Ceremony

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Betonie Character Analysis

A Navajo medicine man who is able to heal Tayo by combining traditional rituals with modern, multicultural elements. Betonie’s green eyes and Mexican grandmother show his own connection to hybridity, which the novel makes clear gives him the strength and knowledge to help guide Tayo toward a future for Native peoples that builds on the old ways but adapts to the new conditions of “white culture” in America. Betonie is feared by the other Navajo of Gallup, but he cares far more for the ultimate well-being of the earth than for making other people comfortable. Betonie recognizes that Tayo also is hesitant when they first meet, but Tayo is eventually able to see Betonie’s good heart through the old man’s eccentricities. In the novel, Betonie acts as a patient agent for change that will benefit the southwest region rather than add to its destruction.

Betonie Quotes in Ceremony

The Ceremony quotes below are all either spoken by Betonie or refer to Betonie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Ceremony published in 2006.
Section 4 Quotes

There was something about the way the old man said the word "comfortable." It had a different meaning-not the comfort of big houses or rich food or even clean streets, but the comfort of belonging with the land, and the peace of being with these hills.

Related Characters: Betonie
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

When Tayo has to keep looking for a cure to his sickness after WWII, he goes to a Navajo Medicine Man named Betonie. Betonie lives in the foothills outside of Gallup, in a traditional hogan like the Navajo have built for generations. Betonie is at odds with the modern world, rejecting the idea that Native Americans must leave the old ways in order to be successful and happy in the white world. Betonie actually finds more comfort in these hills than he would in the “big houses or rich food” that mark wealth and security in the city. It is more important for Betonie to be connected to the land, as the land provides life-giving resources for humans. In order to be at peace with himself, Betonie must be at peace in the land.

Yet though Betonie does not want to leave the old ways behind, he is also not a purist about the ancient traditions. Betonie freely uses English, though some look on that as the modern, white man’s language, and carefully finds the nuance in the English word “comfortable.” Betonie’s care with language echoes the more traditional Pueblo Medicine Man, Ku’oosh, who precisely chose the correct Laguna word for “fragile” earlier in the novel. Betonie also fills his hogan with objects from the modern world that mark the passage of time and the changing culture, such as his calendars with many styles of artwork. Betonie seeks to be a bridge between the old Native American way of life, and a new Native American way of life that maintains the unique strengths of the Native American philosophies without ignoring all traces of the modern world. Looking to both cultural norms for inspiration makes Betonie stronger, more adaptable, and ultimately more comfortable in his own identity.

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The people nowadays have an idea about the ceremonies. They think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done, maybe because one slip-up or mistake and the whole ceremony must be stopped and the sand painting destroyed. That much is true. They think that if a singer tampers with any part of the ritual, great harm can be done, great power unleashed…That much can be true also. But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle's claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the ceremonies have always been changing."

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Tayo goes to see Betonie, a Navajo medicine man in Gallup, after Ku’oosh’s Pueblo ceremony did not cure Tayo of his illness. Betonie is a very different type of medicine man, believing that the power of the ceremonies lies in their ability to adapt rather than the ability to staunchly cling to tradition. Betonie acknowledges the power of the ceremonies and the need to be careful, echoing Ku’oosh’s earlier reminder that the world is fragile. Yet Betonie also recognizes that there is no such thing as stasis. Preserving anything perfectly is tantamount to death in a world that is always changing. Rather than copying previous generations, Betonie adds his voice to the legacy that the past leaves, making the ceremony a living ritual that can survive in new situations. In order for the ceremonies to continue to have power in the world, the ceremonies must change as well.

Some people act like witchery is responsible for every- thing that happens, when actually witchery only manipulates a small portion." He pointed in the direction the boy had gone. "Accidents happen, and there's little we can do. But don't be so quick to call something good or bad. There are balances and harmonies always shifting, always necessary to maintain.

