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Paul Devereux’s Sacred Geography Series

Gallery Two: The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley

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  1. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (1)

    Here is Zabriskie Point, one of the eastern entrances to Death Valley. It foreshadows the elemental nature of the terrain the visitor is about to encounter.

  2. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (2)

    “The Devil’s Golf Course”, one of several salt flats on the floor of the valley that provides testament to the fact there was once a shallow lake in Death Valley.

  3. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (3)

    In certain places within the valley the winds of ages have collected up large areas of sand. The wind constantly changes the shapes of the dunes that are formed, adding another magical element to this remarkable place.

  4. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (4)

    This is Ubehebe Crater. A visit to this feature will remove any doubt in a person’s mind as to the powerful elemental forces that have played out in Death Valley. Not a meteoric crater, in fact, but a giant depression caused by a subterranean volcanic explosion.

  5. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (5)

    This spot in Death Valley is below sea level, and said to be the lowest point in the continental USA.

  6. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (6)

    This ceremonial pathway is situated on a low volcanic hill near The Devil’s Golf Course. The path was created by the careful removal of volcanic rock litter. Its course passes through or by the remains of various ritual features on the hill.

  7. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (7)

    Looking in the other direction along the sacred path, its course leads up to the crest of the low hill, where it reaches the remnants of a shrine.

  8. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (8)

    Here we have the remains of the shrine the sacred path leads to. Where the path enters and exits the sacred area, short lines of stones are laid out (we see them fanning out right and left in the foreground here), interpreted as being ‘spirit breaks’ to protect the shrine area from any unwanted supernatural influences passing along the path.

  9. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (9)

    Another view of the shrine area.

  10. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (10)

    One of several vision quest beds near the sacred pathway and shrine.

  11. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (11)

    This “petroform” feature is to be found near Nevares Spring. The purpose of this meandering line of small rocks is unknown, though ancestral Indians in the general region made ground markings as magical acts, and it has been suggested that this and other such features in Death Valley may have been intended to magically arrest the drying up of the last lake there some 2,000 years ago. Another suggestion is that they result from ritual activity conducted during shamanic vision quests.

  12. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (12)

    Detail of another petroform feature elsewhere in Death Valley. Some of these boulder patterns can be large and complex, best appreciated from above.

  13. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (13)

    Part of another large ground marking, geoglyph, in the valley. This type is referred to as an “intaglio”, because rather than being made up of small rocks, it is scraped out of the ground, revealing the lighter-coloured subsoil beneath the darker top layer.

  14. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (14)

    This small, intricate circular arrangement of stones is referred to by archaeologists as a “ritualistic shaman’s hearth”. This was never used as an actual fireplace, but probably marked a shaman’s vision quest site.

  15. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (15)

    Close examination of the ground in various remote parts of Death Valley can reveal features like this -- broken quartzite rocks with flakes scattered around.  These places were where shamans broke such rocks to produce “magic fire” – see the next picture.

  16. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (16)

    This is a 5-inch-long piece of white quartz (rock crystal) which has just been subjected to friction by another piece of quartz. Friction or breaking causes a piezo-electrical reaction in such rocks which results in light emission. This was the “magic fire” of the long-ago shamans of Death Valley (and elsewhere) – see previous image.

  17. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (17)

    The damage that ignorance can do: Alex unknowingly used the rocks defining a thousand-year-old vision quest site to spell out his name. This fellow seems to have just happened across the site and with his untutored eyes, saw only rocks lying around and used them to unwittingly immortalize himself as a desecrator.

  18. The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley (18)

    Fortunately, most of the features marking the shamanic landscape of Death Valley survive due to their remoteness, subtlety, and little-known presence. Here is a detail of another of the valley’s numerous and varied petroform sites.

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 Two: The Shamanic Landscapes of Death Valley

The tortured geology of Death Valley provides stark evidence of hundreds of thousands of years of the Earth’s upheavals. The very name of the place (apparently due to the deaths of ‘Forty-Niner’ gold prospectors there) conjures a somewhat forbidding image. So when I first visited the valley I was prepared for a rather bleak landscape.

Yet, that wasn’t the case: the place is a riot of vivid yellows, golds, reds, black, white, and multi-colored rocks. Strata are clearly distinguished in striking colors, as if painted by an over-exuberant pop artist. Here are vistas of white, glistening salt flats, there the mustard-yellow of sand dunes, and over there the golden ridges of rocks, all contained within the backdrop of purple and deep blue mountains edging the valley to the east and west. It is, however, a challenging place in which to find the remnants of the ancient sacred geography that once existed there, and it took me more than one visit to track them down.

The ritual and magical markings and features left by long-ago shamans of the ancestral Pima and Shoshone peoples are in remote and sometimes almost inaccessible locations within the valley – which serves to largely protect such fragile vestiges from disturbance. Only a few archaeologists have seen them, and, indeed, they have been rarely visited even by them. Working from what limited preparatory research I had been able to gather from obscure sources, I often found myself standing at features I knew no one had visited or seen for many years, perhaps decades. It was deeply moving, and inspired in me a curious feeling of connection across the ages with those ancient shamans who had left the marks of their rituals and vision quests in this remarkably elemental and lonely land.

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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