Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tomb of an Unknown Magician: The Ridge House Ruin

                                      Woods in Northern Arizona near The Ridge House Ruin                                     

            Ridge Ruin was a small and seemingly insignificant masonry house of approximately twenty-five rooms located at the edge of a wooded valley, twenty-five miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona.  The ruin dates to the Pueblo III time frame and the actual burial dates to the first quarter of the 12th century.  Until 1941, this area was disregarded by archaeologists with more research centered on the larger, more spectacular sites such as Pueblo Bonito or Mesa Verde.  Then the discovery of the burial of a significant personage, probably a magician, established the importance of this neglected ruin.  The man’s burial was accompanied by an amazing collection of ceremonial paraphernalia, including some of the best turquoise beads ever unearthed, stone and shell beads, ornaments and pottery of the highest quality, ceremonial pigments, and ritual sticks.

                                      Drawing of ceremonial sticks found buried with the magician
            The vast wealth of objects that accompanied this lone man on his journey to the afterlife made this burial fascinating and unusual.  Pueblo religious concepts do not encourage the accumulation of great personal wealth.  It was immediately obvious that here was a man of great ceremonial status. He was garbed ritually from head to toe with beads of turquoise, shell and stone, although only small fragments of his garments remained.

                                  Traditional Pueblo turquoise necklace, circa 1890 AD, containing
                                  turquoise from many different sources in the Southwest.  Note the
                                  use of free form shell beads and heishi. Excellent example of the
                                  type of turquoise beads that would have been part of the magician's
                                  burial goods. 

            Hopi Indian informants were called to the site before any interpretation was attempted.  All agreed that the objects found were definitely ritualistic in purpose.  Each informant felt they were connected to a ceremony identified with ancient Hopi spiritual observances. Questioned separately, they all agreed it was the same ceremony, although referring to it by different names.  This is not conflicting testimony because each of the three Hopi mesas (and often different villages on the same mesa) has a slightly different name and variations for the timeless ceremonies that have been passed down  by their ancestors.

                                       Drawing of the magician's one-rod basket tube inlaid with
                                       1500 turquoise pieces, possibly used as an arm band

            Most conclusive in establishing the accuracy of their testimony was the fact that when an informant was shown only part of the objects, he often described with  accuracy the other items that should have been (and were) with it.  A man from the Hopi village of Shungopovi flatly stated that there should have been a club-like object with serrated edges, a double horn object and a beaded cap with a point on the top to accompany a painted ceremonial stick.  These items were later found.  The man also suggested that the fraternity which developed the ceremony was made up of people from the Spider and Bluebird Clans.

                                      People of the Bear Clan are spiritual leaders among the Hopi. 
                                            The bear fetish is a symbol of strength and courage.

            A man from Mishongnovi, another Hopi village, said that the ceremony might be called ‘Moochiwimi’ or ‘Nasot Wimi,’ meaning to swallow sticks.  It was his theory that members were selected from the Skeleton and Coyote Clans, although as generations progressed and certain clans became decimated, others were drawn in to perpetuate the ceremony.  He described the paraphernalia in specific detail without first seeing it and said that the complete and original ceremony was probably last performed about 1890.  It was a form of witchcraft which was supposed to strengthen the magician and his clan.  Hence the war leader in a foray was usually chosen from this group.  They were represented by strong animals such as the bear and the lion. 

                                         The Mountain Lion, much revered for its stealth, cunning and
                                          prowess.  It is an important Zuni fetish.  Since antiquity
                                          Southwestern Indians have sought to harness its spirit and
                                          power for ceremonial purposes.

            A set of eight mountain lion claws and two canine teeth, painted and drilled as beads, were found with the magician.  It is believed that men from this witchcraft group could change themselves into these animals or call upon them for aid.  For this reason it was important to possess beads made from the teeth of fierce animals.  It greatly aided a man’s ceremonial power and status.  They also had songs as a significant part of their ritual which, together with the beads made from teeth and claw, called forth the power of these animals for the magician’s use.

