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The power of Sedona

Claims of vortexes, new age stores and a town that was founded in 1902 might make Sedona an unlikely claimant to being one of the oldest settlements in America. But that is precisely what the Yavapai creation legends claim.

Philip Coppens


Sedona should be seen as the unofficial New Age capital of the world. North Arizona University concluded that 64 percent of the near four million annual visitors to Sedona come in search of a spiritual experience. It is Arizona’s second most popular tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon. Indeed, seeing the town offers psychics that can do things like “multidimensional glitch removing”, it is clear that expectations are high – though perhaps not totally clear what one should expect. Apart from psychics, however, the town also offers stunning scenery, which some suggest is on par with the Grand Canyon – some even argue it is better, but in such matters there is of course a great deal of personal preference.
Many believe that the attraction of Sedona only came about because of the so-called “vortexes”, believed to be psychic places of power. In 1981, medium Page Bryant announced that she had channelled information, claiming that Sedona was the “heart chakra of the planet” – which is why and how Sedona became the “New Age capital of the world”. She pinpointed her first vortex at a location where she felt that this “earth energy” was specifically powerful. Its fame rose so quickly that by August 1987, Sedona was one of the key sites hosting the Harmonic Convergence, bringing 5000 people to the town. At the vortex of Airport Mesa, a circle of twelve people, chanting the Om mantra, raised their left arms to the sky and their right arms down, to direct positive energy into the earth. Elsewhere in town, people paid 75 dollars (some claim it was high as 150 dollars) for a seat on Bell Rock, at the time when it was supposed to launch itself to the Andromeda galaxy. As you will know by casually watching the news: this event did not happen. But despite this non-event, Sedona’s fame continued to rise.

Today, 43 percent of those seeking enlightenment, say they come to Sedona for the four vortexes believed to be here, as identified by Bryant. Apart from the Bell Rock and Airport vortexes, the two other vortexes are Boynton Canyon and Cathedral Rock. Bell Rock and Airport Mesa Vortexes are said to be masculine, Cathedral Rock feminine, while Boynton Canyon is said to be both masculine and feminine. The sexual connotations are related to the type of energy said to be present on these sites: masculine vortexes are said to be upflows, with the energy coming out of the earth, while female vortexes are inflows, with energy going into the Earth. Upflows are largely considered to be mountain or mesa tops, and inflows, canyons and other depressions. But what does that all mean?
Sedona is a quaint place. For one, people have noted that the town itself lacks any true centre and town planning was, for many decades, an alien notion. Sedona was furthermore only founded in 1902 and named after Sedona Schnebly, T.C. Ellsworth’s wife, the man who created the town. It therefore appears that there was little that would warrant Sedona’s inscription into the list of sacred sites and that Page Bryant created the attraction out of nothing, and that the Harmonic Convergence almost immediately gave it a bad – though high profile – name. Claims like those by Raymond Mardyks in “Sedona Starseed” – “There exists deep within Boynton Canyon an area used as a teleportation instrument… the Beings who travel [these] holes in space are from a planet that orbits an invisible star near Sirius” – have done little to give the site any scientific reputation. However, in 1876, the first settler in nearby Oak Creek, J.J. Thompson, did find gardens abandoned by the Native Americans and brought them back to life.

Which begs the question: is Sedona sacred? Look at Courthouse Rock, next to Bell Rock, and you find it is a red rock version of the Devil’s Tower, which featured so prominently in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Devil’s Tower was a sacred site to the Native American of the region. Look at Cathedral Rock and parallels with Meteora in northern Greece might come to mind, though the Greek version is on a larger scale. But visually, you have similar almost inaccessible mountain tops that became the site of monasteries. One can only wonder why the monasteries were built at Meteora. Some might argue it was to seek silence, others might argue that the Church had to “occupy” pagan “places of powers”. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, as Meteora, both its views and its monasteries, is spell-bounding and today is definitely a sacred site.
A related question is whether these vortexes exist. As there is no clear definition of what they are meant to do or are, clearly, the argument is that they are nothing more, or less, than places sought out by people who might indeed feel revitalised, if only because each site does offer stunning views that should (re)charge a visitor by the awe Nature instils in us. Sedona is a landscape that changes as time crawls from sunrise to sunset; those who have seen Sedona in sun, rain and snow argue that each element adds to its mystical quality; having seen the town in all three conditions, I can only agree. Resident author and guide Mark Pinkham is aware that the vortexes sometimes do little to those seeking them out. He underlines that there is no “right way” to feel and that it is all about personal experiences. Christians travel to Lourdes to unburden their sins or offer their prayers, but does it matter whether the Virgin Mary really appeared there or not? As such, people come to Sedona to unburden their problems, using the vortex sites of Sedona to let go of their “negative energies”, or charge themselves with “positive energy”. And that’s why so many people come to Sedona, as for many, it has become a modern pilgrimage site and for a pilgrim, it is the journey and the state of mind that is important, not the site.
Pinkham has had one powerful experience himself, and this was inside Boynton Canyon. It is agreed by many that of all places, there is something magical about this canyon, though the magic is quickly interfered with by a new tourist complex development. The Canyon is seen as the “heart” – and in some theories, the “heart chakra” – of mysterious Sedona. Its “official” vortex sits on the so-called Lady Kachina Rock, an upright rock, which does end in a rock that resembles a face, staring into the distance. In fact, it is not the only face that can be seen in the rocks of this region: the Devil’s Kitchen in West Sedona equally has a face on its slope, whose location and appearance resembles a similar face on the Peruvian hill that overlooks the ancient ruins of Ollantaytambo.

Against the odds – judging from what we have so far – it is actually a fact that Sedona is held to be a sacred place by the local Native Americans, the Yavapai – something which too few New Age adherents know or underline. Sedona is seen as a place of emergence of the goddess Komwidapokuwia (or Kamalpukwia), which means “first people with medicine” or “old lady rock”. Indeed, just after the “birth” of Sedona in 1902, a Native American creation legend, told by Mike Harrison, born in 1886, and John Williams, was recorded in 1904.
“We came out at Sedona, the middle of the world. This is our home. We call Sedona Wipuk. We call it after the rocks and the mountains there. All Yavapai come from Sedona. But in time they spread out.” The branch of the Yavapai that lived in the Red Rock County – the area around Sedona – call themselves the Wipuka, underlining this connection.

Katchina Woman, Boynton Canyon

However, the focus of the creation legend is not on Sedona alone. According to the Yavapai, the “Lady of the Pearl” was sealed in a log with the Woodpecker and sent from Montezuma Well to prepare for a Great Flood. For days and nights to follow, it rained incessantly. Flood waters rose to cover every land form on the Earth. After 40 days, the rain stopped, the water receded and the log finally came to rest in Sedona. The Woodpecker freed the beautiful young woman from the log and guided her as she traveled to the summit of Mingus Mountain, bearing the white stone or “Pearl” that her people had given her for protection. There, she met the Sun, who fell in love with her. Returning to Sedona, she bathed in an enchanted pool in Boynton Canyon. Soon afterward, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter who became the “First Lady”, mother to all the Yavapai people. The creation myth therefore speaks of three sites: Montezuma Well, Sedona, specifically Boynton Canyon, and the Mingus Mountain, which makes up the “Sacred Triangle of Sedona”.

Montezuma Well is just north of Camp Verde and about twenty minutes by car from Sedona. The Well has a number of cliff dwellings and is something of a geological enigma – or, at least, anomaly. It produces vast and consistent qualities of warm water, which rises from somewhere deep underground. Scientists have not yet discovered the origin of the consistently warm water. It is nevertheless clear that the Yavapai were aware of this enigmatic resurgence, and have linked it with their creation mythology. As the Yavapai believe – like e.g. the Hopi – that we live in the Fourth World, for them, the Third World, is literally our “underworld”, and we emerged from under the earth into this Fourth World. Hence why, no doubt, Montezuma Well is used as a place of emergence.
Specifically, the creation myth states that a very long time ago, there was no water in that lake and that people lived inside and below. Sometime later, the water came in the well, and later, there came the flood. It is here that the Yavapai Ark was built, which came to rest in Sedona. The highest peak in Sedona is Thunder Mountain – also known as Capital Butte – which has a somewhat pyramidal appearance and which appears to have been the location where the female Noah’s log stranded: “There at Sedona is a high place. It is the highest place all around. And when the water were down, the log hit that high place. It stopped right there. And the girl came out from the log.”
The Yavapai refer to this woman as Kamalpukwia, the “Old Lady White Stone” – an interesting characteristic for in Sedona, most of the stone is red. They add that “she is the first woman and we came from her. She came out at Sedona and that’s where all Indians come from.” Others, however, have referred to this celestial virgin as Arizunna, the sun-beloved maiden. And the all-important question is therefore whether the name of the state, Arizona, should specifically be linked with Sedona.

Mingus Mountain

After Sedona, her next stop was the Mingus Mountain, where she mated with the sun. The precise location of what is likely to be a small shrine near the summit is not known – or kept secret by the Yavapai – though if somehow were to hazard a guess, the site of Tuzigoot, on the outskirts of Cottonwood, is a sacred site that might be related with this enigma. Even if Tuzigoot is unlikely to be the site per se (seeing it sits in a valley and not on the mountain as such), certain solar alignments – still left to be discovered – between the site and Mingus Mountain – which is visible on the horizon – might reveal where precisely she fell in love with the sun.
From Mingus Mountain, Kamalpukwia returned to Sedona, and Boynton Canyon, which for the Yavapai is the birthplace of their people. However, the place of importance is not so much Lady Kachina rock, part of the modern vortex phenomenon, but rather a cliff dwelling somewhat deeper in the canyon, dated to 1200 AD and the Sinagua culture. The cliff dwelling is remarkable, if only because it is one of the few that one can actually visit – unlike e.g. Montezuma Castle in Camp Verde. The cliff dwelling has a few rooms, constructed around a small spring that emanates inside the overhang that shelters the dwelling. Clearly, the dwellings were constructed so as to make use of this water, as it flows through the structure. Another interesting feature of the site is a stone just next to the dwelling, whose surface betrays a history of some ritual use. Here, half-way up the canyon wall, is the site of the enchanted pool, where she gave birth to a daughter, the “First Lady”. And for all we know, it might be indeed Her image that we see on Lady Kachina rock. If so, it might explain why of all the four vortex sites, Boynton Canyon is consistently said to be the one that is able to inspire. The reason might be that out of the four vortex sites, this is the only genuine ancient sacred site.

