Tag Archives: ancestors

The Old Stone Age Lord of the Animals

“Our way is the way of the serpent in the underbrush,
Our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women.”
~ Jack Parsons

 

Abbé Henri Breuil sketched diligently by the dim gas-light, in a high alcove deep within a cave system. What he drew there and in other caves, what theories he later published about his discoveries, would help shape not only modern archaeology but also modern Paganism.

The Abbé was a man obsessed, crawling through narrow passages and scaling walls, only to lie upon the floors of caverns humanity had not set foot upon for thousands of years. All to draw the images he found there within. The most ancient of art in European history called to him. Cave art; depictions of bison and horses, lions, disembodied body parts (such a vulvas without the woman) and hand prints. As well as a few images of the human form mingled with that of an animal, the experts call these part-human and part-animal figures therianthropes or anthropomorphs.

 

“God was born sometime in the Palaeolithic Age, the Old Stone Age, which corresponds historically to the geological ice age.  There are indications of religious cults in altars and burial sites that date back to the time of Neanderthal Man (Homo sapiens neanderthalis) that is, as early as the Middle Palaeolithic (ca. 75,000 B.C.E.). But the first clear pictures we have of male deity are on the walls of the great cave of Cro-Magonon Man (Homo sapiens sapiens) in Europe, Africa, and Asia during the early part of the Upper Palaeolithic (30,000-10,000 B.C.E.) period. The Upper Palaeolithic was marked by the development of bladed stone tools, by some cave dwelling, by hunting and gathering and later fishing, and by the emergence of art in the form of sculpture and painting” ~ God: Myths of the Male Divine by David Adams Leeming and Jake Page

 

 

The Trois-Frères cave system was just one of many ancient cave systems Breuil would visit in his lifetime. In fact, it is far from the most famous of caves he worked in. Discovered in southern France, the art in this cave dates back to the mid-Magdalenian period of about Esoter49-150x15014,000 B.C.E. This cave features some 280 engraved images of bison, horses, stags, reindeer, ibex and mammoths. In a large chamber known as the Sanctuary, at the height of about four meters (about 15 feet) from the cave floor, a therianthrope dominates the scene. Part man and part beast this figure is both engraved and painted. He is not large, a little less than a meter tall in fact, but as the only painted engraving, he stands out from the animals depicted on the walls around him.

 

Breuil was known to exaggerate his images at times and to attempt to “fill in the blanks”. He also worked in very difficult conditions, often on his back, trying to hold a light and his drawing implements at the same time. He drew this image with antlers, which do not appear in modern photography.  This image is partially carved and at times photography does not do the relief of cave art justice. This may be a trick of light, or of Breuil’s own mind. The experts still do not agree on this point. To this day one of the most commonly found versions of this image is a photograph with Breuil’s artwork superimposed upon it. Below is a written description given by a modern researcher who had the chance to see the Dancing Sorcerer with his own eyes:

 

“His eyes are two black circles with black, round pupils looking straight ahead. His nose is a single line between them that ends in a small arc. A long, pointed beard that reaches to his chest covers the rest of his face. He even seems to have a thick handlebar moustache that turns up at the ends. He has the ears of a stag. They are pricked up and turned forward as if something has caught his attention. Two stag’s antlers sprout from his head. He has the long body of a horse, outlined with thick stripes of black paint, and a horse’s tail that is also partially painted. His arms are more human than not. He’s holding them together in front of him. They end in what appear to be five long fingers but no thumb. His sizable penis, while not erect, sticks out beneath his tail. He has muscular legs bent at the knee. They, too, are colored in with black paint. He has lifted one foot as of he is walking, prancing, or dancing. He is a moving, bearded man-stag-horse who knows we are here and has suddenly turned to look right at us” ~ The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists by Gregory Curtis

 

This man-beast was dubbed by Breuil “The Sorcerer” (later referred to as The Dancing Sorcerer) and he theorized that this image was that of a shaman. He felt this supported his theory of “sympathetic magic”; the_sorcerer-150x150an image of a shaman dressed in the skins of an animal, calling the hunt to him for the survival of his community [1]. Indeed the image itself does seem to be in mid-step, as if forever caught in a shamanic dance.

