Friday, January 27, 2012

In Nomine Babalon: 156 Adorations to the Scarlet Goddess

Book Review: In Nomine Babalon: 156 Adorations to the Scarlet Goddess
by one who adores the Goddess (Dark Star Press 2011)

I stumbled on this gem by accident. This edition is limited to a mere 156 copies of which I have #101. It is simple in structure with each adoration being composed of four lines of verse, the final line being the same in each. Before and after the adorations are a few interesting excerpts from the Gnostic text – The Thunder, Perfect Mind – from the Nag Hammadi Library.

The poetry is variable, quite good mostly and ranging from a bit slow to exquisite. There are some interesting poetical adaptations from Liber AL – The Book of the Law - and other sentiments from Thelemic Mysticism and the ceremonial magic and alchemy traditions. There are also many references to varying mythologies. I think that this poetry would work great being recited (partially or wholly) in a ritual format. Strangely enough with the tag line – I raise up the cup and adore Babalon! – one could even take libations while reciting. At 156 drinks it could even make for an intoxicating drinking game!

Babalon, as a goddess-form has a reference to the biblical Whore of Babylon but more so to the Sacred Marriage, or Hieros Gamos motif, appearing first in written form as the ritualized mating play of the Sumerian Inanna and her shepherd Dumuzi, later to become Ishtar and Tammuz. Ishtar would become Astarte and Athtart among the Canaanites with similar love goddesses among the Phoenicians and in other places along the Mediterranean. The birth of Aphrodite continued this tradition. In some of these traditions she is a goddess of love and of war (Ishtar) and in some a spouse to the war god. She is most often associated with planet Venus as the war god is to Mars – thus the adoration:

I invoke You, sweet lady, under Your stars
    Adoring the union of Venus and Mars
        Offering all to their fornication!
    I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Indeed the romance of Venus and Mars (Aphrodite and Ares) can be considered a tryst in Greek tradition. But too it is a respite from the pains of war as love tames it for a while. Babalon is a goddess of passion and lust. She was revived in this wild form by Crowley and the subsequent momentum of the philosophy of Thelema. Her ‘egregore’ is fresh and modern, powerful and actively worked, a bit like the immediacy of the Voodoo loa. She represents the raw power of the liberated woman, the potency of intimacy, the breaking of obsolete and ineffective paradigms, and even the akwardness energy inherent in the uncertainty of sharing and confiding. She has been compared to the Shaktis of Hindu tantra who represent active energy and to the Goddess Kundalini who uncoils and rises toward enlightenment. Babalon may have characteristics of an all-purpose goddess, Ma Devi, or as a triple goddess – maid, crone, and mother. In Thelemic Mysticism she potentially rebirths the aspirant as - Babe in the Egg – coming forth beyond the fetters of ego. She may also be associated with the bending and breaking of rules, customs, and traditions – as Mother of Abominations. Indeed, in this day and age of androgyny and LGBT manifestations and rights she may be even be a he, a hybrid, or a hermaphrodite. Her mate is not only the shepherd and the god of war but in Thelema, “the Beast” which may take several forms - from Crowley as 666, the figurative Beast of Revelations, to man’s bestial nature to the composite Pan-form of the androgynous Baphomet. Indeed Baphomet shares egregore with Babalon as a deity-form of both esotericism and eroticism. Indeed the erotic is in the esoteric for the energy of reproduction pervades nature. She rides the beast – perhaps not as he on his back but as he bringing her forth on all fours. In terms of weakening the obsolete patriarchal, Osirian, now slave-religions – she is the liberated woman re-exalted. For better or worse she is the awesome force of the unsubjugated woman. She is also called – The Gate of the Sun – and – Understanding, indicating the Qabalistic Sephiroth Binah, the first of the Three Supernals beyond the Abyss. Into her cup is offered the ‘blood of the saints’ – the past effort and struggle of the newly slain ego - which cannot emerge beyond the Abyss. Her power and liberation are expressed thus:

