Thursday, December 27, 2012

Native American Skies: Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 4

Skidi Pawnee Sacred Bundle
There is no “visible” Big Black Star in the night sky so why did the Pawnee name it “Black” Star?  There are numerous references where the Pawnee called the star “The Big Black Meteoric Star” or referenced a Sacred Bundle as “The Big Black Star Meteoric Bundle”.   Astronomer, Von Del Chamberlain, speculated that a meteorite may have fallen from the part of the sky near Vega (thought to be the Big Black Star).  Since meteorites are black soon after they hit the earth, the Pawnee may have taken it to be a message from the star.  Sacred Owlwolf posted a story on “nativeartsculture” which he credits his “great aunt Sini Rain Drops Caller” for telling him.  It is the story of “Osage Sky-Seeing” who saw a falling star one night and found it the next morning.   The meteorite spoke to him in his dreams and told him that it had come from “a star that stands in the heavens a little to the east, but south.”  Although, the meteorite that belonged to Osage Sky-Seeing is not the same one associated with Big Black Star, it illustrates how the Pawnee might have associated a meteorite as a messenger from a star and named it accordingly.

As discussed in Part 3, each Pawnee village had a “Sacred Bundle” that contained those things used for their ceremonies and rituals.   The Sacred Bundle for the Big Black Star contained a buckskin map with painted stars on it and represented a detailed map of the sky.   It is not an accurate reproduction of the night sky according the Ray A. Williamson (Living the Sky) but, rather, “it was likely to be more important to the Pawnee to paint the crucial constellations as they understood them from their corpus of myths.  In use, I suspect that the chart served to remind the owner of the bundle and his intimates of the stellar patterns and their stories.”
Skidi Pawnee buckskin Sky Chart

So, what is on the Pawnee Star Chart?  Again, from Williamson, “The North Star, whose name in Pawnee is literally, “the Star That Does Not Walk Around,” they compared to the god Tirawahat.  North Star was chief over all the other stars and saw to it that they did not lose their way. … Rotating around the north star and nearest to it were the groups of stars that represented stretchers.  According to the myth, in the first council, when decisions were being made about where the various gods would stand in the sky, two people became ill.  The stars placed them on stretchers in order to carry them along.  They still journey in the sky, traveling continually about the Star That Does Not Walk Around, and serving as a pattern for humans.  The stretchers are the bowls of the Big and Little Dippers.  The stars that follow (that is, the respective handles) are the Medicine Man, his wife, and Errand Man.

“The chart is divided roughly in half by a series of small painted dots and tiny crosses that represent the Milky Way.  … the Pawnee … considered it the road to the world of the dead.  … Near the center of the chart and below the Milky Way is a large circle of eleven stars called the Council of the Chiefs, who were in the sky to watch over the people.

“… Opposite the Council of chiefs on the other side of the Milky Way is the Pleiades, a compact group of six stars.  The priests used the appearance of the Pleiades, as seen through the lodge smoke hole just after sunset in early spring, to establish the time for planting ceremonies.

“…The arrival of spring … was watched for in the skies by the heliacal appearance of the two stars called the Swimming Ducks.  These were identified by the astronomer Ray Moulton as the stars Lambda and Upsilon Scorpio, which form the stinger of the Western constellation Scorpius.”

James R Murie, whose mother was Pawnee, explained, “The time for the ceremonies of the Evening Star bundle was primarily determined by the recurrence of the thunder in the spring; but it should be understood that it was not at the very first sound of the thunder that the ceremony was held, for it might have thundered at any time.  The approximate time was fixed by the appearance of two small twinkling stars (the Swimming Ducks) in the northeastern [sic: this should read southeastern] horizon near the Milky Way.  When low, deep, rumbling thunder was heard, starting in the west and rolling around the entire circuit of the heavens, then it was time for the Thunder Ritual to be recited.”

The Swimming Ducks were on the star chart near the Milky Way.  To the right was what the Pawnee called the snake, which was the body of the Western constellation Scorpius.  The rolling thunder was symbolic of Tirawahat’s messenger Paruxti telling the Pawnee that life was renewed and the ceremony signified the beginning of the year for the Pawnee and a tribute to the gods.

This is not all of the stars depicted on the buckskin Star Chart.  Many of the others have not been identified.  But, there is no question that they also served as sacred reminders of the special relationship the Pawnee had with star gods of the night sky.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21, 2012! Doomsday?

Does the Maya Calendar Really predict the end of the world for December 21, 2012

Predicted Ruler after the 13th baktun

The doomsday prediction is supposedly based upon the Mayan Calendar which supposedly predicted the end of the world.  Well, in truth, the calendar doesn't predict an end of the world, just an end to one of the many cycles inherent in the Mayan calendar system.  The Mayan Calendar was the product of sophisticated observation of the earth and the heavens.  Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration represents this function for us.   After receiving a deluge of questions, they have responded with, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”

So what is significant about the “Long Count?”  Early on, in fact before the Maya, the people of that region noticed that some things repeat over a period of time.  They saw that the sun regularly rises and sets every day.  They noticed that the phases of the moon repeated after 29 days.  They figured out that from a woman’s first missed period until birth was 260 days.  They watched as the sun rises and sets progressively further north or south each day until after 365 days, it starts over and repeats its journey.    Armed with these basics, they started tracking everything believing that if they watched it long enough, it would eventually start again.  So, if you know the cycles, then you can predict the future of that cycle – when it will end and when it will begin again.  The system became so sophisticated that they could predict what a baby would grow up to be based on the day it was born.

I like to think of the Mayan Calendar as a machine with many gears.  For instance, there are the basic two gears that are called the Tzolkin, or the Calendar Round.  Gear one has 13 cogs and gear two has 20.  Let’s say you align cog 0 on the smaller gear to cog 0 on the larger gear.  Each cog represents one day.  These cogs would re-align after 260 days.  Then they added another gear with 365 cogs that would track a 52-year cycle, and that combination is called the Haab.