 

Margaret Murray read Breuil’s work and combined with her other studies, and with her desire for a revival of Pagan practices, she built upon Breuil’s theories. In her work “The God of the Witches” she called The Dancing Sorcerer “…the earliest known representation of a deity”.  An idea that became so poplar even Breuil himself adopted it. So did many others, including Gerald Gardner. In fact many introductory Pagan books feature an image of The Dancing Sorcerer and speak of the Stag King, the Horned God, or the Lord of Animals to this very day.

 

Many scholars and non-scholars have adopted the theory that the Dancing Sorcerer is either a shaman or deity or both. Though we must be honest in acknowledging these are educated guesses at best.

 

 “Because they are uncommon in cave art and also infrequent in mobiliary art, the figures of humans have not yielded much information on their role in the Palaeolithic message. The magic of the hunt, symbols of human fertility side by side on the walls with those of animals, a shaman executing hunting dances, mother goddesses, all these explanatory

themes abound, and are based solely on the reminiscences of western thought.” ~ From The Dawn of European art: an Introduction to Palaeolithic Cave Painting by André Leroi-Gourhan

 

Another therianthrope can be found within Trois-Frères, surrounded trois_freres3_n-150x150by a seething mass of bison, rhinos and horses. He is bull-like, complete with horns and a furry ridged back. He rises up on his hind feet, one leg bent in stride or dance. A long, thin object protrudes from his mouth (or nostrils) as if he is playing upon a reed pipe or some instrument.

 

The cave known as Chauvet may feature some of the oldest known cave paintings. This cave was discovered in 1994 in southern France. One interesting image found within Chauvet is that of the lower part of a woman with a bison and a horse above it. The pubic region is clearly and carefully drawn. The shape and style of the thighs and legs (minus feet) is eerily similar to the Venus statuettes found in archaeological digs, such as the Willendorf Venus. Her legs meld with that of the animals; the bison’s head and horns cover where her belly should be. The shape and position of the bison’s head mimic that of the female reproductive organs. Prehistorians refer to this figure as Venus and the Sorcerer. We find this enigmatic image in the deepest chamber of Chauvet; it is nearly 7m (20feet) high. It is drawn using charcoal upon a limestone cone than hangs from the ceiling above. The pubic triangle sits roughly at eye level. Among the numerous and astounding works of art within Chauvet there are many drawings horned animals and disembodied vulvas, though the Venus and the Sorcerer stands out.

 

Carve220px-Gabillou_Sorcier-150x150d in the rock shelter known as Gabillou we find a bison or oxen headed figure. He, like the image in Trois-Frères, also stands erect. Both his legs are bent and he holds his arms out in front of him. It seems as if his lips are turned upwards in a smile. Yet, it is possible he is struck by a spear or lance of some kind.

 

These are but a few examples of such images found in our most ancient past. Although we do not know the true meaning behind the horned therianthropes found in Stone Age caves throughout Europe, we can still be certain they did have some important and possible even sacred purpose. As Professor Samuel Brandon said about the Dancing Sorcerer in Trois-Frères cave; “…it seems to be generally agreed that this picture of the ‘Dancing Sorcerer’ was a cult object of great significance to the community which used the cave.”

 

The main competing theories to explain the therianthropes found in cave art is whether we see depicted in them a god or a shaman, or perhaps both.

 

Çatalhöyük (also called Çatal Hüyük) was a very large settlement in southern Anatolia, occupied from about 7,500 BCE to 5,700 BCE. Çatalhöyük is by far the largest and most well preserved Neolithic archaeological site we have found. The people lived in mud-brick dwellings crammed cheek to jowl. According to the research of the archaeologists who study this site, it seems the people here had begun to domesticate animals, such as sheep and cows, as well as begun grow crops.

 

The buildings had plaster interiors that were often richly painted and decorated. Amongst the painting, figurines and artwork found at Çatalhöyük the most numerous are images are of women (including the famous Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük, possibly a goddess figure), men with erections, hunting scenes, wild cattle and stags. The heads of cattle were mounted on walls.

