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Manitou or Spirit Stones, Their Meanings and Link to the Native American Cultural Landscape in North America

Since ancient times the Native or Indian people of North America have believed in the existence of a supernatural, omnipresent and omniscient 'force' or 'presence'. All encompassing and pervasive, it is universal in scale. For many of
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  1 Manitou or Spirit Stones,Their Meanings andLink to theNative American Cultural LandscapeinNorth America Herman E. Bender The Hanwakan Center for Prehistoric Astronomy, Cosmology and Cultural LandscapeStudies, Inc. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, USA  © 2014  Key words. North America,American Indian, Manitou, landscape, spirit, water, trail, cairn, profile Abstract Since ancient times the Native or Indian people of North America have believed in theexistence of a supernatural, omnipresent and omniscient ‘force’ or ‘presence’.Allencompassing and pervasive, it is universal in scale. For many of the Native people livinghere, manifestations of the supernatural could be expressed by one word:  Manitou .Manitou itself was seen to rest in rocks and boulders, sometimes referred to as ‘spirit’or‘image’ stones.They were once a common feature of the landscape. Hilltopsand othersignificant places considered important were favored locations for the manifestation of Manitou.On the cultural landscape, the stones together with their physical setting wereconsidered sacred.Physically, both the hills and Manitou stones were, and are,generally associated withwater, e.g. springs, rapids and water falls, creeks, straits, river bends and drainagedivides. Association with springs, however, seems to have been most common.There isalso a definite trail orprehistoric footpath association, and the places venerated by thepresence of Manitou(s) may have functioned as part of a broad ‘trail-shrine’ network,identifying ‘place’in both a spiritual and geographic context (Bender 2007&2008a&b).Some Manitoustones and effigies can be dated back many millennia.Historically,early French explorers, Jesuit priests and the later missionaries frequently mentionedthem as did Henry Rowe Schoolcraft during his travels in the upper Midwest in the early19th century.Once the target of destruction bymissionaries, a surprisingly high numberhave survived, discoveredwhere srcinally erected. Recently discovered lithic Bisoneffigies and other distinctive shapes including rock outcrop resembling human andanimal profile styles can be considered as part of the phenomena.This paper, the product of 25 years of continuing research,features an additionalnumberof Manitou stones, cairns, profile rocks and other occurrences found spreadacrosstheNorth American cultural landscape. Together with their meaningsaccording toNative American traditions and cosmologies, emphasis will be given to those discoveredin the past few years since a previous report was written(Bender 2011a).Also included isan emphasis on the specific footpaths or trails, many now modern roadways,whichlinked Manitouas a meansthrough whichthe ideal, traditions and ideas were transmitted.  2 Introduction It was sometime between 1989 and 1990 thatI was more fully introduced to thesubject ofsacred rocks and boulderswhich,longbefore the coming of the Europeans, hadenhanced the North American landscape (Freeman et al 1990, Mavor and Dix 1989).Because of previous experience (Bender 2009) it was not atotalrevelation or epiphany,but did become acatalyst for delvingmore deeplyinto the phenomena of individual rocksversus petroform (Bender 2007).It is true that the1989 publication,  Manitou: TheSacred Landscape ofNew England’s Native Civilization (Mavor and Dix),had shownsome of the individual rocks,bouldersand landscape featuresfoundin New Englandlikelyencompassed the Native American (henceforthreferred to asAmerican Indian orIndian) ideal of   Manitou . However, acceptance of some of the premisesthatMavor andDix expressed was slow to emergewithin the academic community.Furthermore andcritically so, the fuller pictureon a larger geographic scalewas lacking detail,much of what was describedconsideredspeculation andon the fringe of archeological academia if not totally outside it.Since those early days,a continuing interest and the quest for the myriad forms of   Manitou  became adecades long journey; one archival, the othersystematicallyroamingthe physical landscape.During the span of years,I had writtentwo articleswhichdescribed the ideal, concepts and manifestation of Manitou inbroaderdetail (Bender2003,Bender 2011a). The conceptsthat I describedwere or arenothing new in NorthAmerica.Ancient by all accounts, the very first European explorerswho landed on theeastern shores of theNorth Americancontinent recorded the word manitou ,itsmeaning,traditionsand abodes in a land they knew little aboutnor understood(Parkman 1983,Philbrick2006).Despitethisearly contact and careful explanationsof Manitouby the nativeinhabitants, mostnon-Indiansremained apathetic at best,ignorant at the worst, or acombination of the two. Carrying their Christianity like