Northern Cross and the Birth of Shamanism: A Southeastern Mystery Story - Part II
Solving the Riddle of the Rock Piles: The first layers author Jim Willis and his wife removed from rock piles on their property seemed to consist of large stones piled on top of one another roughly in the shape of a circle…
The deeper we went, the smaller the rocks became. If these piles were agricultural in nature one would think that they would show just the opposite tendency. The usual custom involves placing the big ones in a convenient location and gradually adding smaller stones as the pile grows taller. The location of the biggest rocks in the field would tend to mark where the piles would be in the first place. Why move the biggest ones when you can just build around them?
[Read Part 1 Here]
This brings up another point - location. Many of the rock piles in our area are found near the top of a ridge, usually facing east toward the rising sun. This might be because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to roll rocks all the way down a hill if you’re planning to use them later. You would probably want to just clear the part you might later be plowing. That’s usually the flat top. But while we were working we couldn't help but notice that it was often very pleasant to just sit and admire the view of the valley below. They offered a very nice working environment.
Building Up Tradition
It was when we approached the bottom of the piles, some two or three feet down, when questions arose. The stones often got smaller and smaller, until we began to discover a floor of rock chips that had obviously been worked by human crafters. Lithic debitage is the proper name. Stone debris. The implication seems to be that the ancient ones who made stone tools came to convenient places such as these in order to excavate their raw material, choosing a nice, comfortable place to work while they sliced and chipped the rocks into serviceable blanks from which to strike tools.
Neolithic Debitage (Chert) (The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum/CC BY-SA 2.0)
From all this developed our admittedly un-professional theory of rock piles. It begins thousands of years ago when the ancient ones found a source of good stone from which to quarry blanks for making tools. It just seems to make sense that an ancient crafter would sit at a place with a nice view as his apprentices brought him raw material to work up. After many years and lots of trips back to the quarry, he would have built up quite a pile of rock chips. Later on, when one of his descendants, removed by hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, came back to this traditional place, he might have developed the habit of throwing another rock on the growing pile, perhaps saying to himself something like, “same time next season,” or something to that effect. After a while, it would become tradition, and later maybe even superstition. Layers of history would have been piled up, similar to other traditional customs carried out by families everywhere.
The ’head’ of Rock Hawk Effigy Mound in Putnam Co, Georgia, USA (Public Domain)
Then along came Europeans, completely ignorant of native traditions. All they saw was a pile of rocks. They wanted to clear this land to make it easier to work, but it was covered with stones.
“Let’s clean them up.”
“Sure, but where do you want to pile them?”
“How about over on this pile that’s someone’s already started?”
And so it went. Thousands of years later, we are faced with the "problem" of rock piles. Of such mysteries, archeological arguments are born and continue to fascinate.
Making the Connections: As Above, So Below
As I wrote in my book, Ancient Gods: Lost Histories, Hidden Truths and the Conspiracy of Silence, however, the story now takes quite a different turn. In our search for meaning behind these rock piles my wife and I invited a surveyor friend to use his high-tech equipment to plot some of the curious clusters of stone piles we found in the course of our walks through the woods around our home. We were interested to see if there might be any lines or connections between them. After plotting them on a topographical map they formed a familiar icon.
We were immediately intrigued. Although I've been an ordained minister all my life I did not associate this pattern only with the Christian church. During the dark nights of December we have formed the habit of stepping outside to look at another cross, the Northern Cross— sometimes called the Christmas Cross— that stands low in the northwest sky in December. We were so taken with the similarity between our rock piles and what we observed in the heavens that we called up a constellation chart on our computer and printed out the results. When we overlaid them, one on top of the other, we were amazed. They fit perfectly!
Topographical map showing GPS locations of five rock piles in western South Carolina. A sixth pile seems to have been destroyed by the building of a woods road. The Northern Cross configuration can be seen from above. (Via author/ GoogleEarth 2015)
Star chart showing location of the six stars that form the Northern Cross. (Janne/CC BY-SA 2.0;Deriv)
The Northern Cross
The cross is an ancient symbol, predating the Roman/Christian connection. Its roots go back to the beginning of symbolic thought, picturing the marriage of heaven/earth and male/female, all coming together at the heart. Could the old ones who used to live here have had this same thought and replicated the great Mystery here in our back yard? If so, they predated in stone the meaning of the familiar prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. They were in complete harmony with the ancient doctrine found from Egypt to Mesoamerica: As above, so below.
When we put this together with the fact that a "bird cult" existed right across the Savannah River from us, as evidenced by the Eagle and Hawk Effigy Mounds found in nearby Georgia, we were excited, to say the least. In some cultures Cygnus is pictured as a swan. In others it is a hawk, eagle or condor.
Rock Eagle Effigy Mount (csmith/dbb1/CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Birth of Symbolic Thinking
We immediately contacted Andrew Collins, a man who has done more work than anyone on the Cygnus mystery. He directed us to some of his work which seems to echo what we had found. In The Cygnus Mystery, Collins reminded us that Carl Sagan, way back in 1973, first suggested that cosmic rays from a neutron star might have played a part in the sudden evolutionary jump humans took some 40,000 years ago. This is when human beings biologically similar to us suddenly felt the urge to enter the great painted caves of Europe to vividly illustrate what we now call symbolic thinking or religious thought. It was the birth of ancient Shamanism. A star in Cygnus seems to be the best candidate for this event.
When the neutron bath from that distant constellation reached us 40,000 years ago, did our ancestors around the world somehow know something was happening to them? Is that when the religious mythology of the Cygnus the Swan and the Northern Cross first became so critically important to us?
Cygnus the Swan c.1825. Surrounding it are Lacerta, Vulpecula and Lyra. (Public Domain)
All this is circumstantial, to say the least. But it raises some interesting thoughts on a moonlit night as we gaze at the sky and wonder about people who once lived in what is now our backyard.
Jim Willis is author of nine books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over forty years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of Ancient Gods: Lost Histories, Hidden Truths, and the Conspiracy of Silence , and the upcoming Supernatural Gods: Spiritual Mysteries, Psychic Experiences, and Scientific Truths
Top Image: Image of the North America Nebula, an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus, close to Deneb (the tail of the swan and its brightest star) (Gianni/CC BY 2.0), and Swan (Ari Helminen/CC BY 2.0); Deriv.
By Jim Willis
Collins, Andrew. The Cygnus Mystery, [Online] Available at: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_cygnus02.htm.
Gresham, Thomas H. Historic Patterns of Rock Piles and the Rock Pile Problems, in Early Georgia, Volume 18. [Online] Available at: http://thesga.org/wp-content/uploads/1990/11/gresham_historic_rock_piling.pdf.
Williams, Mark. Rock Mounds and Structures. New Georgia Encyclopedia. 21 August 2013. Web. 26 April 2017.
Willis, Jim. Ancient Gods: Lost Histories, Hidden Truths and the Conspiracy of Silence. Detroit, MI, Visible Ink Press, 2016.
Willis, Jim: Supernatural Gods: Spiritual Mysteries, Psychic Experiences, and Scientific Truths. Detroit, MI, Visible Ink Press, 2017.)