 

 “The painting on the walls of the shrines are rough and forceful. They lack the elegance of the earlier Magdalenian phase of the Upper Palaeolithic art or of the near contemporary work of the artist of the Sahara oases. They are powerful however; they give prominence to the bull but for the first time men (or rather figures with human characteristics) are shown as important elements in the scenes portrayed.

This is very different from the practice of the Upper Palaeolithic artists; though the human figures are still relatively small compared with the bull in Çatal Hüyük, and sometimes with the other animals with which they are shown, they have some individuality and independent character. They are represented with considerable vigour whereas the bull is static, though its massiveness makes it seem dangerous and full of menace. The warriors (for this is what they seems to be) who leap around it are clearly young, introducing one of the recurring elements of the bull-cult; the presence of armed boys or youths, which was to be found in all its later manifestations. They brandish their weapons though the bull remains impassive, in the most graphic episode on the shrines’ walls. Some of the bull’s attendants carry torches. This will become another constant element in the cult’s iconography which harks back to the torches carried into the painted caves and forward to the boys or youths in many other later variants of the cults who are depicted lighting the dark interiors of shrines and caves.” ~ From ‘The Power of the Bull’ by Michael Rice

 

catalwall

 

“First came the temple, then the city.” ~ Dr. Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute

 

 

If the peopleLion_man_photo who created cave art carved, moulded or sculpted the male form, we don’t have much evidence of it. We have found many a little venus statuette. I am sure you are familiar with them, dear readers. A possible masculine representation is Löwenmensch, a statuette of a therianthrope with the head of a lion. The gender of the lion-person is uncertain even amongst the experts. It’s entirely possible that the artist did not intend to portray gender at all.

 

Why were our ancient ancestors driven to portray part human, part animal images? What Mystery did this art represent to them? Are we looking at ancient recordings of the first forays into the Otherworld? Are they representations of how man felt himself to be part of the animal kingdom, at one with the world? Were these truly their gods?

 

It was a long road from forager to farmer, much of that road is still shrouded in the mists of time. We find our man-animal again in art of one of our first great monuments.

 

In what is now south-eastern turkey we find what may be the oldest known religious structure built by man. Göbekli Tepe (which means Potbelly hill in Turkish) is possibly the first piece of architecture constructed by man that was greater than your average nomadic hut. The people who built Göbekli Tepe were still hunter-gatherers; they had not yet invented the written word, agriculture or even the wheel. These people had no beasts of burden, they had only stone tools. Yet somehow they came together to build a complex so large and beautiful that it astonishes archaeologists and has changed how we think the birth of civilization came about.

 

The complex was inhabited and added to over the course of generations, but the main temple was built approximately 11,600 years ago, seven thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge. It is in fact, older even than the civilization of Sumer and Çatalhöyük.

 

“Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.” ~ Charles C. Mann

 

gobt

 

It seems as though people came together to build a massive temple over the course of generations. The people of Göbekli Tepe were still hunter-gatherers, the archaeological record shows little to no sign of the domestication of animals. It does seem however, that the people who built and worked (or worshipped) in and around Göbekli Tepe did create some settlements. While similar sties, such as Çatalhöyük, show us that people were building settlements and giving up a nomadic life following the herds, the people of Göbekli Tepe were among the first to that we know of to construct permanent, massive, stone complexes.

 

“Other sites with comparable findings are Çayönü, Nevah Cori, Jerf el ahmar, Tell Abr, and Tell Qaramell … Göbekli Tepe is of a similar date, but it very different in comparison with these sites. It is unique not only in its location on top of a hill and in its monumental architecture but also its diverse set of objects of art, ranging from small stone figurines through sculptures and statues of animals to decorated megaliths, all of which set it apart. Göbekli Tepe is not a settlement; it is a mountain sanctuary.” ~ Klaus Schmidt, the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia: (10,000-323 Bce)

 

We do not find our horned deity here, though there are some therianthropic images. Many of the pillars seem to be wearing necklaces, belts and loincloths, while also depicting animals such as 256px-Gobekli_Tepe_2foxes or snakes. Many of the animals portrayed at Göbekli Tepe seem to have intelligence, as they gaze at us from their stone pillars. In this, they remind us of the painting and engraving found in Old Stone Age caves. Could it be that some kind of man-animal god was worshipped here? Perhaps animals themselves were the focus of the builder’s religious devotion?

