The Spiritual World: Ritual Objects in Pre-Columbian Americas

The gallery of Pre-Columbian art features pieces pertaining to rituals and ceremonial practices within  each culture.  Pre-Columbian civilizations, the aboriginal American Indian cultures that evolved in Mesoamerica (part of Mexico and Central America) and the Andean region (western South America) prior to Spanish exploration and conquest in the 16th century (“pre-Columbian civilizations”). The pre-columbian civilizations were extraordinary developments in human society and culture, ranking with the early civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China ("pre-Columbian civilizations"). Like the ancient civilizations of the Old World, those in the New World were characterized by the kingdoms and empires, great monuments and cities, and refinement sin the arts, metallurgy, and writing ("pre-Columbian civilizations").  This gallery will focus on the ritual and ceremonial aspect within the culture’s art. These ritual or ceremonial practices either marked a rite of passage in human life, initiation, puberty, graduation, death, burial, spiritual events, or weddings. They were depicted as events of communal worship. A few of these art pieces also involved sacrifice or offerings within the ritual or ceremonies itself.                     The artworks you will see are unique in their own way; for instance, the first art is the Otter pipe, which was used for spiritual purposes. There are three vessel art pieces, and a ceremonial seat; each important to the gallery. Lastly, the powerful, late Post- classic Aztec or Mexica culture in Mexico also produced some dramatically expressive works of art. These include the decorated skulls of captives and many impressive works of stone sculpture, og which Tlazolteotl, a goddess in childbirth, is a good example (“Art of the Maya”).     All of the artworks reflects the intense belief and pride by representing their culture’s social and religious faith in each geographical origin. The theme chosen, “The Spiritual World: Ritual Objects in Pre-Columbian Americas,” is relevant to the culture’s art within the gallery because of the significance each art piece was to ritual or ceremonial practices. My hope is to pay homage to each culture, and respectfully expressing each art piece’s importance.                                                                          "A History of the World in 100 Objects." British Museum. The British Museum. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.britishmuseum.org /explore /a_history_of_the_world /objects.aspx#69> oundless.                                     “Art of the Maya.” Survey of Non-Western Art. Boundless, 15 Apr. 2016. Retrieved 28 Apr. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/users/159928/textbooks/survey-of-non-western-art/native-american-art-before-1300-ce-16/mesoamerica-109/art-of-the-maya-487-53/          Denselow., Anthony. "A History of the World in 100 Objects." N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.                      "Jaguar Effigy Metate." Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.mfa.org /collections /object /jaguar-effigy-metate-516135>.                                                         "Museo Larco." Google Cultural Institute. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <https: / /www.google.com /culturalinstitute /collection /museo-larco?projectid="art-project">.                                    Pratap, Mohan, Dr., Shubha Banerji, and Vasundhra Sangwan. "Pottery from Ancient Peru." National Museum, New Delhi. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.                                       "pre-Columbian civilizations". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2016                                 "Sculptural Vessel Representing a Scene Depicting an Individual Emerging from a Mountain." Colección Museo De Arte De Lima. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

The bowl for the tobacco in this pipe is in the top of the otter's head, and there is a small hole at one end to breathe in the smoke. The pipe was made by Native Americans living in what is today the US state of Ohio. These Native Americans were small-scale farmers who built large burial and ceremonial mounds. This pipe was buried with 200 other pipes in a collection of mounds known as the 'Mound City Group'. What was the pipe used for? This pipe was not simply smoked for pleasure but probably had a religious function. A shaman may have smoked it to evoke the otter as a representative of his clan, or as a spirit guide who would then accompany the shaman on a spiritual journey. Tobacco has been smoked in North America for at least 2300 years and pipe smoking still remains an integral part of modern Native American culture. Tobacco was first brought to Europe in the early 1500s, where it quickly spread across Europe, Africa and Asia (Denselow)
This ceramic bowl represents a jaguar attacking a deer. This is a scene in which the savage herbivore is subjected to the strong carnivore; the blood of the deer being offered for the life to continue. Interestingly, the artist who modeled this action precisely located the scene between the interior and exterior of the bowl, and joining the upper and lower sections of the bowl. The confrontation of these animals happens in a liminal space, symbolically represented by the contours of the bowl, linking elements that although being opposites, are also complementary, like life and death. This topic of the deer hunt is present in the Andean world since pre-ceramic times. At the site of Ventarrón, in the department of Lambayeque, polychrome murals with 4500 years of age show the deer in captivity. Throughout the pre-Columbian history, the subject of deer hunting will continue as a metaphor for the life that is offered in sacrifice. The jaguar will be the expression of power. Gods and ancestors are represented in various styles of pre-Columbian art with the fangs of the jaguar as a symbol of their power ("Museo Larco").
