In search of the Palaeo shaman

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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In search of the Palaeo shaman

Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 1:47 am

Beags said that he regretted that we'd never had a thread on what or who the palaeo shaman was, given his importance in the lives of those we are studying, so I'm starting that thread now.

It will be very difficult to find absolute proof of the palaeo shaman from an archaeological point of view because what singled him out from others will not be (and was never) materially evident.

But we can examine Palaeo artistic expression (both paintings and megaliths) as well as mythology for traces of shamanistic themes - and later on, we can trace how these these themes could have found their way into the art and architecture as shown at Neolithic sites like Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe.

There are also artifacts that we can look out for, and post them here, when and if they arise. Although the indigenous shaman's journey was an inner, spiritual one, it usually took the form of some kind of outer, theatrical experience with the shaman using a tree or pole or ladder to reach the upper world.

The Vedic shamans would use the branch of an ash tree which they cut with eight notches. These represented the seven worlds that they would have to climb through, and the eighth one was the destination. The Sanskrit word for eight is ash, and so given that names for trees are among the oldest words we have, this is probably where the name of the ash tree comes from. Interestingly, the Canaanite Asherah temples would be flanked by two trees, leading to the erroneous conclusion, in my view, that Asherah was a tree goddess.

So anything that resembles a ladder or a pole or a tree with someone climbing up it would constitute an interesting piece of evidence. Some of you also may have seen the World Tree, and this is also a shamanic symbol with its roots going down into the earth. The shaman would sometimes follow these roots to descend into the lower world.

In mythology, the shaman's journey to the upper world was often depicted as a flight, and so artifacts showing shamans flying through the air on horses or eagles (common in later sacred art) could also be considered of interest. (This is where witches on broomsticks comes from).

One of the most common motifs of the shaman is the drum - most shamans went into a trance by the aid of a drum. For the Neolithic, there is a painting at Catalhoyuk that some believe shows how hunting was included in shamanic ritual. Although it is of a hunting scene depicting some hunters with bows and arrows, there are also others dancing and another playing a drum.

George Thompson, in his abstract to Witzel's paper on the Rig-vedic shaman, talks about a cylinder seal showing someone playing a drum, but I've been unable to find it so far and, anyway, it would be too late for these purposes.

We can also look at mythology to find evidence of the shaman. The three worlds that he crosses provide the cosmological background of all myths -from Norse to Sumerian, Canaanite to African, Indian to Egyptian and so on. Thus the three worlds were not an added on extra - they were the staging and the scenery for the plot to unfold - thus illustrating Beagle's point about the importance of the shaman in this society.

It's impossible to date these myths, as they are thought to have been transmitted orally long before they were ever written down. So the oldest written myth we have is the (c. 3,000 BC) Babylonian Descent of Ishtar, and it's about her journey into the Underworld. She has to go through seven gatekeepers (there's that seven again) and lose a piece of her clothing at each gate. This is where the Dance of the Seven Veils comes from. So anything with seven will be of interest.

Anyway, I don't expect this to be ever something that we can solve conclusively. But at least we will have a thread where we can bring any evidence that we find, should we find it, that the Palaeo shaman really did exist.
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Postby Manystones » Sat May 10, 2008 3:01 am

I thought this crap had already been kicked off this forum.

It will be very difficult to find absolute proof of the palaeo shaman from an archaeological point of view because what singled him out from others will not be (and was never) materially evident.


How convenient to your pet theory.

But we can examine Palaeo artistic expression (both paintings and megaliths) as well as mythology for traces of shamanistic themes - and later on, we can trace how these these themes could have found their way into the art and architecture as shown at Neolithic sites like Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe.


What traces are you interpretating as shamanic now Ishtar?

Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe are not Palaeolithic.

I'll be checking back to see what "evidence" is forthcoming... I fully expect it will be suspect.
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 3:21 am

Oh, and I almost forgot. I never thought I'd find myself saying this but Michael Witzel's work, tracing the linguistic breadcrumb trail of ceremonial language used by shamans through from Central Asia to the Indus valley culture may also be of some use to us here.

I've never agreed with his 'proof' about the direction of his breadcrumb trail, but that there is one, going one way or another, is fairly evident.

Anyway, language apart, Witzel has also traced a Rig-vedic shamanic motif through to Central Asia and Siberia, that of the horse sacrifice. So once again, something else to look out for.

He also traces Indra, the main god of the Rig-veda, through into some central Asian countries - and apart from Thompson deciding that Indra had an Oedipus complex, which completely cracked me up! - I think they have made some good points.

I'm posting the link again to George Thompson's abstract of Witzel's paper:

http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:-T ... cd=3&gl=uk
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Postby Beagle » Sat May 10, 2008 3:54 am

Beags said that he regretted that we'd never had a thread on what or who the palaeo shaman was, given his importance in the lives of those we are studying, so I'm starting that thread now.


Ishtar - you're using a statement of mine to interject your New Age mysticism on this forum again. You are being relentlessly manipulative and provacative. You know by now that most members here do not agree with your thoughts. So...I think you are being deliberately inflammatory.

