Fire on the Sacred Mountain: Summer Solstice Sign for All People
Fire on San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, sacred mountain for Indian peoples, summer solstice 2010: Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, and geological perspectives. Signs from nature.
San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona explode with fire
On June 20, 2010, I was traveling with a group of New Zealand visitors from Sedona to Hopi and Navajo lands for our summer solstice Time of Vision Retreat. We paused as we came into close view of the eastern side of the San Francisco Peaks to make a personal connection with this entrance into the inner basin of what is known as a holy place for thirteen tribes in the region. Silently, respectfully we sent our heart energy out to the spirit of the mountain and sought permission to enter indigenous lands of the Hopi and Navajo peoples. Clear blue skies contrasted with the deep green, still snow-topped mountain slopes and a palpable sense of Presence reached out and encircled us.
That Sunday, the day before summer solstice, kachina spirits who reside in the inner basin of the Peaks, were dancing in villages on all three mesas as they have for several hundred years–an interface between humans and supernatural helpers devoted to the well being of life. Later in the afternoon from the Hopi Mesas, 80 miles away, an ominous towering white mushroom shaped cloud suddenly rose high into the sky from the eastern flank of the mountains. During the course of the afternoon the prevailing winds pushed a thick black ash blanket directly over all the main part of Hopi. The sun now peered eerily red through the dark veil of smoke.
Apocalyptic feelings of ending times pervaded my awareness that afternoon. It was like the hot breath of the Creator blowing over us saying: Pay attention. I have pondered this and searched for perspectives to help me understand this deep inner turbulence I continue to feel.
“We, as Native people, are sensitive to ceremonial responsibilities to be able to see signs even though we may not know the meaning at the moment,” are words of wisdom from Uqualla of the Havasupai tribe. “This event’s combination of signs is unusual:
~~was on solstice-season turning and ceremonial time
~~blew up so quickly
~~burned right up to houses below and the sacred inner heart of the mountain above, but spared both.”
Uqualla believes it is a wake up call: “We need to raise our consciousness for better understanding and give thought to what is in store. How do we prepare? And how do we return our thoughts back to the Earth Mother? It is as if she is saying: you are not that connected to me and I will take all. Yet she did not take all in this case. How do we make more effort to make connections? ”
“This is sign we all should take seriously, both the political and traditional worlds at Hopi, and by extension, all peoples around the world…to think about what we are doing,” according to a wise Hopi person I spoke to about this today.
Another Hopi friend commented she felt like the Kachinas were fleeing the Peaks because their house was on fire.
Navajo Nation President, Joe Shirley Jr., said in a media interview that week: “The San Franciso Peaks is the essence of us. She’s our Mother. So when there is a fire on her, it is like we are burning. It hurts.”
I also relate to these heartfelt words from Robyn Slayton-Martin, a native of Flagstaff:
“Our mountain is burning in a fire that we hoped would never happen, a fire that has been hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles. The heart of our mountain is blazing in an inferno that grew from 50 acres to 5,000 acres in 24 hours…Three-hundred-year-old ponderosa pines are exploding in orange flame. ..For many of us, the mountain defines us…This loss is deep. Our community is angry, sad, grieving. We have lost our heart because of someone else’s thoughtless choice. We will be different because of it, and there is no real path to healing.”
Source: essay, The San Francisco Peaks will never be the same, High Country News, June 29, 2010.
Profound words from Black Mesa Trust, a Hopi conservation group: “We believe all waters: the aquifers, the springs, the lakes, the rivers, the oceans, the rain, the snow are joined together. All work in harmony to sustain life. We believe humankind is a participant in water-life. We are of clouds and the clouds are of us. How we behave influences rain, snow and hence the “hydrol0gic cycle and balance”. If our thoughts are bad, only the wind will come when we dance. If our hearts come together, rain will come.”
I believe Mother Earth is talking profoundly to humankind now in voices of extremes of weather. She speaks to us bleeding from her gushing wound of the Gulf oil disaster only weeks after the President announced more deep water leases would be issued. Her scorching purification by fire explodes in front us on a holy ceremonial day of a tribe with 13,000 years of prayerful presence on the Colorado Plateau. Are we paying attention?
Sacred Meaning of the Peaks
When the sun reaches its summer solstice position, around June 21st, it appears to rise and set at the same place for about four days. These are the longest days of the year, because the sun travels a long path through the sky, passing nearly overhead. As long as humans have been on earth this is one of the major ceremonial times of the year. For the Hopis it is the peak of the summer plaza ceremonial time.
