Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, January 2016
Were the Portsmouth Earthworks a Portal to the Path of Souls?
Cygnus, Orion, The Milky Way, & Scorpius Alignments at Portsmouth on the Winter Solstice in 200 B.C.
by: Dr. Greg Little
Extending from this central area (A) were three walkways, one going to the northeast, another to the southeast, and the third to the southwest. The graded walkway to the northeast was of unknown length and is believed to have led to a trail going north up the Scioto River Valley toward a complex of earthworks and mounds in Chillicothe, Ohio.
The walkway to the southwest ran some 7 miles until it ended on the banks of the Ohio River. On the other side of the river, in Kentucky, a huge square enclosure was built with several linear parallel walls of earth extending from it. (The square is labeled “B” on the map.) There were three small conical mounds located at one opening into the square. Most of the square remains intact today and a couple years ago the landowner took us on an excursion through the site. It is known as the “Old Fort” earthworks.
The walkway running from the main site in Portsmouth (A) to the southeast extended 5.5 miles terminating at the banks of the Ohio River. On the Kentucky side, the walkway continued another 1.5 miles to a complex, multi-ringed circular embankment with a high mound in the center. (The circular earthworks are labeled “C” on the map.) We have made several visits to this site with the landowner and some outer portions of the circular walls are identifiable. The central mound was leveled some years ago and the area is used for cattle grazing. In recent years some remains of the walkways to this site have been found and several years ago we found remnants of the other main walkway in a ruined and overgrown part of Portsmouth called “Old Portsmouth.” All of the Portsmouth earthworks are considered to be part of the Hopewell era, dated from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000. The Portsmouth earthworks are generally dated to 200-100 B.C.
Earthworks: Magic Machines of Earth
Understanding Portsmouth and some other Hopewell geometric earthworks starts with the idea that they were constructed to be used in magical rituals. In the now defunct journal “Cocoon” (1988), I wrote that Native American earthworks were essentially “magic machines of earth” used in rituals designed to assist the dead as well as in rituals to allow the living to commune with spirits and their ancestors. In “People of the Web” (1990) I wrote, “As packed earth, mounds directly touch and are part of Nsthoaman—the earth spirit. … The sites were sacred circles used to commune with and call forth spirits. … During certain ceremonies the entire tribe entered the circle.” (p. 175). I also asserted that the rituals employed were used to alter brain chemistry and that geomagnetic forces created by the mound’s construction produced subtle electrochemical changes in the brain, especially when hallucinogenic substances were used.
The utilization of earthen geometric formations to alter consciousness was further explored in “Grand Illusions” (Little, 1994). In essence, the rituals conducted within sacred earthwork enclosures allowed the participants’ consciousness to “meld with geomagnetic forces” (p. 111). In a chapter of “Mound Builders” (Little, Van Auken, & Little, 2001) entitled, “Magic Machines of Earth,” I furthered this idea about earthworks. “The shapes were important symbols representing something far deeper in meaning than modern-day archaeology has understood. The creation of these symbols in physically real earth-formed images permitted a controlled ritual to be performed. The ritual involved a process of mental preparation followed by actions involving the earthen symbols. The ritualistic manipulation of symbols was, in essence, a magical process. The mounds and earthworks were magic machines of earth” (p. 238-239.). “Mounds were a means of rising above the physical world. They were used to connect the physical realm to the spiritual” (p. 241). “The magic, if it can really be called that, is the opening of the passageways between the physical world and the spiritual world. When used in the appropriate way, mounds and earthworks could be used to open the portals between different realms of reality” (p. 244). The Portsmouth earthworks were especially focused on in the book “Mound Builders.” It was asserted that portions of the massive structures represented stellar portals that were part of the death journey.
Through years of research, I have come to the conclusion that an interplay between geomagnetic energy alterations (created by physical movement through carefully designed earthen structures) and brain processes altered by repetitive rituals is the key to understanding the underlying purpose of the enigmatic earthworks. But now we know a great deal more about one of the rituals and its intended purpose.
