Stories the Stones Tell by Sara Wright

Metate

The potshard in the center seems to have a “face”… although I bring some of these artifacts home for closer inspection it is part of my spiritual practice to return them to the land.

Mano

Avanyu, spirit of the waters

The storied land

Another view of the stones that tell stories.

A couple of days ago I was climbing a mesa with a friend who is “a guide to the wild places” – those places off the beaten track where stories are told by the stones and the Earth that supports them.

As a severely directionally dyslexic person who cannot tell her left from right navigating this hidden world would be impossible without this woman’s deep knowledge of this land, her expertise, and her love for stone.

As we climbed through mountains of human garbage and four wheeler tracks we discovered potsherds at our feet. Picking up the predominantly black and white pieces for inspection I found myself wondering about the women (and children) who gathered the clay, shaped it into pots, and fired the vessels to store food. There are so many untold women’s stories hidden in these clay fragments…

Female scholarship (see Marija Gimbutas, Buffie Johnson, and more recently women scholars like Helen Hye Sook Hwang, Susan Hawthorne, and Carol Christ’s tireless research in women’s prehistory to mention just a few – reminds us that women have been fashioning clay vessels and sculptures for millennia. The imprint of women’s hand prints can be seen on Neolithic goddess sculptures and pots throughout the world.

Here in Abiquiu and the surrounding high desert I wonder what specific activities these women might have been engaged in. We found a plethora of the black and white fragmented clay pots (some with very thick rims) of Indigenous Anasazi peoples who preceded later Pueblo cultures. I am especially drawn to the black and white shards that seem to have faces or are tree -like. Occasionally I spot a potshard made from red or micacious clay, a relic from later Indigenous inhabitants of this area. I wondered if the women ground these ancient artifacts into temper to strengthen the newer clay they dug and shaped into vessels for firing.

We studied the landscape around us for more clues to its original inhabitants. My friend spotted a petroglyph pecked into the rock. Avanyu, the Tewa Pueblo serpent, spirit of the waters, also lives here. We were overlooking a stunning valley with interlocking arroyos and even in drought we could see evidence of underground water seeping to the surface, dampening desert sand. I wondered if there were hidden springs somewhere on the mesa. There were so many potsherds … Were some clay vessels actually made here, or maybe this was simply another very large self sustaining Indigenous Pueblo community… On this hill there were also many volcanic boulders, some appeared to have been deliberately placed in a circle…

Even more fascinating were the stones that were smoothed and hollowed out by women grinding foodstuffs into flour. I was surprised to see so many of these in one relatively small area indicating that many women (and children) congregated in this one place. These worked stones are called Metates that were and are still used by some Indigenous women to grind seeds, grains, maize into flour to be used in cooking. Some are portable; these were not.

The most unusual feature of these rocks is that there were a number of different sized hollowed out depressions in a single stone. I have a portable metate with three depressions on its upper surface, and Iren has some with depressions that I believe were used to grind lime treated maize during food preparation. But these particular grinding stones not only had hollowed out spaces in the upper surface of the rock but along the sides as well.

Researching possibilities for why this might be so I learned that some immovable metates were used to grind acorns and plant materials of different sizes for medicinal uses on the actual sites where the plants/trees thrived. Since women were also responsible for medicinal healing I guessed that at one time there were roots and herbs that were found here and pulverized into health remedies. Since grinding acorns created small pockets that looked like dimples in the rocks, and we saw a number of these small holes I wondered if at one time oak forests were abundant here. But of course my all of my perceptions are pure speculation because only the land holds the truth of the story.

I spied a suspiciously round volcanic stone and immediately intuited with excitement that I had picked up a mano, the word used to describe the kind of stone that might be used to grind up plant material. I found one many years ago in Tucson, and when I took it to the park’s wildlife center, they confirmed that I had discovered this tool beside one of the arroyos I walked regularly. About a half a mile back I had seen a metate situated on the edge of the arroyo and imagined the women gazing into the talking waters as they worked…

As I wandered over this particular landscape I had the same powerful feeling that I had when I came here the first time – namely that the Earth was attempting to communicate the story of her earlier inhabitants, to us, and perhaps to anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen.

So perhaps my speculations are grounded in the wisdom of Powers of Place that intersect with ordinary time. Stillness, simple questions, and keen attention to the land seem to allow ancient truths to surface through Earth’s body educating those who choose to listen about the lives of the women who lived and worked here so long ago.

 

Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.



Categories: Nature, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , ,

15 replies

  1. The mano looks exactly like the stones commonly found on the beaches of the volcanic island of Lesbos.

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  2. A beautiful post! Here in Masssachusetts we have many sacred stone structures created by past and present Native people. Some of them are on public lands and seeing them and learning about their meaning has really made me understand the sacred natures of stones of all kinds. I’ve heard representatives of our local Native communities refer to the stones as “grandfathers” and “grandmothers,” which I think perfectly reflects their connection to us and importance.

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  3. I love how you see into the past when you make your discoveries. I am particularly drawn to Avanyu. Thanks for the tour.

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  4. You have a wonderful ear, eye, and heart for the land’s story. Thank you for sharing your discoveries and your reverence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting. I’ve always been one who picks up little rocks and brings them home. I have a fist-size piece of lead/silver here on my desk that I picked up when I was about 12 on a family vacation in Colorado.

    Your explorations and research into the history of the land and its stones is fascinating. Good for you for paying such close attention to the land and the Powers of Place as you walk. Bright blessings…….and don’t get lost!

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  6. Hmm…. i think many people are drawn to stones… I have one on my desk that my grandfather found as a young man. It’s one of my treasures!

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  7. This post brought up a lot of diverse responses from me.
    – I love the concept of “stone beings” – they just move more slowly than we do.
    – Some years ago I took a course in shamanic divination, and one of the exercises was to find a stone and interpret what it had to tell you
    – in the mid ’60s, my archaeology professor discussed his thesis work. He did a scatter analysis of pottery shards. In one area, the characteristics all hung together, for example, if there was a curled lip on the pot there was also a certain colour and a certain shaped handle. In another area, these characteristics were not found consistently in single pots. It was known that the women were the potters. His conclusion was that the area where the characteristics of the pottery were consistent were matrilocal: men came to live with their wives, and the pottery was taught from mother to daughter. The areas where they were not consistent, he concluded were patrilocal, the women went to live with their husbands, and introduced change into their mother-in-law’s practice.
    – I, too, wonder about the lives of the women who made the artifacts that I hold in my hand.

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  8. Thanks for this post Sara. I, too, love wandering around the bush, I especially love deserts because you can ‘see’ everything. I have visited many places in Australia filled with the spirit of rocks. I have also travelled to strong stone places in Crete, Turkey, Malta, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Scotland and India (and more). Stone carries such strong messages but you have to be open to seeing them. In my novel, The Falling Woman, I refer to several such places.

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  9. I’m sitting here in dark, rainy England reading about the arroyos and looking at your photos and really enjoying reading about the stone people, as I always think of rocks.

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  10. Wonderful article, thank you! I have been working for several years now on a series of sculptures I call “Our Lady of the Shards”, because the shards of the buried past speak to me as well. http://www.laurenraine.com/madonnas-for-our-time.html

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