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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mything Link

Okay, a little more on Joseph Campbell and how his interpretations of myth have led me to think differently in other areas of endeavor.

Recently, we visited the Etowah Indian Mounds in North Georgia. The archaeologists who have excavated the sites over the past decades have done an admirable job in preserving the mounds, but the signs set next to each one showed no real insight into what each mound was for. A background in myth makes some of these things plainly obvious.

For example, the first thing that struck me about these mounds was that they were pyramids on the American model, similar to the pyramids one might see in Mexico or Central America. This, in itself, is interesting, because it suggests some kind of relationship between this culture and those found south and west of it.

The sign next to the largest mound had the general function right. This would be the place for the celebration of holy days, the equivalent of a cathedral. The idea here is that the structure represents the central mountain of the world, the still center around which everything else rotates. That still point represents the eternal, which is why your most sacred moments are supposed to happen there.

The second, smaller mound was described as probably having some kind of governmental function, but that doesn't wash with me. I suspect that it had something to do with the every day rituals, the ones having to do with marriage and birth. It would have been similar to a modern church.

The third and smallest mound has been identified as having something to do with death. Bones have been found there, and the official line is that this is where state funerals were held and that the bones kept in the ossuary were those of the leading citizens of the town. Although this is fundamentally correct, I suspect that this is where everybody's funeral was held. Without having a great deal more information, it's hard to say whose bones were interred there or for what purpose. However, I think that the mound itself would have been the counterpart of the modern chapel in a funeral home.

I think I'm going to continue this as a series, and tomorrow will post about the Ocmulgee Indians mounds in Macon. That's a whole different kettle of fish.