An Ancient Solar “Observatory” in Arizona

The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon — an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) residential/ritual/governmental (?) complex in northeastern New Mexco that flourished during what where the early Middle Ages in Europe — is well-known among archaeoastronomers, as is the possible solar alignment built into one of the grand kivas nearby at Casa Rinconada.

Now another solar “clock” is being claimed at the the ancient Puebloan site preserved at Wupatki National Monument in northern Arizona, where moving shadows and petroglyphs mark the solstices and equinoxes: an “imaging calendar,” as it is called.

To quote someone on the Casa Rinconada website,

“The historical accuracy of the alignment may be less important than its symbolic value, especially for those who flock to the site on the summer solstice.

“Casa Rinconada has become a place where people come to see an alignment. In our culture, we haven’t been taught to relate to the natural rhythm of what the sun and the earth are doing throughout the year. So here’s a place where you can come and see that—not a representation of a solstice, but the actual solstice, as mediated by a building. It’s a wonderful experience.”

So perhaps we look at all astronomical alignments in whatever country as wonderful examples of nature religion. Casa Rinconada attracted a crowd during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when various New Age thinkers, led by José Argüelles, promoted prophecies connected to a planetary alignment: “The convergence is purported to have ‘corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.'”1)No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.

The New Age event was spoofed at a Pagan festival in New Mexico that summer by a dance performance of the “Harmonica Vigins.”

My view on astronomical alignments was being warped in the 1980s by seminars with Davíd Carrasco, a scholar of Mesoamerican religion who has spent a lot of time working with temple alignments and associated mythology.

My take-away was that astronomical alignments are mostly about priestcraft and power. Farmers don’t need rows of giant stones to tell them when to plant. Every locale has its indicators: here in the southern Colorado foothills, when the emerging leaves of Gambel oak are thumbnail-size,2)“As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric. the chance of a frost is usually past. (Usually!) And I know that the sun sets in a notch on the ridge to the west at the equinoxes, for what that is worth.

Being able to proclaim the cycles from the temple steps is probably more about showing how “King Jaguar” enjoys of the favor of the gods than anything else.

Notes   [ + ]

1. No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.
2. “As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric.

St. Georgia, Maker of Art, Pray for Us

St. Georgia (Wikipedia).

Here in the city whose patron is St. Francis (more about that later), I keep thinking that the new pope of the same name might as well go ahead and canonize — or at least beatify —  Georgia O’Keeffe.

Yes, there are some obstacles. For one, she was not Roman Catholic, not particularly Christian at all. But what a move to bring more of the bourgeois bohemians into the fold it would be!

Consider the devotion that she inspires.

Walking down Grant Street the other day, I could see little flocks of pilgrims (mostly female, mostly of a certain age) streaming off the streets around the plaza, headed for her shrine.

That shrine, meanwhile, is merely part of an entire O’Keeffe complex, where the pilgrim may enrich her life with programs and lectures on memoir-writing,  “art & leadership for adults,” plein-air pastel drawing, “O’Keefe’s language of forms,”  and many other sacred subjects.

Advanced initiates might seek a stipend in American modernism.

Many single women move to the little town of Aibquiu, a Santa Fe acquaintance tells me, where one may for a fee tour just part of O’Keeffe’s home there: the living room, kitchen, and pantry only, I am told. Have any of them experienced miracles? That would help the sainthood application clear a major hurdle.

Her other home, Ghost Ranch, has functioned as a spiritual retreat center for many years.  (It is owned by Protestants, which could be a problem. But no matter.)

Her followers look to her for lessons on the art of living and even study her rather plain menus for guidance on how an artist eats.

While her cultus already provides an economic lift to the old provincial capital, beatification or canonization would certainly increase that even more.

Just tell the bishops to keep their distance. Otherwise, it’s a win-win situation. Are you listening, Holy Father?

Adding New Gods

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus wonders about how new gods are added to polytheist pantheons.

Something that will often happen, particularly with reconstructionist-based practitioners, is that further research into a particular deity and their connections leads to “new-to-me” or various other re-discovered deities that are then taken into one’s personal pantheon. Or, suddenly, a deity emerges in one’s experiences that one hadn’t paid attention to previously, or gets one’s attention in some fashion or other; whether they are readily identified or if it takes some study to figure out who they are, such encounters often occur that expand one’s personal network of divine relationships.  . . .

