Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mooney's Deer Head Uktena and some Loubser

Thanks, Tommy Hudson, for the J. Loubser link you referred to. I have been trying to remember (for about 5 years!) the source of a story about a deer head on a serpents body ever since seeing the stone above, with no provence, other than it came from a stone wall (http://rockpiles.blogspot.com/2010/05/woodbury-man-claims-to-have-found.html). Turns out it was Mooney:
     “At dawn, when the grandmother stared into the dark âsĭ (Women's Moon Lodge), she saw that her grandson shape-shifted into a giant horned serpent, or Uktena, curled up like a fetus within the cramped space. With human legs and deer head attached to a reptilian body, the partly transformed snake boy slithered through the settlement to a deep pool at a nearby bend in the river, where he disappeared under the water. Being a medicine person like her grandson, the grandmother eventually entered the pool too (Mooney 1900:304).”
Myths of the Cherokee. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology,
1897-98. Part 1, Government Printing Office: Washington D.C.

J. Loubser quotes the passage in:
The Socio-Economic and Ritual Contexts of Petroglyph Boulders in the Southeastern United States.
 Seemingly unimportant stories that southeastern Indians have shared with ethnographers often turn out to be critical in understanding the rituals and religious experiences of the Indians. Recent research on petroglyph boulders and ethno-histories in the region suggests that instead of being direct recounting of specific mythological stories, the production of petroglyphs in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is related to going-to-water purification rituals shared by most southeastern Indians, regardless of language. Prior to any major economic or social undertaking or personal event, such as planting, harvesting, hunting, marrying, raiding, gambling, ball playing, and menstruating, southeastern Indians felt obliged to contact or supplicate spirit beings living beyond a thin "veil." To contact the beings in the spirit world, all southeastern Indians did some degree of fasting, sweating, and washing in a river or creek. Various Cherokee, Creek, and Yuchi stories mention this in one way or another, ranging from myths to everyday events. What was said in these accounts and what were portrayed in the glyphs had a feed-back on the perpetuation of the Indians’ beliefs and practices. The socio-economic roles of the slant-eyed master-of-game, the horned-serpent, and their spirit being consorts are discussed in relation to depictions of them and their underworld abodes. Generally speaking, the normally hidden underworld domain of these spirit beings was made visible for all to see through the pecking of pertinent designs onto rock surfaces; petroglyphs gave inner mental constructs an outer physical expression. The correspondence between pecked motifs on the boulders with prominent features on the surrounding landscape supports Indian claims that the petroglyph boulders are three-dimensional picture maps of the surrounding spirit world.
“Subsistence and other aspects of everyday life among the southeastern Indians were closely tied to rituals that they believed facilitated their communication with spirit beings. The Indians believed that all of nature was animated as part of a great whole from which they have not completely separated themselves. Although the Indians viewed themselves as masters of animated things, they were nonetheless dependent on rocks, plants, and animals for their livelihood and asked pardon whenever they took and used these things for their sustenance. They believed that like humans, all things survived after death in the spirit world, which was located below the ground and beyond the sky vault (e.g., Mooney 1900:445-446). Cherokee and Creek hunters sung deer and bear songs on reaching the hunting ground (Mooney 1900:435), which was often marked by a change in landscape or altered features, such as petroglyph boulders (Parris 1950:37). When Judaculla, the Master of Game, was invoked in hunting prayer songs, the hunter first prayed to the fire, from which he drew his omens; then to the reed, from which he made his arrows; followed by prayers to Judaculla; and finally to the very animals he intended to kill (ibid. 342). Mooney (1900:455) noted that even when everyday Indians went digging hematite for red paint or chert for arrowheads, they first had to make a prayer beside the outcrop and hang a small gift upon a nearby bush or stick before quarrying. The southeastern Indians believed that spirit beings resembling humans and talking animals, lived both in mounds and in mountain tops and at bottom of river pools from which they enter and exit the everyday world through portals. Among these Indians, isolation, prayer, and fasting were prime requisites for obtaining clearness of spiritual vision of the spirit world and its beings. Fasting normally only lasted one day, from midnight to sunset, but on occasions of communal importance specialist religious functionaries fasted for longer periods (Mooney 1900:480). To become a medicine person among the Creeks, students had to fast in isolation for 12 days within a winter house and chew on the bitter-tasting root of the Sou-watch-cau plant for inducing visions (Hawkins 1982:78-79). To obtain a vision of the spirit world within the mountains and river pools was to obtain a spirit guide and protector (Mooney 1900:321, 470). Even though the southeastern Indians did not incorporate vision questing as a rite of passage into adulthood, hunters and medicine people seemed to develop close relationships with specific rocks, plants, or animals. The importance of altered states in southeastern Indian religious experience should not be underestimated. According to Mooney (1900:492), every Indian ritual was supposed to be in accordance with “direct instruction from the spirit world as communicated in a vision” or dream. A story of how dreams and so-called going-to-water ritual ensured success in the hunt illustrates the link between altered state encounters and hunting success. The story recounts how an unsuccessful hunter had a strange dream “so vividly that it seemed to him like an actual happening” (Mooney 1900:323). Upon waking up the hunter found a single stalk of corn, Selu, telling him to wash in the river before everyone was awake, and then to go out again into the woods, and he would kill many deer and from that time on would always be successful in the hunt.
