Category Archives: Volume 1

Female Shamans and Medicine Women

mongolian shamanka

Mongolian shamanka

Female Shamans and Medicine Women

In some societies that practice shamanism there is a preference for the practitioners to be female. Evidence from archaeology in the Czech Republic indicated that the earliest Upper Palaeolithic shamans were in fact women (Tedlock, 2005). Descriptions of female shamans describe these women “…as invokers, healers, herbalists, oracles and diviners, ecstatic dancers, shape-shifters, shamanic  journeyers, and priestesses of the ancestors.” (Dashu, 2006).  Female shamans or ‘shamankas’, are located among the Tungus people, the Buriats, Yakuts, Ostyaks, and among the Kamchadals “…the place of the shaman was usually taken by especially gifted old women.” (MacCulloch, 1918).

SB_-_Altay_shaman_with_drum

Altay shamanka with drum. Kharkas ethnicity, circa 1908.

In Siberia, in the steppes and central regions, the female shaman possessed greater power than the male shaman and “…in general the feminine element plays a very prominent role in sorcery among the Yakuts.2 (Maddox, 1941). Female shamans are found in Tibet and Afghanistan, with female mikogami in Japan, and an Aleut ivory statuette (1816) depicting a “…woman shaman wearing an animal mask.” (Dashu, 2006).

shaman woman

Female Shaman

Female shamans are dominant in some cultures where they ate to the forefront of the cult practice. Whether in ancient China or Japan, or Korea, South Africa, Okinawa, the Philippines, from northern California to southern Chile, female shamanism  is a widespread tradition “…from Buryat Mongolia to the Buriti religion in Gabon, that the first shaman was a woman.” (Dashu, 2006).

female shaman

Reconstruction of a Mesolithic female shaman, 7000-6500 BCE, Bad Durrenberg.

shamanka decs

The Ekven burial of a female shaman was found at Chukotka on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. Some 2000 years old it was the grave of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees as well as other ritualistic and shamanic artefacts.

Ekven burial

The Ekven burial. Source: public domain.

Recurrent artefacts and examples of female shamanic practice are amulets, medicine bags, mirrors, and head-dresses shown by excavated regalia, as well as drums. Examples can be seen in southern Chile where female shamans of the Mapuche Nation use drums called kultran. Korean female shaman drummers use mudangs. Drumming would be accompanied by chants and invocations as is shown by the Mexican Indian shamans.

The Mesolithic interment at Bad Durrenberg occurred some 8,500 years ago. It was a woman around 25 years of age accompanied by a child of some 6 to 12 months of age. The grave goods and artefacts comprised those assumed to have a ritualistic and shamanic function.

Bad

Bad Durrenberg burial.  Source: public domain.

Evidence of the primordial origin of female shamans is shown by the excavated burials. Such burials have been found dating from the 5th century before the present. These include the Priestess of Ukok ( as well as remains from south Kazakstan, and the basin from the Ukraine to the Tarim. Archaeologists have determined that these ancient female interments in central Asia were shamanic priestesses. The mummified remains of a female shaman was from the 5th century BCE, and a kurgan of the Pazyryk Culture of ancient Altai.

Mummy_of_the_Ukok_Princess

Mummy of the Ukok princess

Discovered and excavated in 1993 (Polosmak, 1994; 1997)) she has been dubbed the Siberian Ice Maiden. This woman is also variously known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess, or Ochy-bala after the Altai heroine.

Ukok burial

Illustration of the Ukok shamanic burial

The burial of a female Natufian shamans discovered in a cave site at Hilazon Tachtit (in Israel) was dated to circa 12,000 BP (Grossman, 2008). The Natufians of the southern Levant of 15,000 to 11,500 BP were a nomadic people who lived along the east Mediterranean (Tharoor, 2008).

The excavated remains were those of a diminutive, disabled ‘shaman’ woman of advanced years, in a specially constructed grave. The interment represents the ritual burial of one of the oldest human spiritual figures.

shaman-israel

The interment ritual and technique indicate a shamanic burial with especially placed animal bones, some 50 tortoise shells, the tail of a cow and the wing of an eagle. The grave suggests that the people living with and around this woman of some 45 years held her in high regard. As a shaman she would have been a mystic imbued with animist powers and revered social status.

Among north Amerindians medicine women are as common as medicine men, especially among the Dakotas and the Creeks (Maddox, 1941), with both occurring among the Inuit. As with shamans the medicine womanand the practice of healing is not restricted to members of the male gender.

Native American Medicine Woman in prayer

North American Medicine Woman in Prayer

In ancient Greek mythology, in the temples of Argos, , the goddess Hygeia was the daughter of Aesculapius. The fact that the great Mother Goddess Hera, as Lucina, propitiated at or presided over childbirth, and that the original goddesses were probably real medicine women indicates “…in remote antiquity women were engaged in the practice of medicine.” (Maddox, 1941).

Blood-Medicine-Woman-Calgary-circa-1900

Blood Medicine woman, Calgary circa 1900.

In central Australia the medicine is ranked equal to the medicine man just as the female shaman is the equal of the shaman. Women shamans as medicine women propitiated the spirit world and practised the healing arts towards their own sex. Medicine women were thus equal to the medicine man. Not only in the way they became such but also in social status, their role and function, but in all other respects.

medicine woman

Medicine woman

The role of the ‘witch detective’ was often combined with that of the medicine woman and in central east Africa the medicine woman was also a witch detective and prophetess. Menominee-Medicine-Woman-206x300

Menomonee medicine woman

As has been shown by both female shamans and medicine women in many times, climes and cultures “…it not infrequently happens that the female idea of the Shamanate prevails to such an extent that the most powerful shamans are women…” (Maddox, 1941). The antiquity of the shamanic role of women is illustrated by the evidence of surviving rock and cave art which can be interpreted in terms of shamanism, fertility ritual, and rites of passage.

Rock art in southern Africa can be analysed from two approaches (Eastwood, 2005), one that incorporates women issues within a framework of shamanism, and secondly one that treats it as outside the understanding shamanism. Depictions on cave walls can be interpreted in terms of the shamanistic nature of the puberty rites of girls (Lewis-Williams, 1998; Lewis-Williams, 2004).

A distinction has to be made between the meaning of the terms ‘shamanic’ and ‘shamanistic’. The word ‘shamanic’ refers to the and practices and experiences of shamans, whereas ‘shamanistic’ refers to general beliefs and practices (Whitley, 1998). The analysis can be, and has been, extended to an interpretation of cave paintings claiming that the art was the work of women.

A recent study by Dean Stone of Pennsylvania State University produced results that “…indicated prehistoric female artists also helped create the famous ‘spotted horses’ cave mural and various others.” (daily Mail, 2009). The hand prints on the mural were dated to 25,000 BCE.  Many of the hand prints were smaller than female hands as established by analysis of digital ratios.

peche merle

The ‘spotted horses’ at Pech Merle, France.  Source: public domain.

The evidence appears to show that a large number of Upper Palaeolithic cave artists were women  confirming that  the “…women’s role in prehistoric society was much greater than previously thought.” (Daily Mail, 2009). It is most likely, considering the role of women in primordial society as shamans, that ancient art was mostly the work of women (Webb, 2013).

Hand prints on cave walls were analysed by Dean Snow who showed that there was a gender difference between relative lengths of fingers. Men and women’s finger lengths are different. Even though another theory claims the hand prints may be those of adolescent boys some 75% of cave art hands are female.

   el castillo

Hand prints from Cueva de las Manos, Santa Cruz, Argentina

Examples of hand print art in caves have been found in southern France, in Australia, Argentina, Africa and Borneo. In northern Spain hand prints were believed to be some 40,800 years old (Subbaraman, 2013) where of 32 hand stencils 24 were female.

Gargas caves

The hand prints from the Gargas Caves in the Pyrenees, 27,000 years ago.

Hand stencils support the theory that, not only were women actively involved in cave art, but that they were in their role of shamans leaders in ritualistic, fertility and magical practices, many of which were also linked to rites of passage for other members of the community.

References and sources consulted

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Levinson & Ember, eds.

Daiily Mail.  (2009).  Prehistoric Cave Paintings Made by Women as well as Men.  6.7.2009.

Dashu, M.  (2006).  Suppressed Histories. On web.

Eastwood, E. B.  (2005).  From Girls to Women: female imagery in the San Rock Paintings.  Before Farming.  3 (2).

Grossman, L.  et al.  (2008).  A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant. Proc.Nat.Acad.Sci.  105 (46). USA

Hastings, J. (1918-28).  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.  Edinburgh.

Levinson, D. & Ember, M.  eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York.

Lewis-Williams, J. D.  (1998).  Quanto.  South African Archaeological Bulletin. 53.

Lewis-Williams, J. D.  & Pearce, D.  (2004).  San spirituality roots.  Double Storey, Cape Town.

MacCulloch, J.  (1918).  Shamanism.  In: Hastings, J. ed.

Maddox, J. L.  (1941). The Medicine Man.  Yale UP.

Polosmak, N.  (1994).  National Geographic.  October.

Polosmak, N.  (1997).  BBC Documentary.

Subbaraman, N.  (2013).  NBC News.  15.10.2013.

Tedlock, B.  (2005).  The Woman in a Shaman’s Body. Bantam, New York.

Tharoor, I.  (2008).  12,000-tear-old Shaman Unearthed in Israel.  Time, 11.11.2009.

Webb, S.  (2013).  Earliest artists were women.  Mail Online, London.

Whitley, D. S.  (1998).  Cognitive neuroscience shamanism, and rock art of Native California.  Anthropology of Consciousness. 9.

 

 

 

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Shamanism, Archaeology and Prehistory

800px-SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b

 ‘Cave of the Hands’, Santa Cruz, Argentina.

1.  The Antiquity of Shamanism

2.  Shamanism and Cave Art

3.  Shamanism and the Upper Palaeolithic

1.  The Antiquity of Shamanism

Archaeological evidence suggests that shamanic practices possibly had their origin in the early Palaeolithic (Clottes, J. 2008) with indications of Mesolithic shamanism in Israel with Natufian Culture shamanic burials. The likely conclusion is that the “…origins of shamanism are hidden deep in the mists of our primordial past.” (Pearson, 2002). Further suggestions of proof are the presence of horned men in pictographs and cave art, with anthropomorphic birds and ornithomorphic men and women (Balzer, 1996). Indeed, in terms of antiquity, it has been said that a shaman is probably “…the oldest profession, covering the roles which in industrial societies, are played separately by the doctor, the psychotherapist, soldier, fortune-teller, priest and politician.” (Vitebsky, 1995).

A large amount of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is shamanistic and “…produced by shamans and derived from their modes of thought.” (Lommel, 1966), therefore archaeologically cave art includes images that can be called shamanistic. Basque myths from the region are concerned with ghosts, shamans, red bulls, cows, horses, birds and snakes (Lommel, 1966), and significant are the half human half animal spirits. The female is Mari, male spirits are Maide and associated with female Lamin, thus Mari and Lamin are “…probably preserved characteristics of the more ancient Mistress of the Beasts.” (Lommel, 1966). Thus the consideration that the “…repetitively portrayed Palaeolithic ‘sorcerers’ and ‘shamans’ were divine owners of animals and forests.” (Gimbutas, 2001).

2.  Shamanism and Cave Art

Cave imagery is a palimpsest resulting from changing exploitation of the topography coupled with changing shamanistic beliefs and social relations (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Clottes, 1996), implying Upper Palaeolithic people “…did not adhere rigidly to set formulae.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Thus as the Upper Palaeolithic progressed the historically and geographically situated forms of shamanism changed. In order to understand shamanic cave art it is best to look in more detail at two examples – the so-called ‘sorcerer’ in the Sanctuary at Les Trois Freres, and the ‘Man and Bison’ composition in the Shaft at Lascaux.

The ‘Sorcerer’ has an antlered deer head and hide who appears to be leading a dance to secure success in hunting (Lewis, 1969). The image is of a masked human being to endow a unique, magical or religious act with greater permanence by means of pictorial recapitulation (Lissner, 1961). The unreal atmosphere is compounded by the half human half animal that is engraved and painted in an innermost recess of the complex Ariege cave (Grazioli, 1960), implying the ‘sorcerer’ is a mystical being. The painting is of a powerfully symbolic magico-religious ritual. The shaman is harnessing a group effort through  group ritual dance to objectify the killing of an animal (Lewis, 1969). This shaman at Lourdes, wearing a tail and a beard, can be compared to Tungus shamanic portrayals because “…the adoption of several animal characteristics is throught to increase a shaman’s chances of sending hi soul on its travels…” (Lissner, 1961).

the-sorcerer

   The Magdalenian painted ‘sorcerer’ at Trois Freres, Ariege, France.

The shaman requires maximum assistance from various animals while on his journey. He therefore wears a deer mask, owls eyes, wolf’s ears, horse’s tail, and bears paws, as well as dancing (Lissner, 1961). Among circumpolar peoples deer antlers and bears feet are the most effective in magical equipment (Ucko, 1967). The ‘man with a bison’ in the Shaft at Lascaux is a shamanic scene with a sacrificial bison and an outstretched man (with a bird mask) lying on the ground in a trance (Lissner, 1961). The rhinoceros in the composition is insignificant because it is the man and bison in confrontation (Blanc, 1949). The supine figure is the shaman and the bird his tutelary spirit, and its perch a grave stick or sky-pole. The wooden bird poles symbolise a shaman’s spiritual journey and is thus “…a path to heaven symbolised by an upright pole and the belief that a bird can carry a shaman’s soul into the sky.”  (Lissner, 1961). The whole is a complex composition that contains evidence of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual.

Image (259)

A man in a bird’s head mask attacked by a wounded bison (?).

The cave painting at Lascaux, France, circa 15.000 t0 10,000 BC. (shown above), can be explained by Siberian legends of modern times. A spear seems to have pierced the bison and eviscerated it. The shaman sends his soul to heaven while he lies as though dead (Lommel, 1966), as he hunts animal spirits of negotiates with the Mistress of the Animals. A number of factors indicate the shamanic nature of the composition. The bird is gallinaceous or grouse-like and resembles the grouse carving on a spear-thrower from Le Mas d’Azil (Davenport, 1988). The feet are humanoid, as is the phallus, but the hands are four-toed typical of a bird, and as such a pictographic symbol. The artist has portrayed the shaman as his spirit helper (the bird-headed wand) at the moment of his transformation or shape-shift into a Black Grouse or Capercaille (Davenport, 1988), a performance quite familiar to the Palaeolithic hunter, resembling the communal dances, strutting and ritualised fighting of the Blackcock.

The secret of successful hunting is mimicry (Lommel, 1966), and a successful expedition is envisioned by the shaman beforehand. The entrails of the bison are wrenched out by a barbed spear and the whole image means for Abbre Breuil (1965) the hunter is wounded by the bison and then killed by the rhinoceros, whereas for Leroi-Gourhan the man is dying from wounds inflicted by the bison (Lissner, 1961). However, the shaman is most likely in a trance state. rock art in South Africa is historical evidence for ceremonies and roles of trance plus hallucinogens, so perhaps “…decorated caves in Palaeolithic Europe, at the end of the last Ice Age, might also reflect shamanic practices and trance ceremonies.” (Pitts, 2001).

In addition, shamanistic practices among early Celtic divinations they wore cloaks of birds feathers as Siberians did, bearing in mind the Celtic belief in metamorphosis – shape-shifting – or ability to change shape or appearance at will. At Santander there are wall engravings of men in bird masks who seem to be dancing, and the bird-men of Altamira are also shamans, as are the masked figures at Les Combarelles  (Lissner, 1961). At Teyat, Abri Mege (Dordogne) three strange figures resembling sea horses are probably shamans dancing in ibex masks. There are further examples of hybrid figures as hunters or shamans occupying territory between the human and animal world (Grazioli, 1960). There is also comparative evidence for shamans using birds as tutelary spirits or spirit helpers for shamanic ritual (Davenport, 1988), for example the Lascaux ‘man and bison’.

Palaeolithic batons or ‘wands’ may be shamans drumsticks, and certainly more than items of everyday use (Lissner, 1961), and female statuettes are the earliest known figurative representations in the world  and may have a shamanic ritual role as auxiliary dolls. The female statuettes of Siberian tribes, who often had female shamans or ‘shamankas’, may have had a ritual role. At Ma’lta,  50 miles north of Irkutsk, female figures and birds carved in bone represent duck and geese, reminiscent of bird figures which modern Siberian tribes place on top of their shamanic sky-poles. In view of the fact that shamanic mobiliary art may not have been durable – wands, sky-poles, drums, and other equipment such as masks – it is nonetheless possible that portable engravings of birds may have had a ritual and shamanic role.

 

Image (74)

 The ‘man and the bison’ of the Shaft at Lascaux.

