Messages From the Past

Cave art in the lower Pecos

 Bill Worrell, "The Door of Time"

The painted images adorning the walls of hundreds of rockshelters and minor overhangs uniquely define the Lower Pecos archeological region. In fact, the rock art is more than “pictographs” – painted images. Petroglyphs, carved, pecked or incised images occur over all the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.

In Native American societies that relied heavily on hunting and gathering or fishing, the shaman served as a crucial role as diviner, seer, magician, healer of bodily and spiritual ills, keeper of traditions and artist. Acting as the guardian of the physical and psychic equilibrium of the society, the shaman through altered states of consciousness journeys to the spirit world where he personally confronts the supernatural forces on behalf of his group.

Access to the spirit or “otherworld” can be achieved through such methods as the use of hallucinogenic or psychoactive plants, fasting, thirsting, blood-letting, self-hypnosis and various types of rhythmic activities. There has been clear evidence of hallucinogenic plants including peyote, mountain laurel beans, mainly seeds and datura (jimson weed) that have been found in the cave deposits of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.

Politically correct or not, the use of these plants was part and parcel of the shamanistic ritual in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. While ingesting these psychoactive plants can be very dangerous and even fatal, they obviously played a critical role in certain of the rituals depicted in the Lower Pecos Rock Art. The ritual use of peyote continues today by members of the Native American tribes, a traditional religious practice that has been ruled constitutionally protected by the US Supreme Court.

Four thousands years ago, hunter-gatherers lived and traveled through the challenging terrain of what is now southwest Texas and northern Mexico. Even today you can still view large art panels that they left behind on the rock walls of Rattlesnake Canyon, White Shaman Cave, Panther Cave, Mystic shelter and Cedar Springs.

Many feel that the meanings of this ancient art was lost with the artists who produced it. Now, it is believed that these elaborate rock paintings are once again narrating a special communication. The gateway serpents, antlered shamans and human/animal/cross forms pictured in these ancient murals, Carolyn Boyd, artist archeologist, imagines that the artists were expressing their belief systems and ritual practices because they involved the use of sacramental and medicinal plants and illustrate the lifeways of these hunter-gatherers. Carolyn Boyd sees many parallels between the Pecos River style symbolism and that espressed in the mythology and belief systems of many living and historically known cultures in Mexico and the Southwest. 

In the case of our featured artist Bill Worrell, is it any wonder that he was mesmerized by these enchanting, mystical figures and was driven to keep their spirit alive in the figures, and bronze cast them to be spiritual, proud and tall.

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