Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beads and Fetishes in Pueblo Witchcraft, Part I

                                                       The Pueblo of Taos in New Mexico     

When we speak of ‘Pueblo Indians’ we mean the Indians who built multi-storied adobe dwellings that run from Taos in northern New Mexico down to Hopi in Arizona.  Non-nomadic, these people pioneered farming, weaving, bead and pottery-making.  They developed a more settled lifestyle than the Plains Indians who remained nomadic, following the hunt and relocating often.  The Pueblos include Acoma, San Ildefonso, Cochiti, Zuni, Santo Domingo, Jemez, Laguna, San Juan, Nambe, Picuris, and Tesuque.         
They predate the Navajos in the Southwest by approximately six hundred years and had evolved a spirituality and ritual life that involved the whole community in ceremonies conducted at different seasons and stages of the moon’s passage.  A great deal of Navajo religious thought and magical practices, including witchcraft, was influenced by the life of the Pueblos.

                                                          Zuni Medicine Man, Circa 1900

In traditional Pueblo ceremonialism, witchcraft is a magic power that can be good or evil, white or black.  The best men in a pueblo may be witches.  At Laguna and Zuni, as in many other pueblos, charges of witchcraft have been brought against even the highest officials.  While the pueblo curing societies work against this witchcraft, there are still secret societies which practice both black and white magic.  There is the individual practice of witchcraft, but there is an even stronger tradition of families or societies of witches that are organized with the same basic structure as other pueblo societies: Mosona, Pekwin, Pitashiwanni: chief, crier, guards. 

                                                 Pueblo Indians, Circa 1900

Members receive orders from high officials to go out and make people sick.  Ritual initiation demands that the candidate must bewitch someone to death.  At Zuni it is believed that death must be inflicted on a member of the prospective witch’s own family.  As part of the initiation, the candidate has a ceremonial father of the same animal spirit that the candidate hopes to acquire.  The ceremonial father goes with him under the arch of a bow that produces the desired transmigration.  A common but equally powerful change is achieved by ceremonially putting on claw and teeth beads of the creature one seeks to emulate.  These beads can carry a violent and death-dealing magic.  He may also garb himself in the skins of that animal. 
Animals are also associated with the six great directions and have their colors in Zuni cosmology: Eagle is multi-colored and associated with the sky.  The north is associated with the color yellow and the mountain lion.  East is white and belongs to the wolf.  West is blue and the province of the bear.  The south is red, home of the badger and the mole is the ruler of the underground and associated with the color black.


                                                         Warrior's Bear Claw Necklace

Envy is a common motive in witchcraft.  For years before he died, Gawire of Laguna, the Sun Shaman was blind.  His sister always believed that his blindness was caused by the envy of witches because he was so successful in his cures.
At Laguna the war captains were expected to shoot  a suspected witch when he was in his animal form.  This form will then drop away and the person of the witch will be exposed.  The witch will then fall ill and in four days will be dead.  In several towns, the story is told, prowling animals were shot only to learn  the next day that someone found with a mysterious wound.  In all the pueblos witches under heavy suspicion have suddenly disappeared.  In some instances they may have escaped and live in exile.  Due to heavy social pressure, suspects have also gone into exile.

                                             Tesuque Medicine Man's Vessel

Pueblo medicine men and doctors (different from either black or white magic witches) will also use a bear’s paw, wolf’s paw, or beads made from their teeth to harness the strength and shrewdness of these animals to fight the witches.  Agents of the witches are insects such as caterpillars or grasshoppers that are sent to destroy crops or sent directly into a person’s body to destroy it.  Sending things into the body is the commonest form of attack.  The witch may ‘send-in’ a piece of flesh from a corpse, a fragment of burial cloth, a grave bead, splinter of bone, thorn, cactus point or blade of grass.  Witches can also use the ghosts of members of a family they are persecuting, instructing the ghost to bid his relative to come and join him.
The curing societies are called in to deal with cases of bewitchment.  A doctor is always accompanied by his society colleagues who are protected by the war captains from a witch attack during the curing ceremony.  At Jemez war captains are also present during a cure.  At Zuni two bow-priests are attached to each society with one of their particular functions being to protect against attacking witches. 

