Adventures with Grandfather David in Hopi Land
by Ted Denmark, Ph.D.
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As often happens with people engaged in what I have termed “esoteric studies,” I eventually became intent on discovering something about my own past lives since this is the prime reality pointed to by most of the sources that I had come to regard as “reliable” in this field of nontraditional cross-cultural philosophical studies. It usually takes years of immersion in such pursuits to become convinced that this phenomenon or concept that previous serial life existences could actually be true and are a large part of one’s own current deeper personal identity. I had slowly accumulated the details and insights over several decades and no longer harbored any doubt that this “recycling” of what has traditionally been called the human soul, the persistent transcendent core of self, is indeed the way of human evolution. But I had mostly refrained from concerning myself about exactly what those lives might have been—for me—even though I had been personally engaged for a number of years with a psychic channel source called Hilarion (via channeler Jon C. Fox), who routinely described a worldview in which this was an integral part. Then, in one of my birthday consultations with him one year, I believe, probably in the early Eighties, I decided that I had waited for an appropriately modest length of time and now wished to pop the question and make some direct inquiry about what my own past lives had been like and where they might have occurred.
As usual, Hilarion showed a most wise and compassionate response to my inquiry, telling me a little about lives I had spent as a Catholic priest in Europe during the Middle Ages, a Tibetan lama during the time of the transition from the ancient Bon religion to the more contemporary Buddhist teachings, a writer during the time of the rise of the novel in England, a scribe during early Biblical times who had worked on preserving one of the New Testament gospels of the one I would now call Jmmanuel (Jesus), as well as several other lives that are at this stage of the spiral a little less memorable in retrospect.
Of course, being an astrologer individually tutored by Hilarion, whom I usually refer to in this context as “an astrologer’s master astrologer,” I was particularly interested in knowing about my immediate last incarnation on Earth because in the Hilarion astrology it is specifically the 12th House which is directly concerned with the individual’s conscious re-integration of the unconscious last life experience with the current identity, and as a natal first-breath Sun in Pisces (12th Sign) in the 12th house (but close to the ascendant), this past life would likely be of greater importance for me than average. So I naturally came to that question since it wasn’t clear if he had already included a description of my last life in his short delineation of my past lives already recited. Could he then please also tell me about my last life?
Well … yes, and it would be even better than the mere telling, he now suggested, because something was just about to happen that would reveal quite a lot about my current inquiry—so he would allow these already “arranged circumstances” to unfold naturally without any need for additional explanation. He reassured me that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and that it would be much more interesting and exciting than just being told … which he would not want to do … because it would spoil the fun! This was a bit of a surprise to hear and a slight disappointment since I didn’t think it could hurt to at least leave me with a little hint. But there was already a fair amount to consider with what I had already been told in this particular reading, so I almost forgot how he had playfully diverted my last question as time went on.
Since it has been more than three decades ago that I am now recalling this particular series of events, I can’t recall how much time actually passed between the cited Hilarion session and the announcement of an event I noticed one day in the local newspaper that would be happening just a few blocks away from where I was living in Berkeley, California at that time. The old University Theatre, a movie house near campus, would be hosting a live program on a weekend evening (perhaps looking for additional revenue since the movie business at the time may have been in decline) about the Native American Hopi people of Northern Arizona, involving many university anthropology students, faculty and others who had traveled to Hopi Land to study or visit this unique tribal group engaged for many hundreds of years in marginally sustainable living on their reservation ridges near the edge of the Grand Canyon, an area I had always found very attractive.
I can still easily remember the sense of excitement as the anticipated evening drew near, though I’m not now exactly sure why … Maybe it was because I had read casual accounts with some interest about Hopi culture, particularly their religion and supposedly unusual sense of time as described in their native language (the famous linguistic study of Hopi time by Benjamin Whorf, a staple of 50’s and 60’s psychology/ sociology academic fare); perhaps because I was already well-traveled in the Southwest, having always been attracted to Northern Arizona and places like Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff, which are near the Hopi reservation, itself being fully enclosed within the Navajo tribal lands, which had also intrigued me. Native Americans were also somewhat familiar to me since I had grown up in Oklahoma as a young boy, aware of the poor sad Indians that the Anglo settler culture I belonged to generally tried to avoid noticing or speaking about if possible.
And then the day finally came, which found me walking the four blocks or so to the theatre in downtown Berkeley. When I arrived inside and sat down, there was the usual scruffy, long-haired Berkeley audience, ebullient and iconoclastic, craning their necks and looking around in their seats to see who they might know around the big movie theatre room. But these people seemed a bit brighter and more pleasantly friendly that may have been the general case with an audience in Berkeley in the early eighties: I could hear excited conversations all around, talking about various things that had happened during visits to destinations in the small Hopi villages and towns at various times. I wistfully thought that maybe I should have taken anthropology classes as an undergrad and maybe I might also have gone out to Hopi land as an ambassador of the great progressive educational crown jewel, the University of California at Berkeley … to have a look at the surviving Hopi lifestyle myself.
When the program finally started (Indian Time?!), a number of academics and Native Americans arrived unhurriedly onstage to talk about the positive and greatly successful nature of the collaboration between the welcoming Hopi people and the benevolent academics intent upon studying them over the years, with a recounting of various experiences known to many of the people in the audience. There were films, awards ceremonies, reminiscences and addresses, most of which I didn’t know much about, but the feeling of mutual respect and cultural sharing was evident amidst good-spirited impulsive joking and mock restrained critical accounts of various insinuated troubles … and then it was over. Some people decided to hang around and look for old friends, others made for the exits to get relief from sitting through a late-starting and overlong program.