I am not going to participate in this thread, and I hope others ignore you as well. I really believe that is our best defense against this trolling behavior.

You don't seem able to take a hint. My wish, as I am busy today, and tomorrow is Mothers Day, is that this thread suffers the same fate as the other so-called shaman threads and is sent to the other forum. But...that's not my decision.

Please quit causing trouble, even though it's apparent that you like it.
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 4:18 am

I'm sorry you see it that way, Beags. But I promise you, I have no wish to cause trouble or to be inflammatory and am surprised you see it in that way.

You expressed a view - also held by me - that we should be exploring the role of the Palaeo shaman. So it is natural that I would start that thread today.

All the content of both my posts in this thread have been entirely about the shamans in the past, and there is not one allusion to what you call New Age.

On a screenful of about 16 threads, my views are only in two of them. So that's hardly trolling. And thus there is plenty of variety here on this forum for those who are not interested in this topic. But they are no means in the majority, as you imply. There are just a handful of you that don't want to discuss this.

So far, there are nearly 40 views of this thread, and I also get PMs from people who are interested but won't come on here because of what they deem as a reactionary prevailing attitude. One of them even asked me how much longer I'm going to put up with the Grumpy Old Mens' Club.

So if this thread is moved, I think it will amount to censorship because of the views of a minority. I don't think the mods will be so easily swayed.
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Postby Beagle » Sat May 10, 2008 4:26 am

So far, there are nearly 40 views of this thread, and I also get PMs from people who are interested but won't come out here because of what they deem as reactionary prevailing attitude. One of them even asked me how long I'm going to put up with the Grumpy Old Mens' Club.



If you research the old threads here, you'll realize that these are the exact same lines that we got from Marduk.
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Postby Beagle » Sat May 10, 2008 4:32 am

So if this thread is moved, I think it will amount to censorship because of the views of a minority.


Quick word of advice, I wouldn't be telling Michelle what to think. :lol:
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 5:45 am

Beags, far from telling the 'board elders' what to think, I had a conversation with one of them last weekend about doing this very thread. I was encouraged to post ... but I forgot about it until you mentioned it yesterday.

We need a mix of views on the forum. If just the views of a few posters are allowed to dominate every single topic on this board, what sort of place will it be?

So why can't you just live and let live? Why do you see it as 'trouble' if someone with different views to you posts on a subject that is creditably archaeologically related, and on a topic you said yourself, only yesterday, that you'd like to see on this board?

Otherwise, I'm afraid it's little short of bullying.
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Postby Manystones » Sat May 10, 2008 5:59 am

Here's a quote I picked up on another forum about the book "inside the neolithic mind" by D (eluded) Lewis-Williams.

In this new book about the Neolithic mind, he concentrates on the links between altered states of consciousness, religious behaviours and various artistic manifestations, including megalithic monuments. He studies lots of purely symbolic, non figurative decorations found on the rocks used to build various megalithic monuments. This analysis is completely based upon a neurological explanation of altered states of consciousness leading to geometric shapes: zigzagging lines, spirals, concentric circles, etc.

He leaves completely out of his research all the other forms of art as well as other potential explanations for the Neolithic culture. Leaving in the dark all the very rich symbolic and figurative story telling rock art which was pervasive all along the Neolithic period and throughout the world. An art which in contrast with the Palaeolithic one contains lots of human representations. The book doesn't either address the astonishing change in style between the very "naturalistic" animal representations during the whole period going from the Aurignacian through to the Magdalenian and the much simpler "stickmen" technique used to represent animals and humans during the Neolithic.


Although I don't agree with all the views expressed it does illustrative the selective use of evidence by LW to support the view that Neolithic art is in the large part influenced by Shamanism.
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 6:37 am

And just to provide some balance, this is a not entirely uncritical but largely favourable review of the Inside the Neolithic Mind on American Scientist Online from Brian Hayden, professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia

http://www.americanscientist.org/templa ... _6b44KNboe

This is a very enjoyable book on Neolithic religion. The authors pepper the pages with fascinating vignettes on archaeological discovery and the history of human thought and consciousness (for example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ideas about human nature and the innate religious notions of people are touched on). These asides render many parts of the book eminently readable. However, I must emphasize at the outset that the authors sometimes endorse cognitive interpretations that are quite different from the more economic and practical interpretations that I generally favour. Nevertheless, I fully concur with their basic premise that the physical structure of the human mind creates specific kinds of images (or ways of viewing the world) under altered states of consciousness and that it is individual cultures that determine what aspects (if any) of the altered states and their associated images to recognize.

Lewis-Williams has been developing and refining this approach over the past two decades. However, Lewis-Williams and Pearce break some new ground in this volume, with mixed success. I find it completely plausible, for example, that the non figurative patterns (dots, zigzags, vortices and others) that occur as motifs in art and on monuments are images that people in a sensory-deprived (or otherwise altered) state of mind see when their eyes are closed—effects of the central nervous system. It is also plausible that Neolithic artists were influenced by feeling they were being drawn into a vortex when changing from one state of consciousness to another, as has been frequently reported by people who have had near-death experiences. But Lewis-Williams and Pearce are less convincing when they try to relate the conception of the world as a tiered cosmos (featuring an upper world, a middle earth and a lower world) to the neural structure of the brain. Although I agree entirely that the tiered-cosmos concept is extremely widespread, especially in less complex societies, and was almost assuredly part of the Neolithic worldview, the reasons for the concept being so common are not entirely clear, especially from a neurological perspective.

