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Nov 18, 2009 at 10:51 AM


If I can hope (O God! I can)
It falls from an eternal shrine.
        - Poe, Tamerlane 


The "Portal" Question

Even though the American New Age is almost Baroque in its embellished elaboration of how our world is interwoven with other worlds - we have "star seeds," "walk-ins," alien visitors, masters, chelas, channelers, psychics and gurus aplenty - few people in the Basye region are "going on" about these things. As noted in our Introduction to this site, Basye is not a New Age community.

images/stories/senedo_americas.jpgBut in fact as people are beginning to realize, the Senedo and the history of at least a part of the Valley present some temptations in this regard. Because of Shenandoah Valley geology, the underground honeycomb of waterways due to its being a "karst area," as well as its heritage of native American cultures, the Valley shares some required elements with other so-called "portals" -- purported places by means of which our physical dimension exchanges energies with what is beyond our physical senses. Some of the most outrageous claims about places like Machu Picchu or Sedona are the ones presenting these places as portals or doorways into other dimensions through which either aliens from other star systems can enter our spacetime stage, or through which we can attain knowledge of remote worlds. [image: detail from antique print, collection of Studios Saint-Sulpice]

Setting aside for the moment the question of whether any such proposals deserve serious (or any) consideration, the Shenandoah Valley and the Senedo resonate well with these ideas. Portal locations (or ones claimed such) generally share the following: a unique geological or geographic feature; unusual topography or structures, whether man-made or natural; "the feeling" -- an air of mystery or harmony experienced by visitors; the lingering presence or traces of an ancient culture, possibly with a rich mythological or religious tradition; and some intriguing connection or relevance of the foregoing to our culture or time. In the Shenandoah Valley these qualifying elements are in place -- but the  most engaging factor is presented by the Senedo who, rightly or wrongly, are the first native inhabitants of the Valley for whom we have a name. They thus stand at the gateway of our knowledge of Valley culture.

[NOTE: The "Bering Land Bridge Theory," which for a long period was taken as scientific fact and held that people in the Americas -- both North and South -- arrived here as the result of a migration from Asia -- they supposedly walked across a land bridge connecting Alaska and Asia about 10,000 years ago -- has been discredited. For one thing, archaeological remains in the United States and as far south as Chile, have demolished the dating of this supposed trek during the last ice age. Those obsessed with upholding the theory have tried to retain it by moving the date of it backwards in time; but troubles persist, because archaeological finds older than the event keep getting discovered, and now there is evidence suggesting that these ancient supposed migrants also possessed watercraft which eliminates the land bridge requirement entirely. It makes one wonder whether at least some experts are not considering, finally, the possibility that native Americans are in fact exactly that -- i.e., the presence of the American Indian does not need to be explained via a migration because they are from here.]

images/stories/meems4_340.jpgWith Basye and Orkney Springs, our beliefs about original inhabitants does seem to begin with the Senedo (Shendo) who, up to perhaps 800 years ago inhabited, as it is believed, a fertile plain (today called "Meems Bottom") by the North Fork of the Shenandoah. (To be noted: these statements rely widely on apocryphal or anecdotal information. The thriving of the Senedo culture(s) precede the arrival of the white man, perhaps by centuries, and the historical record says very little of them. The Senedo are not among the eight Virginia Indian tribes formally recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia -- who have descendants and thriving cultures still in Virginia today -- nor are they even mentioned among the sixteen or seventeen former tribes of the area. In short, they remain a mystery to us.)

[image: "the Looking Glass Tree" at Meems]

Meems is south of the current town of Mount Jackson and about 12 miles E. of Basye...  If the history and legends attached to the Senedo are to be believed, at some point history mirrored myth, and there came "the singularity": the Senedo were massacred, or some other calamity occurred. In any case they disappeared in an event eerily similar to how the Anasazi people vanished from the Sedona, AZ area (with corn cobs still on roasting sticks found in the ashes of abandoned fires). These events are still unexplained, and histories of the Shendo -- explaining their disappearance by reference to an attack or campaign by the Catawba tribe (one version of the story) in the 18th C. -- confuse the Shendo with a historically much more recent branch of the Iroquois nation. In other words, the tribe wiped out around 1750, if that indeed occurred at all (it's all too easy to speak of "massacres" and to resort to hyperbole), and the original valley inhabitants described by Julia Davis which simply vanished, are separated by six centuries. 

