must drag after him a buffalo skull, representing the grave from which he had escaped.
The dancer was cut or scarified on the chest, sufficient to draw blood and cause pain, the natural accompaniments of his figurative death. He took his position opposite the singers, facing the pole, and dragging the skull by leather thongs which were merely fastened about his shoulders. During a later period, incisions were made in the breast or back, sometimes both, through which wooden skewers were drawn, and secured by lariats to the pole or to the skulls. Thus he danced without intermission for a day and a night, or even longer, ever gazing at the sun in the daytime, and blowing from time to time a sacred whistle made from the bone of a goose's wing.
In recent times, this rite was exaggerated and distorted into a mere ghastly display of physical strength and endurance under torture, almost on a level with the Caucasian institution of the bull-fight, or the yet more modern prize-ring. Moreover, instead of an atonement or thank-offering, it became the accompaniment of a prayer for success in war, or in a raid upon the horses of the enemy. The number of dancers was increased, and they were made to hang suspended from the pole by their own flesh, which they must break loose before being released. I well remember the comments in our own home upon the passing of this simple but impressive ceremony, and its loss of all meaning and propriety under the demoralizing additions which were some of the fruits of early contact with the white man.
Perhaps the most remarkable organization ever known among American Indians, that of the "Grand Medicine Lodge," was apparently an indirect result of the labors of the early Jesuit missionaries. In it Caucasian ideas are easily recognizable, and it seems reasonable to suppose that its founders desired to establish an order that would successfully resist the encroachments of the "Black Robes." However that may be, it is an unquestionable fact that the only religious leaders of any note who have arisen among the native tribes since the advent of the white man, the "Shawnee Prophet" in 1762, and the half-breed prophet of the "Ghost Dance" in 1890, both founded their claims or prophecies upon the Gospel story. Thus in each case an Indian religious revival or craze, though more or less threatening to the invader, was of distinctively alien origin.
The Medicine Lodge originated among the Algonquin tribe, and extended gradually throughout its branches, finally affecting the Sioux of the Mississippi Valley, and forming a strong bulwark against the work of the pioneer missionaries, who secured, indeed, scarcely any converts until after the outbreak of 1862, when subjection, starvation, and imprisonment turned our broken-hearted people to accept Christianity seemed to offer them the only gleam of kindness or hope.
The order was a secret one, and in some respects not unlike the Free Masons, being a union or affiliation of a number of lodges, each with its distinctive songs and medicines. Leadership was in order of seniority in degrees, which could only be obtained by merit, and women were admitted to membership upon equal terms, with the possibility of attaining to the highest honors. No person might become a member unless his moral standing was excellent, all candidates remained on probation for one or two years, and murderers and adulterers were expelled. The commandments promulgated by this order were essentially the same as the Mosaic Ten, so that it exerted a distinct moral influence, in addition to its ostensible object, which was instruction in the secrets of legitimate medicine.
In this society the uses of all curative and herbs known to us were taught exhaustively and practiced mainly by the old, the younger members being in training to fill the places of those who passed away. My grandmother was a well-known and successful practitioner, and both my mother and father were members, but did not practice.
A medicine or "mystery feast" was not a public affair, as members only were eligible, and upon these occasions all the "medicine bags" and totems of the various lodges were displayed and their peculiar "medicine songs" were sung. The food was only partaken of by invited guests, and not by the hosts, or lodge making the feast. The "Grand Medicine Dance" was given on the occasion of initiating those candidates who had finished their probation, a sufficient number of whom were designated to take the places of those who had died since the last meeting. Invitations were sent out in the form of small bundles of tobacco. Two very large teepees were pitched facing one another, a hundred feet apart, half open, and connected by a roofless hall or colonnade of fresh-cut boughs. One of these lodges was for the society giving the dance and the novices, the other was occupied by the "soldiers," whose duty it was to distribute the refreshments, and to keep order among the spectators. They were selected from among the best and bravest warriors of the tribe.
