Continuous Journey to the Sun

By Blair A. Moffett

"Man is made From Everything" is a beautiful Navaho saying that is pregnant with implications. It means that we human beings are compound of every ingredient composing the source of all, All-father Father: the cosmic being whose body is the cosmos that we see. We share in its divine, spiritual, mental, ethereal, and material being. Because All-father Father periodically emanates all things into existence and later brings about their withdrawal into itself, it likewise contains time and space. So the Indian knows that he too, as every other creature, is born and reborn, returning to this world in reincarnation. As early as 1868 the Americanist, Daniel G. Brinton, reported the central importance of the idea of human rebirth in American Indian religion, in his Myths of the Americas (reprinted 1976, Multimedia Publishing Corporation, Blauvelt, N.Y.; pp. 271-4).

Far from being lord of creation, he knows that he is rather just one species of being linked with many younger brothers coming on behind him in evolution, and with older brothers who are ahead of his kind on the great journey. All-father Father has provided for other and suitable mansions of life for the sojourn of all of its creatures after each earth-dying and until each again-birth. But among all on this earth, the Indian recognizes that man alone has the capacity to consciously experience the unity of the cosmos and the sacredness of all life within it — i.e., "to become divine." He can do this because he is not just himself, but is twin: he has an elder brother. This demands an explanation, and we have it richly set out in the Navaho allegory composing their healing ceremony known as Where the Two Came to Their Father. As in all Amerindian sacred myth, this account contains many levels of meaning and many perspectives rolled up in one. Here is the story in brief:

Changing Woman, impregnated by a beam from Father Sun, gave birth. Four days later, having sat beneath dripping water, she bore another baby. The elder, bold and active, she named her Son. The younger, weak and shy, she named her Grandson. Therefore, as both had the same mother, they are brothers; but one is older by a full "generation" than the other. They are twins, because inseparable. Later, the brothers will go to seek the Turquoise House, home of their father, the Spirit of the Sun (Frank Waters, Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism, The Swallow Press, Chicago, 1950; pp. 214-15); but this is getting ahead of our story. Suffice it to say here that this allegory of sacred twins, or of a twin-natured being, can be found in many forms and versions throughout the various native American cultures. At the human level it refers to the "second birth" or initiation of the personal man into awareness of his elder twin.

Among the Siouan peoples of the western plains this sacred endeavor was known as the vision-quest, and it was first attempted at the age of puberty. Anthropologists tell us that the purpose of the vision-quest was to "obtain a tutelary spirit," or come into "personal relations" with the tutelary spirit, sometimes called the candidate's "ancestor." Only by obtaining his tutelary spirit can the novice receive the revelation of life's sanctity, which changes his status, according to their account (Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1975; pp. 66-8. See also his The Sacred and the Profane, passim.). Despite this scholarly language, it is not difficult to see the facts as understood by the Indian. The "tutelary spirit" is the man's elder self or twin, preserver of immortal knowledge, who reveals it to the initiant to the degree that this is possible. The vision-quest was an individual effort. The one who wished to undertake it approached a spiritual elder of his tribe, who supervised his preparation and purification rites. The candidate was escorted to a suitable spot in the wilderness, usually a mountain peak, where he was left alone with himself for a number of days. During this isolation, he had through will-prayer to attempt to evoke in himself the presence of his immortal twin. If successful, he would know it through various signs and experiences, which he was helped to interpret by the spiritual elder "watching over" him, following the candidate's return to his people (Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1978; for descriptions of the vision-quest, see pp. 204-6. For more information see Vinson Brown, Voices of Earth and Sky, Naturegraph Publishers, Healdsburg, 1976; passim.).

For those who succeeded, life would never be the same again. They had been "born of the spirit," and the profane was now bathed in the sacred. The personal man was "reborn" into the sacred space and time of his immortal self and "died" to the secular time and space of the physical world. While he of course remained in the world, his consciousness was no longer exclusively of it, but now embraced a transhuman or cosmic dimension. Not every candidate achieves success, of course; in fact, only relatively few obtain a full "vision." But all were and are given the opportunity to try for it, and most benefit from the experience. To obtain at least this initial spiritual vision has always been one of the chief aims of young Siouan men and women.

The native American spiritual elder, like his counterparts guarding the sacred knowledge-traditions elsewhere in the world, was a constant observer and student of all nature. He knew that puberty signifies a moment in the process of incarnation for the growing youth when the immortal reincarnating self makes great efforts to take a firmer hold of its "child," the new personal man. If the latter can become aware of its "progenitor," together they can more effectively fulfill the real purposes of the new lifetime. Thus, by recognizing his elder twin in the face-to-face encounter of the vision-quest, the young man could gain the needed perspective, could keep the inner "door" open between them for the rest of his life, if lived aright. He could thereby realize experientially his connection and unity with all his younger as well as older brothers walking the Road of Life and Death. If not, an inner "door" might close and the new man continue to live in relative ignorance of his life's purpose. But once "reborn of the spirit," later quests or initiations could bring expansion of awareness of his proper place and role in the community of lives.

