Nevada, petroglyph, Highwater, American Indian Painting, p. 21.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
A MEDICINE SYMBOL IN ROCK ART:
Lone Dog, 1809-10, "Black-Stone made medicine",
Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 147.
In their wonderful book The Year The Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (2007), Candace Greene and Russell Thornton illustrate a symbol that was used by many winter count artists as the symbol for “making medicine”, performing a magical/spiritual deed that elicits some effect in the real world. This symbol is an abbreviated buffalo head connected to the maker of the medicine by a line. This has been described by both Mallery (1893), and Greene and Thornton (2007). “In the ceremonial of “making medicine,” a buffalo head, and especially the head of an albino buffalo, held a prominent place among the plains tribes. . . . The device in the chart is the man figure, with the head of an albino buffalo held over his own (Mallery 1893:275).” (Greene and Thornton 2007: 147-8)
Lone Dog, 1860-61,"The Elk Who Shows Himself While Walking
made medicine", Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 247.
The Swan, 1810-11, "A Minneconjou named Little Tail
first made medicine with a white buffalo cow
hide", Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 148.
The Flame, 1860-61, "The Elk Who Shows
Himself While Walking made medicine",
Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 247
This symbol is to be found in a number of winter counts, and perhaps other examples of the handiwork of Native American peoples. In the winter counts the symbol is usually, but not invariably, connected to a human figure. in the Lone Dog winter count the medicine symbol is connected to a sketchy abbreviated elk but that is the name glyph for the human who made the medicine, Elk Who Shows Himself While Walking, and in the winter count by The Flame it leads to what appears to be a horse. The symbol itself, the outline of the bison skull with horns, would lend itself to use in many other circumstances and mediums. With this in mind I have been keeping my eye open for examples of this symbol for “making medicine” in rock art.
One example of what appears to be this “making medicine” symbol in a petroglyph is illustrated in the book Song From The Earth: American Indian Painting by Jamake Highwater (1976: 21). It is a photograph of a petroglyph panel from Nevada (location unidentified) which shows a crude footprint, a large spiral with something attached to the outer end, and our making medicine symbol to the right of the spiral. Upon careful examination, the shape attached to the outer end of the spiral at the top could also represent a skull as well, although it reminds me more of a pronghorn antelope than a bison.
If you know of any further examples, as always, please forward them to me. Thank you.
Greene, Candace S., and Russell Thornton,
2007 The Year The Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian, Smithsonian National Museum, Washington.
1976 Song From The Earth: American Indian Painting, New York Graphic Society, Boston.
1889 Picture-Writing of the American Indians, 10th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1888-1889, by J. W. Powell, Director, Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.