Friday, July 31, 2009

Many Helping Spirits - Hopi Katsinas

Sa´lakwmana - Sa´lakwtaqa
A maiden Katsina and
her Brother

Rainmakers From the Gods - Hopi Katsinam

Getting back to the Hopi and their Katsinas, the Katsina represent all manner of different spirits and are represented in dance and in carved dolls. Hopi have practiced Katsina religion at least since A.D.1300 when Pueblo culture Katsina figures start showing up painted on pottery. Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni all practice Katsina rituals.

Representing different aspects of the natural world from rain to watermelon, celestal bodies or animals like deer mouse or crow, katsinas intercede on behalf of the people. Pictured above, Sa'lakwmama is a maiden katsina. Her headdress represents the clouds. She and her brother, Sa'lakwtaqa, dance at midsummer.

Eventually, westerners started collecting katsina dolls as art pieces. The Hopi, who keep much of their sacred traditions secret, create altered versions of their sacred objects to sell as art. Georgia O'Keffee the great American painter who lived in and loved New Mexico painted the katsina doll below.

Kachina - Georgia O'Keffee

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is Monotheism Inherently Intolerant?

Asherah - Hebrew Goddess

Taking my Mom to church these last few weeks I enjoyed revisiting my protestant roots more than I expected too. I found myself wishing I could have that abiding Christian faith but kept bumping into the wall of monotheism. Yes, I can see one God as a universal creative life force but if “he” is “the father” where is the mother? And is there an inherent intolerance toward others built in to monotheism?

This made the interview with Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God posted on particularly fortuitous. (see prior post) Wright’s theory is that Israel was polytheistic for a much longer period than is commonly accepted and that monotheism rose out of Israel’s desire to punish its rivals by denying the existence of their Gods.

Wright sites Israelite King Josiah as a belligerent reformer who consolidated his political power by wiping out other people's Gods. Prior to King Josiah, Yahweh’s female counterpart Asherah also had a place at the temple in Jerusalem.

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez

Link to: Interview with Robert Wright on
Link to: The Suppression of Ancient Truths by David Larsen

Friday, July 24, 2009

God Is Back

Three New Books About God

A few years ago books by atheists were popular but tonight God is Back at least that is the title of tonight's program on To the Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio, broadcast locally on Seattle's NPR station KUOW and also available as a podcast. Through interviews with the creators of three new books and a documentary film, God, morality and the religious instinct are the evidence of God's return to the contemporary bookshelf.

NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty wrote the book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality about her own spiritual exploration of religious experience through the eyes of science. Could spiritual experience be explained by brain chemistry? While her discoveries remain inconclusive, through her interviews with mystics, scientists and people who have experienced mystical and near death experiences she finds that science may conflict with divine intervention but could reasonably support the presence of an infinite intelligence.

In God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World by Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait, Wooldridge tells about finding burgeoning religious movements in a variety of contexts. For example how in China, Christianity is growing among young professional scientists who after years of religious suppression equate fundamental Christianity with success and modernism.

A Documentary Film

Film-maker Gini Reticker’s documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell records how a group of Christian and Muslim women overcame their distrust of each other to use prayer, singing and non-violent direct action to bring an end to the brutal civil war in Liberia, end the reign of the vicious dictator Charles Taylor and elect Africa’s first female president.

Finally, Robert Wright talks about his new book The Evolution of God describing the political context of the rise of monotheism. According to Wright monotheism was born of the politics of desperation, humiliation and a desire for retribution. Monotheism redeems itself through its movement toward moral truth but can still be seen to retain intolerance in the insecure.

