Ceremony :Novel Summary: Pages 107-153

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Summary of pages 107-153

This part of the book tells how Tayo begins his cure with the Navajo medicine man, Betonie. Tayo is not getting any better, even with the Laguna ceremonies of old Ku'oosh. The people tell him he has to do something, so he lets them put him into the hands of a stronger medicine man, a Navajo, Betonie, near Gallup.

Tayo has flashbacks about his early childhood in the slum shacks of Gallup, with his prostitute mother. There were mothers and children in the arroyos, with makeshift housing. The children search the garbage dumps for food. He plays in bars where his mother finds customers. He is used to her coming and going with the men.

Betonie is the Navajo medicine man who lives north of the ceremonial grounds in the foothills of Mt. Taylor, the sacred mountain. Betonie is a tall old man who speaks good English and has his hogan situated so he can look down on Gallup. Betonie laughs and explains it is the town that is out of place, for the area belongs to the Navajo ancestors. Tayo is puzzled by Betonie, for he does not seem bothered by the whites. He is confident of himself. Betonie has strange stores of items in his hogan, boxes of roots, and stacks of old phone books and newspapers. He explains he is keeping track of things.

Tayo begins to tell him his experience, and Betonie comments on it. Tayo explains his sense of guilt about Josiah's death when the cattle were stolen and he was away at war. Betonie becomes excited by Tayo's story as if it makes sense, because he sees it in a magical perspective. Betonie explains that the Indians believe ceremonies must be performed exactly as the ancestors did them, but things have changed since the whites came, and now, he has seen how to do new ceremonies for the current times. Because of this, he is distrusted by the other Indians. Betonie explains about witchery, the power used to prevent growth and change. The whites use witchery to create chaos in the world.

Betonie has a boy named Shush, who helps him. A story is told how he was a boy lost and raised by bears, until the medicine man came and called him back to the human world. Tayo asks Betonie what good ceremonies can do against the power of the white world?The witchery has blighted everything.

Betonie tells the story of how white people were created from Indian witchery. Indians themselves are to blame for bringing the imbalance to the world. They must create balance again by finding the pattern and finishing the ceremony. Betonie does a ceremony of return from darkness for Tayo and tells about his grandfather Descheeny who with a Mexican wife invented new ceremonies to cure the world of white witchery. He has come from this line. Now Tayo must continue the ceremony and find this pattern of transition and finish the ceremony, not just for himself but for the whole world.

Commentary on pages 107-153

Betonie looks down on Gallup because the town seems to symbolize the worst of Indian life in white civilization. It is where the Indian prostitutes, like Tayo's mother, worked. Tayo knows he has to let Betonie cure him because the Lagunas do not want him, and the only other place is the white hospital. Betonie is not the way Tayo imagines a medicine man. He is afraid of him but surrenders. He speaks perfect English and understands the white world. Betonie is a half-breed like Tayo. This has special significance, not only for Tayo, but also for the message of the book. Indians are caught between two worlds and generally have to choose to become like whites or to cling to the ways of the ancestors. Betonie has a different path. He understands that the old Indian ways are still valid but must be applied in a contemporary way. The symbol of this approach are the piles of phone books and newspapers and calendars Betonie stores in his hogan. Betonie sees that being a half-breed is not necessarily a part of the Indian shame from being defeated by whites. He has a position where he can see how to modify the ceremonies for the current time because of his mixed blood. He explains to Tayo that it is counter-productive to be simplistic and to hate all whites and trust all Indians. Everyone has a place in the scheme of things. As a medicine man, he teaches Tayo to see the new patterns, and to work with them in a ceremonial way. He teaches him that witchery is the power that opposes Indian medicine. Medicine is the knowledge of how to live with the powers of nature, while witchery is the black magic that brings death and oppression. Witchery was brought with the whites but does not mean all white things are bad.

The story of Shush, the boy who is half-bear and half-Indian is a reminder that for the native peoples, the line between kingdoms is not fixed. Humans and animals can enter each other's worlds. All creatures share the same world and communication between species is part of native medicine. 

Betonie's story of how witchery began with Indian witchcraft cleverly shifts the center of power to Indians themselves. The white world is part of the lies and fear that Indians create in their stories of what has happened to them. If one believes that evil comes from the whites, it gives them the power. Betonie tells that the evil let loose with witchery will extinguish itself, for it leads to the death of everything, but the ceremony to defeat evil is still going on. Everyone must be part of that ceremony, even whites and half-breeds. He tells Tayo that now he must finish the ceremony. That will be his cure, for his sickness is more than personal; it is the sickness of the world.

Betonie creates a story about the origin of evil and Tayo's place in the world. He gives him a story of identity and a task to prove that identity. This gives him a way out of the story he has accepted by the white civilization of who he is. It is the white story of who he is, more than the events he experienced, that make him sick.

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