  Now let the woman be girt with a sword,
She bows down to no man, submits to no lord!
Her strength is her armor, her father the sun,
       I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

She is a symbol of that which is noble and shameless, guiltless and fearless:

Live life without shame, live life without guilt
For there is no law beyond Do What Thou Wilt!
        With no fear of sin or of inquisition
       I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Babalon represents breaking free from the chains of authority and conformity – and if you happened to have noticed – it is the roles of women and the guidance of their charges, ie. children – that are the most restricted by the old systems. Here is a section with notions from Liber AL about moving from old aeon to new aeon paradigms and activity:

The servants of slave gods are down on their kness;
          Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit upon these!
  While they await battles from visions by John
         I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Guiltless embrace of ecstasy is noted in the following lines with more impetus from the Book of the Law:

    Give over thy life to love and to bliss,
And know that no god will deny thee for this!
  Divided we are for the chance of union!
    I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Babalon is also a goddess of initiation and the mysteries. Indeed the word “whore” in the Hebrew sense may have referred to the promiscuity of deities, as in polytheism. Here we can see a whore as one who interacts intimately with multiple god-forms and traditions, one who samples and integrates the many flavors of the magical and mystical – as an old friend used to say she is – Whore of Initiations. The following adoration shows her as The Star trump of the Tarot, the water-bearer and patron of the sign and Age of Aquarius:

  Thou goddess who pours out the life of the stars
   And kneels by the water with Your golden jars
From which flows the life that You have just drawn,
           I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

The joining of devotion and eroticism in these adorations in a sea of meter, rhyme, and magick is most refreshing:

Thou art the mother, the sister, the whore,
   Thou art life, Thee! Thee I adore!
Thou art most beautiful, o scarlet woman,
  I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

The goddess as the field is a recurring archetype of humans. The matrix from which life springs and returns has been depicted as feminine since early humans discovered and awed at feminine cycles and powers. In this age of the quantum vacuum, the implicate order, the Akashic Field or Akashic Echo is coming the realization that the great receptivity field of being underlies and pervades all things – and that our source and destiny is with this very field:

The wheels of the universe spinning around,
 From tiniest matter to the pure spirit crowned!
  From great galaxies to the unseen neuron!
     I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Babalon is a living all-purpose goddess-archetype of freedom, erotic energy. and inspiration. As humans we are nearly forced by our nature to deal with and develop a relationship with our ecstatic complex, our desire for pleasure and bliss. If we are sensible and careful with this relationship we may be able to make that relationship a healthy and happy one. Perhaps she also represents this subduing yet indulging and optimizing of our ongoing quest for bliss:

Hear the charge of the Goddess, “To me! To me!”
  As she beckons to those who wish to be free;
    Calling her children from hither and yon!
       I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

Babalon has the potential to go beyond and be much more than the traditional goddess-forms of Wicca and old paganisms. She encompasses them and transcends them. Personally, I see deities and anthropomorphized forces as archetypal energies, psychological forces, symbolic mythical forms, qualities, principals, and neteru. Their reality is as we make it and devotion to them is devotion to our own potentially refined natures. As the following verse suggests she is there within the collective offering to heal us and perhaps the rift in our Dionysian ecstasy complex:

         In Her love chant She is calling to all –
The beast and the man, the great and the small.
 Listen within and you will hear her beckon!
     I raise up the cup and adore Babalon!

I have put much of my own opinion of the Babalon archetype into this review but this is due to the importance of the potential I sense in this archetype for the healing of the world. Any Thelemite would most enjoy this book and hopefully there will be a bigger printing out in the future and more interest in supporting one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything

Book Review: Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything
by Ervin Laszlo (Inner Traditions 2004, 2007)

This is a quintessential cutting-edge science and philosophy book by a great thinker. What makes him a great thinker in my opinion is not merely his extensive academic credentials, but his open-mindedness and his ability to quest beyond the biases typical of academia.

