The following essay is in progress. It presents traditions behind
the YMCA Indian Guide tribe
known as the Natchez, in the River Nation of the Longhouse of the Orange Skies.
Ceremony of the Buffalo and the Eagle
Natchez braves of the River Nation of the Longhouse of the Orange Skies proudly celebrate the buffalo and the eagle. These creatures of the Great Spirit are the bottom and top of the great pillar of our tribe. White Man calls our pillar a totem pole, because he has rejected traditions of his ancestors. But we still represent the whole of creation on the pillar to remind us of the Great Spirit's works, and to help little braves become like great chiefs of the past. Natchez do not worship the pillar, rather they hold sacred the place where the pillar stands, and the Great Spirit, whose creative hand and watchful eye we desire to imitate.
Our ancestors came to the lands of North America over 13,000 years ago. They wandered throughout the great rivers and mountains of the Eastern United States until about 6000 years ago. Then they settled the river valleys that feed the great Mississippi River. They built many communities along the river banks and used the river for trading goods from the lakes of Minnesota to the gulf waters of Florida and Louisiana, from the ocean shores of New York to the mountains between Mexico and Montana. The ancestors who settled the river valleys around 500 B.C. were known as the Adena. They developed trade routes and customs which were handed down for many generations. Between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D., while adapting their culture to its environment, the Adena became known as the Hopewell people. The Hopewell and the Adena peoples adopted ceremonies known for their great mound constructions. The peak of the mound building cultures occurred during the times of the peoples known as the Mississippians, for whom the great river which collects the water of the central forests and plains of the United States is named. The villages and communities which the Mississippian peoples populated were connected by the highway of rivers, and it was a prosperous nation.
Each great chief of the Mississippian peoples was known as the Great Sun. He represented the Great Spirit on earth, for he was the light of the people. The wisdom of the great chief and lessor chiefs acted upon the people as the light of the sun acted upon the whole earth. In 1000 A.D., these chiefs and the people of the river system built a great city where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. Near St. Louis, at a place called Cahokia, 3000 people lived within three hundred acres of a walled complex. The expanse of the city and its great mounds rivaled any built anywhere in the world. The greatest mound in the city covered over twenty-three acres, while the more famous Great Pyramid of Egypt constructed 3500 years earlier was only eleven acres. From this city the First Great River Nation in the Americas directed the commerce and the spiritual life of nearly all the people between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
After the Europeans came to America, most of the Mississippian peoples died due to diseases for which they had no immunity. The last survivors of the Mississippian people were the Natchez. They kept the culture alive with 3500 souls living on the river at Natchez, Mississippi. As they defended the traditions of the great mound builders, the Natchez proved to be a stubbornly valiant people. Outmatched by the French in a desperate battle in 1731, they were virtually wiped out, and the survivors sold into slavery.
But the tradition that the Natchez had defended on the Mississippi River did not die with them, their spirit still survives today. In their tradition, the son of the Great Spirit came down to earth as the son of the Sun, to teach the Natchez the culture of their ancestors, including laws, rituals, and crafts. This was a tradition common to most native people of the Americas, if not the whole world. The living sources of their tradition are lost to history, but their story is still written in the stars. Evidence which leads back over 17,000 years shows that the Natchez have the same ancestors as the Europeans who eventually destroyed their Great River Nation. The Europeans claimed to destroy heathens in order to keep the faith of their own traditions, but their forked tongue does not mention that their desire was to take the ancestral lands from the Natchez. The River Nation failed because it was dedicated to peace, not war. It was a culture where men of high standing came down the cultural ladder to help the poorer classes rise to greatness; not in the interest of conquest, rather to pursue a world pleasing to the eye of the Great Spirit.
Nearly all of the native peoples of the Americas recognized a founding moment when the son of the Great Spirit traveled down to the bottom of the world to build a campfire surrounded by brimstone that would act as an eternal flame. Some tribes declared that the son of the Great Spirit became a brimstone at the fireplace, and a great burning bush grew from the stone to become a pillar for the sky. The bush became a great tree as it grew from Mother Earth, to support Father Sky, so that all young braves and princesses could see the light of their ancestors. Like a ladder between the earth and the heavens, the totem pole acts as a reminder of that tree which is the spiritual pillar of the Natchez culture. To the wise chiefs, braves, squaws, and princesses of the Natchez, the totem pole is the World Tree, and the images engraved on the pole define the whole of creation from that first campfire until this very day. Old men still come down the spiritual pillar, so that young braves can mount up on the wings of eagles with renewed passion for the eternal flame.
