How many of the Mesa Verde 23 kivas can you identify in this panorama? You many need to read this post before answering.
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What is a Kiva?
A kiva is a space used by Puebloans for rites and political meetings, many of them associated with the kachina belief system. Among the modern Hopi and most other Pueblo peoples, “kiva” means a large room that is circular and underground and used for spiritual ceremonies.
Similar subterranean rooms are found among ruins in the North American South-West, indicating uses by the ancient peoples of the region including the ancestral Puebloans, the Mogollon, and the Hohokam.
Those used by the ancient Pueblos of the Pueblo I Period and following, designated by the Pecos Classification system developed by archaeologists, were usually round and evolved from simpler pit-houses.
For the Ancestral Puebloans, these rooms are believed to have had a variety of functions, including domestic residence along with social and ceremonial purposes.
During the late 8th century, Mesa Verdeans started building square pit structures that archeologists call protokivas. They were typically 3 or 4 feet (0.91 or 1.22 m) deep and 12 to 20 feet (3.7 to 6.1 m) in diameter. By the mid-10th and early 11th centuries, these had evolved into smaller circular structures called kivas, which were usually 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) across.
Mesa Verde-style kivas included a feature from earlier times called a sipapu, which is a hole dug in the north of the chamber that is thought to represent the Ancestral Puebloans’ place of emergence from the underworld
Here is a close-up of the kiva floor of the Balcony House.
The sipapu is the smaller pit in the floor to the left (north side) and partially blocked by the kiva wall. The larger is a firepit. The small wall to the right is placed to deflect airflow from a floor vent.
I count 14 Kivas in the Cliff Palace panorama, including some with broken walls.
What is the Connection, if any, between Omphalos and Sipapu?
The global coordinate system was known to ancient Greeks, in fact they are credited with the discovery a system to locate any place on earth, an insight contained in myths of how Zeus founded Delphi as the “center of the world,” the place from which divinity irrupts, by setting two eagles at opposing ends of the world to fly, starting at the same time, same speed, the central world point identified by where the eagles’ paths crossed.
To signify Delphi as this center a religious stone artifact, called an omphalos, was placed.
Most accounts locate the Delphi omphalos in the adyton (sacred part of the temple) near the Pythia (oracle). The stone sculpture itself (which may be a copy) is there to this day. The surface is a carving of a knotted net, the center hollow and widening towards the base. The omphalos represents the stone which Rhea wrapped in swaddling clothes, pretending it was newborn Zeus, in order to deceive Cronus. (Cronus was the father who swallowed his children so as to prevent them from usurping him as he had deposed his own father, Uranus).
The omphalos stone was believed to allow direct communication with the gods. Historians theorize the stone was hollow to allow intoxicating vapors breathed by the Oracle (priestess) to channel through it. However, understanding of the use of the omphalos is uncertain due to destruction of the site by Theodosius I and Arcadius in the 4th century CE.
That leaves us with the word, omphalos. In Greek the original meaning is navel, the anatomical reminder to humans of their source.
Comparing and contrasting these terms used by cultures separated widely by geography and time:
— sipapu is a religious symbol of the place ancestral peoples irrupted, born, into this world, emerging from the earth. From my readings, the word sipapu is a direct reference to the symbol. There are many sipapu, small holes in the floor of kivas (timetimes a hole in a wooden plank), representing a single place.
— omphalos is a religious symbol of where the divine irrupts into the world, from the earth, with direct linguistic natal (birth) associations. A single omphalos stone designates a single place.
2 thoughts on “Kiva, Sipapu, Omphalos”
Michael, I am fascinated by this setting. There is much to absorb.
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There is. We needed at least a week….though that is not practical.
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