Indians – 09 Summary

The Klamath Indians of Southern Oregon Cascades


Crater Lake exemplifies the concept of a sacred place or sacred landscape, embodying in a specific location the qualities of mystery, power, and danger. (7) Traditionally Crater Lake served as an important site for Indian spirit quest activities, and continues to be used for spiritual purposes today. (8)

A sacred landscape entails a correlation of physical place and cultural meaning, existing within a larger body of tradition. Its physical elements (a piled rock site, Wizard Island, the lake bottom) have associations with various culturally postulated events, some in a mythic time (for example the myth of Le*w and Sqel), others (such as spirit quest rituals) still occurring today. Traditional knowledge of such a landscape–of the myths which recount its origins, and the rituals by which its powers are encountered–shapes one’s experience. Some appreciation of the myths and rituals associated with Crater Lake allows the Euro-American visitor to have some understanding of the traditional Indian experience of Crater Lake National Park, of its spiritual powers and the possibilities for personal transformation which it affords.

1 G Bettels, pers.comm.

2 Transcription of the Curtin MS provided by Gordon Bettels. While the MS is described as containingModoc myths and legends, Mr. Bettels has suggested that it describes Klamath practices. The other placename in the text (***** Mountain) is omitted here to protect sensitive information not directly relevant to this study.

3 G. Bettels, pers. comm., 4/11/91.

4 Sue Shaffer, pers. comm., 8/30/90.

5 The myth of Le+w and Sqel (or Lao and Skell) appears in Klamath and English in Barker 1963a:71-75, as narrated by the Klamath informant Robert David; in Ramsey 1977:202-205, in an English version adapted from Barker; in a summary by Stem (1963b:33-34); in a westernized version by O.C. Applegate (1907); and in a collection by Clark (1953:56-58), which involves a retelling of Applegate’s version. Stern (trans. 1951) has also done an unpublished translation from a version told by Herbert Nelson.

6 W. K. Peery (1951) summarizes a second myth, in which twin boys seek a grizzly bear at Crater Lake. The bear is killed, but one boy is transformed into a monster, who dwells in Llao Rock.

7 For a comparative perspective, see Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, 1958. For further consideration of Crater Lake as a sacred landscape, see R. and K. Winthrop 1993.

8 For example, at a meeting with Park personnel (8/31/89), information was given regarding indian individuals seeking exemption from the Park entrance charge for visits having a religious or spiritual purpose.


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