Shamanism: Cave Paintings Essay

Submitted By kmwasilewski
Words: 1455
Pages: 6

The practice of shamanism is quite difficult to put into words because it covers such a wide range of practices and broad spectrum of cultures and societies. It can be described as "a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world"(Hoppal). It easy to be dismissive of such things; however, it is important to note that it is not one single culture or "primitive" society that engages in such practices. These practices reach across the the globe and through time as people perform not just the same rituals that their father or even their father's father did but that of their ancestors, and people have been doing this for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is in this light that the importance of such practices illuminates. A shaman is understood to be "one who goes into an altered state of consciousness at will," and while in this altered state, "he or she makes a conscious choice to journey to another reality, a reality which is outside of time and space" (Birch). These people are believed to be transcending reality into another realm of existence that aids people, guiding them through life and teaching them about the great mystery that it is. Although the term "shaman" is of uncertain origin, it is often traced to the language of the Tungus reindeer herders of Siberia where the word "saman" translates into "one who is excited, moved, or raised" (Casanowicz; Lewis). The term now is stigmatized, often associated with drug use, but this is incorrect. While the shaman may make use of entheogenic substances, it only represents a small facet of these practices that cover a broad range of rituals, some of which are so subtle that nothing seemingly takes place while others happen in every yoga studio in the country. Shamans often perform a variety of tasks for their community, including, healing, communication with the deceased, the leading of rituals, fortune-telling, and meditation with the spirit and animal worlds. While taking on these roles a shaman will often enter an altered state of consciousness, using various methods to reach that state. These include ingesting entheogenic substances, chanting, dancing, drumming, fasting, lucid dreaming, and sleep deprivation. "Rarely is one procedure used in isolation. For example, entheogenic plants are often ingested in the evening; sleep deprivation, restricted nighttime vision, and accompanying music often enhance the experience. Song and dance were important elements then, as they are now, and one can see this in the art that is produced. Naturally occurring altered states, such as dreaming and daydreaming, are also utilized" (Harner; Rogers). Whitley (1998) suggests that one of the functions of rock and cave image-making may have been to record the images elicited in shamanic states of consciousness. One thing can be certain: that the people who made these paintings did so because they thought that it was important to do so and that these practices where of the utmost importance to them as well. These practices were at the heart of their society and culture and it would not be unintelligent to see the connection between what they thought to be important and the art that they produced. People then and now do so out of a notion that what they are doing is important, even if it is only important to them. In understanding this importance one can understand the people that created these works and connect the line from past to present. The Lascaux cave paintings are a good example of the type of art and image-making that were created by the peoples of shamanistic and prehistoric cultures. The Lascaux cave paintings were discovered in nineteen-fourty by Marcel Ravidat in southwestern France. The paintings are estimated to be about seventeen-thousand years old, and contain some of the most well known Upper Paleolithic art, or art made during the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic…