Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Secret Book 9: Deloria To The Land and People

Epistle Four: To the Land and People

1. If the spatial dimension of religion is considered…. Something is observed or experienced by a community, and the symbols and sequences of the mythology are given together in an event that appears so much out of the ordinary experiential sequence as to impress itself upon the collective memories of the community for a sufficiently long duration of time. … The symbols are always representations of the concrete and the place always has a precise location.

2. It is quite possible, therefore, that as we look for the origin of peoples, we must discover religious experiences; as we look for the origins of religions, we must discover nations of people, and whichever way we look, it is to the lands on which the people reside and which the religions arise that is important.

3. In a sense, then, religion must relate to land, and it must dominate and structure society. It must not be separated from a particular piece of land and a particular community, and it must not be determined by culture.

4. If we were to subject the topic of the sacredness of lands to a western rational analysis, fully recognizing that such an analysis is merely for our convenience in discussion and does not represent the nature of reality, we would probably find four major categories of description. Some of these categories certainly are overlapping in the sense that different individuals and groups have already sorted out their own beliefs so that they would not accept the classification of certain sites in the categories in which Indians would place them. Nevertheless, it is the principle of respect for the sacred that is important.
a. The first and most familiar sacred lands are those places to which we attribute a sacredness, because the location is a site where, within our own history, regardless of our group, something of great importance took place. Unfortunately, many of these places are related to instances of human violence; Gettysburg National Cemetery is a good example of this kind of sacred land. … Wounded Knee, South Dakota, is such a place for many Indians. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. might be an example of a location with a nonviolent background.

b. A second classification of sacred lands has a deeper, more profound sense of the sacred. … After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Hebrews across the River Jordan into the Holy Land. … In comparing this sacred site with Gettysburg, we must understand a fundamental difference. Gettysburg is made sacred by the actions of men. …In the crossing of the River Jordan, the sacred appeared in the lives of human beings; the sacred appeared in an otherwise secular situation. … Thus Buffalo Gap in the southeastern edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota marks the location where the buffalo emerged each spring to begin the ceremonial year of the Plains Indians. … In the religious world of most tribes, birds, animals and plants compose the “other peoples” of creation and, depending on the ceremony, various of these peoples participate in human activities. If Jews and Christians see the action of a single deity at sacred places and in churches and synagogues, traditional Indian people see considerably more activity as the whole of creation becomes an active participant in ceremonial life.

c. The third kind of sacred lands are places of overwhelming Holiness where Higher Powers, on their own initiative, have revealed themselves to human beings. … Prior to his trip to Egypt, Moses spent his time herding his father-in-law’s sheep on and near Mount Horeb. One day he took the flock to the far side of the mountain, and to his amazement he saw a bush burning with fire but not being consumed. Approaching this spot with the usual curiosity of a person accustomed to the outdoor life, Moses was startled when the Lord spoke to him from the bush, warning, “Draw not hither; put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereupon thou standest is holy ground.” … This tradition tells us that there are, on this earth, some places of inherent sacredness, sites that are Holy in and of themselves. Human societies come and go on this earth and any prolonged occupation of a geographical region will produce shrines and sacred sites discerned by the occupying people. …This phenomenon is world-wide and all religions find that these places regenerate people and fill them with spiritual powers. In the western hemisphere these places, with some few exceptions, are known only by American Indians.

d. The second and third categories of sacred lands result from revelations of the Holy at certain locations. The ceremonies that belong to these sacred sites involve a process of continuous revelation and provide the people with the necessary information to enable them to maintain a balance in their relationships with the earth and other forms of life. Because there are higher spiritual powers who are in communication with human beings, there has to be a fourth category of sacred lands. Human beings must always be ready to receive new revelations at new locations. If this possibility did not exist, all deities and spirits would be dead.
5. The transition from traditional Western/Christian categories to tribal and non-Western categories of religious experience is not then a matter of learning new facts about life, the world, human history, or adopting new symbols and garments. It is primarily a matter of participation in terms of the real factors of existence—living on the land, living within a specific community, and having religious people with special powers within that community.

6. Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land?

~Vine Deloria Jr.
see the complete The Secret Book of Son Rivers to date

No comments: