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Open letter to science editors

 
NORTHWEST INDIAN MYTHS OF CATASTROPHE

Vine Deloria

I'd like to thank Richard Heinberg, the previous speaker, for proving that
Western Civilization is composed of schizoid, paranoid, psychopathic killers!
(Laughter) That saved me half an hour in my speech right there. Let's
accept that premise and then we can talk about the wisdom of the gentle
hunter-gathers in peace.

I encountered Velikovsky's work shortly after Worlds in Collision and Ages in
Chaos came out. I was then a geology students at the Colorado School of
Mines and I would spend some class periods looking out the window at the
hogback and Flatirons of the Front Range and half-heartedly listen to my
professor explaining that these formations had risen a millimeter every
thousand or perhaps million years. So I flunked out of the School of Mines
in short order. The most convincing argument Velikovsky used was his query
about the formation of fossils. From my days as a boy on the Pine Ridge
reservation, hunting rabbits and prairie dogs, I knew that animals footprints
and bones simply did not lie around waiting for the continent to subside so
that gentle inland seas could wash in some silt and clay and preserve the
skeletons of rabbits and birds. So I re-read Velikovsky's works quite often.

In 1964 I stopped in Princeton and knocked on his front door. I was astounded
when he answered it himself. He invited me in and talked briefly with me
while his wife served me a cup of tea. I naively offered to help his
research not realizing that he knew about a dozen languages and was working on
extremely complicated things beyond my comprehension. Then Steve Talbott
invited me to the MacMaster conference and I gave a paper on theories of myth
interpretation. Velikovsky nodded approvingly and later invited a number of
us to his suite where we mostly listened to him explain additional facets of
some of his ongoing work. I remember someone whispering to me that his other
books, never released, were of a much more spectacular nature.

From time to time I have reviewed the way that Velikovsky used Indian
traditions to bolster some of his arguments. The Skagit tradition of
everyone lifting the poles which supported the sky and crying "Yahoo" was one
memorable example. Another was the Pawnee story of Venus and the sacrifice of
the maiden. The Pawnees were traditional enemies of my tribe, the Sioux, so
we knew that Cosner's portrayal of them as bad guys in Dances With Wolves was
really a documentary. But there is much to be gained from their tradition.
There were also stories of the Makahs about how the ocean disappeared one day
and then four days later a gigantic tidal wave destroyed just about
everything. So there is much in the traditions of the Indian tribes that
speaks directly to the catastrophic interpretation of earth history.

I did find a Chippewa account of the Great Flood. It is a part of a creation
story. The Great Spirit tried four times to create the world-three times he
failed because there was too much ice-the fourth time, while there was ice,
the human beings and animals managed to survive-and they did survive a flood
that was caused by the rapid melting of ice. This scenario, however, is more
at home with the planetary interactions described by Donald Patten which link
the ice Age and the Great Flood than it is with the Venus scenario offered by
Velikovsky. So I suppose I am a Velikovskian modified by Patten if I had to
identify my present understanding of what might have happened to our planet
some time back. Meanwhile, I have subscribed faithfully to Kronos and AEON
although I must say I easily get lost in some of the more technical debates
and squabbles you have had in recent years. I was informed by Ev Cochrane at
lunch that no one follows the original scenario described by Velikovsky
anymore, so I feel something like a relic here because I have not seen much
convincing evidence, other than Patten, to encourage me to adopt another
scenario.

The first point I would like to make, therefore, is that it may be satisfying
for people to quarrel over minor points of interpretation but it is not much
help to lots of interested people to have a rejection of the basic scenario
without having something else to put in its place. It seems to me that some
of the original points-calendar reform, changes in ground level in Swiss
lakes, reversal of star charts in Egyptian tombs-tie us rather tightly to the
original scenario. Pulling apart particular parts of the chronology may be
necessary to improve the interpretation of the match between Hebrew, Egyptian
and Tigris-Euphrates chronologies but if we go too far we simply rip things
apart and conclude that there really were no catastrophes of a planetary
nature.

People investigating Near Eastern records have a great luxury in using written
materials so that a good deal of the chronology can be moved around as ideas
surface. When you move to traditions that do not have chronologies, you are
dealing with anecdotal data that can only be attached to the planet's time-
line when the oral tradition description begins to match a much larger
scenario that has already been critiqued by astronomers and physicists to
determine its possibility. Thus some rather simplistic descriptions of
possible, and then probable, planetary-cometary encounters would be extremely
helpful. Apart from spectacular phenomena-the earth appearing to stand
still-little can be gained from the other traditions on the globe without
some reasonably tight analyses that would suggest planetary climatic
conditions or unusual events-the volcanism or mountain-building events.

