Illinois’ newest pyramid is the private home of the James Onan family. Until the place was closed to outsiders a few years ago, visitors from around the world flocked the 18-acre estate in which a gleaming pyramid stands surrounded by an 8-foot-high wall decorated with hieroglyphic motifs. Commanding immediate attention is a 200-ton colossus, the 40-foot-tall statue of a pharaoh, the tallest free-standing monument in the state.
A flight of stone steps leads to a darkened doorway atop a large, gravel mound at the south end of the precinct. The structure is a recreation of the tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt 3,350 years ago. A ramp descends gently through a corridor painted with scenes from the Book of the Dead (the Ancient Egyptian guide for the soul’s progress to the other world) and opens into an exact copy of the boy-king’s burial chamber. The tomb contains a superabundance of real gold crafted into furniture, a dagger, a large death-mask and statuettes. This brilliant collection is surpassed by far greater treasures in the next chambers, where a full-size, authentic version of the Pharaoh’s enormous sarcophagus is reproduced in 14-karat gold. The walls surrounding it are painted with scenes from his funeral and soul’s ascension, identical to the Egyptian original. In the adjacent room, gold statues of protective goddesses stand at the four corners of a canopied shrine 7 feet high and 10 feet long, wrought entirely in real gold.
Visitors emerged from these dazzling sights through a south exit and follow the sidewalk to the Pyramid House, about 150 yards to the east. It sits at the center of a surrounding moat, its 12,000 square feet of walls covered with 24-karat gold plate gleaming in the spring-fed waters. Access is across a bridge and walkway flanked on either side by rows of sphinx statues. At 55 feet in height, the Gold Pyramid is a 100th scale replica of Egypt’s Great Pyramid, at Giza. Like the original, it is oriented true north. Its interior contains 17,000 square feet of living space, featuring a full-size re-creation of Tutankhamun’s ceremonial chariot, covered entirely with real gold.
The “Chariot Room” also displays some authentic Egyptian artifacts, abundant statuary of gods and goddesses, another solid gold coffin lid with the king’s facial features realistically crafted on its surface, and hundreds of marvelous objects to catch the eye and delight the senses. The Pyramid House is unquestionably a sacred center, one of the latest in North America, although that was not the original intention of its builder and owner. Yet, from its very inception, it has evidenced many numinous qualities typically identified with sacred sites.
As an experienced and successful contractor, James Onan knew not to build over an underground water source. Even so, weeks after the foundations of the Pyramid House were laid in 1974, a fresh-water spring inexplicably bubbled up at the very center of the construction. It grew so large that it completely surrounded the structure, making the pyramid an island. Tests of the spring revealed its excellent purity and high mineral content. Mr. Onan bottled the water, and people from around the world have come to swear by its remarkable curative properties.
Just before the unexpected arrival of the fresh-water spring, a bulldozer broke its steel teeth against a large, immovable outcropping of black rock. Chunks of it were sent to the Colorado Assay Office in Denver for analysis. Meanwhile, the spring continued to rise ever higher, eventually drowning the rock laying just outside the perimeter of the foundation under 20 feet of water. It was then that the Colorado report arrived, informing the astounded Mr. Onan that the sample pieces were gold ore! He is the only person to have found gold in Illinois, and at the very spot of his Gold Pyramid. So far, he has been consistently unsuccessful in retrieving the submerged mass of gold at the bottom of the moat. Clearly, he had been directed to build the Gold Pyramid at this place!
Strange animal occurrences are not unknown at his Pyramid House. For two summers running, in 1986 and the following year, hundreds of jellyfish suddenly appeared in the moat, an “impossible event in the Midwest” according to experts at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. As suddenly as they arrived, the creatures vanished and have never returned. No similar occurrence has ever been reported in Illinois, if anywhere else in the Midwest. In addition to this, families of vicious birds have taken roost above its eaves outside the northern exit of the “Chariot Room,” which as a result is no longer usable because the birds boldly swoop to attack anyone who approaches the glass doors. Coincidentally, the “Chariot Room” contains the faithful replica of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s coffin lid, its golden side panels describing his judgment and apotheosis in the otherworld. In Ancient Egyptian religion, the king’s resting place was guarded at its northern end, the pathway of the soul, by Sokar, a bird that attacked anyone who sought entry to the royal burial chamber.
Today, the Gold Pyramid House is closed to the public, and may be fleetingly glimpsed by motorists speeding along the adjacent I-90 expressway. But for a brief, memorable moment, fifteen years ago, it hosted another, far smaller and different, but no less exceptional object. The Crystal Skull is the life-size representation of a human skull carved from a single piece of quartz crystal. Its earliest known history began in 1936, when this controversial object was obtained in Mexico from an unknown source by a British buyer, and put up for public auction in London eight years later, when it was purchased by the travel author, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges. After his death during the following decade, it passed to his adopted daughter, Anna, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Both she and her father claimed the Crystal Skull was made in Atlantis, although without foundation. Even so, as a Mesoamerican symbol, it is associated with Ixchel, a transparently Atlantean figure worshiped by the Maya as the goddess of healing and psychic power who arrived on the shores of Yucatan as a flood-survivor. Her later Aztec version as Coyolxauqui was accompanied by a crystal skull, emblematic of the moon and her identification as a lunar deity.
