Kevin Conti and William Walker
This chapter explores the performance of light and shadows in two ancestral Pueblo rock art sites in southeast Utah. These sites possess anthropomorphic rock faces and modified features to create both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images that we argue derive from mythological traditions of Pueblo peoples. Specifically, light/shadow patterns at these sites produce and interact with Bear and War Twin imagery on prominent dates of the solar calendar. Traditionally such imagery would be approached through rock art studies in terms of motifs and symbolic interpretations. The celestial component would be addressed by archaeoastronomers. Using object agency theory, we seek to contextualize these data as places where people communicated with their Bear and War Twin deities.
Ethnohistoric evidence emphasizes the role of women in ritualized Aztec household practices and religion that were concerned not only with household maintenance or fertility but also with broader cosmological processes. This chapter supplements the limited written evidence for Aztec household rituals with a review of archaeological data on ritual features and artifacts, including burials, figurines, feasting ceramics, New Fire ceremony middens, and musical instruments. Archaeological findings add a political dimension to our understanding of Aztec household ritual—demonstrating that ritual also served in political negotiations of status and identity—and suggest a complex, bidirectional relationship between state and household-level ritual practices. Finally, excavations have revealed more variation in funerary rituals than can be appreciated in the primarily elite, Tenochtitlan-authored documentary record.
Leon Garcia Garagarza
This chapter analyzes the basic features of the Aztec ritual landscape as a historical construct that legitimized the social order and provided the models of territorial legitimacy and political hegemony in Postclassic central Mexico. Based on a cosmovision that held the universe as an animated entity, the Aztecs reinterpreted real geographic features through myths and collective and individual rituals. Each town (altepetl) replicated the layout of the cosmos with an axial mountain at the center. This model was coextensive to other institutions. In turn, regular pilgrimages across several mountain peaks were enacted to assert territorial claims, making the ritual landscape an essential feature of the Aztec political economy. The chapter examines some of the most prominent Aztec rituals that served to symbolically map their environment every year, demonstrating that they literally incorporated the sacrality of the landscape in their own bodies to live a wholly meaningful existence.
Louise M. Burkhart
Under Spanish rule, Nahuas underwent evangelization by friars of the Mendicant orders. Most people accepted baptism and learned at least basic Roman Catholic doctrine. To stay in power, nobles had to present themselves as Christians. Indigenous communities built churches and participated in Christian rituals, but indigenous religious officials had considerable control over local affairs. Alphabetic literacy was linked to Christianity: large numbers of religious texts were printed in Nahuatl and many others circulated in manuscript form. Nahuas interpreted Christian teachings in their own ways, often criticized by outsiders. They were particularly receptive to Christian images and developed devotions to many local, miracle-performing images, especially of the Virgin Mary and the crucified Christ. Indigenous healers and diviners capitalized on their reputation for witchcraft to attract clients of all ethnic backgrounds. In time, the coming of the faith came to be seen as a foundational event in community histories or “primordial titles.”
This chapter examines X-ray art in western Arnhem Land in northern Australia, considering how relatively contemporary artists used it to enrich the meaning of their work. After discussing early research on the meanings of X-ray and developing interpretations of art of the ancestors, the chapter explores the use of X-ray representation in rock art in western Arnhem Land, then analyzes the use of art in ceremony, focusing on Mardayin and Lorrkon, as well as the production of bark paintings made for sale through commercial outlets. It shows that understanding X-ray imagery helps to create intellectual connections between many areas of experience of the world. The chapter looks at the first creators, Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpents, and their role in promoting creative uses of X-ray infill and concludes that art helps initiates understand the powers of Djang not only as corporeal entities but also in more metaphysical terms.
Ruth Van Dyke
In the southwest United States, high altitudes, open vistas, and cloudless skies create a visual atmosphere where the light is legendary. I focus on the role of light for the people of Chaco Canyon—a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage centre in the San Juan Basin of northwest New Mexico. Here, worldviews and cosmologies involved the dualistic juxtaposition of light and dark, visible and invisible, sun and moon. The movements of celestial bodies in a clear sky, and the presence of open sightlines with distinctive peaks, contributed to the creation of a complex cosmography. Sun and moon, visibility and invisibility, light and darkness opposed one another and revolved around Chaco Canyon—the centre of the ancient Chacoan world.
In ancient Greek thought, Hades constitutes, inter alia, the incarnation of the invisible— an apparent contradiction of efforts to represent the dark kingdom of the lord of dead. After a brief review of the special vocabulary, imagery, and connotations associated with darkness in poetic and philosophical thinking, this chapter investigates the main devices used in mythic narratives as well as in real religious topography to insinuate darkness and invisibility. An astute use of natural landscape features and architectural elements, such as natural or artificial chasms, narrow passages, cloudy atmosphere, shadowing, and reflective effects tries to anticipate the features of the Otherworld and/or to permit a protected, although slightly distorted, view of the unseeable. Particular emphasis is given to the role of caves and ever-flowing rivers and streams, but also of still water of pools and lakes, an element which acquires an increasing importance from the classical period onwards.
Karl A. Taube
This article discusses gods and mythic origins in ancient Mesoamerican thought. In ancient Mesoamerican thought, the creation and maintenance of the ordered world was only achieved through a concerted effort by the gods, a weighty responsibility that continued through the sacrificial offerings and rituals of mortals. The myths and behavior of gods not only explained the origins of the world but also served as models for human behavior for commoners and elites alike. Given the time depth and many cultures of Mesoamerica, it is not surprising that there is an extensive and complex array of deities and myths pertaining to this region. Some myths, such as the Aztec (or Mexica) episode of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, are unique to a particular time, place, and people. However, certain cosmogonic episodes and types of deities are particularly salient, making it possible to discuss broad and basic patterns of belief. Among these, the relation of events of creation to calendrical cycles is fundamental, both in terms of ordering the world and, as such, timed moments and in socially replicating and reifying the original acts of deities in the world of mortals.
Holley Moyes, Lillian Rigoli, Stephanie Huette, Daniel R. Montello, Teenie Matlock, and Michael J. Spivey
Darkness has profound effects on human behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. It can influence our ability to function, our moods, emotions, and cognition. Here we examine the relationship between darkness and supernatural beliefs. This work is informed by cross-cultural cave research, which suggests that cave dark zones are used as the settings for rituals from the advent of modern humans to the present. How can this phenomenon be explained? The chapter reviews research on the effects of darkness on the human mind and presents results of our own experimentation. We argue that shared human reactions to darkness, including embodied responses, stimulate the imagination in similar ways, leading to what we refer to as transcendental or imaginary thinking that lies at the heart of supernatural beliefs. Our work suggests that the natural environment is not a passive player but a causative agent in this process.
Death is a broader subject within the archaeology of ritual and religion than recognizable funerary rites. The intersect between death and belief has resulted in many of the most significant surviving ancient finds, sites, and monuments, such as the bog bodies of North-western Europe, the Shanidar Neanderthal interments, the pyramids of Egypt, and the tombs of Queen Puabi and of the first emperor of China. Many significant ritual sites have a death-related aspect, as loci of human killing and the deposition of remains (causewayed camps, central European Kreisgrabenanlagen, the Aztec temples) while others were designed for ritualized activities that, though not primarily describable as religious, adumbrated a cosmology of life and death (the Roman Colosseum). This article discusses the anthropology and sociology of death, funerary archaeology, physical death outside the valedictory and funerary contexts (ritual killing, human sacrifice, endo- and exo-cannibalism, etc.), and materiality approaches and evolutionary aspects.