As happened on several occasions during the making of this album, just when I was looking for inspiration for a lyric, the ideal material was presented to me quite unexpectedly. On this occasion, I was in the very early stages of working with some Native American tribal rhythms when Shane and May Beck (who have become e-mail friends since the release of my first album) sent me a photo from a recent visit to Superstition Mountain in Arizona.
Even from the small picture, it seemed that there was a special aura surrounding this mountain, and I asked Shane & May for any information they had. The web links they sent me, and other research which I undertook, gave me an insight into the way in which mountains have long been a central focus for the life-pervading beliefs and superstitions of the native tribes of the American south west.
The Apache and Navajo believe in the powerful ‘Gan’ (or ‘Gahan’) mountain spirits. They invoke them with a nocturnal dance around a huge bonfire in which four dancers representing the Gan, one from each of the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) circle the fire in a ritual of purification and reverence.
The desert lands surrounding the mountain are arid and hostile, making prayers for rain an essential part of tribal devotions. Thunder and lightning, whose occurence across the mountains and desert region can be particularly dramatic, are venerated as bringers of rain, and lightning is closely associated with snake imagery by the Hopi.
In Hopi culture, mountain dwelling supernatural beings called ‘Kachinas’ are believed to be protectors of the people and are asked to ensure the fertility of their land for successful crops. The Kachinas are also represented in ceremonial dances, during which the dancers believe they actually become the Kachinas they portray.
The mountain range to the east of what is today the city of Phoenix, Arizona, is now known as Superstition Mountains, with Superstition Mountain itself being the most prominent peak. This mountain is known to the Pima tribe as ‘Kakatak Tamai’ (which translates as ‘Crooked-top Mountain’) and it is central to their flood legend in which the Earth Maker decided to drown all evil people to cleanse the Earth.
The Earth Maker sent warning messages to the people to be honest and live in peace, first on a north wind and then on winds from the east, west and south. The prophet Suhu was entrusted with the task of leading the good people to safety by taking them to the summit of Kakatak Tamai. Then storms blew up from the east and rains fell for two moons, drowning all those who had not heeded the warnings and followed Suhu. Once the flood subsided, the good were able to return to the now fertile soils surrounding the mountain, and discovered that the evil people who had perished in the flood had been turned to stone. It is said that the outlines of the stone people remain clearly visible in the rock faces, still imploring the gods to release them from their fate.
My special thanks to Shane and May Beck. Shane and May run their own website dedicated to artists whose work they admire. They correspond with many of these artisits and give interesting personal insights. Visit :-www.djinnsphere.com
© Peter Ulrich 2005