Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Born of the Earth (Article)

Earth worship is often expressed by revering that which comes from the Earth, i.e. the soil, clay, peebles, crystals, metals and stones.

Archaeological evidence of this type of worship extends back into the Paleolithic but sharply increases beginning in the Neolithic. The practice of raising megaliths-- free-standing stones -- for example, might relate specifically to Earth worship although other interpretations have also been offered.

Many megaliths show signs of cupmarks, circular pits dug into the the large stones. Cupmarks are also usually found in the same megalithic cultures on stones which have not been raised as megaliths.

In historical times, the practice of making cupmarks in stones, stone masonry and building bricks as been linked to geophagy, the human consumption of various types of earth, stone, clay, etc.

Even in enlightened 19th century Europe, Charles Rau found evidence of cupmark making in German and Swedish churches and other religious structures for the purpose of geophagy. The ground stone was consumed by Germans and Swedes because they believed this would promote healing and good health.

C. Hart Merriam wrote that the Pomo and Shasta Indians of California made cupmarks because they believed this would unleash the spiritual power of the Underworld and bring blessings of rain and good hunting.

California Indians, like many peoples across the world, linked the consumption of Earth with fertility and successful child-bearing.

Magic Stones

Magic or charm stones played an important role for many indigneous peoples of the Philippines and Borneo.

Such stones could be worn as amulets or talisman, or stored in small charm boxes or larger charm chests.

Often old Neolithic stone blades, particularly axes, were kept as charm-stones, their practical usage forgotten. Such neoliths were most often made of black hornstone or black basalt and quite often associated with lightning or thunder.

Otley Beyer reports the existence of such magic neoliths called "lightning tongues" in Catabalogan in the Bisayan region of the Philippines. In Leyte of the same region, these charm-stones were known as tango han linti "lightning teeth."

In Cotabato and Jolo, they were also called "lightning tongues;" in Siquijor and the Celebes, "lightning stones;" in North Borneo, Quezon, and the environs around Kabayan on Luzon they are called "thunder teeth;" in some other parts of Borneo, "thunder toenails;" while on Marindique they are known as "teeth that fall from sky," and on certain parts of Mindanao "teeth of the the thunder beast."

Another type of magic stone used in this region is the tektite. A tektite is a glassy substance said to result from an impact of an extraterrestrial object. There are two conflicting theories on the composition of tektites. One asserts that tektites are formed when large meteorites hit the Earth with great force, but the tektites themselves consist mainly of terrestrial materials. The competing theory explains tektites as basically Moon stones, usually described volcanic ejecta from the Moon's surface to Earth.

There are four tektite fields in the world. By far the largest and most recent is the Australasian Strewn Field in Southeast Asia and Australia. Otley Beyer stated in 1940 that the world's largest tektite deposit was found in the Philippines with the greatest concentration in the Rizal-Bulacan area. The Australasian tektites are dark, usually black in color.

Despite the fact that the Australasian Strewn Field is believed to be about 800,000 years old, the locals frequently attach a celestial origin to tektites.

Among Kapampangans, they are known as taclang bituin "star dung," while in other Philippine areas they are known as taeng bituin "star dung," taeng kulog "thunder dung," or batong arao "Sun-stones."

In Indochina, they are commonly known as "thunder dung" or "devil balls," while in Malaysia and Borneo they are usually called "thunder stones" or "Moon balls."

In South America, the indigenous peoples called the older Amerikanite tektites "lightning stones."

It may be there is a connection between the dark color of the tektites and the dark fine-grained hornstone or basalt of charm-stone Neolithic axes that accounts for the latter also having a celestial origin in local lore.

In recent times, tektites have been found in the charm-stone (buga) boxes of Igorot and other peoples in the region. Neolithic Philippine sites often have arrowheads and flaked tools made of tektite glass, and by at least the Iron Age, we find a number of Philippine graves with tektites sporting a "carry-polish" suggesting they were used as amulets.

Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzival mentions the lapis exilis (lapsit exillis), a stone which falls from Heaven, which is none other than the Holy Grail. He further gives this stone a homeland in India or the East Indies. In some ways, the lapis exilis resembles the Cintamani, the wish-fulfilling stone or gem/pearl of Shambhala found in Tibetan lore.

