[ Click the image above or here for the story from Science/AAAS ]
Thought I’d pass along an interesting report on a study about the possibility of chocolate being found in North American pottery bowls.
Chocolate was used by many Mesoamerican cultures, usually as a sacred drink for the elite, but not always (and not the sweetened drink or candy we know today, of course). The possibility of it showing up in North American bowls like these shows that a more robust trade was going on between the peoples of the tropics in Central America and parts of Mexico and those of the more northern zones represented by the U.S. This is controversial, but I think there is a high chance of it being so.
A number of years ago, I was in Monument Valley enjoying the rare treat of talking with a loquacious Navajo man. Most Navajo are quite reserved, especially around strangers. This young man was very open and verbose, so we talked a good while about many things. In that discussion, I remember him bringing up the Kokopelli legend and iconic art image. Kokopelli was the humpbacked flute player that appears all over the West in rock art and in ancient legends and is so commercialized today on everything made to sell to tourists in the desert southwest.
He told me that in his tradition, Kokopelli was remembered as a real person – an itinerant trader who, a very long time ago (as much as 1,200 years according to current estimates), came up out of Aztec Mexico and even more southerly lands. He brought trade goods like the copper bells, shells, and parrot feathers that have been documented in the North. He was unusual in that he was able to move freely between tribes without being killed. This was because he was not only a tradesman, but also a healer. The legends tell and the artworks show him playing his famous flute, and my friend said this was probably to announce his presence to a tribe he was approaching. They knew his flute and song and allowed him to come without a violent challenge, even if he had just come from an enemy tribe. They did this because he could bring healing techniques and medicines from his southern cultures. Although I have no proofs of it, I would presume many of these were shamanic techniques as well. To these northern tribes, he was an exotic traveling shaman/medicine man. The humpback was probably derived from his large sack of trade goods that he swung on his back. Kokopelli took advantage of his celebrity status and the power it brought him. Although you won’t see it much in the tourist art, he is often portrayed with an erection, and was known to engage with the tribal women wherever he traveled. Modern archeologists even consider him a fertility deity figure.
I think there is so much we do not know about pre-Columbian people’s range of travel, capacities of trade, and interactions with distant, foreign cultures. Places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico seem to have been religious centers linked to such trade of goods and ideas. It’s fascinating that, with our modern technologies, this new research is finding the traces of tropical chocolate still lying in the grit and whorls of these wonderful northern bowls.
Zozobra is “Old Man Gloom.” (Zozobra is “anxiety” in Spanish.)
Here is a link to a short (4 minute) film I made showing the ritual burning of the Zozobra in Santa Fe. It includes video, effected still photos, and some of my own original deep ambient music tracks. Run full size if you can, and please enjoy it!
Zozobra represents or symbolizes troubles, worries, and the problems of life. Once each year in September, the city of Santa Fe hosts a very unusual ritual: the burning of the Zozobra. This 51 foot tall statue is made mostly of paper and is actually a marionette – the world’s largest – which is ritually burned in front of tens of thousands of yelling participants, thus releasing all their collected sorrows and problems into the ether and bringing peace and happiness to all who engage with the rite. This ritual has been conducted every year since 1924 – for 88 years as of this year’s event.
[Click on any photo for a larger, higher quality view.]
I was lucky enough to be in Santa Fe on just the right day to attend, and I was truly fascinated to see this essentially pagan, shamanistic ritual played out in front of, for, with, and to a mostly typical American audience. Unlike some of the neighboring pueblo religious events, dances, and rituals that can be attended by non-Indians if they remain quiet and do not disturb the proceedings, this event, invented by a white man, is participatory by everyone and anyone. It is made to be palatable and acceptable to this presumably mostly non-pagan audience by one overriding fact: it is conducted as a very broad, humorous, tongue-in-cheek event. No one really appears to take it seriously and everyone has a party good time.
It struck me, however, that this is actually a very powerful ritual taking place here. Even through the fun and games, the essential and actual power of the symbol comes through for everyone who participates. It might be at a sub-conscious level, or buried under a layer of smirks, but there is no way such a grand metaphor, played out in live action, movie-climax style, cannot be effective as advertised. I have conducted similar rituals at home with friends and a backyard fire pit, casting our slips of paper all inscribed with our regrets and sorrows into the flames, and that was powerful even at that level. This ceremony is public, gargantuan, and potent.
Zozobra is an older manifestation of the modern “Burning Man” event in Nevada each year, but the shamanic ideas and the ceremony of the fire go much farther back in time than even Zozobra, of course. Shamanism is the oldest of the “religions” of mankind and one would think it to be fully buried and fossilized, but that is not the case. Shamanistic societies, tribes, and individuals thrive all across the world. Once in a while, a manifestation of it shows up like a lava intrusion into the solid granite of the orthodox religious cultures of our modern world. Zozobra is one of those, even if it is, perhaps, not intended to be by those who conduct the rite.
In my little film, I tried to show this multi-level contrast between the broad humor and the serious symbolic work by juxtaposing the circus aspects of the gathering and the undercurrent of true meaning by incorporating the intense, austere soundtrack of my deep ambient music. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m always interested in and open to your comments.
Time settles down as withered flakes
In the land of wizened stone.
Minutes and hours pile up.
One on top of another.
The essence of their measure
Baked hard into unyielding clays,
Filling each rocky crack.
Bajadas covered with arid months,
Arroyos layered with dusty days,
Until the desert is made of nothing
But time accumulated – waiting.
Released at last by some cosmic rain,
Floating free and blending.
A mass ascension into Eternity.
~ David P. Crews
Photo taken in the Bisti Badlands Wilderness Area, NW New Mexico, USA.
My last post about the Mayans made me think about how they revered caves and other underground spaces as sacred portals to the afterlife, so I thought I’d post this recent image of mine from Carlsbad Caverns Nat. Park.
“Perhaps time is after all merely a device to prevent everything from happening at once – or the illusion that prevents us from seeing that in fact everything is happening at once. For time really dwells within the vastness of Eternity – where all things exist simultaneously without any past or future: as that most ancient of all texts, the Rig-Veda, tells us so pointedly.”
– Paul William Roberts, In Search of the Birth of Jesus-The Real Journey of the Magi (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995) 278.
Note: recently reissued (more appropriately) as The Journey of the Magi.
By the way, this book by Paul William Roberts is one of a very few that have actually changed the course of my life and my philosophy when I encountered it by chance in the mid 90′s. He traces the history of modern religions back through Zoroastrianism to the Vedas. That logically leads the intrepid seeker on back to shamanism. I highly recommend his book for its truly important insights, plus it is also a great travelogue and one of the most outrageously funny such books I’ve read.
Just one of the amazing rock formations in the Bisti Wilderness Area, south of Farmington, New Mexico.
The old ones had their own names for the homes they made under the shadow of the cliffs.
Sometimes, their voices yet echo softly down the walls of stone. You may hear them if you are very still.
It was a good life, here in the protected canyon with its stream and its cottonwood trees. There was trade and there were crops of corn. The women wove the magic into the fabric of their clothing and baskets, and the men kept the farms and hunted on the mesas.
They gathered in sacred spaces to experience those things that connected them to the spirits of the land.
This ceased to be one day, as the people walked away from their elegant labors. We still do not know for certain just why.