Layers of Time: Land, People, Cosmos

The lifeblood of Austin, originally called Waterloo, has always been its swimming holes, creek filled bastions pausing on their way to the Colorado River that bisects the town. Cold, clear springs bubble forth saving grace during scorching Texas summers. Layers of limestone, sea creature shells laid down in an ancient shallow sea, like sugar at the bottom of a glass of iced tea, inch by inch for thousands upon thousands of years, now shape high cliffs and sculpted creek bottoms.

The land, built from tiny calcium shells, eventually lifted out from a receding shallow sea forming the Edward’s Plateau. Now vegetated, and made porous by rain, these limestone layers filter, purify, and collect water in a vast underground network, the Edwards Aquifer. The water flowing through the aquifer then rises again, sometimes thousands of years later, to the surface in springs, made crisp, clean, and delightfully cold by their condensed journey through time.

The four fountain springs of Texas: Barton’s, San Marcos, Comal, and San Antonio, trace a gentle Southeast facing arc along the Balcones Escarpment and fault line, where the limestone uplift of the Edward’s Plateau stair steps down to the coastal plains, releasing water from it’s aquifer catacombs.

Held sacred for purification by the Tonkawa Indians, and frequented by Comanches, Lipan Apaches, Coahuiltecans, and herds of wild horses, the springs of Central Texas have long provided nourishment, both spiritual and physical. Today, diverse tribes gathered within the umbrella of Native American Church know these places by the Payaya tribe name, Yanaguana, or spirit waters, the birthplace of their people.

The central ceremony of the Native American Church retells their creation story, following a deer into the underworld seeking the first sun rise, and out again, born from the Mother’s breaking waters, Yanaguana. After the first sunrise the sun kills the deer to feed the people. [1]

This may seem a harsh fate for such a faithful guide, but understanding the deer’s true identity reveals an entirely new layer of knowledge embedded in the story. The deer is Venus, guiding the people through the underworld of the night as the evening star, only to re-emerge as the morning star.

Before Venus rises as the morning star, she and Sun ran toward each other across the night like long lost lovers. She disappears into his embrace for a couple weeks but then keeps on running out the other side and he proceeds away from her too. This is when she rises as the morning star where she spends about 9 months. As the morning star, she is eaten every day by the rising Sun’s brightness.

Even as the distance between them mounts, Sun still chases her into the morning sky engulfing her in his brightness. Thus the sun kills the deer every morning during her tenure as morning star. She gets up a little earlier than him each morning though, quickly adding up moments of solo sky glory before he rises. Eventually she has had enough time on the stage and she starts to miss him. So she slows down and starts getting up a little later, just so she can be closer to him again.

They meet again, Venus disappearing into Sun’s embrace as he swings her privately to his far side, out of the Earth’s prying line of vision, for a two month slow dance. But two months is her limit. She stays up a little later than him each night, enjoying the shine of her skin against the deep velvet blackness, sharing her bright beauty with Earthly admirers, and soaking in the glory of their attentions.

As the evening star the distance between Venus and Sun grows more slowly, but once again she begins to miss him. Once again she pauses and turns around and Sun comes to meet her. They begin going to bed a closer and closer each evening. She disappears into his embrace again, only for a week or two this time, as she swings quickly between the Sun and Earth. The gentle brush of her closest approach, swells the tides of Earth’s ocean heart only second to the power of Sun and Moon. And when the Sun, Moon, and Venus align with her, Earth can barely contain her surging waters, both tides and springs.

Just as new and full moons swell Earth’s waters to extremes, Venus is the next most gravitationally influential planet for Earth, so when she dances between Sun and Earth just before her morning star appearance, while the moon is full or new she gives the waters a little extra oomph to make the highest spring fountains, to break the waters of the earth and birth the people and the first sunrise.

The complex astronomical knowledge embedded in the creation story describes the intertwining Sun, Moon, and Venus cycles from which a long-term calendar paralleling the Mayan calendar emerges.

Moon cycles and Earth cycles fit nicely together, with about thirteen 28-day moon cycles in one 365-day year. The orbits of Venus and Earth do not fit together so nicely however, stretching their dance into longer and longer times seeking a common cycle. It takes Venus only 225 days to go around the sun, but it takes 584 days between her appearances as the morning star. She spends nine months as the evening star and nine months as the morning star with some back stage time to freshen up between roles.

Venus

The Pentagram of Venus:  The path traced out by Venus around Earth.

Only after five morning star appearances, tracing out a five cartoids interlocking into a five petaled flower around the Earth,[2] over the course of eight Earth years (thirteen Venus years) does she rise in almost the same place against the backdrop of fixed stars once again. To return to the exact same place takes 1,215 years as her five petaled progression of morning star rising position against the fixed back drop of stars rotates only 2 -3 degrees with every eight year cycle.

While there may be resonances with the Mayan calendar in this Native American creation story, the Native American story may be the ancestor of the Mayan astronomical knowledge. The Mayans flourished about 2000 years ago, but 4000 year old rock art in present day Texas suggest this knowledge might be older than the Mayans.

A huge, complex, 4000 yr old rock art mural a few hundred miles west of the springs above the intersection of the Rio Grande and Pecos River offers symbolism resonant with both the astronomical and mythological themes of the surviving creation story. The mural is known as the White Shaman panel, due to a prominent white figure in the center of the piece. While many contemporary archeologists deny our ability to interpret such an ancient piece of art, for those in dialog with surviving Native peoples, the meanings of the symbolism seems more obvious.

The Huichol, or Wixáritari in their own language, native peoples of Western Mexico are one such tribe that managed to survive the ravages of colonialism by retreating to the mountains. When Dr. Carolyn Boyd, an archeologist studying the White Shaman panel, took some Huichol elders to see it, they wept, recognizing their grandfathers from many generations ago. [3]

In addition to offering symbolism that connects with a current native creation story embedded with complex astronomical knowledge, the ancient mural also seems to be a map of Texas, with an accurate depiction of the locations of the four fountain springs, Yanaguana, people’s birthplace, curving along the Balcones Escarpment.[4] Here the Earth’s waters broke when the Moon, Venus, and Sun aligned before the first sunrise.

This mural, and the surviving creation story are perfect examples of many scales of time all layered within one story. From the timelessness of creation, to the extended intertwinings of various scales of astronomical cycles, all retold against the backdrop of the land journey undertaken to gather Yanaguana and purify oneself for ceremony, and relived within one night of ceremony. Thus memories of vast cycles of time are carried forward in time through the eye of the needle present moment for millennia.

[1]Perez, Gary. 2013. “The Four Fountain Springs: Their Role in Pre-Columbian and Contemporary Indigenous Cultures.” Barton Springs University. August 10, 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j__jS0dqJpI

[2] Animation of Venus’ dance around earth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4nI3Ky8mhj8

[3]Perez, Gary. 2013. “The Four Fountain Springs: Their Role in Pre-Columbian and Contemporary Indigenous Cultures.” Barton Springs University. August 10, 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j__jS0dqJpI 

[4] ibid.

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Texture of Time: A Fractal Topology.”

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