The famed 12th century letter of Prester John mentions some mysterious stones found in the king's realm:

Here are found the small stones called Nudiosi which, if borne about the body, prevent the sight from waxing feeble and restore it where it is lost. The more the stone is looked at, the keener becomes the sight.

Von Eschenbach also mentions how looking at the lapis exilis was mysteriously beneficial although in the sense of preserving youth:

By virtue of this stone [lapis exilis] the Phoenix is burned to ashes, in which she is reborn. Thus does the Phoenix molt her feathers, after which she shines dazzling and bright, and as lovely as before. However ill a mortal man may be, from the day on which he sees the Stone, he cannot die for that week, nor does he lose his color. For if anyone, maid or man, were to look at the Grail for two hundred years, you would have to admit that his color was as fresh as in his early prime.

Another stone mentioned in the letter of Prester John is said to convey the power of invisibility to its owner:

The stone, when consecrated with the proper charm, renders the man invisible.

Boccaccio's Decameron of the 14th century used this stone as the model for the heliotrope, which Prester John gives to Emperor Frederick II.

The use of stones as amulets of invisibility is well-documented among indigenous peoples and Christianized lowlanders in the Philippines by American researchers. Interestingly the Spanish made no mention of such powers and describe amulets/talismans only very sparsely despite abundant archaeological evidence of their existence in the region.

Juan de Plasencia mentions the use of stone love charms called gayoma among the Tagalogs in 1589. The first clear description though of the anting-anting amulet, so important in cultures throughout the modern Philippines, seems to be given by Tomas Ortiz ca. 1731. Many early Spanish commentators, however, do mention the indigenous worship of stones and rocks particularly with the view that some were seen as partial or temporary abodes of the anitos (deified ancestral spirits).

In other Austronesian regions, we find that stones were also important in religious beliefs. Among the Maori, the sacred red stones of their original homeland were known as whatu-kura.

In their new homeland, the Maori drilled a hole in local stones which were called "dwelling places of the whatu-kura. The native stones represented the new land while the small red whatu-kura stood for the old homeland and the ancestors.

The whatu-kura was inserted inside the hole of the "dwelling-place" stone, and the combination was placed at the base of a carved wooden pillar, comprising a sacred spot reserved only for the high priest.

Earth Mother

In the area around Mount Pinatubu, the word tubu, the base of word "pina-tubu," and its affixed form tibuan, refer to birth and land of birth.

Local belief connects humanity and all living things with an original birth from the Earth. One's lineage or "tibuan" is reckoned closely with the land. If one moves from the tibuan, the old land still remains part of your heritage and it takes several generations of births before the new land becomes part of your lineage.

We have mentioned earlier Solheim's proposal of a pre-Austronesian contact network extending from the Bismarck Islands to Indochina and South China by at least 10000 BP. This was followed by the Nusantao trade network starting before 7000 BP with the network rapidly spreading northward to North China, South Korea and Japan.

I have suggested based on a study of widespread beliefs found in different traditions that Nusantao merchants and travelers spread the idea of an axis mundi, a center or cupola of the Earth, located in the Pinatubo-Arayat location starting sometime before 5000 BP after a major eruption of Pinatubo.

The idea of a world center was largely formed from a dualistic worldview, where the central location formed the meeting point of polar opposites -- Sun-Moon, male-female, East-West, etc.

For the Nusantao navigators who may have employed magentoreception in their voyages, this center could potentially been sensed magnetically. Using perception of magnetic declination, inclination and field intensity that has been demonstrated to exist in birds, animals, insects, etc.

Their belief could also have been confirmed geologically.

Pinatubo and Arayat are a rather unique combination among the world's volcanoes. The site resembles the actively spreading oceanic back-arc basin centers -- the Lau Basin near Tonga and the Marianas Trough in the Marianas Islands (Western Pacific).

These back-arc basins feature different rock types converging together creating unique geochemistry labs in a small area where much magma and lava mixing occurs.

The petrology of the Zambales Ophiolite, the basement rock of Pinatubo displays characteristics that suggest at one time it was a site similar to the Lau Basin and Marianas Trough that has been raised above ocean level.