There are many more myths around Kamalpukwia, of course, which take place in the sacred landscape in and around Sedona, such as the cave where she gave birth to a miraculous boy – though the precise locations of these and other events in her life are sketchy. Equally, though the cliff dwelling in Boynton Canyon is the home of the sacred pool, it is clear that the true pool itself, was no doubt located somewhere else, however nearby.
Contrary to what some people have therefore argued, Sedona has Native American remains. Apart from the cliff dwelling in Boynton Canyon, there is nearby Palatki, which equally has cliff dwellings and an entire cliff face inscribed with rock art. In fact, some of the pictographs at Palatki date back to 11,000-9000 BC, suggesting that the extreme age about which the Yavapai speak – when Montezuma Well was said to be dry – might no longer appear to be so outlandish.

Thunder Mountain

Palatki means “red house” and was named as such by archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1895. He believed that Sedona and the Verde Valley was the legendary Palatkwapi, the great red city of the south, which is spoken about in Hopi legends. Palat in Hopi means red and ki, residence and it is said that the people who settled here were from the Patki – Water – clan. Of course, the entire creation myth of the Yavapai – which might thus be just a more recent name for the Patki – involves water and the “sacred cenote” of Montezuma Well, as well as the sacred spring in Boynton Canyon, underline that water was the principal element of the local people. And one can wonder whether the Spanish name for this people Sinagua – sin agua, without water – was a mocking reference to their true heritage.
Alexander M. Stephen, an early ethnographer of the Hopi, underlined that the Patki came from the “Pala’tkwabi” (Palatkwapi), noting that “No one knows just where that Red Land is, but it is somewhere in the far southwest.” Some have suggested this is Palenque, in Mexico, but this is first of all not in the southwest, as seen from the Hopi homeland, and very far removed, suggesting a mass migration. However, Sedona is to the southwest of the current Hopi homeland and if there is one thing that should typify Sedona, it is its red rocks.
Equally, the Hopi migration legend not only claims that Palatkwapi is the red-walled city in the south, but that the settlement was destroyed by a great flood, which wiped out the Third World, and that its inhabitants fled. The Hopi claim that the tremendous rainstorms that brought on this deluge were created by Palulukang, the horned or plumed serpent, who was said to inhabit Montezuma Well. It therefore seems that we have come full circle.
The Hopi add that after Palatkwapi drowned, it was abandoned, that its people moved north, along the Palatkwapi Trail, and went to Homolovi, near Winslow. From there, the Hopi travelled further north, towards the Hopi Mesas. From Sedona, via Homolovi, to the Mesas, is a distance of 150 miles and, today, easily doable by car in a less than three hour drive.
For the Hopi, the “Red City” was a great cultural and religious center from a previous area; the Native Americans travelled from there, towards the Mesas, but walking the “Good Red Road” in the other direction, meant for them a return to the world of spirit, a pilgrimage, a vision quest to a site where they would commune with the ancestral spirits.
Knowing what the sacred sites of the creation myth are, we should perhaps ask whether the cliff dwellings of Boynton Canyon, Montezuma Well (and Castle) and the settlement of Tuzigoot really are “just” settlements, or whether they are instead sacred structures: cells, “hotels”, for pilgrims who came here, seeking inspiration, guidance, or initiation – contact with the “First Lady”.

The modern “official” capital of Arizona is Phoenix. The city is named after the mythical bird, which is known to have risen from its own ashes, and herald in a new age. Sedona already is the spiritual capital, but it seems that in the Third World, it was the official capital of “Arizunna”. And it is definitely a fact that under Page Bryant’s influence, Sedona, the Red City, is once again rising from its ashes and regaining its lost significance. And it suggests that Bryant was perhaps a true psychic after all, who came to Sedona on her own vision quest, and left a lasting legacy for the rest of us, who flock in their thousands to Sedona to have a vision quest. Today, the vision quest is no longer administered in the canyons itself; the cliff dwellings are replaced by comfortable beds in cosy hotels and the “lodges” where the quests occurred are now more likely to be the many New Age shops along the main roads. But for those who want to experience Sedona as it once was, nothing will stop you from experiencing it.