Interview with Robert Wright
CD copies of the program are available at 1-800-747-7444.
Ask for program number 09-07-19-A. Show Title: God is Back

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kachina Dance

Hopi Kachina Dance, watercolor, 1921
The black-and-white figures are Kosharis, or Hopi clowns.
Philbrook Museum of Art

Disruption and reorganization followed the collapse of Chaco Canyon culture until eventually the people of the Southwest settled into the tribal affinities that we know today. Katsinas (or Kachinas) remain an important part of their spiritual lives. The Katsinas represent mostly benevolent spirits who, in somewhat human form, intercede between the people and the deities who bring rain and all the rest of life’s blessings. Katsinas are impersonated during seasonal celebrations where they perform dances and are fed sacred corn with the understanding that they will relay to the Gods the worthiness of the people to receive continued blessings.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

People, Prayer & Climate Change

Mythical Corn Ceremony
Ignacio Moquino (Zia Pueblo) 1938

After exploring the Anasazi I am left thinking about the relationship of human beings to the Earth and to climate change. Certainly the weather affects us. And, we know that today we humans are affecting the climate, not in a good way, by our carbon footprints. But, can we also affect climate with prayer, and through art?

A while ago I was reading about the Puritans. They took personal responsibility for storms at sea and harsh winters by blaming the weather on even their most private sinful thoughts. This seemed like neurotic self-absorption to me. Would they have been relieved to understand that everything was not about them? Or, did blaming the weather on their own sins give them some feeling of control over the dramatic circumstances they encountered?

Did the Anasazi priests lose credibility when their climate rituals failed to produce rain or did the rain actually abandon them because of something they did? Were they out of harmony? Had they possibly altered their landscape to the extent that it did in fact cause persistent drought? One way or another the great houses of the Anasazi lost the critical mass needed to hold together as the center of society for the San Juan Basin and its people. The people dispersed and survived by living simpler lives. Is there a lesson here for us?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance

Hopi Katsina Ewoto
Chief of Katsinas Controls the Seasons

The Hopi word Koyaanisqatsi means, “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.”

It seems likely this is what happened to the Anasazi. After a millennium in the social, political and spiritual center of the entire San Juan Basin the great houses of Chaco Canyon were abandoned. No one knows what really happened but consider what we do know.

First, sophisticated architectural plans that took generations to construct in consistent precision alignment to the cardinal directions and seasonal rotations of the sun would have required both a high level of oversight and a large labor force. The great houses served as ceremonial centers to the entire region making it likely that a priestly class oversaw building construction, food production and seasonal rituals.

Then, a high arid desert culture dependent on agriculture was also dependent on rainfall and mountain snow. If the seasonal rituals were performed to induce rain for a century they worked. Then, around 1100 AD. A period of drought set in. Within fifty years the whole system collapsed, the great houses were abandoned and the people dispersed.

Undoubtedly drought would have caused the people to be discouraged and hungry. Did some form of human activity effect climate change? When the rituals performed to induce rain failed did the priests lose credibility and power? Did a state of Koyaanisqatsi cause the people to seek simpler lifestyles of greater harmony? It would seem so to me.

Earthenware Seed Jar, Anasazi Culture, 1100-1300 CE.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon

Anasazi Cliff Dwelling - Photo: Peter Kunasz

For about a thousand years and before Europeans ever set foot in North America the people who were the hunter gatherers of the American Southwest built an elaborate and sophisticated centralized society in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Actively trading with their neighbors to the south, the Toltec and Myan, they started growing corn, beans and squash. As they shifted to agriculture they were able to settle and they built elaborate structures out of clay masonry. These buildings are precisely aligned to the four directions, aligned to the sun in ways that mark the solstices and equinoxes. We call these people the Anasazi. In Hopi Anasazi means “ancestors”, in Navajo, “ancient enemy”.

Underground rooms entered from above through a hole at the top are called kivas. The kivas were lined with benches and appear to have been used for ceremonial purposes. Flutes, body paint, crystals, turquoise, stone pipes and effigies are among the items found in kivas. The great kiva at Casa Rinconada could accommodate hundreds of people and it is believed that people traveled from the surrounding areas to visit the great kivas at certain times for ceremonies that marked the changing seasons.

Anasazi Frog Fetish - Turquoise and Jet
Pre-Columbian Jade

According to Dr. Shelley Valdez, a member of the Pueblo Laguna Tribe, the cardinal directions, "connect people, the seasons, the Sun and Moon's patterns, time, nature, the environment, the cosmos, and ceremonial systems. Observance of the cardinal directions and the Sun essentially ensured life by knowing when it was time to plant, harvest, and hunt for example."

Interactive exhibit - Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Link to: Traditions of the Sun

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Unexpected Source

Please bear with me as I momentarily leap ahead to Christianity and today’s service at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

I took my Mom to church this morning. The sermon was on the parable, The Good Samaritan. In the story a man is traveling on the Jericho Road, this is a dangerous road. Bandits beat and rob the man stealing even his clothes and leaving him to die on the side of the road. A Priest on the road passes him by not wanting to violate any priestly taboos by touching someone dirty before performing his priestly duties. A Levite also passes the man by. It was the unlikely person, a Samaritan, who stopped to give aid and rescue this unfortunate traveler.

The minister asked us to think of Jesus as the unexpected source. As a Pagan, a Buddhist, and a feminist who believes in evolution, Jesus would be an unexpected source for me. However, I am in no position to quibble. Prayer is about survival. The shamanic hunters made prayers for meat. The Ancient Maize growers prayed for a good harvest. As a 21st century would-be artist working part-time for a non-profit I am in serious need of some livelihood restructuring. I need money. It sounds so completely crass, so vulgar. Maybe that is my hang-up. More out of pride than faith I just put my last five dollars in the collection plate. Payday is not until Wednesday. Jesus?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blue Corn Muffins

Blue Corn, Photo: One Perfect Bite

Blue Corn Muffins

“The Native Americans of the Southwest call blue corn Hopi corn and it has spiritual importance to them. It represents the rising sun and the beginning of life, wisdom and understanding. Blue cornmeal comes from the dried blue kernels of corn grown on plateaus and mesas in New Mexico and Arizona.”
from: One Perfect Bite

Blue Corn Muffins...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
3/4 cup blue cornmeal (can substitute yellow)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1) Adjust a rack to middle-third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Grease a 6 slot muffin pan with non-stick vegetable spray. Set aside.
2) Melt butter in a small saucepan; add onions and garlic and cook until soft. Set aside to cool.
3) In a large mixing bowl, combine milk, eggs, bell pepper, jalapeno, corn and cilantro. Whisk in butter mixture. Set aside.
4)In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar. Whisk to combine. Mix into the liquid mixture.
5) Divide batter evenly among the 6 muffins slots and bake for 16 minutes or until set, turning pan once for even baking. Yield: 6 muffins

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sacred Corn Used by Navajo Code Talker

Unidentified American Indian Marine uses a “Walky-Talky”
to send communications
in the South Pacific, November 1943

During World War II Navajo "Code-Talkers" developed a special code based on their native language. The code talkers served with bravery and distinction and were critical to the success of American forces. In an interview with the National Museum of the American Indian Navajo Code Talker Sam Tso who fought at Iwo Jima spoke of praying with corn.

"Before we hit the beach, the uh, officer on that ship he tell us to pray in your own belief. Me I just took out my corn powder as I was told by our medicine man and then pray. So, I think some of the kids join me to pray."

Sam Tso, Navajo Code Talker:
National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004

Learn more about Sam Tso at:
The Sad Red Earth

Grain of the Gods

gelatin silver print, 1897,
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

One thing ice age hunting magic and later agricultural fertility rituals have in common is the central importance of food. Hunters relied on the shaman’s uncanny perception to secure a successful hunt. In the corn grower’s world the grain itself is considered sacred.

Corn as we know it today was slowly domesticated in the Valley of Mexico between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. The name of its wild ancestral variety, teosinte, literally means “grain of the Gods”. As corn became domesticated it lost its ability to survive as a wild plant but also became a more palatable and a more valuable food source. From a tiny ear a few inches long with only a few kernels encased in hard shells it was selected over time to produce the plump juicy ears of corn we know today. 1

Corn remains influential in the spiritual traditions of the American Southwest. The Hopi prepare prayer-meal called Hooma from coarsely ground white maize. It is rubbed on the hands before handling sacred objects and is sprinkled on altars and shrines. The substance is considered sacred and is used for purification and as a vehicle to carry spiritual intentions. 2

1. Nicolle Ranger Fuller, National Science Foundation
2. Hopi Indian Altar Iconography by Armin W. Geertz

Teisinte - Modern Corn

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

John Trudell - Spirit Healer

John Trudell
“He is extremely eloquent therefore extremely dangerous.”
- The F.B.I.