I felt engaged and stimulated by the program since it allowed me to think of many obscure things that would not normally have occurred to me even in the middle of so diverse an urban settlement, but I also felt an increasing level of uncertainty about what I wanted to do or should do next—not such a rare dilemma in a place as over-stimulated as Berkeley. I didn’t really want to go back to my apartment yet, but I didn’t really know anyone here either; nonetheless, I felt there was something I should try to understand before I left … so, I passively eavesdropped for a time on an excited conversation from the row in front of me, but eventually I felt obliged to leave as were most of the other attendees. I went out into the fresh air and decided not to go to the late night café nearby with the great cappuccino and croissants called Au Coquelet, and then in a impulsive moment of anxiety, decided to walk around the block … to collect my wits.
But I soon felt like I was probably not doing the right thing since the dogged feeling of leaving something important behind was increasing. As I resolved to finish making the loop around the fairly large block and decide what to do when I arrived back at the theatre, I suddenly looked up, and at that very moment, I happened to see … a single stalk of corn growing up out of the dirt in a tree planter at Shattuck and University Ave. in the center of downtown Berkeley (!). A shoulder-high corn stalk in Berkeley?! Had all the thousands of passers-by and merchants let it be for so many weeks already? This was a startling sight because corn was one of the things we had seen and heard about the most in the movies and stories of the Hopi in the just-finished program. I was marveling at the synchronicity of this urban corn stalk since corn was very familiar to me where I had grown up on a little farm that always had a corn crop of some modest size … and then I also noticed someone—and not anyone ordinary, even for Berkeley—who had also just stopped to stare at the same corn stalk. This person was a rather attractive young Indian woman in full buckskin dress smiling widely and also marveling at the cornstalk … just like me and for the same reason—she had also just come out of the theatre and had walked the other direction around the block, and here we had met in this amused and mystified moment (!). We both instantaneously realized what had happened and laughed and just stared at each other—and the corn stalk. It was an improbable big moment … that imprinted us and made time seemingly stop.
After I went over and introduced myself, neither of us were sure what to do next in a shared awkward moment, so I suggested we go to a nearby café to get a dish of ice cream and sit down for a bit to talk about the Hopi program, which she was amenable to doing after a quick moment of hesitation. I wish I could remember her name, but it was an Indian name I had never heard before, and she had traveled all the way from her northern Canadian homeland here for this presentation since she had also spent some time living on the Hopi mesas. I was mostly curious to learn of her reaction, as a knowledgeable insider, to some of the program events, and she offered a series of impressions about the good, the bad, and the … well, you know … all of which seemed perceptive, appreciative and engaging. I began to tell of my own Anglo Oklahoma farm-kid lifestyle amidst remnants of the tribes nearly ground out of existence by the forced long marches from homelands all over the states. I told her about my old-timer grandfather who was called “Ran” and reminisced about our little farm with the long rows of corn that my grandmother would send me out to pick for our dinner just as the pot of water on her stove was coming to a boil. And that our fresh yellow hybrid corn was as great a gift to us as the beautiful multicolored ears of Indian corn were to any Hopi!
She smiled as she looked at me carefully and squinted as she began to remember someone for whom she had also had great affection when she was living as a guest in Hopi land. This gentleman was a Hopi elder called “Grandfather David” by all the people who lived in his little town of Hotevilla (“Hoteville”), but he was also very well known by the various clans on the other mesas. So we continued to tell a few more stories about our esteemed grandfathers, as would have probably been commonly done by native peoples of earlier times, and I mentioned that I had always wanted to visit the Hopi lands but wasn’t sure how to go about it. She fixed a critical gaze on me again for a moment of hesitation and then announced that she thought I should most definitely visit Hopi land and find Grandfather David, who she was sure would be able to arrange a way for me to visit the various sites and cultural events that were ongoing in the still vibrant Hopi tribal lifestyle.
Again, I wasn’t sure how to bring this little impromptu meeting to the right kind of pleasant ending since as two singles for a short evening, we had had quite a nice time together. I thought of how curious it might seem almost anywhere else but Berkeley for me to be sitting with a native woman in handmade buckskin with beads and feathers almost as if we might have been out in the country around a campfire … but then there was no good enough excuse to continue in the brightly-lighted café, and our brief shared moment together was over. We walked back out into the night air and bade each other good luck and happy trails. I told her how glad I was to have learned about Grandfather David, and that I hoped I would get a chance to visit Hopi land someday. I wouldn’t have minded seeing her again either, but it just seemed so improbable …
And again, it’s hard to remember how long afterwards it was before I found myself on the road in my VW Super-bus (VW window van camper with German Ford V6 water-cooled engine) headed for Northern Arizona, but there would be several overland road trips through Hopi land over the next few years that are also somewhat indistinct in my mind, but I will attempt a constructive narrative … Getting up over the Sierra from Berkeley and onto Highway 395 going south is always a great drive, and in another day’s time one can be leaving Las Vegas and headed for the arid vistas of the Grand Canyon water shed. Though I love to cruise through the beautiful scenery of the great American Southwest, I was fairly intent on reaching Hoteville where I had been told Grandfather David lived. I knew little else about him. Hoteville is on First Mesa at the western end of the three Hopi mesas, and this is the way I would be driving in from Flagstaff, past the San Francisco Peaks, a dramatic mountain range across the wide basin to the south of Hopi Land. The San Francisco Peaks are the magical mountain home of the storied Kachinas, the dancing masked figures who represent the ancestors and tribal “Gods” of Hopi folklore during festivals and pow-wows.
