Ancient Animal Envoys From Caves And Cosmos

Ancient Origins Iraq tour

Great Hall of the Bulls, 15,000–13,000 BC, Paleolithic rock painting, Lascaux, France

Ancient Animal Envoys From Caves And Cosmos

“The animal envoys of the Unseen Power no longer serve, as in primeval times, to teach and guide mankind. Bears, lions, elephants, ibexes and gazelles are in cages in our zoos. Man is no longer the newcomer in a world of unexplored plains and forests, and our immediate neighbors are not the wild beasts but other human beings, contending for goods and space on a planet that is whirling without end around the fireball of a star. Neither in body nor in mind do we inhabit the world of those hunting races of the Paleolithic millennia, to whose lives and life ways we nevertheless owe the very forms of our bodies and structures of our minds. Memories of their animal envoys still must sleep, somehow, within us; for they wake a little and stir when we venture into wilderness. They wake in terror to thunder. And again, they wake, with a sense of recognition, when we enter any one of those great painted caves. Whatever the inward darkness may have been to which the shamans of those caves descended in their trances, the same must lie within ourselves, nightly visited in sleep.” (Joseph Campbell in The Way of the Animal Powers).

Exploring the Paleolithic Cathedrals ( Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock)

Exploring the Paleolithic Cathedrals ( Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock)

Paleolithic Cathedrals: The Caves

To enter a great cave is to enter another world. Nowadays most people cross such thresholds in guided groups, walking on manufactured paths while traversing shored-up passageways lit by strings of electric lights. In ancient times the journey was quite different. The underworld cathedrals of Paleolithic times were dark, dangerous, dank, and depressing. There were no enlarged, government-inspected, certified passageways. The ancients had to crawl through small openings carrying torches or some other light source, fully aware that if it went out, leaving them in darkness so profound they could not even see their hand in front of their face, they would probably die there. The sharp, ragged rocks scraped their backs and knees, and unfathomable drop-offs opened up suddenly before them at every turn. They risked their lives and sanity every time. Who would do such a thing? As it turns out, artists did. Again, and again. For thousands of years.

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