Friday, January 10, 2014

Klamath and Modoc Sacred Rock Cairns and Prayer Seats

(Photo - and a link to a PDF from Alyssa Alexandria)
The Influence of Sacred Rock Cairns and Prayer Seats on Modern Klamath and Modoc Religion and World View – Patrick Haynal (2000)
“TRADITIONALLY, ethnographers have been brief in their discussions of the ritual importance of rock cairns to the Klamath/Modoc (e.g., Gatschet 1890; Spier 1930; Ray 1963; Stern 1966), and prayer seats receive no direct mention at all. This article focuses on determining the importance of these two categories of sacred sites to the practice of modern Klamath and Modoc (hereafter Klamath/Modoc) religion and the shaping of their contemporary world view.' To accomplish this, interviews were conducted with several Klamath/Modoc individuals selected from a list approved by the Klamath tribes. Rock cairns and prayer seats and their relationship to various rituals and practices, such as the power/vision quest and funerary rites, are integral features of the Klamath/Modoc sacred cultural landscape...For the purposes of this article, rock cairns are defined as any stacked rock feature…Cairns come in two general physical forms: the stacked rock column, constructed by placing one rock directly atop another in sequence to varying heights; and the conical cairn that has a variable number of rocks forming the base and there after built up with additional rocks until a conical (or mound like) shape is achieved. Occasionally linear “s” shaped or “wall-like” rock features were constructed as well…
...Loubser and Whitley (1999) interpreted rock art from eight sites in the Lava Beds National Monument as having several religious connections, including vision questing (by both shamans and nonshamans), mythic associations, hunting magic and other ritual specializations, and mortuary associations. They reached their conclusions by careful application of the ethnographic record and recently obtained data on the manner in which the brain processes and recalls visions received during a hallucinatory state (Loubser and Whitley 1999; also see Whitley 1998). If rock art is associated with the power quest, what is the spatial association between rock art and cairns?
...(T)he land that formed Klamath territory was believed to have been brought forth solely for the Klamath by the creator and culture hero, Gmo 'kam 'c. Two Klamath tribal members (Priscilla Bettles and Karen Ray) explained that the land and the people are a part of each other and were created to care for and nurture one another (Haynal 1994:317). The Modoc had a similar spiritual bond with the land. In fact, the two tribes recognized the spiritual and sacred nature of each other's lands (Curtin 1912:vi). Obtaining power from the spirits located throughout the landscape was a key aspect of Klamath/Modoc traditional religion. Virtually every unique rock feature, mountain, cave, body of water, meadow, or any other distinct location within the land had a spirit and everything with a spirit had power. The animals of the land had power as well (and I suggest that is why animal effigies such as turtles, bears deer etc. are so often incorporated into stone concentrations here as well as there {see:} - Tim)  . From the Klamath perspective, all the cosmos, both animate and inanimate, was alive and everything alive had both spirit and power. Even a single rock had power. A rock from Mt. Shasta carried a portion of the great power of the mountain itself (Spier 1930; Ray 1963)...Interviewee 3, a young Klamath man in his twenties, explained that "[a] rock cairn is basically the same thing as a church, people go there to pray, men go there for puberty to put on vision quests, it's just a very spiritual place."
Interviewee 4 made a similar conunent about rock cairns, stating: "To me those cairns are no different than a church. We know how our people would go on a vision quest or power quest and be up all night long building the cairn as a method of prayer.”
Interviewee 6 also described the cairns as sacred altars: “When our people went out to seek God…seeking the truth, seeking power, seeking direction, seeking guidance . . . whenever they went there and received an answer or confirmation or received a power . . . they built an altar saying "this is where the Creator spoke to me" and this is now sacred.”
In noting the power of cairns, Interviewee 6 added that [t]he thing about cairns is, if you knock them over or if people destroy them with malicious intent . . . somehow the spirit of the place or of this person who put it there could come back on you…”


Tim MacSweeney said...

"Regarding the role that the mythical landscape played in the location of rock art sites, it is important to understand that some of the outcroppings containing rock art were once living beings before Crow’s laughter changed them to stone..."

pwax said...

The lack of rock art (petroglyphs, pictographs) in the East needs some explanation.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Rob Buchanan posted this up elsewhere recently: "In 2003, perhaps the most exiting development at the site occurred when Native American petroglyphs (rock carvings) were discovered on a large, thirty foot long rock near the mill. The petroglyphs are difficult to see and easy to miss in the bright daylight, but when lit from the side after dark these ancient works of rock art stand out as if they were carved yesterday.The carvings were found by a team member of the archaeologist Tommy Charles, while conducting a ten-year “SC Rock Art Survey” of the state for the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. This survey documented over 300 petroglyph sites in the Upstate counties of Oconee, Pickens and Greenville. The seventeen human “stick men” on the Hagood Mill rock are thought to be between 1,000 and 2,000 years old. A 38’ x 80’ building is planned to go over the rock to protect the petroglyphs and to feature the photographic images of the survey and other related exhibits. This structure, which will look like a large barn from the outside, will become the “SC Rock Art Center” at Hagood Mill."

Tim MacSweeney said...

As is typical of much Southeastern art, the 31 images there, most of them prehistoric, are so eroded that they’re practically invisible in direct sunlight.

A survey volunteer who had seen nothing there in bright sun decided to go back on a rainy day in 2005. “Tom, you’re not going to believe this,” he told archaeologist Charles when he excitedly called him. “That Hagood rock is covered with little people.”

Read more here: