indians


Random quote of the day:

“Because it is such a powerful force in the world today, the Western Judeo-Christian tradition is often accepted as the arbiter of “natural” behavior of humans. If Europeans and their descendant nations of North America accept something as normal, then anything different is seen as abnormal. Such a view ignores the great diversity of human existence.”

—Walter L. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity In American Indian Culture

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah by Colm A. Kelleher and George Knapp

I’m not placing this book with the few UFO books in my possession, nor with the books on the occult or science. Not even with the books on folklore, although it contains all those elements. I am firmly placing this with my growing collection of books on the trickster—although I suppose it would fit in just as well with my collection on Faery. Although the authors mention the Native American myth of the skinwalker (or shapeshifting witch) in the title that’s just a convenient moniker taken from the Ute Indians of Utah who live near that “remote ranch” in an attempt to put a name on the phenomena occurring there.

In the religion and cultural lore of Southwestern tribes, there are witches known as skinwalkers who can alter their shapes at will to assume the characteristics of certain animals. Most of the world’s cultures have their own shapeshifter legends….In the American Southwest, the Navajo, Hopi, Utes, and other tribes each have their own version of the skinwalker story, but basically they boil down to the same thing—a malevolent witch capable of being transformed into a wolf, coyote, bear, bird, or any other animal. The witch might wear the hide or skin of the animal identity it wants to assume, and when the transformation is complete, the human witch inherits the speed, strength, or cunning of the animal whose shape it has taken. The Navajo skinwalkers use mind control to make their victims do things to hurt themselves and even end their lives…

Given the nature of the phenomena reported at that remote ranch, the idea of mind control seems a kind of refrain in the book. Fully half the book details the wealth of high strangeness that takes place, first to the Gorman family, then to the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) researchers. The area had been known to the Utes and Navajos for generations as a wrong place, an abode of skinwalkers, and simultaneously a sacred place, where this world and the otherworld intersect. The white family who bought the ranch came from out of state and didn’t know the ranch’s bad reputation. They just knew they were getting it cheap and that finally they had a shot at making their cattle-ranching dreams come true. Unfortunately, the dream turned into a nightmare, replete with strange lights in the sky and buzzing “craft,” incursions of sasquatch (which the local Utes think are sometimes Bigfoot and sometimes skinwalkers posing as Bigfoot) and other weird and impossible animals. The Gormans were further plagued by cattle mutilations, poltergeists, and sabotage—a veritable state of siege. After three years of that and more, dreams shattered, the Gormans sold the ranch to NIDS so the scientists could do a thorough investigation. The scientists themselves soon came to feel as if they were the ones being investigated, toyed with, and made to confront the limits of science.

As I said, fully half the book recounts the frustrating experiences of the Gormans and the researchers on the ranch. Interesting at first, this section got repetitive. I enjoyed the drama of the first section, where the Gormans were faced with the onslaught of high strangeness, and I enjoyed the final section wherein the authors engage in philosophical and scientific discussions about what might be causing all this. Theories abound, but hard science does not.

If there is an intended message or lesson in all of this, what could it possibly be? Needless to say, everyone who played a part in the investigations has logged many a sleepless night while pondering this central question, without arriving at a satisfactory answer.

Whatever was happening at this ranch (and is still reportedly happening) seems to have more in common with quantum physics than Newtonian, giving an uncomfortable glimpse into the very strange universe we inhabit, one that changes shape depending on who is observing it. Not only is it stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

Shasta-Road

Whether you’re looking to find Bigfoot or find a cure for what ails ye, believe in flying saucers and the hollow earth theory, or just feel called to go spiritually journeying in a place where the “veil between this world/dimension and the next is thinner” there’s a destination in California that will fit the bill: a currently inactive volcano called Mt. Shasta. That it’s in California may not surprise some—Cali is the state of oddball seekers, after all—but the fact that the legends stretch back to the earliest settlers and further back into Indian lore may surprise some.