3.  Shamanism and the Upper Palaeolithic

The antiquity and ubiquity of shamanism implies it was practised by hunter-gatherers of the European Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 2002), but it was not static or unchanging across western Europe during 30,000 years, indeed “…shamanism is the most archaic form of magico-religious relation of man towards himself and his surroundings.” (Wiercinski, 1989). Indeed, in terms of prehistory shamanism is “…generally regarded as having been endemic to hunter-gatherer societies, because of the importance of its role in hunting.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005). Upper Palaeolithic people associated logically consistent concepts to their cave painting (Lommel, 1966), thus prehistoric man attempted to integrate into life surrounding him by performing symbolic actions that included mimicry, dance and vocalisations. Hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic had specialists, or shamans, whose authority and prestige permitted them to mediate between the surrounding natural and supernatural powers and their own people (Sandars, 1968).  As a global phenomenon shamanism was by hunter-gatherers for thousands of years implying “…it is reasonable to infer that shamanic practices must in some way, be reflected in the material record (Pearson, 2002). Not only is shamanism attested archaeologically but also Palaeolithic art was thus “…the particular expression of shamanic cosmology and social relations as it existed at a given time and in a given period.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

The prevalence of art deep within caves is the “…cornerstone of the totemic and the magical interpretations.” (Ucko, 1967), that deals the death blow to ‘art for art’s sake’ theories. The Palaeolithic cave artist therefore “…does not differentiate his aesthetic activity…in a world of mystic perception which is one single unity.” (Read, 1949). There are two reasons to assume that Upper Palaeolithic shamanism existed (Lewis-Williams, 1997) which are: (1) the ubiquity of hunter-gatherer shamanism; (2) the ability of the human system to achieve altered states of consciousness. Despite the worldwide similarities of shamanism (Eliade, 1972; Vitebsky, 1995) it is therefore probable “…that some form of shamanism – not necessarily identical to any ethnographically or historically recorded type of shamanism – was practised by hunter-gatherers of Upper Palaeolithic Europe.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

It was hunter-gatherers who created much of rock art which they associated with shamanistic practices and the “…phenomena experienced by shamans during altered states of consciousness, are also reflected in rock art.” (Pearson, 2002). Indeed Siberian petroglyphs resemble the Aurignacian drawings from Palaeolithic France that me function as fertility symbols. However, caution has to be exercised when considering “…oven-ready shamanistic/ASC interpretations is being applied automatically to the wall art in everything to passage graves to Catal Hayuk.” (Bahn, 1998).

Handprints and footprints in cave and rock art have been assumed to be a means of establishing “…a bond between the person, the rock veil, and the supernatural world that seethed beneath it.” (Clottes, 1998). In general it is believed that Palaeolithic people saw cave entrances as portals to s supernatural domain, because rocks were assumed inhabited and protected by spirit entities.

cantabria

Handprints in a cave in Cantabria, Spain.

There are many examples of negative handprints, including Canjon de Chelly in northern Arizona, as well as positive and engraved handprints shown by Comanche Springs, New Mexico. The use of red pigment for handprints and paintings is assumed to represent the colour as a “…universal symbol of blood, which has always been regarded as the carrier of the life-force (Okladnikov, 1969).

chelly

Handprints at Canjon de Chelly, Arizona

Small dimension human footprints are also a common feature of rock art and have been regarded as those of small ‘spirit helpers’, sometimes called ‘water babies’, who inhabited pools, springs and rocks. Many of the images and themes in Palaeolithic rock art have been described as shamanic, representing ‘magical flight’ (Eliade, 1964), and the ‘shamanic journey’ (Harner, 1981). In this sense the flight represents an altered state of consciousness (Pearson, 2002), and is depicted in rock art.

footprints

Magdalenian cave footprints, Ariege, France.

Entoptic motifs (behind the eye) in trance states include flecks, lines, waves, zig-zags, spirals and dots, however in the ensuing stage of ASC the shaman begins “…to construe these entoptics into meaningful representational images based on cultural beliefs and expectations.” (Pearson, 2002).

Many of the prehistoric interments found in Siberia contain sophisticated artefacts (Artamanov, 1965). The petroglyphs found are ancient rock drawings done in red ochre and their distribution indicates “…communication or commonality of some kind among the nomadic northern tribes over the wide region from the Baltic to the far east.” (Okladnikov, 1969). There has been much interest generated by rock art studies and shamanism since the 1950’s and 1960’s (Kuhn. 1956). Accompanying the revival interpretation in the art of the Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 1998; Clottes, 1996) has led unfortunately to “…certain scholars basing themselves on distorted ethnography, dubious psychology and a huge amount of assumption and wishful thinking, are interpreting rock and cave art exclusively in terms of supposed shamanism, entopics (i.e. trance imagery) and altered states of consciousness (ASC).” (Bahn, 1998).

 

References and Sources Consulted

Aldhouse-Green, M. & S.  (2005).  The Quest for the Shaman.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Lewinson, D. & Ember, M. eds.  Henry Holt, New York.

Clottes, J.  (2008).  Shamanism in Prehistory.  Bradshaw Foundation.

Narby, J. & Huxley, F. eds.  (2001).  Shamans Through Time.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Pearson, J. L.  (2002).  Shamanism and the Ancient Mind.  Altamira Press, USA.

Vitebsky, P.  (1995).  The Shaman.  Macmillan, London.

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Prolegomena to the Study of Shamanism

shamanotshir

‘Ochir’ a Mongolian shaman, early 20th century.

1.  Introduction

2.  Origin and Meaning

3.  The Shaman

4.  The Shamanic Mystique

 

1.  Introduction

Shamans are ritual specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (Lewis-Williams, 2002) who are more potent and important than witch-doctors (Lewis, 1969). These specialists were thus found originally in the homogenous, technological simple, loosely structured hunting-gathering cultures of ancient times. Shamanism is a religious practice where there is communication with good and evil spirits through “…a professional class of priest-seers…” (McKillop, 1998), and thus associated with “…archaic techniques of ecstasy…” (Eliade, 1964), and a widespread practice across Eurasia and elsewhere as a primitive religion survival. In this sense some regard shamanism as evidence of the ancient origin of human archetypal concepts of spirituality.

Presently shamanism is a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples. Despite various theories of origin shamanism can be described as a “…widespread complex of religious and medical beliefs, centred on a community or family shaman, who is usually perceived to be a mediator between spiritual and human worlds…” (Balzer, 1996). In consideration of the religious and supernatural functions the shaman is in essence “…a social functionary who, with the help of guardian spirits, attains ecstasy in order to create a rapport with the supernatural world on behalf of his group members.” (Hultktantz, 1973).

The phenomenon of shamanism is found throughout China, Tibet, Japan, through Korea to include many Turkic and Mongoloid clans and tribes. The origin of shamanism is recognised as having occurred in northern and central Asia. Among the Japanese may be found the temple yamabushi, the Chines have their wu-i healer magicians, and there are the devil doctors of Sri Lanka (Leach, 1972). Furthermore it can be noted that the “…primitive religion of these tribes is polytheism and polydaemonism, with strong roots in nature worship…” (MacCulloch, 1918). In other words we have a religious system where shamans, as intermediaries, act between supernatural entities and earthbound humans.

220px-Yupik_shaman_Nushagak

Yupik Shaman

In religious terms shamans are a class of polytheists (employing shamanistic sacra) and worldwide religious practitioners who “…imitate trance states, generally called altered states of consciousness (ASC), for the purpose of communing with spirits (Jones, 2006). As a vigorous cross-cultural phenomenon (VanPool, 2009) the origins of shamanism are “…hidden deep in the mists of our primordial past.” (Pearson, 2002), whose roots stretch back as far as the Palaeolithic, and which is supported by archaeological evidence. Shamanism therefore consists of a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world (Hoppal, 1987). For others, including anthropologists from the onetime Soviet Union, shamanism is “…essentially a ‘pre-class’ religion that may nevertheless survive in class societies in a marginal, peripheral cult form.” (Lewis, 1986).

2.0 Origin and Meaning

The term shaman is Tungus in origin from saman or sramana meaning ascetic (McKillop, 1998; Leach, 1972) and in Sanskrit  sramanas. Shamanism is not limited to circumpolar peoples as it occurs in south-east Asia, Oceania, and with Amerindians. The name comes from Siberia where a shaman is also called a tabid and female shamans called shamankas, Inuit angekok, in Lapland noi’de (Sandars, 1968), with shamanism the basis of Finno-Ugric religion (Guirand, 1982). Placed in perspective the career of the shaman “…belongs to that special category of ethnographically specific concepts used cross-culturally outside their own native contexts.” (Lewis, 1986).

In Siberia a shaman is such by hereditary transmission or spontaneous vocation, whereas in north America shamanism is a voluntary quest. However, just because shamanism describes the religion of the tribes of the Urals-Altaic region, it does not deny that the practice of shamanism also occurs in more or less complete forms elsewhere (MacCulloch, 1918). Another interpretation of the meaning of ‘saman’ is also from the Tungus describing “…a person who moved between different worlds on supernatural errands (Pearson, 2002)

Shamanism occurred all over the ancient world (Matthews, 1991), and is an animistic belief that “…presupposes an elemental force in all objects which can be dominated by a greater force…” (Guirand, 1982). A shaman is not a magician, not a visionary, not a healer, are usually male but female shamans occur, but importantly it is the “…intensity of his experience that makes him unique. His ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being.” (Matthews, 1991). In other words the concept of shamanism and its practice “…is central to the recognition of shamanism.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), and archaeologically present in the presence of bone whistles, flutes, shamanic drums, as well as large animal bones called osteophones because they could be used as resonant instruments.

The term became accepted among the Tungus and the Turko-Mongolic cultures of ancient Siberia as well as by Altaic mythology, where shamans acted as mediators and travelling spirit guides for those cultures (Hoppal, 2005). In so far as the Tungus people and their shamanism are concerned  “…historically and geographically they have been influenced by culture and borrowing and exchange on a wide front, with the shaman playing a crucial and innovative role as recurring agent and mediator for alien spiritual forces.” (Lewis, 1986).

The most complete manifestation of shamanic practice occurs in Manchuria and Siberia (Leach, 1972) being notable among the Yakuts, Tungus, Koryaks, Ostyaks, Samoyeds as well as the Chukchee. Among the Ostyak and Samoyed tribes the position of shaman is hereditary. The shamans of the central Inuit are usually men called angakok who are noted for their displays, drum dancing and therapeutic performances (Leach, 1972). In the Russia of the 17th century the practioners of shamanism were often “…confused with common sorcerers, the general import of shamans as ecstatic healers and innovators was accepted in the 19th century.” (Hultkrantz, 1999).

3.  The Shaman

In the realm of English-speaking social anthropology “…there is a marked contrast…between American and British usage…the term ‘shaman’ enjoys a secure position in American cultural anthropology.” (Lewis, 1986). The shaman possesses a number of functions which depends upon their culture, and which includes sacrificial rituals, healing, fortune-telling, story-telling and singing, as well as being a ‘guide to souls’ or psychopomp (Hoppal, 2005). In some respects shamans are women and men “…who through the acquisition of supernatural powers, are believed to be able to either cure or cause disease.” (Leach, 1972). The shaman is not only in “…direct intercourse with the spirits, and actual (bodily and spiritual) access to the spirit world…” (MacCulloch, 1918), but possesses as a result  superior knowledge to ordinary people. The primary religious role of the shaman is that of healer and diviner. Both aspects are achieved by spirit possession or the journey of the soul of the shaman to the underworld or heaven.

Shamans are not merely intermediaries between the spirit domain and the human world but ‘mend the soul’ by treating illness and ailments (Eliade, 1964). In some ethnic groups the powers of the shaman are believed inherited or regarded as a calling by signs and dreams. A shaman can attain his or her religious status through personal quest, vocation or heredity, but is in essence a mouthpiece of the spirits who became his or her initiatory familiars. The shamans of South America became so as a result a supernatural calling or specialised training and who thus became “…the intermediaries between the supernatural world and the communities.” (Leach, 1972). In this manner the phenomenon and practice of shamanism represents “…a cult whose central idea is the belief in the ability of some individuals chosen by some spirits to communicate with them while in a state of ecstasy and perform the functions of an intermediary between the world of spirits and the given human collective (collectivity).” (Basilov, cited in Lewis, 1986).

A shaman is a particular type of individual combining functions and abilities (Lommel, 1966) who requires special training, with separation from cares and distractions of ordinary life (Lewis, 1969), with initiation often involving isolation and mentoring by an older shaman. A shaman often shows signs of mental instability, excitability, and hysterical dissociation, exhibiting suggestibility and subject to hallucinations (Lewis, 1969), but shamanism is not linked to mental illness because the shamanistic mind is “…a complex interweaving of mental sates, visions and emotions.” (Lewis-Williams, 2002). The central “…core of shamanism…” is the “…shamanic séance…” (Balzer, 1996) and an issue over which controversy still abides. A shaman must have a mana to carry on his role which he can only obtain  by being predestined for it, as well as by submitting to certain rituals (Adam, 1954). Mana, a term originating in Polynesia, can be considered as an immaterial power believed by many pre-literate peoples to be inherent in certain privileged persons and things.

Shamans use accessories called sacra which are their tools including drums, piped and whistles, which they employ in caves and shrines designated as ritual spaces (VanPool, 2009). In this context it has to be stressed that there are shamans and priests, not shamans or priests. Shamans frequently use musical instruments and noisemakers (Vitebsky, 2001), and “…consider their drums to be animated entities whose spirits can help the shamans on their journey.” (Potapopov, 1999). Drums are used by shamans by many Inuit groups and several Siberian peoples, as well as many cultures using feathers regarded as the messengers of the spirits.

 

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A drum shaman

However, the sacra of priests compared to those of the shaman, include ritual paraphanalia used in public ceremonial locations, as well as carvings of deities, statuary and the divine written word. The shaman establishes a rapport with the spirits.

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Cheyenne Medicine Man by Howard Terpning. Source: public domain.

The medicine man uses methods where spiritual aid is not essential, thus “…the methods of the medicine-man and the magician, as distinct from the shaman, are also found everywhere, and frequently enter into shamanistic practice.” (MacCulloch, 1918). In other words the term shaman, if loosely defined, has been considered in terms of ‘sorcerer’, ‘ritualist’ or simply ‘medicine-man’ (Aldhouse-Green, 2005). Every shaman possesses a harmless animal familiar, as well as a collection of iconographic symbols, tutelary and liminal creatures, as well as anthropomorphic figurines, not forgetting their psycho-active herbs and fungi (VanPool, 2009).

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A Sami shamanic drum.  Source: public domain.

Hunter-gatherers exhibit a number of characteristics of shamanism (Lewis-Williams, 1997), which distinguish it from other religions by “…the power that man or rather certain men particularly endowed, the shamans, exercise over nature.” (Guirand, 1982). Hunter gatherer shamans are therefore specialists with authority and prestige who mediate between people and surrounding natural and supernatural powers (Sandars, 1968). Theoretical studies attempt to define shamanism in terms of function and the identity of the shamans as individual practitioners, nonetheless shamans “…can be male of female, old or young, sympathetic or tyrannical, renowned or secret…” (Balzer, 1996).

As a polytheistic class shamans cannot be categorised as a uniform or homogenous group dichotomous with priests – indeed ambiguous definitions only serve to obscure their unique cultural religions and beliefs (Aldhouse-Green, 2005; Tedlock, 2005). The practices of shamans developed, as is now known, amongst the Inuit, the native Americans of the northern Pacific coast, of California, and those of the plains and other Amerindian tribes (Leach, 1972). Indeed, we can reliably and profitably use shamanic studies to describe their cross-cultural religious pattern (Tedlock, 2005). In this context shamanism is not a religion as such (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), with the role of the Tungus ‘saman’ being an ‘ecstatic’ one. This aspect underlies the fact that a shaman “…may be regarded as one whose priestly, prophetic, and magico-medical functions have not been differentiated.” (MacCulloch, 1918).

4.  The Shamanic Mystique

Characteristics of shamanism are: (1) it posits a range of institutionalised altered states of consciousness; (2) the visual, aural and somatic experiences of altered states are seen as conceptions of alternative states of reality; (3) people with special powers and skills – shamans – have access to this alternative reality; (4) the nervous system via altered states leads to dissociation. Shamans use dissociation to achieve four ends which are also features of hunter-gatherer shamanism: (1) shamans are believed to contact spirits and supernatural entities; (2) they heal the sick; (3) they control the movements and lives of animals; (a) have the ability to change the weather. These four functions coupled with the altered states are believed mediated by and facilitated by “…a variously conceived supernatural potency of power…” and this potency is “…commonly associated with animal helpers that assist shamans in the performance of their tasks.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; 2002).

The underlying premise of shamanism is that invisible spirits pervaded the lives and world of the living (Hoppal, 1987) and that in this situation within the shaman’s power was the “…ability to summon spirits who can perform tasks beyond the capacity of ordinary people.” (Leach, 1972). The shaman dramatizes his or her performance in order to “…transform into spiritual creatures through rituals that induce Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) to create…Shamanic States of Consciousness (SCC)”. (Harner, 1980). In the trance state the most common feeling is one of swimming or flying, an important and significant indicator of the transition or implying “…an altered state of consciousness is important, shamanism may be described as an ecstatic religion.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005).

One of the functions of a shaman is the periodic performance of sacrifice, a ritual which is an “…important part of the shamanistic rites of healing and divination…” (MacCulloch, 1918). Another shamanic ability is shape-shifting where dressed in feathers, animal pelts, head-dresses, whereby “…when in a trance state. shamans in many traditional communities experience transmogrification from human to animal form.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), and the guardian spirits of the shaman may be in animal form. Therefore transmogrification, the assumed shape-shifting, the shamanic trance is necessary and central to enable entry into the sprit dimension.

