Before anything was, Amma, the one God, rolled pellets of clay in his palms and flung them out into the darkness of space, thus creating the stars. Pleased with the result, Amma rolled out two larger clay balls, shaping them as a potter does, thus forming the sun and moon to further illuminate the darkness. The sun, they say, is a large pot - perhaps even larger than a village-which Amma heated white hot and surrounded with a red-copper spiral of eight turns. The moon's copper is white and Amma heated it only a quarter at a time.
Having made the celestial lights, the one God Amma squeezed another lump of clay between his palms and flung it out from him, as he had done with the stars. The clay spread out horizontally, beginning in the north and working to the south, thus forming the earth. Even though the world is a plate lying flat, it is also a fetus in the womb with limbs to the east and west. Lying there, head to the north, feet to the south, the earth was female. Her vagina was an anthill, her clitoris a termite hill. And she was beautiful.
Whisper now! Speak softly of the primordial error! Do not tickle even invisible eardrums when telling of Amma's great mistake! O, but the one God was lonely. O, how he ached for intimacy. He saw the earth's feminine form and was filled with desire. He approached her, ready for intercourse. But, at Amma's approach, the termite hill rose up, refusing farther passage. The termite hill exerted a masculine strength equal to God's organ. No intercourse could take place. But all-powerful God cannot be resisted. Amma cut down the termite hill and plunged himself into the excised earth.
This circumcision was without ritual, this intercourse a breach of order. Amma's act affected the course of things forever. For from this defective union was born a single being-not the twins that are natural. From this defective union was born Jackal, the deluded and deceitful son of God. Jackal was alone from birth and, because of this, he did more things than can be told.
God again had intercourse with his earth-wife; but, with the offending member gone, there was no further disorder. Water, the divine seed, entered the womb of the earth and this time twins were conceived, as is natural and right. The beings thus formed are called Nummo. They were both male and female and exist as an inseparable Pair. Their bodies were green and sleek all over like the surface of water. From head to loins they were human; below that they were serpents. Their red eyes were wide open like people, their tongues were forked like serpents. Their arms were flexible and without joints and their bodies covered with the short, green hairs of vegetation and germination. These spirits were formed of God's divine essence, made of his seed, which is simultaneously the ground, the form, and the substance of the world's life-force. They are the motion and persistence of all things. The Pair is present in all water; they are water-the water of the seas, of coasts, of torrents, of storms, and of the spoonfuls we drink. Without Nummo, it would not have been possible to create the earth. For the earth was molded clay and water as in all things that have life. Even stones have this life-force, for there is moisture in everything.
The Nummo also produce copper. When the glorious sunburst pierces the cloud-bank, the sun's rays may be seen materializing on the misty horizon. These rays, excreted by the spirits, are of copper and are light. They are water too,
because they uphold the earth's moisture as it rises. The Pair excrete light, because they are also light. They were born perfect and complete with eight members. Their number is eight, which is the symbol of speech.
The Nummo, looking down from Heaven, saw their earth-mother naked and speechless from her first disastrous relations with Amma. They descended, bearing ten bunches of fibers pulled from plants already created in Heaven. The ten bunches corresponded to their ten fingers and they formed two strands of them-one for the front, one for the back. This garment was not for modesty. It symbolized the first ordering of the universe and it revealed the sacred helicoid sign in the form of an undulating broken line. For the fivers fell in coils, symbol of tornadoes, of winding torrents, of eddies and whirlwinds, and the writhing motion of serpents. The coils also symbolized the eightfold copper spiral of the sun, which sucks up moisture. The fibers of the coiled strands were still moist with the freshness of the celestial plants and thus were the essence of Nummo. They were Nummo in motion, a wavy line that can be infinitely prolonged.
When Nummo speaks, what comes from their mouth is a warm vapor which conveys and is, in its very essence, speech. The coiled fringes of the earth-mother’s skirt were the chosen vehicle for the words with which the Spirit desired to reveal to the earth. They endued their webbed hands with magic power by raising them to their lips while they plaited the skirt, so that moisture of Nummo-speech was imparted to the fibers and the spiritual revelation was embodied in the technical instruction.
