Art is intended to guide society. Our early development as a species was principally based upon art, language and imagination. To our ancestors there would have been no barrier between the real and the imagined.
In the first place ‘Art’ was our sacred science, and the guiding force of culture…
Let me explain….
Cave paintings are some of the oldest forms of art in the world. There are many beliefs as to what they represent; including ideas about hunting and ceremonial rites, to the depiction of contact with extraterrestrial species. However, I have had many remarkable experiences with cave paintings, megaliths and petroglyphs, and this has led me to a conclusion regarding the practical nature of these early means of communication.
While man was developing the power of speech and self-reflection – along side there would have been the development of a stronger need to communicate through other forms such as drumming. It is perfectly possible that cave painting developed out of verbalization
The early experience of man was ‘Band’ culture. This is the form of society that existed before tribal societies grew up. From the beginning these societies were hunter-gatherers, but primarily they would have been nomadic in nature. With the need to hunt comes the need to move around with your prey. In north-west Europe – it is a widely documented fact, that the tribes of the British Isles, had very pronounced migration routes. In particular between Ireland, the north of England and Scotland – the Picts, Celts and the Scots, occupying various different regions throughout history. The prehistory of Britain would likely have been no different. This idea of migration can be extended throughout Europe. During the period just after the building of Stonehenge, for instance it is documented that a culture arose of itinerant Magi. Travelling around Europe with brass conical hats (much like wizards hats) these druids, possessed information regarding the movement of the heavens – knowledge which prior to this point would have been built inherently into the megalithic structures. These events happened upon the entering of the agrarian age, where for the first time societies were focusing more on growing crops and as such had the need to settle in one place for the first time. Prior to this the tribes of north west europe would have been no strangers to migration. The megalithic structures that were built before this time were generally aligned with stars. In fact most ancient monuments have some connection with the heavens. But whatever the nature of the knowledge these Structures were a means of relaying information – art represented a means of communication. But communicating what exactly?
In the first place – the very earliest form of art were handprints on cave walls. These were dated to some 40,000 years ago. Hand stencils have been found in various parts of the world from, Timpuseng cave Sulawesi, Indonesia to Cueva de las Manos located Perito Moreno, Argentina. The earliest known cave paintings/drawings of animals were at least 35,000 years old, these too found in caves in the district of Maros, located in Bantimurung district, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The earliest figurative paintings in Europe date back to the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, and are found in the Chauvet Cave in France, and in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania.
There are also similar later paintings in Africa, Australia and South America, continuing until recent times in some places. There is a tendency worldwide for open air rock art to supersede deep cave paintings.
However these hand stencils, were more than just a means of self-reflection and self-identification. Rather they were a means of identifying yourself to others. They were a signature to allow others to know who had been present at a specific place at a specific time. People who knew you, would have also know your handprint, and from this your whereabouts. Keeping track of each others movements in this early age would have been of vital importance. This information could have been mapped by leaving these markings. Also the movements and quantity of availability of game – marked in codes known only to the other members of the tribe. This would account for animal depictions seen in some of the earliest paintings.
To some extent there would have been a link to the spiritual side of the existence for the tribe. In as much as these stencils and paintings were a description of their outer world – they would have undoubtedly been also a representation of the inner world. Perhaps visions of prey, hunting and actual places or event were depicted as the same reality. For our ancestors there was little or no separation from the spirit; very different from our postmodernist approach of seeing spiritual practice as something separate from the rest of your life. Early man would have lived in accordance with the spirit – an existence uncorrupted and undivided by the passage of time.
So knowing where your friends family and allies were – would been an essential strategy for survival. I have no doubt – that this ritual became quite a developed science and subsequently an “art”, to the people of the Neolithic period. It would have developed alongside the growth and development of their civilisation. Bringing in more elements of ritualistic practice into sacred space. Making it more a representation of the abstract rather than the physical world. The need to map the outer world becoming less important over time as the balance tipped towards the metaphysical, as man’s success was assured.
But for the early ancestors looking to the stars for guidance – was also a cause and inspiration for how they decorated their world – perhaps they imagined messages from the gods written into the code of the celestial bodies and mapped the heavens as a direct guidance for their well-being and development too.
~ Toltec Warrior
The western system is flawed; we are beginning to see evidence of a total system crash from economics to social unrest; with the developed world imploding in on itself. The world has finite resources and yet materialism demands production that cannot be sustained – blundering on at the risk of a complete environmental breakdown. Man works best in the tribal system. From the very beginning man formed into small tribal groups or bands and settled for this for a very long time. These tribal and clan systems grew up out of the need to organize in order to survive and from this developed into the indigenous systems we hear of today.
The people of the indigenous system, follow the shaman, in regard to their spiritual well-being. He recognizes everything is an illusion. This, in turn, means nothing is of importance. Even the suffering of his fellow-man is not his concern unless he chooses to make it so. The shaman in connection with his ancestral spirit knows that those he needs concern for are the people of his tribe. He is the one who guides, heals and protects the tribe from external forces. In this western world, however, we are separated from our tribe and tribal nature. And instead, our tribal ‘urges’ are tapped and suppressed with such activities as supporting your local football team or other artificial enticements (too numerous to name). The world in which we live is divided, each ‘individual’ supporting his own interests, be it his team, political party, or whatever.