                                      Contemporary Zuni Indian Olla Maiden Dancers

Coming Next Week: Zuni Fetishes in Pueblo Witchcraft

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beads in Navajo Witchcraft

                                                               Navajo Winter Hogan

            One of the most mysterious and dark uses of beads is found the practice of witchcraft.  Witchcraft has existed in all cultures from prehistoric man to the modern age, in locations from Africa, to Haiti, South America, North America and Asia.  It represents the need of people try to control the uncontrollable forces of nature and gain power in a universe where man is essentially powerless.  Everyone will eventually experience that moment when chance or karma steps in to alter one’s life in an inescapable way, rendering one impotent in the face of capricious fate.  The witch or shaman practicing black magic is given power by the fearful and others seeking to manipulate destiny, wreak vengeance, or punish an enemy.  A person strong and centered in his being with a guiding philosophy will not be affected by witchcraft.  It takes a vindictive or frightened person to lend the witch power which some believe he can then use to his own convoluted ends.  
Witchcraft is of fairly recent origin among the Navajos.  Many informants claim it has been practiced only since the days of The Long Walk and the Navajo Interment at Fort Sumner.  Undoubtedly, they assimilated these traditions from the Mexicans or Pueblo Indians since many aspects of Navajo witchcraft resemble ancient traditions of these cultures.  Beads have the greatest magic, especially a bead that belonged to an intended victim.  Also, ashes from a ghost hogan, bits of bone or teeth from a corpse that could be made into beads, grains of sand from a red anthill, olivella shells and fragments of rock buried for a sweat lodge.

                                                       Traditional Navajo Medicine Man

Navajo medicine men  use a variety of techniques to diagnose and cure a person’s illness, including charms and medicine pouches created from crystals, beads, herbs, feathers, stones, shells and bones.  Behind the use of these elements is a powerful belief in maintaining harmony with the forces of nature.  The dark side of Navajo medicine and magic is the Skinwalkers or Yea-Naa-gloo-shee, shape-shifting witches, who assume animal shapes and travel covertly to administer a curse.
            Witches are primarily active at night, roaming about as ‘were-animals.’ Wolves are the most common were-animals but they also utilize bear, owl, desert fox and crow for were-animal purposes. When in their animal identity, they adorn themselves with hides of that animal and assume all the powers associated with it: i.e. the wolf or coyote would impart speed and a sharpened sense of hearing or smell, the mountain lion endows one with grace and cunning, while birds grant night vision and the ability to fly

                                                            Navajo Skinwalker Effigy Dolls
             A Witches Sabbath is always convened in a cave where they meet to initiate new members, have sexual relations with dead women and kill victims at a distance by ceremonial practices.  Witches are naked at these gatherings except for masks, ceremonial paint and an abundance of beads about their necks.  Turquoise beads are preferred, but glass beads from the early trading days are also sought for their powerful medicine.  The leader of the Skinwalkers is traditionally an old man, potent in his magic and feared by all. 

                                    Glass trade beads from the 1800s: note black w. white dot
                                    'eye' beads, favored by both medicine men and witches to
                                    give or ward off the 'evil eye.'