The New Agey stuff, of course, has been grafted onto the place wholesale, but Shasta has always been a place of legend. The mountain is sacred to many Indian tribes in the area: the Wintu, who believe they emerged from a sacred spring on the mountain; the Achumawi; the Atsugewi; the Modoc. The Shasta Indian tribe believe it to be the center of the universe and home to their creator god, Chareya, often called Old Man Above or Great Man in English. While he was creating the world, he made himself a gigantic tipi out of ice and snow. He lived there for thousands of years and the Indians knew he was in residence because they could see the smoke of his fire coming out of the tipi’s top. However, when white folks showed up in the area, Old Man Above decided it was time to go and the smoke wasn’t seen on the mountain after that.

Perhaps that’s why there are people who to this day believe Shasta is hollow inside, a interdimensional passageway, the place where the last of the Lemurians live in a crystal city called Telos, home of the ascended masters, a covert UFO base, a…well, you get the picture. UFO sightings are quite frequent in the area, even without the lenticular clouds that frequent the mountaintop. And it’s said to be a Bigfoot hotspot, as a recent Finding Bigfoot episode claimed. Many spiritual seekers there report “telepathic communication” with Bigfoot when they pop in and out of the fifth dimension…and saucer occupants, and Lemurians, and…again, you get the picture.

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I do not laugh at the belief systems of others. I may not take them on as my own, but I figure that as long as they’re harmless and make these people happy, why not? And the beliefs clinging to the mountain are mostly that—peaceful and transcendental. Well, if you discount that one Guy who started a cult in the 1930s. His wife and son wound up swindling people out of a lot of money and getting busted by the Feds. The Guy himself did not go to prison—he was dead when the swindling occurred—so his name remains “pure” and the cult lives on in a Visitor’s Center in the town of Shasta.

But hey, Mt. Shasta is not to blame for the darkness at the heart of some humans, and most activity there is pretty positive. One might even come to believe that Mt. Shasta could purify even the darkest of hearts.

At his first sight of Mt. Shasta in 1874, John Muir is reported to have said, “I was fifty miles away, afoot, alone and weary, yet all of my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since.”

And therein may lay the essence of the Mt. Shasta experience. More than anything, what fascinates people about the mountain is the gosh-awful grandeur of the place. It inspires awe, and so people pour that awe into a multiplicity of belief systems. The place may very well be a vortex to some otherworldly place, or it may just be a vortex of amazing beauty.

As Steven Jackson put it, writing for NPR, when he hiked there: “I don’t have a spiritual epiphany. But the air feels cold and sharp. The old-growth cedars are covered in brilliant green moss and shape-shifting clouds whip across the sky impossibly fast. In short, it is literally awesome. And regardless of what one believes about the mountain, it’s easy to see why it has so many legends to its name.”

IF

The Firewolf

Some years ago, when I was still doing art inspired by American Indian sprituality, I had a powerful dream. In this dream, I was gazing into a campfire out in the woods. An enormous grey wolf emerged from the fire, leaping over my head and knocking me flat on my back, his fur trailing sparks of fire that left my eyes dazzled. He ran off and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

When I woke, I thought perhaps this was a power dream sent to me by the wolf spirit. My teacher had encouraged me to take such dreams seriously and to use them in the artwork. As it happened, I was in the process of making a medicine shield, an object inspired by personal visions, or vision quests, and used by various tribes to protect them spiritually. I figured the dream had sent me the image I needed for it.

When I presented the finished shield to my teacher, she was amazed. “What inspired you to use this image?” she asked.

I told her about the dream.

“You already knew about the firewolf, then?”

“Firewolf? No, I’ve never heard of that.”

She went on to explain that in the traditions of some tribes, fire is considered a wolf and must be treated with respect. You must remember to thank the firewolf for its help in keeping you warm and cooking your food, for the positive benefits it brings, or it might turn on you.

