Official Disinformation

Disinformation can be presented in many forms. Besides outright untruths, perhaps the most insidious are incomplete or cherry-picked facts, often legitimized by subtle weasel words, distractions from the matter at hand, and unsubstantiated conclusions.

A case in point is a brief reader-question and expert-answer in a prestigious national magazine popularizing history, science, etc. The reader asked if American Indians had a written language. That question should have opened up a very large can of worms. The responding “cultural specialist” from an important museum framed the answer narrowly by stating: “The Timucua were among the first to have a written system…”

Without identifying the Timucua, the respondent hid behind the weasel word “among” to remark on a Franciscan missionary in 1595 at St. Augustine in Florida developing that system for the native population. This was followed by remarks sanctified by ethnographic authorities on the Cherokee syllabary invented by Sequoyah over 200 years later in 1821. This simple answer was perhaps factual but essentially dis-informative.

Perhaps there was an early Franciscan missionary in that fanatically Jesuit Spanish colony on the Florida coast, but his using the Latin alphabet to write their language was of dubious and short-lived benefit for the natives themselves. By 1600, the Timucua people had been exterminated by diseases and genocidal violence.

Behind that weasel word “among,” several facts of singular importance to the reader’s question were omitted. In “America B.C.” by Barry Fell (1976), a scholarly book denigrated and dismissed by said ethnographic authorities, a lengthy discussion with comparative examples shows that the Micmac peoples of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes had a hieroglyphic writing system with clear relations to the Egyptian! In the early 1700s, a French cleric rendered Psalm 116 in the Micmacs’ well-developed system. Meanwhile, the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were not deciphered until 1823 by Champollion. I can’t begin to explain how or when this happened, but the Micmac had at some time long before 1595 clearly made this writing system their own.

The most subtle weasel word involved in the cultural specialist’s answer to the reader’s question was “American Indian.” The expert quickly limited the question to North American indigenous peoples, conveniently ignoring indigenes of the rest of the Americas. I’ve not encountered any evidence of writing systems in South America, but the late Michael Coe and several other noted scholars of Mesoamerica have now decoded the hieroglyphic writing system of the Maya, revealing detailed histories of their lost worlds from some two thousand years ago.

To return to the famous Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah, there has been fascinating research on the Pre-Columbian peoples of the (North) American Southeast by Richard Thornton ( showing that the peoples of the Creek Confederacy had in earlier centuries developed a syllabary of their own. Apparently, Sequoyah used that unique creation in formulating his system. This appropriation of native history to the Cherokee nation is part and parcel of their wider cultural/historical imperialism. In spite of their claim to have lived in the area “for thousands of years,” the Cherokee only immigrated into the Southeast (from Canada) in the 19th century after the United States government had mostly cleared it of other indigenous tribes following the Creek Wars and the Trail of Tears.

But I’m not through exposing official disinformation. The Timucua people in the specialist’s answer were a major mound-building culture in the Southeast well beyond the St. Augustine area. We know most about them from the artist, Jacques LeMoyne, who accompanied the refugee Huguenots who were (among) the first French to settle in the New World.

Under Rene de Laudonniére, they established Fort Caroline in 1564; the Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565 and proceeded to slaughter and/or drive the French out. LeMoyne painted scenes of the Timucua like this later engraving of Laudonniére with Atore, son of the native “king of kings” Satouriona, at the column raised by the earlier French explorer Jean Ribault, image courtesy of Wikipedia:

Now we come to official disinformation in the form of alternative truth. Jean Ribault reportedly planted this column at the mouth of what he called the River May. Establishment dogma was that this was the St. John’s River in Florida, and in the first half of the last century the impartial State of Florida and City of Jacksonville jumped on that interpretation to “reconstruct” Fort Caroline there as a historical attraction. Again through the research of Richard Thornton, it’s now clear that Fort Caroline was in fact built at the mouth of the Altamaha River in southern Georgia near present-day Savannah. For purposes of the almighty tourist dollars, however, the official disinformation still stands.

My point in this tirade is that we shouldn’t blindly accept simple answers to complicated questions. Behind every supposedly historical fact, there’s usually a whole world of extenuating circumstances and alternative explanations that are derided and denied by establishment authorities. We always have to dig deeper to discover the real truth—and try to figure out who benefits how by promoting official disinformation.


A Roar of Jaguars

In the past few years, I’ve realized that, in the Native American tradition, I seem to have an animal totem, the jaguar. This past year when I started my second memoir, I understood my deep connection to this apex predator of the Americas and included an illustration:

My Totem Jaguar

I also realized that this magnificent feline has been lurking in my background for at least 35 years. At a yard sale I’d bought a carved-wood figurine and stashed it away as a curiosity.  Later I gave it as a birthday gift to a friend, who returned it explaining that there was some spirit in it which didn’t “resonate” with him.  Stashed away again, it sat on a shelf for decades—following me around to various domiciles.  Then about a year ago I recognized it for a jaguar-priest or shaman from some South or Meso-American tradition.

