Sipapú: 'The Place of Emergence'

Finding our way back to the center of the ourselves

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Many cultures around the world teach stories of creation. These are traditional tales of just how a people came to be formed by the gods. The people must overcome an obstacle before they can merit passage into the world of light once it has been prepared to receive them. The stories all begin by referring to people as coming out at “the Place of Emergence.” The place is a portal called a “Sipapú,” hidden deep within the bowels of the Earth. For some of people, “Sipapú” stands for a thinly veiled reference to a ski resort just beyond Vadito, southeast of Taos. In Uto-Aztecan the very word refers to “the womb, the navel or the heart of the Earth.”

This resort boasts the longest ski season in the area. Beyond its touristic appeal though, Sipapú bears the noble name of a place that is sacred to many people. Such portals, that mark a place where our ancestors came to consciousness, can be found in various far off places around the world. Without being called “places of evolution,” they do suggest that an awakening took place therein for the people of the area.

In ancient Greece the place of emergence had a different name. It was known as “Delphi.” In this sacred site, the ritual priestess used to lead her people to embrace a higher level of existence. As she straddled a tripod, her attendants would nourish her with laurel leaves. She would inhale sulfuric fumes emanating from deep fissures deep within the volcanic site. The fumes would rise to the upper air and they would awaken and stimulate the innermost chambers of her bicameral human brain so that she could foretell the future to pilgrims who came to seek her advice. 

About 25 miles from Galilee there is a dark chasm known as “The Gates of the Netherworld.” It is located in the area called “Caesarea Philippi” named after Herod Philip (circa 27 BC–33/34 AD). It is not by coincidence that Jesus was to choose this place to turn his church over to Saint Peter. He said: “Tu es Petrus; you are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my Church and the Gates of the Netherworld shall have no dominion over you.” This place of emergence was marked with sacrifices to the god Ba’al and the god Pan in ancient days.

In holy Tibet, where the lamas are educated to live on very high spiritual planes, there is a dark chamber in the temple where this awakening takes places. This is called “The Place of Third Eye Training.” Not so much a physical journey as it is a spiritual trek, it focuses on a point between the two eyebrows that can be tuned into “the universal vibrations.” This allows to deeper meditation. Albuquerque resident priest Fr. Richard Rohr explores the relationship between the use of vision with one eye merging thinking with the second eye, and bridging this dual vision with higher consciousness with the third eye, which has been mastered by both ancient and modern mystics.

On this side of the world we, too, have our own places of emergence: The Mayan myth of creation begins with the words, “When there was as of yet nothing; not even light, the gods held convocation at the Gathering Place, called Tenochtitlán.” These words were recorded by the Yucatec Jaguar Priest named “Chilam Balam.” Before early man could be brought forth, light needed to be created. But knowing that creation demands sacrifice, the gods asked the king of the gods to hurl himself into the twin volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl. 

When he refused, the ugly god, who had little reason to live, hurled himself into the first volcano as a willing sacrifice. This act shamed the king of the gods into jumping into the second volcano. The gods waited in darkness, afraid because only one sacrifice was needed, but not two. At dawn, the first light, called Sun, rose in the morning sky but immediately thereafter a second light, called Moon, also rose up. There was now too much light for the gods. Fearing that they would be blinded by such splendor they caught a rabbit that was passing by and hurled it at the Moon to darken it. This is why the dark spots on the moon form the shape of a rabbit. 

Chilam Balam said that early man lived in darkness, having to be taught by the gods before he were ready to emerge into the light. These traditional stories were passed on to the Aztecs who referred to the Land of Darkness as “Xibalba,” where the dread Lords of the Dead lived even as they had at Caesarea Philippi.

The reason people needed to by educated in darkness was because they could be blinded by too much knowledge before they had acquired the wisdom necessary to live in the land above. Having too much knowledge without enough wisdom to implement it properly was called “sin.” Sometimes this place of venial purification was even called Purgatory or the Antechamber to Heaven.

In the language of the Hopi, “Sipapú” symbolizes the portal through which the ancient first men emerged to the upper sphere. The sacred stories among the Hopi use the Sipapú story to explain why there are so few of them among the more populated Navajo Nation. According to the story, in the beginning, man lived in the Sipapú to be taught respect for the Mother Earth by their teachers, who were the Mudhead Kachinas. In the fullness of time, man was ready to face the world of light. A hollow log was put on end as a bridge from the lower to the upper world. It was a ladder through which mankind could crawl upward.

The tale says that the first person to emerge was a man who was followed by a child and then by a woman. The fourth person to try to come through the hollow log was a pregnant lady. Predictably, she got stuck because her belly was too big to fit through it. For this reason, say the Hopi, most of their people are still stuck in the world of the Mudhead Kachinas, trying to find another way to come into the light. 

In 1963, Southwestern author Frank Waters wrote “The Book of the Hopi.” He said that “as they stepped outside of the Sipapú, they morphed from lizard-like beings into homo sapiens, or human form.” It is from this point that the “First Peoples” of the Earth began to divide and separate, creating differing tribes along the first journeys of our ancestors.

In some Native cultures the place of instruction and of coming of age is called a “kiva.” The kiva is a manmade subterranean facsimile of the Sipapú. Within the confines of the kiva, only the holy ancestral language may be spoken. The Hopi, the Zuni and the Acoma believe that they are born of the Grand Canyon, which is where they believe the original Sipapú is located. For them, the Grand Canyon is the Place of Emergence for the indigenous people of the Southwest. Each modern Hopi village has one or several kivas. Each kiva contains a small hole, just off its center, that represents their place of emergence for religious purposes.

As with all ritual enlightenment, the place of the Sipapú is a place of awakening. It is a journey back to the center of ourselves.

Larry Torres is a local historian and foreign language coordinator at the University of New Mexico-Taos.

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