Sacred Geography: Effigies

An effigy mound is created with earth to represent an animal or human figure or symbol. Most were used for religious purposes but a few were used as burials. The most common shapes include deer, birds, bears, panthers, bison, turtles and snakes. Effigy mounds are found throughout the Midwest but the highest concentration is found in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Two of the most popular effigies are located in Ohio.  Shamans may have used effigy sites for visions or gain power from spirits.  Both Great Horned Serpent and the Alligator represent death, destruction and the struggle between underworld and the cosmos in Native American cultures.

Serpent mound, Adams County, Ohio

Serpent Mound, Ohio Serpent Mound has been maintained and preserved as a park since 1887.  The site includes small conical burial mounds and a prehistoric village site.  Serpent Mound was built about 900 years ago and is the largest effigy of its type in the United States.  Stretched out, the earthwork would reach 1,348 feet.  The Serpent has three parts: the coiled body, an oval in the mouth, and a small mound at the side of the head.

Serpent Mound Tail, OhioThere are many explanations for the oval including the serpent swallowing an egg (representing the sun) and a frog leaping away from a striking snake or it may represent an eye.  The small mound to the side of the head is believed to represent a horn of the mythical Great Horned Serpent.  Astronomical alignments coinciding with the oval and the coils of the serpent have been found. One explanation is that it may be a symbol of Halley’s Comet of 1066, which may have resembled a glowing serpent in the sky. Another explanation is that it may be a symbol of the astronomical display of the Crab Nebula in 1054 AD.  An early settler’s explanation claimed Serpent Mound represented the serpent from the Garden of Eden with the forbidden fruit in its Jaws and promoted the mound as being created by God or by a people inspired by God to mark the location of Eden. With no written record explanations for the mystery of the serpent abound.

Alligator Mound, Granville, Ohio

Alligator Mound, OhioThe Alligator Mound is located three miles west of Newark on a 200-foot hill in the center of an elite housing addition.  The Alligator Mound was built about 1220 AD.  Archaeologists have found alligator teeth and alligator effigy pipes in many Ohio sites suggesting the alligator spirit was significant.  The alligator mound is believed to be a talisman against an underwater monster.

Side note on alligator mound…when I visited the mound I drove into this lovely housing addition with my junky 20-year old car. It wasn’t long before the police investigated my arrival. I explained my visit and they soon left me to my research.

References: Geopiety and Landscape Perceptions at Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana by Barbara A Perry


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