Memories … and then … Encountering the complex Native American spirituality at Mesa Verde

This is a reblog of one of my favorite sites, The Holy Rover blog by Lori Erikson. When I saw that her latest post was about Mesa Verde, I experienced a wave of nostalgia that made me smile. I saw this fascinating place when I was about nine but did not get out of it what I was supposed to.

Mesa Verde in July of 1965, from the family photo album
Mesa Verde in July of 1965, from the family photo album

We were traveling out West as a family and visited California, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado; Mesa Verde is in Colorado. It is here that ruins were found of cliff-dwelling Indians. It’s truly a fascinating place which you will see in Lori’s blog. I had to share my little vignette though before sharing her post.

In the museum at Mesa Verde, there was a mummy on display named Esther; she was 1500 years old. I was nine at the time and was petrified when I saw her! That night when we all went to bed, my older sister and I argued about who had to sleep on the side of the bed facing the wall. I didn’t want to sleep there because I knew I’d see Esther on that wall all night long!

Guess who ended up facing the wall? Older sisters always prevail (turns out Esther freaked my older sister too and she didn’t want to face the wall. And she was always the brave one!). The next day I came down with the grip, the worst I’d ever had.

So the mention of Mesa Verde always brought up an assortment of memories which I now think are kind of funny. 🙂 It’s good to see what Mesa Verde is REALLY all about!

Amid the Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde

In my travels around the world I’ve learned that most spiritual sites have layers upon layers of history, meaning and mystery. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado may be the best example I’ve encountered of just how complicated the intertwining of those layers can be.

Mesa Verde; photo by Bob Sessions

When I was planning my visit, I contacted the park staff to say that I was a writer interested in learning about the spiritual traditions of Mesa Verde. I got a diplomatically worded reply, telling me in the nicest possible way that I had no idea just how difficult that seemingly simple request was.

The staff at the national park has good reason to be wary of the minefields of interpretation that exist at Mesa Verde. The people who once lived there left no written records. The Indian tribes that trace their ancestry to them are fiercely protective of their own spiritual traditions, many of which derive from what was once practiced at Mesa Verde. And so when clueless travel writers like myself arrive full of questions, there’s an understandable reluctance to be too speculative in their theorizing.

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