Native American soul-stealing beast 'Tahquitz' comes alive in Riverside art exhibition

Man rock climbing at Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild, CA. Tahquitz Rock is where the demon's spirit is said to have flown after he was killed and burned with "green wood."
Man rock climbing at Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild, CA. Tahquitz Rock is where the demon's spirit is said to have flown after he was killed and burned with "green wood." Greg Epperson/Getty Images

Deep in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains there is said to lurk a creature right out of the pages of gothic horror master H.P. Lovecraft. Native Americans call him "Tahquist" and they say he’s a primordial beast who steals the souls of humans. The creature comes alive in a new exhibit at Riverside’s Culver Center of the Arts.

Tahquitz is said to live in the cold womb of a giant boulder. Stray too close to his hunting ground and he may harvest your very soul.

Artist Lewis deSoto learned the Tahquitz legend from Alvino Silva, an elder of the Cahuilla Indian tribe based in the rocky foothills of Riverside County between Palm Springs and Banning. Silva died several years ago, but recordings of him recounting the Tahquitz myth are included in deSoto’s installation. There will also be an operatic interpretation of the tale and wax cylinder recordings of Cahuilla bird singers.

DeSoto says he was drawn to the Tahquitz story because of his interest in Buddhism.

“Buddhism talks about the nature of suffering in humanity, and when I heard the story of Tahquitz I saw it as an embodiment of that, of this creature that destroys your spirit," deSoto says. "You don’t lose your personality; you lose your life force. To me that’s sort of an allegory to this notion in Buddhism of desire creating suffering in human existence.”

A giant replica of the creature’s boulder-lair will be suspended in the Culver Center’s two-story atrium. Just don’t get too close — unless of course you’re not terribly attached to your soul.

The exhibit opens Jan. 28 and remains open until March 24.

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