 

After 4,000 years of work and worship at this site, the people of Göbekli Tepe filled the site, burying it in sand and debris and seemingly walked away from it. We cannot guess as to their reasons why.

Looking through the archeological record, we see a strange gap in evidence of Horned Lord symbolism from the late Stone Age into the early Bronze Age.

 

“Through anthropological research one can trace the line of horned god prototypes back to Paleolithic times … It is into the Bronze Age when the horned figure flourished again among the Indo-European[Aryan] tribes of Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. Horned gods were quite common in Mesopotamia, as in Babylon and Assyria. The copper head found in the gold tombs of Ur is believed to be earlier than the first Egyptian dynasty, displaying an advanced stage of metal working.
When Alexander the Great raised himself above the kings of the earth and declared himself a `god`, he wore a horned head piece as a symbol of his divinity. Polytheism appears to have arisen among the Aryan cultures, East and West, with the amalgamation of tribes, each with its own gods. The horned deities were prevalent throughout Greece and Rome.” ~  Ron McVan writing in his Creed of Iron Wotansvolk Wisdom

Now we are entering into the Classical era and the representations of a Horned Lord, or God of Animals that modern Pagans and Witches are much more familiar with.  And so we will end our study here, with more questions than answers.

 

 


[1] It is interesting to note that the theory of sympathetic magic, so popular amongst Pagans today, is the brain child of an abbot.

It should be mentioned here that the theory of sympathetic magic being used in cave art to invoke the hunt has been debunked. The archaeological record tells us the animals most commonly eaten by the cave artists were not the most commonly painted animals and vice versa. Meaning people who painted Mammoths ate the prehistoric ancestors of goats; people who painted horses ate reindeer.

The current accepted theory for the purpose behind cave painting is indeed still shamanic and spiritual in nature however. Many of the non-animal images painted in caves have been found to appear within the mind and before the eyes while a person is experiencing sensory deprivation. People subjected to sensory deprivation also often hallucinated images of great personal meaning and cultural importance. Not much was more important to Stone Age people than animals and there is no place on Earth better suited to sensory deprivation and trance than the dark and silent depths of a cave.

(originally published for No Unsacred Place)

It’s All Rather a lot of Bother

When folks come over and inquire about the macaroni in the offering dishes upon my house shrine I act like it’s no big deal. I just made too much and so I gave it to my spirits. It gets a little more complicated to explain that I am expected by my spirits to make too much and give them their fair share. That I keep their offering bowls small because they expect them to be filled.

 

It’s all rather a lot of bother.

 

Spirit work and devotional practice that is. A bother. That’s why it’s called work and practice I suppose.

 

Years ago, I was researching medicine bags and crane bags and the like. I came across something talking about Native American shamans and their relationship with their medicine bags, and with the spirits within their medicine bags. For some, they had to sing a specific song for each item/spirit in the bag before opening it. Over the years the bag would acquire more and more items. When they died, they might pass their bag onto someone else, who would have to learn the songs for all the spirits in the bag. Then start collecting their own power objects and familiar spirits and sing songs for them as well. Sometimes it gets to the point that it takes well over and hour to sing all the songs required before the shaman can even open the fucking bag and get to work.

Then there’s the need to take care of a big-ass heavy bag full of precious objects and spirits who want you to sing yourself hoarse before they will work with you.

 

Imagine being a slave to your medicine bag.

 

Welcome to one of the less glamorous aspects of being a Hedgewitch. The bother. The expectations. The schedule that must be kept. The building and maintaining of relationships with entities that some people don’t even think are real. Booyeah.

