The Thruston Tablet
Deciphering the Iconography of an Ancient Twins Cycle

The Earliest Engraving of the Obverse Side of the Thruston Tablet1

The Drawing of the Obverse Side of the Thruston Tablet by W. H. Holmes2

Table of Contents

§1. The Prequel.

§2. The Combat Scene and the Symbology of the Twins.

§3. The Birth of the Twins.

§4. Reverse Panel: The Theft of the Arrows.

§5. The Binding of the Soul: The Capture of Ghost and the Hóega.

§6. The Twins in Redhorn's Raid.

§7. The Departure Scene.


A Table of Graphemes.

End Notes

The method to be used here is very straightforward: it is to decipher the elements of the iconography of the Thruston Tablet by finding contemporary myths that strongly match its apparent content. We are fortunate that there exist a number of myths in the Twins corpus of the Hočąk people that fit surprisingly well to the action that we see in the "story board." As Quine propounded,3 we come to understand the meaning of words by first understanding sentences. Once having made a good match of scene to myth, we may be able to interpolate the meaning of many of the odd lines and figures that would otherwise be inscrutable.

§1. The Prequel. The Thruston Group concluded, no doubt correctly, that the two main characters depicted on the Thruston Tablet are the famous Hero Twins whose adventures have such a wide circulation in North America.1 It will be my contention that the "story board" begins at the top of the stone, and successive panels (not always in order) depict a cycle of Twins stories, some of which are unique to the Hočąk nation. We have already encountered one pictographic depiction of a unique Hočąk Twins story from the far north in Gottschall Rock shelter in Wisconsin (q.v.) that told the story of the Lost Blanket, and the battle of the Twins against the Thunderbirds. In the Thruston Tablet found far to the south in Tennessee, several related stories are told in pictographs. At the very top of the lithic "page," in the palimpsest underlayer, the story literally begins at the beginning.

In most Indian nations, the story of the Twins naturally starts with their birth, but among the Hočągara, the story begins even before that. According to "The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head," the creation of the two boys was initiated by a cosmic crisis. Bluehorn (Evening Star) had been living alone with his sister (Moon), when his perfect doppelgänger showed up for a series of visits. This doppelgänger (Morning Star) finally met up with Bluehorn. There, on opposite sides of the fire (inferior conjunction), the two had a smoking contest, and Bluehorn was pulled into the fire by the suction of his opponent's pipe. Thereupon, the other man chopped off his head with the knives that grew out of his forearm. He took the head and ran off with it (the ascent of Morning Star into the sky), leaving Bluehorn alive, but missing what must be considered a valuable appendage. The quasi-destruction of one of the Great Ones (Xetera) was considered a catastrophe, and given the power of the perpetrator of this foul deed, one which no other single spirit could rectify. As I have shown elsewhere, the Hočąk idea of conflicting Morning and Evening Stars was widespread in the southeast in Mississippian times. That Evening Star and Morning Star are brothers, and are in some tellings amicable, and in other tellings, in conflict, is also found among the Central Siouan Assiniboine.2 In the contemporary Hočąk myth, the Creation Lodge was called for the purpose of creating the Twins so that they might retrieve the head of Bluehorn (Evening Star). Today, there are myths that tell of either Evening Star or Morning Star having his head taken by the other, so in the past, this relationship could also have been reversed.

With the beheading of Evening Star, Hare called a convocation of all the great spirits. The plan was for each of the spirits to contribute some part of themselves so that it might be added to the like contribution of the others to form a great quantity of spiritual substance whose intrinsic power would exceed that of Bluehorn's assassin. So Hare gathered all the most powerful spirits together in what the Hočągara call a "Creation Lodge" (Wogų́zoči), where this collective power was bundled up, with even Earthmaker himself making a contribution. Since most cultures consider the sun to be an agent in reproduction, it is natural in order to effect conception, that they give the resultant bundle of spiritual power to the Sun. While Bluehorn's lunar sister was bent over digging up Indian potatoes, the Sun through his rays introduced this immense power into her womb. As a result, she became pregnant with the Twins.

What we see at the top of the Thruston Tablet is the Creation Lodge. Almost every line in it can be understood in terms of the Hočąk story of the conception of the Twins. This image has been isolated, and most of its components labeled in red.

This is a longhouse. It shows a cut view, showing part of the interior, although the lead figure has only his head visible, leading a few investigators to conclude that the enclosure might be a canoe. In contradistinction to this hypothesis, the Thruston Group constructively compared this structure with the Medicine Rite (Midewiwin) lodge.3 In the variant myth, "The Children of the Sun," the Creation Lodge belongs to the Sun. The Twins later visit him there.

Finally, up above is a long lodge lying towards the east. There they got to. Their father was in charge of it. It was a doctor's [priest's] lodge. It was a council lodge of all the greater spirits of the higher regions. All the spirits that were prominent, with thus the lodge was filled.4

The sun symbol stands to the right of this lodge, which since it is facing east, would place the sun at its proper initial cardinal point. Once we understand the component symbols, illuminated by the corresponding story, we can see that something is being communicated to the Sun.

In the myth, Hare begins the process by taking out something from himself and setting it on a white deerskin, the standard wrapping for sacred objects. The eight Great Ones were invited to do the same. They are named in order as they contribute: Hare, Trickster, Turtle, Bladder, Sun, Redhorn, and Grandmother (Earth). Omitted from mention, of course is the victim Bluehorn. Then all but Grandmother set out for Earthmaker's lodge.

Six of them were the ones who did it. These were the ones who went to the Maker of Things — Trickster it was, and also Turtle, and Bladder, and Hare, and Redhorn, and the Sun — this many were the ones who did it. After they left for the Creator, finally they arrived. ... "Hąhą́, I also will help you," he said. He brought something blue forth from his seat-of-thought. He added twice as much to it as they had taken over there. ... Hare thanked him. "When we return to the Creation Lodge, I will give it to the one who will really do it. In returning from here, I will bring it," he said. Then the Maker of Things thanked him.5*

When the final transfer takes place, those present are the five great "Culture Heroes" (as they are frequently called), plus the Sun and Earthmaker. When we look to the Thruston Tablet, we see the five Culture Heroes sitting in a row. The leader, the one in front, would therefore be Hare. He may have two lines projected over his head indicating rabbit-like ears, but it is possible that the line behind his head is a vertical feather, and the other line is what we might call a "connector line," such as we find in recent plains pictography connecting the depiction of a person to the ideogram of his name. This group does not include Sun and Earthmaker (the Hočąk counterpart to Wakaⁿda). The story says that the bundle was given to the Sun that he might impregnate the chosen virgin with the Twins, whose spiritual essence was contained in the bundle. It would hardly be controversial to identify the petaloid target structure off to the right, at the end of the line, as the Sun. We find a very elegant version of similar design from the Mayan city of Uxmal, for instance.6*

Petaloid, Target Sun Symbol
with a Bisected Radiant Strip, from the Thruston Tablet
Petaloid, Target Sun Symbol
with Bisected Radiant Strips,
from Uxmal

As Reilly has shown,7 the petaloid structure is a locative indicating a setting in the Upper World. The target itself, a set of concentric rings called a wagá in Hočąk,8* is a symbol of the center; and certainly the Sun, which defines the world directions and the four quarters, may be considered a center.9* It also has an attested (secondary ?) meaning of "time."9.1* In this myth, the Sun functions as a center into which great collective power is transduced. We can see this take place through sets of parallel conduit lines. To make this clear, the picture shows a thick parallel set of lines going above the Culture Heroes and terminating in the petaloid Sun. This conduit is divided into five segments, one for each of the Culture Heroes. The number five in this context also refers to the five directions: the four cardinal points plus the center. Thus, the set of Culture Heroes, being five in number, can stand for the totality of spirits, just as five stands for the totality of the cosmos. At the origin of this major conduit is a set of jagged lines (inset). This should stand for what is said of the first contribution:

Then he did this. In the center of the lodge he spread out a white deerskin. Then he [Hare] did this. He drew something from the seat of his heart. Much did it glitter. There on the head of the deer he put it. There it lay glittering and then the light rested there like daylight.10*

The jagged lines are certainly consistent with glittering brilliance. It is easily appreciated that the conduit attaching this to the Sun is not the only conduit portrayed in this scene. There is another conduit that drains into the main one. It comes from the large target situated next to Hare, only half of which is visible. Earthmaker, as the source of the cosmos itself, is also a paradigmatic center, represented abstractly in recent times by a "Greek" cross (✚). Since Hare, at the head of the delegation of Culture Heroes, presented the bundle (the mythical counterpart to the conduit) to Earthmaker, the Maker of Things should be situated next to Hare. This fact, in connection with the conduit leading from the large "shield" to the major conduit, makes it a very good match for Earthmaker. Therefore, the last two participants, Earthmaker and the Sun, are represented abstractly as symbolic centers. Earthmaker's disc contains only one other disc at its center. There is, however, another line that moves from the bottom up between the two circles. This line is bent and a bit crooked, and terminates in a fork. Our counterpart myth tells us that Earthmaker contributed "something blue" (čora-ra-že) to the medicine bundle. At this point, the translator (Oliver Lamère) added parenthetically, "with lightning." The line could certainly be lightning or its underlying substance, but as we will show further on, lines similar to this one also serve to indicate redirection. Under either interpretation, the line is consistent with the transference of a luminous power substance into the conduit leading to the Sun.

There is another small conduit that leads from the Earthmaker symbol downward a short distance. This conduit contains two (or three) diamond shapes linked to each other at their apices. This would form an angular malinalli.11 A malinalli, a word meaning "grass" in Nahuatl, is two intertwined lines that cross each other like the strands of a rope. Each strand in a malinalli can be thought of as a "power line." In a malinalli, the combined power lines form a double helix. Just as the target design can be thought of as the center as seen from above, so the malinalli is the same as seen from the side. Their conduit points to the center circle in the abstract representation of Earthmaker, thus reinforcing and clarifying his identity. There exists two other diamond patterns, each of a dual concentric design, that play an important role in defining the meaning of the whole scene. Not much is known of symbolic design among the Hočągara, but concentric diamonds have a particular meaning among a related Central Siouan tribe, the Osage. The Osage, like the Hočągara, have some association with Cahokia and the radiation of iconography and theology that emanated from there. Among the Osage, diamonds are used to indicate World Levels.12 A series of interlocking diamonds can represent the four upper worlds. Some of the diamonds, according to Osage conventions, can be depicted as concentric. The Hočągara, however, in keeping with the quinquepartite system exemplified in this composition, have five World Levels. The highest of these belongs to Earthmaker. Beneath Earthmaker's world is another paradise where all those who have died a natural death live under the rule of Trickster (Wakjąkága). Turtle rules over an underworld paradise where only those killed in action may choose to reside. Finally, the deepest underworld is governed by Bladder.13 Hare is the spiritual governor of the earth itself, situating himself, once again, at the center. The two sets of concentric diamonds should therefore indicate the Upper World and the Lower World respectively. This conforms to the pronounced duality of the Hočąk social system (as well as that of the Dhegiha Sioux), which is divided into two moieties, the Upper Moiety and the Lower (or Earth) Moiety. The upper set of concentric diamonds is attached by a connector line to the base of the Creation Lodge, indicating that this lodge is situated in the Upper World. Between the Upper World diamonds and the Lower World diamonds is a line of separation, which I have termed the "Demarcation Line." The last conduit in the set crosses this line into the Lower World. This is the one that extends downward from the Sun. As the myth tells us, the Sun took the cumulative spirit-power given to it, and transferred it all into the womb of the Moon, who at the time was dwelling on earth with her brother Bluehorn. So the conduit from the sun crosses the demarcation line and into the Lower World, where the educated viewer knows that it effects the conception of the Twins, the most powerful of all the spirits.

