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Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos
Introduction > Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos

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.

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Figure #1: A setting for mythic rituals (William R. Iseminger) »

Learn more about Cahokia in Bringing the Heavens to Earth.

For more information, visit Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

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