The Square and the Cross

     -- the mission of Nene Hutke

By Dale Taylor and Michael Kendrick

Nene Hutke is a traditional ceremonial Square Ground comprised mostly of mixed blood Muskogee Creek people.  Nene Hutke is also a Christian Square Ground; but in a sense it is a new thing.  Historically, the Square Ground was the center of a town with civil and sacred, governmental and ceremonial functions.  Today most Square Grounds are utilized only as places of traditional worship and are generally affiliated with a tribe.  Those grounds not affiliated with a tribe still tend to consider themselves as possessing tribal functions.  Not so with Nene Hutke.   Nene Hutke is strictly organized as a place for worship only and is not a tribe, nation, band, village or clan.

Founding Nene Hutke as a place of worship only was a conscious decision.  The ceremonial ground is designed to attract Native American people, especially Muskogees, but is open to all.  It is free of the political entanglements of tribal government and their sometimes rancorous interactions.  It is free to focus exclusively upon the spiritual well-being of its congregants.  This focus is important to any church, denomination, or religious organization but especially to Nene Hutke which strives to serve both Christian and non-Christian as well as un-churched Native Americans.

Square and the Cross

Native American traditionalists cannot be reached by individuals or religious organizations that denigrate their beliefs.  Further, they cannot be reached by missionaries with a mindset of supplanting their sacred traditions and belief systems.  Traditional Muskogees, for instance, believe the Square Ground was given to them by God as a covenant.  They are not pagan; they are not heathen.  They will not be amenable to those who do not respect and accept as sacred their ancestral ways.  Nene Hutke can reach out to traditionalists as it does not seek to supplant their traditions but to augment them.  This outreach is possible because the Muskogee Way is consistent with Christianity.  More succinctly, Nene Hutke adheres to the traditional way of Muskogee worship but also accepts and affirms Christianity.  Therefore we present a third way.  No longer must native people either be traditional or Christian; they can and should be both.

Nene Hutke teaches and affirms that there is only one God or Supreme Creator known to us in the Muskogee language as Hesaketemese (which means Breath Master) or Ofvnkv (which means The One Above), who sent the Hiyaulgee or Hvlwe-este (which means beings that can transport themselves between the upper world and the middle world or angels), to give unto our ancestors the Square Ground, the Sacred Fire, the Medicines, and the four High Holiday Ceremonies for special worship.  We respect creation as the good gift of the Creator; have reverence for the Sacred Fire, Medicines, and Spirit Beings or Angels of the upper world; but worship only the one Creator God.  Our ancestors believed this was the original covenant God gave to the Muskogee people.

As descendants of Christian mixed bloods, we also affirm that the Square Ground does not violate Christian tenets or beliefs.  The God of the Bible is the God of the Square and the Square Ground is compatible with the Christian Church.  It should be stated here that many Square Grounds did not believe in a trinity.  These Square Grounds, like Judaism, believe in a singular Godhead.  We at Nene Hutke believe we descend from those who maintained that God is not only on high but also manifested himself to the people in physical form and can indwell them as the Holy Spirit.  Granted, our ancestors did not believe that God was three separate persons as the missionaries taught.  The Muskogees who preceded the founders of Nene Hutke did believe, however, that the triune nature of the divine was three separate manifestations of the one and only Creator God.

Demonstrating how the Muskogee Way is truly compatible with the gospels and Christianity can perhaps be accomplished with an understanding of Muskogee purification.  Scriptures constantly affirm that God is holy.  Muskogees believe in this affirmation as well.  This belief is abundantly illustrated by the Muskogee focus upon purification – both spiritual and physical.  In Christian terms, spiritual purification deals with sin – which in Muskogean terms is law-breaking.  This type of purification consists of two things: contrition and the willingness to forgive.

