On I Chuen our Lord took out from itself its Divinity, and made heaven and earth. On 2 Eb it made the first ladder to descend in the midst of heaven and in the midst of water.
The Divinity and Power produced the great Stone of Grace, where before there was no heaven; and from it were born Seven sacred stones, Seven warriors suspended in the spirit of the wind, Seven elected flames; and then, seven times were lit the seven measures of the night. -- Chilam Balam of Chumayell (Antonio Mediz Bolio, Libro de Chilam Balam de Chumayel, translation from the Mayan language to Spanish, Imprenta y Libreria Lehmann (Sauter & Co.), Costa Rica, 1930; pp. 70, 61-2.)
As long ago as 1898 Jeremiah Curtin, American linguist and ethnologist, noted in his Creation Myths of Primitive America (p. xi and passim) that Amerindian accounts of the birth and development of the cosmos and solar system form a complete story and give a detailed and circumstantial picture of the origin of this world and all the things and creatures it contains -- including man. The manner in which the process was imaged varied from culture to culture; but a unity of perspective, forming what might be called a hemispheric "creation story," can be discerned in all, even when we have only fragments of their world view. Where a more complete, detailed record has been preserved, as in the Quiche Mayan Popol Vuh of Central America or the Book of the Hopi from the southwestern United States, the sweep of spiritual vision is breathtaking, often arrestingly beautiful in conception, and fully comparable in terms of sophistication and complexity with any of the world's other major epics of creation.
This Amerindian theosophy still lives and thrives in many native communities despite the centuries of effort by European immigration to destroy it. Its archetypal conceptions remain the source of the profoundly religious way of life still pursued by traditional Indians. As with any and all such millennial traditions, formalisms and superstitions inevitably have grown up around some of its expression. And, in the case of the Conquest-era Aztecs of Mexico and one or two other tribes, it has suffered out-and-out degeneration and perversion; but these are rare exceptions. To this day Mexico's other great Indian peoples despise the late-coming, barbaric Aztecs as unworthy people who misused their sacred traditions and fell into an unbelievable inhumanity of conduct. Stripped of formalisms, one sees the American as a remarkably pure and full installment of that universal, esoteric stream of wisdom or secret doctrine that has everywhere formed the heart of the human spiritual drama from our beginnings on earth.
How can a short article hope to describe this, or do full justice to its cosmic scope? We can only attempt to synthesize some of its main features, supporting these with illustrations and references drawn from some of the better-known or at least more accessible source-works composed by Indians themselves or white investigators directly from them.
The native American vision begins with a Something, often called the Great Mystery, the Heart of Heaven, the Lord of the Everywhere, or by some similar name pointing to an infinite, eternal, indescribable source or womb of all manifested things. This Something does not itself create, but is shown delegating that task to an aspect or child of itself With the Siouan peoples Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit, is both Grandfather and Father. As Grandfather it is the Great Spirit independent of manifestation, unqualified, unlimited -- equivalent to the Hindu Tat -- THAT -- or the Boundless. As Father, it is the Great Spirit as creator, identical with the Hindu Brahma (Joseph Epes Brown, The Sacred Pipe, University of Oklahoma Press, 1953; p. 5). The Quiche Mayas had their Cabahuil, "Heart of Heaven," "The Unknown One," who, as subsequent creative deity, was Hunracan (Rafael Girard, Esotericism of the Popol Vuh). For the Nahuatls of Mexico Tloque Nahuaque, "Lord of the Everywhere," represented the unmanifest infinite, while Ometeotl, "the Father of the gods, the Mother of the gods," was the creative principle or deity from which all in the solar system proceeded into being. The Hopis of Arizona have their Taiowa, the Infinite residing in endless space, who delegated to its nephew, Sotuknang, the task of making the universe manifest (Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, Viking Press, 1963; p. 3). A unity, this divine producer or energy is nevertheless seen as androgyne or bipolar: both spirit and matter (or "heaven," and "earth" or "water"), and often is represented as twins. It is the point or source of the duality that marks all manifestation.