My Jaguar Priest Figurine

It suddenly made sense that this jaguar figurine was probably why some 30 years ago I’d gotten so involved in the Aztec milieu. I soon learned that this New World King of Beasts had originally roamed throughout most of the South and Meso-American jungles and even ranged north into the American Southwest (apparently now making a comeback in southern Arizona!).

I also learned that the noble jaguar was central to the mythologies of basically all the ancient civilizations of the New World (just as the lion was to those of the Old). First off, I found it in the Aztec calendar, as the 14th day of their agricultural month and in the second week of their ceremonial count of days (tonalpohualli).  Starting with the day Ce Ocelotl – One Jaguar (those with this birth day-name coincidentally being destined for sacrifice), that second week was under the patronage of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.

I already knew that the Aztec ceremonial calendar had been more or less inherited from the much earlier Maya and then discovered that it, just like its patron deity, was also revered by the even earlier Olmec. Then about three years ago in considering that maybe the sacred calendar’s count of days had originated in the still earlier Chavín civilization in Peru, I learned that the jaguar was for them also a major deity, often seen as an ornate man-jaguar.  Do note this Chavín were-jaguar’s startling snake-locks!

Chavin Were-Jaguar

If my suggestion that the count of days originated at Chavín de Huantar is correct, that ritual (more like a religion), was carried north by trader-missionaries to populations along the Pacific coast. Ultimately they crossed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and proselytized the Olmec with the sacred way of telling time.  Many surviving Olmec sculptures are of infant were-jaguars.

Coincidentally, earliest calendar lore has it being brought by a god, namely the Plumed Serpent, who was also the bringer of maize (and culture). Between the calendar, the jaguar, and this legendary civilizer deity, they had a rather well-rounded theosophy, even if some rituals might have involved sacrifices frowned on nowadays.

It’s now become reasonable to think that the early Maya were “civilizing” in Yucatan at much the same time as the Olmec were hard at it in Veracruz. More mercenary missionary work was probably what took the calendar to the Maya.  They hugely elaborated and ornamented the new “faith” with their own deities and even started writing about it in glyphs.

Along with calendar, the jaguar deity (B’alam) came to the Maya, but their representations of it were generally not anthropomorphized.  I found a spectacular relief at Chichen Itza on Google Images, apparently a repro in gold (!), that’s both naturalistic and stylized.  Not to gross you out, but I bet that’s a heart it’s holding in its paw and licking.

Mayan Jaguar from Chichen Itza

Of course, the third part of the religion was the Plumed Serpent, the civilizer deity whom they called Kukulcan (or Gugumatz).  This Triad then moved west and north to early Teotihuacan, where the Serpent likely became known as Quetzalcoatl, or maybe that was amongst the later Toltecs.  That calendar religion reigned across the centuries and other areas of Mexico, as shown by this jaguar totem from the Zapotecs, possibly a funerary urn.

Zapotec Jaguar

Eventually, the barbarian Aztecs came out of the north and adopted the local religion, and it came to be known and misunderstood as the “Aztec Calendar.” In their historical or genealogical picture-books, many of which were from other cultures like the Mixtec, the were-jaguar shows up as jaguar warriors.  These “jaguar-weres” were simply humans wearing jaguar pelts.

Perhaps the most dramatic Aztec jaguar is a sculpture (receptacle for sacrificial hearts!), now in the Museum of Anthropology:

Aztec Jaguar

In their religious documents, the jaguar is generally depicted as a divine animal such as these two from Codex Borgia, (adjusted and adapted to prepare for drawings in my next icon).  By the way, those wavy figures represent the jaguar’s roar.

Jaguars from Codex Borgia

Modelling mine on the image on the left, several years ago as my first attempt at drawing on computer, I drew a jaguar with a realistically patterned pelt (and more aggressive demeanor). Intended to be the apotheosis of the Lord of the Animals, the drawing had to wait some three years to be enthroned in YE GODS! Icon #11 – OCELOTL.

My Jaguar–Lord of the Animals

But I’m not done with this roar of jaguars! Recalling that the historical range of the jaguar reached up into North America, there is the possibility that the creature may have been known, or at least recalled, by populations outside of the desert Southwest.  I’m talking about my other favorite topic, the Mississippian “civilization.”

I found a trace of the calendar and image of a heavily stylized man-jaguar in the Southeast and drew this fanciful animal below from a shell gorget (from Fairfield MO across the river from Cahokia) for a book on the Indian mounds.  (See my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts.)

Jaguar Gorget – Fairfield MO

In the magazine “Ancient American,” Vol. 21, No. 116, I wrote about the cult of the Plumed Serpent in North America, which shows that the trinity of Calendar-Jaguar-Serpent was a Pan-American “religion.”  Small wonder I feel the jaguar my totem—it’s the totem for all Americans.