The Hopi have been perched on their mesas for many hundreds of years, the dates for Paleo-Indians being continually pushed back into ever more remote prehistory. The old town of Oraibi, near Hoteville, is usually designated as the oldest continuously maintained settlement in North America, dating at least from the turn of the second millenium. While some of the Indian communities further south, like the Anasazi, collapsed during later historical times, typically believed to be from drought, the independent Hopi, if they were not a remnant of the Anasazi, were able to maintain their small farmlands with the aid of some underground springs and much reverent prayer over the corn, squash, and herb fields. But it is a rocky, dusty place without horse or modern transportation, allowing for the emergence of cross-country runners for practical delivery efforts as well as for sport. When I arrived in town for the first time, I could see it was a rather different world from that of our mainstream consumer culture (!). I did not want to display that mainstream badge but rather the alternative of San Francisco Bay Hippies: long hair, alternative lifestyle, ostensibly peaceful purposes and … a little of our own tribal hipness. I knew who the real Hippies of that time were, and that I was only a sympathetic university Hippie, but here I would make the Hippie presentation … I finally parked near their more upscale residential area and began to look for someone who might know the whereabouts of fabled Grandfather David.
Here a boy on the street, there an elderly woman, would give me a furtive glance and quickly move on, but eventually I saw a young man with probable off-reservation experience, whom I was able to ask, and who told me where David’s house was … which was not so easy to find on the narrow, windy roads going into the old town where I was now headed. I did feel like a stranger in a strange land but moderately safe (?) and with a mission, so I persisted. With one more redirection, I was finally able to reach the right place. It was a low house with many ears of Indian corn strung together drying on the roof in the hot sun. David Monongye was the tribal elder whom I would soon learn had led the Hopi delegation to the United Nations to try to appeal for nuclear disarmament and world peace along with a number of other third world countries (it may be hard to remember how dangerous world tensions felt at this time with the ascendancy of the conservative hard-line Reagan presidency). He wore his commemorative medallion from the UN on a lanyard around his neck—proudly, it would appear—was of an almost indeterminate age from a life in the blazing Arizona sun at this somewhat heightened elevation, but likely in his seventies or eighties (later I would hear he was nearly 100 years old—no one was exactly sure …), was of a good-natured, lithe and communicative attitude … appearing to me as I walked up and began to introduce myself.
He smiled and listened very carefully as I told him of the conference in Berkeley and how much the people of the Western United States admired the Hopi people and in particular how I had met the young Canadian Indian woman who advised me to come and visit him. He probably had a more amused and slightly puzzled look by now as he looked past me and at me at the same time: here was a virtual Hippie from San Francisco of a kind that he had probably heard about! Then he began to warm with a smile of insight and invited me to come down to the living area of his house to meet his wife or did he say … squaw (?). They were both rather slight people from a lifetime slim-caloric diet, but she was also very gracious and welcoming, as had been many of the old-time people I could remember from my boyhood in Oklahoma. Later I would also learn that he was already somewhat familiar with Hippies since he had gone to address one of the Rainbow Family gatherings somewhere in the Pacific Northwest in the late Seventies.
They would be having supper soon, and I was welcome to join them rather than go back to a diner on the road if I could stay for a while. Well yes, thank you very much. It was the wife (sadly, whose name I’ve forgotten) who made the invitation, and David and I sat at the old rough-hewn table and talked about … some of the overlapping “ordinary” topics of our common awareness: the hard financial times, the new president, California, Oklahoma, the weather, and … especially the creative and spiritual aspects of the Hopi people with all the different political directions of many who wished to remain isolated from the mainstream Anglo-American culture and those who wanted to live in both worlds. Many, of course, who wanted to go mainstream had already done so, but some of them were trickling back, too, after a few years of life on the streets of Flagstaff, Phoenix or LA. He said that he would like to be able to show me around a little on my visit if I had time (did I have time? I did indeed … all the Indian and Hippie Time it might take!).
When the food arrived on old heavy diner plates, it was mostly pale yellow Indian corn with a slight blue tint in a little gruel sauce that nonetheless surprised me with how tasty it was. I began to feel a powerful archetypal moment being imprinted on my awareness as I sat there looking at the corn on my plate and thinking about the corn on the roof of this most unfamiliar but ultra-authentic little house with these two serene old people … Oddly, there was Indian corn rather like this growing across the street from my apartment in Berkeley. A famous geneticist had been using this university plot for longitudinal studies for some years, and curiously had selected Indian corn as the easiest way of tracking various inherited characteristics via kernel coloration! David was amused when I told him—that it was there but also that I had even noticed it was Indian corn rather than our “regular” hybrid corn (I had actually read about it in a university bulletin).
He told me he would take me out the next day to see the famous Hopi rock carvings which many believed were prophecies as well as historical chronicles. Wow, this was really going to be special! I told him I was an aerospace design engineer and that I had worked on the Lunar Excursion Module for the Apollo Moon project, and he told me how proud some of the Indians were when they heard the statement on the telecast of the first lunar landing, “The Eagle has landed.” The eagle with its extraordinary feathers is a highly revered bird for the Hopi, and the native people of the Grand Canyon lands generally who have a lot of experience with eagles nesting in canyon walls; so they felt very much included in the ceremony broadcast around the world of the landing and Moonwalk.