In the Calendar Round, the cogs on gear one were numbers and the cogs on gear two were names.   Not unlike our astrology, each name had characteristics that enabled interpreters to make predictions.  If the year began with 10 Ahua, for example, it meant “scanty are the rains … misery”.
In addition to these gear systems, an independent calendar called the “Long Count” was used to count the days since, well, the beginning of time.  The starting date for the Long Count is August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar or 6 September in the Julian calendar(-3113 astronomical).   For this calendar, the Mayans used a “positional” system similar to our number system.  The first position of our number represents the number of “1’s”; the same with the Long Count.  The second position in our system represents the number of “10’s”; it is the number of “20’s” for the Maya.  So, would be year 25.  Numbers were similar to our Roman Numerals, with dots and bars.  A dot is 1 and a bar represented 5.
The Long Count was particularly well suited to use on monuments.  Significant periods or episodes were documented by the Maya with the erection of a Stela monument.  The monumental inscriptions would not only include the 5 digits of the Long Count, but would also include the two tzolkin characters followed by the two haab characters.  The monument pictured to the right is from the east side of stela C, Quirigua with the date of 13 baktuns, 0 katuns, 0 tuns, 0 uinals, 0 kins, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku.
So what does all this have to do with December 21, 2012?  It is simply the day that the Maya Long Count calendar will go to the next baktun, Long Count This date doesn’t even complete the baktun series when the Long Count rolls over to piktun 1 at Long Count, October 13, 4772.

I do find the numerical symbology elegant.  The Mayan Long count equates to 12-21-12 on our calendar, which is our Winter Solstice (first day of winter).

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Native American Skies -- Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 3

Pawnee Chief
In Part 1, we learn of human sacrifice to the Morning Star by the Skidi Pawnee.  Astronomer Von Del Chamberlain explained, “The sacrifice of a captured maiden … are all part of the symbolic re-enactment of the original conquering acts of Morning Star, as seen in the heavens”.  In Part 2, we learned the story of Morningstar defeating the “hardships” placed in his way by Evening Star and how he prevailed and their maiden child came down to people the earth.  In Part 3, I want to show how the Skidi Pawnee adapted the story of the heavens into their lives.

Quoting from “Living the Sky” by Ray A. Williamson, “According to their own stories, the Pawnee received much of their ritual direction from the stars.  They claimed that at one time they organized their villages according to stellar patterns.  Each village, they said, possessed a sacred bundle given to it by one of the stars.  When the different villages assembled for a great ceremony, their spatial arrangement on earth reflected the celestial positions of the stars whose bundles they possessed.  Then there were eighteen separate Skidi Pawnee villages, each associated with a different star.

“ … four of the villages belonged to the four semicardinal stars that Morning star overcame in his quest for Evening Star.  These villages were termed the leading villages because each took its turn in leading the annual ceremonial cycle,beginning when the various sacred bundles were opened in the spring after the Evening Star Ritual. … they served as the pillars of Heaven that held the sky away from the earth. 

“In the traditional Pawnee earth lodge, the four posts that held up the roof represented the four stars that held up the sky. … The northwest star … was associated with spring, the mountain lion, yellow corn, and a female star, Yellow Star.  Yellow Star was married to Red Star, who ruled over the southeast in the summer … associated with red corn and the wolf.  Big Black Star, which stood in the northeast, was the autumn star.  He was associated with black corn and with the bear.  He was married to the southwest, or white, star.  She, in turn, ruled over winter and was associated with white corn and the wildcat.”

Skidi Pawnee Star Chart
Astronomer Chamberlain used the star colors and their prominence and timing in the sky to surmise that the Yellowish star is Capella, Antares the Red Star, Sirius the White Star, and Vega the Black Star.  Of course, no star is black, so its relationship and pairing with the other stars led him to suggest it is the black star.  They believed that the Black Star bestowed knowledge on them and in the Black Star’s bundle they carried a buckskin with a detailed chart of the stars painted on it.  In Part 4, I will reveal what the chart contained.

As you can see, the Pawnee tried to model their lives after the night sky, interpreting what they witnessed above and applying it below.  Curiously, unlike most other cultures, the Sun and Moon played only minor roles. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Native American Skies: Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 2

Morning of Spring Equinox, 1838. 
Mars (Morning Star) is rising and chasing
 Venus (Evening Star)  higher and to the right
[captured from Starry Night software]
In part 1, I presented the last known Pawnee Morning Star Ritual involving human sacrifice – the sacrificing of Haxti, an Oglala Sioux teenager captured specifically for the ritual.  It is difficult for us to understand why anyone would do such a seemingly cruel and violent act.  In this article, I will try to give the Pawnee side.

According to Ray A. Williamson, in his book “Living the Sky”, “The practice of sacrifice to Morning Star was part of the rites of the Skidi band of the Pawnee, a group that had developed a unique relationship to the stars.  Of all the Native American groups, no one had developed such an intricate and direct affinity to the stars.  For them, the stars were kindred souls; they took much of the direction of their life from the sky.”

James R. Murie, whose mother was Skidi Pawnee, wrote, “Over all is Tirawa (or Tirawahat), the One Above, changeless and supreme.  From Tirawa comes all things: Tirawa made the heavens and the stars.

“In the west dwelt the White Star Woman, the Evening Star, who must be sought and overcome that creation might be achieved.  From the east went forth the Great Star, the Morning Star, to find and overcome the Evening Star, that creation might be achieved.  The Morning star called to his younger brother: “Take the Sacred Bundle, bear it over thy shoulder and follow.”  And the Morning Star journeyed to the west.  As ever as he journeyed, the Evening Star moved, came and drew him towards her.  (For men may see how the Evening Star moves nightly.  One night she is low in the heavens, another night she is high in the heavens.  Even so she moved and drew the Morning Star.)  Yet when the Evening Star beheld the Morning Star draw near, she placed in his path Hard Things to hinder his approach.  Thus, even as the Morning Star first saw the Evening Star, she rose and looked on him and beckoned him.  He started towards her, but the earth opened and waters swept down, and in waters was a serpent with mouth wide opened to devour.”
Mars (Morning Star) catches up to
Venus (Evening Star) July 23, 1838
[From Starry Night program]

Morning Star [Mars] defeated the serpent by throwing a fireball into its mouth.  But then Evening Star [Venus] put up nine more “hardships” to discourage him which he also defeated.  When he finally reached her lodge, he had to defeat four beasts guarding the four directions.  Again from Murie, “And the Morning Star spoke [to the stars] and said, “I have conquered, and ye shall obey my command.  Thou, black Star, shalt stand in the northeast, whence cometh night.  Thou art Autumn.  Thou, Yellow Star, shalt stand in the northwest, where is the golden setting of the sun.  Thou art Spring.  Thou, White Star, shalt stand in the south, facing north, whence cometh the snow.  Thou art Winter.  Thou, Red Star, shalt stand in the southeast.  Thou art Summer.”

