- By Thomas O. Mills
A few mornings ago, I was having my first cup of coffee and reading my newspaper when the doorbell sounded. There stood two women, about my age, or older, smiling and holding out a booklet for me to consider. They wanted to talk to me about religion.
I explained to them that I would listen to their views, if they would listen to mine. “No problem, what religion are you?” they said. “I consider myself Hopi, Native American” I said. “Surely you do not believe that pagan Indian stuff, do you?” and it was about this time that my wife of 33 years left the room.
I listened patiently about Armageddon, what day was really the day for us to Worship, Salvation, World War Three, and how there was only one right religion and it was theirs.
Before I began to talk, I took the time to look up the word pagan in the dictionary, so I could have my guns loaded for them.
Pagan = Heathen
So I looked up heathen: 1. A person who is not a believer in any of the world’s chief religions, especially one who is neither Christian, Jew or Muslim. 2. An unenlightened person, one regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.
It was true that the Hopi elders that I had the privilege to speak to many years ago were not Christian, Jew, or Muslim but to say they were unenlightened or lacking culture or moral principles was a bridge too far for me. That is just not the case. Perhaps the definition should be changed to say, neither Christian, Jew, Muslim or Native American, when you consider that Native Americans cultures and religions covered the entire North and South American continent, an area larger than all three of those other religion’s territories combined.
The Hopi do not have a special day to worship; they worship every day, at sunrise and at every meal. They do not have leap year, daylight savings, hours, seconds or minutes. The Earth’s rotation, the position of the sunrise and sunset, the winter and summer solstice, the equinox, the stars at night, these are their timepieces. If you woke up tomorrow morning and there was no electricity for your clock, computer, or watch how would you know what month, day, or time it was? Most of us couldn’t even fix a cup of coffee.
Native American cultural ways and our cultural ways are two different things but to say Native Americans do not have culture is truly a lack of education and understanding. The elders I knew had more moral principles than anyone I have ever met. Always happy, sharing, giving, loyal, respectful, trustworthy and honest. When they talked, people listened. They knew where we came from, where we are going, and what needs to be done to get there. They never excepted anything in return for their knowledge or teachings, no donations, pledges, money, or royalties.
No matter what role a Hopi takes in a ceremony he or she will always show humility on all occasions to everyone. A Hopi traditionalist, who refuses to seek honor and high office, avoids manifesting exceptional talent and ability, and seeks to show humility on all occasions. There are no Hopi priests, properly speaking, to expound any religious beliefs whatever. Every adult Hopi man participates during the year in at least one major ceremony, after which he returns to work in his fields, wearing no vestige of priestly garb and carrying no aura of sanctity. The Book of the Hopi, White Bear Fredericks.
To participate in one major ceremony each year is a little more taxing than showing up for 1 or 2 practices, singing in the choir, and then performing on Sunday for an hour or so, as many of us do in our Christian culture. Almost all Hopi ceremonies last for 16 days or more, and they involve; fasting, praying, ritual smoking, abstinence, preparation, weaving, painting, carving, composing, planting, memorizing, and dancing. The spouse has to grind corn to make piki, weave baskets, bake hundreds of loafs of bread, prepare lunch for all the people that come to visit and all those participating in the ceremony, and take care of the household and the children in her husband’s absence. Most of the people I know participate all year long and not just for one ceremony during the year.
I truly do not understand how they do it. My participation in anything is so small that I find myself longing to help the Hopis when I spend time with them.. Their culture is a life long commitment and their ceremonies are performed for all four races of man; black, yellow, red, and white. They do not think of any of us as being pagan or heathen, we are all just human.
CEO’s of major corporations, and I’ve known a few, do not have the weight of the world on their shoulders, such as the responsibility for the crops and the weather, logistics, timing, nor do they have the problem-solving ability of a Hopi fulfilling his ceremonial cycle each year. I would challenge any one of them to follow in an elder’s footsteps for just one year, day in and day out, winter, summer, spring, and fall, and to be happy just to help the world, bless the crops, and make it rain. No stock options, benefits, vacation, days off, or golf games to ease the pain.
When I look back at history and think of all the tribes, ceremonies, and cultures that were destroyed and lost in the conquering of the Americas, I think I know who the real heathens were. Something very few want to talk about when they come knocking on your door.
Thomas O. Mills lives in Paso Robles, California and is the author of “The Book of Truth, A New Perspective To The Hopi Creation Story” and “Stonehenge, If This Was East”. For David M. Kinchen’s reviews click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/9165