What about the less-frequent (but nonetheless possible) reality of totally new deities, though? How does one deal with this issue when it arises? I have yet to see any modern Pagan or polytheist treatment of this matter, nor any conventional training and education on when and why it can occur, nor how to handle it when it does. And, while it might not be that frequent of an occurrence, I suspect that we are going to see a lot more of it in the near future as our community expands and the world continues to change.

He goes on to discuss how today’s Pagans might deal with the emergence of new gods, including an ancient oracular practice

The blog made me think, for example, of how the Santa Muerte cult has grown, moving even beyond people with roots in Mexico. The image has been around a long time—go into any folklore museum in New Mexico, for instance, and you will see the similar Doña Sebastiana in her cart, a relic of the old lay brotherhood of the Penitentes. Does that make La Santa Muerte a “new” goddess, or just an upgraded one?

Idolatry 101: Kachina Dolls

Traditional-style kachinas by known carvers command four-figure prices.

Robert Cafazzo, antiques-and-art dealer in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, discusses the care and repair of kachina dolls, which can be simultaneously images of spiritual power and art objects made to be purchased by collectors.

(Disclaimer: I have bought a few small things at his shop, Two Graces, although not kachinas.)

He also gets into the collecting side and shares some of  his “kachina kitsch.”

Then there are the doll carvings made by other Pueblo people. Zuni carvings are some of the best (in the store here they always sell rather quickly, recently I had one for all of 3 hours!), Acoma & Laguna carvings are the simplest and to some collectors extremely desirable but really not for everyone, basically they look like a short log with a stylized face, Jemez dolls tend to be confused with ‘Boy Scout’ carvings, those from Isleta are not common but do exist. San Juan carvings, which I carry are specific to the various Northern Pueblo Dances. As a rule I do not carry Navajo Kachinas, which I refer to as PowWow Dancer Dolls. These may look great on a coffee table featured in a photo essay for Architectural Digest or some other home interiors magazine, but they are some of the worst craftsmanship of curios in the marketplace today. Navajo carvers did make traditional Route 66 Yei Dolls, and there are some amazing Navajo traditional carvings out there. It’s my personal opinion that PowWow Dancer Dolls are not your best option. All of the Pueblos in New Mexico & Arizona have their own unique carvings, some do not offer them as crafts for sale and strictly forbid the sale of wooden deity carvings. When visiting a Pueblo ask for dolls or crafts—never ask for ‘Kachinas’.

In Two Graces, you will find both fine kachina dolls and kachina salt-and-pepper shakers—Robert likes it all.

Talking about Tlaloc

Feather offering for Tlaloc

Bundle of turkey, Steller’s jay, and flicker feathers placed in a dry spring basin.

On Friday morning, April 29, back from a early morning fire call (shed + trash + grasses at the edge of the prairie), I climbed the ridge behind the house and made an offering to Tlaloc, the god of rain.

(I think I need to make a lot more of them, given that it has not rained for a month.)

Later that day the Sand Gulch Fire exploded, forcing us to evacuate our house and spend the night in our pop-up camping trailer parked next to the fire station. But the next day it snowed four inches, helping to bring the fire under control.

The desert ecologist and nature writer Craig Childs got me thinking about Tlaloc a while ago with some evocative passages in his book House of Rain, which I reviewed on the other blog here (also referenced in this post).

At high, prominent springs or caves in Guatemala or the Yucatán,  one is likely to find the head of a decapitated rooster (replacing the turkey, which was commonly used in the past) along with pools of melted wax from votive candles (365).

This post kicks off my discussion about being an American Eclectic Witch reviving the cult of Tlaloc on a household basis—no stepped pyramids here, just real mountains.

Tlaloc

Both Aztec depictions of Tlaloc and Mayan depictions of the equivalent deity, Chaac (if you follow a sort of interpretatio azteca), leave me cold aesthetically, for all that they are richly symbolic. But one thing at a time—perhaps I can find one done in the style of pop-Mexican calendar art.

The worship of the gods can change over time—consider this “feast of St. Tlaloc.” We could do that!

More to come.

