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Witness Post: Bighorn Sheep

Is it a just a ram … or is it a deeper symbol?

Hoofing it up the backside of Eagle Cap, I saw the ram. My heart stopped as I fumbled for my camera.  What a gorgeous animal! At about 9,000 feet, we were near the top of the glacial peak in the Wallowa Mountains of NE Oregon. Little did I know that I was about to grab ahold of the ram’s horns, and he would be taking me into a deep dive. We plunged into a customized, Carl Jung psychological challenge: a test that would immerse me into the world of animal totems, natural and man-made myths, mandala symbolism, ancient religions, and new-age astrology.

The Oregon Trail

My friend, Gerry Alkema, invited a group of us to hike in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Gerry convinced five of us to go.  He had known the other four guys since college. They were fraternity brothers in Sigma Chi at San Jose State in California. I am not an SJS alum and have never been involved in “Greek Life,” so I felt lucky to be included.  Besides, there were no initiation fees and no hazing. There was only peer pressure.

We spent the first night at the Two Pan Trailhead, and the next day headed up the East Fork of the Lostine River. The operative word is UP. I was carrying over 65 pounds, which was too much weight and the pack was awkwardly balanced on my hips and back. I resembled the mythical Kokopelli with my hunched back, heavy pack, and telescoping trail pole.  Kokopelli carries a flute (sometimes depicted as a walking stick), but with all of my heavy breathing, I sounded more like a wheezing flute than I wanted.

CLUE #1: when you start to look like an Anasazi petroglyph, take a picture for posterity.

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The fact that we were gaining over 1,500 feet in the first two miles had something to do with my fatigue and slow pace. We gained another 500 feet in elevation for the next five miles, making the total climb a ponderous and steep slog for me. I was in good shape, from running, but I was not in “hiking at altitude” shape. The weight of the pack was killing me. I had to get it off my back.

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Gerry’s chose our destination for the first “on the trail” night: Mirror Lake in the Lakes Basin area. Our campsite was at 7,620 feet. That’s 2,340 feet higher than Denver! Living at sea level, a quick Wallowa altitude hike can be a real challenge. T-shirts in Colorado mockingly say, “Sea Level is for Wimps.” I don’t agree, but there is some truth that high altitude is for the hearty. Breathing in the clean high air, getting your lungs to expand, allowing your blood to enrich, really helps with endurance.

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After we set up our tents and attached the rain flies, some members of our group hiked around Mirror Lake. I filtered water for drinking and watched some kids skipping rocks. Gerry and Gregg Anderson collected some clean snow for slushy margaritas. The margaritas went down smoothly and quickly, which can be dangerous at altitude. The re-hydrated freeze-dried food was pretty good and the lake views were outstanding!

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After dinner Mike Condon pulled out his fly rod and started casting for native lake trout.

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Near dusk the wind died down, the white caps and waves subsided, and Mirror Lake began to resemble its name. With the calmer wind, the mosquitoes appeared. The local bogs are breeding grounds for these nasty buggers and they swarmed with ferocity. We liberally applied bug repellant with DEET, wore head nets, and swatted away the mosquito clouds. Scott Soper told us stories of malaria bearing mosquitoes in Africa, Panama, and other parts of the world, so we were grateful to be avoiding the disease infections that can be transmitted by these thirsty biters. We only had welts and bothersome high pitched buzzing in our ears to complain about. The mosquito-proof netting in our tents created our safe havens, if the bugs got too bad and we needed to wave the white flag of retreat.

Hydration is especially important at altitude in the wilderness and so is filtering drinking water. I pulled out my MSR water filter and pumped the glacial lake water through it for the group gallon jug and our smaller personal bottles. Year around the temperature of the water is about 50°F or colder. Despite the cold temperature, there are pests in mountain stream water, such as Giardia, that can do a number on your digestive system. At 7,600 feet water boils at 197°F, or 15° lower than at sea level. I don’t know if any pests can survive that heat, but I was taking no chances.The glacial water started clogging the filter and pumping it took a long time. I cleaned out the filter and resumed pumping.  I was winded and lay on my side and alternated arms to pump. As I looked sideways at the image reflecting in the lake, the image appeared like a Rorschach Test. I saw the spine of an animal, and perhaps a face.