But Evening Star was not ready to relent to Morning Star and placed more “hardships” before him.  He even had to create the rain and the sun to provide water, light, and heat for her garden.  When, at last, Evening Star submitted to Morning Star, their maiden child descended to earth and married a boy and their children peopled the earth.

Astronomer Von Del Chamberlain suggests that the details of the capture and preparation of a maiden for sacrifice is all part of the symbolic re-enactment of the original conquering acts of Morning Star, as seen in the heavens.  The ritual ceremony was critical to ensure the fertility of the earth for planting and the abundance of buffalo for hunting.

In Part 3, I will explain how the Pawnee used their knowledge of the stars to guide their lives.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Native American Skies - Pawnee Morningstar Ritual, Part 1

Pawnee Lodge
It was the spring of 1838 when a 14-year-old Oglala Sioux girl named Haxti lead a procession of Skidi Pawnee toward the approaching sunrise.  She was painted and dressed for a sacred Pawnee “Morning Star” ritual.   She most likely had no idea what was about to happen but did not resist since she had been living with the Pawnee since the previous autumn and had been fed and treated very well.   The procession that followed her was made up of all the men, boys and male infants from the village. 

She was directed to stand before a wooden scaffold by the Pawnee High Priest.  The scaffold was constructed of sacred woods and  leathers from different animals each representing one of the directions – elm for north, cottonwood for south, etc.   It was built outside the village and erected over a pit with elements relating to the four cardinal directions and lined with downy feathers and represented the Evening Star’s garden of germination in the west.   While they waited, the priests and procession sang four songs.  They sang of the girl, about Heaven, and about the powers of the beasts of the four parts of earth.
Haxti sacrifice to Morning Star 1838

When the star was due to rise, the girl was directed to stand on the fourth post and then was tied to the top post on the scaffold.   At the moment the star appeared above the horizon,  two priests rushed up and branded her under her arm pits and near her groin as the man who had captured her and dedicated her to the Morning Star fired an arrow into her heart.  The High Priest then cut her above her heart with a flint knife and smeared his face with her blood.  Some of her blood was allowed to drip onto the dried heart and tongue of a buffalo and more to flow into the feathery pit below.  When the High Priest stepped away, all those in the procession fired their arrows into her  chest to hasten her death.   Haxti’s body was removed from the scaffold and placed face down so that her blood would soak the earth.  Her death insured the renewal of earth and her soul became that of the Morning Star.

 It is believed that she was the last sacrificed in this way after the outcry by settlers in the area.  Sacrificing a maiden in this way shocked the settlers as it shocks us today.  We cannot make sense of the killing of an innocent girl in this way through the filter of our European belief systems.  But, next week I will present the complicated belief system that justified the Morning Star ritual for the Pawnee.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Archaeoastronomy: Medicine Wheels of the Plains Indians

Bighorn Medicine Wheel
Thanks in large part to the movie industry and “wild west” novels, when most people around the world think of American Indians, they most likely picture the Plains Indians -- the Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Comanche, Kiowa, Blackfoot, Pawnee just to mention the major tribes.  We imagine skillful riders charging on horses; hunting buffalo; or colorfully dressed people sitting and dancing around large campfires with majestic tipi’s in the background.  We are impressed with their efficiency and  highly portable and useful objects, but don’t usually associate them with building permanent dwellings like their Anasazi and Pueblo neighbors.  But there is one distinctive, permanently built structure that is characteristic of the Plains Indians – the medicine wheel.

Throughout the plains, the area from the Rocky Mountains to Missouri, Texas to Canada, there are thousands, perhaps millions, of stone circles 6 to 18 feet in diameter that were left behind by the Plains Indians.  These are now called tipi rings.  These stones were placed against the poles of their tipi for stability.  But in addition to these small rings, they also laid out large, mysterious stone patterns that archaeologists have named “medicine wheels”.  Distinctive from tipi rings, medicine wheels can be 60 yards in diameter.  The usual archaeological studies have done little to explain the function of these structures, but, in 1972, the astronomer John Eddy heard about the Bighorn Medicine Wheel and was intrigued with the challenge.  Thanks to his research, we now know that the Bighorn Medicine Wheel was probably used to determine the summer solstice and other major appearances of significant astronomical objects including the stars Aldebaran, Rigel, and Sirius.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel sits at an altitude of 10,000 feet, almost at the summit of Medicine Mountain in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.  It is the perfect location for star gazing since it is above the timberline with a clear horizon.  Stones were gathered from the valley and carried to the site where they were piled in a wheel-like pattern.  When Eddy was researching the site in June, more than a foot of snow fell covering the wheel.  It was then that he realized the wisdom of the builders placing the structure not only in a place with a clear view of the heavens, but also the open windswept area was quickly cleared by the wind.  The next morning, Eddy was able to observe the sun rise in direct alignment with one of “spokes” of the wheel; a spoke clearly marked by a circle of stones outside the perimeter circle of stones.  Then, that evening, he was elated to watch the sun set in alignment with another spoke of the wheel.  Eddy was surprised to find that the moon and planets were not tracked by the wheel just the solstice and many of the brighter stars.  This despite the fact that there are 28 spokes which is the number of days the Native Americans generally counted for the lunar cycle.  You are probably thinking that they must have been poor at arithmetic since the lunar cycle is 29.5 days.  However, they did not count the day-and-one-half when the moon is not visible.

Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux described the construction of a Sun Dance Lodge, possibly explaining some of the symbolism in the medicine wheels, as follows:

“… in setting up the sun dance lodge, we are really making the universe in a likeness; for, you see, each of the posts around the lodge represents some particular object of creation, so that the whole circle is the entire creation, and the one tree at the center, upon which the twenty-eight poles rest, is Wakan-Tanka, who is the center of everything.  Everything comes from Him, and sooner or later returns to Him.  And I should also tell you why it is that we use twenty-eight poles.  I have already explained … the number four and seven are sacred; then if you add four sevens you get twenty-eight.  Also the moon lives twenty-eight days, and this is our month; …”

The wheels range in date from 4500 years old to only 200 years old.  The wheels vary in their construction, but John Brumley, an archaeologist from Medicine Hat, notes that a medicine wheel consists of at least two of the following three traits: (1) a central stone cairn, (2) one or more concentric stone circles, and/or (3) two or more stone lines radiating outward from a central point.  It is probable that the huge structures were used for more than just astronomy.  They most likely were used in cleansing ceremonies and in conjunction with rituals and spiritual teaching.

But they remain one of the lasting remnants of the great Plains Indian culture.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Archaeoastronomy -- Fajada Butte -- Sun Daggers

First of all, what is archaeoastronomy?  It is the study of how the ancients studied or used astronomy.   The position of the stars in the night sky; the movement of the sun across the horizon throughout the year; the movement of the Moon across the horizon on its eighteen-nineteen year cycle; were all studied and recorded and used by the ancients as their celestial calendar.   Knowledge of these cycles helped the ancients to know when to plant their crops, or migrate, celebrate their religious holidays, and many other important events during the year.

In the heart of New Mexico there is an arid canyon called Chaco Canyon that was once the center of the Anasazi culture.  In this canyon stands an ominous butte called Fajada (fa-ha-da) Butte.  Atop this huge 450 ft-high formation are three large sandstone slabs that lean up against the southern wall.  On the wall behind these huge stones, the Anasazi astronomers chiseled two large spirals.   At noon every day the sun shines between the stones and casts shaft(s) of light across the spirals.  Popularly called “daggers of light”, the dagger materialize before noon in the upper left of the spiral and then spread across the spiral to project a “dagger” covering the spiral and then clears off the spiral top to bottom.   It is an amazing, almost magical occurrence.
Click for video of Sun Dagger

The Sun Dagger phenomenon was first noticed by artist Anna Sofaer in 1977 when she was a volunteer recording the petroglyphs on Fajada Butte.  On her first visit, she noted the three stone slabs leaning against the cliff in front of two spiral petroglyphs on the cliff wall.  On her second visit, she happened to be at the site around 11 a.m. and witnessed the dagger of light bisecting one of the spirals.  An amazing stroke of luck since the dagger only appears for about 18 minutes each day.  Realizing that the summer solstice was imminent, she correctly recognized the site as an important archaeoastronomical site.

The following year,  she founded the “Solstice Project” to focus on the study, documentation and preservation of the Sun Dagger site.   Her team learned that for the spring equinox, two daggers appear.  A smaller dagger bisects a smaller spiral through its center, whereas the larger dagger pierces the larger spiral off center.  For the summer solstice, the larger spiral is bisected by a larger dagger through its center.  The autumn equinox is the same as the spring equinox.  Then for the winter solstice, two large daggers embrace the sides of the larger spiral like bookends.  Even more remarkable, it was observed that the 19 segments of the larger spiral marked the 19 year movement of the moon from minimum to maximum across the horizon.

At the Archaeoastronomical Symposium at Queen’s College, September, 1981, Anna Sofaer submitted a paper on her work .  It was the conclusion of the symposium that the Sundagger Site is the only known site in the world where both the solar and lunar extremes are marked.

For over one thousand years, the stone slabs produced a dagger of light to mark the solar extremes and marked the lunar shadow marching through its 19 year extremes.  Its rediscovery  generated so much interest that the many visitors eager to observe the site first-hand tramped down the soil next to the slabs prompting the site to be restricted and not even the park staff are allowed to visit the Sun Dagger site today.   Unfortunately, the damage was fatal and caused the slabs to shift.  As a result, the slabs no longer produce the daggers of light as they once did.  The restriction was placed too late to save it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Native American Skies -- The Pleiades

Last week I told a short version of the story of the  Ani Tsutsa, the Seven Boys, who got angry with their mothers and danced into the sky to become the constellation we know as the Pleiades.  Some have asked me why they were angry with their mothers.  So, here is the “rest of the story” as told to James Mooney, “Long ago, when the world was new, there were seven boys who used to spend all their time down by the townhouse playing the gatayu’ sti game, rolling a stone wheel along the ground and sliding a curved stick after it to strike.”
Game of Gatayu' sti
Painting by George Catlin

Gatayu’ sti, also known as Chunkey, was played with a stone disk about an inch thick and three inches in diameter.  The disk was rolled across the ground and the players would “chunk” long spears at it.  Closest got one point, hitting it gave two points.

“Their mothers scolded, but it did no good, so one day they collected some gatayu’ sti stones and boiled them in the pot with the corn for dinner.  When the boys came home hungry their mothers dipped out the stones and said, ‘Since you like the gatayu’ sti better than the cornfield, take the stones now for your dinner.”

This story had different versions in different tribes.  The following Iroquois story is from a wonderful book by Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson called “They Dance in the Sky”, “One autumn many years ago, a band of Onandaga Iroquois were walking toward their winter hunting ground near a large lake in southeast Canada.  They had to travel slowly, because the land was wild and rough.  When they finally arrived at the place they called Beautiful Lake, they were very thankful because, as in years before, they found much game and fish there.  Clear water flowed from the many springs in the lovely valley nestled among the hills.

“Tracks-in-the-Water, the chief of the band, thanked the Great spirit for their safe arrival and for the abundance of wildlife.  “We will camp here for the winter,” he told his people.  “It will be a good winter.”  Everyone was happy.  They knew they would prosper in this peaceful valley by Beautiful Lake.

“Soon autumn ended and the weather turned colder.  Eight children from the band tired of helping their mothers and fathers in the daily chores and began to dance by the lake to amuse themselves.  They picked a quiet place away from the village.  Each day they met and danced for hours at a time.  Though they got hungry and lightheaded, they still danced on and on.

