"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"
Taos, New Mexico USA
FOR FRANK WATERS
FOR FRANK WATERS
Victor di Suvero
Whirr of wings -- the eagle has flown from the
can see his eye still fixed on the far horizon line
and Teacher, Seer and Friend, touching it all.
By 1950, when Waters voiced his challenge to American culture in Masked Gods, a study of Pueblo and Navajo ceremonialism, most critics and readers had consigned its author to the dust bin of regionalism. However, Waters did not let this unjustified image deter him from making important and controversial philosophical observations in Masked Gods. An initiate to the secrets of both Pueblo kiva rites and the technology of nuclear weaponry, he possessed the foresight and wisdom to proclaim from his small adobe home north of Taos, New Mexico, that Western civilization had essentially reached its end:
Thus the wheel has turned full circle. The introversive city-states of the Pueblos, like the ancient civilizations of the Maya, Aztecs and Incas, have given way to the rationally extroverted civilization of Euro-America. And we in turn have reached the summit of our mechanistic-material-mental advance. Like Indo-Ameica, Euro-America has completed this phase of its destiny.A half century later, this stance has become widely accepted -- at least in scholarly circles -- as the cracks in Euroamerican social and cultural structures have grown. However, we still ponder Waters's question: What is the direction of our metamorphosis? How will it come about?
In Masked Gods, Waters argues that returning to a pre-Enlightenment past is not an answer to these questions, a belief he expresses through another challenge, this one to a major literary figure who lived in Taos a decade before Waters -- D. H. Lawrence. While appreciating Lawrence's stylistic genius, Waters deeply questions his understanding of American Indian philosophy and mysticism, finding it incomplete and ultimately dangerous. Waters fires his sharpest attacks at The Plumed Serpent (1926), Lawrence's portrayal of a fictional uprising against Mexico's Catholic and European-centered social-political structure. The revolution's leader is Don Ramon, an upper-class, Columbia-educated adventurer who revives the faith in Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent of Mesoamerican myth. This faith then becomes the political and cultural heart of a transformed Mexico returned to its deep Indian past.
The problem, according to Waters, is that this kind of regressive transformation results in only violence and terror. It is clearly not a remedy for Western civilization's crisis of stifling materialism and sterility. Waters finds close parallels between Don Ramon and Adolf Hitler. While Ramon appeals to Indian blood identity and Aztec myth, Hitler appealed to Aryan purity and Teutonic legends. Thus Waters concludes, "There was only one thing wrong with Lawrence's evocation. He did not know enough about Indian ceremonialism. It would have taught him that the Road of Life is a one-way road. No, we cannot minimize the tragic falsity of the Lawrencian cult which urges us, even individually, to regress to the impulses of the instinct.
Instead, Waters proposes that our cultural rebirth will come by moving forward along the Indian Path of Life. In Masked Gods, Waters evokes Jungian psychology to explain how a crisis acts as a crucible, pushing an individual to discover in his or her collective unconscious the reconciling archetypal symbol that will heal the illusory duality between instinct and rationality, thus solving the crisis. Waters calls this moment an Emergence, after the Pueblo and Navajo belief in humanity's Emergence along the Path of Life into four successive worlds -- five worlds in Aztec belief -- each one more advanced in consciousness. For the Hopi, humanity is on the verge of entering the Fifth World; for the Aztec, it is the Sixth World. The Hopi and Aztec Seventh World will be the climax of humanity's ascension, for then we will join with the Sun, the Creator.
Waters explains that like an individual, the entire human species can experience a planetary crisis followed by a unified Emergence.
The problem of humanity at various stages of its development is the same as for the individual during his growth to maturity: relief from the ruthless styranny of the instincts, or from the exclusive dominion of the conscious ego. And in the past such reconciling symbols have arisen from the collective unconscious of mankind to lead whole races, nations, and civilizations in great bursts of creative energy to another Emergence, a new stage of consciousness.Waters's belief in this global transformation -- or, in accordance to Pueblo mythology, an Emergence -- is a thread that runs throughout most of the twenty-seven books of his six-decade literary career. Waters conceived an Emergence as a unifying of the great dualities -- male and female, Occident and Orient, Euroamerican and American Indian, rational and instinctive, material and spiritual -- combined with a deep understanding of the interconnection of humans with nature and a fusion of ancient and modern wisdom. When enough individuals have integrated these dualities, humanity will move higher in its evolutionary journey toward universal enlightenment.
