Saturday, June 26, 2021

Point Reyes, Farallon Islands, and Mt. St. Helena, California: Spirit Paths and Sacred Places



Kehoe Beach, Point Reyes, https://commons.wikimedia.org, NPS Natural Resources--Debra Miller


Standing on the rugged cliffs at Point Reyes, California at sunset, you may catch the brief and legendary green flash of the sun as it sinks below the distant horizon. A line of sea foam laces away from the point across the top of the waters, illuminated in the sunset’s fire. A green light may slowly wrap itself around you there. 


The spirits of Miwok dead, Indigenous to these Northern California places, wait there for the moonlight's shining path across the waters. They leave the land at Point Reyes, fly out over the ocean toward Coyote’s home at the distant Farallon Islands. “The Miwok people believed that the dead walked into the afterlife along a path of light thrown by the moon onto water.”1



Coyote and the Miwok path of the dead


You are waiting there with them, standing on the left ear of Coyote. He is here, too. So is Hummingbird, who is whispering to you in the wind.


The earth is sacred, and so are her places. These are very sacred places, Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands. And they are intimately connected with each other and to the Ohlone's West Berkeley Shellmound, also very sacred.


Point Reyes has been a sacred place to the Coast Miwok for thousands of years. There are hundreds of Miwok sites there. Memories of the past are woven into the landscape.


Greg Sarris, chairman of Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who are Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo, has also said, “Everything is sacred for us.”2 Vine Deloria, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux, made the distinction that the sacred nature of places is but a specific (and experiential) instance and different expression of the sacredness of land within tribal traditions.3


Tomales Point at Point Reyes participates in an ancient mortuary complex and contains pathways for the spirits of the dead. It contains man-made mounds, megaliths, a celestial calendar, and buried circles.4


It is also an immense geomorphic theophany, the presence of great spirit beings in and as places there. Well-known and colossal examples of geomorphic theophany, spirit in and as place, would be Mother Earth and Turtle Island.


The left side of the body of Coyote, the Creator and Trickster God, extends, from his nose at the Golden Gate, north up the Pacific Coast to his tail's end, and then inland, to Lake County. Coyote’s forepaw rests at San Pablo Bay. His eye is Bolinas, his ear is Point Reyes. 


The Coast Miwok share Coyote’s presence and expanse with their neighboring cousins, the Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay Area, who also know Coyote lives here.5


The right side of Coyote is “off the coast where the sun sets,”6 at the Farallon Islands.


Both Miwok and Ohlone dead migrate to the Farallon Islands, their Islands of the Dead and Coyote’s home, where the sun goes down.



Miwok and Ohlone migration paths of the spirits of the dead. Source: Google Earth


Hummingbird, a messenger who brought fire to the Miwoks,7 is also alive at Point Reyes, perhaps now whispering in Coyote’s ear, too. Hummingbird Coast, kalupi-tamal, is the elongated Tomales Point,8 the beak of Hummingbird, where the paths of the dead and living cross.


The dead travel on a “cloud path”9 over land from Mt. St. Helena and elsewhere, to get to this destination; they travel on an úte-mugu, dead people’s road.10


In many Indigenous traditions, spirits are known to travel in a straight line, from point to point. The Miwok and Ohlone can learn the route of the úte-mugu before they die, be guided along the way, or have it mapped and managed for them, so they are not lost. 


Across the width of Tomales Point are two straight pathways of granitic rock slabs, with a space between them. They are bisected at the ridge line by Tomales Point Trail, with one end pointing to the northeast, and the other to the southwest. There are different estimates of the divergent angle of the shorter line, from 6 to 10 degrees. The two lines total about 846 feet long, end to end. 



Granite lines are crossed by Tomales Point Trail. Source: Google Earth


While a research project about the site admits, “An oral tradition says that it was built during prehistoric times by the Coast Miwok,” researchers concluded, “historical and circumstantial evidence associates it with nearby ranches.”11


However, the lines are older than most local American settlement. “The rock line is man-made and appears on an 1862 Coast Survey map.”12 It was noted to be on an 1854 survey map13 and acknowledged by historians that it “may have been constructed by ‘paleo-Indians.’”14 Janes reported, “the stone metrics data set [from Wing, et als., 2015] reveals several features that do not suggest a wall or property line.”15


They were built with care and walked by ancestors of Coast Miwok. The rock paths function much like airport runways for the spirit world.  


The northeastern path plots a straight line to Mt. St. Helena, a sacred place and a portal for the dead, from where the spirits of the dead can depart on their journey to the other world.


The dead could be met on Mt. St. Helena, perhaps elsewhere, by dead relatives come to meet them. 


Miwok James Knight narrated stories about the journey to the Land of the Dead:


A brother grieves over the death of his sister, watches at her grave until she rises on the fourth night, and follows her to the top of Mount St. Helena, where her dead relatives greet her and accompany her to the Land of the Dead in the middle of the lake (or ocean). Her brother slips past the chief . . . but is forced to go back, following a brief visit. He returns . . . after stopping again on Mount St. Helena, becoming a powerful person.16


The western path on Tomales Point is aimed southwest toward the Spirit Jumping-Off Rock, where the dead are directed down into the ocean. The Spirit Jumping-Off Rock was described by medicine man Tom Smith: “A place of rock about 2 feet long marks the spot where the dead jump into the ocean. They go down there. There is a road back of the breakers.”17 


Sighting toward Point Reyes, the spirits follow a straight line behind the breaking surf along Point Reyes Beach. The road leads past lands end at Point Reyes, where a trail of milky foam then leads them to the Farallons. Thalman wrote, “the dead followed a line of foam from Point Reyes, out to the Creator.”18 


The path to the Land of the Dead can apparently be two way, with some spirits going and returning.


