Archives For Cherokee

As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Ireland was inhabited earlier than thought…
A knee bone from a brown bear had been sitting in the National Museum of Ireland since the 1920s. What archaeologists didn’t know was that this bone would prove Ireland was inhabited in the Palaeolithic era. The bone has cut marks on it indicative of butchering and was originally found in the Alice and Gwendoline Cave in County Clare. Archaeologists date the bone to 12,500 BCE. Until this find, the oldest known human evidence in Ireland was set at 8000 BCE.

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

…but the Irish aren’t Celtic?
Ten years ago a pub owner in Antrium, Northern Ireland found the remains of three humans buried behind his property. The remains turned out to be a burial dating back to 2000 BCE, which makes them hundreds of years older than the oldest artifacts generally considered to be Celtic. DNA evidence from these bones revealed another fact. These are the ancestors of modern Irish people, and they are not Celtic.

Traditional theory has held that the Celts, who came from the continental European countries of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, invaded Ireland between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE. These Celtic invaders were thought to be the ancestors of modern Irish.

Instead, the genetic roots of today’s Irish existed in Ireland long before the Celts arrived. In fact, it may be that the Irish exported their culture to central Europe, where the Celts lived, rather than the other way around. It also appears Ireland was tied more to Spain and Portugal, through their DNA, culture, language, and religion, than to Central Europe.

In addition to changing how scholars view Celtic and Irish cultures, this new finding may change how modern Pagans view themselves,  their ancestors,  and their religion.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

More Evidence Found in Search for Queen Nefertiti
In July of last year, UK archaeologist Nicholas Reeves theorized that there is another tomb hidden behind the walls of Tut’s burial chamber. His theory was greeted with skepticism, but after closer study of the tomb, Egyptian officials invited Reeves and Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, to perform a radar scan of the west and north walls of Tut’s tomb. Initial results showed promise that there was another chamber behind the north wall.

Now the final results of the scans are in: not only is there a hidden chamber, there are what appears to be metallic and organic objects in the chamber.

So what, or who, is behind the wall? Some Egyptologists say it could be Queen Nefertiti. The tomb and Tut’s grave goods and funerary mask appear to have been made for a woman. Not only was Nefertiti probably Tut’s step-mother, the orientation of the tomb was laid out for a Queen, and the Queen who recently predeceased Tut was Nefertiti.

Finding Nefertiti could answer many questions about a turbulent time in Egyptian history and religion. Was Nefertiti not only a Queen, but a Pharaoh? And did she continue a monotheistic form of religion or revert back to polytheism?

Cherokee Farm Sacred Honey Locust Tree
Biologists now believe the Cherokee were “farming” honey locust trees centuries earlier than any form of agriculture was thought to exist in the United States.

Biologist Robert Warren says, “While I was doing field work in Southern Appalachia, I noticed that whenever I saw a honey locust, I could throw a rock and hit a Cherokee archaeological site. I knew that, in the late Pleistocene era, the main source of dispersal for honey locusts was megafauna such as mastodons. But mastodons disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. You’d expect plant species that relied strictly on extinct megafauna for seed dispersal would only exist in small, remnant populations.”

The Cherokee had a strong motivation to plant and care for honey locust trees. Not only were they a source of sugar and wood for weapons, the tree has religious value. One myth tells of the God Thunder and his son Lightening. Thunder heard a boy was looking for him and was claiming to be his son. Thunder had the boy brought to him and asked him to sit on a blanket under a honey locust tree. When the boy wasn’t hurt by the long honey locust thorns under the blanket, Thunder knew the boy was his son Lightening.

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

All Dogs Go To Heaven (in Siberia)
The remains of dogs have been found in an ancient cemetery at Lake Baikal, Siberia. The dogs were buried between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago and were buried in a similar manner as the humans they were buried alongside. Some of the dogs were buried with decorative collars and had other grave goods, such as spoons. The significance of this find is that the people of this time thought the dogs had souls and would join their owners in the afterlife.

In the growing darkness of November, the sacred fires are lit by the wisdom keepers of our age!

Thanksgiving TurkeyIt’s Sunday again. Last week, I wrote about the growing popularity of one U.S. holiday – Halloween. Now, a week has passed and, collectively speaking, America has turned its attention to yet another holiday – Thanksgiving. With that shift come new decorations, sacred family traditions, and most importantly, a squeaky-clean mythos involving a big ship, a bunch of Pilgrims, and of course, the “Indians.”

