Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of June 1st, - June 7th, 2007

Native American Summer

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  The more I study the mythic tradition, the more I'm convinced that there was an awareness of the stars which extends much further back than we are currently taught.
The Sacred Hoop controlled seasonal migrations

The Sacred Hoop controlled seasonal migrations

Generally we are told that this discipline began with the Sumerians and Egyptians along the river valleys of the Middle East and Africa. Part of the underpinnings of this logic is that these are the cultures where writing began, and with writing we may peer into the mind of man and determine what was being thought. But in following this line of logic, we are ignoring a much larger body of oral tradition which tells the tales of a time before writing, and of how things began. This vehicle of oral tradition was myth. If, like Sir James G. Frasier (one of the early translators of many of the Greek myths), you believed that all myths are based on ignorance and falsehood, then there's good reason to throw out the baby with the bath water. But if there is a thread of truth which runs through these tales, then we may also be throwing out a valuable resource and deep vein of information regarding what these people once believed.

  Myth suggests that the calendar, agriculture and the stars go back a long, long way. We even have evidence which suggests that use of the Sun, Moon and stars may pre-date agriculture, and extend back to the hunters and gatherers of the last Ice Age. We know that plains Indians were using risings and settings of prominent stars to move the tribe to their summer and winter quarters and to follow the herds, each in their season. Capella, Castor and Pollux, Procyon, Sirius, and Rigel were all a part of what was called the 'Sacred Hoop', and formed part of their calendar. When and where did these observations begin? We don't know.

Busk ceremony

Busk or Green Corn Ceremony

  In many cultures, the New Year is a time when a cycle ends and begins. It is a time to let go and forgive. We don't know if the poskita ("to fast") ceremony was seen as a Native American New Year, but many of its customs are similar to those of other New Year traditions. It was also called the Green Corn Ceremony, the New Fire Ceremony, or simply the Busk. It was held in July or August, during the time when the Sun is at its peak in power and intensity. It was a time of renewal when the whole world- the plants, animals and even men- was regenerated.

  Towns were purified by sweeping. Old fires were put out and new fires begun. People fasted and drank what was called the "black drink", made from the leaves of Ilex vomitoria. Native Americans tried to straighten out their lives and made resolutions to be better, knowing that their intentions would slowly unravel over the course of the coming year. This was why the fire was put out and renewed, because it had become polluted through man's inability to live up to his higher social ideals. The New Fire Ceremony wiped away this social decay, or at least endeavored to. People who were angry with each other made efforts to reconcile themselves, people who had committed crimes were forgiven, with the exception of murder. Those who had neglected their social roles were reminded of the value of returning to their proper niche.

  As the Sun rode through its highest courses in the sky, the Busk spiritually cleansed the community, and at sunset on the last day, men bathed in the river.

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