Considering rock art shamans often make use of images to interact with their tutelary spirits (Lewis-Williams, 1988). These tutelary spirits include ritually sent messenger birds as guides, as well as jaguars and bears (Harner, 1973), especially during their flights. The panels of shamanic rock art comprise entopic images (Clottes, 1998) where colour in such art has intrinsic spiritual meaning (Whitley, 2000).

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Shamanic petroglyph or pictograph from south east Utah.  Source: public domain.

Even though there are may variations of shamanism throughout the globe there are many shared common beliefs pertinent to the phenomenon (Eliade, 1964), and in many tribes the functions and role may be divided among different kinds of shaman (MacCulloch, 1918). The shamanic universe differs from place to place, from time to time, from culture to culture, but the fundamental structure remains the same (Pearson, 2002). The performances of shamans “…are elaborated with rituals and symbols to ensure safe passage between the worlds.” (Wilbert, 1987), with the goal of preserving the “…cosmic equilibrium by acquiring and applying knowledge…” (Pearson, 2002).

The special shamanic skill is the ability to travel from the ordinary world, which confines the community, into the realm of spirits (Pearson, 2002), therefore shamanism must involve “…soul journeys of persons chosen by the spirits: the shaman’s soul must be able to use trance to leave the body, visit the spirit world…(Aldhouse-Green, 2005). It is apparent that the core of shamanic practice “…is the  acquisition of supernatural power through ecstatic trance.” (Pearson, 2002).

The Latin for trance is transitus meaning ‘passage’ and where transive means to ‘pass-over’ and is a necessary “…pre-requisite for any kind of shamanism.” (Pearson, 2002). These trances become séances of a dramatic character for shamanic dialogues with the spirits (MacCulloch, 1918). In general terms the shaman makes his or her passage across the axis mundi, and enters the spirit world by affecting a transition of consciousness (Hoppal, 1987). The hypnotic trance is attained either through autohypnosis brought about by drumming and dancing, or by the use of entherogens. The trance plays an important role in the journey of the shaman making the drama, “…the shamanic ritual is crucial for the theatre.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005).

Psychoactive agents or plants include cannabis sativa, tobacco, Datura, Peyote cactus (also called dumpling cactus or mescal button), and Psilocybin mushrooms, as well as Fly Agaric. As well as shamanistic sacra such as smoking pipes “…most shamanic rituals include some form of hallucinogenic agent.” (Pearson, 2002), as shown by remains of datura in pipes. It is considered that the use of psychoactive plants and hallucinogenic fungi underlies north coast Peruvian art. From Central Mexico around 1700 BP there have been found frescoes indicative of mushroom worship as well as mushroom ‘stones’ which may be suggestive of a cult or shamanic “…link between these stone mushroom figures and the ritual use of sacred hallucinogenic mushrooms.” (Pearson, 2002).

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Peyote cactus

Using psychotropic agents such as plants to induce altered states of consciousness (ASC) is a worldwide phenomenon (Schultz, 1979). Shamans in the New World use peyote and datura each one inducing different experiences (Furst, 1972). The established hallucination or ASC is “…fundamentally an experience of sight or visual hallucination…” (Pearson, 2002). To be more accurate ecstasy “…is a humanistic and theological trance, trance is a medical term for the same phenomenon.” (Hultkrantz, 1993). Shamanism and ecstasy as a result of rituals aimed at transformation means that ecstasy is a “…psychogenic mode of reaction that forms itself according to the dictates of the mind and that evinces various depths in different situations. It thus swings between frenzy and hilarious rapture on one hand, death-like comatose passivity on the other, and a mild inspirational light trance.” (Hultkrantz, 1973).

In addition to the use of psychoactive substances to achieve ritual ecstasy, chanting and rhythmic sounds are also commonly employed. The trance state can thus be induced by the rhythms of large, flat oval drums combined with chants, incense or narcotics. Many traditional societies make use of musical sacra, including rattles, percussion instruments, and drums. These are an integral and essential part of the ritual designed to create the conditions of ‘sonic drawing’ within the ritual location.  However, it should be noted that “…not all trance dances are shamanistic, any more than all feats of magic, cure, or all dreams or visions.” (Leach, 1972). As with rock and cave art sites shamanic ritual locations “…will likely contain the tools used to administer psychoactive agents, drums or other noise makers, and shamanic symbolism…” (Whitley, 2001).

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North American shaman with pipe

It is wrong to assume, as does Eliade (1964), that shamanism always involves a ‘soul in flight’ (Hultkrantz, 1973). The concept of the trance and magical flight allows the shaman to commune with the spirit entities. In other words the shaman discards his own identity during his magical journey in order to make contact with the spirits.

References and sources consulted

Adam, J.  (1940).  Primitive Art.  Pelican, London.

Aldhouse-Green, M & S.  (2005).  The Quest for the Shaman.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Levinson & Ember, eds.

Basilov, . N.  (cited in Lewis, 1986).

Clottes, J.  (1998).  Shamans in Prehistory.  H. N. Abrams, New York.

Conkey, M. W. et al.  (1997).  Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol.  California Academy of Sciences, USA.

Eliade, M.  (1964).  Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.  Panther Books, New York.

Furst, P. T.  (1972).  Flesh of the Gods.  Praeger, New York.

Graves, R. ed.  (1982).  New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology.  Hamlyn, London.

Guirand, F.  (1982).Finno-Ugric Mythology.  In: Graves, R.  (1982).

Harner, M. J.  ed.  (1973).  Hallucinogens and shamans.  OUP, Oxford.

Harner, M. J.  (1980).  The Way of the Shaman.  Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Hastings, J. (1918-28).  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.  Edinburgh.

Helsko, K.  ed.  (2004).  Theoretical Perspectives in Rock Art Research.  Oslo.

Hoppal, M.  (1987).  Shamanism: An Archaic and/or Recent System of Beliefs.  Quest Books.

Hoppal, M.  (2005).  Shamans in Eurasia.  Budapest.

Hultkrantz, A.  (1973).  Definition of Shamanism.  Temenos 9 (25-37).

Hultkrantz, A.  (1993).  Introductory Remarks on the Study of Shamanism.  Shaman 1 (1).

Hultkrantz, A.  (1999).  The Specific Character of North American Shamanism.  Native American Studies.  13 (2).

Jones, P. N.  (2006).  Shamanism.  Anthropology of Consciousness.  17 (4-32).

Leach, M. & Fried, J.  (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore.  Funk & Wagnall, New York.

Levinson, D. & Ember, M.  eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York.

Lewis, J.  (1969).  Anthropology Made Simple.  W. H. Allen, London.

Lewis, I. M.  (1986).  Religion in Context.  C. U. P.

Lewis-Williams, J. D. & Devson, T. A.  (1988).  The Signs of all times.  Current Anthropology.  29 (201-245).

Lewis-Williams, D.  (1997).  Harnessing the Brain: Vision and Shamanism in Upper Palaeolithic Europe.  In: Conkey (1997).

Lewis-Williams, D.  (2002).  The Mind in the Cave.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Lommel, A.  (1966).  Prehistoric Art and Prehistoric Man.  McGraw Hill, New York.

MacCulloch, J.  (1918).  Shamanism.  In: Hastings, J. ed.

McKilllop, J.  (19980.  dictionary of Celtic Mythology.  OUP, Oxford.

Matthews, J.  (1991).  Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland.  Aquarian Press, London.

Narby, J. & Huxley, F. eds.  (2001).  Shamans through Time. Thames & Hudson, London.

Pearson, J. L.  (2002).  Shamanism and the Ancient Mind.  Altamira Press, USA.

Potapov, L. P.  (1999).  Shaman’s Drum.  Anth. of Consciousness.  10 (4).

Sandars, N. K.  (1968).  Prehistoric Art in Europe.  Pelican, London.

Schultz, R. E. et al.  (1979).  The Plants of the Gods.  McGraw Hill, New York.

Tedlock, B.  (2005).  The Woman in a Shaman’s Body. Bantam, New York.

VanPool, C. S.  (2009).  The Signs of the Sacred.  J. of Anthrop. Archaeol.  28 (177-190).

Vitebsky, P.  (1995).  The Shaman.  Macmillan, London.

Vitebsky, P.  (2001).  Shamanism.  University of Oklahoma Press.

Whitley, D. S.  (2000).  The Art of the Shaman.  University of Utah Press.

Whitley, D. S.  (2001).  Science and the Sacred.  In: Helsko (2004).

Wilbert, J.  (1987).  Tobacco and shamanism in South America.  Yale UP, New Haven.

 

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Amazons and Warrior Women

the-battle-of-the-amazons

The Battle of the Amazons (1600).  Peter Paul Rubens.

1.  Introduction

The Amazons were a fabled nation of warrior women, a fabulous race of warlike women who were always located on the borders of the known ancient world. The Amazons were eventually associated with a number of historical peoples in Late Antiquity. They were called androktones or ‘killers of men’ by Herodotus and he also stated they were called oiorpata or ‘killers of men’ in the Scythian language. Onwards from the Early Modern Period their name has become synonymous with women warriors in general. In Scythia the existence of women warriors has been confirmed archaeologically.

The Amazons were regarded by the Greeks as inhabiting the regions around Scythia or modern Turkey. The Amazons lived therefore on the north coast of Asia. According to Herodotus , who described the Amazons in the 5th century BC, their capital was Themiscyra from whence they invaded Thrace, the Aegean islands, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Libya at various times. Aeschylus located them at Themiscyra on the Thermoda  (now modern Terme in Turkey), whereas Pliny placed them on the Tanais (River Don), and Strabo had them at the Carpathian Gates. The legendary gates were allegedly built by Alexander the Great as a barrier at Derbent in the Russian Caucasus. Alternatively there is Alexander’s Wall on the southeast shore of the Caspian Sea.

2.  Etymology

The common explanation of the word Amazon is of doubtful etymology. The usual explanation is ‘without breasts’ from the Greek a ‘without’ and mazos or ‘breasts’. According to legend each girl had he right breast amputated or burned off to facilitate the handling of weapons. From this mistaken interpretation arose the common and ancient fallacy of the name a-mazos. No early artwork or representation supports the claim. The word is derived possibly from the ancient Iranian term ha-mazam which means warriors. The word in Persia ‘to make war’ is hamazakaram and is probably connected to its etymology. This view comes from Heschius of Alexandria. Certainly the term contains the Indo-Iranian root kar which means ‘to make’. This indicates the naivete of the ancient Greek etymology as meaning a-mazos, without breasts. Purportedly breast removal was assumed to facilitate the use of the bow but no contemporary representation of Amazons supports this view.

3.  Historiography

The ancient Greeks knew of two Asian localities for the Amazons which were separated from Europe by the River Don. Firstly, the Amazons were located on the banks of the River Thermodon near Sinope. Secondly on the isthmus north of the great Caucasus mountain chain. Hippocrates also placed the Amazons in Europe west of the Don and the Sea of Azov. Three localities were given by Strabo. Firstly in the mountains above Albania where they were separated from the Albanians by the Scythian tribes known as the Gelai and Degai. In essence separated by the Mermadalis River (the modern Terek). Secondly, the Amazons bordering the Gargarenses located at the northern foot of the Caucasus mountains. Thirdly, the land of the Amazons and the Siracene tribe was transversed by the torrent of a river called the Mermodas which discharged into the Sea of Azov. For Herodotus the Amazons could be found northeast of the upper region of the Sea of Azov, among a tribe called the Sauromati.

The Amazons founded many settlements in Asia Minor including Amastis, Sinope (Turkish Synop), Cyme (modern Nemrut Limani), Pitano, Mytilene (Lesbos), Ephesus (west coast of Turkey), and Smyrna (modern Izmir in Aegean Anatolia). In Greek mythology the Amazons were situated on the Pontus which is part of modern day Turkey. They were, therefore, located on the shore of the Euxine Sea (Black Sea). Amazons forms an independent kingdom rules by a queen, often named Hippolyta or ‘loose, unbridle mare’. For Aeschylus they lived in the distant past in Scythia at Palus Maeotis which, as Lake Maeotis, is the Sea of Azov. At a later date they migrated and relocated to Themiscyra on the River Thermodon (modern Terek in northern Turkey) their usual home on Pontic Asia Minor.

Herodotus affirms that the Samatians were descended from Amazons and Scythians, and that Sarmatian females continued to observe their ancient maternal customs. It is thought that a Amazon group was blown across the Sea of Azov into the Scythian lands situated in the modern south-western Crimea. On the condition they did not follow Scythian female customs they agreed to marry Scythian men. Thence they migrated north-west, and settled beyond the Tanais (Don) river thereby becoming the progenitors of the Sauromatians. The Amazon queen Thalestris visited Alexander and became a mother by him. The Volscian warrior maiden Camilla is characterised by Virgil who refers to the Amazon myths. Again, according to Herodotus, Sarmatian women fought alongside Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century BCE.

Roman historiographical records concerning the Amazons have Caesar stressing to the Senate the Amazon conquests of large areas of Asia by the Amazons. Moreover, Amazon raids against Lycia and Cilicia were confirmed. Philostratus located the Amazons in the Taurus Mountains, and Ammianus placed them east of the Tanais (Don) and neighbouring Alans. In addition Procopius put them in the Caucasus whilst ompey affirmed he found Amazons in the army of Mithridates, king of Pontus, who campaigned against Rome. In the 2nd century BC a concubine called Hypsicratea fought in battles alongside Mithridates VI of Pontus. In 271 BC a group of Gothic women, captured by Romans while fighting in the same attire as their men, were paraded through Rome wearing signs that said ‘Amazons’. In 138 BC the Roman Sextus Junius found in Lusitania  (part of Portugal and Spain) women who fought and died bravely in the company of their men. Sextus in 138 BC also noted that the women of the Bracari (a Celtic tribe in Portugal) also bore arms alongside their men without turning their backs.

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Statue of Wounded Amazon.  After Phidias.

In 102 BC a battle between the Romans and the Teutonic Ambrones (of Jutland possibly) at Aquae Sextae, was described by Plutarch as a fight no less firce with the women as the men. The women charging the Roman troops with swords. In 101 BC the Roman general Marius fought the Teutonic Cimbrians of Jutland origin. The Cimbrian women fought by shooting arrows from ‘waggon castles’ and in the field with swords. After the death of all the Cimbrian men the women continued to fight to the death. In the 1st century AD Tacitus wrote that Triaria, wife of Lucius Vitellus, armed herself with a sword and behaved with arrogance and cruelty at the captured city of Tarracina (southeast of Rome). in 63 AD Tacitus recorded in his Annals that women of rank had entered the gladiatorial arena. Moreover, in 100 AD Juvenal wrote that a gladiatrix called Eppia of southern Syria battled with the Romans. In 378 the Roman Empress Albia Dominica organised the defence of Rome against the invading Goths.

4.  Women in Ancient Warfare

Women warriors are known from the archaeological record. In 1997 the earliest known female warrior burial mounds were excavated in southern Russia. They were buried with swords, daggers, saddles and arrowheads. From the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC women buried with weapons have been found located on the Kazakhstan and Russian border. Graves of women warriors dating from the 3rd century BC have been found near the Sea of Azov. In 2004 the 2000 year old remains (1st century AD) of an Iranian female warrior with a sword were found in the north-western city of Tabriz. Moreover, some 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian ‘warrior graves’ on the Lower Don and Lower Volga contained females dressed for battle in the same manner as men. Elsewhere, in 2006, a Moche woman was buried with two ceremonial war clubs and twenty-eight spear throwers. This south American grave from Peru was the first known burial of a Moche woman to contain weapons.

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Departure of the Amazons (1620).  Claude Deruet.

Women warriors are found among the myths and folktales of the peoples of India. King Vikramaditiya dreams of the man-hating princess Matiayavati. There are warrior women examples from Arabia, England, and among the Makurep of upper Guapore River in Brazil. On Kodiak Island in Alaska the Konig Inuit have many tales of warrior women. The Dahomey Amazons or Mino are all an female regiment in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) which lasted until the end of the 19th century, and were founded around 1645 to 1685. The Shield Maidens were warrior women in Scandinavian folklore and often mentioned in sagas. The Valkyries may have been based on the Shield maidens. In the Greek epics Amazons exist in order to be fought and defeated my men in the Amazon-battle or Amazonamachy. Amazons of Greek tradition are briefly mentioned in the Irish Labor Gabala or Book of Invasions. The characters cited are more often in the role of female martial arts teachers such as Aife, Scathach and Buanann. In Russia there were the Slavic Polenitsa or the female warriors led by Vlasta.

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A Mino female warrior from Dahomey

Women warriors, or Amazons, are a characteristic feature of Sarmatian culture. Herodotus and Hippocrates both claimed that they were the descendants of Amazons who mated with Scythians and that it was the Sarmatians who turned their women into warriors and huntresses. Sarmatian women were active in military campaigns as well as social life. Archaeological evidence shows the burial of armed Sarmatian women in 25% of excavations, usually with their bows. Warrior maiden burials are found in Scythia under kurgans in the Altay mountain region and Sarmatia. From 460 to 370 BC was the time of Hippocrates who wrote of the Sauromati and Scythian women fighting battles. For example, in the 4th century Amage, a Sauromatian queen, attacked a Scythian prince who was making incursions into her protectorates. She rode to Scythia with 120 female warriors whereupon she killed him, his guards, family and children. The Sauromati and Sarmati can be identified with some of the tribes in the Caucasus. Again, it was Herodotus who distinguished between the Scythians west of the Don and the non-Scythians to the east. These Scythians were the main Caucasus chain tribes, the Gelai and Legai. The northern slope tribes are the Legasians and possibly Chechents.