“For a long time everything went well.  Then one day, while the boys and girls were dancing, a glorious old man appeared to them.  He shone like silver in the late autumn sunshine and was covered from head to toe with a cloak of brilliant white feathers.  His gleaming hair was very long and white.  He was kindly, but he warned the children not to keep on dancing or something terrible would happen to them.

“The children didn’t want to hear his words; they continued to dance.  Each day, Bright Shining Old Man, as they called him, came and warned them, but the children ignored him.

“One day the children decided to take food along with them so they could stay out longer the next day.    They asked for food, but their parents refused.  “You must eat at home as usual.  Then you may go play.”  But they resolved to dance all day long just the same.  After a while, the children became hungry, and their hunger made them lightheaded.  Then slowly, little by little, they began to rise in the air.  Suddenly one youngster cried, “Don’t look down, something strange is going on.  We seem to be dancing on the air!”

“”What great fun!” thought the children.  At first they were excited and pleased, but soon dancing on air frightened them.  Now they couldn’t stop or they would fall to earth far below.  Bright Shining Old Man looked up, shaking his head.  He watched them rise farther and farther up into Sky Country.

“”If only they had listened to me,” Bright Shining Old Man thought sadly.
The Pleiades Constellation
Ani Tsutsa to the Cherokee
Oot-kwa-tah to the Iroquois
“Soon an old woman in the village noticed that that the boys and girls were floating away.  She called and called for them to come back, but they did not stop dancing.  Then the whole band gathered below and tried to call the children back, but to no avail.

“All this time the children kept on dancing faster and faster.  They did not look down.  One small boy recognized his father’s voice above the others.  The chief, Tracks-in-the-Water, called loudly to his son, “Come back, come back!”  The boy looked down and saw his father.  At once he became a falling star.  The other children just kept floating up, up, far into the sky.  The Onandaga call them Oot-kwa-tah.

“Now whenever the Onondaga Iroquois see a falling star, they are reminded of Oot-kwa-tah, the band of headstrong dancing children.”

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Native American Skies -- Cherokee, What the Stars are Made Of

Pleiades Constellation
Cherokee called it Ani Tsutsa
When the Cherokee looked up at the dark moonless skies, they saw billions of spirit campfires.  Like today, they also saw patterns in the stars and told stories about the constellations.   The constellation that we call the “Pleiades”, the Cherokee called “Ani Tsutsa”, or the “Seven Boys”.   The story goes that eight young boys got so angry with their mothers that they prayed to the spirits to lift them into the sky.  They danced around the Council House until they started to rise up off the ground.  One of the mothers managed to grab the foot of their son and pull him back down, but the other seven floated up into the sky and you can see their bright campfires at night.

The milkyway, according to old Cherokee stories, was created long ago when the earth was young and there were not many stars in the sky.  The people made corn meal from dried corn and stored it in large baskets.  One morning an old man and his wife discovered that something or someone had gotten into the cornmeal during the night.  In the middle of the spilt meal were giant dog prints.  They were so large that the Elders decided that the dog must be a spirit dog from another world.  They did not want the spirit dog in their village, so they decided to frighten it so bad it would never return.  They put on their turtle shell rattles, got their drums and hid by the corn meal baskets.   Late that night they heard a great whispering noise like many birds flapping their wings and looked up to see a giant spirit dog swooping down to land by the baskets.  When it began to gulp down mouthfuls of cornmeal, they jumped up and made a great noise like thunder.  The giant dog ran across the night sky and the cornmeal that spilled from its mouth turned into the stars of the Milky Way.

Some Cherokee had different opinions about the stars according to James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee.  He wrote, “Some say they are balls of light, others say they are human, but most people say they are living creatures covered with luminous fur or feathers.  One night a hunting party camping in the mountains noticed two lights like large stars moving along the top of a distant ridge. They wondered and watched until the light disappeared on the other side. The next night, and the next, they saw the lights again moving along the ridge, and after talking over the matter decided to go on the morrow and try to learn the cause. In the morning they started out and went until they came to the ridge, where, after searching some time, they found two strange creatures about so large (making a circle with outstretched arms), with round bodies covered with fine fur or downy feathers, from which small heads stuck out like the heads of terrapins. As the breeze played upon these feathers showers of sparks flew out.  The hunters carried the strange creatures back to the camp, intending to take them home to the settlements on their return. They kept them several days and noticed that every night they would grow bright and shine like great stars, although by day they were only balls of gray fur, except when the wind stirred and made the sparks fly out. They kept very quiet, and no one thought of their trying to escape, when, on the seventh night, they suddenly rose from the ground like balls of fire and were soon above the tops of the trees. Higher and higher they went, while the wondering hunters watched, until at last they were only two bright points of light in the dark sky, and then the hunters knew that they were stars.”

The Cherokee also had an alternative explanation for meteorites or falling stars.  Again from “Myths of the Cherokee”, “At night, when some one is sick or dying in the settlement, the Raven Mocker [a witch] goes to the place to take the life. He flies through the air in fiery shape, with arms outstretched like wings, and sparks trailing behind, and a rushing sound like the noise of a strong wind. Every little while as he flies he makes a cry like the cry of a raven when it "dives" in the air--not like the common raven cry--and those who hear are afraid, because they know that some man's life will soon go out. When the Raven Mocker comes to the house he finds others of his kind waiting there, and unless there is a doctor on guard who knows how to drive them away they go inside, all invisible, and frighten and torment the sick man until they kill him.”

All peoples and cultures have been fascinated by the beautiful night sky.  And occasionally they see something really special like the Super Nova of 1054.  The Anasazi recorded this extraordinary event in a petroglyph in Chaco Canyon.

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Inconvenient Arrogance, Part 6 – The Collapse of the Chaco Phenomenon

Great Kiva - Pueblo Bonito
“It is not hard to imagine one of these ancient villages—the adults going about their tasks, the children playing or learning at their side.  We can almost smell the rabbit stew cooking in the earthen pot and the aroma of corn roasting over the coals of the cookfire;  we can almost see the freshmade paper-thin piki bread—all this in anticipation of the day’s-endmeal after the men have returned from attending to the fields or building a new village structure.” – Kendrick Frazier, “People of Chaco”.