White man has his own World Tree and a garden where it was planted. Ancestors of the White Man wrestled with a serpent in their garden. Since all creatures of the forests, fields and streams require the sun for life, Natchez ancestors saw the Great Spirit within the serpent in the garden. They listened to the serpent and understood it to be a messenger of the Great Spirit. White man, seeing the same serpent beguile the mistress of the garden, declared it to be an enemy of the Great Spirit. Because of this vision, the spirit of the White Man was consumed by the serpent, and the garden was seen no more. When the White Man beguiles the young brave into believing that the Natchez people are superstitious and worship poles with engraved images, he speaks with the forked tongue of the serpent that doused his flame in a garden of life, long, long ago. The ways of the Natchez remain straight and true. Natchez braves seek a world pleasing to the eye of the Great Spirit, even when that search requires them to be tested at the lowly place where brimstone surrounds the eternal campfire, and a great tree supports the sky.
NATCHEZ WORLD TREE
The Natchez World Tree, or totem pole in White Man's words, consists of four sections, and three transitions between each section. These four parts, and the three changes between, represent the destiny of life, and the obstacles which must be overcome, as each little buffalo rises to the Great Spirit on the wings of an eagle. These parts are the material world, the body, the mind, and the spirit. Some come to the World Tree and choose to stay in one of the four parts. Others stretch themselves to change from one part to another and grow like the tree that supports the sky. The greatest of the Natchez rise to the very top so that they can help guide the light of the sun on its way from the east to the west every day. They guide the light into the hearts of young Natchez braves, by brightening the way of the Natchez tribe in the Great River Nation of the Longhouse of the Orange Skies. These great ones are memorialized, and they are remembered every time the totem pole becomes visible to the eye in the mind of a brave and true Natchez tribe member, because they came down the pillar as messengers from the Great Spirit.
BUFFALO AS EARTH
At the bottom of the Natchez pillar is a buffalo. The buffalo roams throughout lands which take several moons to travel. It eats grasses which grow along its trails. And the buffalo groups in huge herds of thousands of individuals. Because of these examples, the buffalo represents the earth upon which all life depends. We all begin as members of a group which includes family, place of worship, school, tribe, nation, and world community. Each young brave in the Natchez tribe starts as a buffalo, the fruit of Mother Earth.
BEAR AS BODY
Above the buffalo is the bear. This is the strongest creature in all the forests. As a solitary hunter, the bear does not depend upon companionship of the herd to make decisions. With a strong body, the bear is free to travel where it pleases, and to do what it pleases. Young braves who develop greater independence while amongst the herd of the new Natchez braves become like the bear, and add great strength and vitality to the tribe. Natchez tribal customs and crafts are designed to allow the young brave to grow strong as a bear in search of individual identity. This transition represents the mastery of personal feelings. But the transition from buffalo to bear cannot be taught, it can only be helped by the learning environment within the traditions of the Natchez tribe. Each young brave who becomes a bear must learn to recognize, through personal feelings, that the bear in all its strength and self-reliance is dependent upon the light of the sun, and the other works of the Great Spirit in the forests, fields, and streams.
CHIEF AS MIND
Above the bear is the great chieftain, with the full feathered headdress to show that many challenges had been overcome in passages through the place of the buffalo and the bear. The Indian Chief is the most intelligent and wise creature in all the lands. Although the chief may not have all the talents and strengths of many of the other creatures of the earth, with intelligent use of imagination the chief can communicate with them all. By listening to all the creatures when they speak, the chief acquires great wisdom. The transition from bear to chief represents the mastery of the five senses. The bear's great strength and great intelligence are no match against the ability of the chief to out think the bear by paying close attention to the senses, and listening while others speak. Unlike the bear, it is not individual accomplishment that makes the chief great, it is the ability to lead others to accomplishment. Whether a herd of buffalo, a great bear, or a hostile neighboring tribe, the truly great chiefs are unequaled in their ability to lead their tribe along the path of life by mental strength coupled with courage and understanding. A great chief is not identified by his own strength and wisdom, but by the strength and wisdom that can be brought out of those for whom the chief is the leader.