In Muskogean tradition, prior to Green Corn High Holiday each year (which is the Muskogee New Year) there was a court day when individuals who had committed previously un-dealt with public sins (law-breaking) were sentenced and punished.  The acceptance of the punishment demonstrated remorse and contrition and restored the sanctity of the law and the relationship of the law-breaker to God and the community.  This custom indicates that Muskogees understood that there can be no forgiveness without the sin being punished.  Because Christ bears our sins, he bears the punishment for them as well.  The willingness of Muskogees to forgive was often noted by early historians and anthropologists.  Indeed, after the Green Corn Ceremony each year, a past offense was never to be mentioned again.  It is here that Christianity expands and fulfills the Muskogee Way – for it is faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior that is the basis of a holy God’s forgiveness of our sins and law-breaking.  This is where the new covenant expands the Muskogee old covenant and together it paves a way to the Upper World, i.e., Heaven.

The second type of purification is physical, meaning that it is ritual or ceremonial purification.  It is this type of purification that the early missionaries in Indian Country tended to misunderstand or discount.  Historically, the attempt to eliminate these purification protocols from the Muskogee people has been a great impediment to Christianity and has created the reactionary resistance to it that is still on going.  The Muskogee believe ritual and ceremonial purification was part of the old covenant given to them by God.  Thus, for them to abandon it is to disobey the Creator.

So what is ritual purification?  Ritual purification is to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit of the contamination endemic in the world.  In Genesis, after the fall, we recall that God curses the earth for man’s sake.  Acceptance of Christ as Savior does not remove this curse which shall only be done upon His return at the restoration of all things.  Illness, germs, bacteria, fungi, viruses, old age, death, evil spirits, and fallen angels all still exist spreading filth, sickness, disease, negativity, disbelief, confusion, and contamination of all kind.  Therefore, before Muskogees enter a Square Ground, it is protocol to send up their personal prayers, be physically clean by bathing, utilize and be touched by the specially prepared  medicines (or holy waters), and walk through the smudging and incense – all to further purify ones self.  After all, the Muskogees believed that the Creator comes and is present with them during their ceremonies – and they wish to be as purified as possible before going into the presence of the living God of the universe.  This belief  is almost identical to scriptures which state that when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, He will be there also. Forms of physical purification in the Muskogee Way include Prayers, Smudging, Fasting, Baptism (by water), Bathing, Herbal Medicines, Black Drink (a tea made from yaupon), and Separation of the Sexes (until after the ceremony).  This was the Muskogee way of preparing themselves for worship and showing awe and reverence to God almighty, the Creator of everything we know.

Prayer Ribbons blowing in the wind

For those conversant with the Old Testament (or Old Covenant of the Jewish people), the Muskogee focus upon ritual purification should remind one of ancient Judaism.  Indeed, consider that historically Muskogees had cities of refuge, had avengers of blood, had a central place of worship, observed New Moon High Holidays, separated women on their cycle, mandated special attire for the functionaries, practiced levirate marriage, made first fruits and wave offerings, mandated the wearing of head coverings by males during worship, and used a horn to summon the people.  Because of all these rules, many early commentators advanced the theory that Muskogee Creek people – who practiced all these things - were the lost tribe of Israel.  This idea is spurious and without credible evidence.  Since God is God and man is man, it should not be surprising, however, that the ways God gave to the Muskogee people resemble the ways he gave to the ancient Israelites.

Hopefully the preceding has demonstrated that the Muskogee Square Ground is both compatible and consistent with the Cross and Christianity.  Additionally, in many ways the Square Ground resembles the ancient Jewish temple.  But like the temple, it cannot stand without the cornerstone of Christ.  With that cornerstone in place, however, the Square Ground remains a powerful and approvable method of worshiping God.  The Square Ground, the Sacred fire, the Medicines, and the special Holidays are the old covenant of the Creator with the Muskogee people.  Christ is the new covenant.  The old is not replaced by the new.  The new rather fulfills and empowers the old.  Attempts to Christianize traditionalists without accepting the non-severability of their old ways will fail.  It is only by legitimizing and affirming the old ways that un-churched Muskogees (and several other tribes in the Southeast) are likely to be reached.

Thus, the purpose of Nene Hutke is to provide a place of traditional and relevant Muskogee worship that also accepts the new covenant.  This worship is not only compatible with Christian beliefs and tenets but also is conducted in a Christian Square Ground by ceremonial leaders who are professing Christians.  These ceremonial leaders understand that the Square Ground is the revelation of the will of God for the Muskogee people - but in anticipation of its fulfillment by Christ.  They teach that Christ provides the only acceptable means of salvation.  They know that the Square is no longer sufficient without the addition of the salvation by faith in Christ provided to all peoples by the grace of God.  The ceremonial leaders are also able to bridge the gap between the Square and the cross by understanding the truth of both and by knowing how Christianity actually completes the way of the Square. 

