Thursday, April 5, 2012

Religion in the Southwest

Webster, Laura D, Kelley A. Hays-Gilpin and Polly Schaafsma
2006 A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot in the Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest. Kiva 71:317-348

This article suggests that tie-dye was a primary way of decorating clothes ritually in the Southwest. The writers claim that the tie-die, and in particular a motif caleed the "dot in a square", are part of a large dynamic system of symbols and ritual.
The dot in the square motif existed long before the textile evidence was created. It was spread far across the Southwest and even into Mesoamerica.
The article explains the tie-dye process, and goes into some of the symbolism of the dot in the square and tie-dye in general. It also explains a lot of the ways that the symbol of the dot in the square and other symbols had ritualistic meaning in Mesoamerica.
When it comes to the Southwest, there are fourteen archaeological instances of tie-dye, all on loom-woven cloth. There were quite possibly more created, but textiles are not the most durable materials when it comes to long term existence.
The dot in the square motif also appears on Southwestern pottery, and is found in nearly all the time periods of the Southwest. The pottery that it is found on is often cylindrical, which could be symbolic of serpents, and also of maize. The dot in the square itself could symbolize beads, mosaics, textiles, snakeskin, corn, or any combination of those.
The Hopi word for "seed, origin of life" is very close to the Hopi word for "eyes". This is important because there are several pieces of pottery from Pueblo IV that have human figures on them, with the dot in the square motif as eyes. The authors suggest that the dot in the square, in this instance, is symbolic of seeds and eyes at the same time in a ritualistic or religious manner.
The whole article was fascinating, and it would be very interesting to see more information about how they think the dot in the square motif traveled from Mesoamerica to the Southwest.

Walker, William H.
1998 Where are the Witches of Prehistory? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 5:245-308

Religion and magic are often very intertwined. Historically, witches have been persecuted by people acting within the bounds of their religion. The author of this paper asks why the presence of witches is missing in prehistory. He claims that ritualistic destruction of things like objects and witches are difficult to locate in the archaeological record, but that they were often existent anyway. His paper makes the claim that some bodies found in the Southwest are evidence of ritualistic destruction of witches.
Much of the paper explores two ideas-- one is that archaeologists often mistake ritual objects for every day objects, because they are frequently one and the same. An object of every day use that has been broken ritually may not be recognized as such. The other idea that the author posits is that violence and ritual are more often connected than expected. He points to religious ritual across the globe that involved or involves death or violence.
As for the specific instance of the Southwest, the author discusses the Hopi. They practiced a form of intervillage warfare as witchcraft persecution in order to preserve their religion. The author points to burned structures that had been previously pointed to as the products of accident. More recent interpretations have put forth other ideas, including that the structures were deliberately burned ritualistically as part of witchcraft persecution.
The article then goes to explore the evidence for his hypothesis that the structures were burned ritually. He finds that the buildings were uninhabited when burned, but they were full of objects which suggests that they were not abandoned.
The author claims that ritual societies would attack each other in secret, burning the supposed witches of other societies in their kivas. Ritual leaders were associated with violence because taking a life had many spiritual dangers.
Overall, the article was a fascinating look into alternative theories about kiva use, Southwestern ritual, and religion.

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