             After a feast of roasted coyote, owl, and powdered blue lizard, they sit in a circle and howl like wolves.  Then a sand painting is created of colored ash to represent the victim.  The principle witch uses a bow made of human shin bone and shots a turquoise bead at some specific point in the figure represented in the sand painting. Skinwalkers will spit and urinate on the painting, desecrating the spiritual meaning of these icons of Navajo spirituality.  
Another technique observed among the Navajos is that of making a doll or image of the victim out of clay, skins or cloth.  Some are also carved from wood.  The effigy is then tortured or killed by knifing it or shooting an object into it.  This practice probably did not originate with the Navajos since it occurs only sporadically in areas that have been influenced by either the Pueblos or the Spanish, both of whom have histories in this style of sorcery.  Richard Van Valkenburgh, an anthropologist among the Navajos, reports finding a small doll shape with a turquoise bead punched into its heart in a reputed witch cave near Lukachukai, on the Navajo reservation.  It was the shape of a man carved of lightening-struck pine, about six inches long with black hair painted on the head.
            Informants relate that to become a Skinwalker, the witch must kill a member of his own clan.  They have been known to engage in grave robbing to collect the necessary components to make black magic.  Supposedly, they are able to control their animal totems at night and force them to do evil deeds. People prone to superstition believe that Skinwalkers can raise the dead and make them commit atrocities.
Navajos are circumspect when talking to outsiders about Skinwalkers.  At night they will never speak of them, even in veiled inference.  They fear reprisal in the form of a witchcraft called Witchery Way which uses ‘corpse poison’ (powdered corpses, especially those of twins or children).  Every Navajo hogan has an opening in the roof to provide ventilation.  The Skinwalker can take corpse poison and sprinkle it through these holes causing serious illness or even death to those within.  If this powder is thrown into a victim’s face, it makes the tongue swell up and turn black, then convulsions, paralysis and finally death

Coming soon: Pueblo Beads in Magic and Witchcraft

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shell Beads at Pueblo Bonito

                Shell pendants found at Pueblo Bonito

            Shell beads are always in greater abundance than turquoise at any pueblo ruin.  Despite the inconvenience of distance and transportation, immense quantities of Pacific shell found their way into pueblo country.  Shell was the easiest to carve and drill.  Olivellas were the easiest to convert into beads.  All one had to do was grind off the spire and run a thread through the mouth.

                                Olivella shells: One of the first trade items among Native Americans

            Among the decomposing ceiling beams of a kiva at Bonito, Neil Judd found seven sacrificial bead deposits.  There were 399 olivellas with only the apex cut, 119 olivella halves or thirds, 79 oblong and figure-8 beads, 3 discoidal shell beads, 11 bracelet fragments, 1 hook-shaped shell fragment, 1 conus pendant, 30 ½ discoidal turquoise, 8 turquoise pendant fragments, and 6 tesserae.
            Discoidal shell beads are the most prevalent of all the ancient pueblo ornaments.  A few on a string would make an eardrop and several hundred or more would go into a single strand necklace.  The major source of sea shells to reach the southwest in all periods of bead history is the Gulf of California.  The following is a listing of the species of shells unearthed at Bonito:

            Glycymeris giganteus Reeve
            Glycymeris maculates Broderip
            Glycymeris sp.
            Proptera coloradoensis Lea
            Anodonta sp.
            Laevicardium elatum Sowerby
            Spondylus princeps Broderip
            Chama Echinata Broderip
            Chama sp.
            Haliotis sp.
            Cerithidea sp.
            Turitella leucostoma Valenciennes
            Strombus gracilior Sowerby
            Phyllonotus nitidus Broderip
            Columbella fuscata Sowerby
            Columbella mercatoria Linnaeus
            Nassarius ioaedes Dall
            Olive (Agaronia) testacea Lamarck
            Olivella dama Mawe
            Olivella sp.
            Conus interruptus Broderip
            Conus sp.

