"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"
Taos, New Mexico USA
“THE ONE GREAT BOOK OF LIFE” *
is a pleasure to return to this region. I have known it for many years:
before Boulder Dam was built, during the first series of atomic tests, and frequent
visits since. This is my first time on the Henderson campus of the Clark County Community
College, and I feel honored by being included in this program of the Henderson
District Public Library. So I would like to preface my talk with a plug
years when I was traveling throughout the Southwest, researching and writing my own early books, I depended greatly upon local libraries. Still
later I was given a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation for research in Mexico
and Guatemala into pre-Columbian culture and religion. In addition to
visiting all significant archaeological sites, I spent much time in the library
of the great national museum in Mexico City. Like our own great Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C., it was a marvelous place to work. One
presented his credentials and passport. Then he was assigned a table and brought
priceless Aztec codices and other ancient records to study.
whatever or wherever it is, impartially records our human history -- our magnificent achievements and abysmal failures, our dreams of peace and
prosperity, and our ghastly blood baths to achieve them.
The greatest gift to humanity was the Word.
“In the beginning was the Word.” So begins the Gospel of St. John in the Judaic-Christian Bible. The Word with which all Became. Whatever it expressed came to pass: deeds, objects, worlds. The birth of language marked the virtual birth of mankind.
The Bantus of Africa, according to Janheinz Jahn, believed that conception and birth were not sufficient to produce a human being, a Muntu. The newborn child remained simply a “thing,” a Kintu, like animals, plants and stones, until he was given a name. So too the life forces in all things were freed only through the magic power of the Word.
In Tibet and India a word was considered to be a mantra, “a tool for thinking;” its sound called forth its content into a state of reality. Hence there developed a system of Mantric Yoga.
The magic and sacred power of the Word. Belief in it is found everywhere
in the world.
The art of transcribing spoken words to written form marked one of man’s greatest steps toward civilization. He no longer was obliged to depend upon memory to preserve his beliefs; they could be committed to writing. With printing came books -- from parchment scrolls and fiber codices to leather-bound editions and mass paperbacks. Books in so many different languages that a word in one did not mean the same thing in another. Books contradicting each other with different religious beliefs and world views. The Word had lost its universal sacred meaning.
We can well believe Levi Strauss’ assertion that the main function of writing was to make possible the economic enslavement of man rather than his enlightenment. The Anglo usurpation of land from American Indian tribes was largely accomplished because of their different interpretations of the treaties between them. The Anglo newcomers, believing the land was inanimate nature to be bought and sold like any other commodity, held that they were buying outright title to enormous tracts of land. Whereas the Indians, who regarded Mother Earth as a sacred living entity open to all men, believed they were selling only the use of it. This difference of opinion about the nature of the earth has always been the primary cause of conflict as tribe after tribe has been dispossessed of their homelands. And the Indians’ main concern today is still the preservation of their remaining reservations against exploitation by the federal government and private interests.
America today, the most powerful and materialistic nation in the world, seems to bear out Levi Strauss’ assertion. Its phenomenal printing establishment is primarily devoted to selling the products of its manufacturers -- to constantly increasing the Gross National Product. One is appalled by the printed matter pouring in upon us. The junk mail we throw away at the Post Office without reading. Newspapers whose main function is carrying advertisements and advertising supplements. Magazines which depend not on their reading material but on their gorgeous color plates appealing to our extravagant desires for rare furs and exotic perfumes. Even a pictured dish of baked beans carries a brand stamp of social approval. Mass paperbacks crowding the shelves of drugstores and supermarkets sell sex and violence. The Madison Avenue copywriter is the spokesman for the nation. How clever and omnipotent he is! To a bar of soap, a sleek limousine, he imputes emotional properties, sexual imagery. Diplomatic gobbledygook seems dedicated to expanding our foreign markets for them. And the wake of the Ship of State is a stream of empty beer cans.
Word with its sacred magic power has become synonymous with “Buy” -- buy
anything, everything, whether we need or want it.
Exploitation of Earth
The production of more and more consumer goods requires, of course, more and more raw materials. These come only from the earth’s natural resources
-- minerals, coal, oil, trees, plants, and so on. Since our march of
empire across the continent, we have almost exhausted this nation’s treasury
of natural resources by leveling great forests, gutting the mountains, ploughing
under the grasslands. And our ever-expanding industrial complexes are
still destroying vast areas of land by strip-mining; polluting all its surface
waters, lakes, rivers, and boundary oceans; and contaminating the very air we
The alternate view is held by a minority of ecologists, naturalists, and
How are we to choose between these opposite views, each supported by books, books conflicting with each other? In which of them can we discover the
sacred magic Word
Our Mother Earth
The global Earth is not a book, of course. But the analogy seems apt for
the moment because past peoples were able to learn from it, “to read it like a
book.” Modern mankind no longer learns from the Earth, but from books.
How can we halt this worldwide suicidal course?
In a talk last summer in Colorado, I suggested that it would take a full realization of our dire need, a new way of thinking to unite us in one effort as one great body of mankind, if we are to regard the entire body of the Earth with a planetary imperative to save it from further ravages. In light of the present political dissensions and social upheavals, such expansion of our perspective might first appear to be a utopian pipe dream. But I think it is inevitable.
Life began on this planet about three billion years ago, and man’s slow biological evolution was accompanied by the slow geological evolution of the Earth by cataclysmic changes into the conformation of continents and seas we know now. It would seem their evolutionary growths were synchronized to their mutual benefit, so alike they are. Each maintaining an even body temperature and an equilibrium between the primary elements of water, air, earth and fire in both of their bodies. Little wonder that from ancient times man has been considered the microcosmic image of the macrocosmic Earth, both pulsing with the same life pervading the entire universe.
How truly the Earth has been the great mother of all her children, the
first-born minerals merging with plants, the plants with animals, and animals with human
beings, each higher organism making use of the lower, achieving a harmonious
unity. Our Mother Earth is not only man’s link with his past, but his
hope for the future.
*(Speech presented at Henderson District Public Library, Clark County Community College, Nevada, by Frank Waters on November 23, 1985)
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