                                           Old Hopi village where descendants of the Magician
                                           continued to practice the ceremonial life passed down
                                           to them by the ancient people of Ridge House

            An informant from Old Oraibi, a village on the Hopi’s Third Mesa and the oldest continually established town in North America, said the magician would be called ‘ka-leh-ta-ka’ since he was obviously the leader due to the richness and ceremonial significance of his burial.  He also described the objects used in the ceremony and defined it as a sort of witchcraft in which a sleight-of-hand was undertaken.  Together with all the other Hopi informants he agreed that the use for the carved and painted sticks was similar to a sword in the sword-swallowing act.  The painted end of the stick was forced down the throat so that just the ornamented end projected from the mouth.

                                       Necklace with pendant of spiny oyster shell inlaid with
                                       turquoise, jet and shell.  Made in 1960 by Anna Marie
                                       Coriz at Pueblo Santo Domingo.  Fine example of the
                                       sustaining influence of ceremonial objects found at Ridge
                                       Ruin and Pueblo  Bonito on contemporary Native American

            The man from Shungopovi voluntarily asked if the find was not located in the vicinity of Canyon Diablo.  When he was informed that it was from a very small pueblo ruin only about eighteen miles west of Canyon Diablo, he was greatly moved and insisted that people of this ceremony belonged to clans having the right to gather eagles from nests in the vicinity of the canyon.  This is probably correct because the Hopis to this day still practice some version of this ceremony and understand it quite accurately.  So many aspects of this burial point to the Hopis that it has been tentatively concluded that this magician and his people were some of the ancestors who contributed to the religious and cultural development of the Hopis.  With the excavation and study of this burial with its connecting ceremony, it’s been theorized that this ritual has the longest history (800 years with no major change in paraphernalia) of any ceremony known to have existed among Native Americans in the Southwest.
            The burial yielded 613 separately catalogued objects that were of great archaeological value because they were all in use at the same time by the same people. They illustrated not only the crafts produced in that place, but the range of trade contacts these people had.  There were six distinct pottery types different from what this culture made, but derived from geographically close cultures.  Also the appearance of Pacific Coast shell beads indicates the far-reaching trade routes these people traveled.
The principle objects identified in the burial are as follows:

  1. A bracelet of turquoise beads
  2. Turquoise animal heads
  3. Nose plug
  4. Ear pendant beads
  5. Large decorated bone awl
  6. Shell on stick
  7. Painted wood hand on stick
  8. Obsidian knife blade
  9. Beaded head cover
  10. Sticks painted blue
  11. Carved painted stick
  12. Stick painted red
  13. Loop of conus shell beads (possibly held in hand)
  14. Loop of conus shell beads (possibly worn around the knees)
  15. String of conus shell beads (possibly worn from waist, dangling down the legs)
  16. Three black-on-white seed bowls
  17. Rim of large shell
  18. Two large knife blades
  19. Two cutout shell pendant beads in seed bowls
  20. Mass of fine iron crystals on shell fragments
  21. Scattered mass of copper ore
  22. Fragments of painted basket
  23. Turquoise mosaic basket
  24. Abalone shell
  25. Three marine shells nested together
  26. Bird-shaped bracelet ornament of shell and turquoise inlay
  27. Pendant bead of shell and turquoise
  28. Sunset red pitcher
  29. Two Tusayan polychrome bowls
  30. Walnut black-on-white bowls
  31. Fragments of a painted basket
  32. Coiled basket
  33. Reeds filled with blue paint
  34. Small skin sacks filled with red paint
  35. Blue paint in a gourd
  36. Fragments of hematite paint
  37. Teeth and claw beads of a mountain lion
  38. Mass of hair
  39. Mass of string or yarn
  40. Small black-on-white bowl
  41. Bird-shaped mosaic
  42. Ear-shaped mosaic
  43. Round mosaic
  44. Shell lizard
  45. Horn-shaped object of shell inlay
  46. Stick with turquoise inlay
  47. Lignite button
  48. Stick with carved deer foot end
  49. Three carved sticks: carved hand, carved deer foot, carved non-objective design
  50. Dogoszhi black-on-white bowl
  51. Black-on-white bowl
  52. Sunset red jar
  53. Two stone pendant beads painted green

The mosaic pendant beads were bound together or set in lac, an exudation of the lac insect and basis for materials such as shellac or sealing wax.  This burial provides the first evidence of such material being used for inlay in prehistoric America.  This lac was derived from plants which host the lac insect such as creosote bushes (Larrea Mexicana) and the shrub, Coursetia Glandulosa, that do not grow in northern Arizona and were probably traded from people living in a canyon north of Phoenix near Camelback Mountain, where the plants abound.  Besides lac, there is evidence of the use of unidentified organic plastic and asphalt in its natural form.

