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  • Ghosts, Souls, Spirits – and the Numen

    Souls and ghosts are separate entities and again are sharply distinct from spirits. -Leslie Spier [1]

    With “a transition from the material to the psychical point of view… three dimensions become two as the perspective of nature, flesh, and matter fall away, leaving an existence of immaterial, mirrorlike images, eidola. We are in the land of the soul.” -James Hillman [2]

    Verne Ray discussed and compared what and how spirits, souls, and ghosts were felt and responded to among the indigenous peoples of cultural area he calls the Plateau of northwestern America. [3]

    Ray characterizes spirits as forms of power, which may assume animal, or anthropomorphic forms. The spirit does not reside in the human body, yet the soul is the “animating force in the body.” When the body dies and decays there is a separation of the soul from the body. “The soul becomes transformed into a ghost and continues to exist.” He adds: “unless it immediately goes to the land of the dead.” Leslie Spier’s 1930 Klamath Ethnography was one of mnay sources for the distinctions he discusses. [1]

    Robert David also draws on Spier’s work [4]. David claries the relationship for the Klamath. Spirits manifest as animals, as natural elements, or as “anthropomorphic beings.” They dwell in natural places. The soul is in the body, near the heart. As an animating breathe of life, all creatures have souls.  When a person dies, the soul separates and departs for the land of the dead. Differing somewhat from Ray, he says ghosts are souls returning from the land of the dead and, transformed as beings, are generally dangerous and feared. He emphasizes, following Spier, “Spirits, souls, and ghosts all play different roles in Klamath-Modoc cosmology.”

    How do we think-with rock-art images when the original intent or purpose has been obscured by time, weathering, and cultural change? This question came to mind as last month I studied these carvings on cliff in the Deschutes River Canyon [5].  Wondering… Are these figures? Do they represent? If so, what, and how?

    Among a variety of carvings on various cliffs, at one site eleven figures appear with human-or-animal-like attributes. These images float. They do not seem to represent persons or corporeal beings, rather dream or myth images. This group of unusual carved images locate approximately equidistant between the traditional tribal territories the Klamath peoples in south central Oregon and The Dalles on the Columbia River. Is there a connecting link or thread? A relationship to Plateau tribal culture? I don’t know. I am also not aware whether this group of carvings have been described or studied. (Note 1)  As is usual with petroglyphs, in the absence of reliable dating and known cultural affiliation or influences, discerning the intention or sequence is not possible.

    To extend this thinking-with, I turn to James Hillman, an archetypal psychologist working from the western tradition. Ray and David articulate too through a western lens, citing ethnologists, notably Spier, to arrive at the namings: spirit, soul, ghost. Hillman points out “shadow images … fill archetypal roles: they are personae, masks, in the hollow of which is the numen.” [6]  He encourages us, citing Jung, to look to the “significance of archetypal contents.” Hillman’s numen, as an animating or divine essence, infuses these realms and offers a useful concept as it reveals the depth of how human consciousness may apprehend the invisible.

    SOURCES 
    [1] Leslie Spier. 1930. Klamath Ethnography. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 1-338. p.100 (cited by Ray 1939 p. 78)
    [2] James Hillman, 1979. The Dream and the Underworld. Harper & Row. p. 51
    [3] Verne Ray. 1939 Cultural Relations in the Plateau of Northwestern America. Fredrick Webb Hodge Anniversary Publication Fund, Vol. III.
    [4] Robert David. 2012. The Landscape of Klamath Basin Rock Art. UC Berkeley. pp. 18-19.
    To complement David’s work about the Klamath Basin, and to compare with the culture of the Modoc Plateau, see Verne Ray. 1963. Primitive Pragmatists: The Modoc Indians of Northern California. University of Washington Press.
    [5] About Central Oregon's Wild River Wilderness:  Oregon Natural Desert Association
    [6] James Hillman. 1979. The Dream and the Underworld. Harper & Row. p. 60-61
    Note 1: The Lorings (1982) provide a good summary of two other sites in the canyon of the middle Deschutes River in Jefferson County: Site 68, Peninsula, and Site 69, Steelhead Falls.