Thus clothed, the earth acquired its own primitive language. Its syntax was elementary, its verbs few. Its vocabulary was without ornament. One hears its words in breathing and the wind-in sounds of field and jungle scarcely distinguishable from one another. Nevertheless, this simple speech was a vehicle sufficient for the great work of beginning all things.
Now Jackal desired speech more than anything. He craved it so urgently that he laid his hands on the fibers of his mother’s skirt-on the fibers that embodied Nummo-speech. His mother, earth, recoiled from this incestuous assault. She withdrew into her own womb; she fled into the anthill. Indeed, she became an ant, hoping to elude her son. But Jackal plunged in after her. The anthill hole was not deep enough to hide in forever. Though she struggled, the earth-mother was eventually subdued by Jackal.
This incestuous act was not without consequence. Jackal acquired the gift of speech and has ever afterward been able to reveal to diviners the plans of God. Moreover, his assault was the cause of the flow of menstrual blood, which stained earth-mother’s fiber skirt. This defilement was more than Amma could bear. He rejected his earth-spouse and decided to create living beings without her. Modeling a womb in damp clay, he placed it on the ground and covered it with a pellet flung out into space from heaven. He made a male organ in the same way and, putting it on the ground also, flung out a sphere which stuck to it. The two lumps assumed organic form; they began to quicken. Members separated from the central core and bodies appeared. A human pair arose from the lumps of earth.
The Nummo Pair arrived on the scene, ready to further the action. They foresaw that the original rule of twin births was soon to disappear and that errors might result comparable to those of Jackal, whose birth was single and whose solitary state caused him to act as he did. Therefore Nummo drew two outlines on the ground, one on top of the other, one male and the other female. The man stretched himself out on these two shadows of himself and took both of them for his own. The same was done for the woman.
Thus it came about that each human being from the first was endowed with two souls of different sex-or rather with two principles corresponding to two distinct persons. In the man, the female soul is located in his foreskin; in the woman, the male soul resides in the clitoris. But man’s life was not capable of supporting both beings; each person would have to merge himself in the sex for which he or she appeared to be best fitted. The Nummo Pair circumcised the man, removing the femininity of his foreskin. The excised skin, in turn, became an animal, a “nay”, which is neither serpent nor insect, even though it is classed with serpents. The nay was black and white, like the covering for the dead, and its name also means “four,” the female number, and “sun,” a female celestial being. The nay symbolized the pain of circumcision and the need for men to suffer in their sexual organs as women do.
The first man had intercourse with the first woman, who later bore the first two children of a series of eight. These eight were the Dogon ancestors. At the moment of birth, the pain of parturition was concentrated in the woman’s clitoris, which was excised by an invisible hand and which then assumed the form of a scorpion. The scorpion’s pouch and sting symbolized the female organ: the venom was the water and the blood of the pain.
Eight ancestors were born of the couple created by God. The four eldest were male, the four youngest, female. By a special dispensation, permitted only this once, the eight ancestors were able to fertilize themselves, being dual and bisexual. From them descended the eight Dogon families. Humanity was organizing itself, if only in a makeshift way. The eventual calamity of single births was mitigated by Nummo tracing the dual soul on the ground. Do not babies, even today, receive their dual souls as they are held by the hips above the drawings on the ground? Is not the superfluous soul later remover through circumcision?
But the divine thirst for perfection could not be satisfied with things in this condition and the Nummo Pair started planning works of redemption. Nummo were aware of the terrifying effect of contact between creatures of flesh and blood and purely spiritual beings. They needed to impart reforms and instructions through human agency, within the human environment, and in forms that human beings could understand and duplicate. And so Nummo returned to earth and entered the anthill, entered the sexual part from which they were themselves the issue. Once there, they would be able to defend their mother from further incestuous attacks by Jackal and would, by their moist, luminous, articulate presence, be able to purge the earth-body that Amma had forever rejected and thus purify it for the activities of life. In the anthill, the male Nummo occupied the place of the termite-hill clitoris which Amma had cut away, while the female Nummo occupied the place of the female element her womb becoming part of the earth-womb. The Pair thus began the work of regeneration in Amma’s stead.