 

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a little afraid of my casting collection? No? Heh. Well, maybe wary is the better term for it. I am wary of becoming a slave to it … because, well, all 30-odd pieces want me to sing to them. Fortunately, the pieces of my casting collection are/is kind of a hive-mind (that’s the best that I can explain it, like a bee colony or ants or something) so I think one song for all might make them happy.

 

But if I start singing for them, who else will want a song? The casting collection’s main job is translation and communication with my spirits. If I singing to the collection, will the ancestors get jealous and want a song? What about everybody else? Oh, and HE already wants me to play the bloody tambourine for Him, no matter how poorly I play (and I do play poorly). Have I mentioned that I’m a terrible singer? Maybe I can negotiate for more poorly played tambourine instead of having to write/divine and sing chants?

 

Just the care and feeding of the casting collection alone is a lot of work. Pieces leave as they wish, choosing when to fall out of my hands or bag and disappear into the weeds and grass, or to roll away and drop off a pier or go under a bookcase. I do sometimes choose when to retire a piece and sometime they ask. But rather a lot of the time I simply open the bag one day to discover one of the pieces is gone and I never got to say goodbye.

 

Then I have to go through the process of finding a replacement, then prepping it, introducing it to “the group”, blessings, charging, blooding. Then I have to learn how it speaks and what it says and how it works with the other pieces, while they are all still figuring that out themselves. The hive mind has changed slightly. I’m kept always on my toes. It’s always changing, I am always learning, there is no chance to simply memorize meanings and then rest on my laurels.

 

The collection (it’s such a great example and a large part of my practice lately) likes to be warmed up a bit before casting. I usually do this by giving the bag a gentle shake (think like how you bounce a baby) and holding the pieces in my hands, gathering them up together. I’ve gotten good enough to chatter inanely to others while doing so. Somehow making it obvious that I must greet the pieces and cajole them to work earns me funny looks.

 

That’s a whole other bother … fellow witches and pagans who don’t get it. Who think that it all must be done elegantly, flowing and … and not weird. Do something odd or awkward like blowing on your divination set or baby talking to a crow skull and all your validity goes right out the window in their mind. Nevermind that fact that the elegant shit is just for show and the spitting, swearing, shaking, whispering, sweating, bloodletting, pissing and such is the real deal! It’s supposed to look like the white witch on TV with her perfectly rhyming poetry and not the crazy voodoo chick with her eyes rolling back into her head on that documentary we watched once … right? Bullshit.

 

Anyways …

 

The collection like all my spirits (great and small) likes scared smoke. A favourite offering. Incense is probably the most commonly given. As other than possibly annoying the girl up stairs with the constant smell of sandalwood or juniper berries burning on a hot coal it is pretty easy. But the other kinds of smoke makes them happier, is somehow more nourishing. Because it is shared I think. Put it in your pipe and inhale, fill you lungs, then breathe it out onto/into them. Sharing not just the smoke but your breath as well. From deep within yourself. A gift of self, smoke and energy. There are many different types of smoke that can be used, some more legal or safer than others. Some of my spirits have preferences. The casting collection likes all kinds of sage but especially salvia divinorum, what a surprise. But that’s for special occasions. Usually.

 

Others have a thing for tobacco, especially buy cigarettes. Because they know that I am addicted. The fuckers. I quit smoking about 6 years ago. But I do it for them now and then. I light a cig or buy some good tobacco for my pipe. I inhale (of course whether I inhale or not depends, you don’t inhale when smoking a cigar for example) and I share it. I fight the cravings the day after. I never do it in the home because the smell will drive me crazy. I never touch tobacco, of any sort, except in ritual situations. It’s becoming more and more like a geas (or geis, but I like the Scottish spelling myself). As if I need another one. At least this one only makes me look odd once in a while, such as when the girls are digging through a box of herbs and hands me a bag of “incense” tobacco and I drop it, or quickly hand it off. Lame excuse: I quite smoking and I stay away from it now. But Juni, it’s not like smoking tobacco or cigarettes. Yes, but still … here take this.

