Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Influence of Sacred Rock Cairns

and Prayer Seats on Modern Klamath and Modoc Religion and World View – Patrick Haynal (2000)
(Sort of in response to the Secret Landscapes post: Moon HillCorner - and the desecration of the site...)
 (With photos by the kind permission of Alyssa Alexandria)


“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?

The 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. 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 comment 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.”
(Below is the detail of the "pain basket" in the bottom center of the photo above)

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…”


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