“It’s really significant,” she said, “that you had that dream and had never heard of the firewolf before.”

I thought so, too, and was amazed. I wondered briefly if it might be a case of cryptomnesia, where one is exposed to an idea but doesn’t recall the exposure. But whatever it was, I was thrilled.

I thought I’d write about it for the folklore blog. I duly set about looking up the firewolf legends on the internet in order to provide some references. And therein lies the problem. I found pagans named Firewolf, fictional stories about fire wolves, games featuring fire wolves, so clearly the concept is in the zeitgeist. But I found almost nothing about American Indian traditions concerning fire and wolves. According to Native American Mythology A to Z by Facts on File, Incorporated, the Ute Indians believed Wolf brought fire to mankind:

Tales frequently involve the theft of fire from the being that possessed it. Often the bringer of fire was an animal or a bird, such as Beaver (Nez Perce), Coyote (many traditions), Deer (Nootka), Fox (Jicarilla Apache), Muskrat (Anishinabe), Turkey (Cherokee), or Wolf (Ute). Grandmother Spider (Spider Woman) stole fire for the Choctaw. In one Cherokee tale, a water spider was responsible for the gift of fire.

So, I don’t know what tradition my teacher was referring to. Indian mythology is not a monolith—each tribe has their own set of stories and beliefs. Sometimes there’s overlap, but each tradition is unique, and there are many, many stories out there. I just have no idea which one she meant.

And the cryptomnesia idea is playing through my mind again, once I saw that the Utes believed Wolf brought the first fire. My mother, you see, grew up on the Ute reservation. It’s entirely possible I heard something along the way.

Which does nothing to diminish the vividness and power of that dream. That remains a gift of the unconscious realm, the realm where all things are possible, where mysteries are far more important than answers.

IF

Mother, with Firewolf

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I’ll be taking part in the annual American Turkey Bacchanal (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) and won’t be posting a folklore blog this week. But…

Here’s a very interesting website with lots of Native American Turkey mythology.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

What do Howard Hughes and the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians of Southern California have in common? It happens they shared a plot of land on the Westside of Los Angeles, separated by eons of time and circumstance. And they may also have shared a plot or two in the Otherworld.

While doing research on ghost hunting for a novel, I came across a book called Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Los Angeles by Jeff Dwyer. It’s part of a series, each set in a different city, and basically gives a brief overview of ghost hunting techniques and equipment followed by a long list of “haunted” locations.

Imagine my peaked interested when Playa Vista was listed, a stretch of land just down the hill from where I live, and part of the rampant development of the Ballona wetlands which once peacefully coexisted with the undeveloped runway of Hughes Aircraft. Howard Hughes refused to develop this land—the last piece of prime, “under-utilized” property on the desirable Westside of Los Angeles. At his death, the moneymen were wetting themselves in anticipation of the plunder. Because Hughes’s will situation was in chaos at the time of his death, it took many years, many lawsuits, and countersuits to get things squared away. The abandoned Hughes site contained old office buildings and engineering buildings, massive aircraft hangers (including the one where the Spruce Goose was assembled), and a runway. Movie companies were the only ones using this property for a long time, the empty hangers becoming sound stages. Parts of Titanic were filmed there, among other blockbusters. Raleigh Studios still retains these hangers, but the rest of the property has been highly developed.

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Hughes Aircraft/Raleigh Studios hangers.

Enough strange things happened in these buildings that paranormal investigators came to check it out. Reportedly, the abandoned office buildings were especially active. A memorable episode of the paranormal T.V. show, Dead Famous, comes to mind, in which the intrepid investigators had many spooky adventures at the old Hughes complex. (I’m ashamed that I remember this—and so many other stupid-spooky shows—but I am a ghost show addict. I can’t help myself.) An anthropologist who worked on site reported the ghost of a small 1950s era white boy seen by many of the folk on the property. This little ghost even followed her home upon occasion. They also repeatedly saw “something colored bright white moving along just at the corner of their vision… For reasons that she was never quite clear on, she and the other workers came to the conclusion that the white shape seen moving in the lab was another spirit, specifically the ghost of Howard Hughes. As far as she knows, people on the project continue to see it.”