When a person dies his Wal'-le or Ghost goes to Hel'-wah the West, crossing the great ocean to Oo-tā-yo’-me, the Village of the Dead. In making this long journey it follows hinnan mooka, the path of the Wind. Sometimes Ghosts come back and dance in the roundhouse; sometimes people hear them dancing inside but never see them.19


The Coast Miwok present when Sir Francis Drake arrived in 1579 in what is now regarded as Drake's Bay at Point Reyes may have thought Drake and his company were returned dead and treated them ritually: 


Kroeber, Heizer, and others have suggested that the Tamal perceived the English as returned spirits or ghosts of dead ancestors . . . Kroeber wrote . . . "The simplest explanation is that the Indians regarded the whites as the returned dead."20  


Heizer also suggested this was partially due to the "Tamal association of Point Reyes with the realm of the dead."21


The rock lines are surrounded by an area with other stones and mounds, where Janes observed celestial markers and constellar mapping. In particular, he noted the pattern of the constellation known as Cassiopeia and its adjacent stars.22 


Ground figure of Cassiopeia. Source: MIAMO Archaeology, http://www.ancientlines.com/tomales-point/



Sky map of constellation Cassiopeia. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org


In geomorphic theophanies, ground figures on the earth are often direct or mirror images of the spirit beings in the night sky, copying the pattern of stars seen in the constellation or mirroring them. 


The coordination between earth and sky was believed among the Lakota Sioux to provide for a connection and an energetic exchange with the constellations.23 This is very likely true for the ground figure at Tomales Point among the Miwok.


Mt. St. Helena has five peaks arranged in an M pattern.24 The M pattern of the five peaks represents this same constellation. 



A topographic map of Mt. St. Helena, with red circles at peaks. 

Source:  https://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=1182


Mt. St. Helena was known as chitch’-ahpiɁs, evidently “obsidian-blade mountain,"25 and also as omótok lúpu, "big rock."26 The mountain was a source of obsidian for the Coast Miwok and other tribes. 


There is a Coast Miwok legend that Coyote arranged the killing of Mt. St. Helena through the killing of Obsidian Old Man, by Coyote’s grandsons, the Elk brothers.27 Ironically, the tule elk walk Tomales Point and the ground figure there now.


Many cosmologies around the world regard this constellation as a female, a mother goddess from whose breasts the "milk" of the Milky Way appears to flow. Schedar, one of its stars, means "breast" in Arabic.28 


The Milky Way is a known path of the dead in many Native American cultures.29 


Cassiopeia is a circumpolar constellation, visible in most of the Northern Hemisphere year round,30 so visible to those standing at Tomales Point on a clear night.


At lands end at Point Reyes, with the moonlight on the foam and the Milky Way overhead, the path was clear. The Coast Miwok dead had an ocean of stars beneath their feet and an ocean of stars above them.


There are also indications that the Coast Miwok were separated from traditional territories—now in Napa County—in the past,31 and thus also separated from Mt. St. Helena. The “death” of the mountain in their cosmology may have recorded historical events where the Miwok moved away and surrendered access. 


The 6-to-10-degree difference in angle of the eastern rock line on Tomales Point may reflect another separation--Tomales Point is on the western side of the San Andreas fault line, on the Pacific Plate, which is slipping slowly northwest like the bow of a ship. The Farallons are also on the Pacific Plate, moving northwest as well. That slippage would change the angle of the path from Mt. St. Helena to Tomales Point over a long period of time. It is possible that the two lines were originally one, joined without an angle. In order to correct the path for the spirits, the eastern line could subsequently have been moved.


Like the Ohlone West Berkeley/Farallon Islands mortuary complex, the details of the Point Reyes/Farallon Islands mortuary complex hold great depths of traditional knowledge and understanding of their world.


They must be protected for future generations.


Point Reyes, West Berkeley Shellmound, and the Farallon Islands are all presently threatened with damage and destruction.


The Farallons are facing a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a 1.5 ton poison drop to kill rodents that can cause irreparable harm to marine sanctuary areas, affecting fish, birds, and other wildlife. Many more California tribes, beyond the Ohlone and Coast Miwok, will be affected by the proposed poison drop at the Farallon Islands as the rodenticide will migrate into food chains up and down the coast.


Point Reyes is facing continued archaeological site degradation and environmental damage from commercial grazing leases. The restored tule elk population there are facing extermination. The National Park Service has not followed through on their  2008 nomination of an Indigenous Archaeological District there to the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, in 2013, they nominated the Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District, which was approved. In 2015, they withdrew the Indigenous Archaeological District and replaced it with an Historic Dairy Ranching District, also approved.


The West Berkeley Shellmound was declared a historic landmark by the City of Berkeley in 2000. It is currently slated for destruction by excavation and construction of a commercial and residential building, following a court decision in favor of developers. In 2020, the National Trust for Historic Preservation nominated the site as one of the most endangered historic places in the U.S. on their annual list.