For the Amerindian, the creative process is always one of emanation or evolution: intermediate and yet lower worlds are born out of and from the highest sphere, the "home" of the generator deity. Moreover, all these are subsequent in time and space to that native world of the manifest One. American accounts are replete with statements that the solar universe or system is composed of a series of planes, worlds, or spheres above, beneath, and including our earth-plane or world, all emanated from that divine androgyne. Mayan and Mexican manuscripts speak of thirteen heavens or above-worlds and of nine hells or underworlds. The Leni-Lenape Indians of Delaware had their twelve heavens, and the Hopis count nine worlds, the earth being the lowest of them, with at least one underworld. In the exoteric or public stories these spheres or planes are each said to be the 'home' of particular 'gods.'
But the Indian had and has an esotericism that conceals his full spiritual vision within symbol, myth, allegory and parable; and in this he is no different from most other traditional peoples the world around. Those individuals whose character-development qualified them for it, could get a fuller illuminations. Others yet unable to benefit from that, were nevertheless helped to improve themselves spiritually by parable and allegory. In his lodges and temple schools of secret instruction, the multiple 'gods' of the populace were revealed to the Indian as so many aspects or transformations of the divine unity which in its total emanation composes the solar system and all its lives. This is the creative deity or force; it is the divine-spiritual heart of the system, and is clothed with the material sun that we see. Amerindians never identified the physical sun with that real, inner sun and source of life.
This is charmingly illustrated in the Navaho story of the divine twins, Nayenezgani and Tohbachischen, whose father was the sun. They determined to go and see him. But when they got there, they found the sun itself hung on a hook by the door of the Turquoise House (the inner or spiritual world), while the Spirit of the sun -- their father -- lived inside that House (Hasteen Klah, Navajo Creation Myth, Mary C. Wheelwright (recorder), p. 81). The Navaho's perception could hardly be put more neatly! With the Hopis, the sun, the solar god of our universe, while it is the Father of all in its system, is still but the face through which looks Taiowa, the Infinite (Waters, op. cit., p. 8). Thus, for these peoples our whole hierarchical star-system emanates from a celestial source, the place or point in space and time where began the duality of manifestation: every existing being and thing it contains is in its essence a "spark" or "ray" of that cosmic source.
I, the Great Mystery, have also hidden within the heart of each of you a challenge. There I have placed the seed which reflects Myself. Seek it, and you will discover yourself and see Me reflected in all created things. By helping one another and recognizing My spirit in each of you, there is opened within you the secret door of your own natural heritage. He who serves his brother, also serves and honors me. -- David Villasenor, Tapestries in Sand, p. 13.
In native American spiritual philosophy the creative process of emanation takes a course of cyclic evolution: this conception is applied by analogy to the solar system, the earth, and the races of humanity which have peopled the latter. In its more complete statement, there are seven distinct phases or cyclical stages; each of these undergoes seven evolutionary periods or transformations, for a total of forty-nine steps or stages in a full cycle. The Mayan version from the Chilam Balam of Chumayel is set out at the head of this article. The Hopis say mankind passes through seven successive "worlds" of each of seven successive "universes," in the course of the forty-nine stages of its full existence (Waters, Op. Cit., P. 192). The Seneca Indians of New York State have their legend of the Seven Worlds, revealed to few except those knowledgeable of the oral traditions of their Iroquois Nation (Brad Steiger, Medicine Talk, pp. 85-96).
This seven-folding is emphasized throughout the Amerindian tradition, its applications and permutations being manifold. The Indian's well-known "four directions" really are embraced in his idea of the "six directions": the four, plus zenith and nadir. This in turn becomes seven, because the central point synthesizes and includes the other six. For our purposes, applied both to the solar cosmos and to man himself, that seventh point is the manifested One -- the creative god or force at the heart of both. We see that this generative center is itself, then, sevenfold. Among the Mayans, in fact, whose story as set out in the Popol Vuh is perhaps the most complete in this regard, the creative deity, Hunracan, is often simply called "God-Seven," and is conceived as a unitary being composed of seven aspects or hypostases which is incomplete unless all seven are present (Girard, Esotericism of the Popul Vuh)." The identic fact, in a somewhat different expression, is found in the Navaho legend of the seven "immortals" who created the first world (Franc Johnson Newcomb, A Study of Navajo Symholism, p. 26).