Finally, the lawyers and the moneymen stopped arguing and settled things in the courts. It was decided by the victors that the Hughes property would become a new live-work-play development (mixed residential, business, and entertainment) called Playa Vista. This was a massively controversial project from the start, as many wanted to protect the wetlands and the openness of the area, but the LA Board of Supervisors caved, as they always do when massive amounts of development money are involved. The Playa Vista project was bulldozed through the approval pipeline and the bulldozing of the Hughes property began.

Imagine everyone’s chagrin when the excavations uncovered human remains: what was left of a massive Gabrielino-Tongva Indian village and cemetery that had occupied the site for centuries (some say thousands of years) before Hughes got ahold of it. The developers were required by law to call in archaeologists, and tried to pass it off as a few paltry bones that they flung into a storage shed, treating them with great disrespect. It turned out this was a major archaeological site and around 411 bodies were recovered. The problem, as far as the Gabrielino-Tongva were concerned, is that their tribe is not federally recognized. This means they are not legally entitled to “repatriation”—that stipulation in U.S. Federal Law which requires Native American graves and artifacts to be treated with respect and reburied with tribal ritual after being disturbed. You can read about the whole sordid story in detail here and a more condensed version here.

Eventually, and with many years of pressure from Indian activists, the Playa Vista people agreed to set aside a memorial place where the bones could be shuttled out of the way of the development, out of sight of the rich folk, and reinterred. If this city blog can be believed, this took place on December 11, 2008. (I leave it to you to decide whether this memorial is cheesy.)

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The Tongva Memorial

Now, as many a paranormal investigator will tell you, disturbed Indian gravesites are just asking for trouble. Some will say this attitude is racist, “blaming” the Indians for every weird quirk that happens on a property they once occupied. There are others who don’t look upon this as blaming the Indians, but perhaps as a matter of the disturbed dead seeking redress for the genocide visited upon them by Europeans. I probably fall into this latter camp, although it’s possible I am an unwitting racist. I would not be the first middle-class white girl reluctant to confess to that particular sin.

Regardless, Mr. Dwyer (you remember him from way up top at the start of this post?) states that, “Disturbance of these graves may be linked to strange mists that have been seen in the area. Small blue clouds float a foot off the ground and rise to a height of about four or five feet. At times they are stationary but sometime (sic) they move, slowly, against the wind.” Those pesky orbs so beloved of paranormal investigators have also been sighted and “there are reports of electrical and mechanical problems” at the construction site. “It is anticipated that occupants of several new homes and offices in this development will experience paranormal activity…”

I will confess that having lived in this area all my life and passed through that particular stretch of highway more times than I can count, “tooley” fog (aka tule fog) has always been prevalent on that road between the Westchester bluffs and La Ballona Creek (no more than a quarter mile north). This is one of the only places I know of on the Westside of LA where this fog happens and I’ve seen it many times, usually late at night. Although I don’t remember it ever being blue or moving against the wind. Mostly, it just sits like the spirit of malcontent, thick as dread, hugging the ground while ten feet off the earth the air is clear. The Ballona wetlands have always been an eerie place. Back in the day there were no streetlights, and at night that part of Lincoln Boulevard tended to be as dark as the heart of a developer, with nothing but empty fields, scattered and abandoned buildings, and that ground-hugging fog in the right weather. Driving through there late at night by myself really gave me the shivers. Not hard at all to imagine uneasy spirits even before they dug up those graves.

