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How Ohio’s Indigenous sacred websites grew to become a spiritual flashpoint

COLUMBUS, Ohio (RNS) — Chief Glenna Wallace spent the summer season solstice this previous June strolling the slim asphalt path that encircles Serpent Mound, a low, serpentine wall of earth constructed by her ancestors hundreds or even thousands of years in the past.

Wallace, who leads the Jap Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, was joined by Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe, and the 2 talked to crowds of holiday makers to the historic web site about their tribes’ connections to the mound and the Nineteenth-century insurance policies that pressured them out of the realm. 

“We introduced applications to let folks know that the tribes nonetheless exist, the folks nonetheless exist,” Wallace advised Faith Information Service in a current telephone name. “We’re nonetheless alive, we’re nonetheless energetic. These are nonetheless non secular locations for us.” 

As they spoke, the sounds of flute music and a “Native American fashion” drum demonstration filtered via the air from the close by Hovering Eagle Retreat, the place folks had gathered to commemorate the solstice with crystal workshops and a presentation by an area Bigfoot investigator and different speakers who prompt that aliens or giants had constructed the mound.  

Southern Ohio is residence to greater than 70 earthworks constructed by the Indigenous Adena and Hopewell cultures. These buildings are nonetheless necessary to their descendants — the Shawnee, Jap Shawnee, Miami and Delaware individuals who had been pushed out of the realm 200 years in the past by white American settlers. A few of the buildings had been constructed as burial mounds, whereas others functioned as astronomical observatories or ritual or spiritual buildings. 

However the mounds have additionally taken on significance for different non secular teams. Terri Rivera, who has been bringing folks to have a good time equinoxes and solstices at Serpent Mound for a decade, believes the positioning ought to be open to anybody who sees it as a sacred place.

“To me, it’s an actual therapeutic spot,” Rivera stated on a go to to the mound in November. “I feel folks had been most likely drawn right here due to the power fields.”

Theories concerning the mounds’ origins have additionally led to assaults from fringe evangelical Christians who see them as unholy. Tribal leaders have responded by educating locals concerning the mounds and dealing with teams reminiscent of Ohio Historical past Connection, the nonprofit that manages Serpent Mound and different mounds all through Ohio, to make sure they’re revered. 

“We imagine that among the actions which have occurred there previously are in direct violation of our beliefs,” Wallace stated. “And so we’re asking that our practices not be violated.”

Their efforts are half of a bigger battle for entry to sacred websites, from mountains in Arizona to rivers in North Dakota, aimed toward warding off builders or authorities companies to protect the bodily integrity immediately linked to their non secular worth. 

The federal authorities is typically a companion, and generally not. In Ohio, the USA is working to have 9 Ohio earthworks, together with Serpent Mound, added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage listing, a transfer that would supply added assets to safeguard the mounds. 

Curiosity from practitioners of different faiths can be a combined blessing. Whereas New Agers usually share a perception in Native American websites’ non secular energy, they’ve generally precipitated injury. In 2012, a gaggle known as Unite the Collective, whose members recognized themselves as “Mild Warriors,” buried lots of of orgonites — balls of crystals and resin, usually made in muffin tins — at Serpent Mound in an try and focus the earth’s vibrations.

A map of Serpent Mound from “Historical Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,” revealed by the Smithsonian Establishment Press in 1848. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia/Inventive Commons

Websites like Serpent Mound have served as gathering locations for New Age non secular practitioners for the reason that 1987 Harmonic Convergence, when believers congregated on a day they believed was auspicious in accordance with the Mayan calendar. The Newark Earthworks, about 40 minutes east of Columbus, have additionally drawn consideration for supposedly being constructed alongside ley strains — invisible gridlines that channel “earth energies.”

In 2011, Serpent Mound was featured on an episode of the Historical past Channel’s present “Historical Aliens,” by which a number of folks claimed the mound might have been used as a touchdown web site by aliens. (Rivera’s husband, Tom Johnson, appeared as a visitor on the present, saying he’d heard such tales.)

And the day earlier than the winter solstice final December, Dave Daubenmire, a conservative activist and chief of Cross the Salt Ministries in Hebron, Ohio, led a group to Serpent Mound to carry out a prayer to forged out demons from the positioning. Daubenmire stated in a Fb video that he believed Ohio’s earthworks had been constructed by Nephilim, a race of giants some say are the offspring of fallen angels and human girls.

For a lot of, these claims echo the racist “Moundbuilder fantasy,” which credit the mounds’ development to an historic white race — an thought utilized by 19th-century politicians to justify the expulsion of Native tribes from their lands.

Daubenmire’s group was met by protesters from the American Indian Motion of Ohio, although the group is not sanctioned by the official American Indian Motion. (The group’s director, Philip Yenyo, presents himself as Native American however is of Hungarian and Spanish Mexican descent, in accordance with AIM.)

Rivera criticized each Unite the Collective and Cross the Salt Ministries, sustaining that the mounds present a possibility for folks with totally different beliefs to return collectively, supplied they respect the positioning.

“One among our sayings for our occasions is: all nations, all races, all relationships,” stated Rivera, who describes herself as having Native American ancestry however just isn’t a member of a acknowledged tribe. “So it’s time to simply stop dividing. Simply say, hey, let’s simply all be associates.”

However Wallace stated that perception within the mounds’ non secular energy can lead folks to disrespect the mounds’ historical past and sacredness. She has seen folks utilizing medicine at Serpent Mound on the winter solstice and heard of individuals having intercourse there, believing it could enhance their fertility. Even the drumming that occurred on the final solstice occasion, although characterised by organizers as “ceremonial,” appeared disrespectful to Wallace — extra like a “rock live performance” than an act of reverence.

Joe Laycock, an assistant professor of non secular research at Texas State College, stated curiosity in Native American traditions goes again to the Spiritualist motion of the 1800s, when settlers’ guilt over the displacement and destruction of Indigenous communities might have pushed them to obsession. It boomed within the Nineteen Sixties, as different non secular practitioners started integrating “pseudo-Native” folklore.

The New Age motion’s syncretism — what Laycock calls a “cultic milieu” of various non secular beliefs and practices — is clear within the gathering Rivera is organizing in December. The occasion will function a Peruvian therapeutic ceremony, a presentation by a psychic medium and “animal communicator,” ceremonial drumming, classes in “sacred geology” and conventional Māori dance, or haka.

Not everybody who attends these gatherings identifies as New Age — together with Rivera, who stated she’s broadly non secular — however this type of big-tent method is a trademark of the motion, Laycock stated.

This 12 months, after enter from Wallace and Barnes, OHC started limiting teams from gathering immediately on the mound, which means Rivera’s Serpent Mound Star Information Winter Solstice Peace Summit will happen six miles away from Serpent Mound. 

Irrespective of their beliefs, guests to the mounds want to indicate respect for the websites’ non secular nature, stated John Low, director of the Newark Earthworks Middle and an enrolled citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. The mounds aren’t any much less sacred than a church or a mosque, Low stated, although their sacredness just isn’t sure by what’s constructed on the land. 

“The earth which they’re constructed upon was sacred, is sacred, will all the time be sacred,” Low stated.

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