Consultation with tribes is required at the state and federal levels with the government agencies involved, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the California Coastal Commission. It should take place with all tribes impacted by their actions.


Our Mother Earth is incalculably old. These sacred American places are thousands upon thousands of years old, peers to places like Stonehenge, reminders of ancient Amaruka. They are all worthy of respect and preservation.



Endnotes:

1. Greg Sarris, in Brennan 2015, 205-214.

2. Kimmey 2014.

3. Deloria 1998, 251.

4. MIAMO Archaeology

5. http://www.sacredamerica.org/2018/04/dancing-on-edge-of-pacific.html

6. Tom Smith, in Collier and Thalman 2003, 432-433.

7. Kelly 1978, 30-31.

8. Merriam 1920.

9. Maria Copa, in Collier and Thalman 2003, 450. 

10. Tom Smith, in Collier and Thalman 2003, 453.

11. Wing, Iida, and Wearing 2015, Abstract.

12. DeRooy and Livingston 2008, 12.

13. Kimmey 2014.

14. Janes, citing Gardner 2007.

15. Janes, citing Wing, et als., 2015.

16. Callaghan 2000, 335.

17. Tom Smith, in Collier and Thalman 2003, 450.

18. 2006.

19. Merriam 1910, 217, in Russell 2011, 53.

20. Russell 2011, 59-60.

21. Ibid., 60. 

22. Janes, n.d.

23. Goodman 1992, 17.

24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Saint_Helena

25. Collier and Thalman 2003, 6.

26. Kelly 1978, 32.

27. Ibid., 32-33.

28. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_Cassiopeiae

29. Gibbon 1972, 237. 

30. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumpolar_constellation

31. Johnson 2006.



Find out more: 


http://www.sacredamerica.org/2018/04/dancing-on-edge-of-pacific.html

https://shellmound.org

http://poisonfreesanctuary.org

https://pacificsun.com/tamal-huye-coast-miwoks-fight-for-recognition-of-poing-reyes-indigenous-history/



References


Brennan, Summer. 2015. The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America. Berkeley, California: Counterpoint. 


Callaghan, Catherine, introduction, and James Knight, narrator. “The Dead People’s Home.” In Luthin, Herbert W., ed. 2000. Surviving through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. Accessed June 19, 2021. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt1r29q2ct/


Collier, Mary E. T., and Sylvia B. Thalman, comps. and eds. 2003. Interviews with Tom Smith & Maria Copa: Isabel Kelly’s Ethnographic Notes on the Coast Miwok Indians of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties, California. San Rafael, California: Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin.


Deloria, Jr., Vine. 1998. “Comfortable Fictions and the Struggle for Turf: An Essay Review of The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies.” In Mihesuah, Devon A., ed., 1998. Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians. Lincoln, Nebraska: Univ. of Nebraska Press.


DeRooy, Carola, and Dewey Livingston. 2008. Images of America, Point Reyes Peninsula: Olema, Point Reyes Station, and Inverness. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.


Gardner, Gavin. 2007. A Cultural Resources Study of the Spirit Jumping Off Rocks Site, Point Reyes National Seashore California. Rohnert Park, California: Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University.


Gibbon, William B. "Asiatic Parallels in North American Star Lore: Milky Way, Pleiades, Orion." The Journal of American Folklore 85, no. 337 (1972): 236-47. Accessed June 26, 2021. https://www.jstor.org/stable/539498


Goodman, Ronald. 1992. Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology. Mission, South Dakota: Sinte Gleska University.


Janes, Stephen D. “A New Hypothesis for the Origin and Function of the Stone Lines Known as the Spirit Jumping-Off Rocks, Tomales Point, Marin County, California.” MIAMO Archaeology. Accessed June 19, 2021. http://www.ancientlines.com/tomales-point/


Johnson, John R. 2006. “On the Ethnolinguistic Identity of the Napa Tribe: The Implications of Chief Constancio Occaye’s Narratives as Recorded by Lorenzo G. Yates.” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 26, no. 2: 193-204: 2. Accessed June 23, 2021. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3k52g07t


Kelly, Isabel. 1978. “Some Coast Miwok Tales.” The Journal of California Anthropology 5, no. 1: 21-41. Accessed June 21, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25748366


Kimmey, Samantha. 2014. “Mystery Rocks Draw Scholarly Investigation.” Point Reyes Light. July 24. Accessed June 21, 2021. https://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/mystery-rocks-draw-scholarly-investigation


Merriam, C. Hart. 1920. “Indian Names in the Tamalpais Region,” Mill Valley Record, 21, no. 52: 1. 28 February. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=MVR19200228.2.36.4&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1


MIAMO Archaeology. “Tomales Mounds a Message from Alpha Centari.” Accessed June 24, 2021. http://www.ancientlines.com/tomales-point/


Russell, Matthew Alan. 2011. Encounters at tamál-húye: An Archaeology of Intercultural Engagement in Sixteenth-Century Northern California. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley.  https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/etd/ucb/text/Russell_berkeley_0028E_11555.pdf


Thalman, Sylvia B. 2006. “The Marshall Coast Miwok Cemetery.” Rancho Bodega Historical Society. Bodega Bay, California. Accessed June 19, 2021. http://www.ranchobodega.org/Miwok_Cemetery.pdf


Wing, Michael R., Kate Iida, and Emily Wearing. 2015. “Stone-by-Stone Metrics Shed New Light on a Unique Stone Alignment at the Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, Alta California.” Accessed June 19, 2021. California Archaeology 7, no. 2, 245-264. https://    doi.org/10.1080/1947461X.2015.1108565


Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Lakota, the Black Hills, Bear Butte, and Bear's Lodge



View from Harney Peak, South Dakota, by Trevor Harmon, 2006. Posted by Vocaro at the English language Wikipedia, CC.