A little later I probably went back to my van and pulled off somewhere out in the desert for the night, fixed a cup of tea and contemplated my good fortune. It was very quiet, and the stars shown forth brightly in the clear arid night sky with the lovely San Francisco peaks on the horizon. I allowed my imagination to hold forth with whatever the Hopi might have felt about their mountain highlands as I thought of the Kachina dolls so masterfully carved in their dancing poses from the cottonwood branches brought up from the wooded creeks to the south. It seemed to be a very peaceful place, something we had all desired so greatly during the just past disastrous era of the Viet Nam War. But here I felt very safe and secure … almost like it were home.
I went back the next day, after having breakfast in the roadside diner, again looking at people as they looked back at me in mutual curiosity. They are a moderately brown-skinned people with straight black hair, as my grandfather would have said, “like crow feathers,” and seemed rather “normal,” compared to Indians that I had seen so many times in public places in the Southwest, likely struggling with alcoholism and poverty. I had begun to develop an affection for them and an admiration that they had been able to survive with as functional a culture as appeared outwardly on the streets to be the case, through all the hard times of cultural conflict, but there were also some quite heavily-stressed faces to be seen as well …
I made my way a second time with a bit more confidence to Grandfather David’s plain little house, and after some discussion of the Hopi prophecies, he led the way out to the rock walls where the oldest Hopi rock carvings, scratchings and scribblings had been preserved not far away near old Oraibi. I’m not sure what I expected, but publicity about Hopi prophecies had made them sound rather special, and I had seen pictures of other Indian petroglyphs that looked rather impressive, both visually and symbolically. Surprisingly, David made no pretense of really understanding how to interpret these rock faces … some of which appeared to me to be almost like graffiti or tagging by wandering artists of what must have been their old sagebrush walkabout era, a time when the Hopi lived here without much knowledge of or contact with the outer world. David mentioned that there were others who knew more about how to interpret the symbolic meanings than he did, and that he would introduce me later to one of them whom he often worked with.
As we walked back to his house, I could see that people were a little surprised to see one of their elders or “chiefs” out strolling with an Anglo Hippie, but David remained of good cheer, and we returned to his house for him to talk more about what past generations of Hopi might have believed and for me to tell him about some of the stories and metaphysical notions that we had been told by our own contemporary visionaries, channelers and psychics that I had studied. He was keen to hear about Carlos Castenada’s tales about Don Juan, in his apprenticeship with his brujo in Mexico while doing an anthropology master’s degree at a California university. I probably told him that it seemed to me the Hippie culture on the margins of mainstream America, was most influenced by the remnants of Indian tribal life in the Western USA.
I was also curious about the Hopi clans that I had read about and wondered how the younger people found their way into one clan or another. Was it that a badger had appeared at a particular time in the young person’s life, as was often the case for naming infants, etc.? At the time I would have known of the list of the various clans and whether, for example, he thought that I might belong to one or another—if I were a Hopi. Was it about how you might feel for the animal totems? David began to look a little tired, and I could see it wasn’t his favorite subject. Or was I just not understanding and needing to show greater interest and insight? I began to think of insider stories told of anthropologists by Indians, wondering why anthropology professors and their students were so interested in structural kinship relations—because the Indians themselves really weren’t! But the professors kept it alive seemingly because it was something that could definitely be traced out and plotted in exhaustive, objective fashion (!). At some point David made mention of a couple of clan themes and tried one of them out on me to see if I thought it fit. I wasn’t sure but knew that I had seen wolves in the deep creek basin near our house when I was young, etc., but we finally dropped the clan theme in favor of more exciting contemporary fare.
I respectfully didn’t ask too many direct questions, like whether he had ever traveled to California, but I suspected he hadn’t, so it was up to people like me to give him, an obviously intelligent and influential individual, as much of a realistic idea of what might be happening in the cities and places I knew about as I could summarize. He had probably only traveled to New York with the delegation presenting their case at the UN and then back home since it would have been a fairly expensive trip, but there were evidently outside financial supporters who made it possible.
At one point I asked him if he had ever heard of the famously ominous movie Koyaanisqatsi usually subtitled “world out of balance,” a visually striking avant garde presentation that had gained mainstream success, accompanied by the powerful music of Phillip Glass, which was supposed to be based on Hopi prophecies about the ultimate fate of the white European invasion of North America. He didn’t seem to react, so it occurred to me that he might not have ever seen a movie, but it would have been too direct a question … Having lived with my grandparents as a young boy, I had a natural deferential attitude to older people, whom I felt I probably understood better than most, and this elderly Indian couple’s hospitality made me feel quite fortunate again to be back in the midst of this friendly, mellow, and homely meeting, almost as if I were back with family …
Later that afternoon David gave me directions for a walking tour out to some of the farm fields and several local geological points of interest rarely seen by outsiders where there were more petroglyphs and several other local features not generally known. I realized that if I were walking around without David, I might arouse more suspicion than would be desirable, so I made sure I had my multicolor headband, equally colorful woven fabric tie belt with fringes falling down to one side, my Tibetan style jacket, and my John Lennon round sunglasses—to make as clear an impression as possible of a Hippie ambassador rather than as a denizen of the privileged Anglo culture. But I could tell there were still questions on the faces of the people I saw along the way, why I should be out walking their trails, but at least I didn’t have a camera …
When I came to the first of the small well-groomed farm fields that I would see, probably the thing that caught my attention immediately was that the corn was planted in “hills” or mounds rather than the straight rows in which our mechanical implements allowed, or forced, us to plant our corn rows across the great American heartland. It surprised me how much … pleasure it gave me to see these hills of corn stalks leaning out from the center into the breeze—it suddenly made me realize how mechanical and awkward the endlessly straight rows of corn I had always seen and could not have imagined any other way, had made me feel. Everything here was done the real old-fashioned way with hand labor throughout—the Hopi did not have wheeled carts or draft animals to pull them, at least not here near the settlements, though there were stories of Hopis having experimented with mules gotten from the Navajo in times past. Squash was inter-planted with the corn, and there may have been ornamentals of some kind set around the field’s edge, but most striking were the little altars set up in the fields where farmers would also pray for rain or rodent suppression after their main physical cultivation efforts, with small crafted dream catchers, feathered art pieces, and special little stones or ancient pottery curios found along the way, to remind them of their inheritance from the ancestors.