Often people say, it is important to know your roots – to know where you come from. This generally means knowing what region your name originates from or something about your hometown or country. But to truly understand ‘who you are’, I would suggest takes dedication and discipline. In order to understand yourself, you must have some idea of the processes which lead to this present moment. In this modern age, we are mostly cut off from the past; cast adrift in the dark seas of awareness.
In past ages, man knew who he was by being aware of the hereditary lineage he was a part of. The ancestors were present. They could either be asked for advice or even sort for as guides. Knowledge would be passed down by word of mouth through stories and other means of transmission such as song or dance. Nothing was written – instead, the oral tradition kept knowledge alive. With the advent of religion, there was an inevitable fall into reason; a need to construct a means of organization and things were written down for the first time. Once something is written it ceases being known in the sense of ‘Lore’, and instead becomes ‘law’. When knowledge is acquired in the first place it has the capacity to be enlarged upon, developed to gain further understanding – to evolve! But once it is written it loses this ability.
Once religion took hold it was an obvious means of control for those who would wish to subvert the message. We arrive at the point today, where religion is empty and the rituals and ceremony reflect nothing of the true spirit of what early man ‘saw’ but are hollow gestures. If you go to any Anglican ‘high church’ service or maybe Catholic mass, you will see that all the pomp and ceremony is nothing but a reflection of the self-importance that it represents. The spirit I believe lost interest in religion a long time ago…
Religion is now the domain of man and his fruitless desires. Science has come along to de-construct the universe and while it still seeks knowledge, it does so in total isolation from the pressing issues troubling the planet. Religion and science while seeming to be avowed enemies, are in reality two halves of the same device. It is like the two-party state. The acquisition of knowledge has been divided into two camps: the first believing that everything is unfathomable mystery and nothing can be understood, while the other believes everything will someday succumb to its inquiry. Both are wrong and this duality causes only separation from the meaning of existence.
At this eleventh hour recognizing our tribal nature is of vital importance. The Ancestral spirit is what connects us to the past, brings us into relationship with the present and maps a way to the future. At this time more than ever man needs to remember his ancestral nature, in order to return to the spirit and to save the planet from annihilation.
The shaman is by no means the chief of the tribe. He is the one who is somewhat removed, even commonly living separately from the rest of the community. This person has the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the group. Shamans are intermediaries between the human world and that of the spirits. Shamans treat individuals by healing the soul, alleviating traumas and removing foreign bodies that afflict the spirit and restoring the physical body to balance and well-being. Shamans may visit other worlds or dimensions to obtain guidance from the spirits, bringing back information that will benefit the whole community.
“Shamanism is really applied animism, or animism in practice. Because Nature is alive with gods and spirits, because all aspects of the cosmos are perceived as interconnected – the universe consisting of a veritable network of energies, forms, and vibrations – the shaman is required as an intermediary between the different planes of being….
…We can define shamanism as a person who is able to perceive this world of souls, spirits, and gods, and who, in a state of ecstatic trance, is able to travel amongst them, gaining special knowledge of the supernatural realm. He or she is ever alert to the intrinsic perils of human existence, of the magic forces which lie waiting to trap the unwary, or which give rise to disease, famine or misfortune. But the shaman also takes the role of an active intermediary – a negotiator in both directions. As American anthropologist, Joan Halifax points out: ‘Only the shaman is able to behave as both a god and a human. The shaman then is an interspecies being, as well as a channel for the gods. He or she affects the interpretation of the diverse realms.'”
Shamans are called to their vocation in differing ways. For some, it is a matter of ancestral lineage or hereditary bonds which bring them into the position to seek initiation from an already established shaman. In other cases, it would seem that the spirits rather choose the shaman. To begin with, as children or young adults, shamans are often of a nervous disposition and may be strangely withdrawn from society. Anthropologist Ralph Linton is quoted as saying: “The shaman as a child usually shows marked introvert tendencies. When the inclinations become manifest they are encouraged by society. The budding shaman often wanders off and spends a long time by himself. He is rather anti-social in his attitudes and is frequently seized by mysterious illnesses of one sort or another”.
The Cukchee peoples of Siberia believe that a future shaman can be recognized by ‘the look in the eyes’ which are not directed towards a listener during a conversation but seemed fixed on something beyond. The eyes also have a strange quality of light, a peculiar brightness which allows them to see the spirits and those things hidden from the ordinary person. Waldemar Bogoras, who studied the Chukchee at first hand, provides a context for this occurrence: “The shamanistic call may come during some great misfortune, dangerous and protracted illness, sudden loss of family or property. Then the person, having no other services, turns to the spirits and claims their assistance.”
