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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Spiritual Life



Spirit Realm

Visual representation of nature's laws

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Reciprocity—Since we have developed the idea of reciprocity to some extent above, we will only note here its sacred ramifications: reciprocity is expressed most openly in the practice among the Mohawk of identifying moieties or clan memberships according to principles of totemic and genetic relationships.1 Important festivities such as a funeral require organization of the proceedings with the moiety structure in mind, that is, the ceremonies will not be carried out by the moiety of the deceased, but by the moiety of a reciprocal social group.  Among the Cree, reciprocity is a fundamental structure of the cosmos, signaled by the notion that Manitou or the great beauty and power of the universe is expressed in dialogic opposites, i.e, kisemanitou and macimanitou, one positive the other negative, both of which are said to operate within the cosmos and human social order. These are the primary ways of expressing reality in the universe, and hence are regarded as absolutely sacred.

This perception of reality is not developed into a theological system, the way the being of god and the concept of the Trinity evolved in Christianity. Rather, the principles and embedded in a natural description, and from that description one was to draw conclusions about the nature of reality. A fine example of this is Jenny Leading Cloud’s story of the woman and the dog:

Somewhere at a place where the prairie and the Maka Sicha, the Badlands, meet, there is a hidden cave. Not for a long, long time has anyone been able to find it. Even now, with so many highways, cars, and tourists, no one has discovered this cave. In it lives a woman so old that her face looks like a shriveled-up walnut. She is dressed in rawhide, the way people used to be before the white man came. She has been sitting there for a thousand years or more, working on a blanket strip for her buffalo robe. She is making the strip out of dyed porcupine quills, the way our ancestors did before white traders brought glass beads to this turtle continent. Resting beside her, licking his paws, watching her all the time is Shunka Sapa, a huge black dog. His eyes never wander from the old woman, whose teeth are worn flat, worn down to little stumps, she has used them to flatten so many porcupine quills.

A few steps from where the old woman sits working on her blanket strip, a huge fire is kept going. She lit this fire a thousand years or more ago and kept it alive ever since. Over the fire hangs a big earth pot, the kind some Indian peoples used to make before the white men came with his kettles or iron. Inside the big pot, wojapi is boiling and bubbling. Wojapi is berry soup, good and sweet and red. That soup has been boiling in the pot for a long time, ever since the fire was lit.

Every now and then the old woman gets up to stir the wojapi in the huge earthen pot. She is so old and feeble that it takes her a while to get up and hobble over to the fire. The moment her back is turned, the huge black dog starts pulling the porcupine quills out of her blanket strip. This way she never makes any progress, and her quill work remains forever unfinished. The Sioux people used to say that if the old woman ever finishes her blanket, then at the very moment that she threads the last porcupine quill to complete the design, the world will come to an end.(In Baillargeon, 116)

This selection reflects several important aspects of the sacred:

  1. Nature’s Law relates to a more fundamental belief in a sacred history of the universe…the potential is there for it all to end.
  2. The sacred cannot be comprehended by the human, it can only be experienced in the daily encounters of life.
  3. The human lives with the possibility of death (symbolized with the earthen berry soup, used to feast the dead in funerary rituals), and this is a normal part of Nature’s Law.
  4. That Nature’s Law requires both positive and negative activity in the world, for purposes that are beyond the human to articulate (i.e., the positive of the quill work of the old woman offset by the negative of the destruction of the quill work by the dog).
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