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Queen Penthesilea with her bow.

5.  Religious Cults and the Amazons

In central Greece the tombs of Amazons are frequent. They are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalais, Thessaly at Scotussa, and Cynocephalia. Moreover, in Athens, there was an annual sacrifice to the Amazons, on the day before the Thesea. It is possible that the Amazons who overran Asia Minor were also priestesses of the Great Goddess as well as the celebrants and initiates of her cults. Whether they belong to the realm of mythology or represent literal history, most likely both, the Amazons bequeathed an indisputable effect on classical literature. The ancient and primitive form of worship was the aniconic reference to idols and symbols not in human or animal form. This preceded the worship of anthropomorphic deities. For example, the worship of Cybele in the form of a black stone at Pessinus in Phrygia is an aniconic survival. Indeed, in later mythology, Aphrodite is a love goddess but originally a war goddess.

The worship of the Great Mother of Phrygia as Cybele is germane to the study of Amazon religion. The Amazons were worshippers of the Mother known both as Rhea and Cybele. In Phrygia (west central Anatolia) the rites of the Cretan Mother were introduced and established at Pessinus where she was known as Dindymene. Appollonius showed the Amazons practising a ritual that was similar to that at Pessinus where they venerated a black stone in an open temple on an island of Samothrace off the coast off the coast of Colchis (modern western Georgia). The Amazons consecrated the island of Samothrace to the Mother of the Gods. The worship of Phrygian Cybele was in Samothrace. The goddess in Samothrace is closely allied to the form of Cybele – hence the consecration. In Lemnos the Great Goddess is the Thracian bendis, the fierce huntress of two spears who entered the Greek pantheon as the Thracian Artemis being closely allied to Cybele and Hecate. The cult of Cybele seems to have been indigenous in Phyrygia and Lydia. Hippolyte and her Amazons set up a bretas (old wooden effigy of Artemis) at Ephesus. They then established a an annual circular dance with weapons and shields.

6.  Amazon Matriarchy and Social Life

Matriarchy and its message were used by Bachofen (1815-1887) to prove the existence of prehistoric matriarchy. It is known that women hunters and warriors are frequently found in folktale and myth. The Amazons accepted the leadership of an elected Queen, Hippolyta among them, whilst they conducted raids in Asia Minor and nearby islands (which indicates a seafaring capability). As such they were accomplished horse riders and skilled archers. In peaceful times these warrior women built their gracious capital of Themiscyra as well as cultivating their lands and hunting. Sarmatian warrior women hunted on horseback alongside their husbands and took to the battlefield in times of war. They wore the same attire as their men and adopted the maxim that no girl shall marry until she has killed a man in battle.

These Amazon women displayed the cultural and social practices consistent among Sauro-Sarmatian nomads. Their main occupations were hunting and fighting with their bows and their Amazonian crescent -shaped shields, axes and spears. All were skilled horse riders. According to Herodotus the women of the Sauromati did not constitute a separate people like the Thermodon Amazons. As nomads the Sarmatians had no fixed habitation. Nonetheless, they still had a defined social organisation that divided them into nobles, vassals, and many slaves. Social stratification is evident in the Ural burial sites. The domestic status of Sarmatian women was reduced and they were little better than slaves in the matrimonial home. With regard to marriage they were divided into exogamous tribes for marriage purposes, with marriage within the tribe seen as incestuous. Despite their ferocious warlike attitudes to tribal enemies these Sarmatian women did all the outdoor work. They tended the sheep, ploughed and reaped the land, herded the cattle, but when attacked they fought as savagely as the men.

The Sauro-Sarmatian warrior nomads practised the typical clan and tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Their personified deities were those of nature, the sky, the earth, and fire. Some of the cult practices may have been inversions (reversal of gender roles) of ritual initiations reserved for maidens. Their deities were related to social concepts pertaining to war or the domestic hearth. With regard to burials fire cult practices are in evidence, and Sarmatian graves are representative of a military oriented nomadic existence. Social stratification and a more defined class structure developed and was accelerated by contact with Greek and Roman trade, industry, and agriculture.

Annually, due to biological necessity, Amazon virgin maidens would visit the nearby Gargareans. They mated with the men and returned home to bear their children. This was to prevent the extinction of the Amazon nation. Female offspring were brought up and trained in the martial arts, riding, hunting, and agriculture. Males were either returned to the Gargareans, slaughtered, maimed, or blinded. Greek mythology has versions that aver that no men were allowed to have either sexual encounters or live in Amazon territory. This explains the Amazon custom to obtain offspring by meetings at certain seasons with men of another tribe.

7.  Amazons in Mythology and Folklore

In Homer’s Iliad the Amazons were called Antineira or those who fight like men. Amazons appear during the Greek Archaic period in representative art connected to several legends. Also in the Iliad amazons are killed in combat by Bellerophon after invading Lycia, the defeat occurring at the river of Sangerias (near Pessinus). Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory in Libya and Gorgon but her tomb is outside Troy. Amazons attacked the Phrygians who were aided by Priam, which did not prevent them taking his side against the Greeks at Troy. Antiope died fighting alongside Theseus after which he marries the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. The Amazons also mounted an expedition against the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube, where the ashes of Achilles were placed by Thetis. There are numerous legends that connect the Amazons with founding places in Ionia.

amazon-and-centaur

Amazon and Centaur (1901).  Franz Stuck.

In ancient Greek mythology there are a number of conflicting lists of Amazons. There are the warriors attendant on Queen Penthesilea which include Clonie, Derinoe, Polemusa, Thermodora, Evandre, Atandre, Antilorote, Bremusa, Alcibe, Hippothoe, Derimacheia, and Homothoe. Other Amazons include Ainaan (or ‘swiftness’) and one of the twelve who went to the Trojan War. Antibrote was another at Troy, as was Cleite, whose ship was blown off course and she landed in Italy to found Clete. Another Amazon was ntiope, and Antinera, the successor to Queen Penthesilea and who is known for ordering the crippling and castration of her male servant on the basis that the lame best perform the sex act. It was Queen Hippolyta who owned the magic girdle given to her by her father Ares. Queen Thalestris is the Amazon mentioned in the Alexander the Great legend. Asteria was another and the sixth killed by Heracles. Another, Helene, the daughter of Tityrus, fought Achilles and died of wounds inflicted. Otera was an Amazon who, as the consort of Ares, was the mother of both Hippolyta and Penthesilea. Melanippe was also a sister of Hippolyta who was captured by Heracles who then demanded Hippolyta’s magic girdle in return for her freedom, whereupon she complied.

Pentesilea_by_Arturo_Michelena

Penthesilea.  Arturo Michelena

The Amazons were said to have come into contact with the Argonauts of Jason who landed at Lemnos on their ay to Cholchis. They found Lemnos inhabited entirely by women with Queen Hypsipyle. They called the island Gynaekokratume which means ‘reigned by women’. The Amazons met Jason and his crew in full battle array as they were wont to kill male visitors.

One of the tasks or labours imposed on Heracles by Eurystheus was to obtain the magic girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This ninth labour resulted in another Amazonomachy whereby the Amazons attacked Heracles in force, thereby reaching Attica and besieged him at Athens. Heracles was joined by Theseus who came to help defeat the Amazon invasion as told in 6th century BC. A great battle took place on the date of the later festival called the Boedromia where the Amazons were defeated. A ritual ceremony in Pyanopsion has been interpreted as a sacrifice to Amazon dead. Theseus carried off princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyta, after the battle. In a poem in the Epic Cycle the Amazons, led by their queen Penthesilea who, according to Quintus Smynaeus, was of Thracian birth, came to aid Priam in the Trojan War after the death of Hector. This Penthesilea was a daughter of Ares, the Amazon deities being Ares and Artemis, but she was killed by Achilles. Achilles also kills Thyrsites because he alleged Achilles loved Penthesilea.

PenthesileaTischbein

The Death of Penthesilea. (1828). J. H. W. Tischbein

8.  A Chronology of Female Warriors

There are numerous and world wide examples of Amazons and women warriors both historically as well as in mythology, legend and folklore. Many goddesses have mythological origins portraying them as warriors and huntresses. Today the role of these women warriors or Amazons often remains embedded in many cultures even if disguised by the passage of time. Despite added layers of new legends the ideals and myths still cannot be obscured totally. From this palimpsest it is possible to create a timeline and geographical origin of Amazons and women warriors as characters and individuals in myth, legend, folklore and history.

wounded-amazon-1904

Wounded Amazon (1903).  Franz Stuck

In ancient Egypt circa 1600 BC Ahh0tep battled with the Hyksos thereby facilitating the re-unification of Egypt and thereupon founded a matriarchal lineage and dynasty. She was buried with military medals symbolising her valour in battle. In mythology Sekhmet was a warrior goddess depicted as a lioness. In the 3rd century BC Queen Berenice I of Egypt fought alongside Ptolemy. Berenice II participated in a battle and killed several enemies, and Ladodice I fought Ptolemy III Eurgetes. In 48 BC Arsinoe IV fought Cleopatra VII.

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Berenice

In China during the 1200’s BC Lady Fu Hao consort of W Ding, king of China, led 3000 men into battle. Further campaigns with 13,000 troops and important generals under her command, she became the most powerful military leader of her time. Many weapons were unearthed from her tomb. In the 5th century BC the Lady of Yue trained soldiers of the army of King Goujian of Yue. During the early 3rd century BC  Huang Guigu acted as a military official under Qin Shi Huang and led military campaigns against people of northern China. Between 14 and 18 AD Lu Mu led a rebellion against Wang Mang, and during the 4th century AD Li Xiu took her father’s place as military commander and defeated a rebellion. Hua Mulan was a legendary Chinese woman who went to war disguised as a man and was ta war for years without being found out.

Hua_Mulan

Hua Mulan

Trieu Au has been described as the Vietnamese Joan of Arc and her female general was Le Chan, whereas the woman Bui Thi Xuan was a general who died in 1802. In India between 1200 and 1000 BC the Rig Veda mentions a female warrior named Vishpala, who lost a leg in battle, had an iron prosthesis made and returned to warfare. Chand Bibi (1550-1599) was an Indian Muslim woman warrior, and Bibi Dalair Kaur was a 17th century Sikh woman who fought against the Moghuls. Mai Bhago was a Sikh woman warrior who fought against the Moghuls in 1294. In Aztec mythology Izpapalotl is a fearsome skeletal warrior goddess. In Brazil Maria Quiteria dressed as a man and enlisted in the ndependence forces. Anna Garibaldi fought in the Farrupilla revolution , and Maria Rosa, a 15 year old girl fought in the Contestado War. In Arabia, circa 740 BC, Zabibe was a queen who led armies as did Samsi her possible successor who revolted against Liglath-Pilesor around 720 BC. In the early 7th century AD al-Kahina was a female Berber religious and military leader and led the resistance to Arab expansionism in Numidia (north west Africa) and died in modern day Algeria.

According to the legendary history of Britain Queen Gwendolen, in 1000 BC, fought her husband Locrinus for the throne of Britain and defeated him. In 700 BC the legendary Queen Cordelia fought her nephews for control of her kingdom and personally fought in battle. In the 1st century AD Cartamandua, queen of the Brigantes allied with the Romans and battled other Britons. Also in the 1st century AD Agrippina the Younger, wife of the Emperor Claudius commanded Roman legions in Britain. In AD 61 Boudicca led a massive uprising against occupying Roman forces who rallied their men saying there were more women than men in her army. Boudicca (Boadicea) was also referred to, according to Holinshed’s Chronicles of 1577, as Bonduca. In the 3rd century AD two women warriors from the Danube

BOUDICCA IN HER CHARIOT-ILLUSTRATION

Boudicca in her Chariot

region, described as Amazons , served in a Roman military unit and are buried in Britain. Scathach (‘The Shadowy One’) was the legendary Scottish woman warrior, magician, and prophetess, daughter of Ardgamm, who ran a warrior academy in Ulster. In the Ulster Cycle she trained young heroes including Cuchulain in the arts of combat and fighting. Aife was a similar warrior. She was also known as or called Scathach n Aanaind, as well as Scathach Buanand – which means ‘victorious’, as well as Skatha. Cuchalain was trained by her in Alba in northwest Britain opposite Ireland. The Celts held to the view that only women could teach the skills of battle to men effectively.

Scathach

Scathach on the Isle of Skye

A number of women warriors clashed with Alexander the Great during his campaigns. In the 4th century BC his half-sister accompanied her father on a military campaign and killed the Ilyrian leader named Caeria in hand-to-hand combat. Also in the 4th century BC Roxana was captured during a battle by Alexander and eventually married him. In 334 BC Ada of Caria allied with Alexander and led the siege to reclaim her throne, and in 333 BC Queen Stateira and her family were captured by Alexander at the battle of Issus. She eventually married him. In 334 BC Herodotus recorded the Iranian queen Tomyris of the Massegetae fighting and defeating Cyrus the Great.

In 480 BC Artemisia of Caria and queen of the Halicarnassus participated in the Battle of Salamis and in the same year the Greek diver Hydna and her father sabotaged enemy ships before a critical battle. In 318 BC Eurydice III of Macedon fought Polyperchon and Olympias. Between 315 and 308 BC Cratespolis commanded an army of mercenaries and forced cities to surrender to her, whilst in the late 4th century BC  through to the early 3rd Amastris, wife of Dionysus of Heraclea, conquered four settlements and named them as a new city state. In the 3rd century BC the Spartan princess Arachidamia acted as captain to s group of women warriors who fought Pyrrhus during his siege of Lacedaemon. In 280 BC Chelidonis, another Spartan princess, commanded her women warriors on the walls of Sparta during a siege. She fought with a rope around her neck so she could not be taken alive. In the 2nd century BC Queen Stratonice convinced Docimus to leave his stronghold and her forces took him captive.

According to legend the Nubian queen Candace of Meroe, or Kandake or Candace Amanitore, intimidated Alexander the Great with her armies and her strategy while confronting and making him avoid Nubia. In reality Alexander never got as far south as Nubia. In 170 BC the Meroitic queen Candace Shenakdahkete ruled Nubia and a wall painting in a

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A Relief of Candace of Meroe

chapel in Meroe depicts her wearing a helmet and spearing her enemies. In the 1st century BC the Nubian queen Amanishabheto reigned over Kush or Nubia. A depiction of her pylon tower of a chapel shows her striking the shoulders of prisoners with he lance. In 1900 Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ejisu, the Asante Confederacy and now part of Ghana, led the rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool against British colonialism. In Hausa (Nigeria) history Amina Sukhera (also called Aminatu) was a Muslim princess (circa 1533-1610) in northeast Nigeria who had many military achievements. Oya is the warrior Undergoddess of the Niger River and is a warrior spirit of the wind, lightening, fire and magic.

amina-warrior

An artistic illustration of Amina Sukhera (Aminatu)

In the early 3rd century BC the legendary Empress Jingu of Japan may have led an invasion of Korea, but this may also be a fictional story. In 40 to 43 AD the Trung sisters and Phung Thi Chinh fought against the Chinese in Vietnam. In 248 AD Trieu Thi Trinh also fought the Chinese in Vietnam. Her army contained several thousand men and women warriors. Hangaku Gozen was an onna bugeisha or woman warrior, as was Tomoe Gozen (1157-1247). One Kaihime (born 1572) was said to have fought at the Seige of Odawara and have crushed a rebellion.

In the 3rd century BC Queen Teuta began piracy against Rome and eventually fought against Rome when they attempted to stop the piracy. Sophonisba, a Carthaginian, committed suicide rather than be handed over to the Romans as a prisoner of war. In 186 BC Chiomara, a princess of Gaul, was captured in battle between Rome and Gaul and was raped by a centurion. After a reversal she later ordered her assailant beheaded by her companions and delivered his head to her husband in recompense. In the 2nd century BC a Queen

250px-Giambattista_Pittoni-Sophonisba

The Death of Sophonisba by Giambattista Pittoni (1730’s)

Rhodogune of Parthia was informed of a rebellion and waged a war to suppress it. In the 2nd century AD Queen Tania of Dardania took over the throne after the death of her husband and went into battle riding in a chariot. Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374) known also as Jehanne de Montfort and Jeanne La Flamme  organised the defence and fought

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Jeanne Hachette or Joan the Hatchet.

in the siege of Hennebont.  Jeanne Hachette (b 1456( was a French herine known as Joan the Hachet. Joan of Arc was militarily engaged during the Hundred Years war in France. In the 19th century Emilia Plater was the Polish-Lithuanian commander in the uprising against Russia.

Sources consulted

Abercromby, J.  (1891).  An Amazonian Custom in the Caucasus.  Folklore.  Vol II (2).

Bennet, F. M.  (1912).  Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons.

Carpenter, T. H.  (1996).  Art and Myth in Ancient Greece.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Davis-Kimball, J.  (2007).  Warrior women of Eurasia.  Archaeology, 50 (1).