My own financial insecurity coupled with the employment suggestions of my dentist’s assistant had me so depressed I could barely breathe. Then I started listening to John Trudell. Trudell is a Native American activist, poet and visionary. First, I watched the documentary film, Trudell by Heather Rae. Trudell was a spokesperson for the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. He has since become a visionary spoken-word artist greatly admired by the likes of Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Redford.

Then, I downloaded Trudell’s spoken-word chant song, Shaman (Make a Chant) on the album AKA Graffiti Man. It is available from itunes. I have been listening to it repeatedly. I feel much better now. I do not know if this is shamanic healing but my spirit was feeling crushed and John Trudell gave it a life force transfusion.

“Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
Healing in a song a song a song
Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
See who you are you are you are
Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
Listen to your heart your heart your heart.”

A short excerpt from
Shaman (Make a Chant)
on the album
AKA Graffiti Man.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Second American Religion

Centeotl - Aztec Corn God

The first American religion was the shamanic hunting magic brought from the north by the ice age hunters. The second American religion came up from the valley of Mexico to the south. This younger spiritual tradition was an agricultural religion based on the cultivation of maize. Unlike the the hunting and gathering band's reliance on one or two shaman to interpret the spirit world the agriculturalists developed priesthoods and cults. Theirs was a ceremonial religion based on the fertility of the land. These two forms of religious expression intermingled for centuries among the tribes that populated the North American continent. Remnants of both survive in numerous variations throughout Native North American spiritual traditions.

reference: Atlas of the North American Indian by Carl Waldman

Blue Corn Maiden (Pueblo) by Gilbert Atencio

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Tuva Connection

Tuva: Shamans and Spirit

Presented by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies

Violently repressed for almost 50 years during the Soviet era, shamanism is experiencing an enthusiastic revival in the Russian region of Tuva, (between Mongolia and Siberia). This currant revival may be the closest contemporary example of America’s earliest religion or for that matter humankind’s most ancient spiritual practice. Photographer, Yann Mingard describes Tuvan shamanism… “According to the shamanic worldview, the world is divided into two realms, the real and the invisible, the latter being a projection of the real world inhabited by spirits whose actions influence the life of humans. Shamans are believed to have the power to see the invisible world and communicate with spirits. Some work in 'shamanic clinics' and have clients from all over the world. Other shamans prefer to live surrounded by nature, which they worship over all other things, working alone and receiving clients in their home, according to ancient traditions.”

Tuva Shaman Healing Ritual
Yann Mingard for Time

Meanwhile back in the USA, I ordered Sandra Ingerman’s audio book, Beginner’s Guide to Shamanic Journeying from Sounds True. Ingerman is the educational director for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and teaches about Shamanism throughout the world. On the Beginner’s Guide she gives an overview and then introduces the listener to the technique of “journeying” or entering non-ordinary reality to solve problems and contact spirit helpers.

Laying on my bed listening to it I began to drift in and out of dream states when I had a surprising… dream? vision? that woke me with a little jolt. I was riding a winged horse through a night sky filled with stars and planets… I was surprised. I’ve been asking to find my spirit animal. I was thinking maybe a frog would hop into my consciousness but my fleeting vision seemed like something out of Narnia or Harry Potter. A Pegasus? My first reaction was, “oh no”. It was too much like the little girl’s toy, my little pony.” But Ingerman says not to dismiss anything that comes. So I haven’t. Pegasus carried thunderbolts for Zeus. The Tibetan version of a flying horse, the Windhorse represents power swift as the wind. Now, I find myself whispering to my Spirit Pony. Thumbing through a catalog at work I found this poster by the Cree Artist George Littlechild. It captures the feeling of my dream vision.

Look Back to the Land by George Littlechild
Poster available from Native Northwest