As I walked the countryside along the sandy trails out in the open spaces, I would occasionally come upon a place where there were unusual rock formations or a particularly engaging vista, and I would see small art piece markers, again typically adorned with arrangements of buckskin, beads and feathers that were obviously intended to commemorate that place as special or scared. Later I would learn that it was concern about the violation of these places and their symbolic markers that the passers-by, who would see me on the trails, were concerned that I would not respect or even actually attempt to take, as had happened numerous times in the past with outsiders. I can remember going up close and kneeling down to look at the exquisite detail of these small sculptures and marveling that they could be left out in these remote places without fear of vandals, but that was just the problem they now associated with … me. The caution and suspicion all made more sense to me now, which I would discuss later with Grandfather David. I naturally smiled a little more broadly now when I saw a few people again here and there as I got closer to the residential area, and I hoped they could see I was also … not carrying a tote bag!
The season was mid Fall, and harvest festivities were being celebrated in Hopi Land with traditional tribal festivals on each mesa, featuring the brightly colored, costumed dancers who had become world famous. Grandfather David hinted that this would be the highlight of my visit when I returned to tell him of my thoughts about seeing the farm fields. I had not realized how fortunate the timing of my visit would be when I started out, but the thought of seeing the Hopi Indian dancers in the public arena with all the villagers gathered together seemed very exciting! Many of the specifics of the day’s events have dissipated over the years, but I can recall walking to the outdoor clearing among the houses in the old village with David and some of his friends, feeling like I was the guest of honor whom he was showing off a little, perhaps with the notion that Indians can have something to share with their Anglo Hippie friends, maybe as long as there weren’t too many of them … I could also begin to see that the sturdy middle-aged man (whose name was Thomas Banyacya, a teacher and chronicler of the culture and prophecies) whom David was probably grooming as his protégé, might have been feeling a little slighted with my appearance over several days now, as we walked to the dance festival.
When the dances began, I was regaled with the more primeval Indian wildness, as the excited onlookers on the roofs of nearby houses hooped and hollered, as my grandmother would have said, and the costumed dancers gyrated to the heavy downbeat of the synchronized group of drummers. The wind was up a bit and the dust was blowing, making it feel a little more threatening, even “primitive” and more authentically, traditionally tribal. It was definitely a rush as we would have said in those days of hip culture as I focused on the evocatively artful styles of the dancers, stamping out the rhythm of their particular Kachina story. I had only learned a little of the more well-known Kachina tales, but this would take me far beyond anything I might ever read about this phenomenon that was being played out in real time before me! It went on for some time, and I can remember David beaming with satisfaction and pride as the events below were enacted at this culmination of the harvest time and annual Hopi cultural revival of their ancient tradition that presented the themes to be found in all the artwork they offer among themselves and to the travelers that may happen to stop for a look at their jewelry shops on the highway route that winds through the mesas.
I also began to notice that there were small groups of younger people around the edges of the small delegation headed by Grandfather David who, to my surprise, seemed to want to get a glimpse of … me. These kids definitely looked wilder and more emotional now on the break-out of the excitement of the festival than I had noticed before. The younger women, actually teenagers, almost appeared to want to draw close enough for a clear visual inspection of this exotic upstart San Francisco Hippie (did they confuse me with a Kachina from the San Francisco Peaks?), acting like excited teenage girls do everywhere when they are ready to learn more about the big world outside their restricted parental world. The younger men, also older teenagers, appeared rather more uncertain and threatening with dark looks of competitive challenge—were they jealous? I think so, and then I began to think of my orange and white VW Super-bus with the big sun roof, parked down by the road, which everyone had probably seen by now, and it suddenly occurred to me that these young women might have become more interested in me as a possible … escape route for one of them (since I didn’t seem to have a girlfriend) out of the restricted village life that at least a few of them were beginning to feel much too limiting for their future prospects. Apart from the curiosity of this entertaining enigma, I began to feel a little threatened and wondered if there were anything I should do … like ask David if I were right in my assessment or was I being paranoid (might someone break into my van, knowing I was here, etc.?).