                                         Drawing of the ornaments found in the magician's burial

      In this burial a large number of beads and ornaments were made totally or partially from turquoise of such a high quality and pure blue color that experts have identified it as coming from the Los Cerillos mine in New Mexico.  A pair of turquoise pendant beads used for earrings was found on either side of the head, close to the original wearing position.  They are flat, circular discs of turquoise with small shell discs attached with lac to the center of each bead.  An abundance of stone beads were present in the burial, some closely identified with the body and others apparently used for ceremonial occasions.  Many turquoise beads of the finest quality were found.  An individual group of seventy-three large turquoise beads were found worn as a bracelet and still intact on the skeleton.  Screening operations later yielded more turquoise beads.  Eventually archaeologists found a string of 107 perfectly formed turquoise beads.  There were also two unusual turquoise beads that roughly suggest the shape of Egyptian scarabs.  These were undoubtedly amulets or magic charms.
      A cap formed much like a skull cap was still intact on the skull.  The beads were made of both shell and stone with holes so minute that even the smallest beading needle could not pass through.  When strung, these beads averaged twenty-one to the inch.  They were constructed of a finely-grained grey to blackish-colored stone and number more than 3600 beads.  In the cap itself they were worked in a manner alternating dark stone and white shell.

                         Reconstruction of the magician's head based on skeletal remains
      Close to the magician’s hand were two bead-charm bracelets which illustrate the potency and magical powers this culture invested in beads. They are exactly alike and consist of nine charms on each bracelet bound by a cord that had disintegrated.  One of these charms is a nose formed from an unidentified plastic and another of black stone is the back of the head and base of the neck.  The rest are definitely animal heads, most resembling grasshopper.
      The shell pendant beads are of two types: those fashioned very simply and only drilled for suspension or others more elaborately cut in unusual designs.  All bear an undeniable similarity to ornaments and beads used on the Pacific Coast.  The shells were acquired through trade, but it cannot definitely be established who did the actual designing on very simple specimens.  They could have come from California already cut out or else they could have had the design work applied in Arizona.  Shells that incorporate inlay techniques were definitely made Ridge Ruin Pueblo.  

Note: Information and drawings in this blog were found in a monograph by John C. McGregor, an archaeologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona.  It was first published in the proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Volume 86, No. 2, February 1943.   Museum of Northern Arizona is dedicated to preserving the cultures and environment of Native Americans in Northern Arizona.  It is an important resource in our community and greatly deserving of your support.

Next Blog: Navajo Silversmithing and the Origin of the Squashblossom Necklace will appear sometime after the first of October.  I'm off on a great walkabout to New Mexico and Colorado in search of more interesting bead lore. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beads and Fetishes in Pueblo Witchcraft, Part II

                                                    Approaching the Pueblo of Zuni

                  The Zuni Indians carved animal fetishes for eons before the advent of Europeans in the Southwest.  In native culture people have an animal that they relate to as their personal totem.  Indians would come from far and near to trade at Zuni for a fetish to use in their private medicine.  Later these fetishes became popular with collectors of Native American art and there evolved a traditional of ‘table fetishes,’ more akin to sculpture than medicine.  The Zunis also began to make fetish necklaces in which small animal fetishes were drilled and strung with heishi beads from Pueblo Santo Domingo.  Certain Zuni carvers emerged as artists and families such as the Quandalacys became internationally famous for the beauty of their carving.