The last decipherment problem involves the identity of the row of discs. One of them has a target structure, which makes it look rather like a chunkey disc. However, none of the others have this feature. Furthermore, they have short, faint lines extending above them, an attribute alien to a chunkey stone. The lines might suggest feathers, but elsewhere in this same engraving, feathers are made in bolder strokes and don't have the gossamer appearance of the lines emanating from the discs. So it does not seem likely that this is a row of observers whose heads are seen from behind. A clue as to the meaning of these discs is found in the puzzling target disc itself (second from the left). As a target design, it matches the larger one at the other end of the scene. The corresponding myth would dictate that the large target structure represent the Sun. Its smaller counterpart shares another rather puzzling feature with the sun depiction: tangent to the right side of its outer circle is a vertical line. In the petaloid depiction of the sun, this line is seemingly inscrutable, since it seems to lead nowhere. However, we have more to go on in the case of the vertical line that projects from the rim of the small target disc. If we tentatively identify this little target and line with the larger one, both being depictions of the sun in some form, the line begins to make sense. We have seen that the horizontal line on either side of which is the Osage diamond symbol of the World Levels, represents a demarcation line between the Upper World and the Lower World. The tangent line coming from the little solar target not only intersects this horizontal line, but the line extends from it at a right angle. So if the horizontal separates up and down, then the vertical line should separate lateral directions.

In nature, the division of the Upper World from the Lower World is at right angles from the division of cardinal directions. The sun, of course, travels only east to west, so it is involved with only two cardinal directions directly. In the Hočąk view, which looks north, the sun rises on the right. In the Twins myths, the father is variously said to be the Sun or the Fire. As we see from our earliest ethnography, the sun was viewed as a literal fire.13.1* It has been demonstrated by Lankford that the fireplace is a domestic counterpart to the sun.14 In many tribes, the fireplace has four rails that correspond to the four directions, but in contradistinction, the Hočąk fireplace is tripartite. Around each fireplace there is a naįgikaras(i), or fire railing.15* This is from , "wood"; higikáras, "to keep clear"; and hi, "to cause, make" — "wood to cause one to keep clear." There is one fire rail in the east towards the opening of the lodge, and two facing the hatek or back of the lodge. Since they surround the fire, they form a triangle with its apex pointing to the rear of the lodge. (This, by the way, may account for the triskelis variant of the swastika.) Miner describes the ną́įkikarás as, "fire guard (three logs placed to keep the fire from spreading in the lodge)."16 Since the fire inside the lodge is the counterpart to the sun, the eastern rail is situated to the right of the fire. It's of interest that under the word naįkikaras, Marino describes it as, "the pole in front of a fireplace, the guard," which would make it vertical. Therefore, in representing the Sun, as a way of disambiguating the target center-symbol, a vertical stick line is put to the right of the celestial Fire at the place where the eastern fire guard stick is placed with respect to the fireplace. When the Sun impregnated the mother of the Twins, we are told that "the sun stood straight up" (Hąpwira wiraročąje-giži), a Hočąk idiom for noon. Looking north, the east would be to the right of the sun at noon. The little target, with its right side vertical line that directly connects to the demarcation line, is also identified as solar. This raises the question, Why would we have a large and a small sun in the same picture? The answer at this point is quite obvious. Among those who gave of their spirit-power substance to the collective was, perhaps counterintuitively, the Sun himself. After Hare and Trickster put their contributions on the white deerskin, the others followed suit, as it says here: "There Bladder did it, and also likewise he did. There the Sun did it, and also likewise he did."17* This makes it clear that the small counterpart to the sun is literally just that, a small version of the solar substance, here given as a sacrifice in order to impart power to his twin children. Each of the other small disks is oriented directly below one of the Culture Heroes, thus showing that each of them had made a like contribution. The position of Hare and the Sun are out of order because of other demands in the narrative, where Hare and the Sun have to be at the head of the lodge, which being a medicine lodge, opens to the east. The first disc would be that of Hare, which we can deduce either by exclusion, or by the fact that Hare, as leader and the one who occupies the Middle World (center), must be the initiator, as he is in the myth. As is appropriate to one who is closely associated with the center, in the myth Hare places his contribution on the head of the deerskin. As in the myth, the rest follow in (an unknown) canonical order. The small rays emanating from most of the disks, which were otherwise so puzzling, can now be seen as faint glitter lines akin to those to the left of the base of the horizontal conduit line to the Sun. The sleeve in which these discs are situated can now be appreciated as conduit lines itself, even though contrary to what we might expect, it was not made to curve upward to the large glitter lines denoting the collective bundle of spirit-power.

This brings us to a puzzling symbol shown in the inset. It is the largest of the small disks lined up in the conduit leading to the glitter lines at the far left. This disk is found at the far right, below the target design belonging to Earthmaker. The small disk to the far left belongs to Hare, as his spirit substance was the first to be contributed. As the myth tells us, the very last to be contributed was that of Earthmaker. Therefore, his contribution should appear at the far right. Also, with the exception of Hare, the contribution of each of the spirits is located under the depiction of the spirit. This is at least roughly the case for Earthmaker, here represented by a very large target having a "Y" shaped line between its inner and outer concentric circles. The disk is just to the right of the conduit line with the malinalli diamonds in it, suggesting that this was a conveyance from Earthmaker, since the conduit lines link to the center of his central target circle. What is thus conveyed, therefore, is placed to its right. Consequently, this last disk ought to belong to Earthmaker for at least these two reasons. It is hard to get a clear view of the inside of this disk, but it seems to have just one inner circle, like the one above it, and also like it, it seems to have forked lines between the two concentric circle of the target design. Given the presence of the "Y" shaped lines inside this disk, we therefore have another reason to see it as a representation of Earthmaker's lightning-like spirit substance.


§2. The Combat Scene and the Symbology of the Twins. This scene seems to show an armed fight between the two brothers. In Iroquois versions, the two brothers are moral opposites, and in the end, the lodge Twin kills his wild brother in a "fierce struggle."1 However, in the corpus of Twins myths, this is a decidedly minority view.

The scene may only depict the Twins training for their adventures, save for the fact that spirits of such power hardly need technique to achieve victory. In contemporary Hočąk, Ghost and Flesh are constantly being killed, and constantly reviving each other, as is appropriate to the quickening function of the soul and the flesh. Here they may be directly killing and reviving one another. Nevertheless, since they are children, it is just as likely to be a mock fight.

The weapon in Ghost's hand is some kind of warclub. It seems to have the head of a bird portrayed on its business end. The Thruston Group asserts that this is a woodpecker.2 The lines emanating from the back of the head are taken to be the (highly stylized) crest of the bird, probably with feathers erect in a threat display.   On the other hand, it appears to have what looks like a waddle hanging down from the base of its beak, which would suggest that it's a turkey were it not for the crest. It could be a mythic cross between a woodpecker and a turkey, but no other such fantastic bird has been encountered so far in either myth or iconography. If its vertical projection is not a waddle, then the woodpecker must have a gaping beak. The woodpecker club is an ancient version of the Thunderbird Warclub. If the bird trappings are removed, the basic design is that of the baldheaded warclub of the Upper Moiety [inset], whose origin is told in the myth in which the Twins join Redhorn's raid. The woodpecker would function nicely as a Thunderbird, since its pecking noise is as close as one normally gets to thunder. They also represent the winds of the four quarters.3* In Hočąk it is Morning Star and Evening Star who are associated with the winds. In many cultures present and past, we see the Twins as weather deities,4 something which they came to lose in Hočąk mythology, being eclipsed by the Thunderbirds. Striking a huge leather and wood shield like Flesh's with a club might produce a sound rather like thunder.

In this scene we find an odd symbol on the kilt or blanket of Ghost.

The animal skin to which the red indicator points is the mouse. The Pawnee, a people often associated with Cahokia, link the mouse with the woodpecker (seen in Ghost's club).

And so it is that we find the woodpecker's nests at the top of hollow trees and the nests of the mice at the foot of the hollow trees.5

We should recall the variant in which Ghost was laid in a hollow stump, giving rise to his appellation, "has a stump for a grandmother." Among the Ioway who are closely related to the Hočągara, Ghost is called "Mouse Boy."6 The friendship tribe of the Hočągara, the Menominee, say that the wild boy was raised by mice,7 a view held by the Central Siouan Omaha,8 as well as the distant and unrelated Cree.9 In a slight variation, the Fox and Sauk say that they were rats rather than mice.10* In one story, the Seneca relate that both boys "entered into" mice during one of their adventures.11 In the "Lost Blanket," Ghost is said to have a cape made entirely of mouse fur. This is mentioned in connection with the loss of Flesh's cape after the battle with the snakes.

... the blanket of the older one was missing. Although they looked about there thoroughly, it was really missing. It was the weasel blanket that the oldest one wore over his shoulders [as a cape], that was the one. That one is the one that his uncle [Bluehorn] made. It was that blanket, the missing one, that was ornamented everywhere. And the youngest also wore a mouse skin cape over his shoulder. Yet it too was good. It was ornamented everywhere.12

The blanket that we see Ghost wearing in the right engraving above, certainly fits the description of being "well ornamented." It may seem odd that the aggressive and pugnacious wild boy should be identified with the mouse. Mice are constantly making pests of themselves by sneaking about human domiciles to raid their food stores; yet at the same time, they live as wild animals. Mouse Boy is the son of the Sun, and here in the picture to the right, we find that the mouse is placed among a myriad of solar target symbols which reinforce his connection to the sun. This may seem strange until we reflect upon the existence of a striking case of "parallel sense development," as the linguists call it. In ancient Greece the god who controls the sun is also associated with mice. He is distinct from the disc of the sun, which is Helios — Apollo drives the chariot that carries this disc across the sky. In a similar manner, among the Hočągara the god Day (Hąp) rolls a shining metallic disc over the azure dome. Apollo is a god who traverses boundaries in many other ways, so it is not surprising that this solar aspect finds a counterpart in the mouse. Thus, we have Apollo Smintheus, the Mouse Apollo,13 for the same reason that the mouse is attached to the sun and the soul among the Hočągara: the mouse is a traverser of boundaries. Just as the Sun's child Ghost (the soul) lives within the domestic abode of the flesh after being born, so at death he returns to nature, with the cycle being repeated constantly, like the coming and going of mice between the domestic and the wild, and between the inner world and the world beyond.

Ghost also appears to be wearing a coonskin cap. Raccoons, if they raided the meat racks, would be similar to mice, being a kind of undomesticated domestic. Furthermore, like Ghost himself, raccoons have an association with the water world, since they often appear to "wash" their food before eating it.14* Among the Ioway, who are the nation most closely related to the Hočągara, Mouse Boy actually turns into a raccoon in two episodes in which one Twin kills the other.

Warédwa [≈ Ghost] said to Doré [≈ Flesh], "Let us kill these dangerous monsters [Horned Water Panthers]." "How can we do that?" asked Doré. "I have a plan," answered Warédwa." Kill me with your bow and arrows, cut me up, and place my head on top of the pile of meat and cook me. When you have finished, take me to the monsters, and say to the chief, 'I know you people like to eat meat, so I've killed you a raccoon and butchered it for you. Eat'." And so Doré killed Warédwa and butchered him.15*

Warédwa said to Doré, "Well, we have killed all of the monsters except these [with sharp elbows], let us finish them too. Kill me again for a raccoon and make a 'singed coon' dish for them."16

Later his older brother revives him. Much the same episode is also found among the Pawnee.17* This gives added meaning to the raccoon that the wild Twin wears so prominently on his head. Although this episode shows a case in which one Twin kills the other, it is not framed as a battle. Nevertheless, it does show that it is possible for one Twin to kill the other and revive him later.