The development has civilized it somewhat, lifted the highway ten or fifteen feet (which was a good thing as it flooded rather badly when we actually had rain), put in streetlights and masses of butt-ugly buildings. The land west of Lincoln Boulevard was set aside as protected wetlands and a bird sanctuary, but Playa Vista continues to screw with the land and undercut the natural habitat of the wetlands. They have to be continuous monitored by environmentalists and activists. Besides all that, they ruined a perfectly good scary place and I will never forgive them for it, but I have to say, strange fogs are not particularly convincing to me as evidence of spirit activity.

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Restored Ballona wetlands with southern range of butt ugly buildings.

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Eastern reach of butt ugly buildings on the Hughes property.

Orbs spotted with the naked eye? Maybe. (On digital cameras—no, I don’t think so. Too many rational explanations.) Electrical and mechanical problems? Maybe. Or maybe not. Things flying around a Playa Vista apartment and horrid noises in the night? Now that I’d like to see—if anything like that had been reported. Which, as far as I know, it has not. And maybe that’s all the Playa Vista stories are at this point: resentful people like me who didn’t like to see that rapacious development and would enjoy casting a ray of darkness upon it for spoiling our fun.

But, aesthetic principles aside, I would not be caught dead living in one of those butt ugly buildings. Just in case.

Random quote of the day:

“The survival of the world depends upon our sharing what we have and working together. If we do not, the whole world will die. First the planet, and next the people.”

—Frank Fools Crow, Ceremonial Chief of the Teton Sioux, quoted in Fools Crow by Thomas E. Mails

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“The emphasis of American Indian religions, then, is on the spiritual nature of all things. To understand the physical world, one must appreciate the underlying spiritual essence. Then one can begin to see that the physical is only a faint shadow, a partial reflection, of a supernatural and extrarational world.”

—Walter L. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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Sometime in the 1860s or shortly thereafter, an elderly Native American man sat or kneeled near the side of the road not far from present-day Escalante, Utah and died. The area is now part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a breathtaking natural wonder, but few people knew the old man lay there. Blowing sand had quickly covered up his remains and his possessions. His body was rediscovered by hikers in late 2007 and Bureau of Land Management anthropologists were called in to study the bones. The BLM nicknamed him Escalante Man. He carried a musket, percussion caps, polished stones, a horn, human molars from a young adult, and a large brass bucket fitted with a handle and chain bearing a patent date of December 15, 1866.

The old man, probably in his sixties, had rotting teeth and arthritic bones and may have just been overcome by weariness and disease when he died. The fact is, we don’t know. The FBI, you see, took control of the excavation, declaring it a crime scene and excluding archaeologists from its April 16, 2008 excavation. They also excluded state officials and the local Indian tribes. A BLM archaeologist, Matt Zweifel, complained about it and was ordered by higher ups in BLM to cease and desist.

“It’s an ongoing investigation. Our policy is we cannot comment on it,” FBI spokesman Juan Becerra said at the time, stating that they had good reasons to keep the archaeologist away from the dig. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also signed off on the investigation. Their refusal to talk to archaeologists or the public about this didn’t prevent them from inviting a KUTV news crew to come by and have a look. They filed an upbeat news story about it showing the FBI in a favorable light. That news story isn’t up at KUTV’s archive anymore, but you can read the whole text here.

To this date, as far as I can determine, the FBI has never stated why they turned this into a crime scene investigation and circumvented state and federal laws regarding the treatment of the remains of Native Americans. The story got much play in 2008 and was taken up by a number of forums, had some fantastical speculation, then died as stories often do. I haven’t found any references to it past 2008. For me, the most sensible answer as to why the Feds behaved as they did came from Ichneumon on the Darwin Central forum:

[I]t’s possible that something in the Escalante Man find matches details of some old but still remembered crime, or that there are signs he was murdered in a still significant way, or had on him bills or objects from a high-profile old crime, or was a prominent historical figure, etc. Maybe there are signs he died of an infectious disease that could still be virulent and the CDC is involved. There are lots of somewhat possible reasons for the feds to want to be involved.