a sword,theyconsidered itsuperior and the true religion even though the saints the Catholics prayed to, in essence,wereno different than Manitou, i.e. a vehicle to God or the Creator, not the chief objectof worship. The overall biaswas not kind toAmerican Indian beliefs, the culture orlandscape. Kitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit (Leeming & Page 1998:70-71), had met aforce that its chief tenants, the Great Mystery and respect for nature would barely endureor survive. Under the same sun that shone on places inhabited by the spirit of Manitou,destruction ofconquered cultures shrines isnothing new,a testament to religiousintolerance as ancient as the edicts in the Old Testament of the Bible, the Romans orthoseissued by the Popes in the 7 th  century A.D. (Bender 2003).Bearing this in mind, it isfortunate that the memory and knowledge ofmany ofthesacred boulders, profile andeffigy rocks, andindividual Manitou stonessurvived.At onetime they werespread across the breadthof the North American landscape. Many of them, now long gone, areknownonlyfrom the written record.Stillothers have beenfound, in situ ,havingsurvived the wrath ofreligious dogma,desecration, defacement oroutright destruction.Yet, all can tell us something if we choose to open our mindsandsensesto an ancient pastthat embraced the numinous devoid of religious intolerance orbias and, instead, become one with thelandat a special place or time where the veil hasthinned between this reality and another.  3 Brief History and Review Rather thentorewritewhat has already been published, thus makingredundanttheresultsofa decades long effort to catalog known Manitou stones,sacred boulders,rocksand land marks,portions ofthis article will borrow select parts fromtwocomprehensivearticlespreviouslypublished on the concept or ideal of Manitou.The first article, Manitou Stones inWisconsin ,was published in The 3’rd Stone (Bender 2003).Thesecond, The Spirit of Manitou Across North America , Chapter Six in  Archaeology Experiences Spirituality? (Bender 2011a),is a far more comprehensive piece whichidentifies andexplores the various individual forms of Manitouspreadacross the breadthof the North American continent.Because the word  Manitou is derived from the Algonquin language core, one of themost widespread language groups in North America, it should come as no surprise thatboth the word and traditions related to a spiritual presence are encountered wherever theAlgonquin-speaking people were found living. Having lived in the State of Wisconsinfor almost my entire life, it was at the locallevelthat I first encountered Manitou stonesandinherentplace names derived from the Algonquin word (Bender 2003:26).However,Wisconsin is nota unique place regarding the reverence for and location of Manitoustonesor as a derivative for place namesinthe United States orNorth America proper.Like the water, rocks and provocative physical settings often associated with Manitou, itwas present wherever Native people lived and traveled overthousands of years . Thedistribution of the macro-tradition is most prominent within the Algonquin language corearea, i.e. thenorthernmid-latitudesand centralinterior of North America.Earlycontactwith otherlanguage groupsthey came in contact withlikely helped to spread thetradition.Accordingly, there is an ancient,documented traditionof ‘sacred’ bouldersamongst the Sioux or Lakota who, migrated north from the Ohio River valley,eventuallysettling in the upper Midwest and western Great Lakes area. Many places or locationswere identified by the Lakotasolely by their association to a particular rock orboulder(Pond 1986:87, 89; Riggs 1883:149). Tothe Sioux, these rocks were imbued with wakan .Wakan issimplytranslated as “sacred”, but like the word  Manitou , it does have amorecomplex definition outside the linguistic parameters of a one word meaning.Through the eyes of the indigenous people of North America, the physical landscapewas an inseparable part of a spirit-filled landscape. It has been described as an “integratedcultural landscape” or cultural landscape (Bender 1996, 2008), a homogenous blend of the real or natural world lived on and in for generations with the realm of spirits. “Theyonly talk of Manito, always Manito” remarked Joseph Nicolet while traveling with theOjibway of Minnesota in the 1830‘s (Fertey 1970: 264). Roger Williams wrote, “at theapprehension of any excellency in men, women, birds, fish, etc., to cry out manitoo , thatis, ‘It is God’…”The reaction to ships, buildings and especially books and letters wassimilar and evoked the word  Mannitowock  , i.e. ‘They are Gods’ (Philbrick 2006: 190).During his 30,000 miles of journeys amongst the Indians on the eastern continent, theMoravian missionary John Heckewelder recorded some extended remarksin April, 1773about the reverence for Manitou (Wallace 1998:112). Heckewelder said, “The Indianconsiders himself as being created by an all-powerful, wise and benevolent Manitou, allthat he possesses, all that he enjoys, he looks upon as given to him or allotted for his useby the Great Spirit who gives him life; he therefore believes it to be his duty to adore