It is important to note that the Indian often breaks this conception down into a four- and a three-folding. The latter aspect is generally not emphasized as such; however, once again, the Popol Vuh and related Mayan records give us perhaps the fullest account. To recapitulate: Cabahuil, "Heart of Heaven," produces the manifest One -- Hunracan -- whose six aspects are: Tzakol, Bitol, Alom and Cajolom; and, finally, Tepeu and Gucumatz (Girard). These are the "seven warriors," the "seven stones of grace," and it is their sevenfold permutations that bring about the full forty-nine stages of the complete cycle of manifestation. Now, Tzakol, Bitol, Alom and Cajolom are associated with the four " quarters" or "directions." But in the Popol Vuh it is not until the other three (Tepu, Gucumatz, and Hunracan as synthesis) shed their light upon the four that real evolution can begin. The three are associated with the three positions of the diurnal sun: rising, at zenith, and setting. They are therefore solar or spiritual in nature -- compare the ancient Hindu conception of Vishnu as the sun, especially as occupying successively the three stations of eastern horizon, the meridian, and the western horizon.
In the Quiche Mayan document that "moment" is called "the arrival of the Word" or Verbum: that is, when the spiritual or solar force fructifies and enlivens the material aspects of being -- the union of the Father and Mother. The applications of this idea in native American thought are too numerous to go into here. But, it can be applied to man, considered as a sevenfold entity reflecting the essential sevenfold nature of his cosmic "creator": without the three higher principles or aspects, his lower four remain an empty shell. That is a perspective which also forms a part of modern theosophy, where it is often symbolized by the graphic symbol of the triangle over the square. The conception of the material four and spiritual three composing the full seven has been symbolized in many ways by the Amerindian also. For the Indian, man is always a child of both heaven and earth: he has a spiritual as well as a biological ancestry.
Finally, Amerindians believe they know where they are in this great evolutionary process of unfoldment. Our humanity on this earth, they say, has gone through only a portion of the full course. Native American traditions tell of four previous great racial and geological eras, sometimes speaking of our present as a fifth era. The Mayans and Nahuatls spoke of four earlier "suns" or cycles, the present or fifth sun to be superseded by yet another (Laurette Sejourne, Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico, Vanguard Press, 1956; p. 157). The Zunis of New Mexico aver that they are in the fifth world, while the Hopis of Arizona say they have "one foot" in the fifth world. The Andean Incas of the Conquest era, some four hundred years ago, had a tradition of four previous runas (man, race, humanity) culminating in the appearance of the Ayar-Inca peoples of our own time (Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, Nueva Corónzica y Buen Gobierno, passim). The Winnebago of Wisconsin preserve a tradition of four major cycles in their prehistory (Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death, pp. 54-6), as do the Sioux of the western plains states. These latter speak of the White Buffalo Woman, their avatar or great teacher. This personage is said to have told their ancestors that she contained four ages, visited humanity in each, and at the end of the present age would return (Brown, p. 9) -- presumably at the beginning of the next or sixth age. All these expressions seem to confirm that the human race is now somewhere near to or in the fifth of a seven-staged trek. This tradition again agrees remarkably with the modern theosophical teaching of seven major or root-races, our present humanity being said to be in the fifth root-race, although composed of peoples of both fourth- and fifth-race antecedents. Most Amerindian versions of this tradition are silent regarding future racial experiences, though such are implied. Only Hopi teachers appear openly to state that there are still several of these "worlds" or long racial cycles ahead for us, until humanity as a whole -- or at least the worthy portion of it -- can return to the plane or world of the "creator" or manifest One, before passing from thence into the Great Mystery of the highest worlds.
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, November, 1976. Copyright © by Theosophical University Press)
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