As Alexander Blackburn states in his study of Waters's visionary novels: "By contrast with writers of his own generation, Waters may be seriously considered as the twentieth-century American writer who in searching the meaning of his experience through the mode of mythic consciousness has reconciled the dualities of male and female awareness, reason and intuition, and has come upon a world view that is tantamount to an affirmation of faith."
The roots of Waters's faith reside in his mixed Euroamerican and American Indian ancestry. On his Anglo maternal side, his grandfather, Joseph Dozier, a hard-rock miner and a Colorado Springs pioneer, provided Waters with an appreciation for technical ingenuity and knowledge, which would lead Waters to become an engineer for Bell Telephone in the 1920s and an information specialist for the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1940s. On the other hand, his father was part Cheyenne, and from him Waters gained a deep love for the earth and American Indian spirituality. As Thomas J. Lyon notes, "Waters's mother and father came, then, from different worlds; and in a very real sense, it has been the life quest of their son to unite those worlds . . . . When Waters talks of syncretism, it is from the inside."
At the age of nine, Waters found a way to merge the dual aspects of his Anglo and Indian soul when he lived on the Navajo reservation and there learned of the Emergence concept. This mythic idea would guide him for the rest of his life.
The Navajo and Pueblo believe in a succession of worlds. Each world has suffered destruction when its inhabitants, becoming greedy and imbalanced, lose their connection with God. These worlds exist in a rising succession, layers in a psychic universe. As the survivors of each world climb to the next, they also climb higher in consciousness and spiritual development, thereby furthering humanity's evolution. Waters realized that this Emergence myth has a personal dimension, for each of us ascends through levels of awareness as we discover the connections between spirit and matter and reach for total integration with the universe. Some even have a moment of ecstatic, enlightened revelation, like Walt Whitman or Saint Francis. These individuals briefly experience their absolute harmony with the universe, their place in the Universal Mind.
At the age of twenty, Waters experienced such a moment when lightening struck a hot springs cave he was soaking in high above his child-hood home of Colorado Springs. Waters describes this awakening in The Dust Within the Rock through the experiences of March Cable, the novel's autobiographical character:
At that moment it happened. It was as if that flash of lightning had gone through him. He felt like a flame, as if lit up from within. And all about him remained this brilliant and indestructible illumination. In a moment it passed. He heaved up from the pool, flung himself upon the rock, weeping.This vision's unifying power did much to heal Waters's torn soul, and he began to see in his blood dilemma a new definition of American identity that combined the strengths and deep perceptions of both Indian and European cultures. Again, a fictional version of this healing appears in The Dust Within the Rock, as well as in the 1971 revision of the novel as part of the Pike's Peak trilogy.
As March Cable stands before the graves of his Euroamerican grandfather and his American Indian father, he hears a voice on the wind proclaim that the grandfather has turned into granite he mined for gold and that the father has returned to the adobe earth from which he came: "And now they both lie before you, intermingled, even as the rising plains merge into the rocky mountains . . . . What is adobe and what is granite but the mingled flesh of all flesh, the earth eternal?" Thus, March Cable, as did Frank Waters at a comparable age, perceives the European and Indian races merging in an earth-centered alchemical transmutation into a third, new race.
Before writing The Dust Within the Rock, Waters had become deeply immersed in American Indian and Mesoamerican mythology, as well as Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism. These studies enriched his understanding of the Emergence concept, thus informing March Cable's mystical transformation with a broad cultural and metaphysical context. These same sources also inform Waters's next novel, People of the Valley. In it, Waters traces the life of Maria del Valle, a mestizo dwelling in a remote valley on the eastern slope of New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Maria is the valley's archetypal mother, a goddess figure dispensing healing and wisdom. When she turns eighty, a dam threatens to bring rapid technological and social disruption to a locale that has remained essentially unchanged from the day the first Mexicans settled there. Maria sees the dam as a crow's shadow, a harbinger of imperialistic progress. Since it is not based on faith, its lack of soul will wipe out all its good intentions. "The dam too would cast a shadow. This misfortune of men who would lose their land would not stop it. It would flit across their lives with fear and suffering, anger and evil. All shadows of the shadow of the dam itself."