I also agree that altered states of consciousness (and manipulations of them by political elites) were central characteristics of Neolithic religion. The arguments that certain Neolithic tombs constituted models of the cosmos, with their passageways and vaulted chambers serving as symbolic vortices or portals between the common world, the underworld and the celestial world, all seem reasonable and are well supported by their architecture, art and burial remains. Like a number of other researchers, I endorse the notion that ancient people associated their elite dead with the Sun (after appropriate rituals and expensive sacrifices), which is well exemplified ethnographically today by groups such as the Torajans of Sulawesi. The role that Lewis-Williams and Pearce postulate for the Earth, the Sun and the Moon and their relation to the dead in Neolithic cosmology seems entirely reasonable. These are some of the new and very useful contributions of Inside the Neolithic Mind.


However, it should be emphasised that this thread is about whether there is evidence for the Paleo shaman and not the Neolithic one.
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Postby Manystones » Sat May 10, 2008 6:54 am

Ishtar wrote:However, it should be emphasised that this thread is about whether there is evidence for the Paleo shaman and not the Neolithic one.


Even though you talk as if the two are interchangeable and provided the examples of Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe which are both Neolithic.
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 6:55 am

And just to provide some balance, this is a not entirely uncritical but largely favourable review of the Inside the Neolithic Mind on American Scientist Online from Brian Hayden, professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia

http://www.americanscientist.org/templa ... _6b44KNboe

This is a very enjoyable book on Neolithic religion. The authors pepper the pages with fascinating vignettes on archaeological discovery and the history of human thought and consciousness (for example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ideas about human nature and the innate religious notions of people are touched on). These asides render many parts of the book eminently readable. However, I must emphasize at the outset that the authors sometimes endorse cognitive interpretations that are quite different from the more economic and practical interpretations that I generally favour. Nevertheless, I fully concur with their basic premise that the physical structure of the human mind creates specific kinds of images (or ways of viewing the world) under altered states of consciousness and that it is individual cultures that determine what aspects (if any) of the altered states and their associated images to recognize.

Lewis-Williams has been developing and refining this approach over the past two decades. However, Lewis-Williams and Pearce break some new ground in this volume, with mixed success. I find it completely plausible, for example, that the non figurative patterns (dots, zigzags, vortices and others) that occur as motifs in art and on monuments are images that people in a sensory-deprived (or otherwise altered) state of mind see when their eyes are closed—effects of the central nervous system. It is also plausible that Neolithic artists were influenced by feeling they were being drawn into a vortex when changing from one state of consciousness to another, as has been frequently reported by people who have had near-death experiences. But Lewis-Williams and Pearce are less convincing when they try to relate the conception of the world as a tiered cosmos (featuring an upper world, a middle earth and a lower world) to the neural structure of the brain. Although I agree entirely that the tiered-cosmos concept is extremely widespread, especially in less complex societies, and was almost assuredly part of the Neolithic worldview, the reasons for the concept being so common are not entirely clear, especially from a neurological perspective.

I also agree that altered states of consciousness (and manipulations of them by political elites) were central characteristics of Neolithic religion. The arguments that certain Neolithic tombs constituted models of the cosmos, with their passageways and vaulted chambers serving as symbolic vortices or portals between the common world, the underworld and the celestial world, all seem reasonable and are well supported by their architecture, art and burial remains. Like a number of other researchers, I endorse the notion that ancient people associated their elite dead with the Sun (after appropriate rituals and expensive sacrifices), which is well exemplified ethnographically today by groups such as the Torajans of Sulawesi. The role that Lewis-Williams and Pearce postulate for the Earth, the Sun and the Moon and their relation to the dead in Neolithic cosmology seems entirely reasonable. These are some of the new and very useful contributions of Inside the Neolithic Mind.


However, it should be emphasised that this thread is about whether there is evidence for the Paleo shaman and not the Neolithic one. I also don't want to step into the Lewis Williams versus Hodgson/Bednarik row in this thread, so I won't be bringing phosphene art into it.
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Postby Manystones » Sat May 10, 2008 6:57 am

Ishtar wrote:However, it should be emphasised that this thread is about whether there is evidence for the Paleo shaman and not the Neolithic one.


Even though you talk as if the two are interchangeable and provided the examples of Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe which are both Neolithic.
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Postby Ishtar » Sat May 10, 2008 7:01 am

Manystones

Here's what I said:


But we can examine Palaeo artistic expression (both paintings and megaliths) as well as mythology for traces of shamanistic themes - and later on, we can trace how these these themes could have found their way into the art and architecture as shown at Neolithic sites like Catalhoyuk and Gobekli Tepe.


Do try to keep up! :wink:
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Postby Manystones » Sat May 10, 2008 7:10 am

Please continue and explain where we can trace them from - I am so excited!!
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