With that in mind let’s consider reversing the thread from last week’s post in which I examined a spiritual holiday going secular. What if we ushered in a secular holiday, Thanksgiving, with a definitively spiritual experience? What if we could reach into that modern American mythos to find a deeper meaning through a connection to the very spirit that resides within these lands? What if we could celebrate that spirit in a traditional way with the elders of the indigenous populations?

Creek Elder Sam Proctor

Sam Proctor
Muskogee (Creek)

This past weekend, the Sacred Fire Foundation made this a real possibility. In Atlanta, Georgia, the Foundation hosted its annual Ancient Wisdom Rising retreat. The annual event is a gathering of community elders from a across the globe who guard that ancient spirit – the one that emanates from deep within the Earth. Each year, these wisdom keepers come together to share their stories, offer counsel, and demonstrate the ancient traditions that have survived for centuries.

Over the years the retreat has been held in a variety of locations including California, Washington State and New York. This year the event was back on the East Coast. Coming to Georgia, specifically, was a powerful choice for the Foundation because it paved the way for a spiritual and ancestral reunion for one of the visiting elders: Sam Proctor. As written by their Board of directors:

“Almost two centuries since the removal of his People from Georgia, Mr. Sam Proctor, respected Muscogee (Creek) spiritual leader from Oklahoma, returns to the shores of the Chattahoochee River to share his message of peace and time-tested wisdom about a heart-centered way of living.”  (From Ancient Wisdom Rising, September Newsletter)

Marie Junaluska

Marie Junaluska
Cherokee Elder

After visiting the retreat site near the banks of the Chattahoochee, Mr. Proctor said, “The Ancestors are still here.” During the weekend, he shared Muskogee traditions and, with other members of the Muskogee Nation, led a traditional Social Fire Dance welcoming the attendees to the land of his ancestors.

Joining him was Marie Junaluska, a Cherokee elder living in Western North Carolina and Kevin Welch, Cherokee Master Gardener. Their people’s ancestral heritage can be traced to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. Like the Creek, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from Georgia and made to walk the infamous, “Trail of Tears.” Despite this painful history, the Cherokee spirit lives on.  Ms. Junaluska has been sharing, teaching and passing on the Cherokee culture and traditions for over thirty years.  And, Kevin Welch speaks out for the preservation of heirloom plants and growing techniques native to this Southern landscape and the Cherokee people.

Grandmother Walking Thunder

Grandma Walking Thunder
Navajo Medicine Woman

In addition, Ancient Wisdom Rising welcomed two other elders from North American indigenous cultures. Grandmother Walking Thunder, a healer and sand painter, shared the spirit of the Dine’ Medicine People (Navajo) and her experiences as a medicine woman. Coming from Alaska, Larry Merculieff of the Aleut Peoples shared the Aleutian teachings on the Oneness with Nature and the Great Womb of life. He is a one of the last Aleuts to be fully raised in the traditional way.

Larry Merculieff Speaks:

The Sacred Fire Foundation also invited wisdom keepers from cultures originating outside of the U.S. Sobonfu Some’ of the Dagara Peoples of West Africa’s Brukina Faso shared the traditions of her people.

From Southern Asian traditions, Marcy Vaughn, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, led a visualization and a talk on compassion. And, Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, a Sufi from Pakistan and a 17th generation musician, shared the healing powers of sound and music.

 

Marcy Vaughn

Marcy Vaughn
Tibetan Buddhism and Bon

Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a comprehensive inter-spiritual event like this. However, in reading the stories and watching the videos, it is possible to understand why these elders are reaching out to help humanity through their ancient traditions. More importantly, it is possible to understand how their teachings can help us rediscover our own connection to the Earth and benefit our journey, no matter what the path.

Once again, my thoughts return to the secular Thanksgiving – a holiday that focuses on community, compassion, tradition, and natural abundance. Can we re-sculpt the mythos to breathe a new spiritual life into that holiday? The story centers on an indigenous population, the “Indians,” teaching the new inhabitants, the Pilgrims, about the land and its creatures. It ends in a peaceful shared community feast that we now replicate every November.

Can we bring the spiritual into the secular? Can we transform this myth to focus on the teachings of the wisdom keepers who strive to bring humanity back into balance with Nature? Can we rededicate Thanksgiving to that ever sacred and shared wisdom that passes effortlessly from hand-to-hand, from drum beat to drum beat, from the heart to the heart through the eternal spirit fires of this wonderful Earth? And what if we did….

 

Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

 

An Aside: I realize that there may be some readers who are not well-versed in Native American history, specifically that of the South East, or know much about Thanksgiving. Click on the following links for quick background reads:

About Thanksgiving from The History Channel
Native Americans in Georgia: Link Page with lots of Information. Or, go directly to the Cherokee‘s or Muscogee‘s site.