The Square in itself, however, can never explain how an absolutely holy God can forgive our incessant moral rebellion against him.  The purification performed at the Square Ground acknowledges the holiness of God.  The mandate to forgive but also to punish law-breaking speaks to the need for both forgiveness and punishment.  It is only by recognizing the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf that an explanation of God’s forgiveness of and punishment of sin can be explained and harmonized.  In short, the substitutionary death of Christ explains the basis of God’s forgiveness of our sin while still punishing the sin.  Substitutionary punishment is a concept well understood by Muskogees because historically one clan member might be willing to bear the punishment for the misdeeds of another clan member.  Christ is thus the clan member for all and can accept our punishment on our behalf.  This is the revelation that our Muskogee ancestors did not have and is the revelation which completes the Square Ground.

Since Nene Hutke is not affiliated with any tribe, nation, band, clan, or village, it can reach out to all.  It can provide a place of relevant and traditional worship.  Therefore, part of the mission of Nene Hutke is to reach out to our native brothers and sisters with the love of Christ via the ministration of the Square Ground.  Our position as ambassadors of Christ is unique for we can provide the traditional way of the Square in a culturally relevant manner and also present the Way, the Truth, and the Light which is in Jesus Christ.  Nene Hutke means the white path – symbolic of the path of peace, purity, and spirit.  It is the path to the Upper World or Heaven.

Though our mission has just begun and our financial needs are great, we are heartened by the number of attendees and the level of enthusiasm at our first few
ceremonies.  The spirituality and good feelings everyone felt was our reward and justification to persevere.  The ceremonial leaders of Nene Hutke are allowing themselves to be led by the spirit and we constantly pray for guidance and direction from God so that we will remain on the path He has set out for us.  Therefore we will continue to teach those who seek, train those who desire, comfort those who are lost, hurting, or anxious, and provide a sacred place of traditional worship of the old and new covenants while adhering to Hebrews 13:2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unaware."

Additional notes: 

Nene Hutke, Inc. is a Muskogee Creek Ceremonial Ground located near Chattahoochee, Fl.  It was founded as a church by a group of visionaries who immediately banded together to build the new Square Ground and Ceremonial Complex.  Effective April 5, 2012, Nene Hutke is a 501(c)(3) organization eligible to receive tax exempt contribution. Our small group accomplished all of the immediate legal requirements, pooled enough money between all of us for our most basic requirements, performed all the physical work ourselves during two very hot summer months, and staged our very first ceremony on September 3, 2011 – just 63 days from the date the decision was made to start a Square Ground.  The membership is now growing.  Our next goal is to build the cabins or open-sided covered arbors – to replace large canopies currently in use - where congregants will sit during ceremonies, extend power lines to the grounds for electricity, and repair a dormant well which is on site - for running water.  We feel God is building a very special place at Nene Hutke and we are honored that He chose us to be the servants for the people in this unique undertaking.

Dale Taylor is a member of Deer lake United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Fl, chairman of the Staff & Parish Relations Committee, member of the Finance and Church Council committees at Deer Lake UMC, a member of the Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM), a committee member of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Association of Native American Ministries (SEJANAN), president of the Leon County Master Gardeners Association, and is the Osempunvye or Speaker of the Square Ground at Nene Hutke Ceremonial Grounds.  Dale is a graduate of the University of South Florida (USF) with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing.

Michael Kendrick, is a former school teacher, an independent business owner in the transportation industry with contracts with Federal Express, the author of Times’ Squared: An Introduction to the Esoterica of the Muskogee (Creek) Square and is currently working on his second book.  Michael is also recording a CD of native music entitled Underground Creek.  Further, Michael is a Christian Lay Speaker, lives in Comer, Georgia, and is the Mekko Heleswv Heles Hayv or Chief of the Grounds at Nene Hutke Ceremonial Grounds.  Michael is a graduate of the University of Georgia with degrees in English, English Education, and Psychology.