The Path of Souls—the Death Journey
In the book “Path of Souls” http://www.amazon.com/Path-Souls-American-Skeletons-Smithsonian/dp/0965539253/ (2015) the now-understood idea of the Native American mound builders’ death journey was presented. It is complex and involves two souls, the use of specific symbolic objects, and the performance of rituals timed to send deceased souls back to the sky world. The sky world is the origin of the most important soul component in each individual. The journey to the sky world starts with a leap to a portal in the sky followed by a trip around the sky to another portal. From the final portal, access is made from this physical reality to the origin and abode of all souls.
The most important soul is called the “Life Soul,” and, after death, the soul starts a journey to the sky. Only a few key parts of this journey are described as they directly relate to Portsmouth. Those interested in all of the details are referred to the book “Path of Souls.”
A few days after death, the Life Soul essentially makes a leap of faith over water toward a constellation the Native Americans called the “Hand.” The Hand is formed by the stars of the constellation we know as Orion. In particular, Orion’s Nebula is the first destination of the soul. The nebula was essentially seen to be a portal giving access to the Path of Souls. Importantly, the jump had to be made at a time when the Scorpius Constellation was below the horizon and at a time when Orion was visible on the horizon. Even more importantly, for unknown reasons, the jump to the Orion Nebula had to be made sometime before dawn, when Orion set in the southwest. In North America, these star requirements take place in the winter months. It is known that the ritual sending the deceased soul to the sky world took place during the winter months.
While moving through the underworld during the next day, the soul transitions from Orion to the Milky Way, which was called the Path of Souls or River of Souls. Each star was seen as a soul. As the soul traverses the Milky Way it has several trials and tasks, but it eventually reaches a split in the path where it meets a judge of sorts, represented as a bird, usually an eagle or hawk. This is the Cygnus Constellation, located at the Dark Rift of the Milky Way—the split in the road. If the soul passed the test at this spot in the sky, it then moved through the sky dome to the realm and origin of all souls. In brief, many mound builder sites were formed to assist departed souls to make this journey.
Cygnus and Ancient American Earthworks
It was the British author Andrew Collins who got me interested in Cygnus and the links between Cygnus and the Milky Way to mounds and earthworks. His book, “The Cygnus Mystery” (2006) created a new and interesting way to view ancient sites and their astronomical significance. After a visit with Collins to the immense Newark, Ohio earthworks in 2006, I wrote that the Newark earthworks were designed to represent aspects of the Milky Way and especially Cygnus. http://mysterious-america.com/cygnus-gizatonew.html A follow-up article asserted that even mainstream archaeologists were now suggesting that “the Milky Way and Cygnus were symbolically represented by the Newark earthworks and that the site was used as “the path deceased souls traveled to reach the Otherworld." http://mysterious-america.com/newarkohio-2.html
Portsmouth 200 B.C.
Back in 2001 (cited in the book “Mound Builders”), we had found that, at Portsmouth, when viewed from the mound adjacent to the horseshoe earthworks (A), the Winter Solstice sunrise would appear on the visible horizon just above the circular earthworks in Kentucky (C). In addition, the Winter Solstice sunset would occur directly over the horizon behind the square enclosure in Kentucky (B). There are mountains and hills surrounding the various points, thus calculations for both the sun and stars have to take these into account. Our measurements of the surrounding terrain were made from photographs taken at each site used. The measurements and alignments cited here should be considered to be close, although not “precise” and within a degree or so.
Since these solstice solar alignments took place in the winter, the same time that the Path of Souls rituals took place, it seemed to be appropriate to test the stellar alignments at the same time. Using the computer stellar program Starry Night Pro, a series of tests of key stars and Milky Way alignments were made for the same timeframe at Portsmouth—with 200 B.C. chosen as the test year. Again, the surrounding terrain and horizons were incorporated into the alignments.
