The Possesion of Colours is not given to Everybody.
During the last millenium, Western Europeans sailed and trekked across sea and land, settling into new countries, cultivating societies resembling the ones they’d left behind; native peoples were regarded as savages, their societies and cultures were sometimes decimated and absorbed, themselves being killed, or enslaved & converted to European ways. Financial, industrial and population growth was based on the subjugation of people who lived close to the earth, in tradition as well as in situ.
Whilst the Impressionists exhibited their works of light in French salons, caves were being discovered in the south-west of the country down to northern Spain, which contained images of animals long gone from the fields of Europe; objects of ancient use were found alongside the images, leading to speculation that whoever left these tools in the caves possibly painted the pictures.
Other archeologists in the new countries discovered similar caves and whilst studying the lifestyles, customs and beliefs of surviving native peoples, published and made available information about ways of life removed from our own – as well as from others. These people have been considered as alien to ourselves, yet we couldn’t see that we were as they – as they lived, we have lived, albeit in a different country; they have thought as we have, spoken, eaten, slept, shat, died – as we….
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that within the collective unconcious,
there are basic psychological imprints within people throughout
the earth that produce similar thoughts & ideas which develop
according to cultural and environmental influences – we have
found out about ourselves by reason of finding out about others.
This essay focuses on a way of life that virtually non-existent
in the West; it’s about a way of living that is woven into
our psyche; it is about us, as we were and as we are. My information
has come from other people, from without & within.
The history of ancient Western Europeans was characterized by accumulation of experience with various cultures overlapping and inter-penetrating; these cultures appeared 35,000 years ago with evidence of a concern for art –male & female sexual images on stone, developing into animal engravings, sculptures and paintings alongside statuettes of women, “ Venus figurines”. Development of tools went hand in hand with the advancement of art with people skilled in flint working and implements being fashioned from bone. Cave decoration declined at the end of the Glacial period 8 – 10,000 years ago, with people beginning to erect stone megaliths thus creating ceremonial landscapes.
Art for ancient people also went hand in hand with religious & symbolic thought, primarily based around the hunt; killing an animal larger than themselves caused men to organize into groups of several people with tasks distributed to each member within a chain of command. As organized groups developed, techniques used transformed culture - knowledge of animals & observation of animal behaviour combined with terrain and climatic conditions caused language & communications to grow, enabling people to share experiences, gaining more knowledge and becoming more proficient hunters.
Hunters believed that animals were endowed with feelings & intelligence as themselves, possessing souls which survived the death of their bodies and so accorded respect, regarding them as on an equal footing; the act of killing an animal was viewed as murder and it was believed that the death of a creature exposed the hunters to vengeance either from it’s disembodied spirit or from others of the same species.
To guarantee their own safety, ceremonious respect was accorded
the spirits of those creatures either useful to themselves with
regard to the supply of meat, skin & bones, or formidable on
account of their size, strength and ferocity. Distinctions were
made – hunting and killing of valuable and dangerous animals
were subject to elaborate rules and ceremony, whilst less ferocious & leaner
creatures required less vigorous and demanding rites. Both hunters & fisherman
observed rules of abstinence and submitted themselves to ceremonies
of purification, based on fear of spirits of the beasts, birds
or fish they had killed or intended to kill.
The spirit of the hunt was linked to a collection of traditions and beliefs in which art played a major role in fuelling a magical/religious system, integrating technique and law governing the the relationship between man & nature; ancient peoples saw the world impregnated with religiosity, seeing themselves as two halves of one with the animals, co-existing on the same land.
Hunters saw behind the animals a spirit world that was part of the law; believing that they broke the law upon killing a beast, leaving themselves open to retribution from the animal spirit or from others of the same species, they subjected themselves to ritual observances – ceremonial purifications, offerings, prayers and taboos. Their hunting technique – handling of weapons, setting of traps, animal observation & behaviour was combined with magic and art; this combination gave hunters the power and force to carry out the kill whilst operating under a state of grace. It was also essential that everyone within & without the hunting party observed laws that were set down to ensure continued protection, as an error or breaking of a taboo by one person could bring about unfortunate consequences. Restrictions between families and especially couples were acutely observed as it was believed that what occurred in one place could influence events in another; in particular, when a hunting party was away, kinfolk were expected to do certain things and abstain from others for the safety & success of the party - sexual abstinence & purity was one such prohibition. Upon return of the hunters, propitiation rites were performed to re-establish the order and balance of nature, expressing sorrow & asking forgiveness from the spirits of the murdered animals.