On the other hand, maybe they just barged in before it was realized how old the body was, and now they’re too embarassed to step back and say, “oops, never mind”.

Yep, could be. But I’ll leave you with one more piece of intrigue. Some years ago when I originally poked around about this story, I went to the BLM website’s “Environment Notification Bulletin Board.” I found this entry and for some reason I decided to take a screen capture:

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If you can’t see the entire entry, click on the picture and it will take you to Photobucket and show the whole thing.

The dates shown on the right hand side of this fall under the labels of Last Updated and Created. I think it’s interesting that the protesting BLM guy was quietly reburying bones at the end of the year when this controversy blew up. But what I find more intriguing is a recent re-visit to this BLM site. The entry shown above is no longer listed on the bulletin board, completely gone from the records as far as I can determine.

Maybe they pulled the entry because it was old—although I’ve found things on the bb going back to 2006. Maybe I typed it in wrong—all of the several times I searched for it. Maybe it’s all a coincidence and the above entry has nothing to do with Escalante Man. Maybe. Maybe even probably. Maybe.

Lately I’ve only been taking half-hour lunches at work because I need to get on the road home earlier than I used to. A half hour doesn’t seem sufficient to get any writing done once I’ve gone down to buy lunch and come back upstairs. But I’ve managed to squeeze in some “research reading,” which makes me feel as if I’m keeping my hand in as a writer. Between caregiving, a full time job, and exhaustion there is no other time slot for actual writing. I realize my research-reading-as-extension-of-writing is something of an illusion, but it’s been quite a creative illusion for all that.

Currently, I’m reading a fascinating book called Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert W. Lebling. It’s sparked all kinds of ideas. Curiously, most of them have been for existing stories rather than new ones, fleshing them out, solving plot issues, broadening character. None of these stories are about djinn, but the book brings up many wonderful cross-cultural themes. Anytime I read mythology of any sort it sparks loads of ideas for me, and the fact is, most Western mythology has roots in the Middle East. We share a profound cultural connection, an archetypal basis, with that part of the world, whether we care to acknowledge it or not.

This week the book sparked a ton of ideas for the Annia Sabina book I mentioned the other day. Last week it pumped out goodies for a novel I’ve been playing with for several years. Before that, I was reading The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture by Walter L. Williams specifically to do research/get ideas for my historical fantasy, The Numberless Stars. That book did its job well and I got plenty of ideas. Before that, it was yet another something that had my mind clicking away at yet another novel.

Which is all well and very good, but it does mean I’m bouncing around a lot. That’s not an unfamiliar pattern for me when I’m between projects. I tend to bounce until something takes a firm hold and I commit a substantial amount of writing to the page. Then momentum takes over and I work through the idea, generally, until it’s finished.

But, as I said, I’ve got maybe a half-hour a day to dedicate to anything me-related, to my writing, and research reading, and cozening the muse. Unless I’m stealing time from something else I should be doing to do…this. Or something like it.

I’m itching to write. I have moments when I speak with such confidence about what the next project will be! But in truth, I’m bouncing. I may bounce until I splatter myself unless I can figure a way to steal or carve out what I need and still meet my honorable commitments.

Writing requires sacrifice. Art requires it. We’re always stealing from something else in order to do that thing which makes us feel whole. Generally from time with family and friends, from our social lives, etc. There is no easy way to do this and do it well. Even if you manage to achieve full-time artist/writer status, there will always be something you have to give up in order to do that which makes you feel whole. The question of what and how much is an individual thing. No one can make that decision for you, and sometimes the circumstances are very hard indeed.

For me, I can’t go forever with my creative channels choked off. Something has to give, but it’s impossible for me to say what at this point. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bounce and steal and hope that something anchors me before I splatter. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Just do it, for God’s sake!”

Just do it. Sometimes it’s as simple and as hard as that.

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