The Black Hills, Bear Butte, and Bear's Lodge offer one of the best illustrations of the convergences of lifeways and sacred lands and places across North America. The Paha Sapa/Black Hills, together with the outlying Mato Paha/Bear Butte and Mato Tipila/Bear's Lodge (Devils Tower) are strongly linked together in Lakota lifeways and so are considered here as a whole because of that linkage. They also face contemporary threats of destruction and desecration, and they have emerged as high profile battlegrounds in the Native activist movement for sacred lands and places. 

The nature of the sacred there is profoundly complex and interwoven with the lifeways of many of the plains tribes.

These sites have also been well documented recently through the battles to defend them. Development and noise have moved closer to Mato Paha/Bear Butte; it also became an issue because of the Sturgis bikers rally. Rock climbers and Native activists have struggled over access to Mato Tipila/Devils Tower; rock climbing interferes with Lakota Sun Dance ceremonies performed there in June. The Black Hills have long been the target for development, resource extraction, and commercial exploitation, including tourism.

According to Albers, "[M]uch of the land area that makes up the Black Hills and its outlier formations is under the jurisdiction of federal or state agencies" (2003, xiii). Bear Butte includes a National Wildlife refuge. The Black Hills include Mt. Rushmore National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. Devils Tower is a National Monument.

Physically, the Black Hills are a mountainous oasis, surrounded by prairie flatlands. They straddle the state lines of South Dakota and Wyoming. The area is 65 miles by 125 miles, roughly 8,125 square miles. The two outliers mentioned are outside the national forest perimeter; Devils Tower is 60 miles to the northwest, and Bear Butte is a shorter distance to the northeast.


Google Earth

The Black Hills were known and meaningful to the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ponca, Omaha, Arikara, Mandan, and Lakota Sioux.

They are especially revered by the Lakota, the Kiowa, and the Cheyenne. The Cheyenne culture hero and his female companion received the sacred arrows on Bear Butte. Lakota creation and emergence, and the stories told about them, took place there. Other stories were located there as well. Charlotte Black Elk (Lakota) told the story of a race between the "four legged and the moving and growing things" and the two legged to decide who would destroy the other, buffalo or human. The race was around the Black Hills, and it was won for the humans by Magpie. The blood shed in the running of the race colored the clay track around the hills; the shaking of the Earth caused the Land to rise in places (quoted in Goodman 1992, 44-45). The red clay race track still exists, and races are still run there by the Lakota.


Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=615805

The Lakota refer to the Paha Sapa, Mato Tipila, and Mato Paha as the Heart of Everything That Is. David Blue Thunder (Lakota) said, "The Black Hills is the home of our heart, and the heart of our home" (14). Chief Arvol Looking Horse described the Black Hills, 
Our ancestors never saw a satellite view of this site, but now that those pictures are available, we see that it is in the shape of a heart and, when fast-forwarded, it looks like a heart pumping (2006).
To some, it is also the head of an immense buffalo, and Mato Tipila and Mato Paha are its horns.

This area is also considered to be center of the land, where the people have lived and where the ancestors are buried. 

To understand more fully the relationship of the Lakota to these lands, it is important to understand some of what the Buffalo, Sun, and Stars were and are to them. Their interconnection was pervasive within traditional Lakota lifeways.
        The buffalo was . . . the most important of all four-legged animals, for it supplied their food, clothing, and even their houses, which were made from the tanned hides. Because the buffalo contained all things within himself, and for many other reasons, he was the natural symbol of the universe, the totality of all manifested forms. Everything is symbolically contained within this animal . . . [his four legs] represent the four ages which are an integral condition of creation (J. E. Brown 1989, 6, n. 8).

Goodman indicated that 
among the animals, the buffalo is the embodiment of the power of the sun, that in following the buffalo, the Lakota were following the sun on earth, that following the sun and the buffalo was part of living in harmony and balance with the sacred powers of the universe (1992, 1).

Through Wohpe, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who was the daughter of the Sun and also the embodiment of the Buffalo, the seven ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, were given to the Lakota. Albers stated, "The spiritualized essence of the earth is usually represented in the figure of a bison woman whose home of origin is a cave or a spring" (2003, v).

The home of the buffalo was considered to be Wind Cave in the Black Hills; they emerged from its subterranean depths, just as humans had emerged from the same place. As such, Wind Cave was considered the site of genesis for the Lakota, as well as being associated with "the wind power responsible for the breath of life" (v).

Goodman provided a comprehensive examination of how these paces function within what he calls "Lakota stellar theology" (1992). 


Goodman, 1992.