Arayat forms part of the back-arc of the range that includes Pinatubo. The basalt ejected by Pinatubo during its eruptions resemble more the rock types found at Arayat than the local rock types. Experts have suggested that rock mixing occurs during Pinatubo eruptions between Zambales Ophiolite melt and some other magma probably coming from the back-arc range.

From the standpoint of a stone-worshipping observer, it might appear that there had been some subterranean "hanky-panky" going on between the directionally-opposed mountains. The mixing of two different Earth types, one representing the Sun or male principle, and the other the Moon, the female principle, might be related to myth of the war between the deities of these two mountains.

Apung Mallari of Pinatubo and Apung Sinukuan of Arayat are said to have engaged in a battle in which they hurl stones that crashed on the other side creating explosions and craters. Other myths, though, tell of the fiery courtship of the son of Mallari and the daughter of Sinukuan, highlighting the recursive dualism characteristic of the Austronesian society found in this area. Neither mountain is represented by a single polarity but instead each signification splits into two categories -- male and female -- and this recursive division goes on continuously.

The very geographical relationship of the Pinatubo and Arayat would appeal to this very type of dualistic thinking. This description is given by Richard von Drasche in 1876:

If one were to draw a line from Monte Pinatubo to the isolated mountain of Arayat in the plain, one would notice that all the rivers north of this line flow in a northeasterly direction, while all those south of it flow in a southeasterly direction toward Rio Grande de la Pampanga. This circumstance may be observed particularly plainly from the top of the Arayat, where I first noticed this slope of the plain in both directions, increasing toward Monte Pinatubo. East of Monte Arayat this circumstance disappears entirely.

At the time of the 4th millennium BCE eruption of Pinatubo, the Nusantao trade network would have been concentrated in the region between eastern Melanesia and Indonesia northward to Malaya and Indonesia and then along the coast of China to Korea and Japan. Pinatubo would have been well-centered along these trade routes.

The fiery glow of Pinatubo would have been visible at great distances for weeks, months even years after the eruption. Pinatubo is a form of volcano that mostly burns its ejecta into ash or lahar. The estimated magnitude 6 eruption could easily have dispersed an ash cloud reaching South China, Indochina and eastern New Guinea, and possibly extending much further. Great portions of the South China Sea would have been turned whitish or greyish by the ash deposited during the explosion and in the ensuing runoff creating an "ocean of milk."

For an Earth-worshiping people, the ash cloud may have resembled a cosmic placenta, similar to that at the first creation, at the first uniting of the two great polar forces. Eventually the ash would weather into clay, the clay of Sun and Moon later used to make sacred jars. The location is called Sambal (Zambales), which can mean "the confluence of rivers," which in this case t would represent the outflowing of waters from the center toward the cardinal/polar directions.

Another proof could be offered by the Nusantao story tellers to prove the cosmic significance of the Pinatubo eruption. In this region, and especially in the neighboring area of Bulacan, it was mentioned earlier that we can find one of the world's largest deposit of tektites, or star dung as it is known locally.

Excrement in Philippine and Bornean indigenous belief is connected with mortality. The difference between god and human was symbolized through digestion. Gods did not feel hunger, had no intestines and did not defecate, except when they came down to earth.

Star dung, thus, symbolizes, the descent of a god to earth, and the area can be viewed as a meeting place of Heaven and Earth. Therefore the ejecta of mixed Earth comes from the Underworld through the hole of Pinatubo and from the sky we see evidence of visitation in the form of star dung. In this area then, the Sky-World, Middle-World and Lower-World all join together.

Nusantao mariners may have also noticed the particularly deep waters found in the trenches off the southeastern coasts of the Philippines including the Philippine Trench, one of the deepest locations on Earth. Chinese texts talk of the Weilu, an abyssal hole at the bottom of the ocean where the waters are said to flow into the Underworld, located to east of the Fusang or Kongsang trees. The latter tree, the "Hollow Mulberry," is frequently mentioned in Chinese literature as the axis mundi, where one traveled between worlds, located in the Southeastern Sea.

Medieval texts clearly identify the Weilu with the Kuroshio Current which flows off the eastern coast of the Philippines north toward Japan and the Aleutian Islands.

Austronesian navigators were known to periodically dive into the sea to test the conditions of the water, the ocean floor and other environmental conditions. They also were able to judge depth by the wavelength of swells.

