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Celestial Thunder: Weather Shamanism and Ghost Dance Theology in Native California and the Great Basin

This is an ONLINE Webinar from Team Black and taught by Dr. Alan Garfinkel!



This presentation twins with an hour-long, open-ended question and answer period.  The hour long slide show and talk provides an extensive and intensive review of the subject of rain shamanism in the Far West throughout California and the Great Basin. The discussion includes a review of a unique weather shaman’s bundle and also first-hand accounts of Native practices and the theology of weather shamanism. Extensive references to archaeological data (rock drawings and paintings, charmstones, crystals, shell ornaments, and other elements of Native material culture) are included and amplify the discussion.  

The prominent revitalistic movements of the 1870 and 1890 Ghost Dance Religion have an important element of rain shamanism integrated into themes of ancestor resurrection and world renewal.  Included in the presentation are new discoveries regarding Ghost Dance rock paintings in eastern California and the Great Basin.

The presentation highlights working hypotheses that weather shamans ritually create various elements of weather through homeopathic and sympathetic magic directed at creating sacred wind, clouds, rain, and thunder.  

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  • Personal introduction - credentials and background

  • Weather deities and sacred narrative in world perspective 

  • Thunderbirds among the North American Indians

  • Lightning and rock art incorporation

  • California Indian Gods 

  • Magic stones and projectile points (charmstones, chert, and obsidian)

  • The Sky World – Great Basin Cosmology

  • Sympathetic Magic – ritual rain, ritual wind, ritual clouds, and ritual thunder

  • Bull-roarers

  • Cup marked boulders, rock flour

  • Rake designs

  • Shamans, rock art and weather control

  • Drumming and thunder rocks

  • Archaeological evidence for the great antiquity of weather shamanism 

  • A weather shaman’s bundle

    • History and genealogy

    • Unpublished anthropological notes

  • Contents of UC Berkeley Museum Bundle

    • Charmstones, obsidian, pebbles, quartz crystals, soapstone, tobacco

  • Contents of Kernville Museum Bundle

  • Steatite bowls, abalone shell ornament, sucking tubes, smoking pipes, geode, quartz crystal, medicine bag, charmstones

  • Kawaiisu, Tubatulabal, Serrano, Yokuts, Southern Paiute,   Chemehuevi, Chumash and Mohave Rain Doctors

  • Controlling weather – the domain of the shaman 

    • Demonstrated rapport with the spirit world

    • Dance, song, prayers, and magic

    • Sympathetic magic creates sacred weather 

    • Quartz crystals – triboluminescence and piezoelectricity 

  • Ghost Dance cosmology and rain doctors

    • Ghost dance rock paintings 

    • Historic paintings with Stetson-hatted figures astride horses

    • Rain symbolism – thunderbirds, white horse shaman (the rain doctor sacred narrative and oral tradition)

  • Conclusions

    • Weather shamanism a central practice of Native doctors

    • Key to influencing the natural world and manifesting power

    • Song, prayer, dance and magic are crucial elements 

Biographical Snapshot of Dr. Alan Garfinkel


Dr. Alan Garfinkel is a California and Great Basin anthropologist/archaeologist principally known for his work with the Native peoples of California and the Great Basin and for his studies of Native American rock art of the Far West. He has been recognized for his pioneering anthropological studies as the recipient of the 2008 and 2011 California State Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.

He received his Bachelor’s degree at California State University, Northridge and his MA and Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Garfinkel is currently a cultural resource management consultant with AGG Associates and serves as President of the California Rock Art Foundation.  He has served as Principal Investigator for cultural resource preservation projects totaling $10.5 million dollars.

He is the of  author of five books including Archaeology and Rock Art and Handbook of the Kawaiisu and has published 50 scientific articles in academic journals in North America, India, the United Kingdom, and Australia. He has been an invited guest scholar to universities in California, a research facility in Colorado, a forum in Mumbai, India and to the University of Guanajuato in Mexico., an international scholarly exchange consisting of 29 million users and including 8 million research papers is the largest electronic platform in the world for academic digital sharing.  Dr. Garfinkel is ranked among the top 2.0% its contributors worldwide.

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Later Event: November 1
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