Notes on Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Steven Marx

English 346--Cal Poly San Luis Obispo--November 23 1999; updated November 24 2002

  1. Background
    1. Laguna Indians
    2. Geography of the area
    3. Silko’s biography
    4. Essays by Silko
  2. Overview
    1. Layers
      1. Traditional Laguna stories and poems
        1. Story of story—thought woman; author
        2. Ceremonial narratives
      2. Nature narrative—drought to rain, seasons, day and night, sunrise-sunset, moon and stars
        1. Sunrise at beginning and at end
        2. Lyrical descriptions of natural processes and human process in nature
          1. 220-221
          2. the equinoctial balance--the cosmic night
      3. Novel of contemporary events
        1. Movement from negative to positive with recurrent backsliding
          1. Difficult quest story—"it’s not easy"-- the quest
        2. Sick, vomiting, drunk, suicidal protagonist to culture hero--Shaman
        3. Redemption of damned person, tribe, race, species and planet
    2. Transitions from one layer to another--difficult but engaging
      1. E.g., 37, 46, 82, 94
    3. Tangles vs. web—tangled, knotty narrative eventually leading to characters’ and reader’s illumination; the web eventually laid out as pattern--the endeavor of understanding a pattern
      1. Disturbed and fragmented, difficult to follow, moving toward coherence and form
        1. imitating "Waste Land" modernity
    4. Themes
      1. Polarities
        1. Web of nature and gods and goddesses vs. witchery
        2. Ritual and story and ceremony and meaning vs. loss of faith and pervasive meaninglessness
        3. Social/Ethical:
          1. Drunkenness, poverty, mental illness, injustice, genocide, war, atomic bombs, racism, sexism, greed
          2. vs. love, sex, fertility, community, environmentalism, non-violence, female power
      2. Didactic and political mission...Story still being told…
        1. nuclear holocaust, etc. vs. environmentalist celebration of nature and natives
  3. Ceremony in parts
    1. Thought Woman—framing the whole book in Laguna discourse—talk-story—emphasis and value of story and ceremony/ritual
      1. Mythology, story telling
        1. Woman
        2. Spider and web—positive and negative webs of good and evil
        3. Thinking and telling; I and creator; tradition and invention
      2. Four worlds below
      3. He said
        1. Importance of stories—not entertainment; all we have to fight illness and death
        2. Moving in belly—as if he’s pregnant
        3. The evil ones try to destroy our stories
        4. Ritual and ceremony in stories
        5. [Bible stories; stories of progress; of immigration; of gender]
      4. Only cure is a good ceremony—community participation in conferral of meaning and solemnity
      5. Disclose some things and not others—what’s in boxes; details of ceremony; Ts’eh’s indian name 223
    2. Present--Tayo at Auntie's house 5-18
      1. insomniac reveries
        1. The window in Auntie’s house; he’s been released from mental hospital after war, but still sick
        2. "language he couldn’t understand" 6
        3. The war—he couldn’t pull trigger; couldn’t hate Japanese 7
        4. Confusing death of Uncle Josiah with Japanese casualty
        5. Battle fatigue, malaria—[but Tayo had intuited Josiah’s death]
      2. Present event--nursing goats--lyrical moment 9
        1. drought—the barrels dried out and collapsed—six years; now late May
      3. Back to Phillipine jungle; cursing the rain 11
        1. Cant keep Rocky’s stretcher up in the mud—praying against rain 12
        2. Reed woman vs. Corn woman—story of why there’s drought—mythological and animistic thinking
        3. He feels responsible, following this kind of thinking, for the drought, because he cursed rain
      4. Dissolved identity in L.A. 15
        1. white drugs and doctors; constant grief
        2. Falling on pavement in railroad station and Japanese woman and child coming back from internment camps in desert 17
        3. Vomiting everywhere; world come undone
    3. Present--Going "Up the Line" with Harley 19-44
      1. Teachers at Indian school had undermined his stories.19
      2. Harley enters drunk and convinces him to go on burro and blind horse
      3. Harley couldn’t do the job of sheepherding after the war. Ended up in jail. They’re all on disability for battle fatigue 23
      4. Tayo got into drunk fight with Emo
      5. Families trying to keep veterans out of trouble
      6. Emo profanes Indians’ mother earth 25
      7. On the blind mule, remembering Josiah’s wisdom about animals—drifting with the wind, "animals did not resist"…grandma and the mule. 27
      8. Terrible loss of Rocky remembered—crushed skull; and Tayo falls off horse with sunstroke 28
    4. After the war--Return to Laguna 29-44
      1. Auntie takes care of him disapprovingly—shame and Christianity; worry about gossip; her prejudice against half-breed—starched pillowcases
      2. Robert married to Auntie—supportive of Tayo 32
      3. Grandma is supportive; boy needs a medicine man
        1. She brings in old Ku’oosh—Army doctors say no medicine man
          1. Ku’oosh discourse on the fragility and web of the world 35
          2. Evils of white warfare 36—dismembered corpses and atomic heat flash 37
          3. Song about ritual cleansing after killing or touching dead enemies otherwise be haunted
          4. Tayo’s even more miserable; wants to die
      4. Leads to first incident with Emo 39-43
        1. Liquor was medicine 40
        2. Indians in bars reminiscing about army and white women after them during the war…the good times
        3. Back to the Japanese soldier killing Rocky 43-4
    5. Present--Going up the line again…the spring still wet 44-64
      1. earlier memory of finding Spring with Josiah 45
      2. drinking the water
      3. story about Goddess angrily removing water from the people
      4. hitchhike and sit in bar..
