An animated landscape at once past, present and future
Skywatching has always been a vital part of Native Americans'
life, and it has influenced their religious beliefs, agricultural
practices, social organization, and landscape architecture. As
scholar William G. Gartner put it:
Native American architecture is an amalgam of design
rules and always encodes many messages....Many ancient astronomers
sought to equate the regular patterns of the heavens with cultural
and natural phenomena here on earth, thereby empirically validating
an established world view....The primary goal in many North American
contexts was commemoration, often times a religious celebration
of world creation and the once present and future animated landscape.
Ancient sky watching was merely one empirical component for constructing
a sacred geography.
This sacred geography, a material manifestation of a belief system,
also could serve as a teaching device and a constant reminder to
young and old of all classes of the society's religious views and
social organization. As you walked out your front door every morning
you saw a virtual replica of the orderly universe. On your way to
work your path took you through this celestial microcosm. This three-dimensional
cosmic diagram was also like an organizational chart of your community's
class structure. Your own place in it was literally traced by your
moccasins. If you were a worker, on ordinary days you were outside
the palisade wall; on festival days you gathered with other common
people in the plaza. If you were a member of the elite, you greeted
the day from your house on a medium-sized platform mound within
the palisade. The chief dominated the world around him as far as
he could see from the height of the largest platform mound.
Seeing some similarities in the emphasis on the cardinal directions
in Cahokia and in contemporary Native American beliefs, Robert L.
Hall suggests that Cahokia contained a "world center shrine" similar
to those observed historically among the Zuni, the Hopi, the Tewa
pueblo, the Osage, the Arapaho, and the Cheyenne. Many of these
Native American villages are perceived by their inhabitants as being
the cosmos in microcosm, and their own village center is seen as
the center of the world.
#1: A setting for mythic rituals (William R. Iseminger) »
O R E
more about Cahokia
in Bringing the Heavens to Earth.