The Vortexes of Native American Culture and Cultural Misappropriation
Vortexes (or vortices) are believed to be spots on the earth where unidentified energy is said to either enter into, or project out from the land, and many believe these energies travel through humans present at these places. So called “Vortex sites” have been labeled throughout the world, for example: the Great Pyramid in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge in England, Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia, the Sedona desert, and Oregon in the United States.
The word ‘vortex’ describes a whirling mass of fluid or air, most often applied in fluid dynamics, and in a scientific context it describes how flow revolves around a straight or curved axis line. Vortices are whipped up in stirred fluids, but also in smoke rings, and they are measured in the winds surrounding tropical cyclones, tornados and dust devils. A vortex in transit carries angular and linear momentum, energy, and mass with it, and it is because of these spiraling properties and shifts in energy that the term “Vortex Sites” has become applied to certain archaeological sites, and perhaps the world’s number one collection of Vortex Sites is to be found at Sedeona.
Confusing Vortexes With Spirits, And Heat With Hope
With its stunning red buttes, towering monoliths and lush forests, that today serve to add frills to what is a retirement and tourism community of the rich, anyone who has visited Sedona is aware of the word “vortex” which is often used on signage to describe striking geological features within this region. Located at the lower end of Arizona’s spectacular Oak Creek Canyon many believe the “Bell Rock Vortex” was created by an alien civilization who installed "a giant crystal beneath Bell Rock,” and even further out on the fringes other claim the vast time worn geological feature itself, is an up-turned UFO.
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With an elevation of 1,499 meters (4,919 feet) Bell Rock is a well-known “butte” located just west of Courthouse Butte, north of the Village of Oak Creek, Arizona, south of Sedona in Yavapai County. (kwphotog / Adobe Stock)
Many New Age followers maintain Bell Rock is “a transdimensional portal,” and many have been told to look out for and have therefore subsequently experienced then reported a range of fluctuations in “energy” when visiting this site. Of course, any actual vortexes that are felt are caused by swirls of warm dusty air forming in channels of cooler air.
By sitting at these sites and being still for only a short period of time, one can actually feel these vortexes of dusty wind swirling around their entire selves, and it is no wonder that by tweaking ones perception of the occurrence, notions of other dimensions might arise. But where did the term vortex first become associated with the famous geological sites of Arizona?
In 2015, Dr Pete Andrew Sanders Jr., a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with degrees in biomedical chemistry, brain science and physiological psychology, who lives in Sedona, told Red Rock News that “The word vortex is misleading and this site is more accurately described as “meditative,” having been visited for decades.”
Before this, in his 1981 book and in his 2014 DVD titled Scientific Vortex Information, Sanders said the word vortex was first coined by him in 1979 to describe was he termed as “meditative sites.”
Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that can encourage a heightened state of awareness, which can cause changes in consciousness that have been shown to have a wide number of benefits on psychological wellbeing. But what does the word “meditative” mean in the context of big rocks?
What Are Native American Sacred Sites and Landscapes?
A pattern underlying all “vortex” sites is that they were all at one time sacred sites of native American cultures. Native American “sacred sites” are located on pre-Colombian landscapes of geological, biological, cultural and geographical significance.
A burial ground is a sacred site and the hill where the burial ground is located is a sacred place. Where the mountain range that the hill is located on is also part of a greater sacred landscape. However, while in written words each of these features is separate, in Native American cosmology they are all integrally interconnected to each other as a whole.
This interpretation comes from a justice.gov publication called Native American Sacred Sites and the Federal Government, which also says sacred sites are often associated with a specific location or with larger traditional cultural landscapes, or large geographic landscapes.
Sacred places are particular sites, areas, and/or landscapes possessing one or more attributes that distinguish them as extraordinary or significant, usually in a religious or spiritual sense. Greater sacred cultural landscapes have special meaning for people that have a longstanding or historical association/ relationship within a particular region. How any individual tribe defines a sacred site, place or landscape varies with location and culture.
The words used in the government document to describe these sacred locations are: “ awe, mystery, power, fascination, attraction, oneness, danger, healing, ritual, identity, revelation, transformation, history, and/or tragedy.”