Life among the Anasazi was hard but they were a rugged and industrious people who by the twelfth century had created great stone houses and temples and created governments that organized and distributed their commodities and coordinated trade.  Although the most prominent and powerful, the Chaco culture was not alone in the Southwest.  In Arizona, the Hohokam society built smaller stone houses and made extensive use of canals for farming.   East of the Hohokam, the Mogollon society had a similar culture.  In between Chaco and Hohokam and Mogollon, a hybrid society that borrowed canal technology  from the hohokum and architecture from Chaco were called the Mimbres.  During the classic period, trade was pervasive among these different cultures.

Penaco Blanco -- Chaco Canyon
Road that defines Chaco Meridian

So, what happened to Chaco Canyon?  Why was it vacated by A.D. 1170?  Evidence shows that climate change resulting in long periods of drought is at the root of the cause.  Long before, Chaco Canyon had become over populated and unable to sustain itself without the aid of the outliers.  The luxury of being the central storehouse for the region and in control of distribution allowed them to skim off the extra they needed.  Since corn could only be stored for three years, however, any drought lasting longer than three years depleted the store houses and left Chaco Canyon unable to sustain itself or redistribute to outliers needing help.  This made the outliers unwilling to share their surpluses with Chaco Canyon and hoard their crops for themselves.  The collapse was amazingly swift.

Where did they go?  Jared Diamond proposes, “By analogy with historically witnessed abandonments of other pueblos during a drought in the 1670-‘s, probably many people starved to death, some people killed each other, and survivors fled to other settled areas in the Southwest.”

But, unlike the Maya and the Moche, the rulers of Chaco did not resort to human sacrifice to stave off their demise.  There are several reasons that they never rose to this level of cruelty.  The lace of a large centrally controlled military made enforcement from Chaco impossible.  There are signs that there were violent skirmishes at outlier sites, but not on the scale that would suggest a large military invasion.

Stephen Lekson offers a unique  alternative.  In his book, “The Chaco Meridian”, Lekson suggests, “The end of Chaco was a major event over the entire Pueblo world.  Far to the south, for example, the Mimbres achievement ended at the same time. … The Chaco capital moved to the north …”  The Chaco elite, according to Lekson, re-established the Chaco system along the Las Animas river at the site called Aztec.  Again from Lekson, “Aztec continued the traditions and forms of Chaco, but ruled a diminished realm …”

What is unique about the Lekson hypothesis is that Aztec lies along the meridian that intersects with Chaco and a road follows that meridian from Chaco to Aztec.  Even more remarkable, after the fall of Aztec in A.D. 1275, “The Elite moved completely off the Plateau, through the vacant despoiled Mimbres country and into an empty niche, ripe for major canal irrigation.  They built their new city, Paquime, on the Rio Casas Grandes.” 
Which, remarkably, lies along the same meridian!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inconvenient Arrogance, Part 5: The Chaco Phenomenon

Pueblo Bonito -- Chaco Canyon
from the rim
When the current Southwestern cultures reach back in their lore to their origins and refer to the “White House”-- “places of wonder and tragedy”, they are probably referring to the great pueblo houses at Chaco Canyon.  Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the “Great Houses” was five-stories high, covered over two acres, contained over 650 rooms, 45 small kivas and two “Great Kivas”.  Kivas were large, round pits or chambers used for religious and ceremonial events.

Stephen Lekson, who has studied the Anasazi phenomenon for over twenty years, described Chaco Canyon this way in a recent article for National Geographic, "Imagine that you're a teenage kid in the 11th century, coming from the boondocks to Chaco for the first time.  You've walked four days from the north across that desolate plain to get here and you look over the edge . . . what would you think?  It would scare the hell out of you … They planned it that way—as theater."
Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl
Note: hidden chamber in back enabled underground
passage to center of kiva for theatrical entrances

Within its thirty-two square miles, there were thirteen of these great houses!  If you have ever driven through the heart of New Mexico, which is where Chaco Canyon resides, you have to admire the raw beauty of the arid lands.  But it is hard to imagine that anyone could etch out a living there.  Even today, houses are few and far between.  But in its heyday, it was estimated that over 5,000 lived in Chaco Canyon.

I think that the harsh conditions may have contributed to the extraordinary achievements because in order to survive they had to be extraordinarily creative and resolute.   But why build there in the first place?  Initially, it was a favorable location for that part of New Mexico since the narrow canyon caught rain runoff from the upland areas surrounding it.  This enabled the farmers in the canyon to capture water even when it didn’t rain directly on the canyon.  The soil was also quite fertile from the runoff.  The inventive residents learned to build dams and channels to capture, hold, and direct the water and, as a result, the “Chaco Wash” was able to support a much larger population than surrounding areas.

I have saved the Anasazi for last not only because the great Anasazi culture rose up after the Moche and Maya empires collapsed, but also because it seems to have avoided the extremes of the previous two cultures.  The cataclysmic event of 536 A.D. and the harsh climate that followed had begun its swing back when the Chaco Culture began to flourish and start building their unique version of large stone buildings around A.D. 700.  As the population grew, there developed a need for organization and government.

Again quoting Stephen H. Lekson, from his book “The Chaco Meridian”, “Chaco had begun about 900 [A.D.] as three villages competing, in a circumscribed canyon, for agricultural land and labor.  Those local energies spilled out of the canyon, engaging and entangling allies from around the agriculturally rich rim of the Chaco Basin.  By 1020 [A.D.] Chaco had emerged as a small but important central place.  Variable rainfall meant that a good year in the north might be a disaster in the south; Chaco’s serendipitous middle place promoted its rise as a kind of regional “capital” – a place to store and exchange commodities and a “corn bank” to even out the agricultural variability of the Chaco Basin.  Canyon leaders administered redistribution and real political power, based on garnered surpluses, developed within the canyon.  Population centers around the Chaco Basin became Chocoan “outliers”.”

And although the population within the canyon had long since outgrown the canyon’s agricultural capabilities, it was subsidized by the outliers pouring their surpluses into the “capital” across regional networks of roads visible from the air even today stretching from over 200 miles to the south, 200 miles to the north, 200 miles to the west, and over 100 miles to the east. 
Note: in picture [above] the scar from the road that connected Chaco Canyon to northern outliers can still be seen (left and abovef the ruin).