                                   Shells were the original currency among many indigenous peoples

             The greatest single cache of shell beads was found in a fire-gutted room in the old section where a ceiling had collapsed and all the contents of the living room above were mixed in with rubble, charred timber, adobe flooring and beads.  Judd’s crew gathered them into eight arbitrary lots with only one small strand of red claystone beads still intact on its original cotton string.  The other seven lots of beads gave no indication of their original design as ornaments.  The beads were scattered everywhere amid the debris.  Pack rats had obviously carried many away and disturbed others throughout the room.  In this room they also collected a quantity of figure-8 shell beads, four olivellas, a pendant made from a shell bracelet fragment, three lots of stone beads, a walnut-shell pendant, and sixteen beads made from seeds of Rocky Mountain Hackberry. The stone beads were made from lignite, oil shale and various shades of grey clay.  One string is made almost entirely out of earth-brown discs labeled by the division of mineralogy of the US National Museum as ‘rhyolitic tuff which has been mixed with some clay and baked.’
            Some are sintered or vaguely fused on the outside, but the condition could have been created by the fire that destroyed room as easily as by baking in a kiln.  Yet microscopic examination offers proof of the shaping and molding of plastic substances.  If this is accurate, then these manufactured beads are unique in pueblo country. 

                                                      Jet pendants found at Pueblo Bonito

Shell beads alternated with shale to create a necklace found laid about the skull in another grave in the old section.  It had probably been laid upon the head during the original burial.  When they were restrung they measured twenty-two feet, eight inches long, or enough to make an eight strand necklace.  Three-fourths of the total is shale beads of about 3.5mm in diameter and twenty-six to the inch.  The rest are shell discs of similar size alternating with sixty-two univalves from the Gulf of California and about fifty figure-8 beads from 2.8mm to 4.0mm in length.  This necklace is exceptional in many ways.  It is the only one found at Bonito that uses stone and shell together and it contains the only samples of Nassarius found to date in Chaco Canyon.  The figure-8 and stone beads are the smallest yet unearthed at Bonito.  These tiny stone beads are reminiscent of the work of the Hohokam in southern Arizona and may have been acquired through trade with Gila River Indians.
            Shell Beads.  A pair of shell eardrops was found near the chest and shoulders of a male skeleton in a burial room at old Bonito.  Also with the skeleton was a necklace  made from discoidal and cylindrical shell beads, pendant beads of Chama and apex-cut Olivellas that have small quartz pellets pushed under the lip to keep them aligned after stringing.  This was a common practice among ancient stringers and sometimes one finds bits of shell or turquoise or tiny discoidal beads used in place of the quartz pellets.  The pendant beads on the necklace just described are of irregular shape and size and range in hue from creamy white to pink.  They were identified as Chama echinata, a shell from the Gulf of California.  Many appear to be reworked parts of older, larger pendants.  Some exhibit previous drillings and a partially bored hole in the lower part of the pendant will be plugged with turquoise beads.  Many of the cylindrical and irregular discoidal beads on the necklace are also made from Chama shell.  No other beads constructed from Chama shell were found in old Bonito, but beads, pendants, and fragments of Chama are in much evidence in the newer sections, especially as sacrificial offerings in the kiva pilasters. The most common were tooth-like pendants or the discoidal style of bead.

                                   Pendant by Harvey Garcia, Pueblo Santo Domingo: Spondylus
                                   princeps shell inlaid with turquoise, jet, mother-of-pearl. Inspired
                                   by historic pendants found at Pueblo Bonito. 

