Ceremony Summary and Analysis of Pages 164-198

The next major segment of Ceremony opens with a long mythical poem. In this poem's mythology, a handsome and imposing magician named Kaup'a'ta, also called the Gambler, had wandered into Native American communities, showing off his fine clothes and luring the residents into gambling contests. He would emerge from these contests victorious, and would take the people he had thus defeated back to his home in the Zuni mountains; there, the people would be kept in a storeroom as his prisoners.

Soon, the Sun realizes that the Gambler had taken human captives, that the Gambler was even holding storm clouds prisoner, and that the land as a whole was ailing. The Sun thus sets out to confront the Gambler; he is counseled by his grandmother, Spiderwoman, to refuse the Gambler's hospitality and to trick the Gambler (in the course of a guessing game) into growing overconfident. After finding the Gambler, Sun does as the Spiderwoman had advised. The two men play a guessing game that challenges the Sun to guess what is in one of the Gambler's bags. When the Sun, by strategy, wins upon his final guess, the Gambler surrenders and tells the Sun to kill him. The Sun instead cuts out the Gambler's eyes and casts them into the sky, where they transform into autumn stars, and then sets the storm clouds free.

After the concluding stanzas of this poem, Silko returns to Tayo's story. Tayo is now riding a mare across the landscape, searching for Josiah's cattle. He meets a young Indian woman as he journeys, and requests her hospitality. The young woman invites Tayo into her living quarters to eat; when he finishes his meal, he steps outside and notices that an auspicious combination of stars, which Betonie had pointed out, has appeared in the sky. When Tayo returns inside, the woman undresses him and the two of them make love.

During the night, Tayo dreams about the cattle. He wakes up as the sun is rising, and hails the new day with a song for sunrise that he recollects from local custom. The woman feeds Tayo before he leaves; while he eats, she remains mostly silent and spends the time sorting out pebbles. Tayo then departs. He makes his way into a somewhat mountainous landscape, heading into a region known as North Top. The area is now dominated by the ranching and industry of white people; logging companies have made their way into the forests, and cattle and windmills can be found throughout the landscape.

Soon Tayo reaches a fearsome steel and barbed wire fence, which was built by a white man named Floyd Lee in order to keep Native Americans and Mexicans off his land. Yet Tayo also makes a fortunate discovery: Josiah's cattle are on the other side of this barrier. Tayo cuts through the fence, intending to create an opening large enough to lead the cattle through. As he cuts, he reflects on the fact that he feels like an invader on the white man's land, and considers how illogical and self-demeaning these feelings are, since the cattle were originally Josiah's.

Tayo leads his mare through the fence. Night has fallen, and the cattle are no longer clearly in sight. He remembers his life with Rocky, especially how the two of them had often tried (and failed) to control an old black horse that belonged to Josiah. Now Tayo fears that he will be caught by one of Floyd Lee's patrols; leading the cattle home increasingly seems like a futile or unlikely task. However, while he is resting his horse, a mountain lion emerges. This creature does not attack and silently disappears from Tayo's sight; if anything, the mountain lion serves as a good omen, since Tayo relocates the cattle once a new day breaks.

Tayo succeeds in rounding up the cattle and driving them towards the opening that he had made in the fence. Yet one of Floyd Lee's border patrols also appears on the horizon. He urges the mare to go faster, but he skids to the ground and is captured by the two men who are supervising Lee's land. Tayo is injured and helpless, and his horse is nowhere in sight, but he calculates that the two men might decide that handing him over to the authorities is too much trouble. In fact, as soon as the two men find the mountain lion's tracks, they decide to hunt the creature down and set Tayo free.

After the two men disappear, Tayo is consumed with anger towards the corrupting influences that he locates in white society, the same influences of greed and materialism that have harmed his Indian contemporaries. Depleted, he falls asleep; it is dark and snow is falling when he wakes up. Soon the snow covers the landscape in thick accumulations, yet Tayo continues to walk on in search of shelter. He hears a voice raised in song, a hunting song that he recognizes. The source of this song is an older Indian man who carries a horned buck across his shoulders and who is dressed in jewelry and furs. This man welcomes Tayo and leads him to shelter, a small warm house where Tayo finds the young woman he had met earlier.