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

After Betonie, a Navajo medicine man, completes part of the ceremony meant to call Tayo’s spirit back home from the trauma of WWII, Betonie tells a story about Native American witches who unwittingly unleased witchery into the world. This witchery is made up of human greed and selfishness, the worst parts of human nature that contribute to the destruction of land and other people rather than respecting the sanctity of life. Yet though the witchery is evil, Betonie cautions against believing that the witchery has complete power over someone. In the “balances and harmonies” that all humans must fight to maintain, there will always be an element of witchery to oppose the good. The trick, as Betonie tells Tayo, is not to let the small amount of witchery outweigh the good you might see in other people. The true goal of Betonie’s healing ceremonies is never to destroy witchery altogether, as that would be impossible. Betonie seeks only to restore balance to the world by keeping the witchery in its proper place. This focus on balance underpins the Pueblo religion as well, and plays a large role in Tayo’s recovery.

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.

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker)
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Betonie, a Navajo medicine man, tells a story about Native American witches – those who use magic for unnatural purposes – who tried to outdo one another in the evil things they could create. The worst evil thing was actually a story that created white people in the world. Storytelling is a sacred and significant act in many Native American cultures, including Betonie’s Navajo heritage and the Pueblo heritage of the majority of the characters in Ceremony. This evil story in particular is incredibly powerful, as it speaks new beings into life and sets them on a path to destroy the entire world. Betonie’s story about the evil story is a cautionary tale about using stories for evil purposes, as the words can never be called back once they are spoken into the world.

Yet though the Native American witch cannot call the story of white people back, the very act of placing all of white history and creation within a Native American story gives Native Americans some measure of control over their future. If Native Americans created white people with a story, they should also be able to undo the damage white people cause with a story. Ceremony then acts to fulfill this purpose, to be a story that works to combat the evil that the white people story unleashed.

'it never has been easy. It will take a long long time and many more stories like this one before they are laid low. …
"He reasoned that because it was set loose by witchery of all the world, and brought to them by the whites, the ceremony against it must be the same. …
This is the only way,' she told him. 'It cannot be done alone.
'We must have power from everywhere. Even the power we can get from the whites.'

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo, Descheeny
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

Betonie, the Navajo medicine man, tells Tayo a story about his (Vetonie’s) grandfather, Descheeny, who first started the ceremony meant to heal the witchery of white culture in the world. Part of this story involves discovering where white people came from in the first place, an origin that explains that white people were brought to life by a witch who harnessed human greed, selfishness, and violence. With white people, the tools of witchery, loose in the world, the environment suffers and a horrible drought affects the American Southwest. During this time, Descheeny met a Mexican woman who helps him put together a ceremony to combat the drought. Crucially, this ceremony departs from the strict traditional guidelines for ceremonies by including elements of power from the Mexican girl’s heritage as well as the white culture that other Navajo see as their ultimate enemy.

In order to combat an evil that affects all mankind, Betonie, Tayo, and the others will need to combine the strengths of as many different cultures as they can. Even white culture, which is seen as fundamentally destructive in the novel, has something to offer in this quest for healing. The healing also depends on retelling stories, as stories are the vehicle for teaching proper values to the new generation in many Native American communities. Through this particular story about his grandfather, Betonie is able to help Tayo see that white people are not the ultimate problem. Tayo really has to fight against the worst of human nature in general in order to heal himself from the trauma of the war and the land from the drought.

Section 5 Quotes

So he had gone, not expecting to find anything more than the winter constellation in the north sky overhead; but suddenly Betonie's vision was a story he could feel happening - from the stars and the woman, the mountain and the cattle would come.

Related Characters: Tayo, Betonie
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

After Tayo leaves Betonie, the Navajo medicine man who described a ceremony that would cure Tayo of his post-war trauma, Tayo waits for a sign that Betonie’s ceremony is beginning. Betonie had described four things that Tayo must look for: a certain constellation, a woman, a mountain, and spotted cattle. As four is a sacred number in the Pueblo religion, these four things draw together the entire world – with the constellation representing the sky, the woman representing humanity, the mountain representing the land, and the cattle representing the animals. Tayo must bring all these things back into harmony in order to heal himself, as the health of the world is tied up in the health of all of the participants of the world.

