Being Told into Existence.

etcher stairs

Recently I learned of a most engaging idea: that indigenous cultures created white people through the magic of story telling. This idea was so intriguing that I put it in my pocket and now carry it around as though it were an entertaining optical illusion. Its the kind of idea that comes along and confuses you about where the ground is.


In a class called Ethnic American Literature, at Concordia University I studied a novel called Ceremony by Leslie Silko. I learned about the main character Tayo, who captured my attention by defining the in-between space of a half-breed identity. During his journey, the story discussed the negative effects of imperialism and genocide committed by European settlers in North America. The inversion of this discourse came about by Betonie discussing a magic spell cast long ago. (These spells were stories.) Through the stories we learn white people were the mere puppets of an elite group of string-pulling indigenous witches. (To read the actual spell, please go to the end of this page and look for centered words)


I find this idea interesting for the possibilities of what it can do. It may give power to the children’s ancestors who dictated this witchery or perhaps it works to serve a white agenda to dominate – guilt free. I feel it provides an interesting point to think about how we invert discourses and how this inversion technology works. When I think about the idea that white people were invented by indigenous witches I struggle to situate it in an academic web connected to feminist and anti-colonial ideology and I would like to know who is able choose this story as their own creation story. These thoughts have been haunting me like a never-ending waterfall drawn by M.C. Etcher.


In Ceremony Betonie, supposes that the commonly told history and story of indigenous peoples works to make people believe that the evil resides within the white people. Even though the evil is actually part of Indian witchery. The idea that white people carry the evil is a distraction. It is a tool that makes indigenous peoples “helpless as [they] watch [their] own destruction”. Betonie is able to challenge this history.


Betonie, a practicing shaman, tells a different version of the same history to Tayo. It begins long before Europeans existed. “Long time ago/ in the beginning/ there were no white people in this world/ there was nothing European.” A diverse group of witches in a complete world gather together to practice magic. The creators are described as “Some had slanty eyes/ others had black skin.” And “[s]ome came from far far away/ across oceans/ across mountains.” In this version, white people don’t exist as well they are absent from roles in the powerful conference.


Betonie goes further with his version of history and says that indigenous peoples can deal with false history because not only did they invent white people, they invented story telling. Story telling is recognized as an extremely powerful form of Indian witchery. The spell which created white people won a black magic conference. The story was so powerful it scared the most powerful witches in the world. These witches asked the witch to take it back. This introduced another condition to this kind of spell, once you tell a story, you cannot take it back. It is loose out in the world working its magic. All of this functions within the universe of its own logic.


To apply this logic to this moment, as you read this story, you must realize that you cannot take back what you have read. The logic would follow that as you read this spell works on you, and you will carry this idea with you while working to increase the power of its magic.


But maybe the spell doesn’t do anything for you, in which case lets take it back to the chopping block, cut the idea open and find out how it works. This version of history inverts the power dynamic by making the white people the victims and subjects of the indigenous peoples words.


It believe it works like the movie Inception. Instead of a dream inside a dream inside a dream it is a story inside of a story inside of a story. You read Ceremony, in Ceremony you read a story about a witches conference, at this conference there is a powerful story told. It retells the story as though white people are the puppets playing out the will of another. Because so many layers of fiction frame it, it becomes truth again. Much like the structure of a triple negative. For example: It was never not, a not true story. The technique of framing ideas turns fiction to truth. The mind becomes vulnerable to suggestions.


Another function of this story is far more problematic and even dangerous when trying to understand how it fits into current ideological structures of imperialism, feminism and post-colonialism. It takes the responsibility out of the hands of the oppressor. White people are no longer seen as responsible for the evil things they do. The question is, if you tell the story of white people as puppets, and everyone believes it, are they still in power? I could think about this ouroboros-like story until the end of time.


In an ideal world, there would be no suffering and only pleasure derived from one person having power over another. I think if we can understand how power works then we are closer to distributing it in a way that is beneficial to all. I predict that story telling, and magic spells (if you intend to tell the story that way) will play an important role in getting human beings to that point.


