Thursday, February 21, 2013

2 - How the Chumash turned the wayward sun around

Part 2: The Alchuklash

The ancient Chumash Indians of Southern California (see Part 1), relied on their astronomer/priests to guide them in their daily lives and to protect the harmony of their world.  Each village had an astronomer/priest called the “Alchuklash” who possessed the ability to read the sky and make predictions; exert influence over the forces of nature through their connections with the heavens; resolve or preserve the peace among the villages; heal the sick; control the weather; and on and on.  For instance, at birth the Alchuklash would be on hand to name the child based upon the stars.  He had the power to bring rain or turn away storms.  The Alchuklash did this through his knowledge of the stars, sun, and moon similar to the way astrology is used to tell our fortune today.  Their ability and responsibilities gave them great power in their communities.

As Ray A. Williamson put it in his book “Living the Sky”, “The Alchuklash conducted their lives and made their observations of the skies under the basic assumption that the world of humans and everything else in the world were inextricably bound together.  The appropriate human actions could influence the workings of the rest of the cosmos, and vice versa.”

The greatest force in the sky was the sun.  The Chumash name for the sun meant “radiance of a child born on the winter solstice”.  From “Living the Sky, “The sun lived in the Upper World with his two daughters in a house made of quartz crystal.  His wives were the morning and evening stars.  In his daily travels across the sky, he not only carred the sun torch to light the world but also preyed on humans below.  His only clothing was a feather band around his head, into which he would stuff an occasional Chumash child as he traveled.  …  After reaching his house again at sunset, Sun would dine on the humans he chanced to gather up during the day.

“… Sun was a powerful being who brought life in the form of heat and light but could also bring death – presumably to those who deserved it, for he served as a moral symbol as well. ‘Never do anything that is prejudicial or unlawful and think that no one will see you,’ said the Chumash, ‘For while the sun is shining, an eye is here … .’”

The winter solstice was a time of great foreboding for the Chumash as it was for most ancient cultures.  The autumn equinox was a day of perfect balance – the day and the night were of equal length.  But each day after that, night became more dominant and days grew shorter.  Each day the sun traveled further and further south and left in its wake colder and more dreary weather.  Every year the Chumash relied on the Alchuklash to do something to stop the sun from leaving them for good.  They depended upon their astronomer/priests to stop the sun, turn him around and encourage him to start his travels northward again.

In the next segment of “How the Chumash turned the wayward sun around”, we will look at how the Alchuklash prepared for the winter solstice so that they could influence to the sun to turn around.

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