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CLUE#2: This is just a test, right?

By the second day, I felt better and started to adjust to the altitude. (It is pretty amazing how much lighter you feel when you remove a 60+ pound pack from your back.) As the sun rose, we checked the maps and the weather and decided it was worth a shot to “peak” Eagle Cap. We broke camp and headed with day packs toward the top.  We made good progress over the rocks and snow to the height of Horton Pass, which is a saddle that leads to Minam Lake and the West Fork of the Lostine River. After about an hour we were at the height of the pass (8,470 feet). We were above timberline at this point and had arrived at the decision point: keep climbing up or go back down. The weather looked decent so I chose UP. The others were not so sure and debated their next step. I left my hiking partners at a fast clip and climbed up past the glacial area to scale to the top of Eagle Cap (9,572 feet).

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I made good time across the snow and granite, passing some other hikers from Portland and Berkeley, California, who had forged ahead of us. When I hit the southwestern facing, talus-covered slope of Eagle Cap, I paused to catch my breath and to grab a drink. As I reached for my Nalgene bottle, I glanced over my arm, spotting something moving. I noticed a camouflaged brown image nearby. It crossed in front of a snow field and I recognized it as a Bighorn Sheep ram.

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CLUE #3: when an animal puts on a show, pay attention. .

I slowly reached for my camera and took a few shots as he made near-silent progress towards me across the rocks. I wondered why this beautiful animal was walking so slowly before me. Why was he so close? It was as if he were waiting for me to notice him and to appreciate his marked territory.

The ram’s horns spiraled nearly a full circle. How cool is that?  He had a collar around his neck, with the markings of a radio tag. He was sure-footed and nimble, flashing his white rump and short black tail, as he disappeared among the dwarf spruce about 50 yards down the mountain. Although there were about a dozen of us close by on the mountain at the time, including 4 boy scouts and two scout leaders, I was the only one who got a good look at the ram. The others only caught a brief glimpse of him, before he vanished.

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On this trip we had spotted deer, squirrels, pikas and lots of birds on the 4-day hike, but no animal was as memorable for me as the Bighorn Sheep.

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Lasting Impression

When I returned home, I met with a massage and energy therapist, Kathleen Kirgin. She wanted to know all about my trip. I told her about the hiking and the Bighorn Sheep encounter. Kathleen encouraged me to spend some time thinking about and reflecting on the ram. She posed a few questions: “What do you know about them?” “What connection do you feel with that animal?” “Might it be a mandala symbol for you with some deeper meaning?” She was in the midst of some Jungian studies, which I had not thought about since college. Her questions required that I dig deeper.

I told Kathleen that I did not have the time to dig deeper or dive into it right then. I was distracted. The next day I was headed to a foundation board meeting in New Mexico. I promised her I would think about it on the plane trip and write a Witness Post, if I felt any inspiration. My voice trailed off. as I did not want to give myself any artificial deadline that I would miss.

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The New Mexico Connection            

The next day I flew to Albuquerque and drove to cities in the central and northwestern part of the state for a rendezvous with some group expeditions from the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions. (Interestingly, the Foundation has an antler symbol of its own.) I was with John Mayer, not the rock star, but another CGE Board Member, as we took a short detour to Belen and Socorro to be with good friends. We spent the night at the house of Rick & Molly Madden and they showed us great hospitality. During a late night talk with Rick, I spied a wood carving of a Bighorn Sheep on his window sill. I peppered him with questions about the carving. To my questions Rick Madden said, “It was a gift from a clinical nurse, who retired a few years ago. She was really talented and loved carving wood.  I have no idea of any the significance of the ram. I just like it.” The retired nurse now lived in the Taos area. The conversation stopped there and we went to bed. Seeing a ram carving did not seem unusual to Rick or me in and of itself, because the Bighorn sheep are a particular favorite of the Navajo and other Indian tribes in the area. The animals are populous in the Sandia’s outside Albuquerque and further up in the Sangre de Christo’s and Rockies in Colorado.