They studied currents, countercurrents, upwelling and possibly other features of marine topography.

It is known that anomalies in the Earth's gravitational field due to deficits or excess in mass from the Earth's center to the Earth's surface contribute to differences in sea surface height that can amount to tens of meters.

Gravitational forces often "rift" at the borders of trenches and arcs where you have a great deficit of mass at the trenches and an excess of mass at the arc. Around the Philippine Trench differences in sea surface heights of around 20 meters have been observed.

The Sumatra-Philippine-Solomons arc forms the world's strongest positive gravitational anomaly, while the Northwest Pacific Basin has one of the strongest negative gravitational anomalies.

The chart shows the world's strongest positive gravitational anomaly at the Sumatra-Philippines-Solomons arc with a free-air anomaly X area of 461 more than twice that of the second highest positive anomaly. The Northwest Pacific Basin however has the seventh highest negative anomaly worldwide with a free-air anomaly X area of -116. (Source: Willaim Kaula, "Earth's Gravity Fields: Relation to Global Tectonics," Science, Lancaster, Pa. : American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1944, p. 983.)

World gravity anomalies (Source: www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/gravity/)

Altimeter profile of Marianas Trench over span of 500 km showing differences in sea surface height. (Source: Cheney, Satellite Altimetry)

Sea surface topography along with long wavelength swells may have contributed to the perception of the ocean's water "sloping downward" at the Weilu as suggested in Chinese texts.

Ocean waters passing through the Underworld in Chinese mythology arose as fresh water in the Yellow Springs/Ruo River at the foot of the Fusang/Kongsang Tree, and as mist/steam from these springs to form rain clouds. In many cultures, we find the axis mundi is directly linked with the cycle of water.

Myths of Pinatubo, the tibuan or land of origin, connect with other regional creation motifs found especially in the Philippines and Borneo. The overlapping themes in the various sets of myths include:

* A marriage between a deity and a human involving a descent from Heaven and often also an ascent from Earth to Heaven.

* Anthropomorphic celestial bodies as actors including usually one or more of the Sun, Moon and Venus. The main characters also generally include one or more of a bird, serpent and dog.

* The child of the mixed marriage of divine and non-divine results in a child who in many versions is eventually divided into half. These halves become thunder, lightning, Moon, different kinds of animals, owl, different diseases, rainbow and so on. This is a version of the wider spread theme of the half-body or the body cut in two linked with the separation of sky and earth.

* One of the characters often in the form of a dog is characterized as a culture-bearer particularly associated with founding rice agriculture and sometimes linked with blacksmithing.

Creation of different phenomenon from a divided body is reminiscent of the Panhu-Hulun myth of China where a dog-shaped creature is dismembered to create the world. The dog-headed Panhu was later associated with the Southeastern Sea as also was Mount Penglai, which in one Daoist conception has an opening leading down to the Cinnabar Field, the source of all life.

Like the whatu-kura of the Maori, the stones, earth, clay, etc. of a place represent the land itself and its various significations. These elements from the tibuan of Pinatubo and Arayat would, for example, have the significations of the creative force, much like we find with the human placenta in many cultures, and would naturally endow one with long life.

The belief in the magical powers of stones, clay, tektites and the like, thus, derives from the phenomenon associated with the specific place and time of origin.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Beyer, H. Otley. "Philippine Tektites," Philippine magazine Vol. 32, no. 1, Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1935, pp. 581-2.

__, "Outline review of Philippine archaeology, The Philippine journal of science Vol. 77, no. 1, 1947, 206-374.

Callahan, Kevin L. "Pica, Geophagy, and Rock Art: Ingestion of rock powder and clay by humans and its implications for the production of some rock art on a global basis." A Paper read at the Philadelphia SAA Conference, 2000.

Cheney, Robert. Satellite altimetry. Academic Press, 2001.

Dadzie, Isaac and Jian-Cheng Li. "Determination of Geoid over South China Sea and Philippine Sea from Multi-satellite Altimetry Data," Geo-Spatial Information Science 10:1, 2007, 27-32.

Drasche, Richard von. "The volcanic region around Manila," Proceedings of the Royal Geological Service, 1876.

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