With the concept of the vocation of the shaman being born out of trial and crisis, a natural comparison can be drawn from the experience of the shaman compared to that of a Schizophrenic. The parallels between shaman and schizophrenic are obvious, and it is the view of Julian Silverman, a leading proponent of this theory that suggests the difference between the Schizophrenic and the Shaman is that in some way the Shaman is sanctioned by the community; ‘institutionally supported’ whereas the condition of the Schizophrenic is seen as an aberration. A description of Schizophrenia makes clear the striking similarity between the two cases: “The experience which the patient undergoes is of the most awesome, universal character; he seems to be living in the midst of struggle between personified cosmic forces of good and evil, surrounded by animistic enlivened natural objects which are engaged in ominous performances that it is terribly necessary – and impossible – to understand.” The clear distinction between the shaman and the schizophrenic however seems to be that although they both share the same ability to move between different states of consciousness, the shaman is able to integrate these states into his role within the community and as such is able to bring this ability under control.
Mircea Eliade a scholar of comparative religion is quoted as saying: “The primitive magician, the medicine man, or the shaman is not only a sick man; he is, above all, a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself. Often when the shaman’s or medicine man’s vocation is revealed through an illness or epileptoid attack, the initiation of the candidate is equivalent to a cure.” Eliade also goes on to say in his book ‘Birth and rebirth’: “The shamans and the mystics of primitive societies are considered – and rightly – to be superior beings; their magico-religious powers also find expression in an extension of their mental capabilities. The shaman is the man who knows and remembers, that is, who understands the mysteries of life and death.”
Ancient man came together in tribal social groups. ‘Tribe’ is described by theorists as representative of a stage in social evolution intermediate between bands and states. A Band society being the simplest form of human society. Tribalism had a very adaptive effect on human evolution as humans are social animals, and ill-equipped to live on their own. Neolithic man gathered himself into these small groups to provide himself with the greatest opportunities for survival. Through anthropology, we know these ancient societies are the basis for the modern indigenous shamanic cultures of today. The means by which a successful hunt was achieved was through the shaman who would enter into states of non-ordinary reality/states of ecstasy, in order to deliver information to the tribe about the hunt from omens gained from the spirit world. The hunt was of utmost importance to Neolithic man living in these tribal/shamanic societies and cave paintings are an early example of a means by which the shaman could present these omens in a practical pictorial form to the rest of the tribe. The shaman is then the ancient of EVOLUTION, he is the catalyst to our early development. He is the one who saw us through these difficult times and enabled man to grow and develop. In a sense the foundation of modern culture itself. Had we not survived these harder times there would be no civilization to this day.
There is a genetic predisposition for both the calling of the shaman and the schizophrenic – two sides of the same coin if you like. People with mental illnesses are renowned for their artistic ability, it almost seen in some cases as their only redeeming factor. There are examples of success stories where mental illness is concerned. Generally in cases where the person seems to have ‘found their niche’ – the mental illness is deemed controlled and it can even seem to be of benefit to the community, if not the sufferer. Like for instance the case of perhaps an executive with bipolar disorder who for at least a period is able to make incredibly courageous decisions that benefit the company. Think also of the many artists who have suffered mental illness, Van Gogh is an obvious example. Surely a throwback to a time when the creation of art would have been an absolute necessity for the survival and guidance of the group. Art is fundamentally a means of pushing back the barriers of reality – a way of exploring the world and the universe. It is a means of communicating the very nature of reality and by pointing out its flaws a means of correction of culture and civilization. Modern art still performs the function of informing and enriching society, perhaps now in a more sophisticated way but still the purpose to heal the community in some way in these abundant times as well; as it was in the beginning with early man.
Modern man has the same dispositions as he always had namely:- the same instincts for survival, the same genetic makeup and the same needs and requirements for living on the planet. People with mental health disorders especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, I believe are those who possess this same genetic disposition to altered states of consciousness that were so beneficial to early man. They are the link to our past and the spirit yet they are diagnosed as unwell, locked up in mental institutions, and medicated being shunned by society. It was this very connection with the spirit that was established by such people who enabled us to survive ice ages, cross the ice floes and allowed civilization to flourish as it has. What a difference from the role of the shaman in a tribal society where they are still revered and esteemed – The Catalyst of our Evolution is being rejected.
Most aspects of human biology involve both genetic (inherited) and non-genetic environmental) factors. The mapping the human genome has allowed an exploration of subtle genetic influences on many common diseases. Schizophrenia is one of those illnesses that has been investigated as having the possible genetic cause. It is suggested that schizophrenia is a condition of complex inheritance, with many potential genes each of which has a small effect, with different pathways for different individuals. Due to difficulties of diagnosis and the complex nature of the condition, involving many genetic and environmental factors, there is some disagreement in particular cases whether it can be termed a genetic disorder. Some have suggested that several genetic and other risk factors need to be present before a person becomes affected but this is still uncertain. Schizophrenia is identified by abnormalities in the perception or expression of reality. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction. The onset of symptoms typically occurs in young adulthood, with around 0.4-0.6% of the population affected. Diagnosis is based on the patient’s self-reported experiences and observed behavior. No laboratory test for schizophrenia currently exists.