However, as Matthias Schubnell observes, Maria realizes she lives in an era of transition, and a day will arrive when "the machine age will generate its own faith, when the inner world of the spirit and the outer world are harmonized." This new faith -- with its merging of an earth-centered culture with one based upon technology and rationality -- finds a spokesperson in Don Eliseo, the valley's district judge, a man born to poor Hispanic farmers who has attained an Anglo education. He is one of the few characters whom Maria treats with deference. In describing Don Eliseo's wisdom, Maria evokes the dawn of a new world based upon the merging of intuition and rationality: "These Anglo-Americans . . . are ignorant of some things as we are ignorant of others. So do not condemn them unjustly. When we both see all, then there will be no difference between us. There is little now. The good judge, was he not a ragged little chamaco? Is he not respected now by the Anglos perhaps more than by us? Simply because his eyes, through learning, have seen both ways?"
Don Eliseo who "sees both ways" understands that the dam is inevitable because it has emerged from what the Pueblo Indians call the Road of Life, from humanity's own evolutionary spiral: "The dam cannot be stopped . . . . It is not a dam alone. It is new roads, new food, and clothing, new customs to add to the old, education for all; it is the progress of the world which sweeps all nations, all valleys of men. No man can stop it, for it is of man himself."
As Don Eliseo predicts, the dam is victorious. Maria finds another valley for those displaced by the dam, even higher and more remote than their current home, but like Moses she dies before the exodus to this "promised land." This new valley may simply be a last redoubt for Maria's earth-centered faith, a mere holding action before the "maquina of progress" reaches it as well, sweeping it into the past. However, Schubnell finds in Maria's new valley the seeds of planetary change: "There is a danger in taking the novel's ending too literally, for the force of Waters's imagery suggests that the higher valley is not merely a geographic location, but a new plateau of human consciousness, where the present forces of obstruction will have been transcended."
In Waters's next novel, The Man Who Killed the Deer (1942), the novel's protagonist, Martiniano, also faces the disruptive forces of Euroamerican "progress." Martiniano is a member of La Oreja Pueblo, a fictionalized version of Taos Pueblo. He spends his youth in an "away school," one of the federally sponsored schools that for decades trained American Indian children to reject their own culture and acquire Euroamerican ways. Indian people called these institutions "away schools" because they were often hundreds of miles away from tribal lands, and the government forced a certain number of Indian children each year to attend them. Thus "away schools" created several generations of Indians severely alienated from their own people. Martiniano is one of them.
When Martiniano returns to the pueblo, he does not have a place in its intricate social structure because he has missed the all-important time of kiva training. Therefore, he has failed to become initiated in one of the pueblo's sacred societies and is, from a spiritual standpoint, not a fully mature Pueblo man. However, Martiniano also finds himself too Pueblo to fit into the Euroamerican world. Cut off from both societies, Martiniano is deeply bitter -- a classic example of modern dislocation.
Yet Martiniano possesses the potential to attain the next world's fusion of Indian and Anglo ways. Martiniano's friend Palemon, who never left the pueblo and is therefore fully integrated into its life patterns, tries to explain this to Martiniano. Though Palemon lacks the abstract terms to do so, he shares a spiritual bond with Martiniano, an unspoken communion of heart and spirit, which Waters "translates" into text: "Forgive me my friend. Do you see what you lack? Not a form of life, for there are three for you to choose from: our old ways, the white man's new ways, or your own which may be part of both or newer still. You lack only a faith in one of them." Palemon's explanation echoes Maria's declaration that the new world will someday have its own faith and, with it, a more enlightened humanity.
Another friend of Martiniano's is Rudolfo Byers, an Anglo trading-post owner. He, too, responds to Martiniano's situation with silence, and his silence is also tantalizing with possibilities. Martinano and Byers build a new room for the trading post, and as they carve a pine viga for the ceiling, Waters compares the two men's contrasting views of the pine log. Byers sees it as a dead object without consciousness, to be used however its owner deems fit; Martiniano believes the log possesses spirit and that one must pray for permission before cutting it. Waters then reveals the moment's aching potential for a planetary Emergence: "The brotherhood of man! It will always be a dreary phrase, a futile hope, until each man, all men, realize that they themselves are but different reflections and insubstantial images of a greater invisible whole . . . . A means, a tongue, a bridge to span the wordless chasm that separates us all, it is the cry of every human heart. And Byers looked at Martiniano but neither spoke."