SERPENT AS SUPERSTITION
Here is where many of the great chiefs of the White Man have fallen. In their search for truth, they define the world according to their own understanding. Because they make great war machines that can destroy other peoples, they see themselves as being equal to the Great Spirit. Hidden behind the forked tongue of the White Man is the belief that fear is the way of wisdom. That is why the White Man tries to control the serpent in the garden and to destroy the natural world in the process of making great nations in the image of himself. But any true Natchez brave knows that the sun is the greatest source of light to the buffalo. And a brave, whether buffalo, bear, or chief, has no light which compares to the sun. The light of the son of the Great Spirit, which is the living flame amongst the brimstone of the first campfire under the World Tree, guides the vision of all great Natchez chiefs and braves. If the individual does not master inner feelings and outer sensations, the brimstone of that first campfire will be consumed by the serpent of superstition. Listening carefully to the White Man's ways, reveals the serpent to be more subtle than any beast of the fields. Those who would be gods can be taught to speak with a forked tongue, and used to fulfill the White Man's desire for conquest. The superstition is that conquering fear leads to great material wealth.
EAGLE AS SOARING SPIRIT
To avoid this subtle serpent of fearful superstition and to see everlasting light, it is necessary to rise above the wisdom of great chiefs and soar like the eagle. This is the hardest, and most rewarding challenge in the life of a Natchez brave. But, it is filled with danger and troubles for the brave eagle who fears the serpent that consumed the brimstone which contained the flame of the Great Spirit. To understand why the eagle is chosen to represent the highest position on the Natchez World Tree, we need to understand the eye of the eagle. Soaring high above the forests, fields, and streams, the eagle can see many miles around. Even so, the eagle has a built in telescope at the center of its eye. With this telescope, the eagle can distinguish a mouse leaving its burrow a mile away. The eagle can see the big sky and the details down on earth. That is how the eye of the Great Spirit works, as well. Though the Great Spirit caused all the forests, fields, and streams to be plentiful with life, the Great Spirit does not lose sight of the smallest detail, or the least significant creature. A Chief who gains the eye of the eagle is humbled by the vastness of the works of the Great Spirit, and realizes that his own accomplishments are those of a grasshopper in a wheat field. The grasshopper jumps above the long grass and flutters a few feet, before dropping back onto the stalks, and never sees beyond the field of grass. But the eagle rises above the highest mountains without losing sight of the lowly grasshopper, or the beguiling serpent.
When a Natchez brave acquires the eye of the eagle, he learns the meaning of the pledge, to seek a world pleasing to the eye of the Great Spirit. With this eye, it is possible to learn that which cannot be understood, to see that which gives no light, to hear that which makes no sound, to smell that which has no odor, to taste that which has no flavor, or to feel that which is untouchable. For this is the eye in the hand of a creative artist who perceives what is going to happen before it happens. Around the creative hand are intertwined two great serpents. One serpent is external senses and represents the light of day, the other serpent is internal feelings and represents the darkness of night. But unlike White Man's eye of the serpent of fear, the Natchez brave has the eye of the eagle and sees the Great Spirit everywhere he looks. The transition from chief to eagle stimulates the mastery of responsible creation, as light from the eternal campfire. When the eye in the hand of the artist is the source through which new truths are created, darkness is no longer without its own light, for the Great Spirit was also pleased to separate night from day.
The ceremony of the buffalo and the eagle represents the opportunity to gain material wealth, a strong body, an intelligent mind, and a soaring spirit. It is superstition to any who fearfully hesitate to soar as a brave Natchez eagle. With a goal to seek a world pleasing to the eye of the Great Spirit, the buffalo becomes the bear that becomes a chief that becomes an eagle that flies to the Happy Hunting Grounds to visit with the ancestors. Watching this mystery unfold, the eagle returns to earth to celebrate the buffalo from which it came. This is the path taken by the son of the Sun, to light the eternal flame amidst the brimstone of the first campfire, where the Natchez World Tree sprang into life, as a pillar between Mother Earth and Father Sky, to assure that Happy Hunting Grounds and Green Pastures are eternally pleasing to the eye of the Great Spirit.
The hand of the Great Spirit has an eye for creation, and the serpents of
day and night
are tied together for eternity around the hand which sees creation as the goal.
Reference: The First Americans, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1992, pp. 97-140.
Prepared by a Grass Hopper when the Spring Sun rose above the eternal
Saturn and Jupiter bordered two fishes, Neptune and Uranus bordered a goat,
Pluto was in a serpent, the Moon passed between the legs of the father,
the daily Sun, Mercury and Mars were in a buffalo, and Venus was with a lamb.
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