Names at the Grand Canyon

Just to say up front: there really isn’t much of a point behind this post.  It will probably be short.  I’m just expressing something I find very interesting.  A bit of history and culture, if you will–a learning opportunity.

While I was hiking the Grand Canyon, I noticed that some of the rock formations in the canyon had some very intriguing names.  Most of the formations were named by Clarence Dutton in his book “Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon,” published in 1882.  Being a white man of European descent, it makes sense that he would perhaps be familiar with the mythology of Greece and Rome and would pull names from those pantheons.  Some of the mesas and buttes are named for those gods: Diana’s Temple, Venus Temple, Juno Temple.

What I find even more interesting are the names of the mesas and buttes not named after Classical deities.  Some of the formations are named after Hindu deities and Buddhist and Egyptian and Nordic deities.  Very few of the formations (officially speaking) were given Native American names.  More often, the lookout points along the rim were given–and still hold–Native names, such as Yavapai Point and Hopi Point.  The names used for the formations include Temple of Ra, Isis Temple, Wotan’s Throne, and Vishnu Temple.

It strikes me as curious that in 1882 America someone would name formations like this.  Don’t get me wrong, I like it.  It even seems fitting to me to name so many things in and around the canyon with mythological and religious symbols.  I found the Grand Canyon awe-inspiring.  It was much more of a spiritual experience than visiting the vortexes.  But the majesty, the beauty, the wildness of the canyon is almost incomprehensible to our tiny human minds that can only comprehend so much.  It just surprised me when in the middle of my hike I’m studying one of the signs pointing out the formations in the canyon and I see the name Vishnu on there, and then Ra and Isis and so forth.

If you get a chance to see the canyon, it’s well worth a visit.

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4 responses to “Names at the Grand Canyon

  1. Having been to Grand Canyon for the first time very recently (July 5) and also being from India originally, I too was pleasantly surprised by some names of geological formations. Though I came to know them before I left – having done some research on Grand Canyon – it was also a pleasant surprise that in late 19th century even in American west there were people of knowledge and wisdom.

    It is too bad that a HUGE majority of westerners (including Americans) are unaware of civilizations that are thousands of years older as well as has had continuity. Among major nations, it seems that only the culture in India has had continuity of thousands of years (even China that is equally old had its continuity sadly disrupted by Communist rule).

    Even with all their current flaws, such older civilizations (including native North Americans) do provide with knowledge and wisdom gained from past experiences, which can still be applied in modern times for beneficial results. Such knowledge and wisdom are primarily about humanism and nature. Unfortunately many still ignore such knowledge and wisdom that are accessible with very little effort.

  2. […] Names at the Grand Canyon | A Witchy Life […]

  3. Pingback: A magical detour to the Grand Canyon | Maggies Photography

  4. Haha, that is pretty awesome! Unfortunate that he didn’t bother to “officially” name them as the Natives named them, but you know, could be worse, and as you said the naming scheme is fitting.

    It follows a late 19th century cultural trend, however, among Romantics and people (particularly intellectuals) wishing to escape rationalism and Christianity. There was a lot of Egyptomania and interest in Eastern religions, in addition to obsession with Classics and some buzz about kabbalah. Plus (I actually learned this from Fleiger in a Tolkien class), at the time there was a lot of fascination with linguistics, particularly the theory that all languages evolved from one, and people imagined this golden society of perfect unity and peace. Therefore ancient societies were looked upon as pretty rockin’, closer to paradise (so to speak) than modern Industrial society.

    Still, even at that time I would say yes, his names would have been considered a little weird, but they definitely fit within the cultural context of late 19th century America and Europe. In fact, it’s out of this context from which the Theosophical Society emerged, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and Eteilla’s Tarot pack, and all that jazz… I guess he was just one of “those people.” Perhaps he was a Mason. But even if he wasn’t an occultist, there was a lot of buzz about Egypt and the “Hindoos” in those days, especially among intellectuals. And here we are now, with Wicca and Asatru and stuff (not to mention like 9 billion Golden Dawn spinoffs, and still the Masons).

    Actually, a lot of this info is fresh in my head ’cause I just read “A Cultural History of the Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism.” It’s in M. library. Totally worth a read. ^_^

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