In those early days, men knew nothing of death and the eight ancestors lived on indefinitely. They had eight separate lines of descendants, each of them being self-propagating since each was both male and female. The four males and the four females were couples in consequence of their sexual parts. The four males were man and woman and the four females were woman and man. Each coupled and conceived within him-or herself and thus produced offspring.
When the time was fully ripe, the eldest of the eight ancestors was led by some latent knowledge to the anthill which Nummo now occupied. On his head, he wore a wooden food bowl for a head-dress, as protection from the sun. He put his two feet into the opening of the anthill and sank slowly into the earth’s womb. Birth in reverse! All that remained above-ground was the round wooden bowl, still bearing traces of the food and the fingerprints of its vanished owner. The food bowl symbolized the eldest ancestors’ body and human nature even as the snake’s sloughed skin symbolizes its body and ability to renew itself. Liberated from this earthly condition, the eldest ancestor was led by the male Nummo into the depths of the earth where, in the waters of the womb of the female Nummo, he curled himself up like a fetus and shrank to germinal form. The first ancestor became water, the seed of God and the essence of Nummo.
This process was the work of the Word. The male Nummo’s voice accompanied the female Nummo who was speaking to herself and to her own sex. The spoken Word entered into her and wound itself round her womb in a spiral of eight turns.
Just as the helical band of copper round the sun gives to it its daily movement, so the spiral of the Word gave to the womb its regenerative movement. Thus perfected by water and words, the spirit of the eldest ancestor was expelled and went up to heaven. All eight ancestors in succession had to undergo this transformation; but, when the turn of the seventh ancestor came, something powerful was revealed.
The seventh in a series, it must be remembered, represents perfection. Though equal in quality to the others, he is the sum of the feminine element, which is four, and the masculine element, which is three. Thus, he is the symbol of the total union of male and female. He is unity. And to this complete unity belongs the mastery of words, the command of language. The disappearance of the seventh into the anthill set in motion many good things.
In the earth-womb, the seventh became, like the others, water and spirit and his development, like theirs, followed the rhythm of the words uttered by the two transforming Nummo. The words which the female Nummo spoke to herself turned into a spiral and entered her vagina. The seventh ancestor learned these words inside the earth-womb. While the other ancestors had heard these words also, only the seventh mastered them and could put them to use. The seventh ancestor, therefore, received the perfect knowledge of a Word-the second Word to be heard on earth, clearer than the first and not, like the first, reserved for particular recipients, but destined for all humanity. And the second Word would give people an advantage over God’s wicked son, Jackal, who knew only the primitive first Word.
The potent second Word increased the powers of the seventh ancestor, who gradually came to regard his regeneration in the earth-womb as equivalent to his capturing and possessing that fertile space. Little by little, he took possession of the whole organism, using it for his own purposes. Eventually his lips began to merge with the edges of the anthill, which widened and became a mouth. Pointed teeth emerged, eighty in all, ten for each ancestor. The earth-womb had became a mouth and the time for new instruction was at hand. But, fearing that normal men would not be able to bear direct contact with purely spiritual beings, the seventh ancestor imparted sacred instruction to the ant. From this earth-being men would receive the vital teachings.
At sunrise on the appointed day, the seventh ancestor spat out eighty threads of cotton; these he laced among his upper teeth even as a weaver prepares the loom. He did the same with his lower teeth and began to work his jaws back and forth. His whole face took part in the work. His nose studs served as the block; the stud in his lower lip functioned as a shuttle. The seventh ancestor’s movements were a great teaching; he was speaking even as he wove the threads into cloth. With his forked tongue pushing the thread of the weft to and fro, the seventh Spirit wove the threads, breathing the second revealed Word into the material.By imparting the Word through a technical process, the seventh ancestor showed that material actions and spiritual forces are identical, that they must always be in cooperation.
The words that the Spirit breathed through the thread filled the interstices of warp and weft. They were one with the cloth, which is why woven material is called “soy” or “the spoken word.” Soy also means seven to honor the Spirit who spoke as he wove. While the work progressed, the ant came and went along the edge of the anthill-mouth, hearing and remembering the words of the seventh ancestor. Having received this instruction, she passed it along to the humans living in those regions. Up to the time that the ancestors descended into the anthill, men had been living in lairs dug in the level soil.But when they discovered the food bowls, of the ancestors around the opening of the anthill they noticed the ant’s home as if for the first time. They realized that the anthill’s design surpassed their own dwellings in comfort and safety. This revelation set the people to work constructing “anthills” of their own, complete with store-chambers for grain and numerous passageways to baffle predators and enemies. Through the second Word, human beings slowly emerged from their primitive condition. By observing the ant, human beings learned to build villages and received from her the knowledge of weaving.
