About the Pueblo Indian Religion
Before the Spaniards forced their religion upon the people, the pueblo of Taos had the Sun for their God, and worshiped the Sun as such. They had periodical assemblages of the authorities and the people in the estufas for offering prayers to the Sun, to supplicate him to repeat his diurnal visits, and to continue to make the maize, beans, and squashes grow for the sustenance of the people. 'The Sun and God,' said the governor (Mirabal) to me, 'are the same. We believe really in the Sun as our God, but we profess to believe in the God and Christ of the Catholic Church and of the Bible. When we die, we go to God in Heaven. I do not know whether Heaven is in the Sun, or the Sun is Heaven. The Spaniards required us to believe in their God, and we were compelled to adopt their God, their church, and their doctrines, willing or unwilling. We do not know that under the American Government we may exercise any religion we choose, and that the National Government and the church government are wholly disconnected. We have very great respect and reverence for the Sun. We fear that the Sun will punish us now, or at some future time, if we do evil. The modern pueblos have the Sun religion really, but they profess the Christian religion, of which they know nothing but what the Catholic religion teaches. They always believed that Montezuma would come again as the messiah of the pueblo. The Catholic religion has been so long outwardly practiced by the people that it could not now, they think, be easily laid aside, and the old Sun religion be established, because it is looked upon as established by the law of the land, and therefore necessarily practiced. Nevertheless, the Indians will always follow and practice, as they do, both religions. If,' said the governor, 'one Indian here at this pueblo were to declare that he intended to renounce and abandon the religion of his fathers (the worship of the Sun) and adopt the Christian religion as his only faith, and another Indian were to declare that he intended to repudiate the Christian religion and adopt and practice only the Sun religion, the former would be expelled the pueblo, and his property would be confiscated, but the other would be allowed to remain with all his rights.'
"There are three old men in the pueblo whose duty it is to impart the traditions of the people to the rising generation. These traditions are communicated to the young men according to their ages and capacities to receive and appreciate them. The Taos Indians have a tradition that they came from the north; that they found other Indians at this place (Taos) living also in a pueblo; that these they ejected after much fighting, and took and have continued to occupy their place. How long ago this was they cannot say, but it must have been a long time ago. The Indians driven away lived here in a pueblo, as the Taos Indians now do."
Mr. Miller also communicates a conversation had with Juan Jose, a native of Zia, and Jose Miguel, a native of Pecos, but then (December, 1877) a resident of the pueblo of Jemez, which he wrote down at the time, as follows: "Before the Spaniards came, the religion of Jemez, Pecos and Zia, and the other pueblos, was the Montezuma religion. A principal feature of this religion was the celebration of Dances at the pueblo. In it, God was the sun. Seh-un-yuh was the land the Pueblo Indians came from, and to it they went when dead. This country (Seh-un-yuh) was at Great Salt Lake. They cannot say whether this lake was the place where the Mormons now live, but it was to the north. Under this great lake there was a big Indian Pueblo, and it is there yet. [Footnote: The Iroquois have a similar tradition of the ancient existence of an Indian village under Otsego Lake in New York.] The Indian dances were had only when prescribed by the cacique. The Pueblo Indians now have two religions, that of Montezuma, and the Roman Catholic. The Sun, Moon, and Stars were Gods, of which the greatest and most potent was the Sun; but greater than he was Montezuma. In time of drought, or actual or threatened calamity, the Pueblo Indians prayed to Montezuma, and also to the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The old religion (that of Montezuma) is believed in all the New Mexican pueblos. They practice the Catholic religion ostensibly; but in their consciences and in reality the old religion is that of the pueblos. The tenets of the old religion are preserved by tradition, which the old men communicate to the young in the estufas. At church worship the Pueblo Indians pray to God, and also to Montezuma and the Sun; but at the dances they pray to Montezuma and the Sun only. During an actual or threatened calamity the dances are called by the cacique. They have two Gods; the God of the Pueblos, and the God of the Christians. Montezuma is the God of the Pueblo."
This account of the Sun worship of the Taos Indians, in which is intermingled that of Montezuma, and the further account of the worship of Montezuma at the pueblos of Zia and Jemez, with the recognition of the worship of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, are both interesting and suggestive. It is probable that Sun worship is the older of the two, while that of Montezuma, as a later growth, remained concurrent with the other in all the New Mexican pueblos without superseding it. In this supernatural person, known to them as Montezuma, who was once among them in bodily human form, and who left them with a promise that he would return again at a future day, may be recognized the Hiawatha of Longfellow's poem, the Ha-yo-went'-ha of the Iroquois. It is in each case a ramification of a widespread legend in the tribes of the American aborigines, of a personal human being, with supernatural powers, an instructor of the arts of life; an example of the highest virtues, beneficent, wise, and immortal.
"They have," remarks Mr. Miller, "one curious custom which has always been observed in the pueblo. It is for some one (sometimes several simultaneously) to seclude themselves entirely from the outer world, abstaining absolutely from all personal communication with others, and devoting themselves solely to prayer for the pueblo and its inhabitants. This seclusion lasts eighteen months, during which they are furnished daily, by a confidential messenger, with a little food, just enough to preserve life, and during which time they may not even inquire about their wives or children or be told anything of them though the messenger may know that some of them are sick or have died. The food the recluse is permitted to use is corn, beans, squashes, and buffalo and deer meat; that is, such food as was used before the coming of the Spaniards. This religious seclusion is in honor of the Sun. It is one of the rites of the ancient religion of the Pueblo, preserved and practiced now. One of the old men I talked with said that he had himself the previous year emerged from this hermitage; three others were now in, they having retired to exile in February, 1877, and will emerge in August, 1878, then to learn the news of the previous year and a half."