Well, the late afternoon wind whipped up more of the dust as the dancers finished their earnest and energetic presentations, and it started to get much cooler as the focus of the enthusiasm of the day began to loose its center, and the kids and more youthful participants began to look for a way to extend the festivities before … having it be over and returning home or whatever they might do after the big rush. I tried to be friendly and invited some of them over to talk and tell me more about what we had seen with the dancers and drummers, but I could tell this made David a little apprehensive now too. His ally, the solid-looking man in his prime years, Thomas, who had accompanied us during the viewing, likely David’s acknowledged second in command, also looked at me with furrowed brow, which meant, I think, … be careful, we can’t control these younger people very well ourselves. Now I have to admit I wasn’t above being curious about several of these attractive younger Indian women, who had pushed in closer and made eye contact with me in a furtive way, but when I realized how threatened the younger men had become by someone like me whom they probably imagined to be a rich Hippie with a perfect escape route off the reservation, who could choose any available single woman from the group when the time came to leave, I moved closer to David, as if to acknowledge that I understood the slightly dangerous volatility of the moment and would try to walk out without causing an incident … which we gratefully did soon afterwards because, at least I was not dressed warmly enough to tolerate the wind chill that was rapidly settling on the darkening scene.
The Kachina dance festival was easily the high point of the excursion, and everything afterwards seemed like an anticlimax as I began to prepare for heading back home to California. I ambled about a little more, looking at some of the older tiny residences, little more than places to sleep and fix a simple meal out of the weather for people who normally lived … outdoors, thinking they would make interesting if forlorn photos, but taking pictures would have probably added too many complications … maybe next time. And there were to be several “next times” coming to visit Grandfather David and his squaw woman or wife over the course of the next few years as I traveled back and forth from Berkeley to visit remnants of family remaining in Oklahoma. I made a point of viewing the Grand Canyon at these times to get an idea of the appearance of the vistas with varying cloudscapes and moisture. Coming up the drive from Sedona with its amazing “vortexes,” which as a sensitive I could always count on for a bit of a buzz in the red dirt outback, to Flagstaff for a real espresso coffee breakfast, and then past the beautiful woodland forests at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks and on to … the enchanting Hopi Lands.
On my second trip to visit the old Indian village I felt more confident as I threaded the needle of winding paths and streets to get to Grandfather David’s little house. As usual there was corn in evidence almost everywhere one looked, drying for winter storage on all the roofs, corn cobs here and there in the dirt, and … once again on the table of my lovely old hosts as we sat down to dinner after a pleasant greeting (there was no way to announce my arrival, no phones or evident mail delivery). This time I brought a couple of bags of groceries, all simple fresh things the old woman would probably like or know how to fix: eggs, bread, onions, potatoes, butter, bacon, coffee, tea, cooking oil, etc. I felt proud and confident I was trying to help by putting the bags up on the table, as I recalled how Carlos Castenada had also brought groceries to his mentor Don Juan … but I was unprepared for how appreciative they were with these ingredients for our meals for a couple of days—they were greatly thrilled, and expressed themselves beaming openly and sincerely. It was a magical moment for me since it was the greatest treat I could have gotten for what was likely … an ordinary $35 trip to the supermarket.
I spent more time walking and wandering around the other mesas to see the jewelry store for the tourist trade, the modest visitor center, the art studios where the Kachina dolls were being made, the school house, etc. and always there were the many happy, smiling faces of a surviving, good natured people to balance the more gloomy demeanors of others less healthy or fortunate, like many other little towns of modest means out on the desert or prairie. But these people had their ancient Indian customs, traditions and memories of survival, of which they were very proud and buoyed up even though their material possessions here on the reservation were so meager, so much less than any ordinary Americans could easily imagine having—though there were now an occasional solar-electric panel or two to be seen.
One day when I was out walking I nodded to an old woman who was sitting contentedly in the sun out by a rock wall, , and she looked at me for a while (I probably looked more like an odd Anglo type she might have ordinarily seen in the stream of tourists). After watching discretely for a while, I walked over and struck up a conversation to see if she would feel like talking. She had extremely wrinkled skin and cataracts from a lifetime out in the sun, so I wasn’t sure she could even see me very well, but she spoke slowly and softly and began to tell me how glad she was to have already gotten her corn in the shed this year. I told her about having grown up with corn rows in Oklahoma and how much more natural it seemed to grow corn in mounds like the Hopi do. She agreed, and we talked about a few more simple things before she began to tell me quite on her own how much the Hopi people liked, indeed, loved their … rocks and mesas out here in the desert. There was just something about the bone-colored sandstone of the mesas that they could depend on … and it would never let them down. I liked the huge sandstone rock outcrops quite a lot myself, I assured her, but what this unexpected declaration made me think of, a little humorously but mostly sadly, was my mother whom I had once invited to come visit me after I had moved to Boulder, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains, and who after trying for an uncomfortable moment to think of a good enough excuse for why she wouldn’t be able to do so, said, “We don’t really like rocks …” It still makes me laugh, but here was another old woman who felt just the opposite—it was so Hopi (!)—and I felt much admiration for her attitude under her wisp of mottled white hair, wanting to tell me so assuredly on her own, just the opposite!
I spent a little more time with David and his trusty, Thomas, but after a while I could tell he was feeling a little jealous of my entry into David’s purview without having earned the privilege … as he had over the years. So it came as a surprise, if an exciting one, when David told me he wanted me to attend a meeting or pow-wow in the men’s Hogan that evening with his senior council. As we climbed down the hand-made ladder into the fairly large round room that was partially underground, I marveled at the authentic traditional setting—there was not a plastic thing to be seen—only old wood, leather, rope or twine, and Indian blankets on the solidly-packed dirt floor. I don’t think anyone smoked a pipe, but there we were sitting around and greeting each other with modest smiles. I assumed they had been told about my coming as a guest, so I felt greatly honored to be present as a stranger in a strange but friendly land. They were mostly older men, seemingly of modest means, who spoke haltingly of their concerns about youth gangs, the loss of younger stronger men to the cities, the lack of serviceable night light to read or visit together in the evenings, the need for better health care, etc.
