Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":
THE SACRED LIFE OF THE LENAPE


The Delaware (or, as they call themselves, the Lenape) Indians inhabited a vast region of eastern North America-particularly in Ontario, Canada-and also Oklahoma. Their most important public ritual, called the 'New Year Big House Ceremony,' took place in the autumn after the harvest. A huge rectangular hut-symbolizing the universe-was set up in a forest glade. The creation of the 'Big House' represented a ritual recreation of the world and marked the beginning of a new year. On the first evening of the ceremony the fire was lighted and the assistants, wearing their best clothes, took their places along the walls. The chief opened the ceremony with a prayer to the Creator, such as the one printed here.


'We are thankful that so many of us are alive to meet together here once more, and that we are ready to hold our ceremonies in good faith. Now we shall meet here twelve nights in succession to pray to Gicelumu'kaong who has directed us to worship in this way. And these twelve Missing faces [carved on the posts of the house] are here to watch and carry our prayers to Gicelumu'kaong in the highest heaven. The reason why we dance at this time is to raise our prayers to him.

'When we come into this house of ours we are glad, and thankful that we are well, and for everything that makes us feel good which the Creator has placed here for our use. We come here to pray Him to have mercy on us for the year to come and to give us everything to make us happy, may we have good crops, and no dangerous storms, floods nor earthquakes. We all realize what He has put before us all through life, and that He has given us a way to pray to Him and thank Him. We are thankful to the East because everyone feels good in the morning when they awake, and see the bright light coming from the East and when the Sun goes down in the West we feel good and glad we are well; then we are thankful to the West. And we are thankful to the North, because when the cold winds come we are glad to have lived to see the leaves fall again; and to the South, for when the South wind blows and everything is coming up in the spring, we are glad to live to see the grass growing and everything green again. We thank the Thunders for they are the mani'towuk that bring the rain which the Creator has given them power to rule over. And we thank our mother,the Earth, whom we claim as mother because the Earth carries us and everything we need. When we eat and drink and look around, we know it is Gicelemu' kaong that makes us feel good that way. He gives us the purest thoughts that can be had. We should pray to Him every morning.

'Man has a spirit, and the body seems to be a coat for that spirit. That is why people should take care of their spirits, so as to reach Heaven and be admitted to the Creator's dwelling. We are given some length of time to live on earth, and then our spirits must go. When anyone's time comes to leave this earth, he should go to Gicelemu'kaong, feeling good on the way. We all ought to pray to Him to prepare ourselves for days to come so that we can be with Him after leaving the earth.

'We all must put our thoughts to this meeting, so that Gicelemu'kaong will look upon us and grant what we ask. You all come here to pray, you have to reach Him all through life. Do not think of evil; strive always to think of the good which He has given us.

'When we reach that place, we shall not have to do anything or worry about anything, only live a happy life. We know there are many of our fathers who have left this earth and are now in this happy place in the Land of the Spirits. When we arrive we shall see our fathers, mothers, children, and sisters there. And when we have prepared ourselves so that we can go to where our parents and children are, we feel happy.

'Everything looks more beautiful there than here, everything looks new, and the waters and fruits and everything are lovely.

'No sun shines there, but a light much brighter than the sun, the Creator makes it brighter by his power. All people who die here, young or old, will be of the same age there; and those who are injured, crippled, or made blind will look as good as the rest of them. It is nothing but the flesh that is injured: the spirit is as good as ever. That is the reason that people are told to help always the cripples or the blind. Whatever you do for them will surely bring its rewards. Whatever you do for anybody will bring you credit hereafter. Whenever we think the thoughts that Gicelemu'kaong has given us, it will do us good.'


M. R. Harrington, Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenape (New York, 1921), pp. 87-92

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