Ideological Models


J. McKim Malville

  I. Between A. D. 850-1000 Chaco canyon may have been identified as a special and unique place at which communication with cosmogonic(1) forces could be achieved. The dramatic landscape, accumulated oral tradition, and creation mythologies of emergence may have combined to identify Chaco canyon as the sipapu, the place of emergence. Periodic visits to the Canyon may have been viewed as the mythic re-creation of the world and spiritual transformation of the individual that Eliade (1965) describes as the "myth of the eternal return."

  II. Because of its mythic, spiritual, and cosmogonic associations Chaco canyon may have assumed an importance in the region exceeding its value for agriculture or trade.

  III. Due to its growing ideological importance, perhaps in the few decades before A. D. 1050, Chaco became a base for scheduled regional festivals drawing visitors from an increasingly large geographical area. These festivals, for which participation was voluntary and primarily ideological in character, should have involved many other activities, such as trade, courtship, athletic contests, and other forms of social bonding. The permanent residents of the canyon would have obtained economic benefit and ritual power by providing both material and spiritual services to the visitors.

  IV. As the complexity, ideological significance, and importance of these regional festivals grew, the events may have taken on more of the characteristics of normative pilgrimage, involving periodic visits by groups of individuals who travel in search of a place or state of mind that embodies a spiritual ideal. Judging from other pilgrimage events in the world, pilgrims could have built and/or visited shrines along the route and within in the canyon. Shrines and other ritual features along the roads, such as herraduras, avanzadas, and stone circles are predicted features of the model.

  V. The north-south alignments of the north road and of structures in the Canyon may be ideological expressions of connections to the place of origin or to the stable north point of the macrocosm.

  VI. Those communities from which pilgrims traveled to Chaco defined the boundary of the regional system, a periphery which would have fluctuated with time as various voluntary affiliations with the center waxed and waned.

  VII. Based upon complexity theory, a large scale self-organized system, such as that of Chaco, could have developed rapidly (within several decades) through non-linear processes and positive feedback. The resulting complex system may not have been adaptive, as it could have been established primarily by initial conditions and the amplified idiosyncratic events that often initiate pilgrimage traditions.

  VIII. Road segments that were vectored from outlying communities in the approximate direction of Chaco may have symbolized the commitment of the community to the regional system. Similar evidence of commitment may have been construction of local great houses which mimicked the great houses in the Canyon. Construction of wide road segments especially when approaching a great house near the Canyon such as Pueblo Alto would have been a natural consequence of the parade-like display associated with pilgrimage. Based upon traditions of load carrying elsewhere in the world, the width and elaborate nature of the roads are inconsistent with exclusively economic function.

  IX. Within the Canyon, great houses would have acquired multiple function and meaning: residences for permanent inhabitants, elites, and priests, habitation for visitors, storage of gifts, and sites for festivals. Great kivas as well as the mounds in front of Pueblo Bonito may have served as gathering places for ceremony. Based upon other pilgrimage traditions, it is reasonable that the great houses, great kivas, and roads were constructed by voluntary labor of the visitors and donations of patrons. The road-related units attached to houses such as Pueblo Alto, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito may have been associated with servicing the practical needs of visitors and pilgrims.

  X. A ritual infrastructure may have grown as Canyon residents took increasing responsibility for organizing the regional festivals. Participants who walked 1-2 weeks into the Canyon would have expected effective organization and precise scheduling of festivals. Residential specialists may have traveled outward from the Canyon to announce the dates of festivals, to encourage participation at outliers, and to provide travel advice.

  XI. A necessary requirement of such regional festivals is a calendar with an accuracy of 1-2 days. On-time arrival at a festival is essential, and the demands for accuracy on such a festival calendar are much more severe than for an agricultural calendar, for which experienced agriculturists will draw upon a complex set of data including soil moisture, movement of animals, and the flowering of plants in preference to precise solar time. It is likely that the important dates of the festival calendar were solar-lunar, an example of which is the full moon at winter solstice, which is a time of symbolic as well as practical importance involving major transitional events in the life of sun and moon.

  XII. Detailed knowledge of the cycles of the sun and moon could have developed naturally out of calendrical observations, and it is conceivable that observations by alert individuals would have led to considerable depth of knowledge of the complex lunar cycles including the ability to predict lunar eclipses. Such esoteric astronomical knowledge may have led to additional power of elites living in the Canyon. The growth of astronomical knowledge throughout the Southwest may have been primarily inspired by the needs of the Chaco festival calendar.

1 Cosmology describes the structure of the universe while cosmogony considers its creation.
2 Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return

J. McKim Malville


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Eliade, Mircea. 1954. The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

_____. 1958. Patterns in Comparative Religion. New York: World Publishing.

Gopal, L. and D. P. Dubey (ed). 1990. Pilgrimage Studies: Text and Context. Allahabad: The Society of Pilgrimage Studies.

Jha, Makhan (ed) 1985. Dimensions in Pilgrimage: An anthropological appraisal. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.

Malville, J. McKim and Nancy J. Malville. 1995. "Pilgrimage and Astronomy at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico." Presented at the International Seminar on Pilgrimage, Society of Pilgrimage Studies, January 21-23, Ardha Kumbha Mela, Allahabad, India.

Morinis, Alan (ed). 1992. Sacred Journeys. The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Preston, James J. 1992. "Spiritual Magnetism: An organizing principle for the study of pilgrimage," in Sacred Journeys. Edited by A. Morinis, pp. 31-46. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Turner, Victor and Edith Turner. 1978. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press.

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