This essay is excerpted from Robert Tindall and Susana Bustos, Ph.D.’s forthcoming book, Awakening Our Indigenous Mind, available from Inner Traditions, Fall of 2011.
Between the underground kivas of the Hopi and the astronomical temples of the Maya where prophecy of world shaking events were received in ancient times, and contemporary apocalyptic fantasies such as the film 2012, lies a vast distance. Yet somehow those indigenous visions have migrated through the time depths to ignite our contemporary imagination, poised as we appear to be on the edge of their fulfillment.
Perhaps this is because, like other beings of myth, prophecy roams from mind to mind. One of the further flung components of a culture’s cosmovision (or what we call, from a safe distance, a mythological system), prophecy arises from a confluence of visions, dreams, trance-states, and artistic inspiration. It is also, like a dream, curiously elusive to pin down – official, priestly versions may eventually be engraved upon calendrical stones at the feet of pyramids and jungle astronomical observatories, but only after the prophecy has simmered among the people, in many local variations, for many passing moons.
In addition, I suspect prophecy only becomes truly relevant when heard. Prophecy is not a fact. Rather, it is a thing received, taken to heart so it catalyzes change in one’s life. Like cosmovision, prophecy may lose its savor when written down. It becomes an official version, an object of critique, something true or false in a factual sense, or an object of veneration. Yet prophecy is not a fact – it is a living current, like the sap that flows through the veins of leaves. In constant evolution, there is no orthodox version. The stream continues to flow through Hopi kivas and other sacred sites.
I therefore never paid serious attention to the buzz generated around 2012. After all, documents are always open to interpretation, facts shift their meaning according to methodology, and like the children’s game of telephone, transmission over distance is fraught with error. We have the earth under our feet, its plants and animals and waters, and the stars above us to show us the way. What subtler prophecy could we be privy too?
Then one day, like music, I heard the Hopi prophecy. It came one voice removed from its source, in the person of Bob Boyll, a 75 year old roadman, or peyote shaman, in the Native American Church who has passed many years among the indigenous communities of the U.S. and Mexico.
I first met Boyll, whose ancestry is Scots-Irish and Native American, upon stepping through the flap of a tipi where a peyote meeting was about to commence. A stocky man with grey hair held back in a ponytail, he greeted me with an abstracted, kindly air. Thinking, “Ah, he’s a cool old hippy,” I went to occupy my seat. This was my first tipi meeting, and that evening I had the privilege of beholding the keeping of a sacred fireplace, which it turned out Boyll, in the office of fireman, was assisting the roadman (as the leaders in Native American Church ceremonies are called), in keeping.
At some point as my visions and dreams danced in the fireplace, I became aware that the old man wading through the coals was working a kind of alchemy. Boyll’s hands seemed to commune with the fire, to transmute it, like an ancient Celtic god of blacksmithry, into something magical. In the morning, when he talked about the various intelligences – beings, actually – perceivable within the flames of the fire, I realized that Boyll had, as they say, seriously done his homework.
As part of Boyll’s long apprenticeship in the indigenous ways of medicine work, he had sought instruction from the Hopi who live in the village of Hotevilla on Arizona’s First Mesa. The year was 1978, a time in his life when he was seeking answers to questions his graduate program in philosophy at Colombia had not addressed, among which were the visionary abilities of the Hopi.
Boyll was given an immediate demonstration. He relates how upon his unannounced arrival at one of the stone mortar houses of the village, he was greeted by a sharp-eyed woman in her nineties, who upon opening the door declared, “Oh, you’re finally here! He’s been waiting for you all morning!”
Astonished, Boyll was shown into the main room, where a hale and very old blind man sat, who embraced him, saying, “Oh grandson, you finally here!” The Hopi was named David Mononge, and his age was then estimated at 107. Mononge immediately inquired if Boyll had brought one of those recording machines, and being told yes, sent him back out to the car to retrieve it. Mononge had something to transmit, and wanted to make sure it got recorded accurately.
That afternoon the elder Hopi sang for Boyll the butterfly Kachina song. “When you’re in ceremony I want you to sing this,” he explained, stating he was giving it to Boyll because as a song of unification it contained all the colors of the rainbow. “The time has come,” he said, “for a regathering of everyone, not just the Hopi, into unity.” Boyll now sings it in sweat lodges he leads throughout the U.S. and Europe.
One afternoon during the week that Boyll passed with Mononge, the old man took him out to the Second Mesa, where one of the prophecy rocks of the Hopi, part of a sandstone cliff formation, rises 20 feet high covered with ancient carvings.