Ultimately, like Maria's followers escaping to a higher valley to continue the old ways, Martiniano heals his crisis by returning to the traditional Pueblo pattern of life. However, when the people of La Oreja Pueblo win back their sacred Dawn Lake from the federal government -- a decades old demand paralleling the Taos Pueblo's struggle for the return of their sacred Blue Lake from National Forest holdings -- Byers connects the victory with the transformation of all humanity: "But perhaps there would still be time, thought Byers, to learn from these people before they pass from this earth which was theirs and shall be all men's -- the simple and monstrous truth of mankind's solidarity with all that breathes and does not breathe . . . ."
Alexander Blackburn proposes that Martiniano's Emergence from alienation to reconnection is a metaphor for every individual's Emergence, regardless of race. Blackburn states, "[T]he allegory of Emergence, formulated in Deer as the redeeming necessity of a return to the unconscious, creates a new sense of wonder out of the mystery that lies buried, apparently, in us all." Thomas J. Lyon goes one step further by asserting that Martiniano's Emergence is planetary in nature: "Martiniano was microcosmic: he reflected and manifested nothing less than our whole world, which in Waters's view is changing. The world and Martiniano are and were in a state of process . . . ."
While Martiniano's Emergence may be a metaphor of universal awakening, Helen Chalmers of The Woman at Otowi Crossing (1966) is unambiguously a pioneer of the coming new world consciousness. Thirteen years in the writing, The Woman at Otowi Crossing bears the influences of Waters's enriched experiences and expanded learning -- his studies in Carl Jung and in quantum physics, his witnessing of nuclear weapon tests as an information specialist at Los Alamos, and his three years spent living on the Hopi Mesas researching their myth, ceremony, and history.
Waters based The Woman at Otowi Crossing on Edith Warner, who in the 1930s and 1940s owned a small teahouse where the road to Los Alamos crosses the Rio Grande. She befriended both the major physicists who patronized her teahouse and the people from nearby San Ildefonso Pueblo. Thus Warner was a unique link between the contemporary world of nuclear physics and the ancient world of Pueblo civilization, a living example of Waters's Emergence concept.
Helen Chalmers, Waters's fictional version of Edith Warner, has a spiritual awakening that closely parallels March Cable's in The Dust Within the Rock. In Chalmers's case, the discovery of a malignant breast tumor triggers the awakening. Chalmers's Emergence produces complementary pairs of visions. One pair confirms Pueblo mysticism -- a dream of humanity's evolutionary journey through multiple worlds (60) and a waking revelation during which a flock of geese metamorphose into the plumed serpent, the Mesoamerican god Quetzacoatl.
The other visions are far more disturbing. The first, a waking dream, occurs when Chalmers's former lover, Jack Turner, kicks a mushroom in the canyons below Los Alamos. As Chalmers watches the shattered mushroom rise into the air, it expands into a vast cloud from which billions of poisonous spores bring death to the earth below. Then, mere days before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, she dreams of a candle that detonates the world "in one brilliant apocalyptic burst of fire."
The mushroom and candle are prescient symbols for the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and as Frances M. Malpezzi notes, they connect Chalmers's spiritual Emergence with a world Emergence. Just as cancer triggered Chalmers's transformation, atomic weaponry will inspire planetary metamorphosis: "What had happened to her had now been manifested in the outer world. Like her, mankind would suffer a period of fear and guilt. Then this would pass, and the world would face a new age with a new power to use for good."
