The Pueblo of Taos in New Mexico
When we speak of ‘Pueblo Indians’ we mean the Indians who built multi-storied adobe dwellings that run from Taos in northern New Mexico down to Hopi in Arizona. Non-nomadic, these people pioneered farming, weaving, bead and pottery-making. They developed a more settled lifestyle than the Plains Indians who remained nomadic, following the hunt and relocating often. The Pueblos include Acoma, San Ildefonso, Cochiti, Zuni, Santo Domingo, Jemez, Laguna, San Juan, Nambe, Picuris, and Tesuque.
They predate the Navajos in the Southwest by approximately six hundred years and had evolved a spirituality and ritual life that involved the whole community in ceremonies conducted at different seasons and stages of the moon’s passage. A great deal of Navajo religious thought and magical practices, including witchcraft, was influenced by the life of the Pueblos.
In traditional Pueblo ceremonialism, witchcraft is a magic power that can be good or evil, white or black. The best men in a pueblo may be witches. At Laguna and Zuni, as in many other pueblos, charges of witchcraft have been brought against even the highest officials. While the pueblo curing societies work against this witchcraft, there are still secret societies which practice both black and white magic. There is the individual practice of witchcraft, but there is an even stronger tradition of families or societies of witches that are organized with the same basic structure as other pueblo societies: Mosona, Pekwin, Pitashiwanni: chief, crier, guards.
Pueblo Indians, Circa 1900
Members receive orders from high officials to go out and make people sick. Ritual initiation demands that the candidate must bewitch someone to death. At Zuni it is believed that death must be inflicted on a member of the prospective witch’s own family. As part of the initiation, the candidate has a ceremonial father of the same animal spirit that the candidate hopes to acquire. The ceremonial father goes with him under the arch of a bow that produces the desired transmigration. A common but equally powerful change is achieved by ceremonially putting on claw and teeth beads of the creature one seeks to emulate. These beads can carry a violent and death-dealing magic. He may also garb himself in the skins of that animal.
Animals are also associated with the six great directions and have their colors in Zuni cosmology: Eagle is multi-colored and associated with the sky. The north is associated with the color yellow and the mountain lion. East is white and belongs to the wolf. West is blue and the province of the bear. The south is red, home of the badger and the mole is the ruler of the underground and associated with the color black.
Envy is a common motive in witchcraft. For years before he died, Gawire of Laguna, the Sun Shaman was blind. His sister always believed that his blindness was caused by the envy of witches because he was so successful in his cures.
At Laguna the war captains were expected to shoot a suspected witch when he was in his animal form. This form will then drop away and the person of the witch will be exposed. The witch will then fall ill and in four days will be dead. In several towns, the story is told, prowling animals were shot only to learn the next day that someone found with a mysterious wound. In all the pueblos witches under heavy suspicion have suddenly disappeared. In some instances they may have escaped and live in exile. Due to heavy social pressure, suspects have also gone into exile.
Tesuque Medicine Man's Vessel
Pueblo medicine men and doctors (different from either black or white magic witches) will also use a bear’s paw, wolf’s paw, or beads made from their teeth to harness the strength and shrewdness of these animals to fight the witches. Agents of the witches are insects such as caterpillars or grasshoppers that are sent to destroy crops or sent directly into a person’s body to destroy it. Sending things into the body is the commonest form of attack. The witch may ‘send-in’ a piece of flesh from a corpse, a fragment of burial cloth, a grave bead, splinter of bone, thorn, cactus point or blade of grass. Witches can also use the ghosts of members of a family they are persecuting, instructing the ghost to bid his relative to come and join him.
The curing societies are called in to deal with cases of bewitchment. A doctor is always accompanied by his society colleagues who are protected by the war captains from a witch attack during the curing ceremony. At Jemez war captains are also present during a cure. At Zuni two bow-priests are attached to each society with one of their particular functions being to protect against attacking witches.
Contemporary Zuni Indian Olla Maiden Dancers
Coming Next Week: Zuni Fetishes in Pueblo Witchcraft