Saturday, April 17, 2010


For people who live in the environment the weather is a major determinant of the exigencies of life. Especially in the availability of food, both plant, and animal, the amount of sun, rain, and storm, provide the conditions that allow the society to survive and hopefully prosper. The facets of weather that lead to this survival and prosperity are usually focal points of religious rites in those communities in the attempt to favorably affect the conditions upon which their survival depends. Thus clouds, rain, rainbows, and lightning become elements in the imagery of the people, and can often be found in their rock art as well.

The Hogback, Pinyon Canyon Maneuver Site,
southeast Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

Elemental lightning is a force that can be dangerous, and as such is possesses great spiritual power. Places where lightning strikes tend to be seen as spiritually powerful, and items that have been struck by lightning contain strong medicine. A piece of lightning struck wood would contain tremendous spiritual power and, as such, would be prized for a medicine bundle or for use in fabricating weapons. A locale that lightning is seen to strike frequently would tend to attract other manifestations of spiritual importance such as rock art.

For large expanses of open countryside in the arid West in a lightning storm the features at greatest risk of lightning strike are the geological features that stick up the highest. These are often features such as volcanic dikes. I know of two volcanic dikes that have attracted considerable rock art and also show evidence of attracting lightning strikes.

Lightning Strike at The Hogback, Pinyon
Canyon Maneuver Site, southeastern
Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

One is the prominent dike known as “the Hogback” on the Pinyon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado, so excellently recorded by Dr. Larry Loendorf. This broken basalt prominence not only shows rock art, and discolored patches caused by the heat and blast effects of lightning strikes, but, as a location of such power, it also possesses the remains of spirit quest enclosures.

Lightning and sky theme petroglyphs,
Galisteo Dike, New Mexico.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

Lightning portrayals in rock art may also be expected to be found on such high positions as these. The third illustration provided came from Galisteo Dike, south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The rock art at Galisteo Dike is also found on the surfaces of a high, prominent volcanic dike, and includes a very large amount of sky symbolism including eagles, stars, sun signs, clouds, and lightning. This illustration includes an eagle (the Pueblo beast deity for the sky above), a star, and a lightning blast, combining multiple aspects of spiritual power.

Sun Symbols with possible lightning strike,
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, New Mexico.
Photo: J & E Faris, 1988.

Another volcanic dike which possesses considerable rock art is the dike at 3-Rivers, New Mexico, where thousands of symbols and images cover the eroded surfaces of blocks of basalt. There are also instances of remaining evidence of possible lightning strikes at 3-Rivers. The illustration here shows a basalt boulder with an apparent lightning strike on the top and a pair of concentric circle sun signs on the side. The question here is did the rock apparently blasted by lightning attract the petroglyphs, or did the spiritual power of the petroglyphs attract the lightning strike?

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