The preparations being complete, and the members of each lodge garbed and painted according to their rituals, they entered the hall separately, in single file, led by their oldest man or "Great Chief." Standing before the "Soldiers' Lodge," facing the setting sun, their chief addressed the "Great Mystery" directly in a few words, after which all extending the right arm horizontally from the shoulder with open palm, sang a short invocation in unison, ending with a deep: "E-ho-ho-ho!" This performance, which was really impressive, was repeated in front of the headquarters lodge, facing the rising sun, after which each lodge took its assigned place, and the songs and dances followed in regular order.
The closing ceremony, which was intensely dramatic in its character, was the initiation of the novices, who had received their final preparation on the night before. They were now led out in front of the headquarters lodge and placed in a kneeling position upon a carpet of rich robes and furs, the men upon the right hand, stripped and painted black, with a round spot of red just over the heart, while the women, dressed in their best, were arranged upon the left. Both sexes wore the hair loose, as if in mourning or expectation of death. An equal number of grand medicine-men, each of whom was especially appointed to one of the novices, faced them at a distance of half the length of the hall, or perhaps fifty feet.
After silent prayer, each medicine-man in turn addressed himself to his charge, exhorting him to observe all the rules of the order under the eye of the Mysterious One, and instructing him in his duty toward his fellow-man and toward the Ruler of Life. All then assumed an attitude of superb power and dignity, crouching slightly as if about to spring forward in a foot-race, and grasping their medicine bags firmly in both hands. Swinging their arms forward at the same moment, they uttered their guttural "Yo-ho-ho-ho!" in perfect unison and with startling effect. In the midst of a breathless silence, they took a step forward, then another and another, ending a rod or so from the row of kneeling victims, with a mighty swing of the sacred bags that would seem to project all their mystic power into the bodies of the initiates. Instantly they all fell forward, apparently lifeless.
With this thrilling climax, the drums were vigorously pounded and the dance began again with energy. After a few turns had been taken about the prostrate bodies of the new members, covering them with fine robes and other garments which were later to be distributed as gifts, they were permitted to come to life and to join in the final dance. The whole performance was clearly symbolic of death and resurrection.
While I cannot suppose that this elaborate ritual, with its use of public and audible prayer, of public exhortation or sermon, and other Caucasian features, was practiced before comparatively modern times, there is no doubt that it was conscientiously believed in by its members, and for a time regarded with reverence by the people. But at a later period it became still further demoralized and fell under suspicion of witchcraft.
There is no doubt that the Indian held medicine close to spiritual things, but in this also he has been much misunderstood; in fact everything that he held sacred is indiscriminately called "medicine," in the sense of mystery or magic. As a doctor he was originally very adroit and often successful. He employed only healing bark, roots, and leaves with whose properties he was familiar, using them in the form of a distillation or tea and always singly. The stomach or internal bath was a valuable discovery of his, and the vapor or Turkish bath was in general use. He could set a broken bone with fair success, but never practiced surgery in any form. In addition to all this, the medicine-man possessed much personal magnetism and authority, and in his treatment often sought to reestablish the equilibrium of the patient through mental or spiritual influences -- a sort of primitive psychotherapy.
The Sioux word for the healing art is "wah-pee-yah," which literally means readjusting or making anew. "Pay-jee-hoo-tah," literally root, means medicine, and "wakan" signifies spirit or mystery. Thus the three ideas, while sometimes associated, were carefully distinguished.
It is important to remember that in the old days the "medicine-man" received no payment for his services, which were of the nature of an honorable functionn or office. When the idea of payment and barter was introduced among us, and valuable presents or fees began to be demanded for treating the sick, the ensuing greed and rivalry led to many demoralizing practices, and in time to the rise of the modern "conjurer," who is generally a fraud and trickster of the grossest kind. It is fortunate that his day is practically over.