The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull demonstrates an extraordinarily high level of craftsmanship, perhaps even a technology superior not only to that of the ancient Mexicans, but of our own, as well. Whether or not it is an authentic Atlantean artifact, it was probably used originally in an oracular function on behalf of Ixchel to predict the future or offer intuitive medical advice for her Maya or Aztec clients. Wrought from a single piece of rock quartz, the Mitchell-Hedges Skull is an almost exact reproduction, complete in numerous anatomical details, of an actual human cranium.
In 1988, a forensic reconstruction of the living face that once belonged to the original human skull from which the crystal artwork was sculpted was rendered by New York City Police Department sketch artist Frank Domingo, with guidance from Peggy Caldwell, a physical anthropologist. The features which appeared on their canvas helped to authenticate the object. Its face was that of a young woman between the ages of 18 and 22; of mostly Amerindian descent, but with apparent traces of non-Indian traits, especially around the eyes. It was this possibly “alien” influence that revived the controversy about the Crystal Skull’s origins in Atlantis.
To be sure, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges never doubted its Atlantean identity, citing its uniquely high standard of workmanship, not found throughout all Mesoamerican civilization. Since the forensic reconstruction of its face, some investigators speculate the lady whose skull modeled for the crystal sculpture was at least partly Atlantean. Indeed, Plato, in his fourth century B.C. account of Atlantis, tells us that, in the last years of the doomed island-capital, the Atlanteans freely inter-married with the native populations of their empire, of which the Mayas (or, at any rate, their ancestors) were part. The woman in question, the offspring of an Atlantean father and a Maya mother, grew up to become a high-ranking priestess in the moon-cult of Atlantis. After she died of natural causes, her skull was used as a model for the Crystal Skull, which assumed oracular powers and warned the islanders of their impending destruction. Ixchel, a priestess in charge of the Crystal Skull, sailed with it to the Atlantean colony of Azaes, in Yucatan, and reestablished lunar worship at a special religious center, where it was found by its modern discoverer, 69 years ago.
The skull measures approximately 5-3/16″ high by 7-7/8″ long by 4-29/32″ wide. Among the scientific mysteries of this most enigmatic object are its fiber optics, in which light and images are bent at right angles, a technology supposedly unknown until recent decades. Despite all of the numerous studies to which it has been subjected, how the skull was made has never been satisfactorily explained. Very few tool marks appear on its surface, save for scratches made during polishing and six inconspicuous holes drilled with fire-hardened wooden bits. Incidentally, both the hand polishing marks and primitive drilling underscore its authenticity as a genuine artifact. Moreover, the object represents a skull that had been deliberately deformed by head-elongation, a practice common among the Mayas (as well as First Dynasty Egyptians) as a mark of the aristocracy.
There is no clue to the age of the Crystal Skull. All that is certain about the artifact is its incredible craftsmanship, unparalleled beauty and undeniable power. In Mesoamerican myth, a severed head was associated with the moon-goddess: Ixchel of the Mayas, the Aztecs’ Coyolxauqui, Basilea in Atlantis. The Crystal Skull undoubtedly represents this particular cultic personage. Lunar worship, in which both men and women participated (although the priesthood was predominantly female) was concerned with the night side of life, paranormal phenomena, especially as such power was put at the disposal of the secular as well as the religious community. Separated from the societies which created and venerated it in the ancient past, the Crystal Skull has lost none of its identity as the foremost psychic tool in the world today. It may be one of the Tuaoi described by the 20th century’s “Sleeping Prophet,” Edgar Cayce, as a “power crystal” originally used in Atlantis “to commune with the divine.” Later, it was abused for selfish, materialistic purposes, which ultimately led to the island-civilization’s destruction.
Exceeding its vast historical significance, the Crystal Skull is a profound memory-bank of wisdom. It is also a spiritual capacitor for accessing the illimitable powers of both man and the cosmos. It is neither an evil nor a harmful artifact, but the living image of regeneration and healing, spiritual as well as physical.
A particularly interesting event took place when the Crystal Skull was brought by Anna Mitchell-Hedges to the precise center of the Gold Pyramid House in July 1992. Bringing two of the world’s greatest sacred objects together would prove to be a worthwhile experiment. The ten persons gathered in a circle around the skull included a gemologist, a mechanical engineer at Underwriters Laboratories, a construction engineer, one of Chicago’s leading artists, a professional historian, a Kirlian photographer, several psychics, and other qualified observers. Most of them could physically feel various levels of strong vibrations coming from different sections of the artifact. Never before were these vibrations so discernible to the touch. A constant, chilly breeze or breath streamed laterally from the skull.
All of the observers reported experiencing a peculiar inner calm and serene sense of interconnectedness, even though many of them had just met for the first time. It was as though a protective blister had been raised over them to keep out the concerns of the material world.
Two healings were directly linked to the Crystal Skull session at the Gold Pyramid House, when a serious eye operation, which had only a 50/50 chance of success, ended in total recovery, results deemed “miraculous” by the atheist physician in charge. Also, a woman who had for years suffered from acutely painful menstrual cramps was no longer troubled after she visited with the skull at the Gold Pyramid. However, the father of one of the ten participants, a man whose health was in jeopardy, died shortly after healing was sought through the artifact. Sometimes death is the great healer, as personified in the Crystal Skull. Perhaps something of its innate energies interfaced for a moment with the resonant, if still enigmatic forces within Illinois’ Gold Pyramid House.