Sunday, July 06, 2008

Split Boulder - Mower County MN

Norman Muller writes:
Herman sent me some photos a friend of his, Scott Doblar, took of a large glacial erratic in Mower County, Minnesota.  According to Herman, this has long been known as a sacred boulder, undoubtedly because of the wide split in it and the stones wedged in the split.  While we have long assumed similar split boulders here in the East were considered sacred, it is nice to see visual confirmation that similar practices were occurring in the Midwest, too.


JimP said...

The historic records are unambiguous concerning split boulders in the northeast. It is one of the few features that can be proven ethnographically to have been sacred to Indians all over the Eastern Woodlands.

The stones wedged or filled inside such splits in boulders I would consider more like offerings than serving any functional ceremonial or spiritual purpose.

Could these wedged and filled stones served some other purpose? Certainly, the early European writers never recorded such details, and Native spirituality was forced into secret almost immediately upon First Contact. So it is entirely possible that these stones served to either block or maintain the split as a, "spirit door," as some folks like Peter have speculated.

But there have been other observations made in the historic record with respect to the spiritual use of small stones and cobbles -- particlarly as they relate to trailside shrines. For those, the small stones and cobbles clearly act as offerings.

So the best evidence that we have is that stones wedged or filled inside splits and clefts in boulders were considered offerings for the propitiation of the spirit that dwelled there. A single stone suggests a personal act either in so-called Vision Quest rites or by a clan-led Pauwau spiritually preparing and marking important places. The presence of multiple stones suggests either long-term use of the site by a one to several people, or short-term use by many people.

pwax said...

JimP wrote "The historic records are unambiguous concerning split boulders in the northeast."

I would be interested in seeing a quote from one of those references. When I wrote the article about split-wedged rocks I wasn't aware they had been written about.

JimP said...

They weren't written about in the way you're thinking of them. The early writers didn't have your knowledge of widespread split-wedged rocks. Instead, they witnessed a single act of propitiation to a spirit dwelling inside things described as splits, holes, and clefts in rock. There are also connections between split boulders and Native American land -- such as Waskosim's Rock on Wampanoag land.

Here's a nice reference from the Huron.

"they hold that in the hollow of this Rock there is a Demon, who is capable of making their journey successful; that is why they stop as they pass, and offer it Tobacco, which they simply put into one of the clefts, addressing to it this prayer, Oki ca ichikhon condayee aenwaen ondayee d'aonstaancwas, etc., 'Demon who dwellest in this place, here is some Tobacco which I present to thee; help us, guard us from shipwreck, defend us from our enemies, and cause that after having made good trades we may return safe and sound to our Village.'" (Brébeuf [1636]1898:165)

BRÉBEUF, Jean de. [1636] 1898. Hurons. In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610—1791, Vol. X. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers.

There are also Abenaki references to similar practices, which are in turn similar to items gleaned from New England Indian folklore -- namely among the Scaticook, Mohegan, and Seneca.

All of it paints a pretty vivid picture that split stone was considered spiritually important to Indians in New England -- and likely continues to be. The record is unambiguous. So finding split stones with offering stones inside them on sacred Indian stone structure sites is, in a word, expected.

JimP said...

Oh, the Abenaki references to split rock and its spiritual importance and others can be found on my Massachuset blog in your People Links section.

Norman said...

Placing stones in cracks was not just an Eastern Woodland practice, but occurred in the West, too. At Sally's Rockshelter in the Mohave Desert, quartz stones were found wedged in cracks.

pwax said...

OK, I went back and read your blog more carefully and there was documentation of spirits living inside rocks and of putting tobacco or drink into cracks in the rock. Or throwing things into large cracks. But I did not see a reference to blocking the cracks with stones.

pwax said...

On a separate topic, split or cracked boulders are occasionally shaped like female anatomy.

JimP said...

"Blocking," the crack with stones is someone's fancy invention. There is absolutely no indication that rocks wedged or filled inside a split are anything but an offering.

You only see the stones because that's all that's left. Any other offerings would have been perishable.

Stones used as offerings is the most widespread practice found in this branch of historical research. There are historical references to stones used as offerings among the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Mohawk, Scaticook, Seneca, Cherokee, Montauk, Penobscot, Schoharie, Stockbridge, et al. I've found more than two dozen such references all over the Eastern Woodlands.

So we can establish split stone was spiritually important, and we can establish stone offerings were made at spiritually important places -- therefore and ergo, we can conclude nothing but that stones found inside splits are offerings.

