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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Integration of Myth and Ritual in South-Central California: The Northern Complex


There can be little doubt that religious beliefs (and the ritual practices associated with them) constituted exceptionally important elements in the daily lives of the native peoples of south-central California. Complex mythologies, elaborate cosmographies, and interlocking belief systems served to link both the individual and the community with the realm of the sacred, and in turn were given dramatic expression (in both concrete and abstract form) by shamans, priests, and various other ritualists. The primary setting for these community-oriented religious activities was the "fiesta," a complex of events which also constituted an important medium for significant social, political, economic, and aesthetic interaction (Blackburn 1974; Bean 1972). These ceremonial occasions appear in fact to have drawn many different communities into a coherent yet flexible network of interacting subsystems that transcended normal ethnic, political, and linguistic boundaries. It seems clear to us that a reconstruction of this system, involving both a delimitation of the constituent components and a description of their integration, should be a major goal for future ethnohistoric research in the region; however, it seems equally clear that a necessary prerequisite to the achievement of this goal must be a general overview of the ideological bases (i.e., ritual practices and mythological beliefs) which served as the primary rationale for ceremonial interaction. We hope that the present paper will serve as an initial step toward the ultimate achievement of just such an overview.

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