At least initially, we have some reason to believe that the boy with lines painted on his face is a preform of Ghost. By exclusion, this leaves the boy whom the Thruston Group calls "Star Eye" to be a preform of Flesh. The Twins are often identified with a pair of particular stars, differing from tribe to tribe,18* just like the Dioskouroi of Greece are said to be the two primary stars of Gemini (Caster and Pollux). The radiant eye is often portrayed in variant forms, as we see when they are set side by side:

The last element in this collection, which is somewhat different from the rayed eye, is actually a gorget, whose design was common in the XIXth century.18.1 This appears on Flesh in a case where the radiant lines are not found around his eye. Thus, the Thruston Group notes, "He usually has a rayed eye-surround, although in one case this device seems to be replaced by a rayed gorget worn on the chest."19 Furthermore, "The figure on the left () may also be related to the Sun, as indicated by the rayed ornament on his chest."20 However, one of the obvious features of this gorget symbol is its target form, which matches the form of the symbol of the Sun in the previous scene. The target is a ubiquitous emblem on Ghost. We should not be surprise to find it on either of the sons of the Sun, since it is an expression of their parentage. Flesh's version has triangular rays rather than the petaloid surround found on the large symbol of the Sun in the Creation Council scene. If it is true that this is an alternant to the star eye, then Flesh's radiant eye would be identical to the sun, not a star. Stars are almost always depicted as four-pointed (✧), except the phases of Venus, which are five-pointed (✩) to express their five distinct apparitions. The idea that there are supernaturals who have the moon and sun for eyes is widespread.21* Among the Hočągara this may be the case with Hare, who has one eye that is doubtless the moon, leaving the other to be the sun.22* It should be remarked that hąp, "light," is also widely used as a metaphor for life. Therefore, inasmuch as Flesh is the son of the Sun (Hąp-wi), and represents the physical life of this world, it is appropriate that his eye be at least in the image of the sun. The eye is appropriate over other organs, because light is a necessary condition for sight, and the sun is shaped like an eye-ball. It is fitting that Flesh, as the dutiful offspring of his father the Sun, should take after him. Thus, we find that when Flesh is inside a house, the primary symbol that decorates its rim is a sequence of targets. The same is true of Flesh's shield. The triangles which stand as the rays of the sun on Flesh's gorget, are found in every case on Ghost's kilts, where they form a fringe on the edge of the garment. The triangular "fringe" is also found on his head gear that recalls nothing so much as that found at Gottschall, as the Thruston Group well appreciated.23

Ghost, Gottschall   Flesh, Gottschall   Ghost, Thruston Tablet   Flesh, Thruston Tablet

I had argued there that this style of headdress expressed the power of the Sun inherited by those who possessed it. Therefore, the fringe also serves to remind us that the wearer is a descendant of the Sun and possessed of those special powers that devolved upon him through the medium of his father.

A variant of this kind of head ornament persisted into the XIXth century. Lance Foster (Ioway) thinks that these "... were woodpecker bill headdresses that represented the rays of the sun."24 This insight ties together many things. As we see in the paintings below, a more horizontal version of the Twins' head gear is found among both the Oto and the Osage.

Shinge Wassa, an Osage Chief (1804)25 Šųgapi, Oto (1838)26*

This pattern of horizontal rays has a striking "parallel sense development" in the famous Statue of Liberty, whose spiked coronet represents radiance. We see that in both paintings the ivory woodpecker bills of the headdress are a pale green, the exact tint of the Statue of Liberty. This is because both the bills and the statue were plated with copper. This means that when it was new, the plated bills shown brilliantly in the sun, better reproducing its intense light than any other possible medium of the time. The Osage exemplar is paired with a similarly coated hawk's head. The hawk is paradigmatically the symbol of the warrior, but so too is the woodpecker, who clubs trees with great violence, unrelenting and persistent, displaying the aggressive virtues of the warrior who does not let up on the attack. In many ways the woodpecker is the counterpart of the warclub, especially that of Ghost's counterpart, whose spike appears to be a woodpecker bill. The woodpecker, a veritable living club, integrates with the winds and the thunderstorm, yet at the same time, with the sun as well, since the hot, brilliant stuff of lightning and the substance of the sun appear to be one and the same.

Flesh, on the other hand, is armed with a spear and "he supports a large square shield, bordered with scroll devices and crossed obliquely by a serrate band."27 The spear is often homologized to rays of light and may be thought of as part of his solar heritage. The device on his shield looks to be a malinalli. The basic element of the malinalli is a "power line" which configures itself in a corkscrew pattern [inset].28 When spiritual power moves upward and downward both, two power lines can become intertwined in a double helix pattern. This is the same pattern used in the making of rope. Malinalli is the Nahuatl word for "vine, liana, twisted straw, braided particularly for house construction; broom."29 This is from malīna, "to be spun or whirled; to spin, whirl, twist."30 The day-sign Malinalli is conventionally translated as "Grass." A Hare myth makes reference to the "rope grass place,"31 so the idea of grass braided into rope is familiar to them as well. In the context of Twins iconography, malinalli are seen emanating from the solar head gear worn by the Twins in the scene depicted at Gottschall. This expresses the power that they inherited from the Sun, which they are able to use in defeating any formidable spirit that they might encounter. This spirit power answers to the word waką́, the stem for wákąčąk, "holy, sacred." So the malinalli might be characterized as intertwined waką́ lines.

General Thruston, being unacquainted with the malinalli, considered the serrate band to be a "double serpent emblem."32 This leads to an interesting possibility. Among the adventures of the two boys is a fierce combat with powerful serpents. The boys habitually denigrate the status of their opponents, mistaking them for game animals that they might kill for dinner. They thought that they were simply hunting garfish, which among fish have the most serpentine bodies. They expect their father to be enthused about eating them.

And when he got back, again right away they said to him, "Father, the garfish that you used to speak of, that's the kind we've killed. They are mighty fat. They're really delicious. We saved a piece for you, and this is it," they told him. Unexpectedly, married snakes came up, and he said to them, "Korá, hagagasgeižą, you've gone and done it! Go pour them out. These, they say, are called "snakes." They are not called "garfish." Go pour them out. They are holy. Also pour these out, and give them tobacco."33

The very word for snake(s) is waką́(-ra), "spirit-power(s)." They are mysterious beings who shed their skin as if reborn. The story teller describes these particular snakes as "married." Among the Hočągara, there is no matrimonial ceremony. There is no distinction between consummation and marriage: a couple who wish to become married merely mate. So "marriage" is a euphemism for "mating." In a footnote in the manuscript,34 Radin described these otherwise unheard of serpents as, "wak‘aⁿ kík‘onûñk [waką́ kíkąnąk] — snakes that break themselves [apart] and join together again." Mating snakes intertwine themselves. This means that the description of a malinalli as "intertwining waką́ lines," is perfectly satisfied by intertwining waką́ creatures having resticular bodies. The caduceus has been understood as a Cosmic Pillar whose swirling motion is expressed by its intertwined serpents.35 Hermes, it may be recalled, is the messenger of the gods, whose fundamental task is to communicate between cosmic levels. This represents "parallel sense development" in which serpents are used to form a malinalli. Therefore, the idea that the serrate band on Flesh's shield is a malinalli, is perfectly compatible with the idea that it represents the "double serpents" that we have encountered in myth. Having such a device on his shield seems appropriate as a commemoration of a warrior deed. This deed reminds us that the object of Flesh is to capture Ghost (his soul). There is, in a sense, a combat between the two at a theological level, expressed in wrestling and binding in one episode, and perhaps here as capture by victory in combat, a theme that would have been well appreciated in Mesoamerica. The intertwined snakes, as well as the double-helix malinalli, represent an image of the intertwining of flesh and soul to form a person. The union of soul and flesh can be thought of as a "marriage." The serpent itself can have phallic associations, which are also replicated in Flesh's spear. It is by means of a phallic spear that flesh is able to capture its soul ("ghost").


§3. The Birth of the Twins. We have accepted as our starting point the basic conclusion of the Thruston Group that the tablet is a story board portraying a set of Twins myths. The first of these, which is at the top of the palimpsest layer, we have shown to be a rather close rendering of the conception episode from the Hočąk myth, "The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head." In a properly ordered story board, after the Creation Council scene, one would expect to see a depiction of the birth of the Twins. The next scene as we go down the tablet is prima facie a chaotic jumble of lines: 1*

We need to turn to the myth in order to decipher the meaning of these lines. In the Hočąk tale, and in almost all others, the mother of the Twins had her abdomen cut open by a visiting stranger, who hid one boy in the lodge, and tossed the other into a lake (or a stump). Many tribes call the former "Lodge Boy," and the latter "Thrown Away," but the Hočągara are unique in giving their Twins transparently theological names.2* The boy who was hidden in the lining of the lodge is called "Flesh" (Waroka), and the other is called "Little Ghost" (Wanąǧinįka).3* They are also known as "the Sons of the Sun" (Hąpwira Hinįkwahira).4 As such they take after their father in a number of respects. As we see from a depiction of one of the boys, his clothing is covered with the target symbols which we have already identified with the Sun-as-center.

We have no difficulty in identifying "Ray-Eye" (Flesh) in this composition. To make his identity a bit more explicit, the artist has put two parallel lines in front of his face. The obvious valence of these lines is the seam into which Flesh (and all his counterparts with few exceptions) was placed in the wall of the lodge. In myth it represents domestic "interiority."

The line highlighted in red is a simple connector line. It shows some connection between the objects thus joined. We know that the sequence of events at the birth scene was that Flesh was removed from the womb first, and put between the lining and the exterior of the lodge; then Ghost was removed. The connector line therefore ought to extend to the second person to emerge from the womb. Therefore, the figure on the right, in the fetal position, is Little Ghost.

We find the target and triangular fringe elements associated with the clothing of Ghost in the Birth Scene. In the series shown below, some lines have been isolated. The one at the far left shows the outline of the neonate Ghost, who is in a fetal position with his head at the top, and his feet at the bottom.

The same symbol complex is seen wrapped around his head. In this context it is not precisely a garment. The covering that can surround the head of a newborn is a caul (the amnion, or amniotic sac). It is a transparent sheath containing fluid. So the baby comes out with its head surrounded in "water." This depiction of the birth of Ghost represents a confluence of homonyms. The symbols that make up the caul remind us of Hąpwira ("Sun"), where hąp is "day, light." Hąp is also the standard ritual word for Life in the Medicine Rite. This is suggested by the word ’ąp, "to be animated, alive; alive, living." The standard word for "to live, be alive, life," is nį’ą́p, the front part of which is , which means "breath." A secondary meaning of is "to be born." By coincidence, this forms a homonym with , "water." Therefore, it is symbolically rich to have Ghost born with a caul that has the solar symbols of Light-and-Life adhering to its surface. The caul represents the most emphatically wet environment that can be present in birth. It is basically part of the placenta that has remained attached to the head, so the caul also represents a kind of afterbirth. This converges upon the Pawnee-Wichita version of the Twin stories. The Wichita story of the birth of the Twins is so close to the Hočąk, that it wouldn't be a surprise if it were borrowed from the latter.5 However, the Caddoan sources have Ghost replaced by After Birth Boy. In origin, he is nothing but afterbirth, and arises from it as Blood Clot Boy arose from a clot of blood. No mention is made of Ghost being born with a caul in modern Hočąk stories, but it fits very nicely into the theology. Ghost is a creature of the water, which only means that the soul resides in a watery environment, namely the flesh of the human body, and more specifically what the ancient Greeks called muelos (μυελός = marrow, brain, semen, etc.).6 The head is particularly identified with the ghost-soul, as it was in ancient Greece.7 So in having the head covered in a caul, which is intact after birth, we see a stronger connection to the Caddoan as well as an interesting expression of the theology of the soul and water, since the caul sack is full of fluid. Since the caul is actually part of the placenta, it is of further interest that one Hočąk variant says that the bladders put on the Twins' heads were placentas (texúkanąk).8 Here that is foreshadowed with a caul. Just as the caul is full of , "fluid," the bladder head gear was full of , "breath," since it was inflated by his father.


According to the birth story of the Hero Twins, in almost every culture, a demonic figure cuts open the mother's womb (thereby killing her), and pulls out the two children. As in our Birth Scene, Flesh comes out first. In the story the womb is cut open, so the three lines would seem to be the cut marks (shown in the second picture in the previous sequence). They occur at two open spaces (labeled "1" and "2"). These are two depictions of the opening of the womb out of which Ghost is extracted. The reason why there are two very similar openings, one above the other, is to show motion. So "1" is actually the initial opening of the womb, as his knees emerge leaving only his feet in the hole (third picture). To make this more explicit, there is another set of motion lines starting at the cut lines at the bottom and rising to the head (fourth picture in the previous set).

The fourth picture in the set shows the "motion lines" in red. They ascend in a stylized forked pattern like a tree. A line moves up, then a branching line takes off at a slight angle, and this is repeated for the length of the motion being depicted. The motion lines, seen below in green, show the direction of motion by widening (<), rather than as in the West by forming an arrowhead (>). We see the moving of Ghost out of the cut womb by a series of such lines. Then we see the next event in the episode portrayed by the same technique. In the illustration below, the red lines are connector lines, and the motion lines are now represented in green.