The next day, however, I did have an unusual sighting. I was in the museum of the Base Camp of the Cottonwood Gulch, wrapped in strategic discussions with John Mayer and Kris Salisbury, the new Executive Director. Suddenly I spotted an old ram skull, which was in a plexi-glass case. The skull was ancient and only the outer growth of one of the horns remained in tact. It was a hauntingly beautiful skull. I took the skull from its mount and placed it on a work table, snapping the photo below. I could not deny either the connection with the Southwest or with mammals and nature. The coincidence was easily explainable, but it seemed right to go with it. I decided that perhaps Kathleen Kirgin was on to something. Maybe I should start a personal journey with this animal. Let the journey begin.

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Bighorn Sheep

The Anasazi Indians, who are known as “The Ancient Ones,” drew pictures and chipped images out of the rocks centuries ago. They are believed to be the ancestors of the current Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. Their petro-glyphs and pictographs show lots of animals and spirits in them. One of the most recognizable images is of the Bighorn Sheep.

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There have been debates among anthropologists as to the meaning of the pictures of the sheep: is it about food for the table (grocery) or is it a metaphor about travel? I am not drawn into the debate, as it does not seem important to my journey. Instead I find myself attracted to the male of the species. It seems to me that my attraction is all about the antlers. Both male (rams) and female (ewes) have antlers, though the males’ are larger, more curved, and command up to 10% of their body weight. A 300 pound ram can have up to 30 pounds of antlers, which is a lot of headgear. They butt heads to drive off young rams and to attract the herd of ewes.

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Elk, buffalo, goats, antelope, moose and deer all have their own distinctive antler racks.  So do Bighorn Sheep. The scientific name is Ovis Canadensis and there appear to be several subspecies. One of the subspecies in the Sierra is endangered. Apparently the sheep originated in Asia and came to North America by crossing the Bering Sea land bridge from Siberia. At one time there were millions of them in the mountain ranges of the country. Some of the subspecies adapted to the lower terrain and deserts. The Native Americans from Northern Canada to Baja Mexico revered the animal as a special spirit and totem. They hunted it for meat, but they lived in harmony with the species, naming their clans after the animal, whose spirit they believe helped protect and provide for the tribe.

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Monument Valley petroglyph

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Wounded bighorn sheep, Three Rivers Petroglyph Park, NM

When the Lewis & Clark Expedition rowed through Sioux territory, they recorded numerous sighting of Bighorn, calling them Argalia. They believed the sheep to be related to an Asiatic animal (Ovis ammon). The expedition recorded the Shoshoni Indians making bows from the ribs of the Bighorn Sheep. William Clark, in his Track Map, produced in 1814, named the Argalia Creek and the Argalia River. Neither name survived, but the Little Bighorn River, also on the map, did survive. In 1876 General George Custer and his men met their eternal final destiny at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

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 Charles Russell, Battle of Little Bighorn

By the late 1890’s the population of Bighorn Sheep had crashed. The animals were prized for their antlers. Gamesmen from all over the world wanted the ram’s head, with those distinctive spiral horns, mounted above their fireplaces and in their vacation lodges. Hunting expeditions left them beheaded and rotting on the hillsides, a fate that is similar to the bison (buffalo) of the same era. By 1900 when the second wave of National Parks and wildlife preserves were being opened to the public, only a few thousand Bighorn Sheep remained.

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Thanks to conservation efforts by organization like the Boy Scouts, the Bighorn population had a slow resurgence. We are still a long way from stable and self-sustaining populations in most states. US Fish & Wildlife has put strict protections (hunting bans) and tracking methods (radio tags and collars), which help us to better understand the Bighorn. Flocks have started to regain a hoof-hold in the wild.

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The Bighorn Sheep ram I had spotted in the Wallowa’s was at about 9,000 feet. Apparently their summer range is from 6,000 to 9,000 feet and their lower winter range is from 2,500 to 5,000 feet. They seem to prefer drier slopes where there is less snowfall, more grasses & brush, natural salt licks, and some tree cover. From watching my ram’s quiet, camouflaged walk across the slopes, I could tell the sheep are well adapted to climbing steep terrain and avoiding predators. Their natural predators are bears, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, mountain lions, and golden eagles. (Despite being named Eagle Cap, there were no eagles in sight.) The greatest natural predator, however, is disease.  The sheep are highly susceptible to scabies and pneumonia, often catching the diseases from domesticated sheep. Seeing a healthy herd is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

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Navajo Sandpaintings     

The Navajo Indians, who are relative newcomers to the Southwest, have also depicted Bighorn Sheep in their artwork, often using it in their pottery, jewelry, rug weaving, and sandpaintings. It is also the name of one of the Navajo clans that has persisted to this day.