This is a book about interconnectivity, non-local coherence, and the organic nature, not only at the quantum level but also at the macro level of the universe (or the Metaverse), at the level of biology in nature, and at the level of consciousness.

Sorting out the mind-boggling wonders of quantum physics and relativity into a scientific worldview that we can both understand and integrate into our lives is no easy task. Laszlo makes an admirable attempt in this book. Information is postulated as the binding force of the universe in the sense that information makes up the matrix of the universe. This matrix, or quantum vacuum, is the very ‘space’ in which matter exists. Space, or “Akasha” in Sanskrit, in this theory is the field of knowledge of all that has ever been. It resembles the Holographic Theory of David Bohm where the implicate order is hidden or enfolded within (as the unseen akashic-information field/matrix) and the explicate order is the unfolded outer world we see and experience. Laszlo notes that science is the least subjective way of understanding the world compared to the others: “... personal insight, mystical intuition, art and poetry, as well as the belief systems of the world’s religions.”

Physicist’s attempts at Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) are recounted as are Quantum physicists’ notions of a Theory of Everything (TOE) – one attempt of which is Laszlo’s ideas in this book. Compelling reasons to do this among physicists are the discrepancies and incompatibilities between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. It is mainly these two major explanatory trends in physics that beg to be unified. The goal is to explain everything in a logically consistent form. Laszlo thinks it is possible and easier to step back from the physical and create an Integral Theory of Everything (I-TOE). Here he suggests that behind and beyond the manifestation of the physical universe – there is the field/matrix from which it is derived. This field, or quantum vacuum, is an information field. This is similar to what Bohm calls ‘in-formation’ where it is the field that precedes and fills ‘form’.

He discusses paradigm changes in science and the ideas arrived at through puzzles and fables that drive them. He gives three science ‘fables’ for the long emerging paradigm change in physics: 1) multiple or parallel universes, 2) observer-created universe, and 3) holographic universe. These three notions seem to be the three lead drivers for the emergence of an integral theory of everything (I-TOE).

Next examined are what Laszlo calls “Puzzles of Coherence.” Coherence puzzles are compared between physics, biology, and consciousness. It seems that these three domains show remarkable and unexpected situations of coherence – that may well be related to one another – through the postulated underlying hidden quantum information matrix. Simple coherence in physic refers to light waves having constant difference in phase:

“Coherence means that phase relations remain constant and processes and rhythms are harmonized. Ordinary light sources are coherent over a few meters; lasers, microwaves, and other technological light sources remain coherent for considerably greater distances. But the kind of coherence discovered today is more complex and significant than the standard form. It indicates a quasi-instant correlation among the parts or elements of a system, whether that system is an atom, and organism, or a galaxy. All parts of a system of such coherence are so correlated that what happens to one part also happens to the other parts”

The coherence known as “quantum non-locality” suggests that matter and energy grade into one another at deeper levels of analysis (into smaller units) and so have a quality of inseparability. Quanta can only be said to exist in “virtual states”  and in several of these virtual states simultaneously – until one is ‘measured’ scientifically, whereby it is pulled out of the virtual state into a ‘real’ state but only part of that state can actually be observed and measured. Quantum non-locality appears to be coherent in a way that shows complementarity among particles:

“Quanta are highly sociable: once they share the same identical state they remain linked no matter how far they travel from each other. When one pair of a formerly connected quanta is subjected to an interaction (that is, when it is observed or measured), it chooses its own “real” state – and its twin also chooses its own state, but not freely: it chooses it according to the choice of the first twin. The second twin always chooses a complementary state, never the same as the first twin.”

I believe it is often the “spins” that are complementary. In any case, it is hard to know what to make metaphysically about such notions – though they do seem to indicate a universe that is perhaps holographic (each part includes the whole in some way) and potentially malleable in some way beyond what we now can do.

