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Keith Varnum

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How the Hopi Create Their World
By Keith Varnum
Sunday, August 17, 2003



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God gives food to every bird, but does not throw it into the nest.

-Montenegrin proverb

"Do you hear that?" I whispered to my friend Tobias.


"No, what?" he answered under his breath.


"Drumming. The sound of soft, distant drumming."


"No, but I see a faint glow over there by the cliff. Like a small fire. A vague, flickering light cast against the rock face."



My friend Tobias and I love to explore old Indian ruins in Arizona’s desert canyons and mesas. Our favorite ones are the secluded, out-of-the-way remains not normally visited by other people. These remnants of a bygone civilization are quiet, dreamy and somewhat desolate. Many of the aged, abandoned fortresses and homes are over a thousand years old. These timeworn vestiges of ancestral life are extremely serene—and mystical. When Tobias and I sit and meditate within their eroded walls, we often see a dim, blurry campfire, or hear subtle, muffled, elusive drumming, chanting or the sound of children playing. Experiencing visual and auditory glimpses of the distant past is enthralling to us and serves to heighten our interest in learning more about the ancient ones who lived in the American Southwest so long ago.


One day, while exploring a windy, arid, remote mesa in the high northern desert of Arizona, Tobias and I happened upon an Anazazi Indian ruin with several partial dwellings still standing. The crumbling abodes were awash in relics of antiquity. Delighted to find a site that obviously hadn’t received many visitors over the years, we dropped to our hands and knees, and sifted through the dirt for artifacts to help us understand the long-departed residents. Our efforts were rewarded with arrowheads, pottery shards and corncobs preserved by the extreme dryness.


In the center of this native village is a large oval pit about sixty feet wide. Surrounded by a wall of very carefully fitted slate stones, the pit sinks approximately five feet into the ground. This submerged ring of stones is called a kiva by Native Americans.


The structure served as a ceremonial circle for Indian rituals. Spellbound by the aura and electricity we sensed within the ceremonial pit, Tobias and I speculated about its history. As we sat on the sun-warmed stones in the kiva, we longed to know the specific nature and focus of the ancient rituals conducted by the Anazazi Indians so long ago.


The absolute quiet and serenity of the kiva reminded me of a psychology experiment I read about in college. The research project revealed a fascinating quality inherent in a vacuum. Relaxing in the ominous silence of the kiva, I related the experiment to my fellow explorer.


Scientists set up a near vacuum in a completely empty room. Installed in this vacuum-sealed room were a speaker and a listening device. From outside the room, one of the researchers spoke distinctly one secret word, known only to him, through the speaker into the room. The chamber was then locked and sealed for five years. At the end of the five years, the scientists returned. From outside the room, they turned on the highly sophisticated sound sensing equipment to listen to whatever they could hear from inside the room. The device picked up the secret word spoken into the vacuum five years earlier! The sound vibration of the word was still alive and detectable within that environment after five years.


The kiva was almost as still and empty as I imagined a vacuum to be. It was the kind of quiet that absorbs every sound. Even the intermittent whistling of the wind was consumed by the all-prevailing silence.


Sitting in this timeless place, we allowed the tranquility to envelop us. I sensed the space around us had been this serene for the last thousand years. That’s when the notion came to me. Was it possible that whatever happened in the kiva a millennium ago still exists on some subtle, vibrational level, just like the sound of the spoken word in the scientists’ vacuum? And, like the word, is that vibration accessible and perceivable now?



What an exciting concept! I turned to Tobias to share my proposal, "Maybe we could contact whatever occurred in this kiva long ago. Perhaps even hear part of a ceremony."


Tobias caught my enthusiasm. Blond, blue-eyed and innocent, Tobias had the adventurous curiosity of his Norse forebears. He was as anxious as I to see if such a feat was possible. We were flush with excitement. We were on a mission to connect with the kindred souls who had preceded us on the planet!


We decided to sit quietly inside the circle and open ourselves to sensing any vibrations remaining from previous activities in the kiva. The most we expected was something along the lines of what we’d experienced before—a faint vision, a vague mumbling, or, if extremely fortunate, a hazy, dreamlike apparition.


After about half an hour, neither of us had picked up any sound or sighting. Then suddenly, to our right sat a Native American Indian—in the flesh! I tentatively reached over lightly touching him to make sure he was real. I was taken aback by my discovery. "Yes," I nodded to Tobias, "the man is a solid, physical human being. He’s not a phantom!"


