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Posted on Sunday, May 21 - 2006

Many Native American myths could equally be called folktales: they seem to be about ordinary people, not gods. However, the Native American attitude is that everything is animated by divinity. Hence ordinary people, animals and places are divine. Often the people are not even named, or are given a convenient tag, such as Rabbit Boy – raised by rabbits. Nor is there much attempt to characterize them. Universal principles are held to be more important than individual traits.Whereas Greek myths were shaped and ordered by classical authors, few Native American myths were written down before the late 19th century. Thus the apparent inconsistencies of the right-brain oral tradition are still very much present.

Native American spirituality: Among all tribes there is a strong sense that behind all individual spirits and personifications of the divine, there is a single creative life-force, sometimes called ‘the Great Mystery’, which expresses itself throughout the universe, in every human, animal, tree and grain of sand. Every story, too, is a working out of this life-force.

The role of animals: An aspect of this outlook is the major role played in the stories by animals, who often speak to humans and assist them. Most tribes thought of individual members of a species as expressions of the spiritual archetype of that species, which in turn embodied a particular spirit power.

The Four Directions: Another key feature of the Native American spiritual outlook is found in the powers ascribed to the Four Directions, which occur either literally or in symbolic form throughout the stories. These are often represented by particular colours, or by animals. The Four Directions have to be in balance for all to be well with the world, and often a central point of balance is identified as a fifth direction; for example, four brothers represent the outer directions, and their sister the centre.

Narrative types: Native American myths include all the types found worldwide, such as stories of creation, and of heroic journeys. However, they are particularly rich in ‘trickster’ myths. Notable examples are Coyote and Iktome. The trickster is an ambiguous figure who demonstrates the qualities of early human development (both cultural and psychological) that make civilization possible, and yet which cause problems. He is an expression of the least developed stage of life, which is dominated by physical appetites.

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Posted on Friday, May 19 - 2006

Rock markings depicting bighorn (mountain) sheep also in Grapevine Canyon. Bighorn sheep were perceived as being the spirit helpers of rain shamans.

The "vision quest" was one of the prime elements in American Indian spirituality. In broad terms, it involved a person retiring alone to a remote spot in search of a life-guiding vision or a gift of supernatural power ("medicine") for healing or warfare.The individual would go without food or sleep for three or four days and nights and undertake certain physical activities to help promote the sought-after visionary experience. This would often, though not always, involve the appearance of a spirit in human form that would approach and addressthe vision seeker, then leave as an animal – this would be understood as becoming the quester’s power animal or helper spirit.The spirit appearing in the vision or waking dream might make a gift of a special song or dance step to the quester so that he or she could use it to "call" on that spirit helper in the future.

The nature of these power songs varied among Indian nations. In British Columbia, for instance, Wenatchi vision songs were distinctive, while Upper Skagit songs tended to be fairly indistinguishable one from another.A person would typically undergo a vision quest as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, but in some tribes a brave might undertake several vision quests over a lifetime in order to restore any perceived waning of his supernatural warrior-power. Also, medicine men or shamans, the magician-seersof American Indian spirituality, would typically undergo far more vision quests than normal tribal members in order to replenish or enhance their supernatural power, converse with spirits, and engage in other shamanic tasks such as divination or weather magic. Shamans’ visions would occur in particularly deep and powerful trance states that were often aided and abetted by the use of potent mind-altering plants – often strong tobacco and sometimes plant hallucinogens – along with chanting, drumming and other forms of trance induction.Vision quests were by no means always successful – among the Sanpoil Indians of British Columbia, for example, ethnologists have estimated that about 25 per cent of boys failed, and perhaps seventy per cent of girls. To lie about the successful outcome of a quest was thought to bring misfortune and even death on the failed vision se......

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Posted on Wednesday, May 03 - 2006

Fort Ancient in Lebanon, Ohio, is the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the United States and is still extant.

Native American cultures that once flourished in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia constructed geometric and animal-shaped earth works that often rivaled Stonehenge in their astronomical accuracy. A few are still extant - Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio, for example - but most of the region's ancient architecture was all but squandered. Earthworks, from as early as 600 BC that stretched over miles and rose to heights of 15 feet or more, were either gouged out or plowed under in the 19th century or paved over for development in the 20th.But now, this lostheritage from the Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures is returning in the form of a traveling exhibit that will include virtual reconstructions of earthworks from 39 sites.

The electronic recreations represent nearly ten years of work by an extensive team of architects, archaeologists, historians, technical experts and Native Americans. Project director is John Hancock, professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, working in partnership with the Center for the Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at the University of Cincinnati. The title of the project and the coming traveling exhibit is: "EarthWorks: Virtual Explorations of the Ancient Ohio Valley." The "EarthWorks" reconstructions will be the centerpiece within a 500-square-foot traveling exhibit which will also include a graphic timeline wallwith cross cultural comparisons; a giant map wall of the Ohio River Valley (from the approximate location of Pittsburgh to Louisville) indicating placement of Native American earthworks; panels with diagrams, photos and text; and 3-D topographic models of five earthwork sites. The exhibit opens June 20, 2006, at the Cincinnati Museum Center. It remains at the museum center till Sept. 7, 2006. Later venues include the Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, opening on Sept. 30, 2006. Discussion are now underway for later exhibits in the state and nation. Set amid the physical elements of the exhibit, the 3-D virtual reconstructions by Hancock and his team recreate the earthworks for school children and scholars alike. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a large screen on which the 3-D explorations of "EarthWorks" by a user at the touch-screen computer can be shared with a largeraudience. ......

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Posted on Tuesday, April 11 - 2006

Submitted by Tanagra: Steeped in a rich history, Illinois boasts some very interesting stories from the past. Most accounts begin around the late 1600’s upon the arrival of Joliet and Marquette. However, there is a Native American chronicle that reaches back further into a mysterious past. The mystery of the mound builders has sparked the interest of people all over the world. Enormous man made mounds and the remnants of an ancient, powerful culture that vanished without a trace opens the door to one of the nation’s largest mysteries. Early European explorers were the first to record their findings of strange, man made mounds of earth that were shaped into distinct designs. These mounds wereenormous, one of them rising 100ft.

high making it the largest man made mound in North America. They also found the evidence of a long, forgotten culture. As they began to excavate, they found amazing artifacts such as stone pipes and tools made from copper and mica. They also found evidence of advanced engineering and city planning within the vast complex of cities and suburbs. The Cahokian civilization was truly massive in scale. At its apex, around approximately 1050AD, the city of Cahokia had in excess of 15,000 residents. There were also numerous suburbs and agricultural centers that emanated out from the city in all directions creating a total regional population of more than 40,000 residents. This would have made Cahokia one of the largest, if not THE largest, metropolis in the entire world during thattime. Historians are baffled as to what could have allowed this explosion in population. The region went from less than 1,000 residents, to more than 40,000 residents in barely more than 100 years. No other cities in the world during this time could support growth of this size due to food shortage, sanitation problems, disease, and other city planning concerns. The mysterious Cahokian culture has somehow managed to master a level of city planning and organization that had not been realized since the time of the Ancient Romans. Their intricate network of suburbs, agricultural and production centers, as well as sophisticated city planning contributed to the rise of Cahokia. Even more of a mystery, though, is the downfall of Cahokia. After only 250 years as a major metropolis, the entire civilization vanished.There ar...

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