To do otherwise is fanciful speculation not supported by any ethnographical data whatsoever.

JimP said...

I'm not saying that these are absolutely not and never have been so-called, "spirit doors," or that the stone didn't serve to block the split and maintain its opening.

I'm saying that the historic data doesn't support it one iota. There isn't even a hint of these spirit doors in any of the historic or ethnographic record, or in any of the folklore of New England's Indians.

Native spirituality during the contact period was often quite variable -- even locally -- because of the influence of dreams, visions, fasting, and mood-altering plants. Therefore it is even more important for us as researchers to stick as closely as possible to the historic and ethnographic records and avoid engaging in non-supportable interpretations of features.

That is, if we ever want to be taken seriously.

JimP said...

Huge splits in outcroppings may have been considered openings to the Underworld, and there is definitely evidence that an Underworld existed in the cosmology of contact period Indians in New England.

There is a site in Rhode Island that is a perfect example of this. It's called Rolling Rock in North Kingstown, RI. There is some traces of evidence that Indians in New England beat the ground, sometimes with rocks, in what I speculate was a likely attempt to communicate with an Underworld spirit, probably Hobbamock.

Rolling Rock has stone rows, use of quartz, and an impressive outcropping with an enormous cleft in the middle. It also has its main feature, the Rolling Rock, which -- according to Euro-American grandfather stories -- would make a sound so loud that it must have been used by Indians to call everyone together.

But -- by putting together pieces of folklore, oral tradition, and the historical record, a different picture emerges. One where the Indians were likely using the Rolling Rock to communicate or summon the Undwerworld Spirit Hobbamock who could pass up from the Underworld through the huge cleft in the rock.

And it's no surprise that Hobbamock was primarily important for healing -- with the diseases and wars and starvation ravaging the Indian population during the Contact Period, a site like Rolling Rock might have had a great deal of use -- even on the fringes of an up-start colonial society.

And that's the sad part of this research -- learning that so much of what we see in the woods in New England is a direct reflection of the difficult times Indians were put through during colonization and beyond.

The disease, death, and suffering was on a massive scale, and so, too, is the evidence left behind of the spiritual battle that took place in an effort to stop it.

pwax said...

Well you make a good case Jim and you are correct that "blocking" is speculation. It is too bad none of the references is explicit about this.

pwax said...

JimP wrote "Therefore it is even more important for us as researchers to stick as closely as possible to the historic and ethnographic records and avoid engaging in non-supportable interpretations of features".

You know I do not agree with this at all. The ethographic records are pretty silent about rock piles and give no clue as to all but their simplest "memorial/donation" functions. Further, today's Indians are not so knowledgable either, that I would consider them the only other source of information about rock piles. The people who built many of the sites we see are long gone and they never spoke with ethnographers not with the people who came later to the landscape.

I would also add a bit of my own dogma, to respond to that bit of yours: you won't find any firm conclusions in my writing, just hypotheses and how they are tested.

pwax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pwax said...

Here are some things I do not think your ethograpic records mention:
- Why is quartz never used to wedge a crack [in New England]?
- What is the function of quartz when used in a low ground pile?
- Why are rock piles sometimes built in lines?
- How come some rock piles look like effigies?
- What is the significance of burnt rock in a rock pile?
- Are the large monumental piles from furter west (of Easter Mass.) from the same time frame as the small ones from around here?

Lots of questions arise from observation that are not addressed by the books.

Norman said...

This is one of the best and most fruitful discussions of stones inserted in cracks that I have ever read. I agree that the placed stones were offerings and were not meant to block; Whitley's discussion of the use of quartz in cracks at Sally's Rockshelter came to this same conclusion.

Delta-shaped stone fills, which are repesented by several examples, seem to allude to female anatomy, similar to the cracks that Peter mentions above.

Norman said...

In Arizona and California, there are many examples of rock cracks that have been fashioned into vulvas, some of them huge: one in the Mohave is large enough to sit in. The Empie Petroglyph Site in Arizona (do a Google search of this) is loaded with vulva shaped cracks, which of course allude to female earth. We should not forget this symbolism when studying wedged cracks.

Norman said...

The female connotation of cracks has a clear representation in the petroglyph site in Peterborough, ON, where a female figure has been pecked along a deep crack in the limestone. There is an iron stain along the crack, and this has been incorporated into the vulva. The question is, when does a crack represent an entry to the underworld, and when is it symbolic of the female anatomy? Or could it be both at the same time?

pwax said...