The stoic Indian sat cross-legged on the bare ground. A hundred canyon-like lines etched his noble, bronze face. He looked ancient, and very sweet and gentle. His soft eyes, quietly smiling, were so penetrating I kept losing myself in his calm, accepting gaze.


A reverent silence engulfed the three of us for a very long while. Finally the Indian elder smiled and stated, "You’d like to know the purpose for which we used this ceremonial circle. Is that not right?"


We had not expected a living tour guide and eagerly bobbed our heads up and down to indicate "yes"—a thousand times "yes!" He nodded, took a long, quiet breath and began our lesson in creating abundance:




"Many, many moons ago, when the antelope ran free, the buffalo grazed across all the land, and my brothers and sisters lived in harmony with each other and Mother Earth, we would meet in this circle every fall for the most important ceremony of the whole year. This most sacred, vital ritual was attended by the chief of the tribe, the medicine man, the tribe elders and all of those who had achieved the status of a brave—the hunters of the tribe. After many days of purification through chanting, drumming and praying in our sweat lodges, we sat around this circle in silence and waited until the Great Spirit honored us with a vision.


"Then, one by one, each brave would see and feel the specific animals they would kill and bring to the village as food for the tribe in the coming year. Each animal’s spirit made an agreement with the warrior who would be killing the animal. For a period of time, their spirits would commune in the beauty and harmony of their shared intention. In this time-honored way, the warrior would connect with each bison, antelope and deer that he would be providing for the tribe. When his vision was complete, the brave announced to the rest of the group what he had seen and experienced."


At this point, the Indian took a full breath and said in a very deliberate manner:




"And on this day, the entire year’s food supply for the tribe was created."



He stared at us closely to see if we heard his last statement. Satisfied, he continued:




"Each warrior waited until he saw, greeted and came to a mutual understanding with the spirit of each buffalo, antelope and deer before announcing to the circle, ‘I will bring so many buffalo, antelope and deer to the tribe in the coming year.’ And so it went until, one by one, each brave met the spirit of each animal that would come to him to be killed in the next year. One by one, each warrior announced the food they would provide to the tribe in the coming year."



Again, the venerable, timeworn storyteller paused. With great passion, he looked directly into our eyes—first mine, then Tobias’. I have never felt such a piercing gaze. His look penetrated the depths of my soul. Dramatically, he drew air into his lungs. Repeating his message, he declared:




"And on this day, the entire year’s food supply for the tribe was created."



Once again, he waited until he sensed that the import of his words was fully absorbed before resuming:




"After all the braves had proclaimed the food they would bring for the coming year, the chief, medicine man and elders would bless the ceremony. All would leave the kiva knowing that on this day, the entire year’s food supply for the tribe was created."



Again, he waited, watching to see if we were fully digesting his last sentence before speaking again. He continued in a very emphatic tone:




"In the winter when the warriors could not go out hunting because there was a blizzard with snow drifts twenty feet high, the chief, medicine man, elders and braves would meet again in the kiva and wait in silent, expectant meditation. Soon, from the wind-swept prairie and the snow-covered plateaus would come a bison, a deer or an antelope. On its own, the animal would find its way into the tribal encampment and then into the kiva circle. The creature would stand in the center of the circle until it recognized the brave with whom it had made a spirit agreement. Then the animal would walk over to the warrior, stand right in front of him, and calmly allow itself to be killed in a very quick and painless way. The creature gave itself up to the brave, as previously agreed in the kiva, so that the people would have food during the harsh, winter months. For, on that special day the previous fall, the entire year’s food supply for the tribe had been created."



It wasn’t until the Indian told us about the animals coming into the circle in the winter and recognizing the warriors with whom they had an agreement that Tobias and I finally realized what the Indian was telling us. And at the exact moment we got the point of the story, the old man disappeared in front of our eyes. Not believing our vision, we scanned the kiva quickly, thinking he must have been a very fast escape artist. It was thirty feet to the edge of the circle and neither of us saw him leave. He vanished the second we understood his message!


Driving back to Phoenix later that day, Tobias and I discussed our shared encounter at great length. We agreed the Indian was telling us something far more important than how the Hopi used to create food for a year. He was opening a gateway for us to understand how creation itself works.



The message Tobias and I received in the kiva was simple, yet profound: the power to create lies in the Present, not in the future. Creation happens now when declared with power, heart and strong intention. Then, that which is created in the Present unfolds in future time and space according to our mutual agreements with the rest of the living beings of Mother Earth.

       Web Site: The Sedona Shaman Vision Quest

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