Friday, January 4, 2013

Schoolwork: Essay on Silko's Ceremony and the Identity of Ts'eh
Ephixa is cool stuff.

Hey, the last bit of schoolwork from last semester. This was from my Native American Religious Traditions class after reading the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, which is steeped in ideas from Pueblo and Navajo cultural and religious thoughts. It was good. I also read the book in like 12 straight hours and then wrote the essay in the, like, 6 hours before it was due. There was no revision.
Somehow, I still pulled an 18.5/20, which is a dead-straight A (93%). God I have good luck.

Everything and all page reference is from the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. I have no formal works cited because it's all from one place - we were told none was needed. If anyone gets upset I'll formally cite the book too. There are two footnotes.

Essay – Ceremony

      The novel Ceremony, written by Leslie Marmon Silko, is a book filled with lessons and links to traditional Pueblo and Navajo thought. Its main character, Tayo, is an Indian who lives on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation in the time following World War II. Having fought and lost a dear step-brother while fighting in the Pacific, Tayo struggles to adjust to everyday life again, grappling with the loss of his family, his own abandonment by his mother, his half-breed heritage, alcoholism, and religious and spiritual confusion. Through his journeys, he meets with a woman who eventually reveals her name to be Ts'eh, and this woman is instrumental in Tayo's journey. The exact identity of Ts'eh is never explicitly revealed, but there are many hints toward her non-human state. Who Ts'eh really is is a mystery, but there are several strong possibilities, and she may be any or all of them. Ts'eh is a spirit of place, the inner form of Mount Taylor, she is Ts'its'tsi'nako, she is Night Swan, she is the color blue; in short, Ts'eh is a manifestation of raw feminine creative energy, and acts to rebalance the gross imbalance of energy within Tayo.

      To understand what it means for her to be the very idea of female creative energy, one must first comprehend the creation story of the Pueblo. In the beginning, there was the first world, a place of mist and fog and haze and nothingness, not unlike the directionless world Tayo describes being in when he is “invisible” while at hospital. (13-14) Over time, this fog drew itself together into four columns, one at each of the cardinal directions. In the north, a black column. In the east, a white column. In the south, a blue column. In the west, a yellow column. The colors of these mists defined the directions of the land for the Pueblo people, and each of the columns is a mountain in our world. Over time, yet more combination occurs and the east and south pillars link together and form Sa'ah Nagha'i, or feminine creative energy. The other two pillars, to the north and west, fuse to form Bik'eh Hozho, or masculine creative energy. The balance of these two creative energies is the foundation of the universe. Finally, the two meet together and First Man and First Woman are created. There is more to the creation story, but those part are not yet relevant. What is important is that feminine creative energy is a raw force of power represented by the east, the south, and the colors white and blue.

      Ts'eh is a very strong female character. She is independent, moving as she chooses about the country, and is wise. She is headstrong and unashamed and unafraid. She comes from the South, and is constantly associated with the color blue. All of these things point toward her being a non-human force in the text, but nowhere is is so evident as when Tayo asks her name and she replies “'I'm a MontaƱo,...You can call me Ts'eh. That's my nickname because my Indian name is so long. All of us kids did that.'” (207) The Pueblo name for Mount Taylor, the mountain that lies to the South (and is correlated with the color blue and with feminine creative energy), is Tse'pi'na [1], which could definitely be a longer form for Ts'eh. Another piece of evidence is in another name for the mountain. Tse'pi'na is also known as the “woman veiled in clouds,” as we learnwhle Josiah is with Night Swan. (80) Named for the way the clouds wrap around the mountain, which is itself a spiritual font of female energy, this name is linked to Ts'eh through a distinctive blanket of her's. Silko writes when Tayo first meets Ts'eh, “She pulled the handwoven blanket up around her shoulders and head...but he did not miss the designs woven across the blanket in four colors: patterns of storm clouds in white and gray, black lightning scattered through the brown wind.” (165) The imagery of this woman of Southern descent, cloaking herself in a blanket of storms, clearly links her into together with the idea that she is the woman veiled in clouds, Tse'pi'na. It's also worth noting the prominence of white as well in Mount Taylor's imagery due to the clouds – white is the other feminine energy color, and the combination of the two in Mount Taylor makes it an especially strong source of feminine energy. Ts'eh's strong spirit, powerful feminine energy, association with the color blue throughout the text, and direct implication through her actions, as well as her own heritage in the geographical south as well as the spiritual South, all indicate that Ts'eh is indeed a representative of Mount Taylor, and through Mount Taylor, the entire concept of feminine creative energy.

     Another form that Ts'eh takes is that of Ts'its'tsi'nako, who is called Thought Woman and Spider Woman. The easiest linking is again through her name – if Ts'eh is short for something, Ts'its'tsi'nako would not be a poor guess. Spider Woman is a major female creator spirit [2], which already associates her with the South and with Mount Taylor. Through several points in the book, stories are told about Spider Woman, and in all of them she is acting in a capacity as a mentor, instructor, or guide, (87) much in the same way that Ts'eh helps guide Tayo through his own chaotic thoughts and emotions. Most curious of all the links, it is implied that the story is being told to us by Ts'its'tsi'nako herself, as the first page tells us that “Thought-Woman, the spider,/named things and/as she named them/they appeared.//She is sitting in her room/thinking of a story now//I'm telling you the story/she is thinking.” (1) The more subtle links between Ts'eh and Ts'its'tsi'nako are not quite as strong as the links indicating that she is Tse'pi'na, but since both are incredible forces of feminine creative energy it would not be unbelievable that she is both of them.

