Spirit Fire and Lightning Songs: Looking at Myth and Shamanism on a Klamath Basin Petroglyph Site

Archaeological Research Facility, University of California
Place published: 
Spirit Fire book cover

Located in Northern California near the former Tule Lake, 4-Mod-22 is a complex Klamath Basin petroglyph site that exhibits three distinctive classes of rock art: iconic motifs, residual markings, and geometric figures. As a Klamath-Modoc descendent, I was contracted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to provide an interpretive report for this particular site. Information provided by a combination of Klamath-Modoc ethnography and myth suggests that the distinctive rock art categories denote two patterns of ritual use that include shamans’ consultations with their spirit familiars, and shamanic power quests. Through the use of these sources it was also possible to identify a pattern of ritual use on the wider landscape that included the nearby lava fields and possibly a small cave identified as the lodge of the mythical beings, Kumush and Aisis. Through the application of myth, it was also possible to answer calls by previous researchers to bring the voice of the Klamath-Modoc people into the study of this unique aspect of their cultural heritage, where it has for so long been absent.