Dec 252014
 

The sky has been an important indicator of what is happening and what will happen on earth for ancient peoples all over the world for as long as man has possessed the curiosity to look up.  The movement of the sun across the horizon and back throughout the year, has been especially important as an indicator and predictor of the seasons.  On December 21st, 2014 the sun travelled as far south as it would go, rose for three days in the same place and then started its journey north again.  That day marked the “Winter Solstice” (“Solstice” means “sun standstill”), the day with the longest night and shortest day of the year.    The cultures of the Americas observed this very special day in many different ways, but for all, it was time of great portents.  For what if the sun decided to continue its journey south?

Mar 072013
 
Hutash — Chumash sunstick
 
Part 4: The Chumash Winter Solstice Ceremony
 
After the season of Hutash (autumn), the Chumash people became more and more fearful as the winter solsctice approached (around December 20th each year).  Guided by their astronomer/priest, the Alchuklash, and his twelve helpers, everyone participated in preparing for the winter solstice ceremony.  All the powers of the individual and the supernatural powers of the priests would be required to stop Sun from his journey south and turn him back to them.   Over many years of observing, they knew that the sun would rise and set at the same spot for two days before starting its progression back north.  So the winster solstice ceremony lasted for two days.
On the first day of winter solstice, the Antap (the Alchuklash and assistants of the various Chumash villages), prepared for the ceremony by digging a hole in the plaza where they would place a Hutash (sunstick, refer to Part 3) the next day.
Feb 212013
 


 
Part 2: The Alchuklash

The ancient Chumash Indians of Southern California (see Part 1), relied on their astronomer/priests to guide them in their daily lives and to protect the harmony of their world.  Each village had an astronomer/priest called the “Alchuklash” who possessed the ability to read the sky and make predictions; exert influence over the forces of nature through their connections with the heavens; resolve or preserve the peace among the villages; heal the sick; control the weather; and on and on.  For instance, at birth the Alchuklash would be on hand to name the child based upon the stars.  He had the power to bring rain or turn away storms.  The Alchuklash did this through his knowledge of the stars, sun, and moon similar to the way astrology is used to tell our fortune today.  Their ability and responsibilities gave them great power in their communities.

As Ray A. Williamson put it in his book “Living the Sky”, “The Alchuklash conducted their lives and made their observations of the skies under the basic assumption that the world of humans and everything else in the world were inextricably bound together.  The appropriate human actions could influence the workings of the rest of the cosmos, and vice versa.”
The greatest force in the sky was the sun.  The Chumash name for the sun meant “radiance of a child born on the winter solstice”.  From “Living the Sky, “The sun lived in the Upper World with his two daughters in a house made of quartz crystal.  His wives were the morning and evening stars.  In his daily travels across the sky, he not only carred the sun torch to light the world but also preyed on humans below.  His only clothing was a feather band around his head, into which he would stuff an occasional Chumash child as he traveled.  …  After reaching his house again at sunset, Sun would dine on the humans he chanced to gather up during the day.

“… Sun was a powerful being who brought life in the form of heat and light but could also bring death – presumably to those who deserved it, for he served as a moral symbol as well. ‘Never do anything that is prejudicial or unlawful and think that no one will see you,’ said the Chumash, ‘For while the sun is shining, an eye is here … .’”
The winter solstice was a time of great foreboding for the Chumash as it was for most ancient cultures.  The autumn equinox was a day of perfect balance – the day and the night were of equal length.  But each day after that, night became more dominant and days grew shorter.  Each day the sun traveled further and further south and left in its wake colder and more dreary weather.  Every year the Chumash relied on the Alchuklash to do something to stop the sun from leaving them for good.  They depended upon their astronomer/priests to stop the sun, turn him around and encourage him to start his travels northward again.
In the next segment of “How the Chumash turned the wayward sun around”, we will look at how the Alchuklash prepared for the winter solstice so that they could influence to the sun to turn around.
 
 
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