Spirit in the Stone

by Joy Inglis

Published by Horsdal and Shubart

1998, 111 pages


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A Message from the Ancients

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Petroglyphs (Greek: petra, rock; glyph, carving) are signs and symbols of spiritual significance, pitted and grooved into rock. They are found in widely separated areas on nearly all of the continents of the world, a record left by hunting and gathering societies that stretches back from this century into antiquity.

So instructs anthropologist Joy Inglis in Spirit in the Stone, a fascinating and complete look at this ancient artform.

Part One of Spirit in the Stone deals with all of the practical and mystical aspects of petroglyphs, as well as how they differ from pictographs. Chapters cover the practicalities of dating the stones as well as protecting them; some of the mysteries surrounding them as well as some of the conventions that have been noted in different areas.

As well, Inglis makes fascinating observations about the nature of the petroglyphs and the state of mind of the people that might have produced them. I am by no means an expert on petroglyphs, but I hazard that some of this material might prove controversial.

While petroglyphs worldwide differ in style and content consistent with the culture that produced them, they frequently share certain configurations associated with induced hallucination and altered states of consciousness, such as spirals, heads with auras, and other elements of psychic vision.

In any case, it makes for interesting reading and a couple of decades of close association lead one to believe that even Inglis' guesses will be educated ones.

Part Two of Spirit in the Stone is effectively a very good field guide to the petroglyphs on Quadra Island off the coast of Canada's westernmost province. An island where more than 100 carved boulders have been found at 13 different sites.

The book visits all 13 locations, with accompanying sketches by artist and author Hilary Stewart, describes the location of each petroglyph and hazard what they might represent. Of one of the boulders at Location 1 on the west side of Quadra Island "where the Morte Stream empties into Discovery Passage," Inglis writes:

The big shallow ring may symbolize the dangerous whirlpools in the sea offshore. A shaman making the ritual journey through a "Shaman's Doorway" in this place had much to contend with in an encounter with the master of riches in the sea. The rage of waters in the narrows must have been an awesome hazard to the people of Kawstin through the centuries.

And so on. Inglis expertly blending fact with educated hunches with ritual and the sacred aspects of rock carving.

Despite its modest size -- the book is just 111 pages in paperback -- Spirit in the Stone has the feeling of a seminal work on the topic of the petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest. | March 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.