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Paul Devereux’s Sacred Geography Series

Gallery Three: Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape

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  1. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (1)

    The Pony Hills “shamanic ridge” is almost indistinguishable from a distance; in this picture the figure is standing on it.

  2. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (2)

    Looking along part of the rocky ridge, showing one of the rock pools.

  3. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (3)

    Close-up of another of the pools on the ridge. Look closely and you can see a petroglyph on the rock in the foreground.

  4. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (4)

    Petroglyph of a bear paw-print on a horizontal piece of rock.

  5. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (5)

    Look closely and see at left carved ‘bear tracks’ going up a vertical rock surface, indicating their magical nature—bear tracks indicated the healing ability of the entranced (probably out of body) shaman.

  6. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (6)

    A closer view of the “bear tracks.”

  7. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (7)

    Tiny footprints linked some of the rock pools. These would be spirit footprints, probably “water babies” that shamans claimed to be able to see. The carvings were doubtless made to show the route the entranced shaman saw the spirits take.

  8. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (8)

    A “spirit” footprint alongside a human foot to show scale.

  9. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (9)

    Petroglyph of a spirit—this wouldn’t seem out of place in a ghost busters movie!

  10. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (10)

    Another carving of a spirit.

  11. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (11)

    Carving presumably of some spirit creature or mythical being.

  12. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (12)

    Small carving depicting a shaman with feathered ritual headgear holding a staff.

  13. Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape (13)

    A remarkable three-foot long petroglyph carved on a horizontal slab of rock. It shows a ritual with a shaman holding a giant mushroom-shaped staff. The Mimbres had ritual objects of this shape called pohas, but they were small. It is hard not to imagine they referred to mushrooms, probably of the psychoactive kind. Note the human and bear markings alongside.

In this 5-part series of galleries, we will look at a range of sacred geographies, the mindscapes of past times that can still speak to our souls. The power of sacred place.


Paul Devereux’s Sacred Geographies Series
Gallery Three: Pony Hills Shamanic Landscape

The Chevy Blazer bucked and bounced along the dirt road leading into the desert wilderness of New Mexico northeast of Deming, near the Mexican border. My son and I were heading for an area just to the west of Cooke’s Range that had been the heartland of the Mimbres people, whose culture had emerged around 250 BC and became extinct about 1,000 years ago. 

State archaeologists had given us directions to an area called Pony Hills where rock carvings – petroglyphs – made by Mimbres shamans could be found. It was a remote spot and the rock art there had not yet been properly catalogued. Our route led along the forbiddingly-named Starvation Draw until we had to leave the SUV behind. We spent some hours on foot searching the Martian-like landscape of red-brown rocks, which seemed bereft of any human signs, and the scurrying lizards kept their own secrets. But we at last identified a low, rocky ridge that turned out to be our intended destination.

As we approached we found the reason why this apparently undistinguished place surrounded by unremitting aridity had been so important to past peoples: it harboured spring-fed pools of water. Moreover, the rocks around were decorated with petroglyphs, including carved bear paw marks emblematic of shamanism. In the Pueblo Indian world even today, the bear track stands for the “curing power of the bear.” Shamans would “become bears” in trances induced by hallucinogenic plants such as “magic” mushrooms and datura (jimson weed). They actually felt they changed into bears, and were able to see spirits. Along the ridge there were also carved life-sized human footprints and images of shamans with ritual headgear holding staffs. This was an untouched shamanic landscape, 1,000 years old, a lonely and remote place—yet I had an eerie sense that the old shamans were there.

Paul Devereux

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Paul Devereux is a research affiliate of the Royal College of Art, London, and is a specialist in the anthropology of consciousness, archaeoacoustics, and psi phenomena. He is a founding co-editor of the peer-review publication, Time and Mind - The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. He has field researched ancient places ranging from European Stone Age sites, to Mayan temples, to vision quest locations in the US, and many more. Besides articles, peer-reviewed papers and magazine columns, he has authored or co-authored 27 books in as many years, including Re-Visioning the Earth, The Sacred Place, Stone Age Soundtracks, and Sacred Geography.

Read more about Paul Devereux

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