But when David came to introduce me, he talked a little about how I had just shown up one day, and how he had been amused by someone going between Oklahoma and California with my Hippie clothes, but saw I was genuinely interested in the Hopi customs, so he had decided to take me under his wing and show me what was left of the Hopi mesa culture. They all smiled. Then he told them a little of what I had told him about the “White Man’s prophecies” and what might be expected to happen in future times (mostly wrong in retrospect since the intervention of Gorbachev with Reagan in the late Eighties would lead to the overt ending of the Cold War). They perked up and listened while I added a bit here and there to pad David’s story, showing that he had been a keen listener. Eventually the stories became more sparse as the energy of the old timers began to wane, and David decided it was time enough, and we could begin to climb out of the hogan council chamber. The ladder with its slat steps rope-tied onto pine peeler poles, led us up step by step to the cutout at the roof line, and as I stepped out, it seemed dark and quiet with just an occasional lantern here and there still lit behind window openings. I thanked David for showing me the men’s council room and introducing me to his group of elders. He knew we had all had quite an interesting evening together, and I could tell he felt satisfied with his decision to have invited me to attend. I only wished that my grandfather could have been there to see it too because he had been such a great old-timer … just like them.
Once again I would have been driving back home before long, out through the Hopi hinterlands including such forlorn little towns as Tuba City on the edge of the Indian lands with more white township appearances where the levels of disappointment and poverty can be read on everything that meets the eye. But soon I would be seeing the woodlands of Oak Creek and the wonders of Sedona as I would begin to think of getting back to my coastal California civilization with all its complexity of choices waiting to be made.
The circumstances of my third trip to briefly visit the old Indian chief are less memorable than the earlier ones, but it occurred in a similar fashion as I traveled over the highway from the entry through the more populous eastern Navajo direction towards New Mexico. I stopped to see more of the other Mesas first and met a few more modern assimilated Hopis who seemed almost like ordinary Americans, with cash-paid jobs, high school educations, cars and modest modern little houses with groomed cactus gardens and … television sets with amplified antennas to pull in Flagstaff TV. I was invited to visit one middle-aged woman’s house (of the above description) I had met at the cultural and education center, and we had a nice discussion about some of the things I have written about here, but she was able to provide me with a more abstracted view of the contemporary Hopi culture of that time, the good, the bad … and the worldwide fame of these peace-loving Indian people we were both so proud of. I was glad to have this update in so personable a way from someone who managed a detailed awareness on a daily basis, but, as I left the kind hospitality, I began to appreciate even more the glimpse of the old Hopi world I had been able to get from the earlier experiences with David that were … priceless. The Formica kitchen table in the modern house (with no corn on the roof) of this pleasant matronly woman with her lovely black-haired children, were no match for the ancient kitchen table of Grandfather David with his wife bringing over plates of Indian corn, which seemed in retrospect almost like time travel … This was my eager anticipation to witness once again … where I was headed next.
I had slightly larger bags of groceries this time, but I had also decided earlier on this trip that I should find something a little more enduring as a gift to the old man of rapidly advancing years, whom I had gotten to admire so much on my two previous visits. It hadn’t taken me too long to notice an older sturdy-looking hunting knife in a large outfitter’s emporium on the road through New Mexico, what would have been called a dry goods store or trading post in earlier times. It was a sleek and sharp carbon steel blade with a full hand-sized ergonomic fit of polished wood inlay, pleasing to the eye and palm, as well as being nicely matched with a leather sheath and belt. Eureka! It was a bit expensive for me, and I was not particularly into knives at the time, but I knew it would have been a prize possession back in the days of the Old West when, along with a good hat and pair of boots, it could mean the difference between life and death, particularly for a person on foot.
When I arrived at David’s house, I could feel that the earlier good times had changed a little. He seemed older and a little less agile; his wife seemed a little more worried, and there was a third person in the house, a younger man I had not seen before, wearing a western shirt, jeans, cowboy hat and boots and looking out the window a little bored … David remembered me well enough and greeted me as before; both were happy to have more groceries, and we sat down to hear and tell our stories and a little about my drive across the Southwest. When I pulled out my little surprise gift, I could see David was uncertain and then a little startled when I made him understand this would be something for him to keep … and a moment later after holding it and turning it over in his hand, he was beaming a broad smile again but still innocently unsure what to say. As a gift bearer I felt vindicated since it did appear to be something that set off a genuine sense of wonder … The young man in the cowboy outfit looked over for the first time to see what we were talking about, also seeming surprised and impressed. I suspected he would have a more careful look at it later, and might not be above giving it a try himself …
Most of the rest of the details about what would be the last time I would see David Monongye, have dissipated with the years, perhaps as likely because I would choose to remember him as he was in the prime time of his maturity, feeling a personal need to use his tribal role as a Hopi elder to join with the “white brothers” and anyone else intent upon increasing the chances for peace at what even he in his remote village knew and felt was a very dangerous time in world history. As a recent Google search on the “Hopi Grandfather David” string reveals, David Monongye, soon after the time of my visits, lost sight in both eyes and was able to survive an attempted poisoning from unknown assailants believed to come from within the disgruntled traditionalist Hopi community, during the later mid-Eighties. I did not see a report of his death, but I would have to assume, since he was so old by then, and in that condition that he could not have survived much longer … So his story will go down in the Hopi tribal saga as one of the great and famous chiefs who will be fondly remembered, at least by Hopi progressives if not traditionalists … for a very long time.
