Thursday, February 19, 2015

Effigies as a source of protection to agricultural fields

     So the other day I’m gliding along some frozen New England roads, snow mounds along both sides of the road, bigger mounds piled at intersections, - and suddenly it occurs to me that this could almost be a fine way to illustrate or at least imagine the stone rows along all those suspected Indian Trails I believe I am observing, trails bordered with a stone fuel break, complete with a big serpent’s head where the trails meet. Lately I’ve been pondering the possible serpentine, and therefore probable Indigenous, origin of “stone walls.” I’m thinking these days that the rows of stones containing effigies are also larger effigies – especially if I come across a single boulder or group of stones that resembles a snake or serpent head’s.

     I’ve been thinking about a certain place I know where a bunch of possible serpents stretch across a little first terrace hillside above the big floodplain, some land still in active agricultural use, but with a history I suspect to be far older than that, working on drawings with too much information, but very similar to this one I just made:
     So I just happen to be browsing around and find an entry with the keywords “effigy and agricultural field” from just a hundred years ago or so by Stephen Denison Peet in Prehistoric America, Volume 2 (1890)
      “Effigies as a source of protection to agricultural fields have been alluded to. Illustrations of this are numerous. The garden beds and corn-fields at Indian Prairie and Forest Home, near Milwaukee, were protected by intaglio effigies. There are cornfields on the west shore of Lake Koshkonong, near the residence of Mr. Rufus Bingham…

(The author refers to some eagle effigy mounds as surrounding possible fields: “stretched along at right angles on the bluff of the river, itself forming a wall between the river and a swale and guarding the bluff from approach. Within this wall the ground seemed to be broken as if there had been garden beds or corn fields. Possibly the effigies were designed as a fence to protect the corn fields. This was on the farm of Mr. Eaton. There were other mounds about a half mile north of the line, but they had been obliterated and could not be surveyed (93).”)

     “…Here the corn hills are on the low ground between two points which extend out toward the lake. On one point was the remains of an old French trading-point, cellar, stone chimney and other relics. On the other point are conical mounds arranged in such a shape as to give the idea that there was formerly a Mound-builders' village there. In the rear of both is a large group of effigy mounds, a group which extends along the line of the highlands partially surrounding the corn-fields. An old trail passes through this group. It would appear from history that there was a Winnebago village on one side and a Fox village on the other, the effigies being near the Winnebago village, but round mounds near the Fox village.
We speak about this particular locality where there were corn-fields and garden beds because we know that there were various superstitions about the raising of corn. In fact, everything that had life about it was regarded as being a gift from the master of life, and the soil itself was regarded as a source of life. There are many places where garden-beds were protected by animals, sometimes the figures thus protecting them are clan emblems but sometimes they are mounds which have a peculiar shape.

 In one place we found the garden-beds protected by a massive serpent, or rather by a natural ridge which had been modified and mounded so as to resemble a serpent. We do not know as there was any connection between this serpent ridge and the superstition about the weather divinities, and yet it is a remarkable fact that among the Dakotas the serpent is a symbol both of the lightning and of the rain. This great serpent was near Mayville and was a very peculiar object. It may have been a mere coincidence, and yet taken with other things it looks as if it embodied the native myth.”
Now I had just been messing with the idea of a drawing of that hillside first terrace that looks like this when I quickly add in grey some paint program doodlings of the possible serpent petroforms:
Is it just a strange coincidence or might some great serpent ideas be portrayed in stone rather than an earth mound at the edge of agricultural fields??