Los Matachines at Yule

Taken several years ago with tribal permission, this Taos News photo shows the dancers led by former pueblo governor Ruben Romero.

You hear different languages. There are French tourists, German tourists, and some guy in a Rasta tam. Another man looks like he came straight from the nearby Overland Sheepskin Co. store, pausing only to snip the tags off his coat.

I am not the only one in the artsy Anglo uniform of broad-brimmed hat, colorful muffler or scarf, and sunglasses. M. wears her leather jacket and dangling Hopi earrings—another Southwestern look.  Scattered piles of ash from the bonfires of Christmas Eve, when they process the Virgin with fireworks and rifle shots.

The air smells of piñon pine smoke mixed with coal smoke. The Indian crafts shops on the ground floor of the old Taos Pueblo are doing a modest business. (Tribal members are required to spend part of each year in the old 13th-century buildings, sans indoor plumbing.)

Old Tony Reyna, a former Taos Pueblo governor, crosses the open ground, a red blanket around his shoulders, leaning on an ornate staff, and his elbow held by a younger man. He is a Bataan Death March survivor—so many of them were New Mexicans. (Jeez, he survived that.) But his appearance is not the signal.

Eventually, you see the phalanx of dancers pass by way up at the east end of the plaza. They pass behind the North House and . . . nothing happens.

Half an hour or so goes by. Then they appear between some houses and the church, and somehow people know to follow them to a little side area. There is a string band, El Abuelo and La Abuela, the little girl (La Malinche in some versions),  El Monarca (the king, sometimes Moctezuma.)

No Cortés. El Toro (the bull) is a bison. This is Taos, after all.

The masked dancers wear veils—a curtain of black cords—and thin scarves wrapped to hide their lower faces, tied behind their heads. They carry small canister rattles wrapped in flowing scarves in one hand and a sort of small, decorated wooden trident in the other. Multicolor shawls cover their shoulders and streamers flow down their backs.

The dancers take direction from El Abuelo, the Grandfather. He wears an old man’s mask with a long beard and is dressed like an old-fashioned Hispano rancher: blue jeans, shirt and leather vest, straw hat, and bullwhip, which he snaps for punctuation. He shouts in Spanish  His partner is La Abuela, Grandmother, definitely a man, in a head scarf and  long skirt, carrying a capacious handbag, who takes special care of the little girl in the princess costume who might be La Malinche. Or maybe not.

El Toro and La Abuela bring out a pole, like a Maypole but with woven sashes tied end to end descending instead of ribbons. The musicians play, the Bull and and the Grandfather hold up the pole—I  could go all structuralist here: Bull, Axis Mundi.

Everything means many things, I am sure, and the important thing is just to be there in your body, not to worry about “what it means.”

At the end, El Abuelo shouts, “Le gustan?”  (“You like it?”).  Everyone applauds, and the dancers go into a house. The crowd disperses, but some people in the know are walking towards the adobe church of San Geronimo.

Half a dozen old ladies, some in blankets, are lined up on the postage-stamp size stone-paved courtyard, surrounded by a low adobe wall. It is a good principle that where the old ladies are is where something will happen—and it will happen when they all get there.

Gradually people assemble around the outside of the wall. Half a dozen straight-backed chairs are brought out of the adobe church. Two at the church end of the court yard, two opposite, just inside the gate. A couple off to one side.

Waiting. My feet hurt. What about the feet of the old women standing on sandstone slabs?  Our Taos friends leave to go tend to their dogs. We will see them later.

And then the dancers arrive again, processing through the courtyard gate. The fiddler and guitarist sit in the two chairs at the church end and resume their tune, while the dancers form two files and dance various twirling figures, cowboy boots clomping on the slabs, while El Abuelo snaps his bullwhip and shouts, “Vámanos” (“Let’s go!”), etc.

La Abuela guides the little girl, and at one point the she and the king sit in chairs at the gateway end. A middle aged blanket-wrapped Indian man occasionally calls instructions in a loud whisper: “She’s got to be behind him!”  and so on. He must be the real master of ceremonies.

Low, weak sun. It is chilly in the shade. Lucky people with pueblo connections stand on flat roofs looking down into the courtyard.  Occasionally a woman will step up to the line of dancers to straighten the streams on (her son’s?) headdress.

