WELLS IN DEPTH - Gary Varner
Another cenoté known for its religious importance is that of Montezumas Well located southwest of Flagstaff, Arizona. This water filled limestone sinkhole is 368 feet across and fifty-five to 470 feet deep (depending on which authority is cited) that feeds 1,500,000 gallons of subterranean spring water daily into Beaver Creek. It is also the site of the emergence of Kamalopukwia, the grandmother spirit, and her grandson Sakaraka, the first of The People of the Yavapai. Like other sacred wells, these cenotés were also conduits between our physical world and the otherworlds that are normally kept hidden from our eyes.
Several cliff dwellings from 700 CE are situated around the well and were once occupied by Hohokam clans. These people were farmers and used the well water for crop irrigation until 1400 CE when environmental conditions forced the abandonment of the area. The first European visit of Montezumas Well occurred in 1583 by Spanish explorers (Mays 1982, p.30). The well is still considered sacred by many of the neighboring tribes.
Attempts to identify the source of the well have been fruitless. No connection to any other source of water in the area has been made.
Besides the cenotés, other sacred water sources were also common among the indigenous peoples of America. In California, the Chumash Indians, living in the Santa Barbara and Channel Islands area, had several areas they considered holy. Las Animas Spring (Animo means 'spirit'), three miles north of Point Conception, was believed to be the site where the souls of the deceased Chumash bathed.
Another site sacred to the Chumash was Point Humqaq; so holy was this area that all living Chumash avoided it except for periodic pilgrimages to leave offerings at the shrine. Point Humqaq was viewed as a 'portal' used by the souls of the Chumash to reach heaven where they awaited their turn at reincarnation. Humqaq Pool, located nearby, is a basin in which fresh water continuously drips and where the Chumash spirit 'bathes and paints itself' while waiting to ascend to heaven (Anderson 1998, p.49).
Zaca Lake in the Santa Ynez Valley, also Chumash territory, is still regarded as a sacred location by contemporary Chumash people. A 'doorway' to the celestial realm of the Chumash souls is believed to be located at the bottom of this lake.
Sacred springs and rivers were universal features among Native Americans. It is unfortunate that scant information has been recorded about these sites and beliefs over the years. The Nomlaki Indians in Northern California often consulted spirits at sacred pools. According to anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt:
Likewise, the Wintu who resided just north of the Nomlaki would seek out spirits in sacred pools where they would bathe and then sleep. After awakening, the individual would dive into the pool and seek a charmstone. Over the next few days, the individual would alternate between sleeping and seeking spirit guides through dream, praying and swimming in the same spot in the sacred pool. Through this process, he would accomplish the 'seeking of power' (Lapena 1978, p.331).
One of the most impressive Native American sites for its water symbolism is located in Roseville, California. In the center of the growing urban sprawl of this Northern California city in the Sacramento Valley is the Maidu Interpretive Center. Situated on the site of an ancient Maidu village (perhaps the village of Pichiku) with history dating back to 5,000 BCE, this village/ceremony site has an astounding mixture of megaliths and petroglyphs with important water associations. Maidu healer Rick Adams guided me among the sacred sites of this village in June 2001.
Many of the features at this site are similar to those in Europe that were constructed and utilized around the same time on historys timeline. One megalith known as the 'Northstar stone' is a large rectangular stone with several mortars on one side, two on the top, and with several incised lines that run from the top down one side. It is believed that this stone was a central piece used during bear ceremonies thanking the Grizzly Bear and to welcome the change of season from winter to spring. The mortars were used to grind berries and other food items with the juices running down the incised lines into a catchment at the bottom. It is assumed that the Grizzly lured into the area, as part of the ceremony would eat from the catchment. A bear 'footprint' was carved into one portion of the Northstar stone representative of a bear walking in a docile manner, the back print overlapping with the print of the forepaw. The footprint and incised grooves on Northstar are similar to other 'rain rocks' found in Northern California (see note 1). A similar bear footprint carving is located in Northwestern California and a large carving representing the claw marks of a bear can be seen at Chawse, Indian Grinding Rock State Park near Fiddletown, California.
The importance of the bear in Native American culture and religion cannot be minimized. During an archaeological excavation in 1966 in the Sacramento delta area east of Oakley, California, a Plains Miwok burial of a small, five-year old Indian girl child was uncovered. The unusual aspect of this burial was that the child was buried with a Grizzly Bear infant of approximately the same size. It appeared to the excavators that the bear cub was killed deliberately to accompany the child to the afterlife. According to the excavation report, the bear was positioned directly behind and to the side of the child with one paw draped over the child (Cowan 1975, pp.25-30). It is interesting to note that the bear has, throughout time, been symbolic of regeneration, rebirth, fertility and the Mother Goddess.
The second mortar at the top is called a 'shamans well'. During the ceremony, the shaman or healer would go into a trance. By flowing through the sacred spring his spirit would journey through the shamans well to the spirit world. This concept is a universal one around the world with wells considered entranceways into the spirit or underworld.
Approximately one hundred feet south of the Northstar stone is a flat oval stone approximately three feet across with three holes approximately one and a half inches in diameter and one inch deep. These holes are in a triangular arrangement and line up perfectly with the winter and summer solstices as well as the Northstar rock. Looking along the face of the rock to the east it lines up perfectly with the sacred stream. At one time, this stream was always full and wild with salmon. The recent addition of concrete drainage systems and residential construction has permanently altered the stream to its present size and it is now devoid of its traditional fish-life.
Another rock grouping nearby has some very interesting carvings that are reminiscent of those found at New Grange in Ireland. Some thirty to forty feet from this complex is a standing stone thought to have been used as a fertility shrine. An incised carving of two breasts with pecked holes representative of nipples can be seen at the top of the stone. Below this an incised carving of the vulva appears in the middle of the stone. Young women would rub both during seasonal ceremonies to ensure their fertility. This carving is very similar to that at St Annes Well in Llanmihamgel, South Wales, however at St Annes water pours from the nipples and vagina that have been carved into the fountain (Straffon 1997, p.71).
Another large standing stone nearby has a carving of several 'ripples' symbolic of flowing water. While the exact use and meaning of these pre-historic monuments is unknown, the sacred spring and associated water symbolism, the related fertility stone and the nearby directional stone used during the solstice indicates a complex and well thought out series of related sacred areas. The use of symbolic 'wells' for the entryway to the underworld by the shaman is a universal association with water and wells. The ceremonial use of these large standing stones associated with these beliefs, dating to approximately the same age as those in Britain, indicates a collective ritual process among peoples of that age.
During July 2001, I traveled over 1200 miles in Northern California seeking out sacred springs and waterways. What I found was just as magickal and meaningful as those that we found in England. The holiness of these sites, no matter where they are located, is the same - they are just as powerful, just as meaningful and with just as much history. Many of the very special sites we found were near Mount Shasta - one of the seven sacred mountains of the world. Although the sacredness of the mountain is somewhat tarnished by many of the 'New Age' groups located near the mountains base advocating the teachings of the Ascended Masters, the Lemurians, the Pleiadians and others (at a cost of course) the mountain and its special ancient holy sites remain as powerful today as they were in the past. A select few of these sites are discussed in the following sections.
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