Peet writes on about the serpent: “The superstition about the serpent is next to be considered. Here we come in contact with a very remarkable coincidence. The serpent effigy is found in Ohio, in Wisconsin and in Dakota, three places where the tribe of Dakotas are supposed to have been located. There is this peculiarity about all of these, they are conformed to the shape of the land on which they are situated, the natural and the artifical shape both giving the idea that the serpent divinity haunted the spot. Whether this is a conception which is peculiar to the Dakotas or not, it is a very remarkable coincidence that these effigies should appear in the places where the Dakotas have lived, and only in those places…
The great serpent in Adams County has an altar in the very center of the body and the shape of the serpent corresponds to the shape of the ridge, the effigy having been placed upon the ridge because of its resemblance to the serpent. We claim priority in the discovery of this fact. The suggestion made several years ago has however been taken up and carried out farther than we had expected. Mr. W. H. Holmes ascertained that the ridge was not only like a serpent in its general shape, but that the rocks at the end of the ridge resembled the head of the serpent in their shape, a projecting ledge having the appearance of the sharp nose, cavities in the rock above having the appearance of eyes and the form and color of the rocks of the cliff below having the appearance of the white neck and bulging mouth or jaw of the serpent, while the tortuous shape of the ridge made it to resemble the folds of a massive serpent which was creeping out from the bluff and thrust its immense front into the very center of the valley, the depressions in the ridge above representing the rise and fall of the folds of the serpent. It is a conception which to any one is impressive and fills the mind with a kind of superstitious dread, but to an Indian was especially impressive. We have only to imagine the fire lighted upon the altar on the top of the ridge, shooting its gleams up to the sky, casting fitful shadows over the valley below, and filling the whole scene with its mysterious glare, to realize how terribly the minds of the superstitious people would be impressed. The fire can be seen for several miles. The erection of an effigy of an immense serpent a thousand or twelve hundred feet long on this spot was in accord with the superstitions of the people. It was not strange that they should recognize the resemblance for they seem to have been given to serpent worship, but the repetition of the practice of erecting serpent effigies in this way is remarkable. We do not know how they received this cult. The original home of serpent worship is supposed to have been in India and yet it is spread from India to Great Britain and appears wherever the Indo-European race has trodden. Its introduction into this country may have been from Europe, via Iceland, Labrador and the northeast coast. The coincidences are so striking that we are inclined to say that it was a borrowed cult, yet there are those who maintain that it was indigenous to America…”
The serpent effigy is found in many places. We here call attention to a recent discovery which we made at Fort Ancient. This fort is forty miles from Cincinnati and is situated on the Little Miami River. The river is a very swift and tortuous stream, subjected to sudden floods. It flows between low banks, but the bluffs rise on either side, making very wild and romantic scenery. The bluffs are as tortuous as the stream. The fort is situated on one of these tortuous ridges or bluffs. The walls of the fort are four and one-half miles in length, but are very crooked, so crooked that while the area within is only about eighty acres, these are about four times as long as would be necessary to surround that amount of land. The walls of the fort are in the shape of massive serpents, the heads of the serpents forming the gateways. The conception was taken from the shape of the bluffs and the land surrounding the fort. Ten years ago we visited the spot and discovered the resemblance of the walls to serpents. This was at the lower fort. Here two serpents are apparently contending with one another. The heads are near together at the gateway, one head turned sideways and the other shooting straight forward. The stricture of the neck is represented by an opening in the walls. From this point the bodies separate, twisting out and leaving a wide space between them for the fort. The bodies rise and fall corresponding to the ground and rolls along the edge of the bluff. Their heads form one gateway and their tails forming another, the whole figure having the shape of a double serpent with tails and heads together, a shape which was very familiar in the East Indies and which there represented astronomical principles, the great serpent which surrounded the earth and the cosmogonic egg being between them. This myth is found in Scandinavia. It may be that it was brought to America from these countries. The discovery which we made, however, was this: While standing on the walls of the lower fort somewhere near the terraces we could look down into the valley of the stream just below, and we discovered that the shape of the valley between the bluffs was almost exactly the shape of the fort itself and the bluffs themselves had the shape of the walls surrounding the fort. At least the two embody the same superstition in reference to the natural and artificial effigies. So far as this is concerned there is no question. The conception was evidently taken from a view of the scenery. The walls and area of the fort were the counterparts of the bluff and the valley between them, while the tortuous course of the swift stream completed the picture. The figure of the serpent was everywhere present. The resemblance was too striking to escape observation. It was not a mere coincidence, but the recognition was easy. This recognition, was undoubtedly the cause of the walls of the fort being in the shape of serpents. It was a recognition which had impressed the builders of the fort. The walls on which we stood overlooked the scene. It was a lookout station. There was a pathway from the fort to the lookout. This pathway had evidently been trodden by the people who dwelt in the fort. They had evidently stood on this spot and recognized the resemblance and had been impressed with it. It was a strange superstition and yet it was very powerful. Whether the superstition was a natural one or the remains of a lingering myth, a fragmentary tale which had come down from their fathers, or not, we do not know. The serpent divinity haunted the scene wherever this strange people went. Two serpents surrounding the hollow orb as we found it here is a common conception. This may be a mere coincidence, still it is worthy of study. The great serpent in Adams County is said by Squier and Davis to have embodied the cosmogonic egg. If this is the case then the same was embodied in the walls of the ancient fort. See Diagram XI.
The same conception about the serpent is given by the effigy which Professor Todd has discovered in Dakota. He calls it "boulder mosaics." 

 The shape of the serpent is made by two lines of boulders which run in parallel lines along the summit of a large ridge, the lines separating at the head to represent its flattened shape, and in the center of the head two other boulders which represent the eyes. He says: "The eyes had a stony stare and the effigy resembled a serpent very plainly.
Peet mentions New England – and “the northwest” as other places where history and religion become identical:
“Locality always leaves its mark on native tradition, and native myths also leave their marks on localities. We should know from the New England myths that the people who held them were residents of the seashore, for the animals which are made to figure in these myths are animals peculiar to the sea. We know that they dwelt in a region where (there) were rocks and romantic scenery, and that they were a people who were influenced by this peculiar scenery. Their traditions are many of them, localized, the rocks often being made to symbolyze their myths. It is singular, however, that the myths which fix upon scenes in nature are those which remind one of the animal divinities which were worshipped. The figure of the moose and the turtle and other animals have been recognized in certain strange and contorted figures in the rocks and mountains, and myths have been connected with them, the myth having evidently been made to account for the resemblances.
This is not peculiar to New England. We learn from Rev. M. Eells, Rev. S.Jackson,D.D., and others, that the tribes of the northwest coast have many of their myths connected with the different objects in nature, such as mountains and valleys, streams and rocks, showing that with them there was a tendency to throw an air of religion over nature. The same thing has been illustrated by Dr. Washington Matthews, in his article on Navajo Myths. Here the animals are all associated with the different localities, the animals and the scenes of nature having been regarded with a peculiar sentiment which makes history and religion identical. We present this, then, as a proof that the emblematic mounds were regarded in a religious light, the scenery and the animal shapes both proving the different elements in the prevalent nature worship.”
And here’s the whole deal if you’d like to look:

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