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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Captain Caveman

In Greenwood Tarot, the Shaman is the equivalent of the traditional Magician card. He holds symbols of the four elements: a roebuck skull rattle for air, a stone knife for earth, a smudge stick for fire and a hollow antler cup for water.

'The Sorcerer' is one name for this cryptic painting found in the Trois Frères in France by Henri Breuil. Photocredit: Encyclopaedia Britannica(View Larger)The robe is decorated with famous cave art from Grotte de Trois Freres, in Ariege, France. The depictions here are based on the sketches of Henri Breuil, and to my eyes (and many others) great liberties have been taken! The figure with the antlers for example -- doesn't seem to have near the detail of Breuil's sketch, and it is disputed whether there are any antlers there at all, and it appears to be sitting rather than leaning forward dancing. For some reason, Breuil's drawing has become far more famous than the original cave painting. I can't even find a photograph online of the bison playing the bow. I did find a sketch of the entire panel of scratchings/engravings on the wall of the cave, and you can see him near the centre (he's small, and facing the left of the drawing):

wall engravings

We love to think we know what these images meant to the people who created them, but that is impossible. 'Ultimately,' writes Ronald Hutton in Pagan Britain, 'the significance of most of the images in the caves must elude us. Randall White has pointed out that research among living tribes who have carried on a hunting and gathering lifestyle in the Arctic, such as the Aivilik of the Inuit people, has proved that accurate interpretation of their painted and carved representations depends upon comprehensive understanding of their belief system and environment. In the case of the European Paleolithic, we can reconstruct the latter, but not the former; and there has been no hunter-gatherer people in modern times that has possessed a culture exactly like those of Old Stone Age Europe. The consistency with which similar images, locations and activities were reproduced there over twenty millenia argues for a very strong framework of beliefs, but one completely lost to us.'

Much of what neopagans say about prehistoric art and beliefs comes from early archeologists whose work has now been seriously called into question or entirely discredited. However, the truth has never been seen as an obstacle by neopagans -- it's the meaning 'we' give these things that counts to them, and so we see here appropriated symbols from cave art, given meaning on a tarot card, though the wording is speculative. At the very least, the symbols on the Shaman's cloak attempt to connect to him an ancient spirituality that is earth-based and animistic.

 Scratch beneath the surface of the Shaman and you get traditional Magician meanings:

He is the bridge between the natural world and the spirit world.
He is a man of action - he envisions an outcome and then takes step to make it happen.
He has all the tools he needs to fully engage with life.
He is vigorous, creative, focused, centered.

I am going to the dentist today to have this overhanging filling removed and replaced. I hope the new dentist I see will be able to work some magic and place a filling that fades from my awareness, as all good dental work should.

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