My favorite passage from Ceremony  by Silko

The old man shook his head. “That is the trickery of the witchcraft,” he said. “They want us to believe all evil resides with white people. Then we will look no further to see what is really happening. They want us to separate ourselves from white people, to be ignorant and helpless as we watch our own destruction. But white people are only tools that the witchery manipulates; and I tell you, we can deal with white people, with their machines and their beliefs. We can because we invented white people; it was Indian witchery that made white people in the first place.

Long time ago
in the beginning
there were no white people in this world
there was nothing European.
And this world might have gone on like that
except for one thing:
This world was already complete
even without white people.
There was everything
including witchery.

Then it happened.
These witch people got together.
Some came from far far away
across oceans
across mountains.
Some had slanty eyes
others had black skin.
They all got together for a contest
the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays
except this was a contest
in dark things.

So anyway
they all go together
witch people from all directions
witches from all the Pueblos
and all the tribes.
They had Navajo witches there,
some from Hopi, and a few from Zuni.
They were having a witches’ conference,
that’s what it was
Way up in the lava rock hills
north of Canoncito
they got together
to fool around in caves
with their animal skins.
Fox, badger, bobcat, and wolf
they circled the fire
and on the fourth time
they jumped into that animal’s skin.

But this time it wasn’t enough
and one of them
maybe Sioux or some Eskimos
started showing off.
“That wasn’t anything,
watch this.”

The contest started like that.
Then some of them lifted the lids
on their big cooking pots,
calling the rest of them over
to take a look:
dead babies simmering in blood
circles of skull cut away
all the brains sucked out.
Witch medicine
to dry and grind into powder
for new victims.
Others untied skin bundles of disgusting objects:
dark flints, cinders from burning hogans where the
dead lay
Whorls of skin
cut from finger tips
sliced from the penis end and clitoris tip.

Finally there was only one
who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.
The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire
and no one ever knew where this witch came from
which tribe
or if it was a woman or a man.
But the important thing was
this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals
or red ant-hill beads.
This one just told them to listen:
“What I have is a story.”

At first they all laughed
but this witch said
go ahead
laugh if you want to
but as I tell the story
it will begin to happen.

Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
to work for us.

Caves across the ocean
in caves of dark hills
white skin people
like the belly of a fish
covered with hair.

Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and the bear are objects
They see no life.
They fear
They fear the world.
They distroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.

The wind will blow them across the ocean
thousands of them in giant boats
swarming like larva
out of a crushed ant hill.

They will carry objects
which can shoot death
faster than the eye can see.

They will kill the things they fear
all the animals
the people will starve.

They will poison the water
they will spin the water away
and there will be drought
the people will starve.

They will fear what they find
They will fear the people
They will kill what they fear.

Entire villages will be wiped out
They will slaughter whole tribes.
Corpses for us
Blood for us
Killing killing killing killing

And those they do not kill
will die anyway
at the destruction they see
at the loss
at the loss of the children
the loss will destroy the rest.

Stolen rivers and mountains
the stolen land will eat their hearts
and jerk their mouths from the Mother.
The people will starve.

They will bring terrible diseases
the people have never known.
Entire tribes will die out
covered with festering sores…
vomiting blood.
Corpses for our work

Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
set in motion
to work for us

They will take this world from ocean to ocean
they will turn on each other
they will destroy each other
Up here
in these hills
they will find the rocks,
rocks with veins of green and yellow and black.
They will lay the final pattern with these rocks
they will lay it across the world
and explode everything.

Set in motion now
set in motion
To destroy
To kill
Objects to work for us
objects to act for us
Performing the witchery
for suffering
for torment
for the stillborn
the deformed
the sterile
the dead.

set into motion now
set into motion.

So the other witches said
“Okay you win; you take the prize,
but what you said just now –
it isn’t so funny
It doesn’t sound so good.
We are doing okay without that kind of thing.
Take it back.
Call that story back.”

But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur
and feathers.
It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.