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Many years ago I attended a cleansing ceremony with some Navajo families affiliated with the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation and the ritual was fascinating. The “painting” is actually grains of pastel colored sand that are painstakingly hand funneled on the earthen floor of a Hogan. The painter is the local medicine man and the patient is someone who is sick, or needs cleansing. If, for example, someone had fallen from a roof and were recovering from injuries, the family would invite the local medicine man to their Hogan. He would bring his colored sand and litany of prayers with him. He would work all day on the painting. Once the individually created Kachinas, images, and boarder are painted, the patient is instructed to sit in the middle of the painting. Fires are lit and the smoke, which is supposed to rise directly up, wafts its way into the eyes and lungs of the patient. The medicine man presses his thumb on parts of the sand painting, chanting and picking up many grains of sand. He presses his thumb on specific parts of the patient’s body, leaving the sand. With the increasing heat and intense smoke and rhythmic chanting and true grit of the sand, it is a full body experience for the patient. The ritual frequently puts the patient in a trance-like state. At the end of the ceremony, near dawn, the family leads the patient out of the Hogan, while the medicine man ritualistically destroys the sandpainting. He must obliterate it by sunrise that day.  It is an amazing ceremony to witness.

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The medicine man would paint a Bighorn sheep with the sand, if he wanted the patient to leave the ceremony with special powers attributed to the images he drew. For a person who fell from a roof, for example, the medicine man would be praying and chanting for balance in his life, sure-footedness, physical strength, and a strong heart. Who is to say that the ceremony does not work? It has been around for hundreds of years. And I am not sure what remedies of modern medicine can say the same.

The Crow Indian Legend

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                     Medicine Crow                    Strike on his Head, photos by Curtis circa 1868

The Crow Indian tribe, also known as the Apsaalooka, is a great admirer of the Bighorn sheep. They live in the Bighorn Mountain Range area of Montana. Folklore has it that an ancient storyteller, named Old Coyote, described a legend about the Bighorn sheep. A man possessed by evil spirits attempts to kill his son by pushing him over a cliff. The potential victim is saved, however, by a tree, getting caught in its branches. The young man is then rescued by Bighorn sheep. The young man immediately takes the name, Big Metal, which is the name of the dominant ram in the flock. The other sheep grant the young man special powers: wisdom, sharp eyes, sure footedness, keen ears, great strength, and a strong heart. These totem characteristics mirror those described by the Navajo. At the end of the legend Big Metal returns to his people with the message: the Apsaalooka people will survive only as long as the river winding out of the mountains continues to be known as the Bighorn River.

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Fibonacci’s Golden Mean Spiral

The Spiral

There are many spirals in art and in science, some are man-made, others are not. I have found myself attracted to those found in nature: hurricanes, nautilus shells, sunflowers, and Bighorn sheep antlers. All of these patterns, called the Golden Mean Spiral, were defined by the Italian mathematician, Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci.  Although the spiral pattern had been discovered in India centuries before, it had not made it into “modern texts” until Fibonacci published his findings in 1202. The mathematical formulae are consistent and fascinating.

This special type of spiral is created in nature according to the (phi) ratio of 1:1.6180339… The mathematical rule is that each number in the series is the sum of the previous two numbers. For example, Fibonacci’s number starts 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 … and continues ad infinitum. Regardless of how large the spiral becomes, the ratio of its dimensions remains constant. If you look at the diagram above, for instance, the proportion AB to AC is the same as BC to BD or CD to CE. The yellow spiral appears like a yellow brick road and will continue in nature beyond the letter E all the way to OZ and beyond.

One of the interesting things about the spiral in nature is that ratio (phi) is found in the oceans, on land, in the air.