After Ghost is extracted from the womb, the devilish figure takes him to the shore of a lake, and tosses him in. Connected to the base of the cut mark symbols is a series of open wedges that follow one another down the composition, terminating in what looks like half an arrowhead (blue). These have a structure similar to the motion lines that follow the path of Ghost's extraction from the Cæsarian cut. They form a series of connected wedges hooked to one another on one side. Tentatively taking these lines to indicate motion leads to a fruitful result.

The green cladistic style motion lines lead to an odd agglomeration of lines. By using the myths as a guide, we can decipher all of these. At the bottom, we see a small "Λ" in orange. It has several counterparts. At the very top of the composition is a large "Λ" placed above the head of Ghost. This is not because the people of the region lived in teepees. The horn-shaped object is called such in Hočąk. The word for horn is he, and čira-hera, literally, "the horn of the lodge," means "lodge roof, the opening above, smoke hole of a tent (or lodge)."9 This is where the smoke rises from the fire into the sky, and where the light (hąp = life) enters the lodge. This is the opening through which the sun shines, and which is the conduit through which offerings are made and carried to the heavens in the smoke from the fireplace. So this opening is also the center of divine communication, and therefore functions as another symbol of the center. Thus, by the principle of pars pro toto, the "Λ" can symbolize "lodge, tent, house, home." Since Ghost was born in the lodge, the tent shaped set of lines above Ghost (in orange) represents the čira-hera or "horn," which stands for the lodge. Another "Λ" "home" ideogram (logogram) is also placed over the face of Flesh. Like its large counterpart at the top, the lower part of this ideogram bifurcates. This helps disambiguate the sign, since a lodge is formed of two layers. Since Flesh is already in the lodge, there are no motion lines. Instead, the lodge is shown with an open seam with a line indicating where Flesh was placed. This symbolically expresses the proposition made in the myth that Flesh was placed between the the two layers of the lodge. We can also see this on his shield (in red, below).

Flesh's Shield

We have a baseline on which, right to left, we first see the čira-hera symbol indicating the lodge, then a set of upright parallel lines, indicating its seam. This is the obvious emblem of the Twin who was placed in the seam of the lodge wall. This interstitial state of affairs is made more precise by another variant depiction. Since Flesh was put in the lining of the wall, between the woven twigs or reeds and the hide exterior, we have another pictogram whose line places him just there in relation to the "home" ideogram. What appears to be an odd head ornament stands to the side of a "home" ideogram. It is a series of roughly parallel lines like a bundle of twigs or reeds. Right above it at a right angle is a set of parallel lines with a small oval between them. This again indicates the lodge lining between the twigs/reeds and the hide exterior. The oval represents the placement of Flesh. For further emphasis, a line is drawn from the top parallel lines to the middle of a detached pair of parallel lines, showing his interstitial situation and bringing the two sets of lines together (perhaps because one set was later augmented by the other). The small "Λ" between the head of Flesh and this reiteration of his placement in the seam of the lodge, functions as a determinative (semagram) that serves to clarify the semantic contents of the lines that follow. The last of these ideograms is found at the very bottom of the composition, near the spot where the motion lines come to an end. At first it seems mysterious that a "home" ideogram should be placed in this spot, but when we turn to the context of other symbols and use the myth as a guide, it is easily enough deciphered.

One of these symbols, which is in some cases identical in form to the "home" ideogram, is indicated in blue. The topmost example will be discussed in §5. These prove to be ideograms that we may term harukšék lines. J. O. Dorsey defined harukšék as "bent; leaning, as a lodge, or moveable object." A line which is bent can therefore apply to a lodge, as the latter is harukšék. However, this static and spatial concept has a temporal counterpart, a feature almost universal in the Hočąk language, as we see in a recent definition: "to pull crooked, to bend into sort of an angle, to make something crooked, to turn off and go somewhere else." So the bent line can actually be read in its temporal aspect as, "it turned off and went somewhere else" (the infinitive in Siouan languages = 3ᵈ person singular). The green motion lines lead down from the cut marks to the bottom of the composition, where they meet a bent line (represented in blue). The bent line is a harukšék line, whose meaning is "he turned off and went somewhere else." To the left of this harukšék line, is the other "Λ," which we have deciphered to mean "home." This may seem perplexing, but when we are guided by the myth, everything falls into place. The myth says that Ghost was cast into the water, and here we see under the "home" ideogram a set of wavy lines, which are certainly consistent with a representation of water.10* The result denotes the state of affairs, "watery home." Three lines move from the half arrowhead harukšék lines into this area. They probably function exactly like such lines do in modern cartoons: to indicate fast motion through the air. As can be seen in this set of comparisons, such a technique is commonplace today, and likely represents "parallel sense development" in ideograms.11*


In the present context, this different set of motion lines denotes the casting of Ghost into his watery home.

The myth tells us that a devil was the one who cast away Ghost, and who performed the Cæsarian section on his mother. At the upper right of the composition is a set of lines whose form is difficult to make out, but which can be seen as a face with a sardonic grin. This would suffice to satisfy the myth's statement that an evil spirit was the cruel midwife to the birth of the Twins.

At a smaller scale, the drawing suggests that the odd frontlet ornament on Flesh is also seen hanging in front of this apparent face. This devilish face would be appropriate to Herešgúnina or to whomever else may have killed the mother of the Twins. Therefore, his expected appearance in the pictograph is achieved pars pro toto.

A later artist placed the drawing of a leg over this scene, a leg whose foot presses upon the demon's face.

In Hočąk mythic symbolism, pressing under foot denotes subjugation. The Thunders were said to have created the hills and valleys, metaphors for hierarchy, by stamping down the ground with their feet.12 Someone may have thought that it was appropriate to suppress the power of the chief of the bad spirits by drawing a foot over his head.


§4. The Theft of the Arrows (the Reverse Panel). In the Twins myths, the next episode after the birth and separation of the Twins is their reunion. This may be seen on the reverse side of the tablet.

By virtue of the lines on his face, we know that the figure inside the lodge (or perhaps on a mat) is Ghost. The other figure is probably Flesh, here dressed rather like he is at Gottschall (q.v.), using the bow and arrows that his father made for him. This can be understood as an allusion to a Twins episode, "The Stealing of the Arrows." When Ghost first appears singing, Flesh invites him over.

Then the one standing outside shouted over, "Flesh, is your father there?" he asked. Then he shouted back, "He went hunting some time ago," he said to him. "Come here. Koté, let's play," he said to him. He came over. They played all day long there. The arrows that he had, they made go through the top of the lodge (čiraheja), and they ran out and would pick them up. Then in the evening they would do it again, making the arrows go through the top of the lodge. The visitor did this. He thoroughly gathered up the arrows and started to run. He chased him, but he got away from him. He got to the top of the bank and said, "Forget it!" he said, and jumped into the water. He dove in and disappeared into the water, and did not come up again.1*

The theme of the stolen arrows is not especially common.2* Some of the arrow play was done inside the lodge, where we see an engraving of Ghost. Their father was out hunting, but left Flesh some jerky to eat if he became hungry. This may be what Ghost is doing seated in the lodge (or mat). It was by the tooth marks that the father was able to deduce that someone else had been in the lodge, so this scene is important to the story of the theft of the arrows.

Thruston Tablet   Vaticanus B 76   Cup 201

At Spiro we find an arrow represented only by its back end, just as we do in Mexico with the Reed day sign in many codices. The slit-like nock is found in numerous Mexican exemplars as well as here in the Thruston Tablet. Without knowing the story of the myth, we can see from the pictogram that the arrows shown in the possession of Flesh were taken off somewhere else.

At the top we see a "U" shaped line, and above it a bent line (both in blue). These would both serve as harukšék lines, indicating "it turned off and went somewhere else." Since the second harukšék line attaches to the arrow nock, the statement of the ideogram applies to the arrows, here represented pars pro toto. We have seen in the Birth Scene that gradually widening pairs of lines (in green) represent motion and its direction. Here the arrows are being depicted as moving away, and the ownership of the arrows is made clear by a connector line (in red) that bridges the motion line and the head of Flesh. All of this is done to make it clear that this is the episode in which Ghost runs away with Flesh's arrows. The reverse side may once have conveyed much more information, but it is badly worn and many of its former lines obliterated.

The theology of this episode revolves around the identity of the arrow with the soul. In the Hočąk language, the word for arrow forms a rich set of homonyms. denotes not only the arrow, but time as well. It is the ghost who possesses time, and whose departure means the loss of the remaining time/arrows of the flesh. So the mąra belong to Ghost. When the flesh looses it soul, its consciousness and memory depart with it. So Flesh can tell his father nothing about what had happened when body and soul were together. When they are together, they spend their time shooting arrows through the čira-hera, the "horn" or smoke hole of the lodge. It is through this hole that offerings are made to the deities of the Upper World, so it is like an image of the hole in the sky through which souls travel when they die or are reincarnated. Thus it is that in Twins stories from other tribes, the boys are often found shooting their arrows through the hole in the sky, and making that hole permanent so that the transmigration of souls may take place without hindrance.3


§5. The Binding of the Soul: The Capture of Ghost and the Hóega. In most Twins stories, after some time has passed, the wild Twin comes to visit his domestic brother. In the Hočąk version, as we have touched upon above, the father makes arrows for his son to play with while he is out hunting. So when Ghost stops by, he and Flesh play at archery, but at the end of the day, Ghost steals away the arrows. In light of this and other evidence, Flesh's father deduces that this is his long lost son, and plots with Flesh to capture him. When Ghost shows up, he is as always suspicious. Flesh tries to reassure him.

"Koté, I won't do anything to you," he said. He came over. Right away, they began to play again. Then he turned around, and very adroitly he grabbed hold of his waist. He shouted, "Father, run home! (288) I have caught my younger brother," he said. Then he [Ghost] tried very hard to bite him, but he could never reach him. Then he came running, and he did this: he tied him up.1

The binding of the wild Twin is a favorite motif in many mythologies.2 In the iconographic variant, Flesh is holding the binding strap, and appears to be taking on the job himself, as he does in a Pawnee version.3

What is quite unusual, and perhaps unique for art of this place and time, is the depiction of multiple arms. It is certainly not the case that they have more than two arms each. This scene was drawn right next to the birth scene, suggesting prima facie that this is action that occurs just after that episode. In this scene, Ghost is particularly barbarous and feral to create the greatest possible contrast with the domesticated Flesh. He even appears to be dragging the stem and underside of a water lily leaf stuck in his clothing, a reflection his habitual subaquatic abode. The shape of his upper lip suggests the beaver-like teeth with which he threatens Flesh. Unlike any known version, Hočąk or otherwise, Ghost is seemingly portrayed sporting a horn in the middle of his forehead. This unexpected interpretation is validated in another scene (), where his horn cannot be rationalized as any other kind of object. Even this temple horn appears to have a string of wet vegetation twined around it.

Again, the myth is the proper guide for deciphering the actions of the pictography. Clearly what is being depicted is the wrestling match taking place between Flesh on the left and Ghost on the right. It begins with each giving the ruhį́č, the respectful greeting made by raising the arm up slowly with the palm turned towards the face of the other person. While Ghost's hand is in the air, Flesh quickly drops his left arm and seizes Ghost near his belt. Ghost, for his part, tries to push Flesh away with a shove to his shoulder. So the myth-template dictates that the multiple arms represent a sequence of actions presented using a precursor to the cinematic animation technique known as "stop-motion" ("stop-action"). In this process an animation figure is photographed in a series of positions reflecting its course of motion, each element being a "freeze" or temporal slice of a dynamic action. Here we have two stop-motion "shots": 1) the ruhį́č, and 2) the grappling.