The young woman is still reserved in her manner. Fortunately, she has located Tayo's mare, which does not appear to be seriously injured. Josiah's cattle, moreover, have made their way to her; she and Tayo inspect them and Tayo disdainfully reflects on the damage that cattle roping, which white men see as a form of sport, can do to livestock. When Tayo asks the woman if he should expect the white men to come looking for the cattle, the woman replies that the snow will block any pursuit. She then sees Tayo off.


Tayo's quest to find Josiah's cattle is prefaced by a narrative poem that is significant in a few different respects. For one, the story of the Sun's quest is an easy allegory for Tayo's story: the Sun (Tayo) as advised by the Spiderwoman (elders such as Old Grandma and Betonie) must release a captive element of the natural world, the storm clouds (Josiah's cattle). The successful completion of the Sun's quest also foreshadows the successful completion of Tayo's own. Readers have already seen Tayo developing a new sense of perspective and a new spirit of determination in preceding sections; now, in the search for Josiah's cattle, Tayo will prove that he can make a practical, meaningful use of his recuperated self.

Moreover, Tayo has learned to appreciate his surroundings and the flow of his life. He no longer needs to undermine his sensitivity to the world by indulging in drink and empty talk, as the other Laguna veterans do. In fact, even when Tayo does meet another character—the young woman—they achieve a deep mutual understanding largely without dialogue, perhaps beyond speech. Tayo appreciates his time with her almost as he appreciates the world of nature, with silent and reverent communion: "He breathed deeply, and each breath had a distinct smell of snow from the north, of ponderosa pine on the rimrock above; finally he smelled horses from the direction of the corral, and he smiled" (168). This description is taken from Tayo's departure from the young woman, and reveal that Tayo has now learned to connect with the entire landscape that surrounds him. He has learned to hold at bay the memories of war that, earlier, might have rushed in to undermine his perceptions of beauty.

Yet even as Silko depicts Tayo's movement towards psychological and spiritual healing, she reminds us that the "witchery" of civilization has taken hold of the land. The most fearsome symbol of this influence is the wall constructed by a white man named Floyd Lee: "a thousand dollars a mile to keep Indians and Mexicans out; a thousand dollars a mile to lock the mountain in steel wire, to make the land his" (174). Already a construction that despoils and divides the landscape, Lee's fence is also a sign of how poorly and unjustly white civilization—both in war and at peace—uses its resources. Instead of offering potentially antagonistic groups harmony, Lee has used his resources to segregate people further; instead of promoting justice, Lee uses the fence to take property that isn't really his, namely Josiah's cattle.

Tayo's re-discovery of the cattle is a victory, though perhaps not as complete a victory as it may initially seem. He has given Josiah's great project a second chance, he has validated Betonie's mysticism (since Betonie's guiding stars have proven true), and he has proven that he can break the hold of despair and pursue a meaningful goal. His deeds do not, however, indicate that the course of history represented by Floyd Lee is set to be reversed. Remember, Tayo is able to re-join the cattle because the men in Lee's patrol want to hunt a mountain lion. Although Silko's protagonist is saved, the larger destruction of the natural world continues.

This is not the only irony that complicates Tayo's redemption narrative. Soon after Tayo finds the cattle and (almost by luck) is quickly set free, a powerful snowstorm begins. One remarkable event follows another, and two figures who are rich in mystery, the young woman and the hunter, appear to help Tayo on his way home. Ceremony has become loaded with incident and has perhaps abandoned its earlier realism; the random changes of fortune and sudden appearances that Silko evokes are perhaps more appropriate to a dream or a folktale than a psychological novel. While it may be too much to write off Tayo's entire journey as a dream or a fantasy, a reader can justifiably wonder whether some of the "events" depicted by Silko are visions, distortions, or dreams that blur into reality. Although Tayo is healing, his grip on reality may not be flawless.