My words are tied in one
With the great mountains
With the great rocks,
With the great trees,
In one with my body
And my heart.
Do you all help me
With supernatural power,
And you, Day
And you, Night!
All of you see me
One with this world!
(Quoted in Artscanada, December 1973/January 1974. From Herbert J. Spinden, Songs of the Tewa, The Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts, N.Y., 193 3; p. 7.)

Everywhere among native American cultures are found ceremonial and ritual cycles that speak to us of a series of spiritual births or initiations that could follow upon the revelation of sacred twinness conferred by the vision-quest of puberty. Few in our society know that these Amerindian observances are really Mystery-religions closely similar to those of the classical period of the Mediterranean world. The eminent student of American Indian civilization and culture, Hartley Burr Alexander, has shown that the Hako ritual of the Pawnees, for example, and in great measure the Hunka rite of the Dakotas, are astonishingly parallel in their details of form, procedure, and purpose, to the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Attica. In the Big House ceremony of the Leni Lenape Indians of Delaware, and the Mide wiwin of the Chippewa and related central Algonquin tribes, Alexander finds analogies to the Orphic Mysteries as well as to those of Isis and Osiris.

The complete Hako ceremony contained some twenty principal rites: seven devoted to the Preparation; seven to the Public Ceremonies; and six to the Secret Ceremonies. The Mide wiwin, a secret organization having ritual initiations and esoteric teachings, consisted of a series of "lodges" or degrees, the typical and apparently original division of these being four. Its central objective was to bring about the spiritual birth of the initiant and a direct revelation of wisdom from the Great Spirit, for the healing of mankind. The Hako ceremony of more complex form mirrored forth a similar purpose (Hartley Burr Alexander, The World's Rim, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1953; pp. 100-35; 205-23.).

A characteristic mark of initiation among native American peoples is that it is undergone for the benefit of "the community" and not the individual — that is, for all humanity as well as the other orders of life on earth: the Indian ideal of brotherhood in service. Each successful effort extends the "sacred hoop" over the earth, and any wisdom and power accrued must be brought back and shared as fully as possible. No Indian would approach initiation or any sacred moment without first cleansing himself physically and mentally, and preparing himself spiritually; for success demands purity, strength, and the blending of the personal with the transpersonal through correct will-prayer. Each quest entails perils and is subject to failure, and failure damages "the community" as much as success benefits it.

The Navaho allegory clearly describes the great or solar initiation, toward which all the lesser ones are directed. As we saw, the personal man and his elder twin or Hero-soul were born to Changing Woman, who hid them until the age of twelve from monsters threatening mankind. Then they resolved to seek their father, the Sun, for the knowledge to banish the monsters. This search could be attempted only by both together. It was an awesome and dangerous journey for Changing Woman's Son and Grandson, but they were helped by all the powers and reached the Turquoise House. Once there, the Sun put them through a series of trials and questions. Only after they had successfully responded to these did Sun-Father recognize them as his own. He named his son, Monster Slayer, and his grandson, Child Born of Water, and gave them their patrimony. What was it? It was their Sun-Father's control-thought and knowledge-wisdom. They were instructed to take these back to the earth and always use them for the saving of all the people. The twins were then enjoined faithfully to hand on this power-wisdom to those who come later, so that it will always be on the earth, contained in the sacred songs, stories, and rituals, for the healing of mankind.

Here there is no trace of the selfish pursuit of a personal spiritual nirvana of bliss, of an extinguishment of compassion for and association with a stumbling humanity still on the earth. On the contrary, their great victory won, and having been recognized as his true offspring by Father-Sun in face-to-face encounter, the now-divine twins' path takes them back to the earth. They return as spiritual heroes and protectors, taking their place as guardians of the world's balance and transmitters of their progenitor's wisdom. Applying this allegory to the individual human candidate, as we should, we get a marvelous picture of the transcendent experience the Indian realized through his cycle of initiations.

"In A Sacred Manner We Live" is another Indian saying reflecting the native American's awareness that the whole of life is inspirited, the sacred spilling into the profane in every moment of time and every point in space. Humankind shares in the life of the higher, godlike orders and of the cosmos itself; therefore all men have an obligation to seek to keep pace with those who are "ahead." This the Hopis have beautifully put as the "continuous journey to the Sun" where, in some real sense, each passing instant of time should bring its own measure of "second birth." From the lofty Andes of South America we have the Quechua peoples' figure of their tata or spiritual elder, shown as in a brown study, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. But the tata is really intensely active inwardly, "filing away" his material consciousness to invigorate and bring to birth his spiritual consciousness (I am indebted for this information to personal conversations with a Bolivian woman of Quechua Indian antecedents.). Child Born of Water is catching up with Monster Slayer, so that both together can catch up to their Father-Sun. "Continuous journey to the Sun" is a way of describing a "daily" or "momently" initiation, whose object is not the physical sun but the inner Sun-Father, upon which the spiritual elder's attention is fixed.

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1978. Copyright © 1978 by Theosophical University Press.)


Sunrise Back Issues Menu