The first Americans who lived near what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico, prayed to Mother Moon, Sanatyaya, and Father Sun, Pāyatyama. They prayed to the Corn Spirit, Iyatiku, and Shiwanna, the rain spirits. The puebloan pantheon included many shiuana who lived in the clouds.
For these early Americans, the spirit world was part of the fabric of every hour of the day. If a hunter shot a deer, he knelt at the deer’s side and said a prayer, thanking the deer’s spirit for its strength and sustenance. At dawn’s first light, a father held his son up to ask for Father Sun’s blessing. Streams, trees, even rock formations had spirits, and the people were ever mindful of their roles in daily life.
The elaborate, ritualized dances of the pueblos are prayers. The Corn Dance, the Deer Dance, the Rain Dance, all appeal to the appropriate spirits for plenty. The other two parts of every prayer are thanksgiving for the spirits’ many blessings and worship of them as Divine Guides of the Spirit World.
A less formal and more personal form of worship was the making of prayer sticks tied together to form a cross. At any time of the day, whenever and wherever a puebloan felt moved to pray, he or she might place a prayer stick on the pathway, at the hearth, under a bush, or near a loved one who slept or might be sick. “Ho-a-a, ho-a-a,” the worshipful one would chant as she propped her stick up with a few pebbles.
The prayer sticks were ideally made only from living wood. The two sticks might be as long as the length between inner elbow and the tip of the third finger, or they might be no longer than a single finger joint. The sticks were tied together with yucca fiber, most likely, and often were adorned with a feather or a pretty rock. But if a puebloan happened upon a prayer stick adorned with an owl feather or a chip of blackest obsidian, the hair would stand up on his arms and a terrible chill would run down his back, for these are abominations made by a witch.
I find prayer sticks very appealing. Constructing and adorning and placing prayer sticks gives the worshiper a sense of having done something active and concrete to help insure the spirits’ blessings. I can imagine that in and around an adobe village of the sixteenth century, someone out for a stroll would pass by many prayer sticks, evidence of the puebloans reverence and faith in Those Above.
Writing CRIMSON SKY, about the early Americans who confronted the conquistadors in 1598, led me to the information about prayer sticks. You can read the first chapter of this novel on my website at www.gretchencraig.com.