In order to restore his own health, Tayo must trust in the power of ceremonies. In traditional Pueblo culture, ceremonies are a way for people to both maintain and strengthen their connections to the natural world and the proper ways of living in harmony with the entire world. These ceremonies give respect to all life, unlike the destruction of life that the novel sees as inherent to white culture. After the war, Tayo lost faith in the ceremonies and doesn’t expect Betonie’s ceremony to actually be effective. Yet Tayo still goes on the journey and gradually starts to believe again in the truth and sanctity of the old ways.

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Betonie Character Timeline in Ceremony

The timeline below shows where the character Betonie appears in Ceremony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 4
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Ku’oosh has sent Tayo to Gallup to see a medicine man named Betonie. Gallup is known for the Gallup Ceremonial, an annual event organized by white men “celebrating”... (full context)
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Betonie can see that Tayo is unsure of his eccentric ways, and tells Tayo he can... (full context)
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...sees traditional medicine man paraphernalia as well as ceremonial objects and layers of old calendars. Betonie explains that he needs all of these things to continue doing the old ceremonies nowadays.... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie notices that a hair has come loose from his mustache and he carefully locks the... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo tells Betonie about feeling like invisible white smoke when he was in the Veteran’s Hospital. Betonie says... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo tells Betonie about seeing Uncle Josiah die in the Philippines, wearing a Japanese uniform. Tayo admits that... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo tells Betonie about Night Swan’s hazel eyes and Auntie’s suspicions that Night Swan was evil all along.... (full context)
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie describes the changes that he has had to make to the traditional ceremonies in order... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Betonie and Tayo walk outside, and Tayo comments on all the land in Gallup that was... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie introduces Tayo to his helper, Shush, whose name means “bear.” Betonie begins to tell a... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie stops the story to remind Tayo that witchery is only responsible for a small portion... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Tayo starts to tell Betonie about Emo and Rocky, because he is reminded of them by the neon lights of... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie reminds Tayo that white people are not purely evil, they are simply one tool that... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Betonie, Shush, and Tayo ride on horseback into the foothills of the Chuska mountains outside Gallup.... (full context)
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...and dreams about speckled cattle that constantly outrun him, heading south. When he wakes up, Betonie and Shush are nowhere to be found. Tayo surveys the unbroken mesa of black sand.... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Betonie starts to tell a story about his grandfather, Descheeny. Descheeny was with a Navajo hunting... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Betonie describes the day he was born and the other people tried to kill him for... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Betonie tells Tayo that the ceremony is not yet finished. Betonie draws a constellation in the... (full context)
Section 5
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Tayo leaves Betonie and hitchhikes back towards New Laguna. He stops at a gas station to buy some... (full context)
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo dreams of old Betonie’s Navajo singing, until he is awakened by someone telling him to leave. Tayo thinks it... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Betonie had explained that the scalp ceremony meant to put fallen warriors to rest is no... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo goes home to New Laguna and waits to see one of the things Betonie mentioned would finish the ceremony. In late September, Tayo finally sees the constellation that Betonie... (full context)
Section 6
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...the wires that he cut and ride into the hills, forgetting about the cattle and Betonie’s crazy Indian superstition about a ceremony. Tayo thinks of the army doctors telling him that... (full context)
Section 7
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...Robert and Tayo get the cows back to their ranch, old Grandma comments that old Betonie did some good after all. Tayo agrees, but he dreams of the woman constantly. Auntie... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...the destroyers who prevent living people from ever feeling anything again. Tayo says that old Betonie knew of a way to stop the destruction and Ts’eh says it depends on how... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...lava rock. He finds it hard to remember how he felt with Ts’eh, or with Betonie, believing in the old stories. Tayo sees Harley and Leroy’s footprints going up the hill... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...boundaries. Tayo looks back to the glimmer of night sky outside the mine and sees Betonie’s constellation shining bright and protecting him. The novel turns to a story-poem about Arrowboy, who... (full context)