On earth, order was gradually spreading’ the Nummo’s work of regeneration was taking hold. But there was trouble in Heaven.
No one is quite sure what happened, but Spirits do not fall from Heaven except in anger of because they are expelled. It happened like this. After their transformation, the Nummo Pair had received the eight ancestors in Heaven; but, because they were the eldest, they had the rights of the elder generation. So they imposed order; they imposed a network of rules upon the eight ancestors, separating them from one another and forbidding them to visit one another. God had given the eight an assortment of grains for their food and for each of these the eight ancestors were to be responsible. But, after a while, the eight ancestors broke the rule forbidding them to meet and further transgressed by consuming each other’s grain. This made them unclean in Amma’s sight and the ancestors felt that their essence was incompatible with the heavenly regions. The eight ancestors therefore resolved to return to earth and bring with them anything they could find in Heaven that might prove useful to man.
The first ancestor took a woven basket with a circular opening and a square base in which to carry the earth and puddled clay required for the construction of a world-system, of which he was to be one of the counselors. This basket served as a model for a structure of considerable size which he built upside down, as it were, with the round opening, 20 cubits (60 feet) in diameter, on the ground and the square base, with sides eight cubits (24 feet) long, forming a flat roof. The entire structure was 10 cubits (30 feet) tall. This framework he covered with clay made of the earth from Heaven and in the thickness of the clay, starting from the center of each side of the square, he made stairways of ten steps each facing each of the cardinal directions. At the sixth step of the north staircase he put a door giving access to the interior in which were eight chambers arranged on two floors. The symbols embedded in the design were as follows:
The circular base represented the sun.
The square roof represented the sky.
A circle in the center of the square roof represented the moon.
The tread of each step was female and the rise of each step male and thus the four stairways of ten steps together represented the eighty original Dogon families, offspring of the eight ancestors.
Each stairway held one kind of creature, and was associated with a constellation:
The north stairway, associated with the Pleiades, was for men and fishes.
The south stairway, associated with Orion’s Belt, was for domestic animals.
The east stairway, associated with Venus, was for birds.
The west stairway, associated with the so-called Long-Tailed Star, was for wild animals, vegetables, and insects.
Each step of each stairway had the representatives of various species. And each animal on each step was a line-leader behind whom were other animals of similar kind. On the first step of the west stairway, for example, stood the walbanu, the red antelope. Behind him stood the white, the black, and the ka antelopes. All this must be described in words and it sounds impossible that so many large creatures stood on steps only a cubit wide, but everything on the steps was a symbol-symbolic antelopes, symbolic vultures, symbolic hyenas. Any number of symbols could find room on a three-foot step.
This sacred building was the Granary of the Master of the Pure Earth. Upon its roof the first ancestor had assembled the tools and implements of a forge, for his future task was to teach men the use of iron so that they might cultivate the land. The bellows was made of white sheepskin, its two halves joined together like twins. The hammer was a large iron block with a cone-shaped handle and a square striking surface. The anvil, similarly shaped, was fixed in a wooden beam. The ancestral smith had an iron bow and a spindle for an arrow. Aiming at the center of the moon-circle in the Granary roof and having attached a long thread of gossamer round the shaft to form a bobbin, he sunk the spindle-arrow deep within the circle. To a second arrow, the great Constructor attached the other end of the thread and shot it into the vault of the sky to give it purchase.
The entire edifice became like a spindle whorl.
The Granary, then, was both a building and a dense constellation of symbols; it was the material embodiment of the third Word that would soon be revealed on earth and granaries on earth would be patterned after it. It was a picture of the new order about to be revealed as the third Word. The Granary showed in a form that could be comprehended by flesh and blood the world-system that would soon complete the redemptive work of Nummo. It was the plaited basket which had provided the ancestral Constructor with his model and which would serve in the future as the basic unit of volume. The one-cubit (three-foot) rise of the stairs on the four stairways would serve as the basic unit of length. The basic unit of area was provided by the flat roof, whose sides were eight cubits each.The Granary was also the head of the smith’s hammer (which is male) and the four-sided anvil (which is female).