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Some of the prettiest golden spirals are found in the most delicate of places. They are almost everywhere.

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With the amazing images beamed to us from Hubble and other telescopes, we even see Golden Mean Spirals in the galaxies.

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Art Imitates Nature

Although my keenest interest is with the Bighorn sheep spiral and other spirals found in nature, it is undeniable that over the centuries we have been attracted to Golden Mean Spirals in our art. Not to be confused with expanding ovals, as in a labyrinth, the spirals I am talking about expand in the same proportions as the Fibonacci formula. I have often seen the spiral in Native American art and it is distinctive.

I have found some wonderful art from the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, as well as from some other parts of the country.

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The Acoma Pueblo artists of Sky City, New Mexico have beautifully depicted spirals in the pottery. They are among my favorite works of American Indian art.

Hopi Myths and Kachinas

The Hopi Indians of Arizona have some unusual connections with spirals, which I have found fascinating. Anthropologists have long described the spiral of the people which moves out in ever-widening circles from their homes on First Mesa in northern Arizona. Their origins, according to legend, are that the Hopi emerged through portals through the First, Second, and Third World to the present or Fourth World. The tribes travel ritualistically to the bottom of the great portal (The Grand Canyon) to gather salt and commemorate their emergence from the Underworld. The passageway or gate is called the Sipapuni for the lower regions of the world. Their god, Masau’u, pokes holes in the earth with his dibble stick and plants seeds of corn for the Hopi people. Masau’u has a covenant with the people promising them, if they live in harmony with the earth; they will have a paradigm of purity and simplicity in their lives in this Fourth world.

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The images of the Sipapuni sometimes have whirlpool patterns, with the water depicted in single or double spiral motifs. The Hopi people also have water images near Masau’u and he is sometimes drawn with clouds of dust devils forming mini-cyclones of sand and grit from the desert floor. Again, water and earth show their natural proclivity to create Golden Mean Spirals, as depicted in art. 

In my research, I came across the mythological poet Robert Graves, who studied many traditions. Graves claims that the Celtic god Bran, similar to the Greek Cronos, the Roman Saturn, and the Hopi Masau’u, were all associated with the alder tree. Alder trees “cones” or buds are set in a spiral pattern. Graves goes on to postulate that alder buds are “a token of resurrection” and rebirth. I had not imagined that I would find any Christ-like imagery in these spiral stories, yet there they are with more to come.

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The Hopi god of fertility is depicted as a Bighorn Sheep. Called Alosaka (or sometimes Muy’ingwa), the god is represented by a man wearing two curving horns on his headdress. Each member of the Two Horn Society also wears a pair of curved horns on his head. This religious fraternity plays a crucial role in the New Fire Ceremony of tribal initiation which takes place in November.

The Hopi also have two deities who control the rotation of the Earth. One is called Poqanghoya, the god of solidity, and Palongawhoya, the god of sound. They live at the Earth’s poles and create the spiral forces that move the planet in its daily rotation. These two often perform mischievous and dangerous tasks, such as creating the mountains and valleys, killing demons, and whirling tornados and storms in space. As Hopi author Katherine Cheshire writes in Touch the Earth Foundation these deities “are always over the poles, never moving from place to place, they are turning more slowly than other Tornadoes, but always in a Sprial Motion like a giant funnel.” It seems these twin deities each represent one horn of the eternal Ram; the horns are in constant motion, orchestrating the earth and sky. I like the image.

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Jung on Mandala Symbols              

According to Wikipedia, Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle.’ In the Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions sacred art often takes a mandala form. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of the letter T. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.”

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In various spiritual traditions, like Navajo sandpaintings, mandalas are used to focus the attention of patient (or student), as a spiritual teaching tool. The mandala helps establish a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation. It can also be used to induce the student into a trance.

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self,” and he believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in his own personality. Jung also felt that mandalas were directional; stating that clockwise motion represented the conscious, while counter-clockwise motion signaled the unconscious. And according to the psychologist David Fontana, the symbolic nature of mandalas can help the aspiring student “to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises.”