Shot 1 Shot 2 Composite

The viewers can easily employ their imaginations to see how the motion of the arms progresses. The action resembles in many ways contemporary cartoons, where animation is similarly effected, but with the blurring of the earlier stages of an object's motion.4*


The first use of stop-motion in cinematic animation occurred in 1897.5* However, we can now appreciate that earlier Americans had accomplished a similar effect in the XIVth century. The other aspect of this animation sequence is superimposition: the figure in one stage of motion is drawn over the figure in a preceding stage of motion. However, when compared to the earliest parietal pictographs of motion, the age of the portable Thruston Tablet is a mere historical yesterday. As early as the 1950's, Prudhommeau recognized that some pictures in a Paleolithic cave in France seemed to be an attempt to represent motion.6 However, the systematic exploitation of this insight had to await the work of Azéma,7 who has been able to show that Paleolithic cave dwellers in Europe were creating the illusion of motion in their murals at least 30,000 years before the same techniques reappear in our tablet.8 This idea readily suggests itself: some of Azéma's conclusions were also reached independently by Wachtel, who noted,

In a number of caves, there are creatures engraved or painted with "extra" body parts. For example, in Pair-non-pair there is an animal — probably an ibex — with two heads. In Les Combarelles there is a mammoth with two or perhaps three trunks.9

At Chauvet Cave, we find a bison with eight legs that is very similar in conception to the wrestling scene from the tablet.10*

Shot 1 Shot 2 Composite

Just like the wrestling scene in America, this Paleolithic bison can be deconstructed into two stop-motion "shots" which are combined by superimposition into a composite picture of an animal in motion. The contrary notion that it represents a bovine Sleipnir11* is confidently ruled out by the wider context, where we find 52 cases of various forms of animation in a dozen different caves.12 Furthermore, the basic two-shot, stop-motion is impressively surpassed by the five-shot stop-motion composite of a horse raising its head found at the La Marche cave in Vienne.13 Compared to what we have found so far in America, the European forms represent a tour-de-force. Why stop-motion composite animations were laboriously engraved in rock is not easy to grasp, but the question of "Why not more?" has a simple answer: because the proper effect is exceedingly difficult to render, and therefore not commonly executed.14* This is because the proper illusion is partly dependent upon the character of the lighting:

By firelight, a secret of the cave painters was exposed. In the space of a few moments, I saw cuts and dissolves, change and movement. Forms appeared and disappeared. Colors shifted and changed. In short, I was watching a movie. The components of these effects are the irregular surfaces of the cave, a light source that moves and flickers, and a moving eye. The images were painted and etched under these circumstances so that they are visible from some view-points and not from others.15

This graphic illusion achieves its full impact when the light from a grease lamp or torch is moved along the length of the rock wall.16

To get the proper experience of the art in a parietal context, the viewer and his light source have to be in motion themselves; but with portable rock art, the tablet itself can be tipped and rotated with respect to the fire to produce the desired effects. This naturally leads to the idea that such compositions as the "glitter lines" of the Creation Council scene () may have been more striking in effect when viewed in the flickering flames of a campfire with the tablet being moved slightly to alter the reflection of light.

Like its technique of depicting motion in a static medium, the ideological expression of this scene is both complex and sophisticated. The theological meaning of the capture scene is obvious. The soul, which initially dwells apart from the flesh, has to be induced to combine with it down in the Lower World. Once the flesh grabs hold of the soul, through the reproductive agency of the Sun, they become a single "team," which is to say a living and independent person. Otherwise, the soul dwells in the semen of the father, which in the myth is homologized to water. It is the of nį’ą́p ("life"), and therefore of breath. Only when the father can get the soul out of the marrow-like substance in which it dwells, can it combine with Flesh to form a new individual. Thus, in some variants, Ghost dwells in a stump, which typically possesses a pool of water at its hollow base. Such a stump in this allegory cannot be anything but phallic.

The binding of the soul is an important part of the theology of the kindred Osage as well.

In their study of the cosmos, the Osages had come to see sky and earth as the two main divisions. As they put it, "life is conceived in the sky and descends to earth take material form."17 Life was the product of the interaction between the sky, which they came to call father, and the earth, which they called mother. Humans and other living things existed on the surface of the earth, the space between earth and sky. This space they called the hó-e-ga, or snare of life, referring to a snare or trap "into which all life comes through birth and departs there from by death."18

This differs little from the theology of the Hočągara. In the myth, the binding strap represents the hóega snare. This is made clear in an Osage rite, where a priest plays the role of a captive.

They said to one another: "What shall the people place upon his wrists? It is a bond spoken of as the captive's bond, that they shall place upon his wrists." Verily, it is not a captive's bond that is spoken of, but it is a soul that they shall place upon his wrists.19*

The Osage have certain stylized ways of graphically representing a hóega. The trap itself looks like a square U-brad (⊓). However, the full representation contains an additional four elements expressed as interior lines. These are the winds of the four quarters.20


The hóega (left) has a striking resemblance to the strange fringe-like form (right) from which the motion lines in the Birth Scene descend. Yet there is nothing to which this "fringe" attaches apart from the apex of the series of motion lines. The resemblance of this figure to the the Osage hóega is self-evident, save that this exemplar is quinquepartite. This is in keeping with the strong emphasis on the number 5 in the Creation Lodge scene, where the five Culture Heroes stand not only for the five directions and the five World Levels, but for the totality of the spirits. In the Osage hóega, the four lines represent the four winds, so its counterpart on the tablet must be representing five winds. In the Dakotan branch of Central Siouan, there are in fact five winds, the last being the whirlwind.21* However, in this context, the fifth wind stands for something else. Its meaning is made evident in the Birth Scene, which is "told" from top to bottom. At the top, the beginning, are none other than five parallel lines.

These lines are not depicted in the hóega form. The top bar and the two "bookend" lines in the hóega actually represent the snare itself, which is sometimes simply identified as the earth, which is to say, This World. If the snare is removed, the remaining hóega lines would represent just the (four/five) winds set out as parallel lines. Why would five winds be shown at the spatio-temporal beginning of a scene that shows the extraction of Ghost from the womb? There is at least one "connector line" attaching the five lines to the birth scene. Notice that the last line, the fifth wind, is being pealed off, and is represented as a bent harukšék line. Such lines are ideograms meaning, "it moves in a new direction." This would suggest that the essence of Ghost is this fifth wind. Why, indeed, is the hóega used to portray winds, when it is the symbol of the binding of the soul to the life of flesh on earth? Clearly, the winds are chosen because what is caught in the terrestrial snare is breath (), a somatic wind and the essence of life. The four winds are the winds of the quarters, the fifth wind is the wind of the center, the wind of the lungs, the breath. So the fifth and central wind is pealed off to move into the womb as the spirit that quickens the flesh (cf. Latin spiritus, "breath"). It begins without the surround of the snare, but ends up at the bottom contained within its earthly trap. This shows that the Wild Twin does not have just any theological valence, but can with some confidence be identified with the soul, which is to say, with the Hočąk model in particular, where Line Face is a variant and preform of Ghost.

We are now in a position to appreciate the meaning of the odd lines on the face of Ghost which gave rise to the Thruston Group calling him "Line Face." Usually, he is shown with two lines, the upper one of which is ticked. The one which has no ticked line, the Ghost of the Combat Scene, has two wide lines, one of which extends to the base of the nose (upper lip), and the other to the corner of the mouth. The mouth and nose have something in common that pertains to the significance of Ghost: they are each involved in respiration. Ghost, as the soul infused at birth and which departs at death, is responsible for quickening the flesh, of giving it breath (). Naturally, the iconic face paint will have been designed to draw attention to breath as the life-giving power of the soul. This ties to the fifth wind of the hóega. We see that the ticked line of Ghost on the reverse side has seven tick marks. This would be two for the ends of the hóega, which define the snare's boundaries, and five for the winds that it has contained on earth. Other instances of the ticked line have many tick marks. This form is a variant of the hóega pattern, only it is not restricted to two edge lines and five inside lines as on the elongated version on the reverse side. So this variant would simply indicate multiple winds over which Ghost has control. These are the winds of the Fifth Wind, that is, the or breaths, which need not be confined to a set number. The two thick lines extend in parallel to the corner of the mouth and the base of the nostrils, except for one, where it extends to the bridge of the nose. The point remains that emanates from the mouth and nose, a reiteration of ghost-soul's control over that somatic wind. The last in this series comes from the WiChi branch, and shows what resembles an Osage-like hóega painted on the left side of the face of the Ioway chief Mahaska in 1824. This exemplar has five tick marks, meaning that it is either tripartite with a frame, or quinquepartite without one. The number of tick marks separate it from the standard Osage model, but may be compatible with that of the Thruston Tablet. If it is a hóega, given the proximity of the Ioway to the Osage, we cannot rule out more recent borrowing. Nevertheless, since the Dhegiha and the WiChi language families are closer to one another than to any other Siouan group, we also cannot rule out a survival of this concept from a common heritage.

Archaeologists have recovered quite a number of fragments of shell engravings from Craig Mound at Spiro in which ticked lines appear in the depiction of faces the same way that we see them on Line Face.22

Cup 125   Cup 131G   Cup 140C   Cup 191K

Not shown is Cup 133B, where the ticked line is clear, but the rest of the face is badly worn; and Cup 136, where it is not perfectly clear that the two figures, identical twins facing away from one another, have ticked lines on their faces or something rather more like scallop patterns. All of these are Craig A except Cup 191K, which is thought to be Craig B. Craig A goes back to the early XIIIth century,23 whereas the Thurston Tablet is dated as late XIIIth or early XIVth centuries.24 The material from Spiro, although it may be a little earlier, is so fragmentary it is hard to make any judgements regarding its significance. The Spiro ticked line may have symbolized something else, and was given a different interpretation by those who made the Thruston Tablet. Nevertheless, we are not completely without some indication that the ticked marks on the lines represented winds, as they do on the modern hóega.

We find another set of ticked lines on a fragmentary cup from Spiro (208.1). This cup makes a fair match to Cup 203, which shows Birdman with a terrace-like set of nested lines. Phillips and Brown found an excellent modern counterpart, a Zuñi shield depicting a Thunderbird.25 In the latter, the arching figure is most likely the Rainbow; but the stepped structure strongly resembles that over the head of the Birdman of Cup 203.

Cup 208.1   Cup 203   Zuñi Thunderbird Shield

It is tempting to see the jagged lines of the nested terraces in Cup 203 as exemplars of lightning, jumping from wing to wing, but its counterpart cup (208.1) shows us a variation that replaces jagged lines with smooth curves. In Cup 208.1, it seems reasonably certain that lightning is not being depicted. In the Zuñi picture, we know exactly what the stepped structure depicts. Such a symbol is conventionally called a "terrace pattern," "cloud terrace," "cloud altar," or "rain altar."26

Cloud Terrace Symbols
Mexican27 Codex Laud 12 Zuñi28 MMV29

So, given the billowing counterpart of Cup 203's stepped design, and its clear correspondence to the cloud terrace of the Southwest, it is not likely that the terrace structure in Cup 203 is an image of lightning at all. It almost certainly represents clouds. In modern examples, often the angular character of the terrace is rounded off to look more like billowing clouds, as we see in these examples from the Hopi.30*

It is natural in both Cup 208.1 and in the Hopi cloud terraces, to show the cloud mountains in their billowing form. Among the Hopi we see both terraces and billows coexisting. So too, it seems, in Spiro. However, one very natural interpretation of downward lines from a cloud symbol is rain. We can't rule out that the ticked marks on the billowing lines of Cup 208.1 are rain. Among the Hopi, downward lines are used precisely with this valence.31

Here the cloud terraces are shown raining down, but the lines used are too long to be called "ticked marks." If the ticked marks of the Spiro cup reflect a general symbol associated with clouds, it cannot be rain, since we do have in Cup 133B, ticked marks that go up from their line, just as we frequently have on the Thruston Tablet. However, there is no guarantee that the ticked marks have the same meaning in every context, although it can be said that the interpretation of their valence as winds on the Thruston Tablet is certainly not contradicted by finding them in depictions of clouds.

§6. The Twins in Redhorn’s Raid. One of the palimpsest pictographs seems to recount one of the many adventures of the Twins, as they go about the world destroying bad spirits. Some lines (in yellow) in this scene have been restored by the Thruston Group.1

When the lines at the left are restored, the image to which they belong becomes more coherent. It seems to be a fish.2

Two figures are shown behind the fish. The lead figure has a horn projecting from his forehead, nor is this the usual beak-nose such as we see with Birdman on occasion. The indentation indicating the nose is well below it. As we see when we isolate the figure, a rather bold hand strongly accentuated the horn, and made sure that it embedded itself in the fish.