The Granary was the ideal realization of the anthill. It was also the sun, moon, sky, earth, and the four directions. It was the source of all seed, both animal and vegetable. It was the body of the Spirit of Water-the Nummo-and the female human body combined. Its exterior walls and inner partitions were the skeleton; the four pillars supporting the square roof were the legs and arms; the door on the north stair was the mouth; the eight inner compartments containing each of the eight types of seed given to the ancestors symbolized the stomach, gizzard, heart, small liver, spleen, intestines, great liver, and gall bladder. The round jar in the center symbolized the womb; a second, smaller jar enclosed within the first contained Lannea acida and represented the fetus.
Having thus completed the Granary of the Mater of the Pure Earth, the first ancestor crept into the workshop of the Nummo, who are the smiths of Heaven. With a forked crook or the “robber’s stick,” the ancestral smith stole a piece of the sun in the form of live embers and white-hot iron. In his haste, he dropped some of the embers and had to return to pick them up and was so anxious that, at first, he could not find the entrance to the Granary and had to circle it several times. Finally, he climbed the steps to the roof and stashed the stolen fire in one of the skins of the bellows, exclaiming “Gouyo!” “Stolen!”
Without wasting another moment, the first smith hurled the Granary along the arc of a rainbow toward the earth. The gossamer thread spun out from the top of the granary in serpentine coils, suggesting the everlasting movement of the Nummo’s helicoid sign. As the Granary glided toward earth, the first smith stood ready with bellows, hammer, and bow to defend against attack from Heaven. It came in the form of a firebrand hurtled by the female Nummo, which arrived with a great thunderclap. The first ancestor deflected its force with the bellows. But, because he had stored the embers from the sun within the bellows, the device had acquired some of the sun’s essence and so the firebrand could not prevail against it. The ancestral smith doused the flames of the firebrand, whose name was bazu.
Bazu was the origin of the worship of the female fire. No sooner were the flames extinguished than the male Nummo hurled a second firebrand. But it was no more effective than the first. The second flame was named anakyé and was to become the origin of the worship of the male fire.
The thunder increased the velocity of the Granary and now it hurtled at top speed along the rainbow’s arc. Seeing that impact was only moment’s away, the first ancestor assumed a defensive posture. Then, *whack!* The Granary was on the ground. Because he was of one essence with the Nummo, the first ancestor still retained the flexible bones of their arms and legs; but, when the Granary collided with the earth, his arms and legs were broken at the level of elbows and knees. The first ancestor retained these joints ever afterwards, thus properly equipping him to perform the work of a smith. Moreover, when the Granary crashed into the earth, the symbolic humans, animals, and vegetation arrayed upon the Granary steps scattered in a great cloud of dust.
The first ancestor descended the north stairway and established a square field, 80 cubits to a side, orienting it to the Granary. This field he further divided into 80 times 80 squares and distributed these among the other ancestors whose destiny it was to remain on earth. Along the median line of the square from north to south, he built eight dwelling-houses, mixing the defiled soil with the pure mud of the Granary’s walls, thus further purifying the earth. Later, as the land was gradually cleared, the impurity receded. And so it was that wherever cultivation spread, impurity receded.
To the north of the median line, the Great Constructor erected the first smithy on earth. But he could not completely impart the third Word on his own. Immediately after his arrival, the other ancestors descended along the rainbow: the ancestor of the leather workers, and the ancestor of the minstrels, each with his tools and instruments. Each of the ancestors descended in order-until the eighth ancestor broke rank and descended ahead of the seventh, the master of Speech.
What happened next determined the way the reorganization of the world would take place. Angry that the order of precedence had been broken, the seventh ancestor assumed the form of a great serpent and lunged toward the Granary to take the seeds from it. Some say the master of Speech bit the skin of the bellows. Others say that he came down at the same time as the smith in the form of the Granary itself and then became a great serpent and quarreled with the first ancestor. Still others say that upon the arrival of the Granary, the smith found the men of the eight families, and set up his smithy in their midst. When he put down the skins of the bellows, the great serpent suddenly appeared and fell upon them, scattering the millet all around. However it was, the men killed the great serpent. The smith gave them the body to eat and kept the head, taking it to the smith and burying it under his seat.