I studied Jungian mandalas when I was a psychology student at Yale and his drawings and descriptions were otherworldly. For me the images were life giving, as in the watery Pool of Life, but also cold, like the geometric Rose below. I could swim with the flagella in his pool and choke on the sawdust in his rose. It seemed to me that Escher had studied these geometrical archetypes and used them in his artwork.

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      Jung, Pool of Life                                 Geometric Rose                                Escher “Angels & Bats” Print

Wikipedia goes on to say, “In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective.”  The mandala images below seem to resemble the definition, though the one on the right looks eerily like a ketchup and mustard Rorschach test.

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Some mandala art needs the warning: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. Mandala symbols seem like a collection of warring elements, like Escher’s angels and bats, or mind versus body, or emotion versus reason. These warring factions flow out from the middle in a destructive and cathartic spiral.

What I also find interesting about mandala symbols is that they seem universal, as if the Nazi swastica were plucking the same deep human chord as the Navajo “Whirling Logs,” for example, below.

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Or the Golden Spiral, as if it were from the same root as images from ancient stone formations in Australia. The spiral symbol is supposed to symbolize balance, progress, direction, centering, expanding, connection, journeying, and development. It looks like motion and reminds me of rolling down a hill, getting the roller dizzy and seeing stars. The Celtics believe that drawing spirals is a mind-altering creative process, in which the act of creating a spiral releases their minds to creative splendor.

Is the Celtic Cross below from the “same place” as old Native American cross? Crazy? Perhaps not.

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I found the visual journey to be full of surprises and intriguingly universal. There is also the psychological value of mandala art: 1) it shifts the artist’s attention away for external preoccupations and on to inward attonement; 2) it is a private process of self-expression and exploration; 3) the artist can discover areas of “blockage” and break through by means of the inspired symbols; 4) the process is supposed to unlock our “inner genius,” which sounds like a great awakening; and 5) the artist can connect with the larger processes and images that are universally connected to humanity at a deeply unconscious and abiding level.

A Jesuit Circles in on Spirals

The stories of spirals of multi-dimension and direction have lots of authors. One of the authors is the Jesuit philosopher, scientist and poet, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Trained as a geologist and paleontologist, de Chardin used his science to understand and interpret evolution. In the 1950’s he wrote about the shift from the 2-D spiral found in rock to the discovery of 3-D spirals in the following way: “We have no longer the crawling ‘sine’ curve, but the spiral which springs upward as it turns. From one zoological layer to another, something is carried over: it grows, jerkily, but ceaselessly and in a constant direction. And this ‘something’ is what is most physically essential in the planet we live on.” De Chardin believed that all of Creation was an evolutionary process leading to what he terms “The Omega Point.” His writings broke from the traditional views of Genesis and brought him Roman censorship.

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He felt that there is a spiral axis of universal love at the heart of all centers, and neither the Holy Spirit, nor God the Father, nor God the Son is exempt from the process. The Trinity instead evolves along with the rest of the gods toward the locus of convergence. One author calls it “the culmination of cosmogenesis.”

As John the Evangelist writes in Revelations 1:8 “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, which is, was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” De Chardin was putting the pieces together as he saw them and believed them to be, a Fibonacci Spiral in the geologic record.

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De Chardin also believed in the increasing complexity of life. “There is unification of spirit without the loss of either personal identity or humanity.” Most scientists of de Chardin’s time saw evolution as a paradigm, a process of ever-widening spirals, devoid of purpose. But de Chardin, on the other hand, saw it as “cosmic involution, irreversibly arcing upward and inward.” It is a gradual, unrelenting path taken by our planet through the galaxy. We are all evolutionary travelers who are both pulled forward by the forces of nature and held in check. We are part of a greater scheme that has a single purpose and focus: moving toward our own Omega Point. In these terms the involutionary spiral not only heals us, it also enlightens, inspires, and redeems us.

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Speaking of Spirals: Where Did I End Up? Or Where Do I Go From Here?

The denouement of my spiritual trip with the Bighorn Sheep ram has left me wondering what I should now do with it all. I have not had any memorable dreams of horns, nor any unnatural attraction to sheep. I did not even scratch the surface of the St. Louis professional football Rams, nor the Ram sign of Aries. My brother, Ned, is an Aries, which is the first sign in the Zodiac! The Ram represents impetuous fervor, renewal, virility and fiery force, as the March equinox approaches. Born a Pisces: our zodiac symbol is two fish swimming in opposite directions. Perhaps that is my cue to revisit the water mandala by Jung.