Tightly constructed and generally dark and warm structures used during going-to water rituals all contained centrally-located fire places, and came in different sizes, ranging from the small private âsĭ through medium-sized family winter houses to large communal townhouses (Adair 1930:453). Among the Muskogee Creeks, a round big-house always stood west of their square ground, and was known as the tcokofa or town “hot house” (Swanton 1928a:59). The Indians viewed such structures as places of re-birth, where transitions from one state to another occurred. For instance, communal Green Corn rituals marked the annual summer-end harvest, monthly rituals celebrated the appearance of the new moon, menstruating and pregnant women regularly secluded themselves in an âsĭ, warriors purified themselves in townhouses prior to and after raids, medicine men retired to such structures preparing their teams for ball games or to make rain or heal patients. The predominantly domed roofs of hothouse structures were equated to the back of a turtle and the fire at its center as the turtle’s head. Amy Walker, a Cherokee medicine woman from North Carolina, says that entering an âsĭ lodge is returning to the mother’s womb and crawling out is being re-born (North Carolina Museum of History 2011). The turtle allusion is a reference to the animal’s natural ability to move between dry land and water; contrasting physical locations are apt metaphors of changes in bodily and mental states. Yuchi stories of transformation have medicine people riding turtles (Wagner 1931:77) and terrapins (Speck 1909:147) across rivers, normally at the edge of settled areas. Center and periphery within settlements and built structures are spatial metaphors for changes in states. It is worth noting that the periphery is defined by the angle from which the structure is approached or viewed. When approached from the side, the east-facing entrance and dark western end marked the points of transition, while when viewed from the bottom or top, the smoke vent in the roof and fire place on the floor were the portals. Being located on one side of an inhabited settlement, the structures in turn were in liminal positions. As will be seen in the discussion below, petroglyph boulders typically occurred at transition points on the landscape that surrounded the settlements, marking boundaries and associated changes when crossing into the sacred terrain of spirit beings.
As “places of passage,” âsĭs, winter houses, tcokofas, townhouses, square grounds, and nearby rivers were mentioned in stories associated with physical transformation, commonly referred to as shape-shifting. Stories mentioning shape-shifting range from those told by everyday people to those sacred myths recounted by ritually pure priests and medicine people. It is everyday stories of medicine people who shape-shifted into animals that particularly highlight the hot house and a nearby river as a transformative space. A dramatic example of such a transformation is a Cherokee story of a hermit boy who changed into a giant snake while spending the night in his grandmother’s âsĭ. At dawn, when the grandmother stared into the dark âsĭ, she saw that her grandson shape-shifted into a giant horned serpent, or Uktena, curled up like a fetus within the cramped space. With human legs and deer head attached to a reptilian body, the partly transformed snake boy slithered through the settlement to a deep pool at a nearby bend in the river, where he disappeared under the water. Being a medicine person like her grandson, the grandmother eventually entered the pool too (Mooney 1900:304). The Creeks also believed that the horned serpent was once a human who shape-shifted while encamped within a structure or around a fire near a river (e.g., Grantham 2002:25, 211-220).