But, the empire proved to be very fragile.  Due to the nature of corn, it can only be stored for three years before it becomes too rotten or infested to eat.  Therefore, a severe drought lasting longer than three years could deplete corn supplies.  That fatal event happened around A.D. 1130 according to tree ring dating.   Unable to support itself and reliant on the outliers for food, the empire began to collapse as, according to Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse”, “… the outlying settlements that had formerly supplied the Chaco political and religious centers with food lost faith in the Chacoan priests whose prayers for rain remained unanswered, and they refused to make more food deliveries.”

There is evidence of intense warfare throughout the Chacoan empire.  But, unlike the desperate measures taken by the Mayan and Moche leaders and priests, there is no evidence that the Chaco elite resorted to human sacrifices.  Construction in Chaco had completely ceased by A.D. 1170 and the great houses were empty.  What happened to the people of Chaco Canyon?  More on that in the next installment of “Inconvenient Arrogance”.

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inconvenient Arrogance, Part 4 -- The Maya

For all his learning or sophistication, man still instinctively reaches towards that force beyond. Only arrogance can deny its existence, and the denial falters in the face of evidence on every hand. In every tuft of grass, in every bird, in every opening bud, there it is.”
-- Hal Borland
Mayan City of Tikal
The Mayan culture of Central America was arguably one the most advanced civilizations in the world.  The architecture was magnificent; the Mayan calendar is still the most accurate and complex ever invented;  their knowledge of astronomy still astounds us; and their sophisticated written language is still being deciphered today.  There is good evidence that the Maya or their predecessors the Olmec had an advanced understanding of the cosmos and a written language as early as 3000 B.C.  I point to the dates on their monuments that originate from 3113 B.C.
But unlike the Moche culture that I described in Part 3 of this series, the Mayan culture did not fail all at once because of a single climatic event.  There are a number of reasons and I shall touch on some of them, but I still see evidence of the devastating role that arrogance played on each of the collapses.
Frederick Catherwood lithograph of Tulum, 1844
Unlike the Moche empire, the Maya never unified the many grand empires under a single rule.  Probably the biggest factor was that the terrain forced the different cities to be isolated and were separated by great distances.  The difficulty of agriculture to provide for the huge populations needed to support the massive cities required ever expanding cultivation of land surrounding the cities.  There is evidence of terraced hill slopes to retain soil and moisture, irrigation systems, and complex canal systems to enhance production and extend the fertility of the soil beyond what was possible with slash and burn techniques, but, because of the low protein crops, lack of domesticated animals, high humidity that curtailed storage, and difficulty of transporting crops (again no domesticated animals) a typical farmer could only produce twice what he needed for himself and his family.  A paltry surplus compared to other advanced cultures.
It is easy to see the affect that climate change had on the Mayan empires.   The pre-classic rise of El Mirador coincides with the wet climate that prevailed from 250 B.C.  to 125 A.D.  Then El Mirado collapsed during the drought from 125 A.D. to 250 A.D.  The rise of the classic period coincided with the return of a wetter period from 250 A.D. to 500 A.D.  The momentous event that started the collapse of the Moche culture in 536 A.D. also appears to have affected the Maya. This event coincides with the so-called “Mayan Hiatus” in 6th and 7th centuries when no monuments were erected at the well-studied site of Tikal.  There is no doubt that turmoil and confusion gave the cultures reason to pause during the several years when the sun was blocked by acidic particles in the atmosphere (refer to Part 3) and temperatures cooled.  Following the cooling period, the worst drought in the last 7,000 years peaking around 800 A.D. coincides with the collapse of the classic period.  End dates on monuments for clusters of Maya centers fall into three clusters – 810, 860, and 910 which match the severe droughts that occurred around those three dates.
Time and time again, the cities would expand and grow during periods of favorable weather until they were vulnerable to periods of drought and failed.  And, as we saw with the Moche, the Kings and nobles who had taken credit for prosperity were blamed for the climate change.  And, like the Moche, cruel ritual ceremonies of human sacrifice developed and increased as each empire went into collapse.
As Jared Diamond wrote in his Pullitzer Prize winning book “Collapse”, “In Maya society the king also functioned  as high priest carrying the responsibility  to attend to  astronomical and calendrical rituals, and thereby to bring rain and prosperity, which the king claimed to have the supernatural power to deliver because of his asserted family relationship to the gods.  That is, there was a tacitly understood quid pro quo: the reason why the peasants supported the luxurious lifestyle of the king and his court, fed him corn and venison, and built his palaces was because he had made implicit big promises to the peasants.  … [the] kings got into trouble with their peasants if a drought came, because that was tantamount to the breaking of a royal promise.”
Once again, the “inconvenient arrogance” that man can influence or control climate most likely brought down the magnificent Mayan culture as it did the incredible Moche. 

Continue to Part 5

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Clans of the Cherokee, part 8 -- The Wolf Clan

The Aniwaya (people of the Wolf), representing war, is the largest and most prominent clan. They provided most of the war chiefs throughout history and just as the wolf was regarded as a protector, the clan is known as protectors of the people.  In ancient times, they hunted like wolves, running after game and attacking in packs.  They are the keeper and tracker of the wolf. They loved wolves and sometimes raised them in captivity, training wolf pups like dogs.  It was bad luck to kill a wolf, except for the professional wolf killer who knew the proper way to use medicine, magic and conjures to avoid the curse.  They are the only clan who could kill a wolf through their special ceremonies and wolf medicines.

It is their responsibility to develop, maintain and teach the knowledge of loyalty, protection and security as part of achieving the seventh level of personal development.
Shaman painted on ancient shell cup

They were responsible for keeping up to date intelligence for their village or tribe.  They could function as part of the group while maintaining their own individuality.  The clan color if the Aniwaya is red, their wood is hickory and their flag is red with white stars.  At some Oklahoma Cherokee ceremonial grounds the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue arbor and they get to drink the black drink first during Stomp dances.