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But who cares? It is summer in this hemisphere, so no one is particularly interested in sheep’s wool. Our daughter, Kathleen, is in New Zealand and she has something to say on sheep matters and staying warm, but let’s will leave that tale up to her.

The thought process and study of my ram has reconnected me with one true love: the American Southwest. The people, places, and things of the Four Corner states have held me in their own enchanted spell for a long time. From the outset Kathleen Kirgin had challenged me to research and see how I felt about specific aspects of the journey. Reexamining the Native American Indian tribes, which I thought I knew, shines them in a new light.

The experience has also reminded me of universal mathematical principles. I can see doing more research into the Asian discovery of the Golden Mean Spiral. The sidetrack into Jungian psychoanalysis was important and fun. The mandalas bring a new freedom to study and examine lots of colorful symbols as a way of explore both the real world and imagined ones.

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By researching the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I rediscovered his philosophy and cosmology, though postulated over 50 years ago, to be new and fresh.  It is also grounded in science, not mythology. Plus, my Jesuit friend, Rick Ganz, will be pleased that I found a way to put de Chardin in my Witness Post. Tracy has the words of de Chardin poem entitled, “Patient Trust” taped on the side of her printer. The poem was read to us six years ago by a priest at Jesuit High School as a reminder of good parenting skills. The poem urges all of us to be patient with God, who is slowly working on us and our children. We have to trust that God’s hand is leading the dance.

It has been and continues to be a good journey, even if it only really means writing and thinking and drawing and praying as much as I can.

Post Script

One other interesting coincidence happened the other day when I was attending a special meeting at the Murdock Trust. As I sat reviewing an IT proposal with the technology assessment team, I noticed the pictures of mountains and wildlife on the walls. One picture was a close-up of a Dall’s Sheep ram, which had been photographed by Jack Murdock. It was a beautiful shot of the sheep, which is a variety of Ovis sheep found from the mountains in Alaska to British Columbia (Dall’s Sheep Ram – Ovis Dalli). Its antlers were curled in a Golden Mean Spiral. The animals are as beautiful as the Bighorn Sheep, in their own camouflaged snow-matching way. My deep dive has some more unexpected chapters ahead, no doubt.

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                   Bighorn Sheep Ram (Ovis Canadensis)

3 thoughts on “Witness Post: Bighorn Sheep

  1. Because of my interest in the possible or probable connection
    between Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhism and the Anasazi, Navajo
    and Hopi cultures I have purchased a small collection of Tibetan conch shell trumpets decorated with turquoise and a red stone along with silver. This is also the favorite art materials of the Hopi and Navajo people. After I read this incredible posting on Big Horn Sheep I had a flash back to an artifact that I should have also purchased but did not of a Big Horn Sheep skull decorated the exact same way with the exact same materials as my conch shell trumpets. I have written a couple of postings on the possible Tibetan influences in North America.
    Google: “Mandalas Mantras Manjis Monuments” “Were the Anasazi People Buddhists?” and “Ancient Buddha Tree of Life Lotus Flower”.

  2. As was mentioned above “Mandala” is a Sanskrit (Ancient India Buddhist/Hindu) word meaning circle and yet mandalas are firmly
    established in Pre Columbian Native American culture. Evidences
    of the mandala are seen in Native American Medicine Shields, Medicine Wheels and the beautiful sand paintings done by both the
    Navajo/Hopi cultures as well as Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhists.
    Likewise, Manji (swastika) also used by the Navajo/Hopi people is
    also a Sanskrit (Ancient India) word. The word Manji in English means “Whirlwind”. Therefore it’s quite interesting that the Navajo
    people call this symbol “The Whirling Logs” while the Hopi people
    call this symbol the exact same name as its meaning in Sanskrit–
    The Whirlwind. This has to be difficult to explain by mainstream
    scholars who steadfastly deny any Pre Columbian religious or cultural foreign influences here in North America.

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