That is why the seventh Nummo ancestor is present in every smithy.
From the time of the smith’s coming, men had joints. Up till then, they had the flexible arm and leg bones of the Nummo which would not bend enough to do work. But arms alone-even arms with elbows-and bare hands are limited in what they can do. But in the first months after the Granary came down from Heaven, the first ancestor forged hoes of iron, thus giving man a longer arm and thus signaling that the work of agriculture was about to begin. Before this time, there were few plants and animals on earth-and nothing was cultivated for use. But, even with tools and the granary, there was no rain and thus the new agriculture order could not begin.
Lébé was the eldest man living and belonged to the eighth ancestor’s family. Seven is the rank of the Master of Speech, but eight is Speech itself. Thus, Lébé was of all living beings on earth the most truly representative of the Word. It was time for the older, second Word-the word learnt from weaving-to give way to the third Word-the word of iron-making and agriculture. This new Word should have been imparted by the seventh ancestor, but he had been killed and eaten, his head buried under the seat in the first smithy. Thus, Lébé would have to pass into the same world as the seventh ancestor in order for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. So, Lébé died.
But this death was only in appearance. Just as the seventh ancestor was not really dead, Lébé could not really die. Nevertheless, they dug a grave, oriented north-south in the field not far from the first smithy. They laid him flat on his back with his head to the north, aligned exactly with the body of Earth-Mother. Nowadays, the dead are buried with proper ceremony, wrapped in the black-and-white checked cloth of the dead, males on their right sides, females on their left. They did not bend Lébé’s limbs for a few moments so as to form the fetus and thus prefigure the regeneration. But, this was before people had become acquainted with death and before instructions in funerary ritual had been given.
The first sounds of the smithy were then heard. The vibrations penetrated into the depths of the earth, reaching the seventh ancestor, whom men had killed. As the rhythmic sounds of the bellows blowing up the fire and the hammer striking the anvil came sown to him, the seventh ancestor Nummo took his spirit form. He rose up, human above the waist and reptile below, jerking and swaying to the rhythm of the smithy. This dance brought him to the tomb of Lébé and, working his way to the north of the grave, where the skull was, the seventh ancestor took the old man’s body into his womb and gave new life to it. Then, always in time to the smithy’s sounds, he expelled into the tomb a torrent of water and Lébé’s transformed being. Where his body had been, water, symbol of rushing torrents and of stagnant pools, lay in a great sheet. From this underground lake five rivers flowed, one from each arm, each leg, and the head. The waters also symbolized the waters that issue forth at birth. In the Nummo’s womb, Lébé’s bones had been transformed into colored stones and ejected into the bottom of the tomb, forming the outline of his skeleton. Today, all priests wear round their necks the transformed bones of Lébé.
But men did not know of the old man’s subterranean transformation, nor did they know it was the reason for the rains that now fell in abundance. Indeed, the first rains were for purification. The seventh Nummo, a pure spirit, in swallowing the old man, had assimilated defiled human nature and the lapsed second Word. When he released water to the rhythm of the hammer striking the anvil, he ejected a liquid which carried away impurity as well as the pure covenant stones. The rain washed this impure liquid away and thus the earth became ready for planting. The smith who had been waiting for the rains, emerged from the smithy and taught men the art of sowing. Each family tended its plot and the eight grains, given by the one God, Amma were planted. And so the third Word was fully revealed and order was established.
As for Lébé, he was “eaten” because he was the eldest descendant of the eighth ancestor, the family of the Word. In eating Lébé, the seventh Nummo, the Master of Speech, took all that there was of good in the earlier Word and incorporated it in the stones. In eating Lébé, that which was human was permanently intermingled with the divine through the sacred stones. All that was impure was cast out with the water and carried away by the rains and spiritual truth was revealed in a technical process.
May Nummo and Lébé never cease to be the same good thing they now are! May they never lose this identity!