The Black Drink custom dates back to antiquity.  Originally drank from whelk shell cups,  the drink was part of many Cherokee ceremonies including council meetings, preparations for war, and purification.  Made from Youpon Holly leaves and branches, the drink had emetic properties and was sometimes used for purification through ritual vomiting.  The drink was roasted to bring out its caffeine properties and the dark color.  Colonists would later use the leaves for a tea or coffee substitute.  Ceremonies required the drink be served from a communal cup in the order of importance starting with most important visitors and down the ranks.  The wolf clan also used the drink in ceremonial preparations for war.

Notable Surnames: A: Abercrombie, Action, Adams, Allen, Atkins, Atkinson B: Badger, Beaver, Bell, Black Fox, Blades, Bledsol, Bloom, Bloomfield, Boodinaugh, Bowles, Boxturtle, Bradberry, Broom (Nancy), Brown (Sarah), Bugg C: Canoe, Caudle, Chandler, Cloudy Parks, Coateney, Coin, Coseen, Coughmann, Coxs, Cupp, Custalow D: Doekiller, Dragging Canoe, Dull Knife E: Easton, English F: Fall, Fire Carrier, Foose, Forbush G: Grite, Grundy H: Hand, Highpine, Hilderbrand, Hill, Huganen I: Inlow J: James, Justice (Lena) K: Keener, Kicks, Kickupp, Kitch L: Linser, Little Fellow, Little Owl, Littlefield, Long, Long Fellow, Long Limper, Lowery M: Mackey, Mills (Elvis) N: Neal, Neil, Nionee, Nution O: Oldham, Ooneeghdeehee R: Raiper, Riddle, Rider, Ridge S: Sain, Samson, Sharp, Sheepkiller, Starr, Straw T: Tame Doe, Thimble, Todd, Towie, Tranquatti, Tsiyugigaghy, Tucker, Turkey at Home, Turtle U: Uhlery W: Wade, Waite, Walker, Ward, Ward (Nancy), Watie, White, White Dog, White Horn, White Mankiller, Wise, Wolfe, Wood(s)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clans of the Cherokee, part 7 -- The Blue Holly Clan

7 clan chiefs
accompanied Sir Alexander Cumming to England in 1730
 representing every region in which the Cherokee then lived
So where did the notion of “clans” come from?  Here is an interesting explanation from Deputy  Principal Chief Hastings Shade of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma:
“… there was of a time when there were 14 Cherokee clans. Over the centuries, the Cherokee combined clans and opened them to captives and non-Indians. The tribe settled on the number seven to honor the seven directions: north, south, east, west, up, down, and center.  Before European contact, the clan was the most important affiliation of Cherokees which gave them their place in the tribe and in their world. Clan was passed from a Cherokee mother to her children. In the matrilineal kinship system, a Cherokee woman decided when and whom to marry. She could not marry a member of her mother's clan, who were considered blood relations, no matter how distant. After marriage, a man took his wife's clan.”
Some say that at one time there were over 80 clans.  Other accounts hold that there were less.  But, most accounts admit that there were once more than seven clans and the Chicamauga set up an extra bench at their dances to honor the missing clans that they consolidate under the “Lost Bear” clan. 
This account also comes from the Chicamauga website:
“One of the clans did not form into one of the tribes, but vanished completely. This was the Ani-Tsaguhi (People who-disappeared), which many believe were some of our people who went into the forest and willingly became bears in order to feed the people during a time of famine.
"It is taught among the Chickamauga that ALL Clans are part of the Bear Clan.
"Two other groups of relatives, the Susquehanna and Tuscarora, joined the Iroquois. The Iroquois moved north into the cold country and to the great lakes of the north.
The seven clans that remained became known as Ugaya (Seven clan Society.)”
Each of the seven remaining clans of the Cherokee has unique responsibilities in the tribe.   The Anisahoni , or the Blue Clan or Blue Holly Clan,  represented the Sky.   They taught the ways of the panther and wild cats and were sometimes also called the Panther or Wild Cat Clan.  Or, in some cases, the Panther, Wild Cat, and Bear were thought of as subdivisions of the Anisahoni. 
They taught  the importance of the ability to balance power,  truth, intention, physical strength, and grace in  pursuit of the seven levels of life achievement and fulfillment.  Their color is blue, their wood is ash and their flag is blue with white stars.
They were known for a children’s medicine that they produced from a bluish colored plant called the Blue Holly – hence the name.  They took care of medicinal gardens and specialized in children’s medicines.
According to “”, these are notable Surnames: A: Ableman, Alberty B: Baker, Ballard, Ballew, Bannon, Bear, Bearfield, Bearstriker, Beartracker, Bent Leg, Berrymann, Big Fellow, Blood, Blue, Blue Horse, Boling, Bradberry, Brown (Mary), Burns, Burns (Aky), Bushy, Buzzark C: Canaughkutt, Cane (Mary), Casteel, Chembers, Chiltoskie, Cornseen, Cowin Crouch D: Daniels, Dardiene, Dare, Deehee, Dog, Drowing Bear, Duck, Dull Knife F: Fawling (Nellie), Foreman G: Gains, Gates, Geegah Nundah, Gilideehee, GoForth, GoodPasture, Gray Horse, Green, Griss, Grundy H: Hair, Hamby, Hare (Jas), Heard, Highfield, Hobbs I: Inlow K: Kenoteta, Kickupp, Kinder, Kitchen, Kofft L: Lame Arm, Lewis, Lock, Long, Loudermilk, Lowery (Geo) M: Mackintyre, Mankiller of Settico, Marlin, McCoy, McKenney, McKinnley, Miller N: Niven O: Oconastota, Ooloostah, Oolutsa P: Peters, Pohatan Oolashela, Poor, Proper Q: Quatisis R: Rains, Raven (Collanagh), Ray, Red Hand, Revels, Roap (Sallie), Rogers, Rose, Ross, Roy S: Sagoni, Shallelock, Silver, Skallelock, Sriver-Walker (Elizabeth), Starr T: Tacitie, Talontaskee (Jenny), Thunduski Guneega, Toon, Turner W: Wadichacha, White Beaver Y: Yansa Gatoga, Yates, Young Z: ZillioƱ, Zion