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Pueblo Cosmology

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The symbolism of the World-Quarters, of the Above, and of the Below is nowhere more elaborately developed among American Indians than with the Pueblos. Analogies are drawn not merely with the colours, with plants and animals, and with cult objects and religious ideas, but with human society in all the ramifications of its organization, making of mankind not only the theatric centre of the cosmos, but a kind of elaborate image of its form.

According to their Genesis, the ancestors of the Pueblo dwellers issued from the fourfold Underworld through a Sipapu, which some regard as a lake, and thence journeyed in search of the Middle Place of the World, Earth's navel, which the various tribes locate differently; in Zuņi, for example, it is in the town itself. The world is oriented from this point and the sunrise — east is "the before," as in the ancient lore of the Old World — the four cardinals, the zenith, and the nadir defining the cosmic frame of all things. It may be of interest to note that if these points be regarded as everywhere equidistant from the centre, and that if they then be circumscribed by circles in every plane about the centre, the resulting figure will be a sphere; and it is not improbable that from such a procedure arose the first conception of the spherical form of the universe; the swastika and the swastika inscribed in a circle are cosmic symbols in the South-West as in many other parts of the world, and while no Indians had attained to the concept of a world-sphere, the Pueblos at least were upon the very threshold of the idea." Each of the six regions — the Quarters, the Above, and the Below - possesses its symbolic colour: in the Zuņi and Hopi systems, the white of dawn is the colour of the East; the blue of the daylit sky is the tint of the West, toward which the sun takes his daily journey; red, the symbol of fire and heat, is the hue of the South; and yellow, for sunrise and sunset, perhaps for the aurora as well, is the Northern colour; all colours typify the Zenith; black is the symbol of the Nadir. As the colours, so the elements are related to the Quarters : to the North belongs the air, element of wind and breath, for from it come the strong winter winds; the West is characterized by water, for in the Pueblo land rains sweep in from the Pacific; fire is of the South; while the earth and the seeds of life which fructify the earth are of the East. In their rituals the Zuņi address the points in this order: prayer is made first to the Middle Place, then to the North with whom is the breath which is the prime essential of life, to the West whose rain-laden clouds first break the hold of winter, to the South, the East, the Zenith, the Nadir which holds in its bosom the caverns of the dead, and once again the Middle Place. The tribal clans are grouped and organized with respect to these same points, while human activities, as represented by the fraternities having them symbolically in charge, are similarly oriented — war is of the North, peace and the chase of the West, husbandry of the South, rite and medicine of the East; to the Zenith belong the life-preservers, and to the Nadir the life-generators, for not only do the dead depart thither to be born again, but it is from Below that the ancestors of all men first came; to the Middle Place, the heart or navel of the world, belong the "Mythic Dance Drama People," representing all the clans, and having in charge the presentation of the masques of the ancestral and allied divinities. This sevenfold division is reflected in the six kivas and shrine of the Middle Place of the town itself; and may be associated with the original seven towns of the ancestral community, for it is taken as established that the Seven Cities of Cibola, whose fame brought Coronado and his expedition from the south, were the ancestral pueblos of the present Zuņi.



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