The Lakota constellation Can Gleska Wakan, the Sacred Hoop, is a 
circle of stars inscribed by Auriga Beta, Capella, the Pleiades, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Polux, and Castor [that] rings the Milky Way and part of the constellation of Orion. This circle is known as The Race Track and The Sacred Hoop (7).
Goodman identified a constellation within the stellar hoop as Tayamni, an animal emerging or being born, "perhaps the buffalo" (8). These are the stars of the Pleiades as the head, Orion's Belt as the backbone, Betelgeuse and Rigel as feet, and Sirius as the tail (7).

Charlotte Black Elk referred to this entire constellation as the "Black Hills Sacred Ceremony of Spring." These star patterns are an appointment calendar, a Land map, "a mirror-image stellar ceremony," and a spiritual relationship between the Lakota and the Black Hills (Goodman 50). The stellar hoop is mirrored in the Landforms of Paha Sapa, Mato Tipila, and Mato Paha; the Earth is equivalently mirrored in the stars. The correlation is particular; stars and constellations were correlated to particular Places. Stanley Looking Horse reported to Goodman, "what's on the earth is in the stars, and what's in the stars is on the earth" (17).

For example, the Sacred Hoop in the Sky corresponds to the red clay Race Track around the Black Hills, and the constellation is also known as the Race Track (7). Harney Peak was associated with the Pleiades (1). As an exception, the constellation mirroring Mato Tipila is located within the circle of stars, in Gemini, rather than outside it (9).

According to the celestial movements, the Lakota would time their annual ceremonial activities at Places that corresponded to these movements. Goodman reported, 
Each spring, a small group composed of especially devoted members from several Lakota bands journeyed through the Black Hills synchronizing their movements to the motions of the sun along the ecliptic. As the sun moved into a particular Lakota constellation, they traveled to the site correlated with that constellation and held ceremonies there. Finally, they arrived at Devil's Tower at midsummer for the Sun Dance where they were joined by many western Lakota bands (2).

In mid-May, a triangle formed by three Sites became a great buffalo's head, and the Sites changed their names. Mato Tipila became one horn of the buffalo, Inyan Kaga, in the Wyoming Black Hills, became the other horn, and Mato Paha became the buffalo's nose. The Buffalo's Head, thus formed, became spiritually alive until after the performance of the Sun Dance (13).


Mato Paha, Bear Butte, by Stefan Fussan, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22674132

The Sun Dance was the culmination of the cycle of ceremonial activities:
The Sun Dance was a national event, religious, social, and legal in its character. Because matters which concerned all the People were decided on at that time, all western tribes, wherever they were in early spring, would . . . converge on Devil's Tower as the sun moved toward the constellation related to that site. After Sun Dance was performed at Devil's Tower around summer solstice, the People then traveled to Bear Butte where important national councils were held (14).

The correspondence between Earth and Sky was imaged in a graphic fashion. A star was drawn as a vortex of light, a downward-pointing cone. This was repeated and reflected on Earth by mountains, valleys, and by the shape of the tipi as upward-pointing cones:
The traditional tipis were made of buffalo hides. The buffalo is the embodiment of solar power in the animal world. Physically and metaphysically when the Lakota lived in tipis they were living inside the skin of the sun, of a star (18).

The building of a tipi was similar to the building of a hogan, above, where the ritual process of building replicated a World and its order (17).

When the Star/Sun vortex was joined with the Earth/tipi vortex at their apexes, they formed a shape known as kapemni, or "twisting" (16): 
  Dancing around the holy tree, that is, sacrificing and praying, the Sun Dancers create a vortex of power with its apex pointed up. They create a tipi of praise, which also means they are re-creating the world: they are rebuilding the primal star; re-establishing the directions, re-incorporating the cosmic laws as well as re-affirming the stellar world which expressed the divine will implicit in all motion and thus, finally, the dancers draw spirit into the life they have helped to renew (17).

These ceremonies have been performed this way for a very long time. Goodman calculated from the Sun's movement historically that the ceremonial journeys were first performed between 1000 and 100 B.C. (2a12). Albers stated that her research summary demonstrated that "beliefs and practices related to the Hills . . . have deep historical roots" (2003, ix).

Charlotte Black Elk affirmed the Lakota's relationship with these sacred lands and places:
        Wakan Tanka intended that we must always hold the Black Hills special to our hearts, so we are reminded every night that we have a sacred home. And, all one has to do to be in the Heart of Everything That Is, is to look at a star pattern and be spiritually with the Black Hills. A constant renewal of relationship by traveling home, to that special place, with the stars.
  So, tonight, walk outside and look up. See the Black Hills Sacred Ceremonies of Spring, and you will understand and know why this place is special and stands first among all places of Maka [Earth] (quoted in Goodman 1992, 52.).

For the Lakota, the interconnections of the spiritual and physical, Earth and Sky, cosmology and ritual, and peoples and lands and paces are strongly exemplified in the Paha Sapa/Black Hills, Mato Paha/Bear Butte, and Mato Tipila/Bear's Lodge/Devils Tower. There it is possible to understand the profound Lakota relationships with sacred lands and places and the natures of the sacred. 


First published in Lou-Anne (Luan) Fauteck Makes-Marks. 2007. Natures of the Sacred: On Native North American Sacred Lands and Places. Dissertation. San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies.