Kirk, I.  (1987).  Images of Amazons: marriage and matriarchy.  In Macdonald, S. et al.

Macdonald, S. et al. (1987).  Images of Women in Peace and War.  Macmillan, Oxford.

Rothery, G. C.  (1915).  The Amazons.  Senate Books, London. New Edition (1995).

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Filed under Volume 1

Prehistoric Art and Totemic Belief, Shamanism and Fertility Ritual

 Chauvet_cave,_paintings_01

Chauvet Cave: Four aurochs and two rhinoceros

1.  Introduction

2.  Chronology , distribution, and nature of Palaeolithic art

                a.  Chronology

                b.  Geographical distribution

                c.  Ecological Perspective

                d.  Nature of Palaeolithic art

3.  Totemism

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Totemism and cave art

                c.  Totemism and mobiliary art

                d.  Sympathetic and hunting magic

4.  Shamanism

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Shamanism and cave art

                c.  Shamanism and mobiliary art

                d.  Initiation and ‘Rites of Passage’

5.  Fertility Ritual and the Cult of Earth and Animals

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Fertility and cave art

                c.  Fertility and mobiliary art

                d.  Palaeolithic belief and myth

6.  Discussion and Summary

References and Sources Consulted                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dedicated to my son William Frederick Edwards (1975-2009),

in memory of,  and gratitude for, the years we knew and shared.

Image (256)

Figure 1. 

Altamira, Spain. A bison circa 12,000 BC.

Part of a procession of Bison (Bison priscus) along a rock wall. The Altamira caves contain the masterpieces of the Ice Age Style and here shows the ponderous strength achieved through  economical drawing with imaginative impressionistic colouring. These fine paintings of Upper Magdalenian date are the “…period of the great polychromes…the frequency of his portraits no animal has held in higher estimation.” (Riddell, 1942). Source: Lommel (1966).

Introduction

 Archaeological evidence of parietal (cave) art and mobiliary (portable) art can be analysed in terms of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual during the European Upper Palaeolithic. Such art may have had the multiple purpose of magical intentions, clan and tribal solidarity, and mythically interpreted relationship with the natural and supernatural worlds. Firstly a brief outline of Palaeolithic chronology and cultural sequences will be correlated with, and complemented by, an introduction to the geographical distribution of parietal and mobiliary art in Europe, followed by an outline of Palaeolithic ecology, and the nature of Palaeolithic art. There follows an introduction to totemism in relation to Palaeolithic art. -Thence to an introduction to shamanism in relation to Palaeolithic art, followed by an outline of fertility ritual in relation to Palaeolithic art. Cave art will be discussed in terms of totemic belief, shamanistic practice, and fertility ritual. Portable art will be discussed in terms of totemism, magical ritual, and fertility cults. Finally a summary will attempt to encapsulate the archaeological evidence for Palaeolithic belief and myth within the clan and tribal structure of Upper Palaeolithic human beings.

2.  Chronology, distribution, and nature of Palaeolithic art

2 a.  Chronology

The Palaeolithic period began in Europe circa 750,000 BP and endured until the end of the last Ice Age circa 10,000 BP (Gamble, 1996). The Palaeolithic is conventionally divided into three periods, the Lower, Middle, and Upper. The Lower and Middle periods were from 750,000 to 40,000 BP, during which time early hominids had reached Europe from Africa – by 150,000 BP the dominant type was Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, with their Middle Palaeolithic stone tool industry known as the Mousterian.

The Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BP was colder and more inhospitable than modern-day Europe with the coldest period between 20,000 and 18,000 BP (Sainz, 2004), and when modern Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon man) replaced the Neanderthals in Europe. The early European Palaeolithic is associated with deteriorating climatic conditions – weak oscillations in temperature within the glacial environment enabled herds of reindeer, bison, horse, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, and red deer to roam rich steppes and tundra of the mid-latitudes. After 30,000 BP the worsening climate led to major ice sheets expanding over Scandinavia, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Carpathians, with large glaciers in mountainous areas and an ice-bound northern Europe (Sainz, 1004). The glacial expansion of the Upper Palaeolithic reached a maximum around 20,000 to 18,000 with de-glaciation starting circa 16,000 BP.

The Upper Palaeolithic or Late Pleistocene (Lawson, 1991) is divided into four industries – Chatelperronian (from 35,000 BP), Aurignacian (from 32,000 BP), Gravettian (from 27,000 BP), Solutrean (from 22,000 BP), and Magdalenian from 19,000 to 10,000 BP (Lawson, 1991). The Solutrean is named after the type site of Solutre at Saone-et-Loire in France, with thousands of horse bones found dating from the Upper Aurignacian or Gravettian (Lissner, 1961). Other fossils included cave bear (extinct by 40,000 BP), reindeer, wild cattle, and mammoth, as well as fine flint tools. The Solutrean culture is found in southwest France and Hungary, whereas the Late or Upper Solutrean is exclusive to northwest Spain. Bows and arrows date from the Cantabrian period of the Solutrean culture and, apart from Roc de Sers (Angouleme, Charente) the Solutrean is poor in art. The Late Upper Palaeolithic, dating from 20,000 to 10,000 BP, was a period when refugee populations abandoned northern areas for southwest France (Gamble, 1996). The Magdalenian of the Upper Palaeolithic derived from the western Gravettian and included miniaturised stone tools, and emerged around 20,000 BP with an increase in art and ornament. However, in France the Chatelperronian and Gravettian are also termed the Lower and Upper Perigordian, whereas in Spanish Cantabria, French Chatelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian are known as the Upper Palaeolithic, the Late with Solutrean and Magdalenian (Lawson, 1991), with the Final Palaeolithic in Spain equating with the last Magdelanian and post-glacial industries elsewhere.  The chronological framework shows overlapping and sequential prehistoric  cultures in Upper Palaeolithic Spain and France, with the French Upper Palaeolithic from 33,000 to 21,000 BP comprising two alternating and sometimes contemporary cultures known as the Aurignacian and Upper Perigordian (Jochim, 1983).

The Magdelanian tool industry (18,000 to 10,000 BP) is “…associated with the period when cave painting flourished” (Gamble, 1996), therefore during the last stages of the Wurm glaciations the European Palaeolithic hunter groups developed the first artistic cycle (Sainz, 2004). The Aurignacian is named after Aurignac in France, the Perigordian after the Perigord region, and the Magdalenian after the type site of La Madeleine near Les Yyzies. Carbon dates for the Tito Bustillo layers in Spain gave 13,000 BP approximately, whereas Reseau Rene Clastres – part of the Niaux cave complex – gave two dates of 10,000 and 5000 BP. In 1985 carbon 14 dates for Cougnac in France gave 12,350 BP.

2 b.  Geographical distribution 

Caves are created by the scouring action of underground rivers and are often found in limestone, therefore there is no generality in cave form and size. Some caves occur in mountainous areas such as Covalanas in Spain, or near sea level such as Tito Bustillo and El Pindal in Spain. Parietal art, such as at Fontanet in the Upper Ariege valley, is therefore limited to areas where rock shelters and caves occur. These Ice Age caves are therefore clustered in particular regions, for example Perigord and the Pyrenees, their art spanning the whole of the Upper Palaeolithic with most dates in the latter part of the Ice Age – especially the Magdalenian (Renfrew & Bahn, 2000).

Twelve sites have been located in Italy and Sicily and only one in Romania at Cuciulat, with only one at Kapavaia in the southern Ural  mountains. However, 172 sites have been found in France with concentrations in the Dordogne and Lot area (64), with 41 sites in the central Pyrenees. Another great concentration occurs at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezere – Le Beaune – there are 11 decorated shelters and 7 sites in the western Pyrenees form part of the extension of the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain. In southern and central Spain there are the cave locations of Parpallo, Los Ardales, La Pileta, and Cueva del Ninos, which are part of the 110 sites found in the Iberian Peninsula (with only one in Portugal). Some 82 sites occur in north Spain with 35 in Asturias, 39 in Cantabria, and 8 at Pais Vasco and Navarra. The five most important cave art sites in Cantabria are in the labrynthine complex beneath Monte Castillo outside Puente Viesgo near Santander. There are no decorated cave sites in Britain.

The cave site of Altamira, near Santillana del Mar, was discovered in 1868 and the credit for the recognition of Palaeolithic cave art given to Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, who visited the site in 1876. La Mouthe was discovered at Les Eyzies in 1895, paintings at Niaux in the Pyrenees before 1895, with extensive decorated caves at Marsoulas in 1897. Louis Capitan, Denis Peyrony, and Abbe Henri Breuil published their discovery of the Dordogne caves at Les Combarelles and Font de Guame in 1901. Further dated discoveries in France and Spain (Lawson, 1991) include Bernifal (1903), Teyjat (1903), La Calevie (1903), La Greze (1904), and Cap Blanc (1909) in the Dordogne; El Castillo (1903), Hornos de la Pena (1903), Covalanas (1903), La Loja (1908) and La Pasiega (1911) in northern Spain; Gargas (1904), Niaux (1906), Le Portel (1908), Le Tuc d’Audoubert (1912) and Les trios Freres (1914) in the Pyrenees. Up to the present day decorated caves are still to be found including Lascaux (1940), Le Gabillou (1940), Cougnac (1952), Las Monedas (1952), Las Chimeneas (1953), and Rouffinac in 1956. Recent Spanish discoveries appear to the most accomplished and include Altxerri (1962), Tito Bustillo (1968), Ekain (1969), Cueva del Ninos (1970), and Zubialde (1990), with more recently Grotte de Cosquer (1991), located in Provence near Marseille, Grotte Chauvet (1994), and Coa Valley (1994) rock engravings in Portugal (Lawson, 1991; Clottes, 1998).

The cave at Combarelles in the Dordogne is 726 feet long and its drawings some 350 feet from the entrance, whereas the cave at La Pisiega (Spain) is 726 feet long (Lewis, 1969). The La Pisiega cave is entered by a hole, in the floor entrance of the outer cave, which leads to a labyrinth of richly painted walls in the last chamber. The cavern at Niaux stretches 4,000 feet into the mountain, and that at Les Trois Freres contains the famous image of the so-called ‘sorcerer’. The cave at Tuc d’Audoubert contains a dangerous stream plus clay modelled animals and horses, a central clay model of a bear, horse models pierced with arrows and spears and a scene possibly connected with hunting magic. Most of the caves are water-coursed limestone cavers, the inner recesses difficult to access and requiring negotiation of chasms, waterfalls, narrow fissures, and perilous eerie galleries as at Font de Gaume, La Pisiega, Tuc d’Audoubert, and Montespan (Hawkes, 1965). Into these sanctuaries, the one-time haunt of cave bears and lions, Palaeolithic Cro-Magnon people slipped, crawled and scrambled, to penetrate these dark and mysterious passages (Lewis, 1969). In 1991 at Grotte Cosquer 145 images of bison, horses, and great auk were found, drawn in black charcoal and from 18,000 years BP, with the handprints of 25,000 BC, the cave described as a “…painted sanctuary in the earth.” (Krupp, 1997). Chauvet cave, discovered in 1994, is situated on the Ardeche river in south west France, and contains 300 images of bison, mammoths, horses, and woolly rhinoceros (Krupp, 1997). In adition there are lions, bears, aurochs, reindeer, leopards and owls.

Paintings and engravings from the Upper Palaeolithic are almost entirely limited to southwest and western Europe in three main regions – southwest France (Dordogne, Coreze, Vienne), north Pyrenees (Ariego, Haute Garonne, west of Tarascon), and north Spain (Cantabrian mountains west of Bilbao) – with other traditions with Mediterranean links such as Parpallo, the Rhone Valley, Italy, and Sicily (Hawkes, 1965), as well as Malaga, Guadalajara. Cave art occurs only in exceptionally on the walls of inhabited caves, such as Cap Blanc, Angles-sur-l’Anglin, and Pair-non-Pair. Every cave is different as some have only one figure but others, such as Lascaux, have hundreds (Renfrew, 2000). This is not the case for mobiliary art. The distribution of figurines is different and which extends eastwards as far as Siberia – some are works of art such as the ‘Venuses’ of Lespugues, Willendorf, and Brassempouey, whereas others are cult objects or fetishes. They do not occur in Africa. Portable or mobiliary art is found therefore from partogal and north Africa to Siberia and is distributed geographically differently to cave or parietal art, with very few decorated caves found in central Europe (Bahn, 1996). 

2 c.  Ecological perspective 

The Aurignacian witnessed the beginning of art in a portable form and developed into the decorated cave walls of France and Spain at such locations as Altamira, Gargas, Trois Freres, Le Portel, Cabrerets, and Font-de-Gaume (Lissner, 1961). The analysis of Palaeolithic art is characterised by its changing temporal and spatial distribution, because mobiliary and parietal art may “…represent manifestations of different social responses to processes and climatic deterioration, population movement, and economic change.” (Jochim, 1983). Not only was Upper Palaeolithic art “…embedded in social and economic process…” (Gamble, 1996), but as shown by southwest France there existed in the Late Pleistocene a “…range of topographic features universally attributed with social and symbolic meanings by modern hunters and gatherers.” (Carmichael, 1994). Upper Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers inhabited a landscape imbued with symbolic meaning (Mithen, 1998), and a sequence from increased economic production leading to a shift in social organisation and the development of Upper Palaeolithic art that “…formed part of a wider system of social knowledge…served through ritual to sanction many varied patters of social interaction and economic production.” (Gamble, 1996).

During the French Upper Palaeolithic large herds of herbivores roamed the landscape and these therefore fluctuated in abundance with Later Pleistocene climate changes (Jochim, 1983). There is good evidence that horses, reindeer and elk were all hunted, but there is so far “…no evidence for hunting of mammoth, woolly rhinoceros or other large mammals.” (Stuart, 1988). The mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, giant deer (Megacerops), cave bear were all entirely extinct by 10,500 years ago. The rhinoceros Dicerorhinus hemitoechus survived until 20,000 BP from around 120,000 BP. This one world, this one environment, demonstrated an indissoluble relationship that embraced animals, plants, and humans (Mithen, 1998), a world that around 25,000 BP, underwent a series of simultaneous demographic and environmental processes. These were (1) deterioration of climate stsrt of main glacial phase, (2) abandonment by humans of northern European fringes, (3) a resulting impoverishment of central European resources and the virtual abandonment of the region, and (4) the influx of the refugee population into the south-western European area (Jochim, 1983). Dramatic shifts in human hunter-gatherer populations therefore occurred as a result of the maximum European glacial expansion, forcing many to migrate southwest and for others either low density persistence or extinction with little now visible archaeologically.

Upper Palaeolithic populations would have lived in groups of 12 to 30 age ranged members and “…these groups may have formed larger tribes of up to a thousand individuals.” (Hawkes, 1965), surviving in a hunter-gatherer landscape that was “…socially constructed and full of meaning.” (Mithen, 1998), a landscape saturated with personal powers in which all humans and animals moved and the social and natural world the one and the same. It was in this milieu that cave and rock shelters were covered in paintings and there developed anthropomorphic images. In both Old and New Worlds there developed a system of clans which “…may or may not coincide  with the group hunting together.” (Hawkes, 1965), which linked to greater population mobility and contact, and periodic group aggregation led to “…fundamental changes in social arrangements and mating networks.” (Jochim, 1983).  Mobiliary art was widespread throughout Europe whereas cave art was restricted mainly to northern Spain and southwest France and, furthermore, this art has to be seen in terms of its “…functions within cultural systems dependent upon co-operative hunting of herds of big game animals” (Jochim, 1983), as well as its development in the context of fluctuations in the environment.

 2 d.  Nature of Palaeolithic art

Upper Palaeolithic art comprised two forms – mobiliary consisting of engraved and sculptured objects and parietal cave decorations (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Palaeolithic art has to be located within its cultural and chronological context through the Solutrean of 21,000-17,000 to the Magdalenian of circa 10,000 BP (Jochim, 1983), with parietal art isolated from other archaeological materials whereas portable art is associated with archaeological deposits. Dating for parietal art is therefore problematic. Even though cave art is not generally found directly linked with datable archaeology it is however only associated with sapiens (Homo sapiens (Waechter, 1976). Cave art is primarily associated with parietal or wall art of the Upper Palaeolithic, and is generally divided into two categories parietal and portable or mobiliary, but in reality both are “…two ends of a continuous range of expression.” (Bahn, 1998). The art of Franco-Cantabrian regions is classified into (1) painting, (2) incising. and (3) relief carving on walls or stones, with some of the finest Magdalenian art found on implements and weapons (Hawkes, 1965). The disappearance over time of paintings and engraving is generally the result of water, humidity, and formation of stalagmitic layers, with surviving images almost always found on resistant calcareous surfaces (Grazioli, 1960).

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Figure 2.

Horse and ibexes and rectangular figures representing traps or nets.

From the caves at Lascaux. Source: Grazioli (1960).