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The Sinagua people of southern Arizona built elaborate cliff dwellings beginning around 600 AD, including Honanki and Palatki, which are situated northwest of Sedona and Montezuma Caste near modern-day Camp Verde. The Sinagua vanished around 1400 AD. Sinagua settlements are generally located on the perimeter of the “vortex” territory and most archaeologists believe they regarded the Sedona region as sacred territory and that they traveled to the Red Rock area to perform rituals, sacred rites and ceremonies.
While the Sinagua never used the word vortex, it was popularized across the United States in the 1970s and this New Age term was boosted in 1979 when psychic Page Bryant identified four high energy meditation sites and the first was the “Bell Rock vortex.”
The second site identified as being a high energy meditation site was the so-called “Cathedral Rock vortex” located near Bell Rock.
The third site was the “Airport vortex” located on a knoll between Cooks Hill and Airport Mesa.
The “Boynton vortex“ in Boynton Canyon just north of Enchantment Resort was the fourth psychically charged site.
Together, these four sacred sites are known as the “Sedona vortices.”
Cathedral Rock in Red Rock State Park. (JSirlin / Adobe Stock)
In the world of science, a vortex represents swirling substances. However according to Visitsedona.com , a vortex is:
“a special spot on the earth where energy is either entering into the earth or projecting out of the earth’s plane at sacred sites throughout the world, for example: the Great Pyramid in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali, Stonehenge, Ayers Rock in Australia, etc.”
Furthermore, New Age followers believe “vortex energies” move in either upward or downward spirals. While Bryant described vortexes as “electric, magnetic or electromagnetic,” others use the terms such as male or female and yin and yang or positive or negative.
However, Dr Sanders states these terms are misleading as there are “no measurable electric nor magnetic fields located at the sites.” Instead, he prefers to use the terms “inflow” and "outflow.”
Outflow sites according to Sanders, are:
“electric or masculine meditation sites like mountain tops and mesa tops, like Bell Rock and Airport Mesa, which both enhance meditation and prayer and give visitors a view of the surrounding area that psychologically gives people perspective, makes personal problems seem smaller and feel more manageable.”
On the other hand, inflow sites are described by Sanders as being generally located in valleys, canyons and caves and are beneficial for introspection. This would include sites such as Red Rock Crossing at Crescent Moon Ranch Recreation Area, Creekside near Sedona ’s resorts, or the narrow canyons off Dry Creek Road.
These areas “filter out” the distractions of the outer world, directing one ’s focus to the immediate surroundings, and, ultimately, boost the significance of individual self in respect to the larger world. These locations help visitors go inward and enhance meditation, introspection and contemplation, said Sanders.
Inflow sites help people heal hurts from their past and gain insight into their life and purpose.
Sanders also said that people:
“don’t need to have spiritual guides or gurus to experience meditative powers around Sedona. Hiking guides can help people reach the Sedona vortex locations but the benefits of a meditative experience is up to the individual to discover themselves.”
Panoramic overlook of Sedona Arizona with Capitol Butte and Coffeepot Rock in the background. (George Schmiesing / Adobe Stock)
Believers have reported that Sedona ’s meditation sites make it easier to pray, contemplate, reduce stress and heal the mind and body in much the same way other people experience at churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other outdoor sacred sites.
However, sometimes things go really wrong at these vortex sites. On Oct 15, 2009, The Guardian published an article called A New Age tragedy in Sedona after a “spiritual warrior retreat,” led by New Age self-help expert James Arthur Ray, saw two people dying in a deceptive “sweat lodge ceremony” that also sickened a further 20 “truth seekers.”
The question that rises from this is: Now that it is clearly inappropriate, when does it become deemed as totally inappropriate for affluent American spiritual tourists to continue commercializing ancient Native American culture?
An example of the Arizona vortexes going beyond “accepted” boundaries is the commercialization of “ Ray's weeklong event in Sedona” costing each participant $10,000 to partake in real Indian ceremonies.” Naturally, Visa and MasterCard are perfectly accepted payment forms for this so-called “spiritual experience,” according to the Guardian article.
Where “Beliefs” Are Permitted To Work Like Facts
While the Sedona sites are perhaps the most famous, America’s fascination with New Age vortices was first cashed in upon way back in 1930 when the “Oregon Vortex“ was opened to the public, for a fee.
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Today, this circular area with its “Unique Phenomena” promises paying visitors the following in its guidebook:
“a glimpse of a strange world where the improbable is the commonplace and everyday physical facts are reversed. It is an area of naturally occurring visual and perceptual phenomena, which can be captured on film. No matter your education or profession you will find a challenge to all your accepted theories.”