At nightfall (6:30 P.M.) on the Winter Solstice in 200 B.C., an unexpected find was immediately apparent. The Milky Way was seen to arc from the southwest to the southeast. As viewed from the horseshoe embankments (A), the Milky Way was basically extending from the circular earthworks (C), arching across the sky, and terminating directly over the square earthworks (B). Of course, the Milky Way, as viewed from Earth, is wide and covers a large area we see as a vertical band. However, on both of these alignments, the center point of the Milky Way’s band was essentially viewed directly over spots B and C as seen from A. While it wasn’t an astounding find, it was nonetheless interesting.
As already related, the Path of Souls ritual had to take place at a time when the constellation of Scorpius wasn’t visible. (Scorpius is the ruler of the underworld.) At nightfall on the Winter Solstice at Portsmouth, Scorpius had already fallen below the horizon and wasn’t visible.
Three more alignment evaluations were made. Just after nightfall on the Winter Solstice, the constellation of Cygnus (the final destination on the path) was descending to the northwest. At 8:00 P.M. it falls from view. (For unknown reasons, this is a consistent element in the Path of Souls death journey.) As viewed from the central mound of the circular enclosure on the Kentucky side (C), the setting of Cygnus would have been viewed as directly over the horseshoe embankments (A). Note that while the main Portsmouth site (A) is on the side of a hill, there is a higher mountain behind it.
At that exact same time (8:00 P.M.), Orion would be seen rising in the southeast. As viewed from the horseshoe embankments (A), Orion would be seen rising just over the circular earthworks in Kentucky (C) where, perhaps not coincidentally, the sunrise of the Winter Solstice is also seen.
The final alignment, and one of the most important ones, was the “setting” of Orion. According to the mound builders’ death journey belief, the leap to Orion’s Nebula had to take place just before Orion set, early in the morning, but before dawn. As viewed from the horseshoe earthworks (A), Orion descended into the southwestern horizon at 2:45 AM, directly over the square earthworks in Kentucky (B). In essence, all of the elements of the Path of Souls death journey are incorporated into the Portsmouth sites and their alignments.
Thus, it is very likely that the arrangements of the three components of the entire Portsmouth complex were constructed in ways to time the ritual involving the death journey—based on the Winter Solstice—and in a way that allowed physical movements toward key areas. In addition, the site incorporated pathways for the soul to follow to on its journeys. Symbolically and secretly incorporated into the site is the origin of the soul (Cygnus), the path (Milky Way) the soul follows both to and from Cygnus/Orion, and the jump point (Orion’s Nebula) to and from Earth for souls.
Several more interesting pieces of information about the Square (B) formation in Kentucky lend support to the idea that the entire Portsmouth site was built as a ritualistic earth machine designed to aid souls journey to the sky. The large square, enclosing an area of 15 acres, had two long, rectangular enclosures on its northeast and southwest sides. (See photo 2.) These two rectangular enclosures were both formed by parallel walls of earth extending 2,100 feet in length. On the north northwest side of the square there is an arc-like opening into the enclosure that has three conical burial mounds near the entrance. In “Mound Builders,” we related that these three mounds likely represented Orion’s Belt (P. 247), which stood at the portal into the square. It was similar to the Maya idea of the “Cosmic Hearth, the portal through which souls enter the earth plane” (p. 247). At the far southwest end of the long rectangular enclosure, the walls come together creating a small exit portal that was termed an “eyedropper” by Dr. Lora Little. This precise spot is today covered by a house in a small subdivision. It is likely that the square and its extensions and openings, symbolized the soul’s passage into the physical world and its exit back to its origin. It represent a “journey from which there was no return” (p. 247).
In summary, it seems more than coincidence that all of the key elements required in the Path of Souls ritual would line up so marvelously at the Winter Solstice in Portsmouth. It is likely that many other sites will be found to have similar alignments. And it is more evidence supporting Collins’ theory about the importance of the Cygnus Constellation.