This project is a part of the Mfa Fine Art Course strand 'Drawing From The Archive'. The Archive I chose to focus on was an Archaeology Archive I found online of the shaman’s journeys to the spirit realm depicted on Casas Grandes Pottery. In an Archaeology magazine from 2002, Christine Vanpool illustrates the shaman’s spiritual journey on the Mexican vessels and explains the cosmology in which they travel. My drawings are representations of the pots from this article in sequence of the transformation to the spirit realm.
‘Antiques And The Arts Weekly’ also has an article on these vessels, which shows spirit animals such as Plumed Serpents and Macaws with geometric designs around them. Wanting to dig deeper into what these designs meant, knowing there was more going on than just the shaman’s journey, I bought Two Books that would explain them better. ‘Casas Grandes and the Ceramic Art of the Ancient Southwest’ and ‘Signs of the Casas Grandes Shamans’, the latter by Vanpool explains the various markings and how frequent they are on both Male and Female effigy vessels such as cheek steps and Circle with dot etc. She goes into detail of the creatures of the land and sky such as owls, macaws, humans and snakes, which are central in Casas Grandes cosmology and used in ritual frequently.
Casas Grandes, or Paquime, in Northern Chihuahua, Mexico, was home to a religious system that swept across what is now northern Mexico and the southern United States between AD 1200 and 1450. To commemorate this religion the people of Casas Grandes created striking polychrome pots with black and red geometric and naturalistic designs on a cream base. Their pottery provides a window to Casas Grandes cosmology. Looking through this window, authors Christine and Todd Vanpool find a world centered on shamans who took spiritual journeys to consort with supernatural creatures. The shamans called upon Horned Serpents to bring rain, the lifeblood for farmers living in the Chihuahuan desert; dealt with snakes that held powers more potent than their bites; and raised, sacrificed, and buried macaws as ritual offerings to ensure water and fertility. These findings challenge long-held beliefs about Southwestern religion and force a reconsideration of the importance of shamanism in the development of social differentiation in societies around the world.
My depictions of this pottery are sourced from either the first book mentioned above, which had a large variety of the pots included or directly from the webpages I found online. They have helped me to realise there are many ways to depict the shamanic journey and opened the possibility of transferring my journeys onto ceramic pots and effigy vessels. Hopefully, I will be able to make use of the ceramics workshop to trial this as a method of working.
After familiarising myself with the designs on these pots, I drew my own version showing the upper, middle and lower worlds in one design. The circles with dots and faces represent the middle world, the Plumed serpents of the lower world and the macaws and shamanic journey to the upper world. The cat vessel is one I made out of Air drying clay and painted it with Acrylic paint. The other archive image I reproduced is of a charting of the nightsky originally created on Pawnee Buckskin by Plains Indians in the USA. I used pastels on canvas cut to the same shape as the original.
Another aspect of my practice involves shamanic journeying into the inner world of the psyche and then depicting that journey into visual form. In shamanism, the journey to the three shamanic worlds is made along the Axis Mundi: the “Axis of the worlds”. This is the central axis that runs through the cosmos and which the shaman uses to travel to the three different worlds, the lower, middle, and upper. By using the shaman drum or rattle, the practitioner will induce the shamanic trance and travel to the spirit worlds, often accompanied by his spirit helpers. As a beginner at shamanic journeying, I find it easier to visualize when being guided through a particular journey and so the drawings above were created after listening to a ‘Guided Upper world shamanic Journey’ by Jerry Doran via YouTube. This shamanic journey portrays the various levels of an upper world journey. I have depicted the levels using pencil on A4 paper from imagination with some photos for reference. It is still a work in progress!