We are spiraling past the solstice, and the dancers keep turning and turning. Most headdresses are decorated with squash blossom necklaces and other  tribal jewelry, but one displays two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and when he turns I see that the ribbons down his back are green-gold-red like the Vietnam War service ribbon. Since the dancers appear to be young men, they must have been earned by his relatives?

The sun has well-passed its low zenith, and the dancers keep flowing as in a Virginia reel. At one point El Toro dances down between the two lines and makes a “pass” with each dancer individually. Then Abuelo and Abuela wrestle him comically to the ground and wave his (detachable) balls, which are offered to a woman standing in the church doorway, who smiles and hands them back. La Abuela puts them in her handbag.

Suddenly it’s over with a final series of weaving movements. M. has grown chilly standing in the shade of the church. We will drive back to our rented lodgings in town, pick up food and gifts, and drive a short way north of El Prado to our friends’ house for Christmas dinner. All is right.

Vampires of Santa Fe

Corn plant grill work in Acequia Madre neighborhood, Santa Fe, New MexicoA week ago I walked through a snow squall on Cathedral Place in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and thought, “Santa Fe needs a vampire novel.”

I had in mind something like Anne Rice meets Jake Page meets Michael McGarrity.

It turns out that a Santa Fe-based writer, S.M. Stirling, has in fact been writing in that vein (heh).  Here is his protagonist, hanging out in the Plaza, pondering an eternal Santa Fe question—shopping or museum-ing:

A homeless man was approaching, ready to ask for a handout; leathery skin and rank scent and layers of tattered cloth. She glared at him and found the weakness—a blood-vessel in the brain ready to rupture, weakened by drugs, bad feeding, alcohol and stress from the untreated chemical imbalances that rode him more savagely than even her kind could do. She pushed. The world shifted slightly as might-be switched to is, like a breath of cold air up the spine and a tightness that went click and released around the brows. The man collapsed.

Adrienne rose and stepped by him; it would probably be minutes before someone noticed it was more than the usual unconsciousness. She’d planned on spending the afternoon at the O’Keefe Museum, or possibly shopping for jewelry, but…

Sample chapters of the book, A Taint in the Blood, are available at his Web site. Stirling seems to have a fondness for superhuman characters who, we might say, clean out the weak, which fits with the literary-vampire ethos.

(Earlier mentions of Stirling’s work here and here.)

Santa Fe might be called the New Orleans of the West, only “earthy” in an elemental sense rather than “watery.

It caters to tourists and offers them a good time. Tourist Santa Fe, selling High Culture (art and opera) to Texans (and others) co-exists with governmental Santa Fe just hundreds of yards away—after all, it has been a provincial capital since 1608.

But underneath . . . layers and layers. Ethnic balkanization and people cherishing hatreds and triumphs that go back centuries. Martyrs and massacres.  Deep roots in the earth.

Gallimaufry with Confusion

• The latest weird search query to bring a visitor to this blog: “Is New Mexico a polytheistic, monotheistic, or animistic religion?” Hello? New Mexico is a state. No wonder that for years New Mexico Magazine has had a standing column on geographical confusion called “One of Our 50 is Missing.”

• A

• Christian apologist John Morehead interviews film scholar Carrol L. Fry, author of Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film. An excerpt:

TheoFantastique [Morehead] : Cinema has also changed in its depiction of the witch. Are fairytale depictions as in Harry Potter, as well as those which depict the empowerment of the feminine perhaps the most common modes of expression in contemporary film?

Carrol Fry: Yes, the empowerment of the feminine is the most popular adaptation, whether the film is supportive of critical. I’m sure this has to do with attracting an audience for the film. But Pagans might well feel that Hollywood slights their spiritual paths by concentrating nearly exclusively on feminist Wicca, and then just on the most sensational elements. By the way, there’s a strong subtext of feminist Wicca in
that no one much notices, most obviously in Sophie’s (named for Sophia from the Gnostic tradition) blunders into a Wiccan ceremony in which her grandfather is “drawing down the moon” as a coven ceremony. There are a few other witch films that are not part of the culture wars, romantic films such as I Married a Witch
and Bell, Book and Candle that are neither the silly version of witches (that have nothing to do with Neo-Paganism[sic]) such as the Harry Potter novels and films nor adaptations of Wicca.