      The third major form of Ts'eh is the Night Swan. As the Night Swan she exerts her most direct influence as a female sexual force rather than as a spiritual force as she is when taking her literal form of Ts'eh. The Night Swan is engulfed in imagery about the color blue: a blue dress (78), blue thread (79), a bright blue door (81), a blue-lined page for her (89), a smell like ivory flowers and white curtains (again, also female forces), a blue kimono, blue slippers (90); the list of color indicators of her feminine energy is continuous throughout the entire story of the Night Swan, a constant companion to her presence. Furthermore, she's also a Mexican, from the South, and expresses to Josiah a connection to Mount Taylor. Night Swan is undoubtedly a veritable force of feminine creative energy, and the exact ways she interconnects with Tayo, giving him comfort, is very similar to the way Ts'eh acts toward him.

     As if more evidence was needed to draw the conclusion that the imagery in the book is intrinsically tied to the Pueblo religious traditions, color as a whole is constantly used as a descriptor that indicates more than just the appearance of the scenes. Such careful and constant attention to the color of moments and objects would certainly imply that the author made a deliberate choice to focus on color, and one can only imagine that it would be because of the importance of color to the idea of creative power. There are four colors to really look out for through the book, but they aren't the obvious ones; instead of black, which is occasionally used but often not in largely significant ways, red is common. Red is used to represent, more than anything, blood, death, and decay. Aside from the obvious blood imagery, it is often used to describe the cracking, breaking mud flats, suc has on page 203, when Tayo sees that “the red clay flats had dried into brittle curls where the standing water [which is a life-giving symbol] had been baked out by the sun” or early on, during the drought, when “the sky over the valley would be dense with red dust, and along the ground the wind would catch waves of reddish sand and make them race across the dry red clay flats.” (17) The color white is used in two ways. It is used as it was above, to symbolize clouds, or sometimes white smoke or mist or snow, and in those cases it represents feminine creative energy from the east, just as the creation stories say. However, the color white is pulling off a secondary task at the same time: white is the color of death. It is used both in a literal sense, as in when “They gray mule was gone, his bones unfolding somewhere on the red dirt, bleaching white and thin in the sun.” (203) This isn't in a particularly negative context, as death is a normal part of the cycle of life. However, the color white takes on a different context entirely when considered in a racial light. The white people become an opposition to Tayo and to the Natives in general (with the exception of Emo and the others who express desire to be more like the whites). In these cases, white is used in a negative sense as the whites consistently oppress the Indians or fail to see the impact of their actions. The color yellow is used as the primary indicator of masculine creative energy. It certainly gets less use than the color blue, but it is still used frequently, most often in the context of pollen. Pollen is actually the greatest place where the balance between the masculine and feminine can be felt – in most cases where pollen in used in a ceremonial context, it is paired together with blue pollen, such as in the extended story of Hummingbird and the drought (97) or in the creation of Tayo's sand painting. Blue is most important of all, representing feminine creative energy as has been shown. The use of these colors is important because it helps us place the story into the context of the Pueblo traditions, and understanding the deliberate use of the other colors is required to fully comprehend the impact of the use of blue when referring to Ts'eh or her various forms throughout the book.

     But what does Ts'eh actually do to help Tayo? What is her role in the story? Ts'eh's job throughout the story is the ground Tayo by instilling a sense of place in him and balance out his masculine energies with her own feminine energies. She aids in half of the spiritual realizations that Tayo comes to through the text; the other half come from his time with old Betonie, who was a source of masculine energy (and to add to that, he was a Navajo man, who generally seem to be located slightly to the north of the Laguna, adding to his power as a masculine energy provider). Ts'eh is there to rebalance Tayo and provide the other part of his instruction, much more through a connection to the land than through stories and ceremony as Betonie did. In this way, she serves as a complementary mirror to Betonie in the way they aid Tayo on his journey.

      Throughout the text, Ts'eh is a mystery, and Tayo meets her twice before finally learning her name. However, she is a constant companion to Tayo throughout his healing process, appearing as women like Night Swan or her literal form, as the spiritual concept of Spider-Woman, as the grandness and religious anchor of Mount Taylor, or simply as the color blue, all along providing Tayo with a source of feminine creative energy with which to rebalance himself as he heals. Ts'eh is a major influence on Tayo's life, but her impacts came from far mor places than just her own form, and though he does not meet Ts'eh again, Tayo was given a powerful source of energy that is always present, just locked in the south, as the continuous presence of Tse'pi'na in the background of the Laguna Pueblo Reservation.

[1] Mount Taylor is also a sacred place to the Navajo people in addition to the Pueblo, serving much the same role as the source of power in the south.

[2] This is in stark contrast with the Lakota Indians of the Black Hills. To the Lakota, Spider, who they know as Iktomi, is a trickster spirit, and explanation for much of what is problematic in life along with Double-Faced Woman (Anog Ite). To the Lakota, spiders are a spiritually troubling presence, which potentially developed due to their physically dangerous nature. The Pueblo, on the other hand, seem to focus on the spider's creative potential, in its spawning of huge amounts of young in its egg sacs and the way it cares for the sac as well as their ability to create intricately designed webs. These different takes on the same animal based on which of its traits are considered is an interesting difference between the cultures. I place of the Lakota's Iktomi spirit, the Pueblo instead have Coyote as a trickster.

Later folks, hope you like it! As usual, if you're interested you can ask questions or tell me things I don't know/was wrong about or wrote poorly about. I love help, or learning new stuff!
End Recording,

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