Published on May 6, 2012 by Amy
Zuni mythology is the oral history, cosmology, and religion of the Zuni people. The Zuni are a Pueblo people located in New Mexico. Their religion is integrated into their daily lives and respects ancestors, nature, and animals. Due to a history of religious persecution by non-native peoples, they are very private about their religious beliefs. Roman Catholicism has to some extent been integrated into traditional Zuni religion.
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Cultural institutions that provide religious instruction and cultural stability include their priests, clans, kivas (kachina society), and healing societies. A ceremonial cycle brings the community together. While some ceremonies are open to non-Zuni peoples, others are private; for instance the Shalako ceremony and feast has been closed to outsiders since 1990.
A list of Kachinas includes:
In a version of the Zuni creation story told to anthropologist Ruth Benedict, people initially dwelt crowded tightly together in total darkness in a place deep in the earth known as the fourth world. The daylight world then had hills and streams but no people to live there or to present prayer sticks to Awonawilona, the Sun and creator. Awonawilona took pity on the people and his two sons were stirred to lead them to the daylight world. The sons, who have human features, located the opening to the fourth world in the southwest, but they were forced to pass through the progressively dimming first, second and third worlds before reaching the overcrowded and blackened fourth world. The people, blinded by the darkness, identified the two brothers as strangers by touch and called them their bow priests. The people expressed their eagerness to leave to the bow priests, and the priests of the north, west, south and east who were also consulted agreed.
To prepare for the journey, four seeds were planted by Awonawilona’s sons, and four trees sprang from them: a pine, a spruce, a silver spruce and an aspen. The trees quickly grew to full size, and the bow priests broke branches from them and passed them to the people. Then the bow priests made a prayer stick from a branch of each tree. They plunged the first, the prayer stick made of pine, into the ground and lightning sounded as it quickly grew all the way to the third world. The people were told that the time had come and to gather all their belongings, and they climbed up it to a somewhat lighter world but were still blinded. They asked if this is where they were to live and the bow priests said, “Not yet”. After staying four days, they traveled to the second world in similar fashion: the spruce prayer stick was planted in the earth and when it grew tall enough the people climbed it to the next world above them. And again, after four days they climbed the length of silver spruce prayer stick to the first world, but here they could see themselves for the first time because the sky glowed from a dawn-like red light. They saw they were each covered with filth and a green slime. Their hands and feet were webbed and they had horns and tails, but no mouths or anuses. But like each previous emergence, they were told this was not to be their final home.
On their fourth day in the first world, the bow priests planted the last prayer stick, the one made of aspen. Thunder again sounded, the prayer stick stretched through the hole to the daylight world, and the people climbed one last time. When they all had emerged, the bow priests pointed out the Sun, Awonawilona, and urged the people to look upon him despite his brightness. Unaccustomed to the intense light, the people cried and sunflowers sprang from the earth where their tears fell. After four days, the people traveled on, and the bow priests decided they needed to learn to eat so they planted corn fetishes in the fields and when these had multiplied and grown, harvested it and gave the harvest to the men to bring home to their wives. The bow priests were saddened to see the people were smelling the corn but were unable to eat it because they had no mouths. So when they were asleep, the bow priests sharpened a knife with a red whetstone and cut mouths in the people’s faces. The next morning they were able to eat, but by evening they were uncomfortable because they could not defecate. That night when they were asleep the bow priests sharpened their knife on a soot whetstone and cut them all anuses. The next day the people felt better and tried new ways to eat their corn, grinding it, pounding, and molding it into porridge and corncakes. But they were unable to clean the corn from their webbed hands, so that evening as they slept the bow priests cut fingers and toes into their hands and feet. The people were pleased when they realized their hands and feet worked better, and the bow priests decided to make one last change. That night as they slept, the bow priests took a small knife and removed the people’s horns and tails. When the people awoke, they were afraid of the change at first, but they lost their fear when sun came out and grew pleased that the bow priests were finally finished.