The same bold hand seems to have made the semi-circular dark band that begins at the chin of the figure and ends just past his chest. The dark semi-circular band terminates in a hóega. It uses the lower front body line to form its last framing line. This hóega is also quinquepartite, including the fifth wind uniquely tied to the ghost-soul. The hóega is a snare, and in the Osage rite referenced above, the hóega can be expressed as a binding strap, such as was used in both iconography and myth to bind Ghost in order to insure his cohabitation with Flesh. So there can be little doubt that this is a symbolic binding strap that terminates in a hóega fringe. This identifies the Twin in question as Ghost, since it is esoterically the soul which is bound by the hóega just as it is Ghost who is bound by the strap. Yet when we remove this boldly executed strap, we can more clearly see what may be an earlier strap that also may have terminated in a fringe. Since the other Twin was drawn so that he occluded part of this strap and fringe, we cannot be certain that the fringe was also a hóega. However, its condition may have produced the dissatisfaction that led to the creation of a new binding strap and more explicit hóega. Dissatisfaction with the details of the depiction seems to have been the motive of the bold hand in revising both the strap and the horn. It is also quite clear, given that the strap does not rest on anything, that it functions purely as a symbol, no doubt to identify the figure as the soul bound to the flesh, as in the almost explicit theology of the Hočąk Ghost.

Which Twins adventure is this? There is only one Twins myth that is about a fight of the good spirits against aquatic bad spirits, and which features a character who has a horn growing from the center of his forehead, and that is "The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth." In this story, the Twins are helping Redhorn, who is the warleader. Here, however, it is Redhorn himself, under the name "Only One Horn," who sports the horn growing out of his forehead. It is this same form of Redhorn who is seen in Picture Cave with an antler attached to his forehead. Redhorn is identified with a fixed star (Alnilam of Orion), which being non-circumpolar, has to undergo the "harrowing of Hell," with the certain and inevitable destiny of rising again in triumph. In Redhorn myths this harrowing episode is played out in a number of variations. In "Įčorúšika and His Brothers," Įčorúšika (Redhorn) is tricked so that he is led over a fall-trap so deep that he ends up in the underworld of the Bad Waterspirits. There they assess the worth of Redhorn strictly in culinary terms. Nevertheless, he breaks his bonds of iron, grabs a fire brand and burns this water world and its inhabitants in a virtuoso display of pyrotechnics. When a star rises again from a period within the earth, it first rises with the sun. It is the light of the sun that supplies the literal fire power of the triumphant escape. In "The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth," we are told,

Then the war leader said, “Now then, attendants! I will help you,” and at the war leader’s forehead stood a single horn, and it was very red. This he took off and struck the water with it, and the water burned like fuel, and there all the bad things were burned up. Then the leader said, “Now then! from henceforth you will no more call me “One Horn.” Here the humans are being abused and here I have used my horn, therefore, the humans shall ever call me, ‘Without Horns,’ because I have caused myself to be without any,” he said. That is why they call them Heroka, meaning “ones without horns.”3

Here Redhorn kills the bad spirits by setting their water world on fire, just as he did the palace of the Bad Waterspirits. Here the firebrand becomes a detachable horn from Redhorn's own head. The deep structure meaning of these allegories is the same: when the star escapes from the world of the bad spirits, he does so when the celestial Fire is in its control. As may be seen in common observation, an undisturbed flame tapers to a point like a horn, this is why the wielder of the solar fire ignites the world with a horn. The horn in these allegories is the Sun. We know that the figure with the horn in the pictograph is Ghost and not Redhorn. Today, we do not encounter a single myth in which one of the Twins has a horn on his head. Yet, given its meaning, it is certainly clear that on theological grounds, Ghost too could be assigned a horn. He may indeed by a non-circumpolar star, although we are not told which one; yet above all, he is the Son of the Sun. As such he has the power that the Sun bestowed upon him. This could hardly exclude the power to use the dread horn of the Heroka. We see at Gottschall, and here on the Thruston Tablet, a depiction of solar power resting on his head as an ornament of spokes or triangles representing the rays of the sun. So, even today, there could be no theological objection to Ghost having the forehead horn normally associated with Redhorn.

In the story, it is the Twins who are with Redhorn, not his own sons. They and other good spirits are attacking an island occupied by a coalition of bad spirits.

They were about to attack a village where the evil spirits lived. Herešgúnina had created four chiefs, the oldest of which had a body of live (magnetic) iron, the second had a body of real iron (steel), the third had a body of black rock, and the last had a body of fat rock (marble). It was said that none of them could ever be felled by any weapon; furthermore, it was impossible to surprise this village as it was situated on an island in the middle of the ocean and guarded by all the fishes of the sea. Nor was that all. There was a bird with a long, sharp beak that walked about the island jabbing his bill into the ground so that anything approaching from below the ground would be skewered. There was another creature with an immense mouth and whatever got near him, he would suck it in. Another had huge ears, ears capable of hearing anything over the entire expanse of the ocean, and whatever he heard, he could draw it right to himself. Another had eyes that projected beams of fire, so that he could incinerate anything that he could see.4

A fortress with the Ocean Sea as its moat could expect to feel secure. Turtle, being a spirit with both aquatic and subterranean associations, by virtue of his biological nature, had a promising plan.

Now they had completed their preparations, and those who had been chosen declared, "Turtle is the only one who can lead this attack." Turtle replied, "Ho!" and called everyone to him. Each of them he placed in some crevice of his body. Then he dove straight down into the earth until he reached its base, after which he began to ascend.5

Turtle was able to evade the fish guarding the island. Then he burst upon the principal culprits, who "were sunning themselves," an activity that usually identifies a supernatural as a Waterspirit. They emerged unexpectedly from the ground. This may be portrayed in the two lines that meet crossing one another (below). They create a central opening somewhat like the Cæsarian section lines of the Birth Scene (right).


Ghost is seen coming up between these lines. In the ensuing combat, the Twins play an important role in the fight.

Unexpectedly, they burst upon them. The live iron chief they shot first, then the real iron spirit, the black rock, and finally the fat rock spirit. After this quick strike, they took off running. The ones that could fly, took to the air; while Turtle and the others escaped under ground. Despite all, they had to fight many of the evil spirits on the way. Turtle himself was struck by the long billed creature, but the Twins shot the monster dead.6

One of the odd features in the iconograph is isolated here:

Thruston Tablet   Gottschall

This could certainly answer to the "long billed creature" mentioned as having been killed by the Twins. As we saw above, this creature was a bird. The lines that we have isolated appear to be a bird turned upside down and filled in with hachure lines in order to make it look black. This is essentially the same technique used in nearly contemporary times, and at Gottschall, to indicate death. This can be seen in the similar color and orientation of the two birds here shown side by side. In addition to the inverted bird, below it we also have an image that looks rather like the back digit of a raptor's podium. This is seen compared to that of the Cooper's Hawk.

The digit is very large, and there is a line that goes halfway up towards the inverted bird. It could represent a connector line that is half eroded, designed to show the size and power of the dead bird.

The main enemy spirits were Rock Spirits. Part of this same complex of lines is consistent with that interpretation.

The oval is exactly like those used to render the eyes of the Twins. However, it is hard to say what a Rock Spirit should look like, and there is no comparative material to fall back on. Clearly there is the ever present danger of seeing faces in the clouds, and while the interpretation of these lines situated below Flesh is far from perfect, it can at least be shown to be consistent with the understanding of the scene as a depiction of the events related in the Hočąk story, "The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth."

The next incident in the fight may explain why Ghost seems to be spearing a fish with his forehead horn.

Turtle had no luck at all, for the next thing he knew, he was tangled up in the ears of the long-eared creature. No matter how he cut this monster with his two edged knife, he could not disentangle himself. Again the Twins stepped in and killed the monster. Turtle didn't get very far before the big mouthed spirit swallowed him alive. It was with some difficulty that the Twins were able to cut him back out.7

We do see Ghost seemingly cutting the fish upon which he is slamming his horn. It is hardly a radical departure from our recent myth to have Turtle swallowed by one of the fish guards. One may notice a turtle shell-like dome on this fish's head () which may represent its swallowing of that spirit. Perhaps the only place that they could put the swallowed Turtle so that he showed the right contour is in the dome of the fish's head. In the myth, the horn is used to strike the water, where the bad spirits are launching a counterattack. Therefore, Ghost slamming this horn weapon into the sea upon a fish is at least consistent with that feature of the contemporary myth. This horn is not the antler associated with Redhorn, but an approximation to the more conical buffalo horn. In Hočąk symbolism the buffalo can stand for stars. Although Ghost must have lost his horn at some point, it seems unlikely that he became one of the Without Horns (Heroka), over whom Redhorn and his sons are chiefs. Nevertheless, as we shall see below, the emblem of the Heroka seems to occur in connection with Ghost in another scene. There can be little doubt that Ghost, as one who governs arrows (souls), is allied to the spirits of the arrow, the Heroka. In some western Siouan traditions,8 and those of their neighbors,9 the Hero Twins can actually transform themselves into arrows and shoot themselves from their own bow, just as can Redhorn-Herokaga and his two sons.

There remains one picture whose meaning has not been addressed. This is the boomerang-like object suspended above this scene. It might represent the crescent moon near the horizon, except that it is upside down. Nevertheless, the moon is the mother of the Twins, and its crescent phase has two "horns," so perhaps its orientation was not deemed important.


§7. The Departure Scene. The last episode in the story board proves to be the most difficult to understand. Instead of being able to work from a story to the meaning of the lines that its iconographic depiction uses to express its content, we are forced to adopt the opposite tack.

We can immediately appreciate that the figure depicted above the lodge in which Ray-Eyed (Flesh) is sitting is Ghost. He seems to be wearing his trademark bladder hat. This brings us to an interesting sequence of symbols found on Ghost's kilt.

The top member of this sequence is the familiar target symbol, which on the tablet denotes the sun-as-center. Target designs of this sort could still be found in the XIXth century.0 The "x" below the target, as a set of crossing lines, also represents a center where two directions come together and where space is quartered. The quartering defined by the sun above is that of the cardinal points. In the context of the soul and its transmigrations, the cross, therefore, is a way of representing the four cardinal winds. However, where the lines intersect, the center, represents the central wind, the wind at the center of human flesh in the lungs. As we have seen, the sun is the impregnator, creating the Twins from the spirit-substance contributed by the Great Ones. In the Birth Scene, this is also represented in five parallel lines, the five winds, with the fifth wind being peeled off in the form of a harukšék symbol, denoting its redirection into the womb. It is the process of redirection from heaven to earth of the spiritual soul as that evokes the image of the mouse. This is the animal that lives at the crossroads of the wild and the domestic ("nature & culture"), going back and forth between them, as we have already noted. The "V" shaped fringe which occurs below the mouse symbol suggests two things. It is tooth-shaped, the word hi denoting tooth; but the nearly identical word, , denotes fur or hair. The mouse in conjunction with the indicates that the blanket is made of mouse-fur, as told in the myths. However, the "V" form also serves as a representation of the solar rays, as it did on Flesh's gorget. Associated as it is with the mouse symbol, it serves to portray Ghost as an American Apollo Smintheus.

Nevertheless,  it would be more than helpful if we had a myth to guide us to the action of this scene. The Thruston Group does offer a mythical template, comparing this scene to an episode in which the Twins had to undergo a smoking ordeal.1 That myth, however, is from the distant Navajo tribe. In their story, the Twins go to see their father, but being suspicious of their identity, he decides to put them to the test. He offers them poisonous tobacco, but another spirit gives them the antidote, and they suffer no ill effects. Eventually, the Sun is convinced that the boys are his true sons, or perhaps more accurately, finds himself forced to admit the fact to his wife.2 This episode seems to be unique to the southwest, so it would be surprising if it were found in Tennessee in the past without having left a trace in the mythology of any successor tribe in that part of North America. In the Hočąk myth, "Children of the Sun," the Twins actually visit the Sun in his own lodge, yet he shows no hint of being ignorant of their identity or why they are visiting him.3 Moreover, it seems odd that Ghost is outside the lodge while Flesh is still smoking, as the mythic template does not show a serial testing of the Twins.