Then there are almost insurmountable barriers prohibiting a linkage of
American Indian traditions to time-lines of world history whether it is
catastrophic or not. One immense barrier is the doctrine of human evolution.
Although European anthropologists have mostly surrendered the idea that
Neanderthal evolved into Cro-Magnon, American scholars cling to this idea as
if it were gospel. No Neanderthal remains have ever been found in North
America and consequently this fictional evolutionary link of Neanderthal
preceding Cro-Magnon is cited as evidence that American Indians came to this
hemisphere late and via the Bering Strait. Yet Leaky and others have
demonstrated that Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal were at least contemporaries in
many parts of the world. Werner Muller, in his book America he New World or
the Old? suggests that the Cro-Magnon originally lived in the northern
Canadian area and then migrated to Europe via the Greenland-Iceland stepping
stones to invade northern Europe and rout the Neanderthals.

Anthropologists who maintain the old theory then set an upper limit of 12,000
years for American Indian occupancy of the continent and reject the many
finds that would suggest prolonged human occupancy, some locations returning
as much as 250,000 years. This stubborn hewing to doctrinal lines then
produces interpretation of human occupation that border on the ludicrous.
All indications are that the Folsom Point tool was invented in the middle
eastern United States-perhaps Kentucky, Tennessee or Pennsylvania. But many
scholars suggest that Paleo-Indians invented the Folsom Point in Siberia and
used it to clear out the megafauna who disappeared at the end of the Ice Age.
The scenario, of course, requires that the Paleo-Indian hunters cross the
Bering Strait, rush to Nashville or Knoxville to invent the new point, then
migrate back to Siberia and re-cross the Bering Strait on hunting forays into
immense herds of mammoths.

The doctrine of evolution thus leads directly to the Bering Strait theory and
now, in a bizarre twist, has led to the Big Game Hunters megafauna-cide. It
seems quite obvious to us that immense tidal waves of catastrophic nature
deposited all kinds of animal skeletons all over the world. Orthodoxy,
however, insists that the animals "migrated" across dozens of mythical land
bridges in order to leave their fossils on different continents. Thus
orthodoxy has innumerable Ice Ages-the mechanics of which they cannot explain-
in order to raise and lower sea levels and create land bridges across which
they force these poor animal species to migrate. Now they have Paleo-Indian
hunters slaughtering millions of animals. The scenario requires that Indians
kill mammoths by the thousand in Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas and lug the
carcasses to the islands off Siberia and unceremoniously dumped the animals
where no one can investigate this nefarious extermination.

In order to work with North American oral traditions regarding the changes in
the land-some of which may be catastrophic in the planetary sense-it is
necessary to begin with concepts that will change or at least modify the
rigidly enforced orthodoxy concerning the peopling of the western hemisphere
by establishing the earliest possible dates when an identifiable tribe can be
located at a specific site. If enough sites can be identified, it may be
possible to show such inconsistencies in orthodoxy that we can advocate long-
standing occupancy of the continent-perhaps as much as 80,000 years-and
effectively demonstrate that Indians were in this hemisphere prior to the
onset of glaciation. I speak of course in the orthodox framework although I
personally subscribe to Donald Patten's "ice-dump" scenario where we can get
the ice deposited within a couple of years of intense cometary fly-bys.

Demonstrating that some tribes witnessed the creation of certain geological
events establishes one point and then showing that Indians also have memories
of megafauna, memories which suggest that they were terrified of these
creatures, suggests another point which hopefully will be admitted by orthodox
scholars. We would then be in a position to suggest that faunal and floral
change was quicker than originally believed and that some geological events
occurred in the very recent past and not millions of years ago. There is an
immense amount of material available that can be linked to a planetary
scenario but first the material must be taken out of the fictional folklore-
myth categories are recognized as valid human memories of real planetary
events.

The Pacific Northwest is the best area in which to work in this initial stage.
The tribes in this region have stories about the various mountains, some of
the rivers and lakes, and considerable geological work has been done on
individual peaks and volcanoes so that the sequence of geological activity has
been reasonably established. We can therefore match Indian accounts with
scientific accounts and draw conclusions. Crater Lake, for example, erupted
around 6500 years ago. The Klamath account and scientific storylines match.
But the Klamaths include additional data which cannot be derived from
geological versions. According to the Klamaths the eruption occurred
simultaneously with an eruption at Mount Shasta and this was preceded by a
strange cloud with quickly covered the California peak and must have played a
part in its eruption.