On the other hand Norman, at the risk of dis-agreeing with myself, the applicability of Mohave region concepts to New England is not clear. I would argue that the presence of quartz at Alice Springs as an offering (which was stated by a shaman who reportedly used the cracks himself) does not fit the observed data in New England.

I do not know about offerings in general and perhaps Jim can fill us in on it but: my guess is that quartz was not used as an offering.

There are other issues here. Some rocks have a single wedge, others have multiple rocks filling the crack. Are these the same phenomenon?

Also, have you ever seen a split rock with a handy wedge-size cobble sitting separately next to the crack? I see the validity of the concept of "offerings" but it is going to take some doing before I accept that as the final and only explanation.

JimP said...

I have come across one reference to a creation story from the Hotcâgara that says stones and rocks themselves represented a female being scattered across the land by the Earthmaker.

"Then he (Earthmaker) thought to himself for a long time and said, 'Perhaps if I do the following it will become quiet.' With his own hands he made four beings, those that we call waterspirits, and placed them under the earth. For that reason they are also called Island-Anchorers. Finally, he scattered a female being over the whole earth. By female being we mean stones and rocks. After he had done all this, he again looked at what he had created and he saw that the earth had at last become quiet." (Radin [1945]1991:18)

RADIN, Paul. [1945] 1991. The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

A similar but less complete story was related by Roger Williams from Narragansett sources.

"They relate how they have it from their fathers, that Cautantowwit made one man and woman of a stone, which disliking, he broke them in pieces, and made another man and woman of a tree, which were the fountains of all mankind." (Williams [1643]1968:228)

WILLIAMS, Roger [1643] 1963. Key into the Language of America, J. H. Trumbull, ed. In The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. I, pp. 61-282. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc.

These two stories were likely similar originally, and the differences we see were probably the result of a lack of understanding on the part of Williams who likely understood only a small percentage of the Narragansett language at the time.

So there is strong evidence that, in New England, stones and rocks themselves represented a female spirit being scattered by the Great Spirit over the Earth at the dawn of mankind.

JimP said...

What I've learned about quartz among Indians in New England is that it was regarded to have special properties -- manitou if you will. Quartz crystals were certainly used as charms for luck and prosperity, and there is some information that suggests they may have been important in divination rituals. According to early English writers in New England, before healing a sick person, a Pauwau would first perform a divination ritual to learn if the sick party will ultimately recover or perish.

There are several examples throughout the region's archaeological record of objects considered by the Indians to have special manitou being used in ways that suggest an attempt to infuse the manitou of the object into some other body, object, or place. For example, Pauwaus sought rather useless European trinkets simply because the Pauwaus wanted to own and use the manitou they believed dwelled in the object.

A conclusion can be drawn from the historic record concening the use of quartz in rock piles. It is a bit speculative, but firmly based on the ethnography -- the presence of quartz in a pile was an attempt to infuse or charge, if you will, the pile with the manitou embodied in the quartz -- in the same way Indians used other objects considered to embody great manitou. It's the same reason you might find seemingly useless colonial iron artifacts in Indian rock piles -- those items were believed to have manitou in abundance.

JimP said...

I believe the historic record is much more revealing concerning so-called donation or memorial piles than you give it credit, Peter.

In the historic records, there are three main categories of these (for lack of a better term) donation piles. All three have nearly equal numbers of references. They were reported by different people in different regions who never met each other.

The first category is that of graves. Stories of untimely, horrific, or violent deaths fill the record in regards to donation piles. In many, the very spot of interrment is the site of the pile. This practice relates to Chepi, or Tci-Pai, the restless wandering soul.

The second category is that of memorials, where the piles were allegedly built on the site of some major event or death(s), or to memorialize a treaty or agreement.

The third category is that of shrines -- donations made to propitiate a spirit believed to dwell there.

All three categories included offerings of stone, wood, bone, tobacco, food items, and even one offering described as being incense.

Norman said...

When commenting about the use of quartz for one of the web articles I wrote, I pointed out the function of a quartz cobble that was part of a necklace stones linking one half of a split boulder with another (this feature is in S. Pomfret, VT). Except for the quartz, which touched one of the boulder halves, each of the other stones in the partial ring was gneiss. I concluded that the quartz functioned like an electric plug, with the quartz being more powerful energy-wise than the other stones, and so the energy inherent in the quartz was transmitted from one stone to the other, much like in an electric cord.

