Dust, dust, dust and smoke rose from the kiva, the womb of our emergence. Smoke curled upward from the entrance as the spirits danced before me. I waited to return to the womb, to my rebirth as a Wuwuchin into the arms of the Earth Mother.

The children watched me as they played with their kachina dolls, knowing I was no longer a child. I waited to descend to the source and face the sacred spirits, as the elders prepared for the ceremony. They spread corn meal about the entrance, a gift from the Corn Mother. The priest descended the ladder followed by others carrying the Paho, the feathered fetish signifying man and woman.

I slowly climbed down the ladder into the dimly lit kiva, the underground room from which our people emerged. I remained motionless as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. In a few minutes I began to see my surroundings. I stood at the highest point with the other initiates, while the scantily clad priest sat barefoot in the lowest and most sacred place, next to the altar reciting words of rebirth. The fire next to him provided just enough light for me to see the flat rock covering the Sipapuni, the place of emergence, the opening to the world below us, the second world. Above us, in the fourth world, the Two-Horn Clan and One Horn Clan guarded the ceremony.

Surrounded by the sound of chants and the clacking of the turtle shells the priest prayed to the spirits. His words flowed in a sinewy stream, gray wisps following the smoke to the black ceiling, rolling upward and out the entrance. The spirits danced with his words in the smoke of the sacred fire. He continued praying until the three stars appear above us, in the entrance.

Suddenly, men appeared among the spirits wearing feathered clothing, but no spirit masks. They lined the walls of the kiva waiting for Nutungktatota, “The First and Last.” He appeared from nowhere, his white robe and headdress glowed in the dim light. I trembled watching him move about, listening for his words, his voice, his proclaimation. As he shimmered, he announced, “I am the beginning and the end,” and disappeared.

Darkness, darkness… the priest covered the fire and the kiva exploded into chants and singing. The spirit men danced and swirled with the initiates, the star spirits, the priest, and the godfathers. Faster and faster, spinning, whirling in a noisy dance. A loud yell echoed around us, and we threw off our clothing, trying to escape the evil darkness. Naked, I fought my way to the ladder, crashing into the rock walls and bouncing off some of the others. Finally, bruised and sore I climbed out of the entrance, where they splashed me with water and lead me away. I waited shivering by a fire until one of the kiva chiefs arrived; he washed my hair, cleansing me of the evil, silently welcoming me to the Wuwuchin. I knew then that I was ready for my pilgrimage into manhood.

In the early morning light, the children looked at me differently. I gazed at my home, nestled in the great palace in the cliffs. The smoke from cooking fires merged with the smoke from the kivas surrounding me in a blanket. As I walked, small clouds of dust marked my footsteps. The dust spoke calling me to my pilgrimage, my journey to the four corners of our world.

I carefully climbed down the rocky path leading from the mesa, looking back at the cliffs only when I reached the flat land. From this distance, the smoke from the pueblo spiraled into sky like snakes in the snake dance. I saw Pucatan, the elder, wave to me, knowing his teaching will guide me on the first leg of my journey.

I walked towards Oraibi, the Ceremonial home of the Bear Clan, carrying my knife and a water pouch. The sun warmed my face, but I knew I must hurry to reach the rocks far ahead by mid-day. I would rest in the shade and perhaps trap a small animal to eat. This part of the journey was short, I would rest and eat once I arrived at Oraibi, in a day or so. From Oraibi my pilgrimage would truly begin as I trekked to the north, south, east and west. Only when I had toured the four corners could I return as a full member of the Bear Clan.

I looked back towards my home hoping I would return one day…

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