Closer to home, we can find a Hočąk myth in which smoking is a central part of the episode. This is in the old myth, "The Lost Blanket," which is the subject of a famous panel at the Gottschall Rockshelter. In its present form, it is a long myth full of many adventures. In one of these, the Twins visit an old spirit being, whom they address as "grandfather." He's taking a nap, but sits up when they come into his lodge. However, instead of offering them a smoke, he rudely lays back down and goes back to sleep. So the boys use his pipe and his tobacco to light up. The younger brother, following custom, offers the pipe to his older brother, and when he is done smoking, Ghost indulges himself. When Ghost is through, he takes the pipe, breaks off its bowl, then puts it back so that it looks as if nothing had happened to it. He also sabotaged the old man's tobacco pouch. When the old man wakes up, they have gone. He decides to smoke, but when he picks up his pipe, it breaks in two, and when he picks up his tobacco pouch, tobacco scatters everywhere. Thus, the inhospitality of the man is visited upon him in turn.4 On this model, what the tablet's iconography shows is Flesh smoking first, then afterwards, Ghost breaking the pipe. But this is not wholly satisfactory either. There is no picture of the old man upon whom this punishment is inflicted; nor indeed, is this adventure particularly noteworthy. The most telling objection is that the pipe that Flesh is smoking bears no resemblance to the pipe that Ghost is breaking. Indeed, is the latter even a pipe?

So what is Ghost doing, and what kind of artifact does he have in hand? Holmes, in any case, thought that the object in Ghost's hands might be a pipe.

To the right of the sitting figure is a full-length figure, placed at such an angle in relation to the others as to be nearly prostrate. This personage grasps an object of problematic nature — a weapon, perhaps — which is held after the manner of a gun and from the outer end of which appears to issue smoke. The end of this object next the shoulder does not turn down as does the stock of a gun, but bends upward in front of the face and terminates in a heavy barbed point like that of a spear. Pendant from the horizontal shaft are two rectangular tassel-like figures, more appropriate to a pipe than to a gun. In costume the figure agrees pretty closely with the first and fourth figures of the main group above, but the head-dress is of a distinct type.5

The smoke to which Holmes is referring is apparently the billowing column with a conduit symbol running up the middle of it just below the implement. Holmes' observation that it resembles both a weapon and a pipe gives us a clue to its identity. What this object seems most to resemble is Pawnee Hako pipe,6 the model upon which the Omaha Wáwaⁿ pipe is based.7 The latter is somewhat better described as a "wand, " since it is not equipped with a bowl. The Omaha pipe-wand is seen below in comparison to the object in the grasp of Ghost.

The head of the tablet's pipe bears some resemblance to the mallard head of the Hako and Wáwaⁿ wands. The three ornaments hanging from it appear to be plaques, probably made with decorated buckskin. They correspond to the three sets of ornaments hanging from the proximal end of the Wáwaⁿ wand. These represent the rays of the sun and moon (who happen to be the parents of the Twins). The older pipe may have had similar representations in pictorial form. There is a subtler and even more interesting convergence: Ghost's implement seems to terminate at the proximal end in an exaggerated arrowhead, which has a counterpart in the long arrow fletchings found in the middle of the Hako-Wáwaⁿ wand. The context of the Tablet version is Ghost standing outside a lodge in which Flesh is smoking a pipe. The Hako-like ceremonies involve adoption, where the beneficiary acquires a new soul, so to speak. And that is precisely how the Hočągara do speak: the word meaning "to adopt," is wanąǧí hírehí, "to replace the ghost (i.e., to adopt a child to replace a lost one)," from wanąǧí, "soul," and herehí, "to put something in the place of something else; to make to be; to cause."8 So it is appropriate for Ghost to possess such a pipe-wand, since it is a soul that is undergoing replacement. The fletchings on the Omaha version (also found on the Hako pipe), show that it also doubles as an arrow. The arrow represents the soul, and Ghost, of course, governs arrows.

The odd line in orange that touches the presumed arrow-pipe, and the red line that connects it to the bend that terminates in an arrowhead, do not seem to belong to the pipe itself, as no pipe or weapon is seen having such structures hanging from it. By now we have seen quite a few harukšék lines, and it is evident that this is another. The red line is a connector line. It reads, "It turns and goes in another direction (harukšék), that is, the bent (kšék) part of the implement." The bent part of the implement contains the stone head. In the Pawnee version, this stone head is left behind by the wild Twin, with the promise that all lightning strokes falling upon the earth will leave a flint thunder stone behind. However, this is rather superficial. The arrow segment of the pipe in the hands of Ghost could only symbolize the soul. If the implement is a Hako pipe, then it functions in effecting an adoption. In the case of prisoners who are allowed to defect, the result of an adoption ceremony is to give the prisoner a new identity, which is to say, a new soul. In the Hočąk moiety myth (q.v.), when a man fleeing his people comes to a new village, they take him to be the reincarnation of someone lost in the wars. They adopt him and call him "son" and "brother." His is a ghost that has been redirected into a different flesh. The harukšék redirection line applies to the arrow, because the arrow in the context of adoption symbolizes just such a ghost. It is naturally Ghost who makes such a redirection. In Hočąk the word for arrow is , which is a homonym that also means, "time." So in adoption, it is the most identifiably sagittary part of the wand that is made kšék, reflecting a new direction in time. The bending of the Wáwaⁿ wand is similar in meaning to the bending of the Fifth Wind in the Birth Scene, both showing a redirection, a harukšék, of the soul to the waiting flesh of the lower world.

Although we can make sense of the implement in Ghost's hand as a Hako style pipe-arrow-wand used in adoption ceremonies, the resemblance is weak at best, so little confidence can be placed in the result, however well it may fit the theology expressed in the rest of the composition. Among the Hočągara such pipes and their use in ritual have not survived, and nothing is to be found in their corpus of ethnography that can illuminate the matter. Furthermore, we still do not have a mythic template from which to understand the action taking place in the picture. Where does this unusual scene fit in the overall composition? The palimpsest story board goes from top to bottom, so if the overwritten pictographs do the same, then the bottom scene should be the last episode in the Twins' story.

How is the story of the Twins to end? From the point of view taken by Hočąk theology, every possibility is realized when the soul and flesh reach the end of their union on earth. They separate from each other (parting of soul from flesh),9 or they disappear into the earth (burial),10 or they continue on indefinitely (the endless cycle of birth and death).11 Unlike the beginning, the various endings in the Twins myths of the Hočągara do not seem to match this last scene on the tablet. What is needed is an ending in which Flesh remains behind in a lodge while Ghost ascends to the sky. When Ghost and Flesh run in disparate directions, they do so because they are being chased by a special turkey called Rušewe. This is not what we see in the pictograph.

The Pawnee also have a version in which the Twins separate, but one which seems to better fit the picture.

Long-Tooth-Boy addresses the people, telling them he has overcome all bad animals. He teaches them, gives them buffalo, tells them he is about to leave, and that his power comes from the clouds; and that they may obtain power from him where they see lightning strike, where they will find a flint stone. He directs that his brother's skull shall be placed in the stone circle. He smokes with his brother and in the night, disappears. In his place is a large-sized flint.12

If the Hočągara were held to be right, and the Twins were made of the essence of the spirits, they would be possessed of the substance of the sun and lightning. And this is what is more generally believed, as here among the Pawnee, where the Twins can become weather spirits alongside the Thunderbirds. However, the Hočągara deny this possibility, saying, "As it happens they never reached the clouds, otherwise to this day bad things would be happening."13 The Pawnee mitigate this possibility by using the separation model, with only Long Tooth Boy in the clouds supplying the thunder stones to the lightning. This is more appropriate than it may at first seem, since bones are "stone" and when the soul departs, it does so from their marrow. The soul substance, being ethereal in some way, has some kinship to the lightning. When lightning is used up in a thunderbolt, its "bone" is left behind.

When we look to some of the details of this composition, the Pawnee model has some explanatory power. If the Thruston Tablet holds to Hočąk theology, as we should expect, given its initial scene, the separation model represents the inevitable parting of the ghost from the flesh. The flesh is mortal, but the ghost lives on forever. The Pawnee represent the mortal Twin as having a last smoke with his brother, which is certainly consistent with the scene in the pictograph. That night his twin departs for the Upper World, leaving him behind in the lodge. Handsome Boy's destiny is to die, since it is willed that there be a future role for his skull in earthly rituals. However, where is the flint that Long Tooth Boy was supposed to have left behind? We may eventually come to an answer once we have examined the strange set of symbols just below Ghost.

We encounter a pair of billowing curves (red) with a set of parallel lines (green) running through the center of it. The parallel lines either refer to Flesh in his role as being between the two layers of the lodge, or as in the Creation Lodge scene, the conduit. In Hočąk practice, offerings, even of symbolic white deerskins, are offered up the smoke hole of the lodge, the čira-hera or "the horn of the lodge." Other offerings, such as food and tobacco, are made by setting them in the fire, where they rise to the Upper World deities in the smoke as it passes through the čira-hera. The conduit expresses this belief, and the billowing lines indicate the smoke as Holmes contended. This should be a straightforward symbol of sacrifice to the spirits, the conduit line making the transference more obvious than the smoke alone. However, there is something partly contained and centered in the smoke-conduit.

In the billowing conduit is the unadulterated emblem of the Heroka, the diminutive hunting spirits whose chiefs are Redhorn and his sons. I have argued in the "Rise of Morning Star," that this is an alloform of the bilobed arrow, which Flesh wears in his hair. The Heroka are Arrow Spirits, and since the arrow also has the valence of the soul or ghost, it is entirely appropriate that it be connected to Ghost. Again, the arrow-soul descends into the lodge in which Flesh remains, with which both the bow and arrow merge. This style of composition is seen in Mexico, as we can see from the example at the right (cf. this).

Thruston Tablet Codex Nuttall 54

In the Mexican example, we see a lodge or dais with a reed arrow embedded in its back wall. In the Thruston Tablet, we seem to be seeing the same thing, only with the interesting extension of the design elements in the surround of the lodge extending out to form the bow. This bow and arrow combination, thus configured, forms the emblem of the Heroka. However, that emblem shows a stone arrowhead for the point of the arrow, and it is just this that is missing as a result of the tip of the arrow being embedded in the back wall. Since the arrow is centered in the sacrificial smoke conduit, and Ghost has control over arrows, it would seem that this is the blessing returned for the symbolized offerings (typically tobacco in smoke). The arrow symbol is polyvalent, but we can give an obvious value to the missing flint arrowhead that has found its way into the lining of the lodge. The power of the Pawnee counterpart to Ghost is the flint thunder stone, which contains supernatural force. This is his gift of power to mortals. Yet it would be foolish to stop here. We must immediately be aware that this arrowhead, and the arrow which it leads, has found its way into the very spot where Flesh was concealed and discovered. The arrow symbolizes the soul. The unavoidable conclusion is that once again, the ghost/soul has symbolically united with flesh. And to seal this understanding, we have the bow emerge from the lines attached to the right of the small target symbols, which as we have seen, represent the Sun, the father of the Twins. It is he who propels the arrow-soul, and therefore it is the bow (propellant) which emerges from his symbols, which are seen lining the rim of the lodge, also after the Mexican style. So this part of the pictograph satisfies both the Pawnee narrative as well as the Hočąk theology as expressed in the overall scheme grounded in the "Prequel."

The lodge in which Flesh sits alone, while portrayed in the squarish way typical in Mexico, is not itself a calli. The typical oval lodge is made by weaving together branches anchored on a frame. By making a tight enough weave, one can dispense with the outer covering, although such a structure would be vulnerable to penetration by strong winds. However, for this reason, the knitted lodge is usually covered with skins which form its outer layer. The lodge in which Flesh sits smoking is one whose inner wall is portrayed in crosshatches, as though it were knitted. This is a different way of indicating the knitted interior of a lodge than we saw in the Birth Scene. There a determinative symbol of a bunch of twigs was placed next to parallel lines that indicate the two layers of the lodge. Inside these parallel lines is an oval. The myth dictates that this oval must represent Flesh, since it was he who was so situated right after birth. Here again, in the Departure Scene, we find the oval in the same situation.

