Four Worlds Poem by Sara Wright


They came from

Life giving Waters,

emerging from a Lake

at the Beginning of time.

Avanyu –

Serpent,

Spirit of the River

pecked into stone

or painted

on canyon walls

embodies their story.

 

The Tewa settled above

the Great River Banks.

Roaring water flowed

through tributaries

mountain gorges.

The People gave thanks.

  Water meant Life.

Each village was the center

of the Tewa’s First world.

 

Bound together by

Women who tended

holy household shrines,

prayed for rain,

created fires,

gathered seed,

ground food,

grew babies,

dug clay to shape

earthen pots.

This was the Second world

of the Tewa.

In the hills the men

hunted animals

for food and skins.

Both women and men

ploughed fields,

cultivating maize

as the Corn Mother

blessed the Tewa and

instructed them too.

 

Here too were Kayes

Basalt stones shaped by

 mortar and cupules

 that marked

  cardinal directions,

and burial middens.

Tewa communed with the dead.

Ancestors traversed Four Worlds

before returning to still waters.

 

The men danced prayers

bore holes in stone faces.

The women pounded

 rock to awaken

the spirits at sunrise –

prepared medicines

 and prayers in

this Third world

of the Tewa.

 

Far beyond the hills,

the men prayed for rain…

Four sacred mountains

held each village

in Earth’s peaceful embrace.

Earth, wind, fire and water,

North, east, south and west –

Four elements and directions

guided the People

in this Fourth world

of the Tewa.

 

Working Notes:

This poem was written after many visits to a few of the pueblo ruins in this area, going to Pueblo dances, and after doing some research on the Tewa peoples of New Mexico who are descendants of the Anasazi – the Ancestral Puebloan peoples that were the original inhabitants of the Four Corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado) area.

Almost from the beginning I sensed that the Tewa landscape was vast and nuanced. Each ruin had stone circles that were once the foundation of kivas, stone outcroppings, petroglyphs, grinding stones. I was particularly fascinated by some of these stones that seemed to be trying to speak to me in some indefinable way. I ran my hands over their surfaces, touched the petroglyphs, took pictures, imagined the corn or other plants that might have been ground on these rocks called Kayes by the Tewa.

A Kaye is the Tewa word for certain basalt (usually) rocks often placed at one of the cardinal directions. These stones helped me to enter the world of the Tewa on a deeper level when I discovered that their primary purpose was to help the people communicate with the spirit world… According to the Tewa the Kayes were places where offerings were made and the rock itself was also pounded to attract the attention of the spirits. The resulting, usually round, depressions are called cupules by anthropologists and they can be found on both the top and sides of certain rocks around the ruins. Sometimes these stones also had mortars for grinding and some sources suggest that women gathered in these places to prepare medicines. It is said that at certain times of the year the Tewa continue to gather at these stones for ceremony.

Each pueblo ruin has mountains, caves, springs and hills that originally were important to people who communicated regularly with the larger cosmos. When I began to research the four worlds of the Tewa I felt that for the early inhabitants, at least, the cosmos was whole.

Most interesting to me was what I inferred/sensed from my personal experience turned out to be the exact opposite of what anthropologists had deduced when I studied this culture. Anthropologists believed that the Tewa world was hierarchal with its most important level being the fourth world where the men communicated with the spirits and prayed for rain. Each concentric inner layer supposedly receded in importance.

I sensed no hierarchal structure in the Tewa world; instead what I gleaned was an egalitarian one. In my way of thinking the center of the Tewa world was the village and its women, with both women and men working together to dance their prayers, to grow crops, hunt animals for food, to communicate with the dead and this egalitarian matriarchal threefold structure was nestled and contained between the four sacred mountains that define the fourth edge of the Tewa world, and the place that the men also went to pray for rain. It’s important to reiterate that historically the Tewa were village dwelling maize agriculturalists who have survived in an unforgiving and ever changing high desert for millennia.  I don’t think it is too broad a statement to suggest that early Indigenous agricultural societies tended to be matrifocal and matrilineal if not egalitarian matriarchal as Carol Christ suggests.

The hierarchal interpretation didn’t make sense to me on another level because the Kayes are found on the third level of the Tewa world and were used by both women and men.  Equally important is that burials occurred here and the Kayes were also used to communicate with the dead/ ancestors as well as to get the attention of the spirits to bring the rains.

Today, the Tewa live in six pueblos scattered along the northern Rio Grande and her tributaries between Santa Fe and Taos New Mexico. Each pueblo is self – governing and has its own dances that follow a pattern but also shift subtly, year to year, depending upon what is happening within each Pueblo.

All the pueblos have dances that follow an agricultural calendar for three seasons of the year, which are followed by animal hunting dances in the winter. The Tewa, then, have a living tradition that has its roots in the deep past.