Two events deepen Chalmers's connection with the Pueblo Emergence myth. The first is when Chalmers is on her deathbed and seven deer mysteriously appear to witness her passing. Blackburn notes that these seven deer correspond to the seven worlds of the Pueblo Emergence story. Then, in the novel's epilogue, an investigator of psychic phenomena named Mr. Meru examines Chalmers's Emergence journal. He proclaims her experience to be the makings of a true contemporary myth responding to the modern world's sterility: "We ourselves created it -- we of a new age, desperately crying for a new faith or merely a new form that will model old truths to a useful purpose. Helen Chalmers affirms our mistrust of the neuter and negative materialism of our time." As Malpezzi observes, Mount Meru is a sacred mountain in Buddhist and Hindu mythology, the world axis that is the center of faith, the connection between heaven and earth. Thus Mt. Meru's pronouncements are the deepest possible validation of Chalmers's mystical experiences, and an indication that, in Malpezzi's words, "Helen's inner journey is a representative one, the evolutionary road of every individual."
Therefore, Waters has created in Helen Chalmers a guide for personal change and planetary evolution. Blackburn declares, "By counter-pointing the myth of the [atomic bomb] Project and the myth of The Woman at Otowi Crossing and unifying these in the myth of Emergence, Waters shapes for those who can respond to it a vision for the future, in which world crisis is resolved on a higher plane of at-one-ment with the cosmos."
Many of Waters's major nonfiction works have examined this Emergence theme as well, but with a key difference. Whereas novels like People of the Valley and The Man Who Killed the Deer develop the Emergence myth and its connection to humanity through imaginative constructs, Waters's nonfiction develops the concept from the actual heart of his own experiences. In The Colorado (1945), for example, Waters examines the Colorado River basin as a crucible where the cultural collision between the Euroamerican and American Indian worlds produces a new and unique people shaped by the American earth and sharing in both viewpoints -- a continent-wide version of March Cable's revelation of racial unity as he stood before the graves of his grandfather and father.
As noted, Masked Gods was Waters's first major declaration of his Emergence belief. In it he states that the book's purpose is to discover the direction of our planetary evolution:
We are concerned with the subjective record of the evolutionary development of man through successive, well-defined stages. Through these stages each individual, each race and civilization, evolves alike. At each stage, tremendous conflicts take place. In the individual it is the inner conflict between instinct and ego. Between the Indians and the Anglos, as races and cultures, it has been the same basic psychological conflict objectified and extroverted on the field of war, economics, and politics.A new element that enters Waters's Emergence concept in Masked Gods is the warning that humanity cannot go back in its spiritual and evolutionary development. To return to a preindustrial culture, to turn away from our outward spiral life path, will lead only to chaos and self-destruction, but to remain in our present extreme materialism will result in psychic and ecological death. Waters's answer is to move forward and merge European ego-driven materialism and American Indian instinctive spirituality in a Jungian symbol of reconciliation. For Waters, humanity will find this potent symbol by combining quantum physics, American Indian ceremonialism, Jungian psychology, and Tibetan metaphysics in a syncretic triumph of spirit and heart.
In Mexico Mystique: The Coming of the Sixth World of Consciousness (1975), Waters looked to the esoteric wisdom of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations -- the Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec -- to further elaborate his Emergence concept. Probably Waters's most difficult and controversial book, Mexico Mystique examines the end of the current, 5,200-year Mayan Great Cycle on December 24, 2011. While some scholars and mystics believe this end will bring planetary cataclysm, Waters, with his deep seated faith in Emergence, gives a hopeful interpretation to Mesoamerican apocalyptic myths, finding in them archetypal symbols for a rapid transformation of consciousness.
These ideas on the connection between humanity and the cosmos are summed up in the collection of essays, Mountain Dialogues (1981), which begins with a child holding a fistful of earth and asking Waters, "How does this dirt make our garden grow?" From here, Waters launches into a voyage that ranges from the beauty and mythology of his Taos neighborhood to a discussion of Jung, Bhagavan Sri Maharshi, Plains Indian metaphysics, and humanity's coming Emergence. But clearly Waters's most personal examination of the Emergence concept occurs in Pumpkin See Point (1969), an account of the three years he spent on the Hopi Mesas researching Book of the Hopi (1963), a landmark study of Hopi myth, ceremony, and history. Thomas J. Lyon notes the central place of Pumpkin Seed Point in the body of Waters's work: "In its totality, this short but complex book is perhaps meant to stand as a kind of morning star. A summation of Frank Waters's inward journey, it contains a declaration of what he has found."