      5. Remembering a sacred hunt with Rocky 50-52—ideal of Indian life; ritual of deer; gave itself because it loved them.
      6. Contrast to recollection of fight with Emo—opposite of Rocky—pattern of drinking and violence 52-63
        1. Emo’s evil
          1. Attitude toward women
          2. Torturing japanese—teeth in bag
          3. Emo grew from each killing—61; Tayo screams "killer" at him
    6. Before the war --Tayo and Rocky and Auntie and Little Sister 64
      1. Signing up for the Army—way to get respect from whites
      2. Remembering his abandonment by his mother to become half brother to Rocky
      3. Undertones in Auntie’s voice 67
        1. Excursus on Xty vs. Mother Earth religion 68
      4. Little Sister—Tayo’s mother—disgrace
      5. Army recruiter 72
    7. Before the war --The five hundred dollar cattle deal 73-81
      1. Set up by the Mexican woman
      2. Josiah’s buying cheap
      3. Mexican cattle vs. Herefords—better breed of cattle 74-5; little regard for fences 78-9
      4. Rocky growing towards the white world; also his mother, Auntie
      5. Branding the cattle
    8. Before the war -- Night Swan--the Mexican woman, Josiah's mistress 81-93
      1. Hummingbird and fly go to the underworld to get something to end the drought 82
      2. Narrative switches to Mexican woman's relationship with Josiah and his perspective. –power of the dance
      3. She remembers her youthful relationships--the man in whom she liberates too strong a power--killed by his own horses 85
      4. His relationship with her continues to 93
    9. Before the war --Water 93-100
      1. Tayo prays for rain at the spring and gathers pollen—fine description of springs 94
      2. Spider comes out; spider woman story; white people call superstition—animism
      3. Frogs, dragonflies; world made of stories; hummingbird had not abandoned the land
      4. Tayo takes Josiah’s note to NightSwan; spiral staircase; smell—nature, goddess, woman, music, not old or young 98
      5. He dreamed it, she whispered in Spanish; talks with her about his mother; she is also different, different eyes 100 They make love…high point
    10. Back "on the line" [narrative less disturbed]--100-107
      1. Harley gone—Mt Taylor sacred Mountain—an important character
      2. Flies on flypaper; recollection of flies and Josiah’s story about greenbottle fly
      3. Place felt good—where Night Swan lived over the store; smells the perfume; sleeps without dreams 104
      4. Story—Fly and humingbird go down to mother earth for water; she tells them to get buzzard to purify town first
      5. Corresponds to feeling better and prepares for Betonie 106
      6. Robert tells him to get ceremony; he gets worse
    11. Trip to Gallup to see Betonie 107-152
      1. Drunks and losers—"This is us too…like cold flies stuck to the wall [cf. Previous image] Robert talking 107
      2. Homeless children—harrowing section 108-113—Tayo’s early childhood—garbage and shit
      3. Hummingbird and Fly go to buzzard for purification but he demands tobacco offering—it wasn’t easy
      4. Gallup Ceremonial—for the tourists 114-116
      5. Betonie
        1. Mother was mexican-another half-breed
        2. Lots of stuff in the hogan—part of the pattern
        3. Calendars herbs, strands of hair, fingernails
        4. Laughing old man; tobacco
        5. Tayo tells all to Betonie
        6. B. tells him he has mission for the people—white doctors say think only for yourself 125
        7. Cure in something great and inclusive of everything
        8. Lecture on ceremonies
        9. Witchery introduced—it needs no change in ceremonies—they need to change
        10. Indian outlook—deeds and papers don’t mean anything
        11. Don’t write off all the white people, don’t trust all Indians
        12. Shush is assistant
        13. Song about rescuing child from the bear people
        14. Witches crawl into skins of dead animals 131
        15. White people are tools that witchery manipulates…we invented white people; indian witchery made white people 132
          1. Long Poem about witches making white people 133
          2. Evil witches sabbath
          3. One witch tells a story about white people who "see no life/when they look they see only objects./the world is a dead thing for them/the trees and rivers are not alive" 135
          4. They fear; they destroy what they fear
          5. They poison the water; the people will starve; bring terrible diseases
          6. They will find rocks …explode everything [Uranium]
          7. Other witches were scared by story—too late to take it back 138
        16. They go camping up in mountains—story and ritual
          1. Another long poem about Pollen boy finding a cure—cf. Kingston
          2. Sits in center of white corn sand painting 141