I also think it is significant that all the spring summer and fall dances are based on the agricultural cycle beginning with prayers and dances done by men to honor Avanyu, spirit of the waters, and to invoke the rains, the seed ceremonies that are overseen by elder women, followed by the blessing of the fields, and continue as the corn maiden sprouts, ripens, culminating in a great thanksgiving for the bounty of the harvest in August and September. The winter dances revolve around the hunting of animals for food.

I think the yearly dance cycle also suggests the original egalitarian structure of the people who created them. Because water is life it also makes perfect sense that Avanyu, the water serpent, spirit of the river is pecked/painted into so many canyon walls and stones that are found on the tops of the mesas that overlook the river and its tributaries because water is literally life for these peoples. I find it curious that Avanyu is considered to be a male spirit since water is such a female element. Water in the Tewa cosmology is also the place of emergence and the place where the dead return. Does this masculine gendering of Avanyu have something to do with a patriarchal overlay?

The Tewa still conceptualize their world as spherical with the earth seen as a pottery bowl and the sky an inverted basket. Vertical space is bound together by the current world and an upper and lower world, and horizontal space is defined by the four cardinal directions. Horizontal space is also defined by a series of three nested tiers bound by four sacred mountain peaks.

However, with this much being said all of the pueblos also have a Catholic overlay. The Tewa were colonized by the Spanish and forced to accept Catholicism as their faith. Today each Pueblo has a church and the dances often begin and end with a Mass that has, perhaps, hidden the original egalitarian matriarchal structure from view.

 

 

Sara is a naturalist, writer, a Jungian pattern analyst, ethologist ( person who studies animals in the their natural habitat) who is currently splitting her time between living in her home in Maine and residing here in Northern New Mexico. She has Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Indigenous roots which many be why she has dedicated her life to writing stories about animals and the Earth. Her work is regularly published.

 

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Categories: Ancestors, Community, Egalitarian Matriarchy, environment, Female Saints, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Foremothers, Gender, Gender and Power, General, Relationality

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12 replies

  1. Beautiful poem, fascinating post. Much to ponder. Thank you for your research and insightful reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I am fascinated by what happens to indigenous cultures after patriarchy has subsumed the original intent of the people…. it’s real detective work trying to uncover ‘truth’ but something I never tire of because it is this way of life that is the ONLY hope for the future.

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  2. This poem tells a true story, doesn’t it. When I was a teenager, our family took a vacation in Colorado and visited Mesa Verde, where there are still pueblos from ancient days. It was so interesting! This post reminds me of that visit. Many thanks!

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  3. Barbara, this is definitely a true story… I am presently living with the Tewa…. attending their dances…there is something that allows us, if we submerge ourselves in a culture that allows ‘truths’ to surface. I can’t explain it but I trust it – this knowing is in fragments…. I think it is very important to just let the land speak… the ‘powers of place’ are a force to be reckoned with but first we must be still enough to allow them to come through… or that at least has been my personal experience.

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  4. Thanks Sara, greatly enjoyed your contribution today, wonderfully delicate and deep. And when I looked at the picture of the rock at the end of the poem, the first thought that came to mind, when I saw the indentations, was maybe that some big bird long ago pecked at it, perhaps in the hope that the object might provide food?

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  5. As regards the Catholic overlay you mention. Sometimes we forget how much freedom we have in the modern era, including what sort of spirituality we choose to follow. For me and I think for many feminists, we feel most comfortable, working with a combination of many paths.

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    • Ah this is certainly true… but from this feminist’s point of view the Catholic overlay has split the original culture in two – it is fascinating to witness how these people deal with their forced Spanish colonization..There is a a patriarchal overlay that defines the pueblos today… Men for example do the Turtle dances to bring in the new year…

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  6. Thanks for such a lovely poem. I prefer your interpretation to that of the male anthropologists. I have always felt that the continuing existence of native culture in New Mexico is what saves our state from total overdevelopment. The native population holds a sacred space for us all, in spite of all the damage done to them by colonization.

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    • Oh, my from limited experience in this area I couldn’t agree with you more. It is ironic that Indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants of this area, have now become the new “counter culture” that could teach us how to live sanely.

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  7. I love the poem, Sara. I was fascinated to read that the Tewa pounded on the stones called Kayes to attract the attention of the Spirits until round depressions were formed over time.

    “According to the Tewa the Kayes were places where offerings were made and the rock itself was also pounded to attract the attention of the spirits. The resulting, usually round, depressions are called cupules by anthropologists and they can be found on both the top and sides of certain rocks around the ruins.”

    I have seen these same cup marks on stones in Scotland and follow a blog that documents them in Great Britain. They are thought to be from the Neolithic but there is no known ‘reason’ for these markings. Perhaps these ancient peoples were ‘attracting the Spirits’ much as the Tewa still do today!

    I’ve included a link to the blog with much more information about the ‘cup stones’ as they are called: https://megalithix.wordpress.com/category/cup-and-ring-stones/

    Like

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