Leslie Marmon Silko is an American writer. A Laguna Pueblo Indian woman, she is one of the prominent figures in the First Wave of the Native American Renaissance. She is a widely known novelist and a poet, her career is significantly distinguished by making people aware of ingrained racism and white cultural imperialism, and a commitment to support women’s issues. The clash of civilizations is a continuing theme in the modern Southwest and of the difficult search for balance that the region’s inhabitants encounter. Silko explains that the Laguna view on the passage of time is responsible for this condition, stating, “The Pueblo people and the indigenous people of the Americas see time as round, not as a long linear string. If time is round, if time is an ocean, then something that happened 500 years ago may be quite immediate and real, whereas something inconsequential that happened an hour ago could be far away.”
Ceremony is a novel by her which was published in 1977. The book is constructed through a series of flashbacks, epic poetic retellings of traditional Indigenous stories, moments of immediacy and hallucinations. The title is highly significant as it shows the inclination to the oral traditions and ceremonial practices of the Navajo and Pueblo people. The Laguna Pueblo is a federally recognized tribe of Native American Pueblo people in west-central New Mexico. The people of Laguna have a long history of residing in and farming along in west-central New Mexico. Laguna history begins long before the advent of written records in the Southwest. The Pueblo of Laguna has a well-established Tribal Law system.
The novel reveals the story of Tayo who is an injured man returning World War II veteran of mixed Laguna-white ancestry following a short stint at a Los Angeles VA hospital. He is returning to the poverty-stricken and dispossessed Laguna reservation, and he suffers from “battle fatigue”. He is haunted and worried by memories of his cousin Rocky who died in the struggle during the Bataan Death March of 1942. Initially he found liberation in alcoholism so that he could forget his pain and distress. His Old Grandma and medicine-man Betonie help him through native ceremonies to develop a greater understanding of the world and his place as a Laguna man.
Ceremony has been called a Grail fiction, wherein the hero overcomes a series of challenges to reach a specified goal. Silko’s writing skill in the novel is deeply rooted in the use of storytelling that passes on traditions and understanding from the old to the new.
Ceremony gained immediate and long-term acceptance when returning Vietnam war veterans took to the novel’s theme of coping, healing and reconciliation between races and people that share the trauma of military actions. She explores several other important aspects through Tayo’s struggles with alcoholism and healing after returning from World War II , the Pueblo myths, and the interactions between these two stories.
The purpose of ceremonies is the transformation of someone from one condition to another as in Tayo’s case the transformation from diseased to healing. Ceremonies are ritual enactments of myths which incorporate the art of storytelling and the myths and rituals of the Native Americans. They are important for Tayo’s identity construction as one can see through his mental development after his experience with Betonie and the ceremony.
“Healing” means the revival of the self and the return to the roots and marking one’s origin. One important part of the process of healing is rejecting witchery. Tayo is perplexed in between multiple worlds that is between Laguna culture and white culture, and between witchery which is seen as a force opposite to creativity. Tayo rejects witchery when he refuses to drink alcohol his friends offer him. He does not only refuse to drink alcohol, he also distances himself from his old friends and a life full of violence. The search for the Laguna culture and its rituals also helps him to deal with turning away from witchery. He respects the rituals of his culture by being open for the ceremonies which is another important aspect for his healing. Tayo is being taught spirituality by Betonie, this way he internalizes the Laguna culture. It is important that the Laguna community, e.g. his aunt, who tells Tayo to go to Betonie, helps Tayo with his healing, because that way Tayo can overcome the alienation he feels caused by him being half-breed. Betonie also helps Tayo to recover through ceremonies which relate Tayo’s American identity to his Laguna identity and therefore combines his past with his present. The fact that Tayo learns more about and experiences ceremonies is another important aspect which leads him to healing, because he learns about his culture.
The appreciation of the Laguna culture is essential for his healing. He still needs a spiritual ceremony after the white man’s medicine, which indicates that he needs to experience his old and his new culture. When Tayo covers the deer’s dead body at the deer-hunting, which is a gesture performed out of respect, he shows that he initiated Laguna myths, because Laguna mythology connects all living creatures. Through his connection with his lover Ts’eh, Tayo is able to move forward in his healing, not only in body, but also in his spirit as he connects to the divine feminine within himself. After all of these experiences Tayo’s dreams no longer haunt him, because he learns to deal with his past and he is able to link the American to the Laguna culture .The cattle function as spirit guides, which leads him to healing because through them he learns to forgive himself for the drought.
Throughout the novel Silko delves into the complexities of being caught between multiple world views and cultures. She focuses on the importance of blending the cultures, showing how Tayo can only regain health when he chooses how to identify, and by creating his own world that bridges the gap. Through Ceremony Silko invites the reader to take a look at the witchery within everyone, and points out the steps one can take to create healing and wholeness.