Shamanism And The Creativity Of Spirit
Horses, Chauvet Cave, France c.32,000 BCEIn his documentary film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, director Werner Herzog leads the viewer in a 3-D exploration of the Chauvet Cave in southern France. Discovered in 1994 Chauvet is frequently described as "the birthplace of art". Many of the remarkable images covering the cave walls are at least 32,000 years old and include representations of animals, such as lion and rhinoceros. Until the mid-20th century such images would have been thought of as scenes of hunting, or hunting magic. Today, most researchers consider them to be representations, or re-creations, of experience during altered states of consciousness by men and women now commonly referred to as 'shamans'.Parietal art was just one aspect of the imaginative explosion happening in Europe 45,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence of a burgeoning creativity includes body adornment, musical instruments that hint at song and dance, alongside evidence of elaborate ritual burial suggestive of an ability to envisage dimensions beyond the material. Worldwide research on markings until recently considered relatively insignificant, such as painted or carved spirals, handprints and parallel lines, proposes altered consciousness may have led to the earliest forms of symbolic expression and writing; possibly an 'alphabet' of spiritual experience. Was human creativity itself the product of altered consciousness, of a desire to bring the seen and the unseen together?The two images on the left are of a petroglyph phenomenon known as 'Cup and Ring' which appears across the globe. The top image is from South India, the bottom from Scotland. Both are c.3000 - 5000 BCE. The image on the right is of an electro-magnetic field. It bears a striking similarity to the rock art. Perhaps our remote ancestors were able to view the 'aura' as some people claim to be able to do today?Even more remarkable than the beauty of Chauvet is the astonishing similarity of rock art around the world. Whether in different hemispheres, or separated by tens of thousands of years, the shaman-artists' expressive purpose appears to be virtually the same. What accounts for this correspondence of form and content? Some researchers support the 'out of Africa' theory: our remotest ancestors carrying their spiritual experience with them as they spread across the continents. In his seminal book, The Mind in the Cave, cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams theorises that this creative expression is the result of a universal cognitive architecture. In other words, the 200,000 year old human brain is hardwired to create the numinous. For Lewis-Williams, all out-of-body, mystical or other such experiences are simply the product of neurological reaction reproducible in the laboratory. This theory of neurological 'hard-wiring' as the conduit of altered consciousness, does indeed reflect my own and my students' experience; however, many generations of traditional shamans' experience as recorded in anthropological literature, as well as my own and my colleagues personal practice, strongly suggest that Lewis-Williams' reductionist conclusions cannot be the whole story. We must also consider the possibility that prehistoric art has such consistent similarities across the globe because it represents a consistent 'reality' as ontologically 'true' as the material world most of us accept as 'real' without question. It is impossible to know, except experientially, whether my reasons for voluntarily altering consciousness and seeking to meet with Spirit are the same as those of the artists of Pansaimol or Chauvet. Yet cognitive archaeology suggests that prehistoric peoples used techniques of altered consciousness for both mystical and problem-solving purposes, much as modern shamans do today. My own practice, Core Shamanism, teaches that everything is one and that we are Spirit in a human body here to have a fully human experience; which requires us to acknowledge our animal as well as our spiritual nature. The ground, the Earth we all stand on, is a key aspect of shamanic practice and because shamanism, as I understand it, it is not about reaching Nirvana, or about merging with the divine for its own sake, it is an intensely pragmatic means of survival and a way to knowledge. Although our Upper Palaeolithic forbears may have danced between the seen and the unseen at the dawn of human consciousness in a way few modern humans ever will, connecting with Spirit for a purpose remains a skill that can be learned and developed by almost anyone. Shamanic journeying is a surprisingly simple, almost prosaic act which can lead to awe-inspiring experience of what lies beyond apparent reality. The ease with which bankers, builders, opera singers and soldiers, bypass the everyday mind and step into the reality of the shaman never fails to surprise and enchant. The world has changed since Chauvet, but we have not."If you are interested in discovering more about shamanism and creativity for yourself Zoe Bran of Shaman UK will be teaching a 2 day course 'The Creativity of Spirit' on 10-11 September in London. More details" HERE Watch this trailer for Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'.