This belief in sympathetic influence exerted on each other by persons or things at a distance is the essence of magic, which can divided into two parts; firstly, that like or effect resembles it’s cause , known as the Law of Similarity. Secondly, that objects which have been in contact with each other continue to act upon each other at a distance after physical contact has been disconnected, known as the Law of Contagion. From the law of similarity, the shaman believes that he can produce any effect he desires by merely imitating it; from the law of contagion, he believes that whatever he does to a physical object will equally affect the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not. Charms based on similarity are known as homeopathic or imitative; charms based on contagion or contact are called contagious; both these played a crucial essence in ceremonies undertaken by hunters & fisherman to secure an abundant supply of food – on the principle of like produces like, many things are done by people in deliberate imitation of the result they seek to achieve.
North American Indians believed that by drawing the figure or
outline of a person in sand, ashes or clay, or by considering any
as his body & piercing it with a sharp instrument, or by doing
any other injury to the image, they inflicted a corresponding wound
on the person or animal represented.
First & foremost, the artists of caves such as Lascaux, were hunters and their semi-nomadic existence amongst the animal herds had developed their powers of observation; they knew the beasts they hunted, their migrations, behaviour and strength. The stronger & more dangerous the beast, the more reverence they gave it, observing beliefs and codes to ensure successful kills; their paintings are a combination of this reverence, awe & fear, a depiction of their life force and a determination to kill a creature stronger & more powerful than themselves. Some of these animals that were hunted & eaten were portrayed, whilst other species were eaten but not depicted. Bison & aurochs were painted throughout the Ice Age, being frequently found in caves & sanctuaries, being given a central position in many friezes, though horses were the most frequently illustrated animal throughout the same period; deer, ibex, lions and bears were represented whilst other caves contained images of wooly mammoths and rhinoceros.
These artists were well prepared in a highly skilled movement of labour; they provided everything they needed beforehand into bags of animal skins – supplies of fat for the lamps, spare wicks & moss with lichens & twigs for re-lighting; flints for engraving, brushes, sticks of colour; ropes made from vegetable fibre were produced whilst food & water were taken as well, as the painters would venture over a mile into the cave, sometimes alone.
Painting materials were stockpiled in various parts of the cave; the paint itself was sometimes brought miles away from the campsite, being washed, ground down & mixed with water to obtain emulsions. Ochres were heated at different temperatures to obtain different shades; black was obtained from manganese and charcoal; red was extracted from haematite, supplies of flint for engraving were also brought to the cave, some glued to wooden handles; brushes were made from hair & bristle, again glued to wood; dabbers were fashioned from fur, bones hollowed and used for spraying; stencils for masking cut from skins and bark; palettes & lamps made from limestone, having been hollowed out or having their bases smoothed down, onto which animal fat was burnt; wooden poles for scaffolding were erected where needed to reach high parts of the cave.
The paintings & engravings at Lascaux were completed in the cave, with most of the images put onto panels of coarse white calcite, it’s texture resembling a cauliflower, absorbing & preserving the applied emulsions. The engravings & engraved paintings were put onto bare limestone rock with irregular formations giving natural frames for specific paintings, as well as creating 3-D anatomical features of the beast depicted. Images were deliberately placed so they were seen by people as they walked forward through the dark, lit up by the hand-held tallow lamps.
This defiance and penetration of the dark unknown is centred around the original idea of an ordeal- a return to origins in the maternal womb of the earth, a consultation with spirits of animal-gods on which survival depended. The idea to enter the landscape – and mindscape – to travel along subterranean passages, disorientated by darkness, the constant weaving & winding, balancing the supplies as well as a small lamp, senses heightened with awe and fear, possibly aided with narcotics- all these factors amalgamated into expectation of the task to come; whatever image was imparted at a designated area , whatever truth or observation was realised, this information was imprinted deep within the psyche of the hunter/artists, and became an integral belief, an indelible element of human thought, placed somewhere between conviction & instinct, fused by rites & painted images within individuals, to emerge from caves to hunt, kill and ensure survival and continuation.
Maintained and Hosted by Fish.Net