As to the history of the European settlers, it started with farming, and there are local families in Basye who were involved with tilling the soil back in the 1599s - but ... by that time the Shendo, according to Julia Davis, were gone by "six centuries." The earliest settlement by Europeans in Virginia was in 1607 and estimates are that at that time there were something like 40 Virginia Indian tribes, but the Shendo/Senedo/Genantua were not among them under any name.images/stories/karstcave340usgs.jpg

The Shendo were gone, one might say, and nearly forgotten. Almost a hundred years after the first white settlers to Virginia, when the Edict of Nantes protecting Protestants in France was revoked in 1699, there was a wave of French Huguenot (Protestant) immigrants to the New World -- no doubt, "Basyes" among them (Basye is a Huguenot surname). They found a verdant, rich agricultural soil, clear waters flowing from karst honeycombs under the earth, and springs including some with healing properties. [image: US Geological Service -- a USGS hydorologist paddling out of a karst cave in the northern Shenandoah Valley, near Strasburg VA. Public domain image.] The first English settlers had founded Jamestown in 1607, but the Valley as we know it started to really develop in the 1700s. Roads were built and ancient burial mounds (if there were such) and other artifacts of the mysterious Shendo were either never found at all, or were lost as the highway of what we call progress advanced. Christianity had come; so had industry, and eventually came those escaping the suffocation of the culture they had brought to America - thus Orkney Springs came to play host to vacationers, gamblers and other free-lance devotees of a good time... All of which stands in stark and ironic contrast with what the Senedo represent to us, and with the sacredness attributed to the lost springs of the village that now hosts spiritual retreats and music festivals. 

Everything is interwoven. With each religious rite we look through a lens deep into the cultural and sacred history of the Valley. The cultures and beliefs of the Valley's Indian traditions and that of Christianity are far less disconnected and more organically related than one might imagine. The concept of beings coming to earth from heaven, and returning to heaven in some form, are found in both sets of cultures and it seems that a "Jacob's Ladder," whatever it is called and under whatever symbols it is concealed, is a uniting element between pre-Christian and Christian envisioning. Interestingly, the baptismal font of the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration was originally carved out from stone by the indians and was used to grind corn, and we think this use of the grinding stone speaks to the respect with which the designers of the Shrine viewed the people who preceded them as stewards of the Valley. It reflects a desire for continuity and for fidelity to the setting of which the Cathedral became a part. We don't know the exact reasons, but when the particular spot for the Shrine was selected by The Reverend Edmund Lee Woodward, it could well have been because it had been a site important to the Indians whose ancient settlement still hosts what became Orkney Springs. In other words, that place on the hillside was sacred and was most likely recognized by both the Indians and the later white settlers. And if these overlays of time and substance are deep and organic, how easily can they co-exist today? can Senedo visions have been glimpsed by people praying in most fervent Christian meditation at the Shrine? what about Virginia Indian tribes who succeeded the Senedo? The very nature of the Shrine -- with its organic materials and its "missing" walls and roof which each worshipper can envision made of light -- promotes sacred visualization and the amplification of the perceived by what is ready to register an imprint on our awakening awareness. 


[image: Shrine Mont portal]

Julia Davis, in her book The Shenandoah (1945, Rivers of America Series), on the derivation of the name "Shenandoah," alternative forms of which, according to the author, are Gerando, Gerundo, Shendo, Genantua, Sherando and others

The name has evolved, like most American place names of Indian origin, coming down through old records in many phonetic spelling: Gerando, Gerundo, Shendo, Genantua, Sherando. Many meanings have been assigned to it. The most romantic one, the one popularly accepted by the Valley people themselves, is Daughter of the Stars. This meaning has been much beloved, and incorporated into the writing which every generation of inhabitants feels inspired to produce, but the basis for it has remained concealed from the present researcher. The name appears in books of Indianetymology as Schin-han-dowi, the River-Through-The Spruce, (but spruces are rare in those mountains), or On-an-da-goa, the River-of-High Mountains, or as Silver-Water. The Museum of the American Indian in New York City believes that it is a word of Iroquois origin meaning Big Meadow. Or it might come from the fallen chief, Sherando, or from the earlier exterminated tribe, Senedos...But these discussions matter little. As Daughter of the Stars the river has been enshrined in the hearts of Valley dwellers, and Daughter of the Stars it will remain to them.

Regarding the predecessors of the Senedo (or the Senedo themselves?), she wrote:

"No one knows how they came there, nor from what cradle of the human race they sprang, nor how the seas were parted by dry land to let them walk across. They had a more highly organized society than the tribes which followed them. They built cities which inclosed fifty acres behind earthen walls, they used copper and silver, pipes carved in shapes of tropical animals, ceremonial mounds symbolically shaped. Then they were gone, and the chance acorns fallen on their mounds had grown to trees that marked six centuries before the white man came. The Delawares and the Catawbas, the Algonquins and the Iroquois did not remember them."


 [image: the Meems Vortex]

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