Kiva, Sipapu, Omphalos

Place Sense

Discovery

How many of the Mesa Verde 23 kivas can you identify in this panorama? You many need to read this post before answering.

Cliff Palace panorama from two images

Click me for more Mesa Verde works in my Fine Art Gallery

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.

The Square Tower with four Kivas

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.

A portion of Cliff Palace including many Kivas, the round and square towers.

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.

Two Kivas, one with broken wall.

For the Ancestral Puebloans, these rooms are believed to have had a variety of functions, including domestic residence along with social and ceremonial purposes.

The entire Cliff Palace from the overlook, from a single wide-angle image.

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.

Sipapu

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. 

Balcony House Kiva

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.

Balcony House Kiva, to the right is the floor vent in wall and deflector stone. There is the firepit and a tiny portion of the sipapu at the left edge.
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.

Bronze Coin from the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, reign of Ptolemy VI 2nd Century BC with the head of Zeus on one side and double eagles riding a thunderbolt on the other

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.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Parts of the Scorpion

Twenty million years ago a then nonexistent earth-bound human civilization could recognize none of the prominent stars of the constellation Scorpius (The Scorpion) as these, compared to our 4.6 billion year old star, lit up less than 12 million years ago. The brightest star, Alpha Scorpii AKA Antares, is a red giant destined to burst into a supernova bright as the full moon within two million years. Will the human race be around to witness it?

Such as it is, The Scorpion was traced out by the Babylonian astronomers around 8 BCE following even more ancient Sumerian traditions naming Alpha Scorpii “The Heart of the Scorpion.”

I first became aware of Antares March 2009 during a stay on Cocoa Beach. Setting the room clock to a 5 am alarm to view the sunrise. As I sat listening to the surf, Antares glowed dark red in the south. It is the reddish tint star in the following illustration.

Till Credner, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is a photograph of Antares, the reddish dot in center, along with the 6 of the 18 Scorpius bright stars. For this shot a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV dlsr had mounted a Canon lens EF 70-300 f4-5.6L IS USM set to 70 mm focal length, 1600 ISO. Exposure was “bulb,” meaning when the shutter button is pressed and held the shutter remains open: for this exposure this was for approximately 10 seconds. The equipment was held steady on a Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber tripod. As the Earth continued to turn, the resulting star images are smeared a bit.

Bracketing Antares, the Scorpion Heart are “The Arteries” Theta and Tau. About those Greek letters, these designate relative brightness of each star respective of the others in the constellation. “Alpha” the first letter of the Greek alphabet is the brightest. Here are the other letters listed, with the alphabetic order in brackets Beta(2), Delta(4), Pi(16), Sigma(18), Tau(19). Ancient Greek built on the traditions of the Mesopotamians (Babylonian and Sumerian) and were in turn used for modern stellar nomenclature, including the tracings of sky images, the constellations.

The position of a relatively minor star, Tau, near Antares elevates it to the important function of an artery. The stars themselves run against their brightness hierarchy placement: The star Delta Scorpii, after having been a stable 2.3 magnitude star, flared in July 2000 to 1.9 in a matter of weeks. It has since become a variable star fluctuating between 2.0 and 1.6. This means that at its brightest it is the second brightest star in Scorpius.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Rosy Fingers of Dawn

Iliad and Odyssey reference for Monday

A portent of new beginnings in an ongoing journey for the last day of February, 2022

Growth and Beauty

a exploration of logarithmic spirals and symmetry

Growth

An early thought of mine, as a child, was to wonder, “How large does a person grow?” If growth was perpetual, there was no end to how large I will become; yet, tested against observed reality, “Why was it the case this was unlikely?” Years later, when recalling this, I understood my intuition touched upon the logarithmic spiral and mollusk shell.

Three Scallops and One Tallin

Sea Oat stalk, photographed above, after it dries slowly in the sun and wind, curls into a logarithmic spiral. One two dimensional spiral may be compared to another by measuring the rate and direction of opening, the increase in distance between the part closer to the source and the outer swirl. The growth of all shells follow a logarithmic spiral in three dimensions where the progression from a staring plane, as well as the direction, up or down from the plane, is an element.

Sea shells give evidence to my question of “how large can one grow.” The size of each of the millions encountered on a beach is an example of a life ended. Each of record of the length and character of the organism. For example, a close inspection of the bottom shell of the above photograph, a tellin of the family Tellinidae, reveals the spiral is growing toward the surface of the sand. Imagine wrapping your hand around the outer edge of the tellin with your thumb pointed down.

Each of the four shells of the above photograph had a mate, were one of a pair. Types of shells share characteristic pair symmetries. For example, a pair of tellins display a type of asymmetry called chirality, also called “handed-ness” after the same property of your right and left hands. One shell half (from the same individual) is the mirror image of the other, each unbalanced as the growth spirals toward opposite directions.

Asymmetry, halves from different individuals

When I started beachcombing, examining collected shells I did not have a pair from the same individual and incorrectly concluded direction of growth was unique to an individual. The ribbing of the above two shells illustrate three concepts: the logarithmic spiral growth pattern, chirality, as well as how I came to that wrong conclusion: that two individuals can grow in different directions. It was a logical hop to understand how, to make two shells hinged at the source of the growth spiral, each individual requires two halves, each a mirror image of the other. That every member of the species demonstrated the same asymmetry, each half grows in the opposite direction.

Asymmetry, attached matching halves

The above photograph shows attached matching halves. The attachment point was a surprise: the apparent source point is not attached to the ligament joining the halves? I have yet to understand this. Do you?

Beauty

The association of beauty with scallop shells bridges thousands of years. For example, a fresco of the Roman goddess Venus, born from the ocean riding a shell, was unearthed from Pompeii. The living organism is not part of the story, just the shell. Why the scallop? My answer is, “Each half is completely, in itself, symmetrical.”

The top three shells of the first photograph are scallops. The first and last, broken by the waves, are missing parts. The middle scallop, small and off-white, is complete. Place an imaginary line down the center and each side is identical. Applying the real world (i.e., physics) to myth, a scallop shell allows the goddess to move forward in a straight line. Sailing an asymmetrical shell, she moves in an eternal circle.

An object with symmetry is visually complete unto itself, self-contained; functionality aside, one scallop does not required a partner. The paired shells are interesting in they do not match, one is deeper, it encloses more volume. The deeper side rests under the surface, allowing the top halve to present a lower profile the better to hide from predators.

Calico Scallop Shell

The scallop echoes the beauty of Venus. Symmetry enhances human features (earch “Venus (mythology)” for images of her face through the ages), though it does not define beauty. An overly symmetrical face seems strange. I will close with an extreme example, the other day I came upon this beach crab wandering around in the daylight. Symmetry does NOT enhance the alien eyestalks, menacing claws, a pallid, tough exterior. Safe travels, little one.