To the Hopi, the Peaks are Nuvatukaovi, “The Place of Snow on the Very Top,” home for half of the year to the ancestral kachina spirits who live on the peaks and among the clouds around the summit. When properly honored through song and ceremony, the kachinas bring gentle rains to thirsty corn plants. This reciprocity between humans and the spirit world is central to Hopi religious practice.These ways are practiced for the balance of Mother Earth and all her beings.
“Katsinam represent the multi-layered spirit powers who personify nature: clouds, sky, storms, trees, etc. They function as protective supernatural beings who can help humans if they are asked properly and respectfully. They also represent the spirits of Hopi ancestors who, in the form of clouds, bring much-needed rain.”
“The Hopis recognize hundreds of specific Katsinam who personify the forces of nature and the spiritual essence of plants, animals, other tribes, specific people and supernatural forces. Katsinam return to live in Hopi villages every year, beginning in February after descending from their home on top of the San Francisco Peaks. The top of the Peaks is considered to be a cloud house, since the Katsinam are manifested as clouds. The Katsinam remain in the villages until Niman, the Going Home Ceremony, in late July, at which time they return to the San Francisco Peaks.”
The Peaks are one of the major landmarks that define the traditional and spiritual boundaries of Hopitutsqwa, “Hopi land” and the territory for which they act as stewards of the land through their pact with Ma’saw, the guardian of this world. ” (above 3 paragraphs from US Forest Service NEPA document)
Peaks viewed from high desert Hopi lands more than 80 miles distant.
Today, ceremonies are conducted on the Peaks by both the Hopi and Navajo people. For example, plants and herbs are gathered and shrines and ancestral dwellings visited. There are numerous medicinal herbs and other plants at several levels of the Peaks that are used in traditional ceremonies and to treat the ailments of Native American people. The plants have energies that are place specific–that is, they must come from specific sacred sites to fulfill their proper function.
For the Navajo, the Peaks are the sacred mountain of the west, Doko’oo’sliid, “Shining on Top,” a key boundary marker and a place where medicine men collect soil for their medicine bundles and herbs for healing ceremonies. Dook’o’osliid and the other three sacred mountains are the source of curing powers. The Peaks contain numerous sacred places, such as springs, trails, cairns, offering places, plant gathering areas, and mineral gathering areas. In addition, rocks, plants, trees, coal, clay, water, and soil are specifically collected from the Peaks. Each of these is important for specific ceremonies as well as for food and other every-day purposes.
The Peaks are one of the “sacred places where the Earth brushes up against the unseen world,” in the words of Yavapai-Apache Vincent Randall. Mountain spirits known as ga’an reside there. Mountains are prayed to because clouds hang on them and Lightning People are on them.
The Havasupai call San Francisco Peaks, Hvehasahpatch (Big Rock Mountain). Uqualla of the Havsupai tribe says: “This the mountain of the Gods, birther of the Havasupai (people who reside within the nearby Grand Canyon). Giftings from this sacred place continue to come forth to the people. It is the ultimate of rock formations in our ceremonial history. It has a major connection to first springs and first woman. Prayers are sent to this great rock mountain as it is believed to be a conduit to spirit.”
At least nine other tribes in the region have sacred relationship to the Peaks and its springs, plants and relation to the sky and forces of life giving rain.
In Sedona, we speak of special energy sites known as a vortex. From my personal experiences in the inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks, I perceive this the Grandmother Vortex of the region. A place of very high vibrational frequency, time spent there leaves you feeling uplifted, connected to a higher source of wisdom. For all peoples of this region, this is place we identify with, love and cherish.
The peaks of San Francisco Mountain, an eroded stratovolcano which last exploded 400,000 years ago. They include Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet and tower over the ruins of an ancient Native American pueblo in Wupatki National Monument (above photo). The ancient inhabitants of this area must have witnessed the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater, the State’s youngest volcano, which erupted in about A.D. 1064.
The volcanic highland area of Arizona began forming over 6 million years ago with the eruption of nearly 600 volcanoes. The most dramatic of those eruptions left the Peaks soaring above the landscape in what otherwise would have been dry, arid plateau. Although most volcanoes form near the edges of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust, Arizona is located far from the boundary of the North American Plate. It is believed that a trapped area of molten rock deep beneath Northern Arizona, called a “hot spot”, occasionally rises up and creates volcanoes as the plate moves slowly west.