Oval from
the Birth Scene
  Oval and Lines (Yellow) Setting off
the Head, Departure Scene

The oval is shown inside the outer line of the outer layer of the lodge, and outside the outer line of the inside layer. If we follow the value assignment previously given to the oval (which may represent an egg, an avian neonate, "twice born"), then this oval should be another symbol of Flesh, whose first home was in the lining of the lodge walls. As we have already noted, the tip of the arrow, which is normally made of stone, is not seen in the lining where the arrow is embedded. Precisely where this arrowhead should be, we find in its place the oval symbolizing Flesh. However, we have seen that the stone arrowhead shot from Ghost on the Pawnee model, represents the thunder stone he promised human posterity. Therefore, we see in this set of symbols the disappearance of the power of Ghost into the oval representing Flesh, yet another expression of the union of ghost-soul and flesh. We should also note that just as there lines that come from the right side of the solar targets to form the emblem of the Heroka, the Arrow Spirits, so there is a similar line that extends from the previous target symbol right down to the base of the oval. This line unites with the back of the head as it passes by. Just below this line at the base of the oval is another line that extends from there back to the base of the neck, following the shoulder line. Thus a pair of lines frame the head and terminate at the base of the oval. This suggests that the head of Flesh is being related to the oval, which is ultimately connected to a target symbol denoting his father the Sun. The head, of course, is the seat of the brain, called nąsúrugóp in Hočąk. This word comes form nąsú, "head," and (wa)horugop, "marrow." As we have noted before, the marrow is the special seat of the soul. So the soul is united with this substance, propelled by means of the Sun. It is Ghost who is connected to Flesh via the conduit line within the smoke, and the Sun who is both the propellant of the arrow-soul, and the author of the marrow in which it is ultimately embedded. The ghost-soul shoots himself there by means of the invisible and inerrant arrow of the diminutive Heroka, which like the similar arrow of Cupid, strikes home with Psyche.

There is also something very strange about the portrayal of Flesh inside his lodge. His lower body is crosshatched as with string. These lines terminate at the edge of his body, as though he were wrapped in cord. This is the first really explicit indication that we have had that Flesh is separated from his brother by being bound on earth. Even his left arm is wrapped in these resticular lines. The hóega is not used here, since it is strongly associated with the binding of Ghost rather than Flesh; but it is Flesh who is bound to this earth when the soul ascends on its own independent course. The hóega binds the flesh of living creatures to this earth, which in Osage ritual is compared to a house.

In that time and place, verily they said,
        it has been said, in this house;
They said he [Isolated Earth] stood erecting a little house,
        it has been said, in this house;
"I have not erected this house without a purpose,"
        it has been said, in this house;
"I have erected it that the heads of animals might be broken,"
        it has been said, in this house;
"I have not erected this house without a purpose,"
        it has been said, in this house;
"It is an image of a spider,"
        it has been said, in this house;
"They say that animals — to whomever of the Little Ones they belong — "
        it has been said, in this house;
"As they travel the Path, they will throw themselves in it to be ensnared,"
        it has been said, in this house ...14
Osage-English Interlinear Text

So it is that the binding of Flesh is symbolized by the resticular lines (in place of a spider web) that also express the knitting of the lodge's inner lining; but he is most particularly bound to earth by his being in a house. The house in which our flesh is forever confined is This World (the earth). It is the house that is the hóega. This may explain the odd feature of the lodge that it is shaped like the frame of the hóega-snare (⊓), and indeed some traps resemble a small lodge. The only limb that is unbound is Flesh's right arm, which is employed in smoking a pipe. It is tobacco which is Earthmaker-Wakaⁿda's unique gift to humanity by which we are able to tap into the spiritual power granted to us because of our pitiable condition of mortality. In this way only are we unbound.

It is worthy of note in conclusion that in order to understand the Thruston Tablet to the degree that we have, it has been necessary to draw upon our knowledge of three ethnic groups, the Hočąk-Chiwere, the Dhegiha (both Central Siouan), and the Pawnee. It is these three groups who are most frequently associated with Cahokia.



Here is a table showing the graphemes used in the Thruston Tablet. These graphemes are not always displayed in their original proportions or orientations.

Ideograms Source Comments

abc de
a. From the upper right corner of the Creation Council Scene. b. A small target from the same scene. c. From the caul of Ghost, Birth Scene. d. From Ghost's kilt, Departure Scene. e. On Ghost's kilt, Combat Scene. f. On Flesh's shield, Combat Scene. g. A gorget (?) on Ghost's chest, Combat Scene. h. Ghost's gorget, Departure Scene. i. On the surround of the lodge, Departure Scene. j. Flesh's gorget, Capture Scene. k. Under Ghost's belt, Capture Scene. The "target" may have originated as the malinalli lines as seen from above or below. The target symbol applies almost entirely to the sun in this tablet.
Small Disks.

Located within a pair of conduit lines, Creation Lodge Scene. The small disks represent the contribution of spiritual substance made by each spirit at the Creation Council.
Malinalli Lines.

a. On Flesh's shield. b. In front of half target design, Creation Council. Malinalli lines are spiraling power lines set into a double helix pattern to express power that can move both up and down. It is not clear that the lines of Flesh's shield are in fact malinalli lines. Those in (b) could be diamonds.

Just below the lodge, Creation Council Scene. Based upon Osage symbolism, these should represent the four world levels, two above, two below.
Sets of Triangles.

d ef
a. Ghost's kilt, Departure Scene. b. Ghost's headdress, Capture Scene. c. Flesh's headdress, Combat Scene. d. Flesh's gorget, Capture Scene. e. Triangular fringe on Ghost's Caul, Birth Scene. f. Ghost's kilt, Combat Scene. The triangular rays function to express the solar heritage of both Twins.
Rayed Eyes.

a. Flesh's eye, Combat Scene. b. Flesh's eye, Departure Scene. c. Flesh's eye, Birth Scene. Probably another expression of a solar heritage, although it could symbolize a star. Serves to identify the character as Flesh.
"Home" Ideograms.

a. Top of the Birth Scene. b. Over Flesh's face. c. Behind Flesh's head. d. Over the symbol for water at the bottom of the Birth Scene. e. On Flesh's shield. Probably derived from the čira-hera, "the horn of the lodge," or smoke hole opening, rather than the teepee. It usually applies to what is below it, although "c" applies to what follows it.
Harukšék Lines.

a. Attached to the pipe (?) being held by Ghost, Departure Scene (uncertain). b. On the half-target design in the Creation Council Scene. c and d. Lines prior to the arrow symbol, Arrow Theft Scene. e. Peeling off of the fifth wind (blue), its redirection to the birth lodge (red), Birth Scene. f. At the end of the downward motion lines, Birth Scene. From kšék, "bent." Harukšék, as a verb, means "to turn and move in another direction." The lines in (b) could represent lightning, or it might even be a motion line. Lines (c) and (d) are from a worn area.
Motion Lines.

a. Extraction of Ghost form the womb, Birth Scene. b. Motion from the birth lodge to the vicinity of water, Birth Scene. c. Motion of arrows away, Arrow Theft Scene. Motion lines are formed by adjacent lines that open outward in the direction of motion.
Casting Motion Lines.

Birth Scene. These lines represent the throwing of Ghost into the water. Similar to contemporary cartoon conventions.
Cut Lines.

a. At the corner of the top opening, Birth Scene. b. At the corner of the bottom opening, Birth Scene. These lines appear at one corner of each of the openings through which Ghost was extracted.
The Hóega.

a. A quinquepartite hóega beneath the neonate Ghost, Birth Scene. b. Hóega at the end of a strap, Redhorn's Raid Scene. c. A five part hóega, face lines on Ghost in the Arrow Theft Scene. d. The five parallel lines of the hóega without the frame (⊓). The figure, ⊓, stands for the earth as a snare inside of which the parallel lines symbolize the cardinal winds (Osage). The hóega in (b) uses part of the body line of Ghost to complete its frame.
"Zipper" Face Lines.

On Ghost figure, a. Capture Scene. b. Departure Scene. The face lines are extended counterparts to the hóega, and probably represent somatic winds (the vital breath).
Dual Face Lines.

a. Ghost, Capture Scene. b. Ghost, Combat Scene. c. Ghost, Departure Scene. One line connects to the nose, and the other to the mouth: indicating the sources of the vital breath.
Conduit Lines.

[Not Illustrated]
  Long parallel lines inside of which a transfer of spiritual power takes place.
Connector Lines.

[Not Illustrated]
  Generally short straight lines reaching from one figure or object to another to indicate some kind of connection between them.
"Mouse" Ideograms.

a. From the kilt of Ghost, Departure Scene. b. From Ghost's kilt, Combat Scene. Among the Ioway, Ghost is known as "Mouse Boy." These symbols function to identify him, and perhaps even name him.
Ovals between Parallel Lines.

a b
a. Birth Scene. b. Departure Scene. This appears to symbolize Flesh as he is situated between the two layers of the lodge.

Ghost's kilt, Departure Scene. Symbolizes the five winds, the fifth of which has a special relationship to Ghost.
Arrow Symbols.

a. Heroka emblem with arrow embedded in the back of the lodge in which Flesh is sitting, Departure Scene. b. Bilobed Arrow, Departure Scene. c. Arrow fletching and nock, Arrow Theft Scene. d. Arrow-like tip on Ghost's pipe (?), Departure Scene. The Heroka emblem is of the hunting deities, the Without Horns, who are led by Redhorn and his sons. The Bilobed Arrows may be a variant of the Heroka emblem.

a b
a. Abbreviated drawing of a wave, Birth Scene. b. A longer depiction of waves, Birth Scene. Ideograms denoting water usually show waves, as in the well known Egyptian hieroglyph.
Petaloid Surround.

Large solar target symbol, Creation Council Scene. Indicates that the scene takes place in the Upper World (Reilly).
Determinatives (Semagrams)
a. Split in the lodge wall of the ideogram for "Home," denoting the space between the wall and the lining, Birth Scene (top). b. A similar split indicating the same thing, Birth Scene (over Flesh's face). c. "Home" ideogram followed at left by parallel lines, Flesh's shield. Since the "home" ideogram does not differ significantly from the harukšék line, a determinative showing the double wall of the lodge is helpful in disambiguation.
ab a. Graphemes denoting the lodge wall and its lining. b. A bundle of entwined twigs used as a determinative. Since the bundle of twigs is counterfactually at a right angle to the parallel lines denoting the lodge wall, it functions to clarify the identity of the lower line.
Correction Mark (?)
a. Graphemes denoting the lodge wall and its lining. b. Two sets of parallel lines denoting the space between the lodge wall and the lining. c. The two sets of disjoint parallel lines. d. The correction mark line, added to "c" to get "b". This line "d" appears to be used to rejoin the two sets of separated parallel lines. It is therefore like the proofreader's mark, , as in "correction."

The pictographs of the Thruston Tablet have many of the features of written language. Pictures normally are satisfied by their objects (states of affairs) through some analogue system of representation. To a certain degree of resolution, the parts of an analogue represent corresponding parts of its object ("continuity"). This is not true in a digital system. Many digital symbols originate in analogue depictions, but they function digitally; and many analogue symbols originate in digital elements, but they function as analogues. I have borrowed the term "grapheme" from linguistics and generalized it to apply to iconography. A grapheme is the smallest meaningful contrastive unit in a symbol system, and is the counterpart of a character in writing systems and the phoneme in spoken language. In a writing system, graphemes can include punctuation, counterparts of which we may see in the tablet. The three "allographs" of motion lines shown above, for instance, constitute a single grapheme. Most of the graphemes used in the tablet are digital ideograms that denote their objects directly rather than denoting words. Thus they are not pictures of what they denote, although they may have originated as such. Consequently, they belong to a digital system of representation. Some of the graphemes are determinatives, which are often analogical, depicting an object in order to clarify the meaning of the representations with which it is associated. On the other hand, most of the ideograms (digital) act as labels, helping to identify the pictures (analogues), and are therefore the digital counterparts of determinatives. Locatives are closely related to determinatives. A locative is a set of graphemes that specify the location of the referents of the set of representations with which it is associated. When these somewhat disparate elements, both analogue and digital, are put together, usually in a coherent spatial order, they can be "read" rather like a sentence by following the spatial order of the constituent denoting elements. The whole, like a statement expressed by a sentence, can be satisfied by a state of affairs. These states of affairs are essentially those that satisfy the myth as it is narrated in ordinary language. So in most scenes we have been able to work "outside-in" to decipher the elementary graphemes out of which the iconographic composition was made. 

Hočąk stories mentioning the Twins: The Twins Cycle, The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket.

Notes are in a separate file.

Version 4.1