Moving up the Cascades we come to the Three Sisters which are visible from
Eugene just down the road. The Warm Springs Indians say it was once the
largest of all Cascade peaks but it erupted rather violently, featuring tidal
waves of lava that engulfed many villages. When the smoke cleared only
fragmented roots of the peak were seen. Since three were very prominent, the
Indians remembered the event by casting it in a story of a chief with three
wives and, needless to say, a considerably serious domestic problem. The
Indian stories were told to whites around 1850. It was not until the 1920s
when Edwin Hodge of the University of Oregon did a report on the Three
Sisters are announced that these peaks were remnants of a volcano that must
have been another mile in height. Three Sisters is presently dated at 25-27
million years ago, although Hodge in his report suggested that the lava
looked so fresh it could have been laid down a few years before. If it was
really 2.5-27 million years ago, what ever happen to those gentle giants of
erosion, ice, snow and wind that used to reduce rocks to fragments or at
least produced signs of weathering.

Here we have a pleasant and exciting choice of interpretation. If the Warm
Springs people cross the Bering Straits and moved into central Oregon, they
must have done it prior to the explosion of mount Multnomah as the location
is now called-which would place Cro-Magnon Indians in the western hemisphere
very early indeed. They could not have come later or they would not have
known the peak was the largest in the Cascades. In the alternative, we
should just admit that the Warm Springs Indians invented geological science
and had already devised an accurate explanation for the three peaks. I would
prefer the first explanation but would not be disappointed if we chose the
second reading of the situation. If the Warm Springs people simply made a
lucky guess, they should be given charge of the Bureau of the Budget for they
have incredible intuition that has not been seen previously on this planet.

Stories abound in the Columbia River-Puget Sound area concerning the origin of
some of these mountains and rivers. At least four tribes relate that mount
Rainier was once on the western side of Puget Sound. He got o feeling
crowded because other volcanoes were growing too large so moved over where he
is presently located. It so happens that some scientists are now trying to
trace out the prehistoric earthquake activity of the Seattle area and have
found evidence of many large earthquakes. The Bridge of the Gods in the
Columbia river has many stories about it which suggest longstanding occupancy
of the area by Indians. Some tribes say there was once a great tunnel under
the Cascades and they used to go to the sea in rafts with pitch torches.
Then severe volcanic activity at Mount Hood and mount Saint Helens caused
massive earth movement and the bridge fell in. Since modern geologists
suggest that the scablands flood virtually scoured the Columbia river valley
at this point in the river, it would appear that these Indian tales go back
prior to the scablands flood.

The scablands flood itself is the subject of several Indian traditions. Most
intriguing is the Spokane account of the flood. According to these people,
Lake Missoula was once so large that it took several days journey to traverse
the northern bank. Mount Spokane was an island in the lake and one day
intense volcanic activity began. Before long earthquakes started to happen
and the lake began to drain rapidly. They called mount Spokane the little
mountain that rose out of the water because it seemed to them that the
mountain was rising whereas the lake was draining and revealing the mountain.
Yakima, Nez Perce and other tribes have stories about the immense flash flood
that ravaged their lands further downstream from Spokane, Washington.

Orthodox science now suggests that there were as many as 40 floods. An ice
arm of a glacier is hypothesized as the agent that periodically dams up the
melting water and causes the floods. But intrusion of an ice arm would not
be sufficiently water tight to allow much buildup of water. Today we have to
go deep into bedrock when we build dams on these rivers. That a chunk of
ice, no matter how large, could casually slide into a valley and prove to be
so firmly in place as to allow buildup of water thousands of feet deep is
simply another orthodoxy fiction made palpable by a lack of critique.

Once you leave the Cascades and Columbia plateau, scientific writings get more
generalized and Indian traditions become fewer because of the landscape. Not
much is published and some stories are still preserved but kept secret by
people of the tribe. I have heard many rumors of a Ute account of the lake
Bonneville flood but I have not been able to find anyone to tell me about it.
The same can be said for the Idaho lava flows and the Shoshones and Bannocks.
We don't want to pressure Indian elders to talk about these things if they
want to keep them secret but it does substantially hamper research.

Stories center on unique geological features-the Devils Tower in Wyoming being
a primary example. Since these places were also often used for ceremonial
purposes, it is often difficult to separate religious information from what
we would call secular knowledge. For example the Acoma and Laguna have
stories about a volcanic flow which might be tied to the lava tubes which are
to be found between Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico. But the story is now
incorporated in the traditional stories of these Pueblos and the sequence of
natural events has been overshadowed by the new materials which have religious
significance.

