The Adena and Fort Ancient tribes were at the site of today’s Serpent Mound, located on a plateau that overlooks Brush Creek Valley, as far back as 2,000 years ago. It was a significant ceremonial site to the Fort Ancient tribe, and two Adena burial mounds are there. Serpent Mound, made of clay, stone and soil, is a quarter-mile long and shaped like a serpent’s body, ranging in height from three to five feet. In the serpent’s open mouth is an oval made of clay and earth. Adjacent to the serpent’s open mouth is an oval, and at the oval’s center is a stone platform where some stones are charred. This was part of the Fort Ancient ceremonies. The site was constructed in alignment to sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset.
Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site offers remnants of an advanced prehistoric culture found in the 2,200-acre tract. Mississippians numbering 10,000 to 20,000 lived in Cahokia, a few miles west of Collinsville, from A.D. 700 to 1400. This culture worshipped sun gods and had ceremonial rituals. Groups can climb to the top of Monks Mound at 100 feet high. It is the largest of the original 120 mounds; 80 of them remain today and about 68 are preserved. Most mounds are rectangular platforms that supported buildings, temples and leaders’ residences. One mound has over 280 burials. There is also the reconstructed sun calendar, Woodhenge, which is a circle of red cedar posts with a central observation point. Guided tours are available.
The Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon has several burial mounds constructed by the Mississippians between A.D. 900 and 1150. Ocmulgee means “boiling water.” They made a ceremonial center with an earthen temple/burial/domiciliary mounds and earth lodges, which were council chambers. Today, one of the places religious travel groups can visit is the Earth Lodge, which was used for ceremonies. Opposite the entrance is a platform in the shape of a large bird. A fire pit is in front of the platform, where there are three seats higher than the 47 seats along the circular wall. Leaders sat on the platform and it is probable that the others were seated according to importance. In front of the seats is an indentation that might have held items used for rituals, such as potions. The alignment of the doorway was positioned where, during winter solstice, sunlight flooded the entrance and lit the platform. Rituals perhaps occurred during harvest season and the beginning of spring.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel, built in alignment with the stars around 700 years ago, is significant to Native Americans. The existence of the medicine wheel is due to the boy Burnt Face, according to the Crow tribe. Burnt Face was scarred after falling into a fire as a baby. When he was a teenager, he went on a vision quest to the mountains where he built the medicine wheel. While on his vision quest, according to legend, he saved baby eagles from a predator and was carried by an eagle, and his face became smooth again. The wheel is used for vision quests and ceremonies. Located in Bighorn National Forest on the 10,000-foot-tall Medicine Mountain, the wheel is made of rocks and is aligned astronomically. From the center, 28 spokes likely represent days from the lunar month. Contemporary sites nearby include ceremonial staging areas, altars and vision quest enclosures.
At Oklevueha Native American Church in Spanish Fork, Utah, religious tour groups can contact the church to attend a ceremony. The two-hour Sacred Prayer Pipe ceremony is for groups to honor and respect the power of prayer. The six-hour Sweat Lodge concentrates on the creative process and honors relatives, especially parents. The Marriage Blanket, which lasts from one to four hours, focuses on the commitment of two or more to be a part of the family unit. Sacrament ceremonies are at least six hours and work on rediscovering one’s goodness and assist with self-forgiveness.
Native American tribes have used Crater Lake in Oregon, formed after a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, as a key element in their stories. Those who did not respect the lake had bad things happen to them. Crater Lake is four miles by six miles wide. The site was home to the Klamath tribes and the Cow Creek Band.
Columbia Hills State Park has a collection of Native American sacred rock art, including petroglyphs and pictographs. This area by the Columbia River was home to a Native America village. The petroglyphs appear on their original rock slabs against natural rock formations. One of the famous pictographs is the Tsagaglalal, meaning “she who watches,” which is a figure with staring eyes that some believe depicts the death and disease white settlers brought. Petroglyph depictions include elk, owls, eagles, humans and geometric figures. Guided tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays, April through October. Groups cannot exceed 25 people.
Religious travel groups can experience what Native American spirituality and culture has to offer as they revisit an essential part of this nation’s history. Plan your tour across the U.S. today to one of these historic landmarks.