Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":
THE COSMIC SYMBOLISM OF THE DELAWARE (LENAPE) CULTIC HOUSE


The Big House stands for the Universe; its floor, the earth; its four walls, the four quarters; its vault, the sky dome, atop which resides the Creator in his indefinable supremacy. To use Delaware expressions, the Big House being the universe, the centre post is the staff of the Great Spirit with its foot upon the earth, its pinnacle reaching to the hand of the Supreme Deity. The floor of the Big House is the flatness of the earth upon which sit the three grouped divisions of mankind, the human social groupings in their appropriate places; the eastern door is the point of sunrise where the. day begins and at the same time the symbol of termination; the north and south walls assume the meaning of respective horizons; the roof of the temple is the visible sky vault. The ground beneath the Big House is the realm of the underworld while above the roof lie the extended planes or levels, twelve in number, stretched upward to the abode of the 'Great Spirit, even the Creator,' as Delaware form puts it. Here we might speak of the carved face images. . . . the representations on the centre pole being the visible symbols of the Supreme Power, those on the upright posts, three on the north wall and three on the south wall, the manitu of these respective zones; those on the eastern and western door posts, those of the east and west. . . . But the most engrossing allegory of all stands forth in the concept of the White Path, the symbol of the transit of life, which is met in the oval, hard-trodden dancing path outlined on the floor of the Big House, from the east door passing to the right down the north side past the second fire to the west door and doubling back on the south side of the edifice around the eastern fire to its beginning. This is the path of life down which man winds his way to the western door where all ends. Its correspondent exists, I assume, in the Milky Way, where the passage of the soul after death continues in the spirit realm. As the dancers in the Big House ceremony wend their stately passage following the course of the White Path they 'push something along,' meaning existence, with their rhythmic tread. Not only the passage of life, but the journey of the soul after death is symbolically figured in the ceremony.


Frank G. Speck, A Study of the Delaware Indians Big House Ceremony, Publications of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, vol. 2 (Harrisburg, 1931), pp.

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