Ever seeking to establish spiritual comradeship with the animal creation, the Indian adopted this or that animal as his "totem," the emblematic device of his society, family, or clan. It is probable that the creature chosen was the traditional ancestress, as we are told that the First Man had many wives among the animal people. The sacred beast, bird, or reptile, represented by its stuffed skin, or by a rude painting, was treated with reverence and carried into battle to insure the guardianship of the spirits. The symbolic attribute of beaver, bear, or tortoise, such as wisdom, cunning, courage, and the like, was supposed to be mysteriously conferred upon the wearer of the badge. The totem or charm used in medicine was ordinarily that of the medicine lodge to which the practitioner belonged, though there were some great men who boasted a special revelation.

Songs of the Ghost-Dance Religion collected in George Cronyn's The Path on the Rainbow (1918)


My children, when at first I liked the Whites,
My children, when at first I liked the Whites,
I gave them fruits,
I gave them fruits.
My children, my children,
The wind makes the head-feathers sing—
The wind makes the head-feathers sing.
My children, my children.
My children, my children,
I take pity on those who have been taught,
Because they push on hard,
Says our Father.
How bright is the moonlight!
Tonight as I ride with my load of buffalo beef.
I circle around
The boundaries of earth,
Wearing the long wing feathers as I fly.
My children, my children,
Look! the earth is about to move.
My Father tells me so.
I fly around yellow,
I fly with the wild rose on my head,
On high—He’e’e’!
My children, my children,
It is I who wear the morning star on my head;
I show it to my children,
Says the Father.
Father, have pity on me,
Father, have pity on me;
I am crying for thirst;
All is gone—I have nothing to eat.
Father, the Morning Star!
Father, the Morning Star!
Look on us, we have danced until daylight,
Take pity on us—Hi’i’i!
I am coming in sight—
I bring the Whirlwind with me—
That you may know one another.
We shall live again,
We shall live again.
The sun's beams are spreading out—He’e’yo’!
The sun's yellow rays are spreading out—Ahi’ni’yo’!
The wind stirs the willows.
The wind stirs the grasses.
The cottonwoods are growing tall,
They are growing tall and verdant.
A slender antelope,
A slender antelope
He is wallowing upon the ground.
Fog! Fog!
Lightning! Lightning!
Whirlwind! Whirlwind!
Whirlwind! Whirlwind!
The snowy earth comes gliding, the snowy earth comes
There is dust from the whirlwind,
There is dust from the whirlwind,
The whirlwind on the mountain.
The rocks are ringing.
The rocks are ringing,
They are ringing in the mountains.
The snow lies there—ro’rani!
The snow lies there—ro’rani!
The milky way lies there!
This is my work—Yo’yoyo’!
All that grows upon the earth is mine—Yo’yoyo’!
Says the Father—Yo’yoyo’!
E'ya Yo’yoyo’!
Mother, come home; mother, come home.
My little brother goes about always crying,
My little brother goes about always crying.
Mother, come home; mother come home.
He! They have come back racing,
Why, they say there is to be a buffalo hunt over here,
Why, they say there is to be a buffalo hunt over here,
Make arrows! Make arrows!
Says the Father, says the Father.
The whole world is coming,
A nation is coming, a nation is coming,
The Eagle has brought the message to the tribe.
Over the whole earth they are coming;
The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming,
The Crow has brought the message to the tribe.
The Father will descend.
Everybody will arise.
Stretch out your hands.
The earth will tremble.
The spirit army is approaching,
The whole world is moving onward.
See! Everybody is standing watching.
Let us all pray.
Because I am poor,
I pray for every living creature.
My Father has had pity on me.
I have eyes like my Father's,
I have hands like my Father's,
I have legs like my Father's,
I have a form like my Father's.
The spirit host is advancing, they say.
They are coming with the buffalo, they say.
They are coming with the new earth, they say.
That wind, that wind
Shakes my tipi, shakes my tipi,
And sings a song for me,
And sings a song for me.
Come on, Caddo, we are all going up,
Come on, Caddo, we are all going up
To the great village—He’e’ye’!
To the great village—He’e’ye’!
With our Father above,
With our Father above when he dwells on high—He’e’ye’!
Where our Mother dwells—Hhe’e’ye’!
Where our Mother dwells—Hhe’e’ye’!