Pueblo peoples have lived in the American Southwest for millennia and descend from the ancestral Puebloans. The ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert are included in this group. The term Anasazi is sometimes used to refer to ancestral Pueblo people, but it is now largely avoided. Anasazi is a Navajo word that means Ancient Ones or Ancient Enemy. That of course is why they don’t like the word anymore. Just like Inuit people no longer like the name Eskimo. Many first nations don’t like the names that European settlers imposed on them so we should avoid using them. But it is tricky for us to do that. I know someone who got in trouble for using the name “Eskimo” which is the name she was brought up with. We should all do our best to learn the preferred names. But others should recognize that we are not perfect.
Pueblo traditions are different from some Christian traditions. Their traditions tell the Pueblo people that they must honor Mother Earth by taking care of her as their ultimate reference. Would you not take care of your ultimate reference as Paul Tillich suggested? That was how he chose to define “God.”
I recognize that in recent times some Christians have emphasized that the instructions in the Bible should not be interpreted to mean that humans have dominion over the earth. Rather they now interpret the prescription in the Bible to mean that they ought to be custodians who nurture the earth. Yet historically Christians interpreted their Holy Book to mean that they had Biblical obligations to subdue the earth, which in the view of many people, like me, was not just a license but instructions to plunder the world.
A few years ago I saw an film on PBS called Native America: From Caves to Cosmosin which a Hopi woman recounted in Hopi the following myth (and I use this word carefully not to reference something that is not true, but rather something that is important, very important):
Massaw told us this world is a gift to us
And we must care for this place
He said, ‘To find your home you must find the center place,’
So we made a covenant to walk to the world’s farthest corners
To learn the earth with our feet
And to become one with this new world
And to find our center place
In the origin story of the Pueblo people they are given a sacred quest after they emerged from the earth. They are told to find the center place. Some went clockwise and some counter-clockwise. They built an image in the rock to show where they were. It was a spiral around a center spot. “Finding the right place–the center place–lies at the heart of Pueblo belief. It is more than a physical location. It is about living in balance with the natural world.”
I have seen a number of kivas in my travels through the American southwest. A kiva is a space used by Puebloans for sacred ceremonies and sometimes political meetings. Among the modern Hopi and other Pueblo peoples, “kiva” means a large room that is circular and underground, and used for spiritual ceremonies. They are sacred places. According to the film I watched, “The search for the center place is built right in to the kivas. Every kiva is aligned to the 4 compass directions.” Of course there are 2 more sacred directions, including up and down. When the people climb out of a ladder in a kiva it is symbolic of their journey where they emerged from the earth. The Hopi believe the 6 directions give the Kivas great power.
To me, the most important part is the fact that it centers the occupants so that they can become part of the earth, not separate and apart from it. It connects us to the sacred earth. I see that as an essential religious act.
This is ancient ceremony but I think it ought to be a part of a new attitude to nature which we should be willing to learn about from our indigenous peoples.