Newtonian physics seemed to solve problems and seal our knowledge while relativity and quantum mechanics made new problems, some rather unsolvable and so our knowledge is left to leave more to mystery. Again regarding quanta Laszlo states:

“They are sociable entities, and under certain conditions they are so thoroughly “entangled” with each other that they are not just here or there, but in all measured places at the same time. Their non-locality respects neither time nor space.”

He goes through the famous EPR experiments of Einstein and company and the more recent “teleportation” experiments which may have some interesting technological features in the future – such as super fast quantum computers.

In considering coherence in cosmology he notes several cosmological puzzles that hint of coherence: 1) the violation of charge and parity, 2) the energy of “empty” space, 3) the accelerating expansion of the cosmos, 4) the “missing mass” of the universe, 5) the “horizon problem”, 6) the coherence of some cosmic ratios – certain recurring ratios are favored, 7) the fine-tuning of the universal constants – extreme statistical improbabilities are overcome. These are all ‘puzzles of coherence’ he says:

“... and they raise the possibility that this universe did not arise in the context of a random fluctuation of the underlying quantum vacuum. Instead it may have been born in the womb of a prior “meta-universe”: a Metaverse.”

Coherence in biology is apparently being discovered more and more as we better see how genes, cells, whole organisms, species, and niches show high levels of “entanglement” among their parts. Apparently the ‘dynamic equilibrium’ of biological states “requires a very high degree of coherence.” This level of coherence strongly resembles quantum coherence and so the living organism has been called a “macroscopic quantum system.” The ‘adaptive response’ of the genome shows abilities that go far beyond mere chance. A major focus of biophysics is now the interconnectivity within an organism, among organisms, and between the organism and the environment.

Regarding puzzles of coherence in consciousness, Laszlo notes that thought and image transference experiments indicate that consciousness may not be wholly individualized as previously thought. Indigenous shamanic peoples and other ancient and psychic people have long held this view. This ‘transpersonal interconnectivity’ is being suggested by many psychologists and consciousness researchers. Even the universality of human symbols and ‘archetypes’ suggests such interconnectivity. Laszlo goes through several experiments in telepathy, connectivity among identical twins, and teleosomatic medicine (healing from a distance) - which he compares to Frazer’s sympathetic magic.

To summarize the remarkable puzzles of coherence in nature and to suggest an explanation Laszlo notes that:

“These connections indicate links between the particles that make up the material substance of the universe, as well as between that parts or elements of the integrated systems constituted of the particles. The links fine-tune the particles and the elements of the systems, creating space- and time-transcending coherence among them.”

He goes through some of the ideas in physics about the ‘quantum vacuum’ as a subtle field and more hypothetical ideas such as the ‘Higgs field.’ In cosmological theories it is the nature of the quantum vacuum that would determine the fate of the universe – whether it would continue to expand or begin to contract into a possible ‘Big Crunch.’  The quantum vacuum is said to transmit light, energy, and pressure. Laszlo and physicists such as John Wheeler suggest that a more subtle ‘element’ than matter and energy is transmitted as well through the quantum vacuum. This element is information – or ‘in-formation’ in Bohm’s terminology to distinguish it from the common term. Laszlo gives the following rather vague definition:

“In-formation is a subtle quasi-instant, non-evanescent, and non-energetic connection between things at different locations in space and events at different points in time. Such connections are termed “non-local” in the natural sciences and “transpersonal” in consciousness research. In-formation links things (particles, atoms, molecules, organisms, ecologies, solar systems, entire galaxies, as well as the mind and consciousness associated with some of these things) regardless of how far they are from each other and how much time has passed since connections were created between.”