If you stand at the base of the Devils Tower and look up you will observe that
about a third of the way down the column the rock looks very weathered, as if
it stood out in the elements for quite a while. The lower two-thirds of the
formation appears to be virtually untouched by any weathering process. The
Kiowa, Sioux, and Cheyenne stories of this feature all involve a bear chasing
a group of little girls who are out gathering berries. Only the Cheyenne
story seems to deal with the emergence of the volcanic plug to reveal the
final two thirds of the formation.

Like the Pueblo lava tubes, the Devils Tower has related volcanic features in
the near vicinity. It appears that near the town of Sundance the volcanic
cones are in sets of two, that is to say, twin cones which resemble each
other are to be found. The origin of this evidence of vulcanism is hidden in
the religious traditions and involves complicated beliefs which deal with a
multiplicity of worlds and locations. Consequently while there is a lot of
information about the area, none of it can be used in a geomythological sense
to date when the respective tribes might have been resident in the area. Nor
can we connect this vulcanism of the northern Plains to any planetary event
unless one of you is able to prove planetary vulcanism as a specific event.

The Badlands of South Dakota have a story connected to them and it may be
extended to include the skeletal remains of the Agate Quarry in northeastern
Nebraska which Velikovsky cited as evidence of a planetary catastrophe. The
Sioux story involves a massive earthquake, preceded by a tremendously darkened
sky and extensive thunderstorms and torrential rains. The location, now a
barren but spectacular erosive canyon about 60 miles long, was originally a
grassy prairie but suffered complete destruction, in the Sioux version as a
result of human conflict. Complete forests were buried in this catastrophe
and until very recent times the ground had many columns of smoke rising from
it where underground fires were still burning. The contemporary
interpretation seems to be that lightning strikes ignited buried lignite
deposits and caused the smoke but that hardly seems possible. I would
suggest that this formation could be linked to the Exodus disaster since it
involves two tribes, the Sioux and the Salish, who were very early inhabitants
of the area.

The Sioux used to visit the White River which runs through the Badlands in
order to instruct their children in tribal history, comparing these columns
of smoke to the volcanoes they had seen in the southern reaches of North
America. In fact the river is called "White" because of the white smoke, not
because of the color of the water. One tradition suggests that Harney Peak
in the Black Hills was smoking about a century ago so it is strange that the
elders would insist on visiting the Badlands when talking about living in a
land of volcanoes.

A theme that is not usually associated with American Indians stands out in
many of these stories and that is the presence of a larger species of human.
Many folklorists have translated this concept as "giant" but I don't use the
word because it brings to mind all of the European folklore about giants,
maidens and dragons. The Indian words used to describe these people more
accurately translate as "the tall ones" and I suspect these are people who
were around 7 to 8 feet tall-unusual but not really out of the range of
possibility for our species. These tall ones were curious about people our
size but most tribes reported that they did some wonderful things. The Sioux
stories are quite detailed. The tall ones lived during a time when there was
no thunder and so rivers, the ground appeared to be moist, and the tall ones
were credited with establishing many new things. Then climatic conditions
were changed, this group vanished, and rain started to fall-thunder and
lightning became a familiar phenomenon and the Sioux said that the new climate
was caused by these people who had gone back to live in the clouds.

From this tradition I surmise we are talking about a planet that had few if
any mountains, possibly a watery canopy and a generally homogenous
temperature-and conceivably a lesser gravitational pull. Some kind of
catastrophe occurred which involved considerable rainfall-although the
tradition clearly establishes that this is not the flood. The rainfall then
carved out the basic the continent and following the catastrophe there was
sufficient temperature differential so that thunderstorms could take place. I
would use any connection between this scenario and whatever other
catastrophists could suggest primarily to date the location of the Sioux and
then relate their memories to traditions of other tribes until some kind of
network of stories demonstrated a continent-wide occurrence. Beyond that,
unless new data was forthcoming, it does not seem possible to take these
traditions any farther.

Now we are seeing a few younger Indians become interested in connecting tribal
traditions to outside bodies of knowledge. I fear that for the most part
they will follow orthodox thinking and become apologists for mainstream
thought, supporting evolution, the Bering Strait and other fictional
enterprises in order to gain favor with establishment science. That is the
down side. They may also develop enough respect for their own tribal
traditions to give these accounts the respect they deserve. But giving this
respect entails accepting not only the secular knowledge of events of both a
local and planetary nature but accepting religious traditions which are
sometimes intertwined with these accounts of the earth changes. I will
briefly discuss some of these things, things I personally believe because I
have experienced some of them and have heard about them from people whose
reliability is beyond any question in my own mind.