 

*sigh*

 

At least the food related geas handed to me by the Big Guy can be passed of as a food allergy!

 

I’m starting to ramble a bit I think so I’ll get to the point. It’s fucking WORK people. Really real work. It amazes me how often a god or spirit taps on someone’s shoulder, gives them some tiny sign and they … do nothing. They sit around and wait for another tap, another sign. Then wonder why nothing is happening.

 

A large portion of the castings that I do with my collection are for people who want to know what they should do on their Path, which spirit(s) they should work with. The answer is almost always the same: Do the work, you haven’t done enough. Why yes, there is a god/spirit/ancestor who has an interest in you, but you haven’t earned anything more than that yet. Do the work, make the offerings, do you research. For a long while.

 

Most people I talk to give up a month or three after that first tap on the shoulder. But Juniper! I gave him/her/it offerings once a week for three whole months! That’s it? That’s all? My spirits demand at on offering every single fucking day kiddo. Or they won’t talk to me. That’s just for maintenance. If I want real help or real knowledge they want blood, sweat and tears on a regular basis.

 

I’m going to be an annoying egotistical bastard and quote myself:

“…There is no such thing as “good enough” in a spiritual practice, especially when that “good enough” means you did next to nothing at all. A spiritual Path is not supposed to be easy and the gods don’t like lazy people.

The gods, spirits and ancestors do not reward people who do not do the work to earn their respect. If you want to develop a relationship with the Otherworld and the Spirits of the Land you have to earn it. You cannot simply show up with your hand out expecting a prize, for no work, like a spoiled child.

… You cannot expect your ancestors, people who fought battles with swords, who pushed horse drawn plows, who would walk many miles to the yearly feast grounds, to give you long lost lore for nothing. What we must look like to them, we who are so spoiled and pampered that we whine and complain when the processional to the ritual is longer than 3 city blocks. How can you ask for their aid, protection or knowledge when you are willing to do little more than pour half a bottle of cheap whisky out to them once in a while?

The processional for the Eleusian Mysteries in ancient times took a whole day.”

 

I’ve spent the whole month of August and the first 10 days of September plying my spirits with food and drink and prayer and poetry and smoke. I gave them a whole room in the apartment to themselves. I lead a ritual for Lughnasadh for my ritual group and assisted a friend in a devotional and prosperity ritual before my own altar. I spent a good part of last night on my knees, my face pressed against the hardwood flooring.

 

In return, last night I was given a dream. I dreamed that I was in a lodge in the woods. There was a gathering of witches there. They formed a circle, sitting, standing, kneeling around it. My casting collection was scattered around the edge of the circle. They were trying to divine something. One witch made a valiant effort but in vain, the information did not come. They turned to me. They wanted me to try. I dug in my heels. I could do it but I didn’t want to do it in front of them. They’d all look at me like I’m crazy. It wouldn’t work if I did it in flowing elegance and perfect poetry. This isn’t Wicca, this isn’t Druidry. This isn’t even religion. It’s witchcraft.

 

I step towards the circle. I stomp and shuffle. I rock back and forth. I wave my arms around. I make guttural sounds. My eyes roll in my head. The witches look on as if I am crazy. I hear them whisper, is she faking? Is she putting on a show? Why is she being so weird? I rock even more, I stomp around. I am wild and unpredictable. I fall on the floor within the circle, on my back. One arm raised behind my head.

 

Suddenly my spirits are there. They show me a new technique for slipping out of my skin. I am not permitted to share it with you here. But it works. They show me twice to make sure I know it. Then they wake me up so that I will remember. My hard earned reward for the last 6 weeks of work, a gift. Precious. I look forward to many months, maybe years, of practice to get it right.

 

There are bruises on my knees. Blisters on my feet. Burns on my fingers. My house reeks of a dozen different kinds of incense, the lady upstairs makes a point of coughing in an annoyed manner every time she is in the stairwell. There is beer in the fridge that I will not drink, except a sip for sharing. I’m tired and my head feels like it is stuffed with cotton. I have to go to work today.

 

Welcome to walking the hedge, bitches.