Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 847
Ephanie, a woman of unspecified age and circumstance, is a Native American living in San Francisco. One morning, she is awakened by the presence of a shadowy form, cloaked in a swirl of vapor, at the foot of her bed. The form slowly assumes the shape of a woman, small, with “something of bird, a hawk perhaps, about her.” Her eyes have a strange gleam, and her clothes and appearance are those of a traditional southwestern Pueblo Indian woman. Her hair is cut traditionally, falling in a straight line from crown to jaw, forming perfect square corners on either side, with straight bangs cut at the eyebrows, in the ancient arrangement that signifies the arms of the galaxy, “the Spider.” She wears a finely woven shawl, embroidered with spider symbols, and buckskin leggings wrapped around her calves. The woman announces that she has come to tell a story, one that Ephanie has long wanted to hear.
Knowing that this is no mortal visitor but a spirit woman, Ephanie raises herself in her bed and performs the traditional ritual of greeting, the sign of the sunrise, by taking a pinch of corn pollen between her fingers and thumb and opening them as though to free the pollen.
The spirit woman begins to speak, chanting the creation story of the Keres people. Old Spider Woman—known also as Sussistinaku, Thinking Woman, because she creates by thinking things into existence—is the creator of the world. First she creates two sisters to help her, and she structures her creation in the pattern she brings with her from the center of the galaxy, a pattern of corners, turnings, and multidimensional arrangings that “is the sign and the order of the power that informs this life and leads back to Shipap,” the home of Iyatiku (Corn Woman), the goddess who governs the spiritual affairs of the Keres people.
Next, the spirit woman explains the relationships and natures of the Keres deities. After Sussistinaku created her two sisters, Uretsete and Naotsete, Uretsete was known as the father, Utset, because Naotsete had become pregnant and had a child. Uretsete is the woman who was known as father, the Sun, and Naotsete is the Woman of the Sun. Iyatiku is another name for Uretsete, and “The One was the unity, the source, Shipap, where Naiya [’our dear mother’] Iyatiku lived.”
In the patterns of the spirit woman’s stories, Ephanie finds something that she has long sought, a truth and a meaning, an imperative to shape her life in the ancient manner. In addition to explaining the origin and nature of the universe to Ephanie, the spirit woman gives her a prophecy. She explains that the time of ending is coming to Indians, but tells her not to weep, because this is as it should be. In the Keres story of the origin of humankind, humans evolved through a series of four underground worlds before emerging on the earth’s surface in this, the fifth world. The spirit people will now leave this world and go on to another place, the sixth world.
The spirit woman explains that there is another earth, almost like this one, but with a new way of looking at reality that is more valid, more real, more vital than the old way. She says that she is in that other world, where there is also a San Francisco, but a different version of the place than the one Ephanie inhabits. She invites Ephanie to visit her in her city. She is confident Ephanie will like it there, and will be surprised to see that there is no death—life and being are the only truth.
Long ago, the people knew death was not possible because they could actually see the person make the transition, leaving the flesh behind, like seeing a person strip off clothes. Then Old Coyote, the Keres trickster figure, said there would be death: Instead of seeing the whole transformation in its entirety, people would see only the body, first alive, then still. The spirit woman tells Ephanie that she must jump and fall into the new world just like Anciena, the sky woman of Iroquois myth, who fell through a hole in the sky and began the human race on earth. With this, the spirit woman seems to dissolve, and Ephanie sleeps and dreams.
Prompted by the spirit woman’s visit, Ephanie dreams of women who lived long ago, who knew magic, directed people on their true life paths, and healed them. These were the women of the Spider Medicine Society, “the double women, the women who never married, who held power like the Clanuncle, like the power of the priests, the medicine men. Who were not mothers, but who were sisters, born of the same mind, the same spirit. They called each other sister.” Ephanie’s room begins to fill with shapes, which turn into women who sing and dance in the ancient way. Ephanie picks a heavily embroidered shawl from the bottom of her bed, wraps it around her shoulders, and joins the dance.
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