References:

Albers, Patricia C. 2003. The Home of the Bison: An Ethnographic and Ethnohistorical Study of Traditional Cultural Affiliations to Wind Cave National Park. 2 vols. Digital file. Report submitted in fulfillment of Cooperative Agreement #CA606899103 between the U. S. National Park Service and the Department of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota.

Brown, Joseph Epes, n ed. 1989. The sacred pipe: Black Elk's account of the seven rites of the Oglala Sioux. 1953. Reprint, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Goodman, Ronald. 1992. Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology. Mission, SD: Sinte Gleska University.

Looking Horse, Arvol. 2006. Message from Chief Arvol Looking Horse. Western Shoshone Defense Project. 12 October. www.wsdp.org/ arc_whatsnew_dex.htm#arvol101906.

Friday, April 20, 2018

About the Sacred


How can a sense of the sacred be articulated? How can the realities of the sacred be explained? There will remain an ineffability, for that is the essence of spiritual Mystery. Yet ineffability does not exclude attempts at articulation or explanation; it asserts the profound Mystery of those processes.


Vine Deloria, Jr. distinguished that "[w]e can analyze what constitutes sacredness, but we must also recognize that some of what we say can be understood only by experience" (1998, 251). Expressions of the experiences of the sacred are important to examine, but there will always be limitations in understanding.

Words that articulate the sacred have been in our mouths, like an apple, since speech responded to human needs to tell about our experiences of the World. For a very long time, peoples have languaged experiences of the sacred as ultimate realities. They have described and sought those ultimate realities within the experienced World. Experiences of the sacred demand telling; they demand worthy articulations, in the ways that red, ripe, and sweet are worthy articulations of the apple.

The telling is often difficult. The sacred is too subtle, too hard to communicate in words. The meanings slip away from us, as difficult to hold as the experiences themselves. Experiences of the sacred are perhaps necessary for comprehending its meanings. Without experience and knowledge, the sacred may seem unreal. At minimum, some of us believe the sacred is real.
Any English dictionary will give us a list of words that delineate the sacred. They are often adjectives that denote—that is, set apart—as particular, special, and usually more valuable. Among them are awful, awesome, blessed, consecrated, fascinating, good, hallowed, heavenly, holy, honored, ineffable, inspiring, inviolable, liminal, magical, mysterious, mystical, noetic, numinous, perfect, powerful, pure, respected, revelatory, revered, sacrosanct, saintly, sanctified, spiritual, sublime, supernatural, transcendent, unusual, venerated, visionary, and wondrous. Describing the sacred may take turns into words that particularly emphasize its apartness: extraordinary, nonordinary, distinguished, otherworldly, taboo, and transcendent.

Despite the sacred's reputation for otherworldliness and despite our languages' innate involvement with the subjectivity of experiences, words that articulate the sacred point most often to a perceived objectivity, a reality of experience. This is especially apparent within Native American traditions, which are in touch with World as sacred reality and which relate personally to it.

It is not so apparent in mainstream European and American cultures. N. Scott Momaday asserted, "The Indian and the white man perceive the world in different ways." He attributed the gaps between the perceptions to variables in "genetic constitution" (1997, 50-51). Whether the differences are genetic or not, perceptual—and conceptual—gaps exist between a sense of place as subjective impression and Native American sacred Place as objective reality.

Keith Basso indicated, "sense of place is not possessed by everyone in similar manner or like configuration" (1996, 144). Even sense may be an inappropriate expression in articulating the sacred, because of its subjective distancing.

Sacred may have nuances in Native languages and cultures unlike those expressed in English. He noted:
matters are much more complex and . . . outsiders seldom do justice to the subtlety or sophistication of native systems of thought. Consider, for example, that the Western Apache language contains three distinct words for marking kinds of "sacredness," that at least three Apache terms could be translated (all of them imprecisely) as meaning "spiritual" or "holy," and that no Apache word comes even close to our own understanding of "nature." (156 n. 11)
There is substantial difficulty in articulating the nuances of Native American expressions of the sacred in English.

There is certainly evidence that the English word belief does not accurately or completely describe Native American relationships to the sacred. Deloria stated, "we find vaguely defined beliefs inside vast and very complex ceremonial practices" (Deloria and Stoffle 1998, Summary, ¶ 2). Belief is perhaps too determined a word in regard to Mystery. A lived, long-term reality of experiences may more accurately describe their engagement in these relationships. Deloria also stated, "Rather than an article of faith, it's part of their experience" (2000, ¶ 77).

Native American relationships with the sacred are conceived from, born from, perception and action, perceived and enacted in and through life, through lifeways, through ceremonies. Åke Hultkrantz remarked, "It has often been said that the North American Indians 'dance out' their religions" (1979, 135). But as Deloria has affirmed, sacredness is not determined by ritual, ceremony, or artifacts, but by relational dynamics: "Sacredness within the traditional Indian religions does not depend on a hierarchical arrangement of ceremonies or objects, but upon existing and possible future sets of relationships between living entities" (Deloria and Stoffle 1998, Sacred Objects, ¶ 4).

Based in the dynamic of relationships, in action and perception, sacredness can be considered a verb form. Dan Moonhawk Alford (Cherokee) demonstrated that the Cheyenne people language primarily verb phrases, so when they speak the sacred, "God couldn't be anything else BUT a verb, a process, a relationship, with no form and no gender but animate (an attitude), experienced in both the manifest/-ing realms, and named in a non-arbitrary manner" (1994, 4a).