The main petroglyph shows a figure representing the Earth guardian, Maasau’u, who welcomed the original humans, who for the Hopi emerged from under the earth and lived unified for many years under the covenant they made with him. In the hand of Maasau’u is a staff, from which emerges a square representing an original condition of wholeness. Eventually, however, discord arose and migrations took place away from the mesas.* From this square, therefore, embark two lines, which set off across the face of the stone as roads. Upon the upper line are human figures whose bodies progressively disintegrate, first with the loss of the solar plexus, and then with their heads drifting away from their bodies. These figures are known as the people of “two hearts,” signifying a state of spiritual disunity, and their road grows progressively jagged and then breaks, indicating disintegration, chaos.
As has gripped the popular imagination, this is a period of geological upheaval and societal discord and collapse, but this emerging chaos is also called by the Hopi the “Great Purification,” pointing towards its spiritual significance. According to Mononge, whatever is not essential to our being, anything that draws the heart away from unity, will be consumed, and there will be an opportunity to return to the lower road of the petroglyph, the way of “one heart.” In fact, a “bridge” can be seen connecting the two roads during the time of Great Purification, during which a moment of opportunity will occur in each individual’s life when the passage will open to go from two-hearted to one-hearted, or vice-versa. Once the bridge is traversed, however, there is no return.
This lower road Mononge described as the way of those who know where they belong on Earth, and that they belong to the Earth. It is the way of those who have returned to their clans. The Hopi vision, it is worth noting, is the opposite of the Garden of Eden myth, which depicts our ancestors as cast out of the clan’s origin to wander in exile, unable to return to the original connection to the Garden because an angel with a flaming sword stands guard at the entrance to the sacred land.
In the petroglyph, the road appears lined with stalks of corn and mounds and the leader of the path of the one heart is there, the figure of a man, holding a prayer stick in his hand, planting corn. It is a humble, yet very inviting image.
If wisdom arises from such simple communion with the Earth, then the Hopi may be able to remind us of it. The prayer stick held in this figure’s hand was, and still is, used to plant corn in the desert. One might smile and say, it’s good to pray if you’re going to plant in such conditions.
The Hopi would agree. So prayerful are they, they don’t irrigate their corn. They summon the rain instead. Boyll witnessed the Hopi’s intimate connection with their ecological system one day when he attended a dance to the Kachina spirits who govern the rainfall.
“The sky went from arid, deep blue from one horizon to the next to pouring rain by the dance’s conclusion,” he reported. “The rain literally came out of the blue.”
According to Mononge, one of the signs of the approach of the Great Purification, and there are many, would be the desire of people to reform their clans. To Boyll, he said, “You’re still looking for your original home, but after all the migrations the time has come when your people can find where they belong.” Mononge, whose language has no verb to express the concept “to be,” meant something bigger than just physical locale. He meant belonging to the cosmos, which is expressed by a clan’s spiritual communion with its ancestors, sacred topography, medicines, animal allies, songs, origin myths, dreams and sacred art. even ways of growing food, treating water, or raising children, all those cultural practices that express a vital, living participation in a sentient world.
When Boyll asked Mononge, “Grandfather, how did you know I was going to appear at your doorstep on the day I did?,” the old man explained to him that for the Hopi, transmigration occurs not individually but in clans, much as birds migrate not solo but in flocks. These soul groups come in and out of existence, and are attracted to one another, consciously or not, each time they come back into incarnation.
“You are my grandson. We know this, and it cannot be changed,” Mononge said. “In kiva ceremony I saw you were about to arrive.”
Mononge also said that every sacred fire, kiva ceremony, or peyote meeting, that is to say, every time of collective transformation and evolution among the people, has an attendant spirit. This living being exists long before the event, containing and directing it, and is precognizant of what specific work needs to be done in each participating individual’s life.
In a similar vein, these soul groups are pre-existing clans, who especially in the time of the Great Purification are called to find one another. This spiritually-directed regathering strongly suggests that the bridge between the roads of the two-hearted and one-hearted is the way from our collective identity with nation states and corporations (and their fascistic, suicidal tendencies) to individuated kinship within clans, clans who follow the leader of the path of one heart.
Mononge also expressed his belief in the need for renewal among the native peoples of the Americas, many of whom now live caught between two worlds, “It is late for us,” he said. “Our cultures have become hardened into systems without connection to their source.”
“Essentially, then,” I asked Boyll, “Mononge was saying we need to go native again.”
“Yes,” Boyll responded. “That’s it.”
This is, according to Mononge’s transmission to Boyll, the prophetic summons within the Hopi prophecy for us – to reawaken the indigenous mind, to rediscover our clans as the path of one heart through the coming Great Purification.
* Among those who migrated were the ancestors of the European whites, who the Hopis say traveled until they came to a wall, upon which they knocked their foreheads four times and then turned around and headed back. “I’ve seen that wall!” Monongnoe declared, “It’s in Jerusalem,” evidently referring to the Wailing Wall.