          3. Whirling darkness, bear chants and songs
          4. Cut Tayo across top of head; feet guided into bear footprints; bring you through hoop….walk home. 143
          5. Last hoop through doorway
        17. After ritual he wants to go home to find speckled cattle; there were no boundaries…world below and sand paintings inside became the same 145
        18. Story about his grandfather Descheeny finding girl in tree—hazel green eyes, blue silk shawl 147
          1. He slept with the outcast girl and did ceremonies to cure victims tainted by Xty or liquor
        19. Ceremony not complete, but he feels better
    12. Back to reservation—witchery friends 153-169
      1. Tayo laughs at whites who had been conceived by witchery
      2. Harley and Leroy pick him up with Helen Jean—found in Gallup
      3. Truck is stolen; they’re stupid drunk; insist booze is cure
      4. Her pathetic story—living off guys’ disability checks in Gallup 158-167
      5. Piss and vomit—Indians’ curse through Betonie’s eyes 169
    13. Poem -Story of Sunman overcoming the Gambler, Kaup’a’ta— 170-176
      1. Evil magician—mixed human blood in cornmeal
      2. Land drying up because he captured the stormclouds
      3. Spiderwoman advises grandson, Sunman, to trick him—gives him answer to riddle; Orion and the Pleides captured in bags
      4. Sunman cuts out K’s eyes and releases stormclouds, his children, from captivity
    14. The lady of the apricot tree 176-184
      1. Searching for cattle
      2. Picture of the stars 179—link to Betonie’s sand drawing
    15. Chasing the cattle 184-214
      1. Going up the holy mountain—still Indian land—solid pine forest
        1. Indian hunting grounds; story of mountain lion 185
      2. Whites ripped off land
        1. Taken by National Forest and the state, sold to Texans
        2. Loggers—animal destroyers 186
        3. World disturbed
        4. Fencing and patrolling land.
      3. Betonie’s vision was a story he could feel happening
      4. Cutting the fence—thousand dollars a mile 188
      5. His cattle ripped off 191 –on stealing
        1. Theirs was a nation built on stolen land
        2. They had been used by witchery
        3. White thjievery and injustice boiling up the anger and hatred that would finally destroy the world: the starving against the fat, the colored against the white
        4. Lies devoured white hearts…they tried to glut the hollowness with patrioteic wars anhd with greart technology and the wealth it brought
      6. Hunting the cattle was a cure 192
      7. Mountain lion incident
        1. Backsliding
          1. Anger at horse
          2. Fear and loss of faith—wants to go back and repair fence; lose faith in the healing
          3. Body became insubstantial
        2. Mountain lion encounter—admiration and learning from the animal 196
          1. Pours yellow pollen in mountain lion track and prays to it…the hunter’s helper
        3. The memory of the cattle…headed for home, more like deer than cattle 197
      8. Patrol incident 197-204
        1. Running from them, spilled by mare [which he’d gotten angry at]
        2. They take him in truck
        3. They are distracted by mountain lion tracks; he sleeps and wakes in pile of leaves
        4. More thoughts about whites and indians; snow falls; he’s happy again; eats pine nuts
      9. Meeting the hunter and woman—finding the cattle 204-213
        1. hears chant 206 sees Indian hunter carrying buck—mountain lion skin; ties blue feathers to antler tips
        2. leads him back to apricot tree farm—woman is there
          1. reconciles with his mare
          2. Scratches mare’s neck, watches lady comb her hair 209
            1. Things fading into one another—but coherently; contrast to seeing Josiah in the Japanese soldier
            2. Horse came back to her corral
          3. Dialogue about her catching his cattle; twisting her hair—the trap—deep canyon orifice 210
          4. Early snow sign of wet winter no drought
        3. Cattle found 212
          1. Cattle that could survive drought and hard years
          2. Perverse sport of Texas roping—torment cattle—rodeo 213
    16. Coming home 214—227 Alone with nature and Ts’eh
      1. Comes back with Robert and truck to bring home cattle
      2. Cabin is deserted. Shield with Star map with Big Star constellation Betonie had drawn is left on wall 214
      3. Cattle well taken care of
      4. I’m Okay now to Grandma—Betonie did some good
      5. Dreams of Woman; sees her in sunrise; love passages 216
      6. Goes to ranch alone to take care of cattle
        1. lone happiness in nature
          1. Valley was green; he had lost nothing; mountain remains; Josiah and Rocky are close 219 Love remains
          2. Flowers are yellow, gathering pollen 220