One possible mechanism for how this might work has to do with quantum spins having a minute magnetic effect that makes vortices that carry information around in the matrix. When two or more vortices meet there is an interference pattern. “This interference pattern carries information on the entire ensemble of the particles that produced the vortices.” This idea is very similar to holographic theory where interference patterns between parts convey information about the whole. Like many of the other ‘fields’ in science: electromagnetic, gravitational, various quantum fields, Higgs field, etc – the In-formation Field – cannot be measured directly, only inferred from its effects.

In ancient India the idea of the element of space, or Akasha explains a similar hidden medium or matrix from which energy, or prana, arises and returns - in a recurring cycle of universes manifesting and de-manifesting. This very same process is suggested in scientific cosmological theories. It should be noted that the Akashic Field, in Laszlo’s view as well as in ancient Indian view, is not separate from the prana within it, but consists of both energy-matter and in-formation and this altogether makes of the “in-formed universe.”

Regarding notions of a First Cause, a Prime Mover, or a Creator God of the universe Laszlo notes that cosmological theories suggest no such First Cause for our current universe which is thought to have come from a previous universe – but beyond and behind that no one knows. Several of these theories suggest that universes arise from the quantum vacuum as an effect of some instability that creates a Big Bang. Laszlo seems to think that there was some original creative act of “metaversal Design” but in any case this is something it seems we will never know empirically. He applies this same logic to evolutionary science where he suggests that the arguments in favor of evolution and those in favor of design may not be wholly incompatible. He suggests that life may have been ‘designed for evolution’ though I can see philosophical fallibility in this argument.

Next we have speculation on the nature of evolution in a multi-universe conception. Laszlo suggests that the evolution of universes is cyclic but not repetitive. He suggests an increasing complexity (through time?) of physical to physical-biological to physical-biological-psychological.

Statistically speaking it is extremely likely that there is life in other parts of the universe. Laszlo suggests that shamanic knowledge is possibly the accessing of “extraterrestrial” information or possibly (as well) sensing the Akashic Field (A-Field). He suggests that our ability to achieve balance and sustainability with nature may depend on our ability to re-learn how to sense the A-Field.  Since most cosmological theories postulate an end to the current universe – the evolutionary goals must either be attained before the end of that universe or transferred to the next universe. He does not mention this but such a scenario exists in the Buddhist Abhidharma where universes are said to be destroyed in different ways by different elements and up to certain levels of meditative stability before the next universe ensues and is re-inhabited by those beings at their respective karmic dispositions. Laszlo thinks that the quantum in-formation field, the Akashic Field, exists beyond the current series of universes – that it survives intact the destruction of the universe:

“The most fundamental element of reality is the quantum vacuum, the energy- and in-formation-filled plenum that underlies, generates, and interacts with our universe, and with whatever universes may exist in the Metaverse.”

Hindu and Chinese cosmology have a similar view. In India everything dissolves back into Akasha, to a state of Being called Brahman. Then it manifests back out to a state of Becoming, called Maya. The ceaseless inhalation exhalation cycle of being and becoming is called the Lila of Brahman, the play of ceaseless creation and dissolution.

Part 2 of the book concerns questions – mostly philosophical ones, that may be addressed by this theory and so this section is rather speculative. In discussing the nature of consciousness he makes the important observation that the association of brain function, no matter how specific, with consciousness does not entail that the brain creates consciousness. He notes that the materialist view of consciousness still predominates in scientific circles though I am guessing this has been deteriorating gradually but steadily over the years. The biggest problem with it can be summed up in the question “How can matter generate mind?” so there is a big disconnect with this approach. The answer may be end up being that matter is conscious in some way, perhaps at the quantum level as this book suggests. The notion of both mind and matter being conscious is not new and is present in several ancient belief systems. As a philosophical position it is known as  panpsychism. Laszlo gives this an evolutionary component so that we have an evolving consciousness. He calls this evolutionary panpsychism. Here mind and matter are different aspects of the same reality rather than separate as in the dualistic theories. Matter is what we apprehend when we look at something from the outside and mind is what we apprehend when we look at something from the inside. The panpsychic notions of the philosophers Alfred North Whitehead, George Wald, and the Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell are also recounted.

