Ceremony Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Ceremony : Metaphor

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Native American Lore

As Laguna poet/critic Paula Gunn Allen states in The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, symbols in American Indian literature derive from ceremony where each thing is itself, not representing or signifying something else. Naming things evokes their presence. All objects, animals and plants are perceived in a psychic or sacred manner in which their unique power is revealed. While this type of perception is usually associated with medicine men and women, it is common to the Native American religious point of view. This fact is important in studying Native American symbols, for they do not stand for something else; they evoke the presence of the objects named. Tayo vividly remembers the animals of the southwest—the bat, snake, grasshopper, flies, deer, mountain lion, all of whom are powers in themselves. A yellow snake on the mountain, for instance, is a presence that gives him a message about the time of emergence and reminds him that there is life everywhere. The animals and landscape are full of stories for Tayo. They tell him who he is. Colors are ceremonial—yellow for north and death, for instance. The Gambler is the magician who stole the rain clouds and stands for Indian witchery. He is the real opponent Tayo faces. The powers of nature help him against the false magic of sorcerers and witches and of white witchery.


Drought vs. Rain

Tayo is obsessed with the topic of rain. The Pueblo prayers for rain are important in the southwestern desert area. They believe the dead send the rain. Josiah's death is traumatic for Tayo because he feels he caused it by going off to war. Josiah lost his cattle and did not die a proper death, so that is one cause of the drought in his mind. Another is that he prayed for the rain to stop in the Philippines because it was impossible to carry his wounded cousin Rocky on a stretcher in the pouring rain. When he comes home the land is cursed. The people are poor; they are violent and the uranium mine poisons them. Rain comes by pleasing the natural powers through ceremony. Tayo's nights of love with the Night Swan and T’seh bring rain and fertility to the land.


Metaphors of the White World

The white world is characterized by death and dead objects. This is because that is how white people perceive and treat the natural world. The color white is often invoked in this way. Tayo remembers the white veterans’ hospital as sucking the life out of him. It makes him invisible.

Gallup, New Mexico, also evokes the blight the white civilization has put on the land, with its bars and prostitutes, and the images of homeless women and children living in shacks in the arroyos. It is an ugly strip along the highway, and Betonie situates himself in the hills so he can overlook and keep track of this world of witchery, as he calls it. His boxes of calendars, phone books, and other seemingly ugly objects from a commercial culture are used by him in his ceremonies against witchery. Witchery is the main metaphor for the white world. Betonie means that the white world is not some harmless accident or ignorance. It is an act of evil against life itself, black magic. After being with Betonie, Tayo sees a calendar at a truck stop and understands it as a symbol of the white world. A half-naked white blond girl with a baton is holding the neck of a horse and holding a bottle of Coca-Cola. Her teeth look like the unnatural teeth of a stuffed bobcat he had seen. The calendar makes him feel like a shadow. The white world makes him feel he does not exist. He constantly vomits as a response to it. It is the world of death. There are no natural objects associated with it. The fifth world of daylight and emergence, where Indians climbed out from underground to live, has been sabotaged by European names superimposed on the earth, such as Mt. Taylor, for the sacred mountain.



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