Two theories exist to explain Palaeolithic art of which (1) claims it is purely aesthetic or art for art’s sake, and (2) it is a utilitarian activity connected with magic for hunting and reproduction among animals – however, neither hypothesis is acceptable in extreme form (Grazioli, 1960). In the 1960’s a systematic approach was developed by Leroi-Gourhan (1968) following the lead of Laming-Emperaire (1962). It was argued that paintings formed compositions and represented simple hunting or fertility magic (Renfrew & Bahn, 2000), and that Leroi-Gourhan saw a ‘blueprint’ or mythogram for the way each cave was decorated. Leroi-Gourhan thus attempted to establish a basic thematic unity based on the limited range of animals and clearly intentional layout of the figures (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968; 1978). The source of more traditional views was Abbe Henri Breuil (Breuil & Lantier, 1965) who based his ideas on three assumptions: (1) the painting underneath another is older; (2) painted caves were inhabited continuously with decorations from many periods; (3) since animal and human forms were depicted then it was individual execution for magical purposes (Leroi-Gourhan 1968).  For Breuil there was no evidence of an organised body of thought, paintings were not contemporaneous, and just the result of gradual accumulation. However, paintings and engravings appear throughout caves without apparent order, often superimposed and cancelling each other out (Grazioli, 1960), thereby creating wall palimpsests. Early cave artists therefore had little regard for the work of their predecessors and very commonly engraved or painted on top of earlier work (Waechter, 1976). Techniques used in painting are complex and limited with chromatic scale from black to light yellow through browns to red (Grazioli, 1960).

Almost the whole range of known Pleistocene fauna is represented in cave mobiliary art including seals, birds, snakes, eels, with humans playing a subordinate role (Waechter, 1976). Upper Palaeolithic art had an obsessive concern with large and magnificent beasts of the times (Lewis, 1969), but not just with animal attributes but with mysterious and invisible powers associated with them – the animal is not merely portrayed it is stylised. Animals represented also include mammoth, ibex, reindeer, horses, bears, bison, wild cows, rhinoceros, fish, and some birds (Hawkes, 1965; Cornwall, 1968). Horse and bison are the most common totalling about 60% and concentrated on wall panels, with ibex, mammoth and deer located in peripheral positions (Renfrew & Bahn, 2001), with less common rhinoceros, felines, bears in the cave depths.

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Figure 3

Top: Baton de Commandement, from La Laugerie Basse, engraved with an ibex.  Middle: Bone engraved with a man crawling

up to a bison and a reindeer, from La Laugerie Basse. Bottom: Head of a bear engraved on reindeer bone, from Massat Ariege.

Source: Kuhn (1958).

Engravings or incised drawings are found on rock walls, ivory and bone, exampled by plaquettes and batons de commandment, as with a reindeer head on antler at Saint-Eulalie (Dordogne), the horse at Hornos de la Pena, and engraved aurochs at Trou de Chaleux in Belgium (Lewis, 1969). Bas-reliefs are found in many rock shelters carved on walls or roofs, for example a procession of horses 45 feet long at Le Cap Blanc (Dordogne), reliefs of bison, horses, ox, and a bird’s head at Charanti (Lewis, 1969). Home, portable or mobiliary art comprises figurines of some women as possible fertility symbols, and others portraying ibex, mammoth, bears and horses. They are remarkable representations of natural objects, often with abstract schematic patterns, possibly having magical significance (Hawkes, 1965), with Venus figurines usually found in the litter of ordinary occupation. Carvings in the round are found in many locations including Lourdes and Mas d’Azil. According to Ucko (1969) and Leroi-Gourhan (1978) Palaeolithic cave art underwent stylistic development over time.

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Figure 4.

Upper Palaeolithic carvings.  A. reindeer ivory from Bruniquel. B, horse head on reindeer antler from Mas d’Azil.

C, bird on spear-thrower on reindeer antler from Mas d’Azil.  Source: (Hawkes, 1965).

3.  Totemism

3. a.  Theory and definition

Totemism is a magico-religious system characteristic of tribal society (Thomson, 1978), a system that provides a group with its identity that depends upon a certain intimate and exclusive relationship towards a particular animal or plant (Lewis, 1969). Various definitions have been offered over time and include  “A special class of animals or plants to which a certain group of people pay reverence, assuming a mysterious affinity between themselves and the animal or plant.” (Karsten, 1935), and “…a class of material objects which people regard with superstitious respect, believing that there exists an intimate and altogether special relation with every member of the class.” (Frazer, 1910). Totemism is an institution scattered world-wide and has both social and religious significance (Adam, 1954), with totemism proper practised by hunting peoples such as Amerindians, Australian Aborigines, and some African tribes which “…disappears when agricultural ways of life take over…” (Cooper, 1995). For Amerindians the raven is the Hero-Trickster; the Bear Clan is the most important of the Hopi Indians, the totem of the Ouataouaks, there are bear tribes in California, among the Huron, Iroquoians, and Ute of Colorado; the beaver is totem of the Cayeuse, Creek, Onondaga, Seneca, and Shuswop; the buffalo the totem of the Plains Indians such as Cree, Pawnee, Sioux, and the Mandan Okapi; and there are also deer tribes and clans (Cooper, 1995). The Aborigines of Australia call totemism Kobong and have many totem clans including dingo and Water-Hen. All birds were originally totems and ancestors of all aboriginals in the Dreamtime. In Africa the buffalo is a Bantu totem. The term totem is derived from oteteman, an Objibwa word cognate with the Algonquin dialect and meaning ‘his brother-sister kin’ (Reed, 1986), however it has also been said to mean ‘…supernatural “friend or helper”…’ (Adam, 1954), in essence a belief that the primeval ancestor of the group, or clan, or tribe, was closely related to a particular animal (Lewis, 1969). The whole system of totemic belief reflects social structure, depending on whether hunter-gatherers (Australia) or farmers (Central Africa), and this implies beliefs and mode of thought differ and thus several simultaneous systems exist throughout the world – different places, different times (Levy-Bruhl, 1923).

The understanding of totemism is owed to Elkin, and Spencer and Gillen, for their work among Australian Aborigines (Lewis, 1969), where the totem appears to identify with group unity and solidarity to which it s attached e.g., Kangaroo Men. Controversy and debate still surrounds the validity of the term and concept of totemism. Its study was the core of 19th century social anthropology, with noted protagonists between 1910 and 1950, including Frazer, Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski (1932), and Levi-Strauss (Mithen, 1988), with a renaissance of totemic studies in the 1970’s (Willis, 1990). Attempts to demolish totemism included Goldenweiser (1937), opposition from anti-evolutionists included Lowie (1940), Kroeber (1948), and Boas (1966), with the subject dismissed as “…speculations which eventuated in the totemic illusion.” (Levi-Strauss, 1962). Opposition to the liquidation of totemic studies came from the evolutionists such as Frazer (1910) and Tylor (1958; 1960). Nonetheless, apart from the view that totemism was irrelevant and only incidental Levi-Strauss still regarded the topic as indispensable for the study of social origins (Reed, 1986).

Totemism was thus divided into three classes, the individual, the social, and the cultic, encompassing a “…philosophy which regards man and nature as one corporate whole…” (Elkin, 1938). Among Australian Aborigines totemism is a religious system in which the group depends on exclusive and intimate relationship with animal or plant for its identity, and such a totem provides the group with its name, secondly this name becomes the visible, external sign of a supernatural force that binds the tribe together, and thereby the totem is considered ancestor of the tribe – a sort of fund of energy out of which all tribe members originate (Lewis, 1969). With Australian and Amerindian totemism we have the we have the most elementary stratum of direct knowledge with the majority of totems being edible species, the origin of which are connected to the food supply (Thomson. 1978). For Australian Aboriginal totemism the totem and the ‘Dreamtime’ are indissoluble because totems “…link people with the non-empirical world and they established a firm foundation for belief in the essential unity between people and their natural environment.” (Berndt, 1970), where in ‘Dreaming’ people and nature are one (Cooper, 1995).

Totemism and taboo (tabu) are inextricably linked and permeate the whole of so-called ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ society (Reed, 1986), and thus cannot be explained by a single definition. The definition of taboo (Steiner, 1967) is concerned with: (1) social mechanisms of obedience which have ritual significance: (2) specific, restrictive behaviour in dangerous situations; (3) protection of individuals in danger; and (4) protects society from those endangered. recent interpretations have encompassed concepts of purity and contagion, the clean and the unclean, cooked and uncooked (Douglas, 1978; Levi-Strauss, 1962; 1969). In essence taboos function to separate the workaday world from wonder-world, the separation of the sacred from the profane (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). Each clan is akin to its totem species and descended from it and therefore forbidden to eat it (Thomson, 1978), however the taboo is directed against eating not killing, and not eating species of another clan without permission (Spencer & Gillen, 1904; Spencer & Gillen, 1914).

As a rule then clans refrain from eating their totem and, in general as the totem is the guardian and protector of its human counterpart, the totem is also taboo (Harrison, 1977), and thus in a mutual relationship. The first stage of the evolution of totemism was the differentiation into primitive segments or bands, which again divided to gain access to different sources of food (Thomson, 1978), and once integrated as clans according to food supply and shared products were maintained by a taboo. The totem is always taboo, the term totem itself means taboo, thus totemism is the “…absolute, inviolable food taboo…the task of totemism, the earliest social institution.” (Mithen, 1998). Moreover, the totem is not the individual animal but the species as a whole, the most common feature of tribal behaviour towards the totem is the prohibition of the species as food (Adam, 1954).

A totemic group is usually exogamous stipulating that is only permitted to marry into another totemic group (Lewis, 1969). The term ote means a consanguine kinship between uterine brothers and sisters who cannot intermarry (Reed, 1986). and thus totemism is connected to a matrilineal system and therefore clan exogamy. According to Morgan (1907) descent within the ancient gens is through the female line with a supposed ancestor implying a common gentile name. The gens came into being on three main conceptions: (1) bond of kin; (2) pure lineage through female descent, and (3); non-intermarriage between clan members. It is possibly worth distinguishing clans of matrilineal descent (possibly older system) and the gens where offspring belong to the father’s group, and within clans subdivisions of a social, educational, and religious duties to a community, and where invariably “…clans and gens are exogamous.” (Hawkes, 1965).

Totemism has two important characteristics – firstly it is to do with a group and not an individual, and secondly the group is in relation to another group of natural objects, therefore totem means not plant or animal but tribe (Harrison, 1977). Totem thus means tribe or group, whilst totemism is the idea of the unity of a group. Therefore, one human group has a special relation to another group best figured by kinship, unity of blood, expressed in terms of identity (Levy-Bruhl, 1910). It follows that a taboo will be applied on sexual intercourse between men and women belonging to the same totem-kin group (Reed, 1986), and the essence of this totemic taboo also means “…it eradicated any possibility that a kinsman would hunt, kill, or eat another kinsman.” (Reed, 1986). Totemism is the other side of the human and animal coin because it “…involves embedding human groups and individuals within the natural world.” (Mithen, 1998). Totemism is epitomised by tracing descent from non-human species, and for tribal hunters and gatherers operating clan exogamy, the “…study of natural species provided non-literate and pre-scientific groups with a ready-to-hand means of conceptualising relations between groups.” (Willis, 1990).

3 b.  Totemism and cave art

Ice Age artists, with ancestral bonds with certain animals, avoided eating them so paintings are therefore clan emblems (Pearson, 2002), the animals depicted having but a small part in prehistoric diets (Krupp, 1997). A particular totem animal can be an item of group diet. Therefore totemic rituals thought of as maintaining the species to provide food for other groups (Lewis, 1969). In southwest Africa the Bushmen are a totemic hunting people and their pictures are found all over the continent, from the Sahara to Lake Tanganiyika (Leakey, 1936; Adam, 1940). In Transvaal a herd of ostriches, one with bow and arrows and human legs is a huntsman from the ostrich clan? (Thomson, 1978). He is surrounded by both sex onlookers wearing antelope heads which may be the mimetic dance of the ostrich clans (Adam, 1940; Schapera, 1930). Paintings on cave walls show clan members have a strong sense of affinity or identity with clan species, implying that clan elders are ancestor worshipped in totemic form (Landtman, 1938). The ritual identification of animal/human ancestor  of totemic type is “…a man fully identified with an animal, his totem or otherwise, in fertility rites for the increase of the species.” (Hawkes, 1965).

image-257

Figure 5. 

Lascaux, France. Bulls superimposed on an aurochs. Circa 15,000-12,000 BC.

Not as fully modelled as the Altamira images, but appear more spirited. Shows repeated use of same rock walls.

This may represent a totemic animal of a succeeding generation of artists after those who painted the aurochs.

Source: Lommel (1966).

Ritual participation is associated with animal totemism. For many the ‘sorcerer’ is the same realm of ideas as the Lord of the Animals, therefore some supernatural being rather than a man in disguise (Hawkes, 1965; Breuil, 1965). Most pre-literate peoples have a Lord of the Beasts, a protector of game, a “…preserver and patron of the hunting culture.” (Lissner, 1961). The famous image of a fallen man with a bison at Lascaux is a case for both totemic and shamanic practice. The man appears bird-headed while beside him a bird-headed wand, so “…this picture may be of totemic significance, showing the human member and his totemic emblem”. (Hawkes, 1965). The well known ‘bison scene’ in the cave of Lascaux has many different interpretations including “…given a totemistic explanation and interpreted as an initiation scene.” (Hawkes, 1965), also as shamanistic ritual. According to this theory “…the anthropomorphic figure would be a human being (shaman) collapsing in a state of ecstasy.” (Hawkes, 1965).

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Figure 6.

An engraved bison and bison-man at Trois Freres Ariege, France. Magdalenian.

A composition involving hunting magic and shamanic ritual. Source: Sandars (1968).

Strong contenders as totemic animals include the bull, the boar, rhinoceros, mammoth, salmon. The bull is the “…primary symbolic and sacrificial animals of the hunter.” (Cooper, 1992), and has been reverenced and worshipped from earliest times. Boar bones have been ritually placed in graves and caves with the head of special importance, with many ritually interred bones including bear, ox, bison, horse, ibex, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth and hyena.

The salmon is sacred to northern Amerindians. The bear seems especially important when compared to cave bone assemblages of hunted animals. Dances as imitation of animals are found with Amerindians and Australians – the animals usually totems of objects of the hunt including bears, buffalo, deer (Cooper, 1992). The deer is an Amerindian totem animal and the deer-dance a fertility rite for southwest Amerindians. Reindeer sacrifices are made by Lapps, and palaeo-Siberian peoples have a ‘Lord of the reindeer’, whose shamans can take the form of reindeer. Bison are subjects of mask dances and sympathetic magic among Plains Indians. Chauvet Cave is problematic because of the dominance of fearsome animals, 61% of which comprise rhinoceros, lions, mammoths and bears (Chippindale, 1998). Moreover, Aurignacian sites in the Dordogne include three times more dangerous animals than those of Gravettian origin in the same area, therefore concluding that “…the enormous number of dangerous animals at Chauvet is not a unique phenomenon.” (Chippindale, 1998). In terms of totemic belief a more detailed examination of bear cults can be made.

There is sufficient evidence to the extent that the cave bear, mammoth, and other great beasts figured in the minds of their human contemporaries (Matheson, 1942), as Neanderthal or Mousterian man “…associated certain cult-conceptions with the bears he had killed.” (Abel, 1934). Kindred ideas are found in remote parts of the world. The bear is the oldest verifiable sacrificial animal. From earliest times there have been bear-cults. Neanderthal man had sacred shrines of ‘Master Bear’, with bear skulls and bones often interred with human skulls (Cooper, 1992). It is worthy of note that, considering the location of much cave art, in the carnivals of the Pyrenees the bear is still a notable figure. Finds of bear remains “…in more or less clear association with human remains or artefacts are of course numerous.” (Matheson, 1942), and comprise two species – the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and brown bear (Ursos arctos). In southern France there are several representations of cave bears from the Aurignacian, but later French Magdalenian pictures only brown bears. The drawings, which are claimed to show erotic symbolism, may indicate that “…Man of the Aurignac period was well as Man of the Madeleine period connected religious and cultic  conceptions with the Cave Bear, and, after its extinction, with the brown bear…” (Abel, 1934). Strange composite animals at Les Trois Freres include bears with heads of wolves and at Montespan a dying sacrificial bear with holes (Grazioli, 1960). Extinction of the cave bear may have been due to human agency but, whatever the cause “…the type of bear generally known as cave bear completely disappeared, but not before leaving a deep impression on the mind of Palaeolithic man.” (Matheson, 1942), with modern indications that bears were powerful totemic symbols.

In Drachenloch Cave near Vattis, Tamina Valley, in Switzerland, several stone chests each containing 4 or 5 bear skulls (all pointing in the same direction, were found (Matheson, 1942), and similar material was found at Petershohle in south Germany, and at Drachenhohle near Mixnitz in Austria. These were explained by Abel (1934) as representing “…skull and long bone sacrifices of Mousterian hunters, which must have been connected with their religious conceptions.” Ancient bear-cults occur among Amerindians, in Iceland, Finland, Siberia, and Japan (Cooper, 1992). In terms of totemism all Siberian shamanistic cultures regard the bear as a mythical ancestor, plus the Amerindian, Finnish, Tartar, Ugarian, Samoyeds, and for Mongols descent is from a woman who had two children by a bear. The bear as ‘Animal Master’ is the sacred animal and instructor of shamans, and bear-gods are often hunter-gods working through shamans. The she-bear symbolises maternal love through hibernation and renewal. For the Inuit the great shaman spirit is the Polar Bear, and for the ‘Bear Sacrifice’ of Ainu of Japan the sacred and sacrificial animal is often treated as kin. For the ancient Greeks the goddess herself was a bear with worship of Artemis in Arcadia as Artemis Brauronia. Early hunters persuade themselves they are not really killing animals but only their bodies and that they come to life again “…if their bones are looked after and treated with the correct magic.” (Lommel, 1966).

