Saturday, June 17, 2006

Virginia Stone Altars

Excerpt from The History of Virginia by Robert Beverly ca. 1673-1722

"The Indians have posts fixed round their Quioccassan*, which have men's faces carved upon them, and are painted. They are likewise set up round some of their other celebrated places, and make a circle for them to dance about on certain solemn occasions. They very often set up pyramidal stones and pillars, which they color with puccoon, and other sorts of paint, and which they adorn with peak, roenoke, &c. To these they pay all outward signs of worship and devotion, not as to God, but as they are hieroglyphics of the permanency and immutability of the Deity; because these, both for figure and substance, are of all sublunary bodies, the least subject to decay or change; they also, for the same reason, keep baskets of stones in their cabins.

Upon this account too, they offer sacrifice to running streams, which by the perpetuity of their motion, typify the eternity of God. They erect altars wherever they have any remarkable occasion, and because their principal devotion consists in sacrifice, they have a profound respect for these altars. They have one particular altar, to which, for some mystical reason, many of their nations pay an extraordinary veneration; of this sort was [a] crystal cube**

[ . . . ]

When they travel by any of these altars, they take great care to instruct their children and young people in the particular occasion and time of their erection, and recommend the respect which they ought to have for them; so that their careful observance of these traditions proves almost as good a memorial of such antiquities as written records, especially for so long as the same people continue to inhabit in or near the same place."

*according to E. G. Squier, Quioccassan means, "temple of the idol."
**Beverly talks about this crystal cube in an earlier chapter and says it was a much-venerated altar, but he was never able to find it.

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