The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

While learning about the Mississippians, one of my favorite topics of discussion was their religion. To me, studying the religious interactions of a society and its people are some of my favorite aspects of learning about a culture, as it gives a much deeper context of who they really were and what attitudes they had about the world around them. I decided to build upon the information we learned in class and do some additional research on my own, discovering a few new things I thought I’d share.

Among the many symbols and motifs that the Mississippians believed held significance, one of the more intriguing pieces of the belief system is the idea of the sacred fire. While it was not mentioned in class as a focal point of the religion, I found that the concept behind it was very important. The basic premise behind the idea of the sacred fire is that there would be a fire lit (fire was important because it was representative of the sun) and it would have to stay lit with the exception of one time each year. There was symbolic meaning behind this- the fire being extinguished and then re-lit would represent a new beginning, or the beginning of the first corn harvest, which was a time for much celebration (also known as Thanksgiving). If the fire were to go out at any point during the time when it was designated to be lit, there were many concerns and fears in the community at the reasoning behind it and if it was human error or a sign from the gods. The extinguishing of a fire at an improper time was considered to be a threat, as the protection given to the people and the surrounding land from the fire had been lost.

Another fascinating aspect of the Mississippian belief system is the burial objects representing religious ideas and icons. Just like many other cultures, the Mississippians had very distinct beliefs about afterlife and the importance of religious objects being buried with the dead. When people died, they were buried with copper plates, various pottery items, bowls, pots, cups, clay figurines, etc., all featuring religious pictures or inscriptions. Common themes that were painted or engraved onto the items were usually representative of the above or below world (snakes, insects, birds) or the middle world (humans, animals). Most of the drawings included in the burial were those of a combination of both factors of the above and below world, as that combination was seen to join the powers of both worlds to best benefit the humans in the middle world. I found this combination symbol a very powerful idea, as I was under the impression that the main goal and desire was to avoid the below world and focus on the above world. Combining the powers of both worlds is an interesting concept to think about and makes me want to delve deeper into more of the reasoning behind this and the beliefs about these combinations.


2 thoughts on “The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

  1. Interesting blog post! I agree with you that it is both important and intriguing to research the religion and belief system of a culture. It shows more of what the culture is all about. It’s interesting that they were so superstitious about the fire. It seems like there would be far too many instances when fire would go out simply because of natural causes as you mentioned. I wonder how they determined what it meant, if they felt that it was a sign from the Gods? I also agree with you that it’s odd that they would include symbols of the below world in their burial rituals. It seems like they would want to keep the below world out of the process entirely. I did some research on my own and it is obvious that nature is the over-arching principle in the Mississippian’s religion. I find it interesting that in the past, many cultures believed in spirits of things like the sun, the moon, and the earth, but nowadays many religions focus on specific people or beings, less than nature and spirits. I wonder what caused this shift? It would be cool to investigate where this change occurred. Another focal point of the Mississippian beliefs was that all things are related. An article I read over said that they used to pray to ask for forgiveness from the animals for taking their lives. Imagine if it was a normal thing for hunters today to do that! This is just another example of how different life was back then compared to now.

  2. Your blog post was very interesting! I am also very interested in different religions and different cultures, although I am not a very religious person. I think it is really interesting how one of the symbols of the belief system was the sacred fire. Fire is a big symbol in a lot of cultures, and I think it is interesting how important it was even during the Mississippian time, and how it represented the sun. It is interesting how they were so fearful if the fire was distinguished. I feel as though the fire would distinguish a lot from natural causes like wind or rain. I think its interesting how many different cultures used burial objects, I also think its strange that they used engravings representing both the above and below world. I would think you would use one or the other, but how you described that when you engrave both the above and below world it symbolizes joining the powers of both worlds that best benefit the humans in the middle world, really fascinated me and I completely agree with their beliefs and concepts behind their beliefs. I also would like to learn more about religion in all of these diverse cultures from so long ago. I also found that animals, plants, and other aspects of the natural environment were of special importance in spiritual life. The importance of wetlands is reflected in the use of frogs, turtles, ducks and other aquatic animals as decorative uses on bowls and ornamental items. I think it is really interesting how cultures use natural environment like fire and animals in their religion.

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