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The Spiritual Life of Paleolithic Hunters

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SECTION 1
Le Trois Freres

SECTION 2
Lascaux 

SECTION 3
Puberty Rites

 

 

1

Le Trois Freres

Human beings have been cultivating a spiritual relationship with nature for thousands of years. In 1914 a cave was discovered in southern France. It has a long, low, narrow passageway that ends in a giant hall covered with pictures of animals that lived in Europe 12,000 years ago: there are mammoths, leaping bulls, stags, woolly ponies, and bison. Many spears are depicted flying towards these prehistoric beasts.

Overlooking this tableau issorcerer.jpg (18107 bytes) a 2 1/2-foot-high being that is half-human and half-animal. This sorcerer is one of the most striking images in all prehistoric art. He is the Animal Master, the one who controls the hunt and the multiplication of game. This mythic being has the full beard and dancing legs of a man, the antlers and pricked ears of a stag, the paws and sex organ of a lion.

This underground cathedral, now called Les Trois Freres, was used for thousands of years as a place of transformation and rebirth. Apparently rituals took place here which were analogous to the Christian Eucharist. The purpose was to increasing the game while meditating about the mystical relationship between humans and their natural environment.

It appears that beasts were considered to be willing participants in a sacrificial act bound by a covenant. Joseph Campbell has suggested that these primordial hunters were coming to terms with the strangeness of a world in which one must kill in order to live. Guilty consciences probably had developed when they saw the animals they had killed come back in their dreams, apparently for revenge. In order to prevent this, covenants were made. A mythology emerged in which the beasts would willingly submit themselves to being killed if--and only if--proper protocol was followed. Hunters had to engage with the spirits of the game in rituals, thinking as the animals thought, honoring their gods, thanking the animals for their sacrifice, singing their songs, and dancing their dances. If this was done properly and if meat and skin were taken reverently while not violating the souls of the animals, the Animal Master would take the souls of the slain back to the dark womb of Mother Nature where they could be regenerated.

 

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