             Pendants.  It’s difficult to distinguish between ear pendants and those created to be worn individually on a cord or worked into a necklace design.  Presumably, they are eardrops when pairs are found together, particularly if located near the head of a skeleton.  Two abalone pendants were the only ones located at Bonito with more than three lobes and were discovered amid the rubble of a fallen wall.  They are believed to be part of a ritual offering sealed up over one of the first story ventilators.  In a kiva offering they found more of this type of abalone ear drop.  
            Archaeologists also found a shell pendant made from Spondylus princeps, native to the Gulf of California and as far south as Panama.  Spondylus is still a favorite trade commodity in the Pueblos of New Mexico, particularly at Santo Domingo. Navajos, also, are working with it. The only shell fetish found could represent a wide range of four-legged animals.  An unidentified shell fragment shows a type of pendant that was popular in spite of its fragile construction.  Though delicate, the subtle color and iridescence of shells appealed greatly to Native Americans, as it still does today in the Southwest.  Similar shell pendants were unearthed in kiva ritual offerings and were also done in a mosaic style with inlaid turquoise and jet.  Six small Glycymeris shell pendants were located at Bonito; the four largest were found in a rubble of human bones and burial furniture.  None of the six were decorated in any way.
Figure-8 Beads.  The figure-8 bead was a variation of the oblong bead and a great favorite at Bonito.  When strung as a necklace they give the illusion of a double strand of discoidal beads.  The side notch, which gave this style its unique form, was the last step in the process of creation.  After the oblong pieces had been finished and securely strung, the notch was grooved into the side.  End-spreading was a problem with these beads due to the elongated form so they were frequently wedged-shaped, being thinner at the drilled end.  It is interesting to note that over ninety percent of the figure-8 beads recovered had been found deposited as ritual offerings in the kiva pilasters, or in traditional pueblo style, placed as protective charms within the actual walls of the house at the time of construction.
            The figure-8 bead seems to be unique to the Pueblo III period.  It’s still not clear exactly where it originated or how widely it was traded.  They have been unearthed in at least two ruins in Arizona in addition to Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon and Cameron Creek Valley in New Mexico.  The design had been executed in stone, bone and shell.  Most of these beads found at Bonito were made of shell.  A.V. Kidder reported a find of figure-8s made of white stone at a cliff dwelling near March Pass in northeastern Arizona.  The only complete necklace of figure-8 beads found thus far was located in a Pueblo III dwelling near St. Johns in Arizona.  The structure was superimposed on a pit house which yielded no traces of this style of bead.
            Jet Beads.   Lignite is found as laminate masses in the bituminous coal beds of
Chaco Canyon.  In its natural and unpolished form the color will vary from brown to grey to jet black.  It is relatively soft and carves easily.   When polished it achieves a luminous black color.   Numerous lignite pendants were recovered at Bonito in a variety of shapes.  The cord holes in these pendants, instead of being drilled straight through, are sometimes paired and bored through at an angel to meet below the surface.  These rectangular and square bits of polished jet were often used in connection with turquoise and/or shell in mosaic work.   It is interesting to note that no jet ornaments or fetishes were found in the kiva pilasters or any other sacrificial deposits.
            Claystone.  Claystone or red shale is clay turned red by burning of the underlying coal beds.  It can vary greatly in texture but the higher grades have a smooth surface. The Bonitans used claystone for mosaic work, pendants and beads.  Occasionally it was used for discoidal beads and rings.
The style set for jewelry in 1200 AD at Pueblo Bonito still exerts a profound influence on the design sensibilities of Native American and other contemporary jewelers.  People come from all over the world to study the artifacts of this culture at museums in the southwest.  At Pueblo Santo Domingo, a fresh and exciting jewelry began to take shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Influenced by this ancient art and led by Angie Reano Owen and the Reano family, the mosaic style of Pueblo Bonito artists was revived.  The Reanos began to create pendants and earrings, using a base of shell and inlaying traditional materials on top.  Spondylus princeps was used for the color red instead of coral, jet for black and a variety of shells provided texture and color.  As old as this style was, the Reanos and other Santo Domingo artists managed to tweak it and create a radical chic with deep roots in their ancestral heritage.  Their work is represented in many museums, including the Smithsonian.
            Among the Native Americans, there is a profound respect for what was achieved at Pueblo Bonito.  At a time of little civilization or culture, Bonitans built splendid apartment houses and created jewelry so sophisticated that nine hundred years later it still seems avant garde.  Their basketry and pottery is impeccably crafted.  The pueblo was renowned for its artifacts and trade goods from California to Peru. It was to Indian cultural life at that time what New York City is now to the world art market. 
           Southwestern Indians call them ‘the ancient ones’ and claim a genetic and spiritual connection to these amazing people.  What finally happened at Pueblo Bonito remains a mystery.  Many tales abound of witchcraft, famine, drought, disease, and invasion by cannibalistic foreigners.  Yet Bonito keeps its secrets.   

Next week: Beads in Navajo Witchcraft