“The Oregon Vortex” is a roadside attraction that opened to tourists in 1930 on Sardine Creek in Gold Hill, Oregon, in the United States. Features like “gravity hill optical illusions,” are presented as paranormal where they are clearly perceptional games. (James Wellington from Cottage Grove, United States / CC BY 2.0)
Another way to enhance sales at vortex sites such as Sedona and Oregon is to say something about adhering to the scientific method and supplying paying guests with “scientific information.” The good thing here is that when someone believes in “vortexes” ipso facto they will likely know very little about actual science so one can fill their heads with disinformation pretty easily.
This is how the Oregon vortex throws science into their broth to thicken the soup:
“A vortex, essentially a whirlpool of force, is the basic form of our universe. From our galaxy, whose vortex form we see as the countless suns of the Milky Way, throughout the gravitational vortex of our solar system, down to the vortex of an atom, the vortex form recurs throughout our world structure. The Phenomena that gives [sic] The Oregon Vortex its name are evident throughout the entire area. Nowhere in the circle do you normally stand erect. Inevitably the visitor assumes a posture that inclines toward magnetic north. The corona of The Vortex, as well as the minor vortices, discovered during the continuous study of The Vortex, am among the unique phenomena to be observed here. As another person, on a level platform, recedes from you towards magnetic south, they appear taller. When they approach you, coming towards magnetic north, they become shorter. This is contrary to the laws of perspective, as we know it, and must be seen to be believed”.
After 90 years of business the Oregon Vortex was negatively affected by Covid-19. However, as travel restrictions lift, they are offering private reservations to the general public with social distancing measures.
Cynics among you may sneer that on the Vortex website the owners state that: “Private reservations will include one hour in the Vortex area and thirty minutes in the gift shop with a guide.” But no matter how the famous Oregon Vortex fights, the business is struggling, and it is currently up for sale for $3.5 million! This is what vortexes are worth these days.
For many there is nothing unexplainable whatsoever about the phenomena seen near the town of Gold Hill, Oregon, and the entire geographical mystery is no more than hype. However, such folk might be careful about throwing the baby out with the bath water as this location does actually have some curious natural factors that are observed at another vortex sites, which result in similar optical illusions.
I have personally driven a car down Scotland’s “Electric Brae” where the angle of the road and the hillside creates the illusion of driving uphill when going down, and vice versa, and where a freewheeling vehicle will appear to be drawn uphill by some mysterious attraction. So intense is this illusion, or “Vortex” that during the Second World War General Dwight D Eisenhower took visitors to see the phenomenon with many other American personnel from the airbase at Prestwick.
With sites such as Scotland’s Elecrtic Brae, and Sedona’s Vortexes, one must let the creative imagination go, let it swirl with the winds, and only then can the perceived other dimensions, planes of reality, and states of being be enjoyed. Luther Standing Bear, writing in the 1930s, noted:
“The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth… The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing… Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night he was safe with her.”
No matter how much this is written about, the “vortexes” will continue to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Top image: Bell Rock vortex (left) and Courthouse Butte (right). (JSirlin / Adobe Stock)
By Ashley Cowie
P. A. Sanders. (November 27, 2015). Red Rock News. Read online here: http://www.redrocknews.com/2015/11/27/sanders-scientifically-explains-se...
P. A. Sanders. (1981). “Scientific Vortex Information”. Read online here:http://energy-vortex-locations.fflys.com/energy-vortex-sites
(02.16.2018). Native American Sacred Sites and the Federal Government. Read online here. https://www.justice.gov/file/952031/download.
Sandford, J. Page Bryant, psychic who identified Sedona and Asheville vortexes, dies. News obit, AshVagas. Read online here: https://ashvegas.com/news-obit-page-bryant-psychic-who-identified-sedona....
“What is a vortex?” Visit Sedona Website. Read online here. https://visitsedona.com/spiritual-wellness/what-is-a-vortex/#:~:text=is%....
Flynn. J, P. (Oct 15, 2009). A New Age tragedy in Sedona. The Guardian. Read online here. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/oct/15/sedona-swea...
Oregon Vortex. Read online here. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/private-tours-of-the-oregon-vortex-and-the-...
Alexander, Marc (2002). A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain. Sutton Publishing.