For me it will always be a fond and warmly held memory of another admirable and charming older man, not unlike my own grandfather, who held out into old age to complete his life work of what Carl Jung, another great “grandfather” in my pantheon, called the individuation process—awareness of one’s unique strategic capacity for personal growth and achievement, whatever the perceived likelihood for success, even into old age. All three of these extraordinary individuals had come to hold a similar attitude or approach to life: the combination of being lighthearted and having fun, usually more than anyone else around, and then working very hard on the most serious and difficult problems they knew needed attention, also usually more intently than anyone else. So they have become my role models as a mature man now myself, to forge another link in the human chain of remembrance of notable personal and cultural success stories of our time … now just recently past.
But whether it was through the efforts of individuals such as Grandfather David or small groups of people like the proponents of the “Harmonic Convergence” movement of the late Eighties (which I gladly participated in but without great confidence) who felt hopeful, courageous—or fearful—enough to try to do something to help prevent a nuclear catastrophe during those dark times, we now know, and it is already beginning to seem like a long time ago, that various things happened that led to a breakthrough in the late Eighties between the American/ Western European Allies and the Soviet Bloc Cold War nuclear antagonists, resulting in a great relief from the danger of imminent Armageddon and a much happier world, at least in the developed countries of the Western democracies, opening out into the optimistic prosperity for democracy in the final decade of the Nineties. It was indeed a more hopeful ending to the Twentieth Century, compared to the earlier monumental catastrophes and what they had appeared to portend from the various other dire vantage points along the way.
Somewhere along my way from leaving the Hopi Mesas the first time and returning to my own work-a-day world at the Space Sciences Lab at UC Berkeley for the remainder of the scary Eighties, it would have begun to occur to me that the adventure that Hilarion in the psychic reading years before, when he didn’t want to “spoil the fun” by telling me too much in advance … was my enchanting discovery of Grandfather David in Hopi Land. And that by implication, since the question originally arose from my inquiry about my own immediate past life, that I had myself been a Hopi Indian there in that little town of Hoteville! When I brought this up at a birthday reading some time later, Hilarion confirmed that indeed I had known Grandfather David in that last life, and he (H) wanted to see if David would be able to recognize me from our time together in that earlier stage of David’s life (!). I was not given to be long-lived in that particular lifetime, and so had now returned there as myself in this life, so that I could begin to understand some of the outcome of circumstances in that previous life, which didn’t reach its natural conclusion (I didn’t ask for the details) and now with what I had learned and felt, could begin to reach more of a sense of closure, continuity and (immediate last life) completion. QED … end of proof.
I now understood why I had always felt—and still feel—drawn to Northern Arizona as I, in my generation, had felt drawn to move west from Oklahoma to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona … and finally overshooting all the way into coastal and Sierra Foothill California (where some of the biggest action of the 20th Century was going to happen), just as my grandfather had moved past his beloved boyhood settlement towns in Appalachian Arkansas and onto the Oklahoma plains if only to get to a dryer climate, away from the malaria mosquitoes that had so plagued his youth. And with a little more coaching from Hilarion, I began to realize that my grandparents and many of those Oklahoma dirt farmers in our little family circle, who were as intent upon growing their corn crops as the Hopi … had themselves also been together as Hopi, or at least plains Indians, in their previous lives, having now made the move in their current lives into the more modern and financially successful world (however long or short-termed it might be) of the European industrial and agricultural revolutions! It really was a bit of an improbable revelation at first, but soon afterwards seemed to me the most natural outcome one could have imagined for us all.
* * * *
Dowd’s Hill at Avery, CA
[Original text, 12/12/2009, final edits 9/30/2017]
- Some scenes of which at least, it is now more widely and sadly known in Century 21, were faked by special NASA arrangements with movie-maker Stanley Kubrick, working on site somewhere in these same southwest territories, supposedly in case the actual mission could not be completed on schedule, as the bleak starless black sky of the supposedly live video-stream makes evident (not to mention the most famous gaff with the weirdly waving American flag). ↑
- Indians tend to refer to themselves as “Indians,” rather than our more seemingly polite term “Native Americans,” but they use the Southwestern regional pronunciation with a bit of twang so it doesn’t sound like the coastal urban usage of the word that might ambiguously mean natives from the subcontinent of India. ↑
- Koyaanisqatsi [Life out of Balance], the movie released by Godfrey Reggio in 1982 is said to have been “inspired” to do the movie, based on the life of David Monongye in the Wikipedia article on Grandfather David. ↑
- Somewhat misguided optimism, of course, in retrospect … ↑
- His Wikipedia article  states: “Monongye’s age is uncertain. He was alive in 1906 when Oraibi split into two villages, and lived until at least 1985, and at least 117.” ↑
- Not to mention, of course, the soon to come catastrophic beginning the new century in 2001 with the 911 false-flag terrorist attacks to provide a rationale for the Bush/Cheney War on Terror and the resulting financial panic leading to the Great Recession of 2008. ↑