          3. World is alive; pollen in snake tracks—happiness in nature 221—completing a ritual
        2. meeting the goddess 221—
          1. walking through he sunflowers; sitting at the water by the pool; place of beauty
          2. Lies down across from pool and dreams he makes love with her there—was she there or not—epiphanies of goddess 222
          3. Climb to top of Mesa—"as if he had stepped from the earth into the sky" 223
          4. She discloses her name to him here: Ts’eh Montano—Indian name is too long—[don’t disclose all]
        3. Cattle stable; found their place 225
          1. Romero’s doctored bull—abandoned by rodeo 225
          2. Josiah’s dream emerging—breeding cattle 226
        4. Goes with her to learn about roots and plants gathered
          1. Promises to gather her the plant when its ripened and dried in fall 227
          2. Their loving "replaced the rhythm that had been interrupted so long ago" 227
    17. The final challenge 227--262
      1. Robert tells Tayo to come back
        1. Elders want report
        2. Emo and white people think he’s crazy
          1. Emo’s crew cut; Tayo’s hair growing long
      2. Ts’eh coaches him about coming showdown—death isn’t much; the evil of the destroyers
        1. Transitional place in the season 230—position of sun was transitional
        2. She-elk painting in the sandstone almost rubbed away, not renewed since the war. 231
          1. Doing ritual—she cries
        3. The struggle for the ending of the story 232
          1. Environmental apocalypse
          2. Gospel story: final battle is coming.
          3. Only ending they understand is to lock you up and take you away
          4. It’s almost completed…we are coming to the end soon 233—about the story telling—frame intrudes…metanarrative
        4. Her departure with bundle on her head 235
      3. He runs like a hunted animal…along wood hauling road and fence
        1. "He had to bring it back on them"—has to make evil destroy itself 236
        2. All things converging—spatial structure 237—day and night; good and evil—Enchanted Mesa
        3. Sun nearing its autumn place in the—nature narrative 238
      4. Harley and Leroy follow him on road
        1. celebrate enlistment day—dead drunk 239
        2. Tayo disguised as one of them 241 to allay suspicion—rides with them in pickup
        3. He needs friends to complete the ceremony 241 Why?
        4. Country is dry up north
        5. He realizes they turned against him—his friends are betrayers or lost
      5. The Uranium mine—apocalyptic climax [Y2K] 243-255
        1. Land overgrazed; people sold it for five thousand dollars to Government
          1. Another Flashback to 1943 p.243
        2. Barbed wire fences remain; he crawls through—another fence--Dark mine shaft
        3. Grandma’s recollection of atomic test—strongest thing on this earth 245
          1. Trinity site; Los Alamos
        4. Point of convergence—where fate of all living things, and even the earth had been laid…the middle of witchery’s final ceremonial sand painting …all human beings united by a circle of death. 246
          1. Powdery yellow uranium is witchery’s pollen
          2. Seeing the pattern; the way all stories fit together 246—story still being told
          3. Cosmic story—only a few more hours of this night—keep the story out of the reach of the destroyers—Equinox balance
            1. Prayers of long winter nights would call out the long summer days of new growth. Tonight the old priests would be praying for the force to contiue the relentless motion of the stars. But there were others… 247
        5. Emo and the destroyers
          1. The evil working here—people fooled into blaming only the whites and not the witchery…forget the story…old priests cling to ritual iwthout making new ceremonies" 249
        6. Tayo getting weak again
          1. Watches them torture Harley; hanging him on fence—scene of horror 251—trying to make him come to rescue—trying to lure him out; imagines killing Emo; Leroy and Pinkie fighting
        7. Success
          1. "Their deadly ritual for the autumn solstice would have been completed by him" 253 Witchery breeds by intraIndian violence
          2. His restraint confirmed by the stars
          3. He gathers seeds for Ts’en—plants will grow 254—transition completed
      6. Conclusion 255-262
        1. Hummingbird and Fly take tobacco to Buzzard who will purify the town…there was food
          1. It isnt very easy to fix things up again 256
        2. Ritual in the Kiva now being refurbished, with Ku’oosh
          1. Tayo tells them the story
          2. Chant of optimistic blessing
        3. Death of Harley and Leroy in traffic accident 258; Emo killed Pinkie while fooling around with rifle
        4. Witchery is dead chant and offering to sunrise ends the book—like a dedication