Suzan Shown Harjo: New starts for a new year

"Now is the time when most people in this part of the world reflect on passages and prepare for what is to come. Celebrations for looking back and starting over are ancient and powerful rituals, more likely born in the hearts of children than in the visions of mystics or the minds of politicians.

In Native cultures, we are instructed to observe the ordinary world, pay attention to extraordinary signs and prepare the way. People throughout the world time their renewal ceremonies and preparations to movements of stars, phases of the moon and special things that happen in the sky.

A friend tells me that her traditional Blackfeet people start the New Year later, with the first thunder of spring. That's the signal to get ready for ceremony.

Deculturalized people in the European countries of Shakespeare's time (mid-1500s to early 1600s) struggled with their tribal peoples to put away cultural traditions of preparing for ceremony because nature said to, but they still believed in omens. The playwright's character Hamlet sets aside a premonition about a sword fight (his last, as it turned out), telling his schoolmate, ''we defy augury.''

Hamlet defines death almost as a ceremony of being prepared for it: ''There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.''

The mere thought of existing in a constant state of readiness is exhausting, but that is what holy people, warriors, mothers and farmers do. The rest of the people make preparations and ceremonies to feed them, return them to society, teach their children, gather the harvest and amuse them. When the time is right, tears are wiped, blood is washed, visions are shared, babies are named."

Get the Story:
Suzan Shown Harjo: New starts (Indian Country Today 12/28)

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