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A Book About the Metaphysical Teachings
Of the Chumash Indians, by Dr. John Anderson


"The Chumash Indians were once the largest cultural group in California.

I wrote [a book called] Within the Abyss a number of years ago, to provide an overview of their rich and enigmatic religious teachings.

This booklet is taken form one chapter of this larger publication. It begins with a discussion of the 'encircled circle' and 'encircled cross' images, which play significant roles in Chumash rock art.

Through an assessment of these ritual icons, the reader is introduced to the complex subject of Being, i.e. how the world came into existence and how it was subsequently ordered.

An understanding of Chumash teachings on these subjects provides the reader with a benchmark for studying native theologies throughout the Western states." (J. Anderson, 1993)

Book Review by Father McCarthy

"A Circle Within the Abyss is a very fine introduction to one California Tribe's way of knowing their place on earth and within the larger universe. John Anderson gives us special insights into the meanings of ancient Chumash sacred stories and integrates them in such a way that they are most understandable for contemporary women and men. He has taken the words of both native informants and cultural specialists and made their wisdom and knowledge 'user-friendly' for all of us."

(Rev. Scott McCarthy, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Catholic Mission in Carmel, California).

[Chapter 1]

"California metaphysicians, like their Greek counterparts, described the world around them as a circle. It is filled with life and movement, including the motions of the stars in the heavens. Beyond this great 'circle of life' lies an immense void of incomprehensible depth. The spirit of philosophy caused them to ask who created all of this, when did it come into existence, and how is it governed?

The answer given by Chumash philosophers to these questions represented the thoughts of the largest native group in California. For this reason alone, there is much public interest in Chumash metaphysics.

In The Lizard's Tale I document remarkable similarities to cosmologies of other peoples of the region, such as the Pomo of the northern coast, as well as Penutian-speaking groups of the central valley and the Sierra Nevadas. Not surprisingly, links can also be shown to inland Southwest groups such as the Hopi and Zuni, as well as to ancient European and Asian metaphysics.

Only a tiny fragment of Chumash techological teachings has been passed down to us from antiquity. Centuries of religious persecution destroyed most of their spiritual art and silenced their public ceremonies.

Ethnographers such as John Harrington preserved fragments which had been handed down as prayers, songs, folktales, and commentaries of tantalizing richness. The task lies in rebuilding a metaphysical model, which unifies these segments. This construction process is worth the effort if the resulting synthesis throws new light upon Christian cosmology.

= = = = = = =

Let us begin our discussion with an examination of two religious symbols which survived into modern times because they were painted on remote rock outcroppings hidden in the interior Chumash mountains. Similar patterns are found all over the world, and are familiar to academics who call them the 'encircled circle' and 'encircled cross.'

Ethnographic sources do not provide explicit Chumash explanations or datings for these symbols, so we do not know with certainty when or why they were painted. After an extensive study of Chumash teachings, however, I am convinced that both symbols are cosmological in intent and of profound importance. The keys to understanding their symbolism lie in the Chumash beliefs about the World Axis

The World Axis first appeared at the beginning of the earth's creation, to maintain the cosmic balance. Anyone can confirm the existence of the Axis for themselves by simply stepping outside at night and looking at the stars.

They revolve around a central pivot. The top lies at the apex of the sky, at the North Star. This is the most pure place in the physical universe. Below Polaris are realms of descending purity, leading downward to the level of the earth. The Chumash believed that the Axis cuts through Iwihinmu mountain, at the earth's sacred center northwest of Los Angeles...

Chumash astronomers, like those of ancient Europe, looked around them and wondered why the earth did not revolve like the sky. It seemed fixed in place, unmoving.

To express this ordering of life on earth, the Chumash used the Encircled Cross to symbolize the cosmic forces which seized the earth in mythic times and stopped it from revolving with the upper worlds. Supernatural powers dwelling in Polaris (in the north sky) and Sirius (in the south sky) were the dominant forces of order, maintaining the north-south line of the cross. The changing path of the sun, moving from east to west, regulated the weaker east-west line. Combined, they divided the earth into four quarters." [page 9]


ABYSS "The Chumash term Alampauwauhani refers to the limitless abyss, out of which the Creator established order. The term Abyss has a Greek root, meaning bottomless. Many cultures use equivalent terms to refer to infinite space, which was the realm of the Creator prior to the manifestation of the physical world. When only the Originator existed, all of space was without limit and thus beyond human understanding. The manifestation of the heavenly axis gave definition to 'place' (ordered spatial relationship) and therefore 'space' was defined only after this seminal act of establishing cosmic dimensionality.

WINNOWING OF SOULSWhen Kitsepawit teaches that "all life on this earth is a circle, an eddy within the Abyss," he reminds us of a Hindu spiritual leader discussing the theory of Karma and rebirth. Human souls, Kitsepawit cautioned, are like the stars in the night sky. Each is differentiated in a "winnowing" process in which some souls move up and some move down in the cosmic levels" (from chapter one).


A Newspaper Review

"This slim little booklet, while resembling an hors d'oeuvre, is a full-course dinner, providing such food for thought as to send the reader on to further courses." (Valle Novak, review from the Daily Bee newspaper, North Idaho, November 1993)

For information on ordering this text, see the link called Mythology Books

For Native California Organizations With Historical Ties To the Chumash contact:

The Bakersfield Chumash Council (Bakersfield), the Kern Valley Indian Association (Kernville), the Tule River Indian Reservation (Box 589, Porterville, 93257; Yokuts from Tejon were exiled to this reservation), and the Santa Ynez Chumash Reservation (Tejon Chumash went to Bakersfield, and also to the coast. Here, they scattered among all the surviving Chumash communities. The Santa Ynez Reservation, Box 517, Santa Ynez, 93460, is the only contemporary Chumash group with federal recognition and a land base; ask for information about the numerous other contemporary Chumash associations).

AmDes Publishing, 81 Lost Horse Lane, Sandpoint, ID, 83864

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