                                                    Horse Fetishes by Andres Quandalacy

It is important to note here that the primary purpose of the Zuni fetish has always been for protection, medicine and magic.  Hunters used them to help catch game or to make game more plentiful.  Fetishes may protect not only an individual, but whole tribal communities.  Rain, abundance, fertility, bountiful crops and love are also blessings a fetish may provide. 

The following is a basic listing of traditional fetish animals and the qualities associated with them:

1.  Eagle: Spirit, connection to the divine. Pueblo Indians made an agreement with eagle to carry their prayers to God.
2.  Deer: Gentleness, power of gentleness
3.  Bear: Strength, introspection, power of  the soul.  Bear Clan people are the preeminent spiritual leaders at Hopi. They act as the mothers and fathers of the whole community.

  Turquoise bear fetish by Emory Eriacho with medicine bundle
                                    of arrow and beads of shell, turquoise, and coral
                                    Jet bear fetish by Emory Boone inlaid with turquoise, shell, coral

4.      Snake: Transmutation, life, death, rebirth.
5.      Turtle: Longevity, symbol of Mother Earth

                                            Jet turtle fetish inlaid with turquoise by Emory Boone 
                            Pipestone turtle fetish, carved w. turquoise by Daphne Neha

6.  Coyote: Trickster, laughter, hunter
7.  Wolf: Teacher, pathfinder on the journey of survival
8.  Buffalo: Endurance to overcome one's weakness
9.  Mountain Lion: Leadership, resourcefulness
10.  Beaver: Builder, strong sense of family and home
11.  Horse: Possession of healing powers
12.  Frog: Invokes the spirits to bring rain
13.  Ram: Used to secure an increase of flocks, a  favorite of Navajo sheepherders.

             Frog fetishes of rainbow calsilica, turquoise, and coral by Georgette Quan
      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.

While these are the principle animal fetishes, contemporary Zuni carvers make a variety of animal fetishes for medicine purposes and also for sale in Native American art galleries.  Bat, moose and ladybug fetishes, along with a variety of animals, have been created in recent years.  Artist-carvers are experimenting with new materials and pushing the boundaries of their own creativity

                                Serpentine moose fetish w. shell antlers and turquoise eyes by Jonas Hustito

The use of fetishes wrapped in sinew with beads of shell, coral and turquoise is powerful medicine against the witches. In Pueblo culture the most serious and abusive charge brought against a person is that of being a witch.  Reckless speech, dishonesty in regard to property, the possession of wealth from unknown sources, roaming about at night, and looking into windows are considered attributes of witches.  Lurking about at night around the house of a sick person is definitely a questionable act.  This house will often be watched by members of the family to catch a witch.  If caught, he will ask his captor not to expose him and offer a bribe, often a string of powerful and unusual beads or a potent animal fetish.  The captor should refuse the bribe because a witch resents losing his beads or fetishes and may, in time, proceed against his captor or the captor’s family.  The captor instead should insist on the witch ‘making his days,’ that is, vowing that in eight days to eight months he will kill one of his own relatives.  A witch is bound to his vows or death will come for him.

                                18th-19th Century Venetian glass trade beads.  Note rare red 'eye' beads
                                  and 'feather' beads, sought by Medicine Men for their magical powers.

While not every individual ailment is attributed to witchcraft, an epidemic is often thought to be the business of witches.  Lingering illnesses, as opposed to rapid recovery, are often blamed on witches.  Witches can control the weather by causing drought or wind.  At Laguna it is said that the wind can be aroused by yanking up a Jamestown weed by the roots.  Until the hole left by the roots is filled, the wind will haunt the pueblo.
A witch who feels hurt or injured will retaliate through bewitching.  In the pueblos one can never know for certain who is a witch.  It is very important to never give offense.  Abrupt and careless speech with an unfeeling attitude towards others is interrupted to be the stance of a witch.  Some anthropologists feel that the peaceful nature of the Pueblo people is linked to their witchcraft theories.  They do not defend themselves actively in quarrels.  Rather, they walk away because from their childhood elders have told them that no one can know the hearts of men.  There are witches everywhere.

                                       Koyemshi or Mudhead Ceremony, Pueblo of Zuni, 1879

Coming next week: Tomb of an Early American Magician