and  4 worship in Creator and benefactor; to acknowledge with gratitude his past favours, thank him for present blessings, and solicit the continuation of his good will.”This adorationwas many times performed by seeking those places where Manitou was thought to existor inhabit, places not separated from nature in a man-made setting like a church, butcocooned in the natural worldwith man as an integral part of a fully animate andphenomenological world.On the cultural landscape, Manitou was omnipresent; recognized everywhere and inanything endowed with supernatural power (Parkman 1983:393).In the seventeenthcentury, the Jesuit priest Father Claude Allouez said that the Ottawa, an Algonquin-speaking tribe “… recognize no sovereign master of heaven and earth, but believe thereare many spirits … they call it Manitou and pay it … worship and veneration …”(Thwaites 1896:50,285-287).The Sun, moon, sky, stars,Aurora borealis,wind, rain,thunder, lightning, hail, rocks, lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, caverns, mountains,forest, plants,trees,animals, birds, fish,night and day or light and darkness,life itself andeven human breath all possessed or were identifiedas living Manitou (Bender 2003:26;Bowden 1981:74, 80, 109; Heming 1896:137; Parkman 1983:281, 385-387; Schlesier1987:4-15,Spence 1994:87,Terrell 1964:108,119,204,210). Rocks were probably recognized on as embodiments of Manitoumore than just aboutany other physical object. As T. E. Mails (1985:31) has said, “even rock[s] played theirmedicine role by transferring unique abilities ... or [they] might speak to man by word oraction to transmit a message from above”. In the early French, Dutch and Englishaccounts, boulders were the most often described ‘medium’ whereManitou was said toreside and, according to the Natives, were found full of living blood and flesh whenbroken (Parkman 1983:386).In some cases, it was said that the spirit of an ancient chief or someother person resided in the rocks(Spence 1994:87), those rocks being associatedwith a special place, e.g. the mouth of a river (Oliver 1903:24-25). The Chippewa(Ojibwa)cultural hero Nanabush was said to have marked his brother’s grave with asingle, unmodified stone, stones having the ability to be alive and sentient or full of spirit(Barnouw 1977).The most likely boulders and rocks thought to be living embodiments of Manitou werethose particular rocks which exhibited attributes either calling attention to themselves orto a unique setting.Thinking it God’s work, theJesuits took particular delight in castingmany into the rivers or falls whenever they encountered them (Bender2003:26-27,Bender 2011a:158).Fortunately, many of these same boulders were documented andpictured in later19th century town and county histories. Commonly known as“Manitoustones”, a number of those were large glacial erratics. Others were curiously shaped andhighly weatheredbedrockoutcrops or outliers. If designated as Manitou, all were lookedupon andsaid to be sacred (Bender 2003:26-31). Many times the venerated rocks werelocated upon a mountain or pinnacle, the high place and physical setting amplifying theassurance thatprayers were heard and acceptable to the Great Spirit (Figure 1).  5 Figure 1. A lithograph titled “  Hierogliphics” picturing the weathered and curiouslyshaped rock or tor (top left) engraved by E. Weber & Company, Baltimore, and publishedby W. H. Emory, Notes of a military reconnoissance, from Fort Leavenworth, inMissouri, to San Diego, in California..., Exec. Doc. Number 7, 30th Cong. (Senate), 1 st Session, Washington, 1848. Note the stick figures with outstretched arms and handsclimbing up toward the tor, a manifestation of Manitou.  Herman Bender collection.  A frequentmanifestation of Manitou, often times encountered but seldom, if ever,described in detail, were the stone pilings or cairns found scattered across many parts of the continent.Ethnographically, there are traditions connected to some beyond meremortuary practices although many were likely grave sites (Hubbard 1887).Still otherswere found in cleared fields and are most certainlyremnantsfrom agricultural practices,i.e. ‘stone picking’ and piling (Dunhamet al1998).However, votive use and a definitivelandscape association or connection to ‘place’along an ancient, well-worn trailand othersalientfeaturessuch as prominence and a view shedindicate more than a mundane stonepiling exercise. Sacred Boulders,Rock Outcrops, Cairns and Trails  EasternRiver Portages and Trail Associations  Since publication of thelastarticle examining the manifestation of Manitouin NorthAmerica(Bender 2011a),on-going research has identifiedan additional number of sacredboulders and further landscape associations. Like those described in the two previouspublications, they also display phenomenal attributes and a sense of place, generally the‘unique setting’calling attention to either a salient feature or the surrounding landscape.The profound sense of placein a unique settingis many times associated with water.Onthe cultural landscape lakes, rivers, eddies, water falls and rapids were all propitiated
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