The Nephite Sacred Bundle

Sacred bundles, which generally contain the ritual paraphernalia of a cult, were among the most sacred object of the Aztecs, and some of the other Mesoamerican peoples, as well as the Plains and Pueblo Indians. There where individual bundles held by priest-shamans, and there were institutional bundels held by tribes, clans, ceremonial organizations and villages. The institutional bundles were brought by the tribe on it's migration to the present locale and formed the focus of the group's commonality"(1).

"The textual histories that record the Mexica migration often mention the presence of Huitzilipochtli's sacred bundle and its importance in directing the progress of the journey. The bundle(tlaquimilolli) of Huitzilipochtli appears throughout the pictorial migration in the Codex Azcatitlan" as a man's head, topped by a humming bird head.(2). Huitzilipochtli's sacred bundle was supposedly passed on through the generations and was spirited away from it's temple when the Spanish conquered Mexico(3).
In the Codex Boturini, the Aztecs migrate from the island of Aztlan and settle in Culhuacan; "they build a rude shrine to their tribal god, from whose mouth rise speech scrolls to mark Huitzillipochtli's instructions to the tribe. Throughout the migration, the image and insignia of Huitzillipochtli are manifest as a sacred bundle" carried by the teomamas, god bearers. After the Aztecs are driven from Culhucan, they brought the sacred bundle with them,with men women and children floating across on makeshift rafts(4). "Once on the opposite shore, the bundle of Huitzilipochtli appears unwrapped to reveal the hummingbird effigy of the god"(5).

The Popul Vuh describes how Co Caib, Co Achutec and Co Ahau left the counsel of their older and younger brothers, promising they would not die on their journey, "passed over the sea", arriving in the East(6). It is there that they went to "receive their lordship"(7). They received:
"Canopy and throne, Bone flute and drum, Shining Black Powder and Yellow Stone, Puma Paws and Jaguar Paws, Head and Hooves of the Deer, Armband and Snail Shell Rattle, Tobacco Guard and Food Bowl, Macaw Feathers and Snowy Egret Feathers"(8).

The Popol Vuh says that these objects were brought back when they returned, and that they brought the "writing of Tulan from the other side of the sea" and these described the "many things which had been invested"(9). These objects and paintings gave the Quiche the right to rule. The writings were likely the record of the transaction, to be used as proof of their newly-acquired legitimacy. When they returned, bearing the emblems of lordship, their people rejoiced. These emblems were then carried by the Quiche as they migrated from place to place, before finally settling down.

From these two examples we can see that the sacred bundles: 1)provided legitimacy for the current ruler by connecting the ruler to the past, 2)acted as a conduit between gods and men, through which the god could communicate to his people during the tribe's nomadic beginnings, 3)were sometimes accompanied by sacred writings and 4) were passed on from generation to generation.

The Book of Mormon peoples also had this sacred bundle tradition. The Nephite sacred bundle consisted of: the brass plates, Liahona and sword of Laban. These items meet all four of these criteria. The Liahona, sword of Laban and brass plates were passed down through the generations of Nephite rulers and priests.

Nephi, the dynastic founder, was the original custodian of these objects, even wielding the sword of Laban in his people's defense(Jacob 1:10). These objects were eventually passed on to King Benjamin, who also wielded the sword of Laban(W of M 1:13). When King Benjamin stepped down and gave up the throne to his son Mosiah, he passed on these sacred objects to him(Mosiah 1:16). These items legitimized the Nephite kings by connecting them to the original "Nephi" from whome they derived their authority(Jacob 1:11). The kings were "Nephi" because they had Nephi's sacred instruments. These sacred instruments were eventually given to Alma, a chief judge and high priest and he gave them to his son Helaman,the highpriest(Alma 37). Helaman turns the "sacred things" over to Shiblon(Alma 63:1). Shiblon gave the "sacred things" to his son Helaman, who would be chief judge over the people(Alma 63:11, Helaman 3:20).

So important were these sacred objects to the Lehites that the Lamanites claimed that Nephi stole the rulership of the people "out of their hands"(Mosiah 10:15). He robbed them by taking the "the records which were engraven in the plates of brass"(Mosiah 10:16). It wasn't bad enough that Nephi usurped the rule of the people from his older brothers, but that he took the emblems of that rulership with him(2 Nephi 5: ,12, 14, 19). 

One of these objects, the Liahona, guided the Lehites during their nomadic begginings and facilitated communication with God. The Liahona was a object of "curious workmanship" that was prepared by the Lord so that the Nephite/Lamanite lineage founders could find their way through the wilderness, it literally pointing the way to the most fertile parts of the land(Alma 37:38-39). The Liahona also showed God's messages, messages which had even chastised the lineage founders for their wrong doing during the migration(1 Nephi 16:25-29). The Nephite sacred bundles were Liahona, sword of Laban and brass plates for they: provided legitimacy for the current ruler by connecting the ruler's authority to past authority, acted as a conduit for the God to communicate with his people during the tribe's nomadic beginnings, were accompanied by sacred writings and were passed on by the kings and priests from generation to generation.

It is important to note that I am in no way implying that Nephi invented/imported the sacred bundle concept into Native American culture. To do so would be like saying Mormons invented hymn books, pews, white shirts and ties.

Book of Mormon peoples were simply interacting with their sacred objects in ways that were similar to the sacred bundle tradition. I should also note that the seerstones should also be included in the contents of the Nephite sacred bundle, however, I am waiting for Don Bradley to finish his book on the 116 pages before I say anything definitive about that. 

(1)Incarnations of the Aztec Supernatural: The Image of Huitzilopochtli in Mexico and Europe- Page 25 by Elizabeth Hill Boone
(2) ibid.
(3) ibid.
(4) ibid.
(5) ibid.
(6) Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life - Page 179,by Dennis Tedlock. This isn't my original source translation, but it contains the same things. Compare them and you will see.
(7) ibid.
(8) ibid.
(9) ibid.


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