Native American Legends
The Birth Ritual
A Hopi Legend
With the pristine wisdom granted them, the First People understood
that the earth was a living entity like themselves. She was their
mother: they were made from her flesh, and they suckled at her breast.
For her milk was the grass upon which all animals grazed and the
corn which had been created specially to supply food for mankind.
But the corn plant was also a living entity with a body similar
to man's in many respects, and the people built its flesh into their
own. Hence corn was also their mother. Thus they knew their mother
in two aspects which were often synonymous: as Mother Earth and
the Corn Mother.
In their wisdom, the First People also knew their father in two
aspects. He was the Sun, the solar god of the universe. Not until
he first appeared to them at the time of the red light, Tálawva,
had they been fully firmed and formed. Yet his was but the face
through which looked Taiowa, their Creator.
These two universal entities were their real parents, their human
parents being but instruments through which their power was made
manifest. In modern times their descendants remembered this.
When a child was born his Corn Mother (a perfect ear of corn whose
tip ends in four kernels) was placed beside him, where it was kept
for 20 days. During this time, he was kept in darkness, for while
his newborn body was of this world, he was still under the protection
of his universal parents.
If the child was born at night, four lines were painted with cornmeal
on each of the four walls and ceiling early the next morning. If
he was born during the day, the lines were painted the following
morning. These lines signified that a spiritual home, as well as
a temporal home, had been prepared for him on earth.
On the first day, the child was washed with water in which cedar
had been brewed. Fine white cornmeal was then rubbed over his body
and left all day. The next day, the child was washed and cedar ashes
rubbed over him to remove the hair and baby skin. This was repeated
for three more days.
From the fifth day until the twentieth day, he was washed and rubbed
with cornmeal for one day and covered with ashes for four days.
Meanwhile, the child's mother drank a little of the cedar water
On the fifth day, the hair of both the mother and the child were
washed, and one cornmeal line was scraped off each wall and the
ceiling. The scrapings were then taken to the shrine where the umbilical
cord had been deposited. Each fifth day thereafter, another line
of cornmeal was removed from the walls and ceiling and taken to
For nineteen days now, the house had been kept in darkness so that
the child could see no light. Early on the morning of the twentieth
day, while it was still dark, all of the aunts of the child arrived
at the house, each carrying a Corn Mother in her right hand, and
each wishing to be the child's godmother.
First, the child was bathed. Then the mother, holding the child
in her left arm, took up the Corn Mother that had lain beside the
child and passed it over the child four times from the navel to
the head. On the first pass, the child was named. On the second,
she wished the child a long life. On the third, she wished the child
a healthy life. If the child was a boy, she wished him a productive
life in his work on the fourth pass. If the child was a girl, she
wished that she would become a good wife and mother.
Each of the aunts in turn did likewise, giving the child a clan
name from the clan of either the mother of the father of the aunt.
The child was then given back to its mother. The yellow light was
by then showing in the east. The mother, holding the child in her
left arm and the Corn Mother in her right hand and accompanied by
her own mother (the child's grandmother) left the house and walked
towards the east. Then they stopped, facing east, and prayed silently,
casting pinches of cornmeal toward the rising sun in the east.
When the sun had cleared the horizon the mother stepped forward,
held the child up to the sun, and said, "Father Sun, this is
your child." Again she said this, passing the Corn Mother over
the child's body as she had done when she had named him, wishing
for him to grow so old he would have to lean on a crook for support,
thus proving that he had obeyed the Creator's laws. The grandmother
did the same thing when the mother had finished. Then both marked
a cornmeal path toward the sun for this new life.
The child now belonged to the family and the earth. Mother and
grandmother then carried him back to the house where his aunts were
waiting. The village crier announced his birth, and a feast was
held in his honor. For several years the child was called by the
different names that were given him. The one that seemed most predominant
became his name, and the aunt who gave it to him became his godmother.
The Corn Mother remained his spiritual mother.
For seven or eight years he led the normal earthy life of a child.
Then came his first initiation into a religious society, and he
began to learn that, although he had human parents, his real parents
were the universal entities who had created him through them: his
Mother Earth, from whose flesh all are born, and his Father Sun,
the solar god who gives life to all the universe. He began to learn,
in brief, that he too had two aspects. He was a member of an earthy
family and tribal clan, and he was a citizen of the great universe
to which he owed a growing allegiance as his understanding developed.
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