Like relationships to family, perceptions and actions of Lands and Places are to be engaged with respect—the World is personal. This means vastly more than the sense of admiration for or subservience toward another human being; it encompasses a much broader range of relational and personal significance.

Respect is preeminently perception and action. The literal meaning of respect, to look again, denotes the action of perception of, the special regard for, and the relationship engaged with the World. The sacred for Native Americans is thus a lived perception, a lived knowledge about the World, and a lived relationship toward that Reality.

Often the essence of the sacred is expressed as Mystery that can be experienced but not entirely explored or explained, the traditions and individual visions respected as knowledge guiding through and in the Mystery. Mystery is at the core of Indian religious ethos, accompanied by recognition of the power of the sacred. In that ethos are also attitudes of respect and relationship to the sacred and the manifestations of the sacred in the World.

Respect may also connote aspects of fear and awe: "In our language the word for fear is respect, a very high respect for what is on the borderline" (Allan Wolf Leg [Blackfoot] quoted in Waugh and Prithipaul 1979, 20). The phrase in English, "healthy respect," may engage a very similar meaning. Respect appropriately engenders vigilance and care around matters of Mystery and power. For example, Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna) spoke of a Place as follows: "The arroyo demands from us the caution and attention that constitute respect. It is this sort of respect the old believers have in mind when they tell us we must respect and love the earth" (1996, 40). Respect thus also means "caution" and "attention."

Even trying to define the sacred invokes "trouble." Greg Sarris (Miwok/Pomo) warned: "The sacred is not a thing, you're not going to define it. There's no language . . . And you shouldn't try, because you're going to get in trouble. Even if you have good intentions" (2005, 3-4).

Out of respect, experience may not or should not be forced into understanding or analytical forms. Wolf Leg explained, "I was once told by an elder that we are not made to understand. If the eagle and the gopher understood each other, the bear and the fish, man and the deer, everybody would starve, die off. But the key is respect" (quoted in Waugh and Prithipaul 1979, 12).

This is not lack of understanding as a failure to comprehend, but a choice, out of respect, to preserve Mystery. Mystery is thus embedded in respect; in the limitation of understanding is the appropriate approach to the World as Mystery. Deloria observed, "Sacredness, in its first and deepest encounter, requires that a boundary of respect be drawn around our experience and/or knowledge . . . Native people do not, and as a rule will not, speculate on the basic functions of ultimate reality" (Deloria and Stoffle 1998, The Mysterious Presence, ¶ 1).

Peggy V. Beck, Anna Lee Walters, and Nia Francisco clarified this:
in contrast to many organized religions in the world, Native American sacred ways limit the amount of explaining a person can do. In this way they guide a person's behavior toward the world and its natural laws. Many Native American sacred teachings suggest that if people try to explain everything or seek to leave nothing unexplored in the universe, they will bring disaster upon themselves, for then they are trying to be like gods, not humans. (1996, 4)
The sacred is also private and personal. Wolf Leg stated, "there are some things which are very sacred, or very personal, and you cannot give them away, or let anybody see them" (quoted in Waugh and Prithipaul 1979, 8). Some matters of the sacred must be protected by privacy and secrecy.

There thus cannot be an accurate theology of Native American religions. A Native theology may be impossible to articulate, although some authors have attempted it. Momaday summarized the Mystery of the sacred in the following way:
[T]he sacred finally transcends definition. The mind does not comprehend it; it is at last to be recognized and acknowledged in the heart and soul. Those who seek to study or understand the sacred in academic terms are misled. The sacred is not a discipline. It is a dimension beyond the ordinary and beyond the mechanics of analysis. For those who come to the sacred, to sacred ground, it is a kind of mystical experience, a deep and singular encounter. (1997, 114-115)
We may not wrap our words around the sacred Mystery of the World. But we may walk a middle/mystery path between dogma and vision. Even though the sacred may not be defined or fully comprehended, a sense of the nature of the sacred may be gathered from Native American peoples who have approached the sacred and attempted to articulate it over time.

2007

References
Alford, Dan Moonhawk. 1994. "God is Not a Noun in Native America: Worldview Thought Experiment." Speaker's Notes. http://www.enformy.com/dma-verb.htm (accessed 1/5/07).
Basso, Keith H. 1996. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
Beck, Peggy V., Anna Lee Walters, and Nia Francisco. 1996. The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College Press.
Deloria, Vine, Jr. 1998. For this Land. New York: Routledge.
_______. 2000. "Where Did the Buffalo Go: How Science Ignores the Living World: An Interview with Vine Deloria." By D. B. Jensen. The Sun, July. http://www.derrickjensen.org/deloria.html (accessed 1/12/07).
Deloria, Vine, Jr., and Richard W. Stoffle, eds. 1998. "Native American Sacred Sites and the Department of Defense." U. S. Department of Defense, The Legacy Resource Management Program. https://www.denix.osd.mil/denix/ Public/ES-Programs/Conservation/Legacy/Sacred/toc.html (accessed 1/12/07).
Hultkrantz, Åke. 1979. "Ritual in Native North American Religions." In Waugh and Prithipaul 1979, 135-147.
Momaday, N. Scott. 1997. The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
Sarris, Greg. 2005. Interview by Lou-Anne Fauteck Makes Marks. Tape recording. August 17. Santa Rosa, CA, 17 August.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. 1996. Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Waugh, Earle H., and K. Dad Prithipaul, eds. 1979. Native Religious Traditions. Proceedings of the Joint International Symposium of Elders and Scholars September 15-17, 1977. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion and Wilfred Laurier Univ. Press.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Dancing on the Edge of the Pacific


West Berkeley Shellmound, San Francisco Bay Area, California

The West Berkeley Shellmound site is a sacred place.