The Cherokees believed that thunder was a horned snake within the rain which connected the sky vault, the human-built houses on earth, and the underground or underwater townhouses (Mooney 1900:481). Mythical stories like this portrayed a tiered cosmos in which similar structures and deities were nested at different levels, but yet interconnected via portals, such as sweat lodge entrances (including front doors, smoke vents, and fire pits), river pools, and caves leading into mountain tops (Figure 2).”
Representation of nested townhouses on the southeastern Indian landscape.
One of the petroglyph boulders at the confluence of the Hiwassee River and Brasstown Creek succinctly shows how its placement amplifies its significance. A pecked mammal with a curly tail resembles Mississippian period depictions of water panthers on mollusk shells (e.g., Fundaburk and Fundaburk Foreman 1957:plate 26), while the juxtaposed coiled snake with horned head is most likely a horned-serpent (Figure 7). As already mentioned, the horned serpent was a reptilian version of a feline, both in Cherokee (Zeigler and Grosscup 1883:22) and in Creek (Swanton 1928a:70-71, Swanton 1929:21-22) traditions. Numerous southeastern Indian accounts mention that the favored abodes of water panthers and horned-serpents are river pools, very much like the one in which the petroglyph boulder is located. In Muskogee Creek traditions, both the water panther (Swanton 1928a:70-71, Swaton 1929:21-22) and horned-serpent (ibid. 71- 72) caused the square ground and townhouse of Coosa Town to be flooded. Ever since the flooding event, the medicine woman spouse, medicine person offspring, and medicine people affiliated to the water panther and horned-serpent have made the submerged townhouse their home. Across the southeastern woodlands powerful and qualified medicine people went to the edges of river pools that contained submerged townhouses similar to that of Coosa in order to make a water panther or water-serpent to appear (e.g., Grantham 2002:26). Bones that these medicine people allegedly collected from water panthers or horns cut from horned-serpents were considered to be war medicine with great potency (e.g., Hawkins 1982:78-80, Mooney 1900:300, 396). The belief that panthers and snakes see well at night or below water probably has something to do with their potency in war-time conjuring. According to Mooney (1900:458- 459), the name Uktena is derived from akta, or eye, and implies being a “strong looker,” as everything is visible to it (i.e., it can see thoughts). From the same root is derived akta'tĭ, “to see into closely” which is also the Cherokee word for a magnifying lens and telescope. So the name Uktena implies that it sees thoughts and it does so in an accurate way; knowledge that comes in useful to predict enemy tactics. The horns and crystal on the Uktena’s head are called ulstĭtlĭ', literally “it is on its head,” but when they are in the hands of the medicine person it becomes ulûñsû'tĭ, or “transparent.” So considered together, the changing names and contexts for Uktena horns and crystals imply that the thoughts on the head of the snake became transparent to the person who possessed it. 
Concluding Remarks:
Southeastern Indians viewed painting or incising their own bodies as a sacred act, one which was normally accompanied by prayers, often also involving fasting and going to water in a fairly isolated setting (Mooney 1900:469). Knowing that the Indians did the same when quarrying rock for ocher or chert (ibid. 455), the act of pecking or even visiting select boulders was accompanied by a similar set of ritual observances (see Parris 1950:36). That the southeastern Indians conducted their petroglyphs at transition points on the landscape, normally along old trails or river corridors (Loubser 2009a), re-enforces other transformative acts associated with such liminal locales. Whereas imprints of feet and vulvas at Track Rock signified fecundity and abundance, an imprint of Judaculla’s hand in Judaculla Rock warned hunters that they should properly fast and go to water before entering his domain farther up the mountain. Depictions of water panthers and horned-serpents signified the potentially destructive side of the spirit beings, the places where they lived, and the objects they were associated with. Similar to powerful medicine people and menstruating or pregnant women, things such as panther bones, serpent horns and crystals, and places such as petroglyphs and associated mountains and pools, were only beneficial to those who had proper training, experience, and observance of proper ritual conduct. It is for this reason that these powerful people, artifacts, and places were usually kept slightly apart, lest they come into contact with everyday people and wreak havoc.
Enhanced photo showing water panther and horned-serpent at the Hiwassee-Brasstown confluence (Scott Ashcraft).
    Overall, the normally hidden underworld domain of the potent spirit beings was made visible for all to see through the pecking of pertinent designs onto rock surfaces; petroglyphs gave shifting inner mental experiences a fixed outer physical appearance.”

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