These ideas hint at an entirely different universe but one which seems to find
great compatibility with Alfred de Grazia's quantavolution concepts. Since
there is no particular order in which these ideas need to be discussed, I
will simply mention them as they occur to me.

First. Many tribes speak of a manifestation of physical forms with the
primary importance of these forms being in the content of knowledge they
represent. Thus some early accounts say that men and animals could exchange
shapes, in doing so they could spend time with each other and spoke the same
basic language. Some holy people can still change into animal shapes; others
report that they have experienced what it means-physically-to be some other
creature. This feeling has occurred most commonly when the people are
dancing in honor of a bird or animal. Thus people tell me that in doing an
eagle dance they sometimes find themselves in the body of an eagle, high
above the dance ground, looking down at their own bodies. As I read de
Grazia the life forms are manifested in particular shapes because they
represent both a specific content of electrical energy and a determinable
form-perhaps the only form that charge of energy can take if it is to be
manifested in a physical form compatible with our planet. ( As an aside I
find that would be a satisfactory way of explaining whole new sets of animals
in strata-we are otherwise condemned to explaining how virtually non-existent
species survived obviously planetary disasters and repopulate to provide
fossils for the next major geological time period.)

Second. Some specific human groups-tribes if you will and certain animals
shape a spirit which, if manifested in another dimension, would be a single
unity whereas this spirit becomes bifurcated in our physical world. The
Sioux say we are really the buffalo in another physical world which has more
simplicity of form than our present world. The Salish say they are related
in this way to the bluejay, the Apaches the eagle. The animals with whom we
are related act often as guardians and warn us of the impending dangers of the
physical world. Thus some flood stories concern not particularly an ark or
boat but the ability of the people to go underground-or into another world-to
escape the disaster and to re-emerge once the crisis has passed.

Third. This planet may well have been a frozen drifting bit of cosmic debris
for a while-or it could have been attached to a larger planet-perhaps even
Saturn since that is the popular planet at this conference-and then have
achieved its present orbit in a very early disruption of the solar system.
The Hopi do suggest this scenario and the descriptions of early life by some
tribes seem to hint in this direction. Whether it was so or not, I do not
know, I am simply reporting what people appear to have said about the
situation.

Fourth. The universe, or perhaps our portion of it, may have been originally
matter which expanded rather than energy which either cooled or began to form
physical elements through some kind of contraction. The Sioux speak of an
original "Rock" who manifests himself by expansion and separation to create
the kind of universe we have. The creative deity is always represented by
granite rocks here on earth and these rocks while they were used, were never
re-shaped because they reminded people of the creation. This language may
sound strange and mythical but medicine men did-and still do-continue to use
rocks of a certain kind in their ceremonies and healings. I can assure you
that they do perform a variety of functions and do their jobs with great
efficiency.

To conclude, there is a desperate need today-and I suspect there always will
be a need-or a temporary, or at least preliminary cosmic scenario to which
people can relate their individual investigations and research. It is fine
to discuss, even with great heat, various interpretation of different
subtopics of the catastrophic scenario of the origin of the solar system, any
of the various chronologies of the Near East, and the possible polar
configurations which a different arrangement of the solar system might
suggest. However we need a general framework from which to work, even if
that framework has occasional sidebars, as the O.J. Simpson court has used,
in which unresolved interpretations are given equal time and/or space before
moving on with the remainder of the scenario.

No single scholar can possibly cover the multitude of facts that will be
needed to get orthodox scientists to look realistically at catastrophism-
although more and more of these people are now entering the field with ad hoc
theories to discuss isolated data. Most of us are not skilled researchers as
are those of you who compose the core group of Velikovskian scholarship. But
in our little way we at least want to follow the lines of development and, if
possible contribute something more than journal subscriptions. Perhaps there
are some obscure materials that would be useful in putting together the grand
scenario-materials that you would not ordinarily encounter. So you need us
foot soldiers also-even if we carry blunt or useless weapons. I hope before
things get much more complicated that someone will undertake to do an overview
of where the general theory of catastrophism has gone in the last half
century, what would be a consensus position on the things that we believe
have happened in earlier times in our solar system and on our planet, and some
suggestions on where we go from here.
 

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