Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Preston's Chaco Book of Judge's: Four

But the Chacoans, according to the Navajos we had met, had destroyed themselves through witchcraft. Was there any evidence for that? Witchcraft almost certainly existed among the Anasazi. The evidence is circumstantial but convincing. A number of apparent witchery items have been recovered in archeological digs, including in the Lost City of the Lukachukais and in Chaco Canyon itself. Witchcraft is still considered the most heinous of crimes today among the Pueblo Indian descendants of the Anasazi. Clyde Kluckhohn, the Harvard anthropologist and author of the brilliant work Navaho Witchcraft, defined Navajo witchcraft as "malevolent activities which endeavor to control the course of events by supernatural techniques." By this definition, the efforts of the Chacoans to influence nature might just be classifiable as witchcraft, in a metaphorical way.

This doesn't answer the question of whether or not there was a surge in actual witchcraft activity at the end of the Chaco Phenomenon. Unfortunately, the question is fundamentally unanswerable. We do not even know the details of Anasazi beliefs, let alone what would constitute a perversion of those beliefs. Witchery objects are usually perishable or so common as to be impossible to identify. Among the Navajos, for example, witchery items include such things as beads, small bones, gall liquids from certain animals, fingernail parings or hairs, wood from a tree struck by lightning, ashes from a ghost hogan, fragments of sweat-bath rock, or powder from a corpse. As for the reversed spiral that is so prominent among Anasazi petroglyphs, the fact is we do not know what most Anasazi petroglyphs mean, let alone whether they were related to witchcraft. It is true that many Anasazi spirals are counterclockwise, including the secondary spiral which is part of the famous Sun Dagger on Fajada Butte.

Counterclockwise to the Navajo is the witchcraft direction, as opposed to the clockwise or "sun-wise" direction said to duplicate the sun's motion across the sky. Was the same true for the Anasazi? We do not know. And, of course, the same spiral can be clockwise or counterclockwise depending on whether you trace it from the outside or the center.
The idea that witchcraft might have accelerated the breakdown of the Chaco Phenomenon is not, however, a far-fetched one. According to Clyde Kluckhohn, there is often a surge in witchcraft and accusations of such in societies that are undergoing stress. This happened to the Navajos right after the Long Walk, and also in the years leading up to World War II, when the Navajos came under increasing pressure to become "white." Kluckhohn also made a fascinating observation: he found that accusations of witchcraft among the Navajo were most often directed by poor people against powerful and rich medicine men. Such accusations were often devastatingly effective and sometimes resulted in the execution of the medicine man in question.

If we look at the declining days of Chaco-the drought deepening, the priests losing control, the ceremonies ineffectual, the crops failing, the trading networks in disarray-what we see is a society undergoing enormous stress. Accusations of witchcraft may very well have been leveled at the priests, the medicine men, and the wealthy of Chaco by the poor who had been oppressed by the system.
Taking this speculation a step further, it is not implausible that the priests may have actually turned to witchcraft in a lastditch attempt to control nature, bring rain, and save their position. Both Navajo and Pueblo medicine men are believed to have witchcraft power, should they choose to use it. Is it possible that the priests of Chaco also had a knowledge of witchcraft? Would they have tried to use this knowledge in the desperate, last days of Chaco? We will probably never know.

What we do know is this: one thousand years ago, the Anasazi embarked on a great religious experiment at Chaco Canyon, an experiment based on the (illusory) control of nature. It was an experiment whose ultimate consequences the Anasazi did not foresee. And it failed.

from Talking to the Ground by Douglas Preston

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