The ceramic vessel depicts probably a shaman (priest) healer. The vessel has a wide spout on the top It has reddish brown slip, details of ornament and bag modeled and incised and painted in cream. The figure is depicted wearing a distinctive headdress which is decorated by two birds on two sides. It has been shown wearing a very interesting neck piece. He is holding ritualistic paraphernalia in his hands. The figure has been depicted wearing tubular earrings. Similar ear plugs can be found in the gold and silver Pre Columbian collection of National Museum (Pratap, Banerji, and Sangwan).
Apart from their role as a place for sacrifices, mountains were considered as sacred spaces by pre-Columbian societies. According to what is conveyed by Mochica iconography, different ritual activities would have been carried out in these spaces, which were interwoven with other mythological characters. In this Mochica III style of vessel, a character appears coming out of a cave in the mountains, and is surrounded by a two-headed serpent held by two mythological beings. The presence of land snails at the side of the mountain suggest that the scene takes place in an area with a humid environment ( "Sculptural Vessel Representing a Scene Depicting an Individual Emerging from a Mountain").
This carved metate, or ceremonial seat, is an excellent example of a rare sculptural style from northwestern Costa Rica or sourthern Nicaragua characterized by delicate, open-work carving and finely incised details. In the 16th century, the Spanish observed similar objects being used as funerary biers for the embalmed bodies of important individuals and as grinding stones for tobacco and other hallucinogenic plants used in religious, shamanic rites. They also describe the jaguar or puma image as a lineage or clan symbol. This feline’s ears are carved in the form of crocodiles, another lineage or clan symbol mentioned by the 16th-century Spanish. This “metate,” or ceremonial seat, is an excellent example of a rare sculptural style characterized by delicate, openwork carving and finely incised details. The sixteenth-century Spanish observed similar objects used as biers for the embalmed bodies of important individuals and as grinding stones for tobacco and other hallucinogenic plants. They described the jaguar or puma image as a lineage or clan symbol ("Jaguar Effigy Metate").
Sculpture of a goddess made by the Huastec people of Mexico, associated with the Aztec goddess of sexuality. This statue was made by the Huastecs, a people conquered by the Aztecs in about 1450. Goddess statues like this were erected throughout Huastec territory and were the main focus of their religion. Making statues of the gods was thought to be dangerous. Sculptors feared they or their families might die as a result, so they fasted and performed prayers and rituals before they began. The Aztecs identified the Huastec mother-goddess with their own goddess of fertility and sexuality, Tlazolteotl, and the two figures in some ways merged. What was the Aztec attitude to sin? Tlazolteotl was the goddess of filth worshipped throughout Mesoamerica. She was a goddess of sexuality and fertility who would devour excrement and sin and transform it into renewed vitality. Sex was highly regulated in Aztec society and sexual transgressions heavily punished. Some sexual misdemeanours were confessed to a priest of Tlazolteotl and were forgiven if the penitent worshipper underwent an appropriate penance. Usually they would shed their own blood as part of this, piercing their tongue, ears or penis with a stingray spine ("A History of the World in 100 Objects,")
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