3 c.  Totemism and mobiliary art

The people of the Upper Palaeolithic had a rapprochement with their environment and themselves, and this can be seen with the female figurines showing the existence of anthropomorphic imagery in their art (Bahn 1989; Leblanchet, 1989). At Chauvet Cave, circa 30,000 BC, a figure with head and torso of a bison and legs of a human is therefore anthropomorphic thinking reflecting the “…seamless integration between social and natural history.” (Mithen, 1998). Humans as animals, animals as humans suggests totemic ritual and anthropomorphism. The image of an animal with human attributes, or a human descended from a lion, is anthropomorphism reflected in totemic thought.

Mobiliary art is an expression of Palaeolithic mentality with the processions of anthropomorphic figures surrounding bison is a curiously repeated composition (Grazioli, 1960). Some mobiliary engravings on ivory and bone may be indicators of clan membership if worn as neck pendants. In the 7800 year old cemetery at Oleneostrovski Magilnik in Karelia some graves were associated with neck effigies, others with effigies of elks (Mithen, 1998), the clusters of two graves suggesting two groups divided on a totemic clan basis (O’Shea & Zvelebil, 1984, cited by Mithen, 1998). Aurignacians and Magdalenians shaped and carved bone and antler plaques in ways very similar to Australian churingas (Hawkes, 1965).

3 d.  Sympathetic and hunting magic

The classic division of sympathetic magic is into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978), with (1) like produces like and thus effect resembles cause, and the things once in contact continue to act on each other (Ucko, 1967). The theory of sympathetic magic is based upon a “…proposed relationship of identity between an image and its subject.” (Pearson, 2002), therefore acting on an image equates with acting upon a person or animal represented. For Upper Palaeolithic people there were two major aspects of sympathetic magic – hunting and fertility magic (Ucko, 1967). Magic rests upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you can control reality you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1978). Cave art, as a magico-religious function, served sympathetic magic which (1) depends upon belief that similarity or relationship equates with identity, and (2) that anything down to an image or related part will affect the thing itself (Hawkes, 1965). The three main aims of magical practice are hunting, fertility, and destruction (Pearson, 2002). As a guide to action “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can in fact be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978).

Hunting magic, by possessing the image of the desired animal thereby possesses the animal itself (Pearson, 2002), and was applied to great hunted herbivores – bison, horses, aurochs, ibex and deer. Destructive magic was applied to animals dangerous to humans – felines and bears. Upper Palaeolithic images rest upon the premises of sympathetic magic, within the scenario that magical arts have a utilitarian objective in aiding survival (Pearson, 2002), therefore totemic magic is the pictorially dramatic representation of the sacred animal driven by the “…implicit theory of the kinship of all forms of life.” (Thomson, 1978). Hunting involves also a sexual division of labour – with mobile hunters being male (Malinowski, 1913; Bancroft, 1875); females immobile due to pregnancy and lactation (Zuckerman, 1936). With hunting positing a division of labour within matrilineal descent the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilineality would preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times.

Mimetic dance increases the power of the hunter and ceremonies for species propagation are “…performed at the opening of the breeding season at a prescribed spot, called the totem centre, on the hunting ground of the clan to which the totem belongs.” (Thomson, 1978). Clansmen are forbidden to eat but not kill, but there are exceptions, with the headman obliged to eat a little to get the totem inside him to work his magic (Spencer, 1904). The interpretation of Palaeolithic art has been used “…as evidence of beliefs in the efficacy of magic…” (Ucko, 1967), therefore there was Upper Palaeolithic sympathetic magical practice, as well as the allusion, to totemic beliefs. An increase ritual represents the growth of the totem and includes dances by disguised performers who mimic the species, because mimicry of a successful operation is the essence of magic (Thomson, 1978).

Magic is employed to useful animals – reindeer, bison, horse, and hunted for food, plus magic associated with dangerous animals – bear and lion (Grazioli, 1960). Therefore the exteriorisation of art for the “…reproduction of visual reality by the need to attain practical ends.” (Grazioli, 1960). Countless bison, horses, oxen, ibexes, reindeer are engraved or painted with weapons transfixing bodies, arrows and javelins fly around animal figures at Lascaux (Grazioli, 1960). At Niaux animals are painted stuck by arrows, with a carved bison with engraved arrows, another with engraved wounds. At Montespan a horse engraved on clay is pockmarked with spear thrust holes, and images of wounded animals are plentiful. Magic practices are related to capture of prey portraying nets and traps (often painted next to animals) with associated animal figures. In addition hand-prints mean taking possession of prey in connection with animal images.

4.  Shamanism

4 a.  Theory and definition 

Shamans are ritual specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (Lewis-Williams, 2002) who are more potent and important than witch-doctors (Lewis, 1969). Shamanism is a religious practice where there is communication with good and evil spirits through “…a professional class of priest-seers…” (McKillop, 1998), and thus associated with “…archaic techniques of ecstasy…” (Eliade, 1964), and a widespread practice across Eurasia and elsewhere as a primitive religion survival. Presently shamanism is a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples. The term shaman is Tungus in origin from saman meaning ascetic (KcKillop, 1998) and in Sanskrit  sramanas. Shamanism is not limited to circumpolar peoples as it occurs in south-east Asia, Oceania, and with Amerindians. The name comes from Siberia where a shaman is also called a tabid and female shamans called shamankas, Inuit angekok, in Lapland noi’de (Sandars, 1968), with shamanism the basis of Finno-Ugric religion (Guirand, 1982). In Siberia a shaman is such by hereditary transmission or spontaneous vocation, whereas in north America shamanism is a voluntary quest. Shamanism occurred all over the ancient world (Matthews, 1991), and is an animistic belief that “…presupposes an elemental force in all objects which can be dominated by a greater force…” (Guirand, 1982). A shaman is not a magician, not a visionary, not a healer, are usually male but female shamans occur, but importantly it is the “…intensity of his experience that makes him unique. His ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being.” (Matthews, 1991).

A shaman is a particular type of individual combining functions and abilities (Lommel, 1966) who requires special training, with separation from cares and distractions of ordinary life (Lewis, 1969). A shaman often shows signs of mental instability, excitability, and hysterical dissociation, exhibiting suggestibility and subject to hallucinations (Lewis, 1969), but shamanism is not linked to mental illness because the shamanistic mind is “…a complex interweaving of mental sates, visions and emotions.” (Lewis-Williams, 2002). A shaman must have a mana to carry on his role which he can only obtain  by being predestined for it, as well as by submitting to certain rituals (Adam, 1954). Mana, a term originating in Polynesia, can be considered as an immaterial power believed by many pre-literate peoples to be inherent in certain privileged persons and things.

Hunter-gatherers exhibit a number of characteristics of shamanism (Lewis-Williams, 1997), which distinguish it from other religions by “…the power that man or rather certain men particularly endowed, the shamans, exercise over nature.” (Guirand, 1982). Hunter gatherer shamans are therefore specialists with authority and prestige who mediate between people and surrounding natural and supernatural powers (Sandars, 1968). Characteristics of shamanism are: (1) it posits a range of institutionalised altered states of consciousness; (2) the visual, aural and somatic experiences of altered states are seen as conceptions of alternative states of reality; (3) people with special powers and skills – shamans – have access to this alternative reality; (4) the nervous system via altered states leads to dissociation. Shamans use dissociation to achieve four ends which are also features of hunter-gatherer shamanism: (1) shamans are believed to contact spirits and supernatural entities; (2) they heal the sick; (3) they control the movements and lives of animals; (a) have the ability to change the weather. These four functions coupled with the altered states are believed mediated by and facilitated by “…a variously conceived supernatural potency of power…” and this potency is “…commonly associated with animal helpers that assist shamans in the performance of their tasks.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; 2002).

4 b.  Shamanism and cave art

A large amount of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is shamanistic and “…produced by shamans and derived from their modes of thought.” (Lommel, 1966), therefore archaeologically cave art includes images that can be called shamanistic. Basque myths from the region are concerned with ghosts, shamans, red bulls, cows, horses, birds and snakes (Lommel, 1966), and significant are the half human half animal spirits. The female is Mari, male spirits are Maide and associated with female Lamin, thus Mari and Lamin are “…probably preserved characteristics of the more ancient Mistress of the Beasts.” (Lommel, 1966). Thus the consideration that the “…repetitively portrayed Palaeolithic ‘sorcerers’ and ‘shamans’ were divine owners of animals and forests.” (Gimbutas, 2001).

Cave imagery is a palimpsest resulting from changing exploitation of the topography coupled with changing shamanistic beliefs and social relations (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Clottes, 1996), implying Upper Palaeolithic people “…did not adhere rigidly to set formulae.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Thus as the Upper Palaeolithic progressed the historically and geographically situated forms of shamanism changed. In order to understand shamanic cave art it is best to look in more detail at two examples – the so-called ‘sorcerer’ in the Sanctuary at Les Trois Freres, and the ‘Man and Bison’ composition in the Shaft at Lascaux.

The ‘Sorcerer’ has an antlered deer head and hide who appears to be leading a dance to secure success in hunting (Lewis, 1969). The image is of a masked human being to endow a unique, magical or religious act with greater permanence by means of pictorial recapitulation (Lissner, 1961). The unreal atmosphere is compounded by the half human half animal that is engraved and painted in an innermost recess of the complex Ariege cave (Grazioli, 1960), implying the ‘sorcerer’ is a mystical being. The painting is of a powerfully symbolic magico-religious ritual. The shaman is harnessing a group effort through  group ritual dance to objectify the killing of an animal (Lewis, 1969). This shaman at Lourdes, wearing a tail and a beard, can be compared to Tungus shamanic portrayals because “…the adoption of several animal characteristics is throught to increase a shaman’s chances of sending hi soul on its travels…” (Lissner, 1961).

the-sorcerer

Figure  7.

   The Magdalenian painted ‘sorcerer’ at Trois Freres, Ariege, France.

The shaman requires maximum assistance from various animals while on his journey.

He therefore wears a deer mask, owls eyes, wolf’s ears, horse’s tail, and bears paws, as well as dancing (Lissner, 1961).

Among circumpolar peoples deer antlers and bears feet are the most effective in magical equipment (Ucko, 1967).

The ‘man with a bison’ in the Shaft at Lascaux is a shamanic scene with a sacrificial bison and an outstretched man (with a bird mask) lying on the ground in a trance (Lissner, 1961). The rhinoceros in the composition is insignificant because it is the man and bison in confrontation (Blanc, 1949). The supine figure is the shaman and the bird his tutelary spirit, and its perch a grave stick or sky-pole. The wooden bird poles symbolise a shaman’s spiritual journey and is thus “…a path to heaven symbolised by an upright pole and the belief that a bird can carry a shaman’s soul into the sky.”  (Lissner, 1961). The whole is a complex composition that contains evidence of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual.

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Figure 8.

A man in a bird’s head mask attacked by a wounded bison (?). Cave painting at Lascaux, France, circa 15.000 t0 10,000 BC.

Can be explained by Siberian legends of modern times. A spear seems to have pierced the bison and eviscerated it.

The shaman sends his soul to heaven while he lies as though dead (Lommel, 1966), as he hunts animal spirits of negotiates with the Mistress of the Animals. A number of factors indicate the shamanic nature of the composition. The bird is gallinaceous or grouse-like and resembles the grouse carving on a spear-thrower from Le Mas d’Azil (Davenport, 1988). The feet are humanoid, as is the phallus, but the hands are four-toed typical of a bird, and as such a pictographic symbol. The artist has portrayed the shaman as his spirit helper (the bird-headed wand) at the moment of his transformation or shape-shift into a Black Grouse or Capercaille (Davenport, 1988), a performance quite familiar to the Palaeolithic hunter, resembling the communal dances, strutting and ritualised fighting of the Blackcock. The secret of successful hunting is mimicry (Lommel, 1966), and a successful expedition is envisioned by the shaman beforehand. The entrails of the bison are wrenched out by a barbed spear and the whole image means for Abbre Breuil (1965) the hunter is wounded by the bison and then killed by the rhinoceros, whereas for Leroi-Gourhan the man is dying from wounds inflicted by the bison (Lissner, 1961). However, the shaman is most likely in a trance state. rock art in South Africa is historical evidence for ceremonies and roles of trance plus hallucinogens, so perhaps “…decorated caves in Palaeolithic Europe, at the end of the last Ice Age, might also reflect shamanic practices and trance ceremonies.” (Pitts, 2001). In addition, shamanistic practices among early Celtic divinations they wore cloaks of birds feathers as Siberians did, bearing in mind the Celtic belief in metamorphosis – shape-shifting – or ability to change shape or appearance at will. At Santander there are wall engravings of men in bird masks who seem to be dancing, and the bird-men of Altamira are also shamans, as are the masked figures at Les Combarelles  (Lissner, 1961). At Teyat, Abri Mege (Dordogne) three strange figures resembling sea horses are probably shamans dancing in ibex masks. There are further examples of hybrid figures as hunters or shamans occupying territory between the human and animal world (Grazioli, 1960).

4 c.  Shamanism and mobiliary art.

Palaeolithic batons or ‘wands’ may be shamans drumsticks, and certainly more than items of everyday use (Lissner, 1961), and female statuettes are the earliest known figurative representations in the world  and may have a shamanic ritual role as auxiliary dolls. The female statuettes of Siberian tribes, who often had female shamans or ‘shamankas’, may have had a ritual role. At Ma’lta,  50 miles north of Irkutsk, female figures and birds carved in bone represent duck and geese, reminiscent of bird figures which modern Siberian tribes place on top of their shamanic sky-poles. In view of the fact that shamanic mobiliary art may not have been durable – wands, sky-poles, drums, and other equipment such as masks – it is nonetheless possible that portable engravings of birds may have had a ritual and shamanic role.

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Figure  9. 

 The ‘man and the bison’ of the Shaft at Lascaux.

Comparative evidence for the shaman using birds as tutelary spirits or spirit helpers for a shamanic ritual.

Source: Davenport (1988).

4 d.  Initiation and ‘Rites of Passage’.

Mankind get all that makes them human from society, it is the religious cult and the ritual that recreates them, initiates them into the life of the tribe, and therefore regenerates the tribe itself (Lewis, 1969). The relationship is ritualistic involving rites connected with totem animals, usually including dancing, mimetic animal movements and cries (Cooper, 1995). Originally individuals survived as members of a group with group reproduction inseparable from subsistence existence (Thomson, 1978). Hunters are part of a sexual division of labour graded through children, adults, elders (Webster, 1932), when children help women, men hunt and elders direct and supervise. The transition from one grade to another is effected by rites of initiation, thus at puberty an individual dies and is reborn. The new-born is a clan ancestor reborn, a reincarnation of the clan totem that determines naming (Thomson, 1978), the name being the totemic symbol, but not revealed because it is a totemic secret (Frazer, 1910). In Latin name and mark are nomen and nota, kin and know are gens and gnosco, which means name and mark correlates with oral and visual with “…the totem incarnate and the bearer.” (Thomson, 1978). The totemite receives manhood or womanhood and individual essence from the tribal spirit which possesses him in ceremonies and rites of totemism and initiation.” (Lewis, 1969).

Two ingredients to social, therefore common (but not universal) to the exogamous clan system (Hawkes, 1965) apart from the totemic are admission and related initiations or rites of passage. Initiation means admission to adult status, not admission to the clan, with the implication that it is admission to a totem cult where one exists. Initiation rites symbolise the idea of death and rebirth “…into the full life of the tribe.” (Hawkes, 1965). In many cases a dying person is wrapped in the skin of their dying totem animal, implying the souls of the clan are closely bound by their totem and reincarnated in that animal, with children named after the animal from which the tribe has descended (Cooper, 1995). With initiation at puberty the child dies and is born again as man or woman, whereas the death of an elder is numbered among the totemic ancestors (Thomson, 1978). Therefore birth is death and death is birth, part of an internal process of change (Van Gennep, 1960), with the interment of the corpse in a foetal position “…the posture of the unborn child.” (Webster, 1933).

Therefore hidden and daylight art signifies daylight totemic images and hidden recess art are initiation images (Ucko, 1967). At Montespan heel-prints on a clay floor left by “…men of hunting, sexual and religious maturity…” are not merely dancing magically but sharing religious experience.” (Lissner, 1961), thus in Lake Chad (Niger) mahibi (hunters) leave initiation sites walking on their heels. It can be assumed that  cave recesses do contain images related to initiation and this may explain some of the hand-prints and symbols found in the art – a symbol a way of hiding the totemic name.