JimP said...

I think that's a fair interpretation of that use of quartz, Norman. I'm just afraid to put it that way because of the more modern connotations with New Age religions and quartz energies and whatnot. Also, there's nothing quite so detailed in the record. It's similar to the interpretation of spirit doors -- I can neither prove nor disprove it.

As I said, one of the dangers in interpretation of these sites is the abstract nature of them. Certain features may have had a specific function that we'll never understand because it was directed by a dream, a vision, during a sweat, or a fast, or under the influence of mood-altering plants.

That's certainly not to say interpretation is impossible. That's why I think the key is to stick closely to what we know of oral tradition, folklore, and historical references.

I've spent quite a bit of time now researching and reading all the materials available to me -- which is a surprising number. I am convinced there is more than enough irrefutable information to connect these sites to Native Americans at the satisfaction of any academic.

pwax said...

I think the "ethographic" approach is worthwhile. But I repeat: it is an approach that ignores observations and tends to suppress details. Here is an example: I noticed a lot of sites have one pile at the edge of the site with a pair of curious shaped rocks. I called them "twins" and have made little progress understanding the phenomenon. But there is nothing in the literature nor will there be if people expect to get all there answers there. Does that mean I should ignore it?

I am glad there are scholars amongst us who can tell us what history records. But since literature does not explain or even discuss most of the phenomena I consider it of limited value to my own explorations.

Finally, a word about convincing skeptical academics: It is well established that convincing skeptical scientists doesn't work. Quoting a historical reference will not matter to them - they will not be listening. I predict this: enough younger people will be made aware of the existence of rock piles that they will get curious and start to study the material remains. Someone will come up with dating techniques (like dating burnt rocks). Hundreds of sites will be documented and the public will demand their protection. Academics are not the ones who protect archeological sites.

To be fair all the approaches we follow need to be pursued. Whether it be going outside or going to the library.

JimP said...

Answer me this Peter -- in interpreting these sites, how do you account for the abstractions? How do you account for the very intense, personal, spiritual direction received from dreams, visions, plants, sweats, etc.?

I believe that a basic framework exists -- common elements that can be drawn from the ethnography to label sites and their general functions. Not all rock pile sites are the same, not all features served the same purposes, but they all share similarities.

Dancing places, winter festivals, Underworld access to Hobbamock, birthing sites, memorial sites, shrines, graves, swamps, hilltops, caves, sun worship, moon worship, star worship, convergence -- there were a myriad of reasons for these sites that can be pieced together in the ethnography.

Individual interpretation of these sites can be as limitless as the human mind.

pwax said...

You can emphasize the similarities or the differences.

I am focusing on commonality and similarity between sites. These are things that can be judged by eye to some exent and I become more aware of similarities over time. For example: piles with one good vertical face. I am sure this is a real phenomenon. There could have been countless dreams but that does not explain seeing these things over and over again from MA down into RI and CT. As I said, I don't think ethography has anything to offer specific to this common practise.

That is not to say that dreams might be very important in some way I am not perceiving about the sites. But science is about what can be communicated - so somebody has to perceive it and, until then, I have to wonder: what are you asking about that is observable?

So you say at the end: "Individual interpretation of these sites can be as limitless as the human mind."

Maybe so, but there are some objective facts about sites that can be observed and communicated. Sites are not all the same and I would argue strenuously that some particular types can be destiguished based on observables. Most sites are not multi-purpose and their characteristics are definable.

That has to do with description and classification of sites. But you are absolutely right that this is not enough for interpretation, so then bring on the ethnography!

Sorry to ramble.

pwax said...

Jim P wrote: "Blocking," the crack with stones is someone's fancy invention. There is absolutely no indication that rocks wedged or filled inside a split are anything but an offering.

Yes there is: direct evidence in the form of careful shims along the quartz vein. It's got nothing to do with an offering.

pwax said...

(Writing much later) It is interesting what Jim P is so unequivocal about: the bold certainty that the ethographic record is un-ambiguous about the subject - paired with a continued failure to provide any quotation addressing the topic of rocks wedged in a split. Also the "there is no evidence of blocking". Well actually there is good evidence that the wedges occasionally deliberately keep the crack open. Careful shimming occurs and is not consistent with the idea of an offering. Observation trumps ethnography in my book.