||Shaman and Rock ArtThe first travel writers in Southern Utah were the early inhabitants who etched their stories along the canyon walls, what we now call rock art. Modern man regularly attempts to interpret these ancient records; however, their meaning remains among the great mysteries of Southern Utah.A god or deity figure is central to many rock art panels, perhaps representing the spiritual powers of the Shaman – holy men of the Anasazi people.Shamans served as spiritual leaders in their communities. The Anasazi believed that the Shaman had power to travel into the spiritual world. There the Shaman could escort the dead, retrieve lost souls, even converse with spirits from the past – animal spirits or spirits of ancient Shamans – and then bring back messages of wisdom.Shamans often began such a spiritual voyage by going into a trance. During a trance, the people believed, the soul of the Shaman would depart from his body, either to ascend into the sky or to descend into the underworld.Various techniques served to induce the trance. Sometimes the Shaman would chant or beat a drum. Other times he would fast or retreat into isolation. Another practice: eating hallucinogenic plants. Researchers have documented more than 50 hallucinogenic plants used by Native Americans, including peyote and certain types of mushrooms.David Succec, an authority on Shaman practices, wrote that Shamans frequently traveled into the spiritual realm when treating patients suffering from physical ailments, …to consult or receive assistance in curing. According to many accounts, the images seen by the Shaman are symbolic or mystic in nature, not replications of the patients or their conditions, and suggest potential for success and methods for curing.Three kinds of spirits served as the Shaman’s sources of power. Helping spirits – plants, bugs, fish, animals, birds – were generally under the Shaman’s control. Guardian spirits could not be controlled, but guided and protected the Shaman by appearing as animals or mythological beings. Various gods could assist the Shaman, but he never controlled them.The rock art we see today very possibly served a sacred function, especially those that depict a Shaman. The headdress may have been a symbol of the Shaman’s power, lines drawn away from him representing the extension of his power into the world.
Other rock art panels conceivably represent spirits, either physical or spiritual, aiding the Shaman in his work.
Initiation into a Shaman’s role as a holy man or a mighty miracle he performed are apparently depicted in rock art as well. The panels may have adorned a sacred spot, much like stained glass windows mark modern churches.
It’s all speculation, of course; rock art enjoys no official interpretation. Where one man sees a holy man another sees a space alien, and neither can prove the other wrong.
Some mysteries are more fun when left unsolved.