For all of us, even now, its location sets it apart, in a place of very great beauty, an awesome viewscape, a mild climate, abundant nature, sunny days, oceans of fog, sometimes dark and starry nights reflected in the bay and ocean. It was and is a sacred place for very many reasons. It is unique and very special, and it should be preserved and protected.


This is attested not only in the archaeological record, but also in the oral traditions of the Ohlone people who have called this place home for thousands of years. A closer look at this storied bit of earth can reanimate the landscape for those who live here now, giving us a glimpse of the dancing spirit animals that still live in our geography.

This Shellmound was an immense mound, constructed for more than four thousand years, starting around 3,682 B.C.E., thus very ancient. It contained shells, bones and ashes of ancestors and animals, mixed with wood, artifacts, ceremonial offerings, and earth. Some still remain, under and around its original footprint.

As shells were currency among Native American people, the West Berkeley Shellmound was a bank of wealth that could be used in trade. The Shellmound was located on trade routes; California shells have been found across the continent as far as Mississippi and Alaska.

The Shellmound was an observatory, with wide views of the stars, sun, planets, and the moon, used as time markers, and a clear sight-line through the Golden Gate to their Islands of the Dead, on the western horizon. They observed the Pleiades and aspects of the winter solstice; they maintained a descriptive calendar. The Shellmound would also have been the location of ceremonies and dances on the winter solstice and other occasions.

Estimated Winter Solstice Viewing Path from Hummingbird Island
The Shellmound was a mortuary complex. Cremation, funeral, and mourning ceremonies and feasting included hundreds of people for periods of time. It was a portal for the dead with straight lines of travel for spirits across the bay to Pelican Island, now Alcatraz Island, and then across the ocean to the Islands of the Dead, now the Farallon Islands, or Farallones.


The Ohlone witnessed much there, long passages of time and massive geologic change, earthquake, and flood, which their ancient stories reflect. The mythic characters of those stories—Coyote, Eagle (or Condor), Hummingbird, and Coyote’s Flea (or Shrimp) Wife—are still present, embedded in the landscape of the Bay Area and beyond, as part of a monumental geomorphic theophany, the presences of great, spirit beings in place, as place. People lived there on the bodies of those beings. The West Berkeley Shellmound participates materially in that theophany.

Coyote’s head is Marin County, facing roughly south-southeast. The left side of Coyote extends up the coast, perhaps as far as Lake County. His nose is at the Golden Gate, toward his Flea Wife, as San Francisco County, who looks to the east. Her body is down the Peninsula, and while her head is humanoid, her body is bulbous, with dangling legs, like an immense flea or shrimp.


The entirety of the Bay is the Eagle, with wings wide spread. Angel Island is the Hummingbird in flight, facing south-southeast. Coyote’s footprint is found in San Pablo Bay.


The Shellmound was a portal for the dead, at the midpoint of the Eagle’s tail. The beak of the Eagle points through the Golden Gate. A straight sightline runs from the Shellmound, up the middle of the Eagle’s body, through the Golden Gate to the Farallones. 

After death, the spirits of the dead would travel to Pelican Island where they rested for four days. Following cremation or burial, they flew west to the Farallones on that straight line; the Eagle carried the spirits there.

There may be more mysteries still to uncover with the West Berkeley Shellmound and the larger Bay Area geomorphic theophany.

The Ohlone's neighboring tribe, the Coast Miwok, knew that they lived on the body of Coyote, and their spirits of the dead migrated from Tomales Point at Point Reyes to the Farallones.

The Shellmound, together with this geomorphic theophany, is a World-Heritage-class site. It all could be preserved for the future, if more widely known and appreciated. There is no better time than now to bring this back into its fullness, before it is too late. It still can serve to remind us of the great importance of place in our lives. Its stories center us in our local landscape and respect for it.

Like Stonehenge in England, the West Berkeley Shellmound is a mortuary complex, with an avenue for the dead and sight-lines through the Golden Gate. The West Berkeley Shellmound is much more ancient than Stonehenge, and it is an American treasure.

An Ohlone song goes, “Dancing on the Brink of the World.” Perhaps all who are here, Coyote, his wife, Hummingbird, and Eagle, are dancing on the edge of the Pacific.


Photo Notes:
San Francisco Bay: Lou-Anne Fauteck Makes Marks
Satellite Views: Google Earth, edits by Lou-Anne Fauteck Makes Marks
Flea: Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HookeFlea01.jpg
Shrimp: ClipArtBarn, public domain, http://clipartbarn.com/shrimp-clipart_33010/
Coyote: Wikimedia Commons, by Flicka, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coyote_Yellowstone.jpg

For more information, contact: Lou-Anne Fauteck Makes Marks, Ph.D., sacredamerica@gmail.com