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kiva (kēˈvə), large, underground ceremonial chamber, peculiar to the ancient and modern Pueblo. The modern kiva probably evolved from the slab houses (i.e., storage pits and dwellings that were partly underground and lined with stone slabs set on edge) of their cultural ancestors, the Basket Makers. A modern kiva is either a rectangular or a circular structure, with a timbered roof. It is entered through a hatchway by means of a ladder. The floor is made of smooth sandstone slabs, and the walls of fine masonry. There is a dais at one end, a fire pit in the center, and an opening in the floor at the other end. This orifice represents the entrance to the lower world and the place of emergence through which life came to this world. The walls also have a symbolic significance and are decorated with mythological figures. Women are traditionally restricted from entering a kiva. Men use the kiva for secret ceremonies, as a lounging place, and as a workshop where weaving is done.
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Kiva, a sacred underground gathering room, at Cliff Palace, Anasazi Indian settlement in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Five thousand years after the last glacier melted enough to allow people to migrate by land to the Americas, a great civilization began to evolve complex cultural patterns in the Four Corners region of the American southwest.

By 1000 BCE the Anasazi people were beginning a settled, agricultural way of life that would develop for centuries. At the height of their golden age, 1100-1300 CE, settlements in what are now called Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde, Colorado, were cities housing up to seven thousand residents.

In the Navajo language, Anasazi means "enemy ancestors." Some translate it as "ancient ones" or "those who came before." The word describes a people who lived long ago and left a complex legacy, both mystical and material. A severe drought from 1276-1299 left their fields of corn high and dry, their irrigation ditches above water level. It is easy to speculate that a lack of firewood and heavy competition for resources drove the people to disband and drift away, either evolving different desert cultures or simply disappearing into legend. By 1300, all of their great settlements were deserted.

What they left behind, however, were monuments to their culture and rich religious mythology.

The Anasazi people believed they had entered this world through a hole in the ground from a world that had come before. This creation myth was reenacted every time they emerged from their kivas, underground chambers entered by ladder through a single entrance at the top. Although we don't know exactly what kind of religious rituals were enacted, the kiva was a central place of worship and initiation.

In 1934, when excavation began at the Kuaua Kiva, a fourteenth-century pueblo in New Mexico, murals were discovered on walls that had been replastered up to eighty times. Seventeen layers contained religious scenes immediately recognized by modern Navajos.

Clearly, the very architecture of the kiva represented a strong oral tradition that had been passed on for thousands of years.

Michael and Kathleen Gear, in their "First North Americans" series of novels, have attempted to harmonize modern archaeological thought with the ancient creation myth, speculating that the religion of the kiva did, indeed, represent historical reality.

When the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets separated, opening a passageway south from the quickly disappearing Siberian land bridge, it is entirely possible that the first passageways to melt would have been underground, seasonal tunnels left by melting ice forming rivers under the glacier. If such a passage had been discovered and utilized by the first Americans, it could certainly have been remembered as an event of epic proportions. Stories would have been told for generations about a migration into a new world, where people encountered animals that had no fear of these new predators appearing suddenly through a hole in the ground.

This is, of course, speculation. But it is tempting to think that a religious tradition as strong as that of the kiva can be located and demonstrated in history.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


In some Indian villages of the American Southwest, an assembly room (often partly or wholly underground) which has a packed earth floor, a firepit at its center, and a flat roof supported by hewn logs that are covered by small branches, matting, and a layer of earth. The room is usually entered through a roof hatchway by means of a ladder whose poles extend well above the flat rooftop.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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