June 30, 2014

Mountain Spirits

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The Mountain Spirits are a race of supernaturals who dwell within the interiors of many mountains, according to Chiricahua Apache belief.

They are said to live and conduct their affairs much as the Apache used to do in aboriginal times. The Mountain Spirits conduct a dance and ceremony in which some of their men are masked and appear with their bodies painted in various patterns.

Occasionally an Apache is fortunate enough to have a supernatural experience with the Mountain Spirits of a particular mountain, to witness the performances of these masked supernaturals, and to be instructed in the songs, designs, and prayers which belong to the rite.

After this Apache returns to the world outside, and to his own people, he masks and paints Apache men in imitation of the supernaturals he has seen, and sends them out to dance at times of widespread sickness or impending disaster.

Formerly, the masked dancers were not “made” within the encampment, but had to be painted in an enclosure constructed in the mountains. From there they would march down the slope in single file, sometimes carrying firebrands. This rule has been greatly relaxed, but is still somewhat in force. Informants claim that it used to be strictly maintained.

The people are advised, at the entrance of the masked dancers, to lower their eyes and pray.

This procedure or rite is expected to establish rapport between the shaman and the original supernaturals from whom he gained his power, and to enlist the aid of the Mountain Spirits in the emergency which confronts the encampment. 

 In the past it was said the real Mountain Spirits sometimes came out upon this world in person to punish those who have profaned their rite or to succor Apache in need of their assistance. Now it is said that only those appear who are “made” or dressed in imitation of the true Mountain Spirits.

These Apache masked dancers, however, are called gáͅhé, just as are the masked supernaturals of the mountains.

Native American Religion
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