5.  Fertility Ritual and the Cult of the Earth and Animals.

5 a.  Theory and definition

Fertility magic is “…thought to assist the procreation of useful species by depicting pregnant females or animals of opposite sex in pre-coupling scenes.” (Pearson, 2002), and Breuil (1965) interpreted Palaeolithic art as a reflection of fertility and hunting magic. Sympathetic magic is the basis of Palaeolithic art, the cave is the sanctuary where magic is used for reproductive rites, destruction of predators, and increase ceremonies for animals and human beings (Ucko, 1967). Upper Palaeolithic artists imaged animals to symbolise earth’s cyclic rebirth creating a “…mystic rapport with the animals, a rapport negotiated by their shamans, and cemented by their paintings.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility magic plus hunting magic usually combined as one overall sympathetic magic interpretation, therefore “…totemic and fertility magic interpretations are most clearly related (Ucko, 1967). Scenes of hunting as pictorial magic are found worldwide.

5 b.  Fertility and cave art

Ritual renewal in Upper Palaeolithic Europe is “…evidence for a theme of cyclic renewal everywhere in Upper Palaeolithic art.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility compositions and images occur in Franco-Cantabria (Grazioli, 1960), and deliberately relate the different sexes. At La Marne a bull pursues a cow, at Le Portel two bison face each other, thus in compositions where two animals form a scene “…they are almost invariably male and female animals…connected with the proprietary magic of reproduction.” (Graziolli, 1960). At Fonte-de-Gaume two rendeer approach each other, at Levanzo a bull follows a cow, at Chaire-a-Caluini a horse in bas-relief copulation, at Font-de-Gaume a horse is copulating and one pursues a mare. At Tuc ‘Audoubert a clay statue shows a male and female bison in copulation. At Spanish Cogul women surround a man and suggest celebrants in a fertility cult, and at Tuc d’Audoubert signs of rites celebrated indicate fertility magic and beyond that fertility religion, it suggested Venuses are “…crystallisations of the Mother Goddess concept.” (Hawkes, 1965). A number of wall engravings and low-reliefs of females demonstrates fertility related images.

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Figure 10.

Horses circa 20,000 BC. Cave painting at Pech-Merle.

The large coloured spots inside and around the outline of the wild horses “…were probably put there in the belief that

they increased fertility.” (Lommel, 1966). The meaning of the silhouette hand prints but may have been connected to hunting magic,

 but also represent some aspect of a totemic ‘rite of passage’.

5 c.  Fertility and mobiliary art

Aurignacian ‘Venuses’, which are little statuettes of exaggerated form, are in a class by themselves (Lewis, 1969). Found in France and Austria they represent a fertility cult of 20,000 years ago – all violently distorted with head, legs and arms, treated in summary fashion, the purely sexual features enlarged to confirm fertility cult purpose. Aurignacian ‘Venuses,’ not found in Spain, are little figures of ivory, limestone and other materials, and intended to symbolise fertility, thus “…the statuettes from the Grimaldi Caves were associated with some fertility cult.” (Lissner, 1961).

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Figure 11.

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice, Moravia. One of the earliest known depictions of the female form.

Ceramic, or baked clay. Gravettian 29,000-25,000 BCE.

Savignano Venus has female features, conical coiffure or conical cap, the Venus of Willendorf has a basket-like coiffure, of limestone and perhaps an Alma Mater or Earth Mother, whereas the Gagarino Venuses (Upper Don) are two obese ivories and resemble the Willendorf Venus (Lissner, 1961).

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Figure 12.

The Venus of Willendorf a Gravettian figurine from Austria carved from limestone (Sandars, 1968). Fertility cult statuette (Cornwall, 1968).

Found with traces of red ochre suggesting she represented a Mother Goddess or perhaps similar to house goddesses of Siberian tribes (Waechter, 1976).

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Figure 13

An artists reconstruction of the Venus of Willendorf.

The Venus of Laussel is a rock-relief carving circa 15,000 to 10,000 BC. At Ma’tla (north of Irkutsk) evidence of 20 statuettes of mammoth tusk were all of slender form. Figurines at Ma’lta and Gagarino, found inside remains of ancient huts, hung up in niches near the hearth, may represent female ancestresses (Lissner, 1961). Many figurines found in dwellings at Kostienki Island, Mezin (Garonne), Vestonice and Predmost (Czechoslovakia), and Mainz (Germany), can be compared to the constantly moving hunters of the Magdalenian

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Figure 14.

The Venus of Laussel, circa 15,000-10,000 BC. Rock relief carving. One of earliest stone sculptures of the female nude in history of world art.

The filled horn she holds is connected with myths of the Mistress of the Beasts, a kind of goddess who holds sway over animals and drives

them towards hunters (Lommel, 1966). Source: Sandars (1968).

The unique female head from Brassampouey (Lourdes) has an arranged cap or coiffure known as a tete a la capuche. The Venus of Lespugues (Haute- Garonne) seems to represent the golden age of the Aurignacian. It has an ‘apron’ at the rear which is similar to the second Venus of Willendorf – and may represent animal tails as worn by modern Siberian shaman attire.

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Figure 15

The Venus or Lady of Brassempouey. The Lady in the Hood from the Grotte du Pape, in the French Pyrenees.

Ivory from the Gravettian circa 22,000 BCE (Sandars, 1968). Accompanied by modern reconstruction.

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Figure 16.

Artists reconstruction of the Venus of Brassempouey

Upper Palaeolithic figurines are the earliest tangible expression of the idea that views womankind as embodying the beginning and continuance of life. Palaeolithic man portrayed the human form, especially during the earlier Aurignacian-Perigordian period with female statuettes, stressing attributes of fertility and seen “…dedicated to s different cult – the cult of maternity (Grazioli, 1960).

5 d. Palaeolithic belief and myth

Hunters do not produce – they participate in the life of their milieu (Lommel, 1966), so they only kill prey needed thereby leaving animal reproduction to nature. Totemic ritual is an expression of social cohesion whereby man’s significance is not individual but tribal membership – in other words his entire personal domain is the sacred, supernatural and divinised tribe. Some cave art compositions with a strange, incomprehensible and otherwise esoteric stance may have magical connotations and thus belong to “…a fantastic, unreal, possibly mythical world which has no apparent connection with the clear, elementary and practical world of hunting magic.” (Grazioli, 1960). The mode of thought of the hunter and his art is dominated by animals and such a mythology does not distinguish between man and animal. Feeling at one with nature the hunter sees his environment as both spiritual and material, thereby his art “…attempts to impose the power of his intellect upon his surroundings…” (Lommel, 1966).

Caves show no sign of habitation or domestic use because they were sanctuaries for religious rituals, dark retreats within Mother Earth for initiation ceremonies (Krupp, 1997), where “…men may be transported into animals and vice versa (Lommel, 1966) with the artistic result humans appear as beasts and later as hybrid beings. The penetration of darker recesses from the daylight suggests a “…growing interest in and insistence on spatially distinct ritual areas.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). It was thought initially that animal images were a component of imitative hunting magic, however most paintings do not show wound marks. This suggests they “…played only a small part in the prehistoric diet.” (Krupp, 1997), because the artists had an “…ancestral bond with particular beasts and avoided eating them…” (Krupp, 1997). Palaeolithic communities being totemic were aware of the totemic cycle of birth and death. For example the ‘uterine’ or ‘foetal’ burial position is not known in Australia but is “…common in Palaeolithic interments…” (Thomson, 1978).

6 . Discussion and Summary

Art was a complex, essential ingredient of Upper Palaeolithic life, essential for very existence, a deeply felt need rooted in this activity (Grazioli, 1960). They were not practising ‘art for art’s sake’, the drawings, paintings, reliefs and sculptures had a religious purpose explain the use of inaccessible cave areas (Lissner, 1961), and only experienced hunters could portray animals in such a realistic way. Four strands permeate Upper Palaeolithic art (Sandars, 1968): (1) a diffused sense of sacredness; (2) an order of relationships with no account of genetic barriers allowing ideas of metamorphosis; (3) unhistorical time and returning cycles with ancestor actions, culture heroes, myths and rituals; the character and position of the shaman. Cave art and associated forms of ritual served to promote a “…necessary social cohesion in the face of competition or spatial separation.” (Jochim, 1983), but not all cave art is mysterious or religious though some is certainly tied to ritual and ceremony (Bahn, 1998), and it does contain messages. In terms of totemism, shamanism, and fertility rituals it must be considered that “…there can no longer be a single meaning…to account for the thousands of images, media, contexts, and uses of what we lump together under the term ‘Palaeolithic art’.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

Archaeological evidence indicates that totemism was pervasive in human society since the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic (Mithen, 1998). Totemism is not a one way relationship of dependence upon the numinous because the totem requires sacred rituals to provide strength and fecundity (Lewis, 1969), therefore totem, taboo, and ritual are indissoluble parts of an interdependent and dynamic relationship. Totemic institutions imply exogamy, mimetic magic, and zoomorphic ancestor worship (Thomson, 1978). With modern hunter-gatherers the totemic clan system has collapsed, leaving only: (10 a sense of kinship by common descent; (2) a distinctive ancestral cult; (3) the practice of exogamy; (4) a formal taboo on particular species and; (5) proliferation of totemic myths (Thomson, 1978). It is their persistence and prevalence (much attenuated), that “…various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity.” (Hawkes, 1965).

The antiquity and ubiquity of shamanism implies it was practised by hunter-gatherers of the European Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 2002), but it was not static or unchanging across western Europe during 30,000 years, indeed “…shamanism is the most archaic form of magico-religious relation of man towards himself and his surroundings.” (Wiercinski, 1989). Upper Palaeolithic people associated logically consistent concepts to their cave painting (Lommel, 1966), thus prehistoric man attempted to integrate into life surrounding him by performing symbolic actions that included mimicry, dance and vocalisations. Hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic had specialists, or shamans, whose authority and prestige permitted them to mediate between the surrounding natural and supernatural powers and their own people (Sandars, 1968). Their art was thus “…the particular expression of shamanic cosmology and social relations as it existed at a given time and in a given period.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). The prevalence of art deep within caves is the “…cornerstone of the totemic and the magical interpretations.” (Ucko, 1967), that deals the death blow to ‘art for art’s sake’ theories. The Palaeolithic cave artist therefore “…does not differentiate his aesthetic activity…in a world of mystic perception which is one single unity.” (Read, 1949). There are two reasons to assume that Upper Palaeolithic shamanism existed (Lewis-Williams, 1997) which are: (1) the ubiquity of hunter-gatherer shamanism; (2) the ability of the human system to achieve altered states of consciousness. Despite the worldwide similarities of shamanism (Eliade, 1972; Vitebsky, 1995) it is therefore probable “…that some form of shamanism – not necessarily identical to any ethnographically or historically recorded type of shamanism – was practised by hunter-gatherers of Upper Palaeolithic Europe.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

Sympathetic and cooperative magical ceremonies restored and reinforced community life for hunter-gatherers – thus between totemism and religion stands magic (Harrison, 1997), and cave art “…had definite magical connotations, and many cave pictures may have been executed with magic in view.” (Lissner, 1961). In Palaeolithic art all coupled animals, pregnant females, wounded, trapped or being hunted are “…clear and well defined instances of a certain kind of magic…” (Grazioli, 1960). For example, hand-prints in prehistoric art are a mysterious practice that must have involved dancing, magic or religion (Verbrugge, 1957), but Franco-Cantabrian hand-prints were not art, but ritualistic effigies or two-dimensional representations of the human hand (Lissner, 1961). Cave painting did not appear until the mid-Aurignacian but hand-prints are much older whereas hand silhouettes date from much later periods (Lissner, 1961).  Positive hand prints are not common and always red, but negative hand-prints are normally black, see Figure 17.  Additionally hand-prints could possibly be part of a totemic initiatory or ‘rites of passage’ ritual where the print substitutes for the unmentioned totemic secret name. Hand stencils and hand-prints are usually in the ‘red’ entrance area of a cave while, incidentally, reindeer, bison, Megaloceros, aurochs and horses are only black implying that “…each location was chosen for a special function or was used by people of different status. ” (Chippindale, 1968).

36D74854-E882-4643-9E66-995EB238C05F_w640_r1_s

Figure 17.

Hand prints in a cave at El Castillo, Cantabria, Spain.

Fertility rituals were elaborate totemic rites employed to maintain the life-force of the animal (Lewis, 1969), ensuring its reproduction and availability for others. For Durkheim (1915) sacramental rites confirmed the sacredness inherent in the totem which was transferred to those of the Totemic group and ritual as existing to strengthen and symbolise group solidarity. Thus rituals have considerable survival value and he calls such universal and unquestionable values and assumptions “…collective representations.” We do not know if Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers regarded themselves as communicants with Mother-Earth or if they perceived themselves as interacting with an otherworld Master of Animals (Krupp, 1997). If fertility rituals took place in cave sanctuaries it is plausible that they regarded the earth’s interior as a womb-like corral for seasonal, cyclic return of animals suggested by cave bear cults. Was a bear cult a single cult? It seems that only bears, not other beasts, appear in these gory scenes, for example the bear in extremis at Lest Trois Freres is covered with circles and ovals or assumed wounds? This may indicate the existence of a bear cult in the Upper Palaeolithic accompanied by images of human heads wearing bear masks, and bear heads depicted on their own. It may be that the cult derived from a Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus) rite even though all bears painted engraved, sculpted during the Magdalenian are brown bears (Ursus arctos). Cave images in northwest Spain and southwest France are directed towards successful hunting – but not just hunting because the caves are also for cult ceremonies and places of initiation.

Primitive art from its inception was both decorative and geometric, as well as realistic and symbolic, but ‘primitive’ does not imply ‘child-like’ because it was frequently advanced in both sophistication of handling and technique. Upper Palaeolithic people did not process caves in a rigid formalistic way (Lewis-Williams, 1997), as suggested by Leroi-Gourhan (1968) because they “…explored and adapted each cave in accordance with its peculiar topography…” (Lewis -Williams, 1997; Vialou, 1983; 1986). Note must be made of the social conditions, cosmologies, and religious beliefs of the different times at which the cave was used (Pearson, 2002). A major interpretation of cave art postulated the introduction of order and that analysis of painting positions reveals a general scheme, therefore that “…there is order in Palaeolithic man’s art providing a basis for investigating its evolution” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Problems of chronology include the fact that there are few instances of mobiliary art associated stratigraphically, whereas parietal art is not stratified at all, thus “…classifying Palaeolithic art…is considerably harder than the classification of prehistoric man’s other material remains.” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968).

Cave art did not have a single beginning or a single climax but instead “…many variations, between regions and periods…” (Bahn, 1998), it had many heydays, many beginnings, which means cave art is the “…tangible manifestation of complex cultural beliefs during the Upper Palaeolithic   .” Chippindale, 1998). Many unique developments occurred in the European Upper Palaeolithic which indicate  increasing social complexity (Jochim, 1983) including climatic deterioration and consequent population movements, and the impressive parietal and mobiliary art is evidence of long-distance exchange as a reflection of these cultural adjustments. The obvious ornamental features of mobiliary art are complimented by clear signs of magic in much cave art (Grazioli, 1960)., thus for parietal we can read sacred and for mobiliary we can read profane (Riddell, 1942)  – the original Latin for profane being ‘without the temple’. In view of this, aestheticism and utilitarian purpose are not incompatible because “…cave art hinged on creation of images almost exclusively connected with magic, the same cannot be said of mobiliary art…” (Grazioli, 1960). Above all – the cave and home artists were most likely hunters themselves, practically engaged in activities to secure good hunting so to try to “…separate art and magic and religion in the unified life of early man shows the folly of the over-critical mind.” (Hawkes, 1965).

Over 30,000 years there were periods of progress, stagnation, and regression in Palaeolithic art – development therefore was not linear (Bahn, 1998). In essence cave art is: (1) more diverse than first assumed; (2) there was not linear evolution from the awkward to the more elaborate; (3) compositions were painted long before or at the same time as others and, importantly “…the contents of the art did change considerably over time.” (Chippindale, 1998). The art of the Upper Palaeolithic indicates a psychic unity of Homo sapiens that is not a ‘mythogram’ of sequential styles pre-ordained or pre-planned. The thirteen sea animals and caprids (goats) at Grotte Cosquer indicates what”…the influence of local biotype played in painters myths.” (Chippindale, 1998). The environment of the Grotte Cosquer was one of limestone hills favouring ibex and chamois, whereas the Magdalenians of La Vache hunted mostly ibex in contrast to the cave art at Niaux with its overwhelming numbers of is bison and horses. At Chauvet there were many rhinoceros, lions, long-eared owl, panther and hyena.

The theories of Leroi-Gourhan (111968; 1978) are no longer tenable after the evidence from Chauvet Cave, especially as his Style 1 is detectable in only a few Dordogne sites, and his views are now challenged (Clottes, 1996). The positions of lions and rhinos are centrally placed at Chauvet, not in entrances or bottoms and moreover (rather than being a mythogram) Leroi-Gourhan’s stylistic dates “…appear to be totally random and irrelevant, offering no redeeming feature at all.” (Bednarik, 1995). The artists of the Upper Palaeolithic were us, and in order to appreciate the meaning of their art, we must try to put ourselves in their circumstances, look though their eyes, and try to walk in their foot-ware, and not as was stated previously indulge ourselves with over-analytical minds. Even that caves were places of seasonal aggregation for tribal ritual and trade (Bogucki, 2000) for hunter-gatherer bands or exogamous clans.

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Dedicated to my son William Frederick Edwards (23.06.1975 to 31.10.2009).

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