The text opens with a description of Waters walking to his Hopi Mesa home at Pumpkin Seed Point during a bitterly cold winter night. All is dark in the village of New Oraibi, the only light coming from the feeble glow of a single bulb behind the trading post's barred windows. For Waters, this light becomes a metaphor of his quest for enlightenment among the Hopis, the enlightenment all humanity is striving for, consciously or unconsciously, in order to make the transition into the next world paradigm. As in Masked Gods, Waters proposes that humanity is at a critical junction in history when it must rise to a higher consciousness by reconciling the duality of instinct and reason.
In Pumpkin Seed Point, Waters dramatizes the necessity of unifying this duality with his descent into Mexico's Barranca del Cobre, a vast net work of canyons deeper and more extensive than the Grand Canyon. These canyons remain largely unexplored except by the Tarahumara Indians who live there, and to this day few non-Indians have attained Barranca del Cobre's floor.
What Waters discovered there was a powerful symbol of the unconscious and of the Mother Goddess: "the looming cliffs blotted out the sun, and the world suddenly became a shadowy womb-cavern deep in the immortal, maternal earth." When a crescent moon appears above the canyon's rim, Waters has a revelatory moment that confirms the need to transcend the instinctive level while never losing touch with it: "For consciousness, having once broken free from the maternal unconscious, cannot sink back defeated into the maw of its devouring mother. It must continue to climb forward to a higher level. But man cannot cut himself off from the one great pool of life without losing all he has gained." How are we to maintain this connection between our higher consciousness and our deep unconscious memory? Waters calls on us to keep listening to our interior world -- the world of myth and the collective unconscious -- which he believes ultimately shapes history and culture. For the people of the Western Hemisphere, that myth is largely Indian.
To illustrate, Waters relates the story of a Catholic church in the far mountains of Michoacan. The local Indians attended this church in unusually high numbers and with an uncharacteristic outpouring of devotion, a situation that mystified the parish priest until an earthquake toppled the Catholic altar to reveal an Aztec statue underneath. As Waters writes, "[T]he altar signifies a religion made rationally conscious, under which lies the mythological content of the unconscious, that one great pool of life and time."
This, for Waters, is the meaning of the Hopi legend of the Pahana, the lost white brother who will someday return to the Hopi with the missing piece of their sacred tablet that grants them sovereignty over the Hopi Mesas. For the Hopi, when the Pahana returns, we will be ushered into the coming Fifth World transformation. For Waters, the Pahana represents, in the words of Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, "the Being within, communing with the past ages." The Pahana is therefore every Euroamerican transformed by the "psychic and even anatomical changes that the secret forces of the land have worked upon us." According to Waters, these changes are "slowly integrating tribes, races and nations the world over."
Waters was silent on the exact social, political, and cultural details of this new age, as Tom Tarbet discovered in a 1973 interview: "Well, what exactly lies ahead -- as far as actual living conditions -- will take a better man than me to even make a guess." In a truly existential manner, Waters has left the exact outlines of the future to each of us who will dwell in it. As he states in Pumpkin Seed Point, "The mass is made up of individuals and it is in the individual, both red and white, where the conflict [of duality] must be resolved."
Still Waters's legacy is clear. Vine Deloria Jr., the author of God is Red, describes Waters as "a delightful combination of two of our most cherished archetypal masculine figures: the prophet and the explorer." Novelest Rudolfo Anaya also believes Waters is a prophet vital to our era, stating, "We are living at the end of an age, and we look desperately around for men like Frank Waters to point the way into a new cycle of time."
crisis of his own troubled soul, torn between the American Indian and Anglo
bloodlines of his father and mother, Waters discovered a vision of wholeness, a
unity of opposites, both racial and metaphysical. From this awakening he
went on to write twenty-seven books that charted a way, a Path of Life, for the
rest of us to follow. In essence, Waters brought the Pueblo and Navajo
myth of Emergence to the rest of humanity to guide us in our difficult global
transition. As Alexander Blackburn states, "Waters's quest through
the dimensions of the [Mesoamerican] heartland has yielded a creative mythology,
Emergence, and this myth is the heartland's answer to wasteland."
John Nizalowski is a writer and reader living in Delta, Colo. He also teaches in the English Department at Mesa State College, in Grand Junction.
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