Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hopewell Shamanism

American Indian Life Early Woodland Period - Susan A. Walton
Ohio Historical Society

Artifacts left by the Hopewell Mound builders depicting the transformation of humans into animals and the reverse indicate a form of shamanic religion where the wearer or holder of the object becomes imbued with the qualities of the animal depicted. Animal images of birds, wolves, bears and deer were common. Carved tubular pipes indicate offerings of smoke to the spirits and probable use of hallucinogenic substances used to alter consciousness.

Hopewell Pipe Bird Effigy - Carved Catlinite

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Did They Believe?

Field Museum of Natural History - Hopewell Hand, Mica

Ancestors of the Algonquins, Iroquois and Cherokees the Hopewell Moundbuilders and their predecessors the Adena occupied the river valleys of central North America from 200 BC to 1000 AD. Their impressive burial mounds and lavish grave goods show us not only that they traded extensively but that they had an elite ruling class and sophisticated culture. Delicate musical instruments, effigy pipes, copper and silver jewelery, pearl covered blankets and ornate headdresses are just a few of the articles found buried among their elite.

With evidence of temples, possible sacrifice, and feasting we can only wonder what they actually believed. Like the Anazazi their structures show evidence of a keen and exact
knowledge of celestial events and seasonal markers. They were hunters and gatherers who developed cultivated crops and a highly stratified society. Whatever their actual beliefs, it is clear that they had a powerful ruling class, highly developed understanding of math and astronomy, exquisite craftsmanship and a rich ceremonial life.

Hopewell Jewelry - Natural Pearls, Shell, Copper alloy, Obsidian

Southern Ohio, 200 B.C. - A.D. 500

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hopewell Culture and the Serpent Mound

Before we move forward in time this history would be negligent if it did not acknowledge the Hopewell culture that thrived in the woodlands around Ohio. Here is another impressive social and ceremonial phenomenon. It thrived between 200 BC and 500 CE. The Hopewell culture united a network of trade with other groups from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. Known as “mound builders” the Hopewell culture is identified by construction of enclosures made of earthen walls, often built in geometric patterns and mounds. Perhaps the most impressive is the Serpent Mound.

The undulating serpent winds back and forth for more than eight hundred feet ending with a triple-coiled tail. The neck of the serpent is stretched out ending with a wide-open mouth surrounding a 120-foot-long hollow oval feature thought to be an egg. This oval-to-head area of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset. The Serpent Mound's coils are aligned to winter and summer solstices and spring and Autumnal equinoxes.

The Serpent Mound, Ohio

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tsagaglalal - She Who Watches

Ancient Petroglyph on the Columbia River – Edward Curtis - 1910

While the Pueblo tribes of the prehistoric Southwest experienced their sweeping epoch (see prior posts) they were not alone on the continent. This ancient petroglyph with watching eyes is located on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River. The same pattern is recognizable in round twined bags of the Wasco/Wishram on the Columbia Plateau.

The legend of Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches” begins before Coyote came up the river and changed things. At that time a woman lived in a great house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of the entire region. Then Coyote came up the river and warned her, “Soon the World will change”. Then he turned her into a rock. He said, “You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here.”

Beaded Bag - Yakima - 1930-35
Yakima Valley Museum, Yakima Washington

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Traveling to the Plateau

Beaded Moccasins - Yakima 1920
Yakima Valley Museum - Song of the Creator

This week I am distracted with plans for a family road trip to eastern Washington for my nephew's wedding. Heading to that desert country on the Columbia river reminds me of one of my favorite exhibits at the Museum of Art WSU where I worked while earning my MFA. The show was called A Song to the Creator: Traditional Arts of Native Women of the Plateau and featured historic as well as contemporary work by Native Women from the region. Contemporary native women artists came and gave demonstrations. I spoke with one of the beadwork artists, she told me, "Everything I make is a prayer". It made me feel wistfully as if I'd been born into the wrong culture. I want to look more deeply into spiritual expression through art in native cultures but for now will leave you with these moccasins and a Yakima color guide.

Red means East, where the sun rises, brings wisdom
Yellow means South, sun shines all the time, where the sun lives
Black means West, where darkness and death live, where the sun sleeps
White means North, where snow is all the time; winter, white and cold
Blue means Sky, where the great spirit lives
Brown means Earth
Green means green things grow on the earth.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Restoring Hózhó

The Navajo word, "hózhó" means beauty, balance, harmony, or holiness. Navajo healers are called "Hatałii" or "Singers" and have been taught traditional methods to restore cosmic balance. Hatałii restore balance, beauty and holiness by creating sand paintings. They may use yellow ocher, pollen, red sandstone, charcoal, white gypsum, corn meal and crushed flower petals.

Navajo sand paintings are called, "The place where the Gods come and go". Sitting on the sand painting while the Singer chants a corresponding song helps the person in need of healing absorb power from the spirits who will absorb the illness. Once the sand painting has been used in a healing ceremony it contains the illness and must be destroyed. For some ceremonies a new sand painting is made each day for a number of days.

Like the Katsina dolls, the sand painting is sacred and can not be produced commercially as art but alternative designs with purposeful mistakes are created for sale as contemporary works of art.