As to how we and all matter access and influence the A-field it is noted that all matter oscillates at certain frequencies. These oscillations generate wavefields which interact with other objects and wavefields which make interference patterns that convey information as in holography. These are theoretically decodable with the help of reference waves which can apparently be any wave. There are also ideas of resonating wave patterns, of collective holograms, and super-super holograms. One idea is that information is transferred when waves resonate and theoretically one could tune one’s consciousness to resonate with the holograms in the A-field. This ‘phase conjugation’ or ‘selective resonance’ is a frequency matching. Speculations about the evolutionary path of consciousness abound. Ken Wilbur gives the sequence as physical to biological to mental to subtle (which is archetypal, trans-individual, and intuitive) to causal to ultimate consciousness. R.M Bucke sees it as evolving towards ‘cosmic consciousness.” Eastern mystics and Western occultists often see it as a union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness. The question is whether the universe itself is conscious. In that case one under Laszlo’s theory one could have a mystical union with the quantum vacuum. Is the quantum matrix God (or Goddess)? The A-field theory could also apply to notions of consciousness beyond the body and beyond the brain. NDEs, OBEs and ADEs (after-death communications) as well as reincarnation can all be explained to a degree by postulating the quantum vacuum

In a chapter called – The Poetry of Akashic Vision – Laszlo gives a story of how things might be under his theory in a poetic rendering. Here he associates the quantum vacuum with the “self-realized Mind of God.”

“The universe is a memory-filled world of constant and enduring interconnection, a world where everything in-forms – acts on and interacts with – everything else.”

Laszlo notes that the mere presence of non-local coherence is evidence for the field responsible for it much as the effects of gravity are considered evidence for the gravitational field. Delving further into coherence he comes upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal and all that it implies of the lack of predictability of quanta.

“The world, said Heisenberg, is built as a mathematical, and not a material, structure.”

Bohm’s hidden variables theory gives order to the universe with the idea that the unseen of the implicate is guiding the outer, or explicate order. More physicists are apparently considering this view.

Laszlo goes through the phenomenon of coherence in nature in more detail in a later chapter and in the final chapter he gives an autobiographical account of his long-developing “theory of everything” first written about in his book – The Connectivity Hypothesis.

Overall, this is a great book and Laszlo is an intriguing thinker. I think he is hovering in the right direction with – interconnectivity – and in showing relationships in the domains of physics, biology, and consciousness and how all these may be connected. Although I have never leaned toward intelligent design I have always like the old Wiccan chant – “We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return” and perhaps she can be said to be  the mind of God, the Quantum Matrix, the Mother of Space.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster

Book Review: The Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster  (compiled) by W. Wynn Westcott (1895) – based on translations by 18th century Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor

The Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster are basically a collection of aphorisms and cosmological principles said to have been originally collected from the Chaldean, or Babylonian/Persian Wisdom tradition. They were collected and published in the Renaissance. Their origin in Chaldea and association with Zoroaster has been disputed. They were admired and expanded on by Neoplatonists such as Porphyry, Plotinus, and Iamblichus of Syria. It is thought that they form a Hellenistic Age Alexandrian synthesis similar to the lore associated with Hermes Trismegistus. They are thought to be fragmentary and probably “bastardized” with later Neoplatonist ideas. There are apparently several varying versions of the text from the Renaissance and Westcott does well to note which phrases came from which versions to some extent. Some of the adages may be as late as Renaissance time as some suggest. I must also say that I found them to be quite cryptic. Cosmological principles can be cryptic as it is but these seem jumbled around as well. It is nice to read the text as is but would perhaps be more useful with commentary, although preferably with detailed commentary with someone knowledgeable both philosophically and academically, knowing both the esoteric tradition and the continuing history of the peoples and places involved. Westcott was a Theosophist and Golden Dawn Hermeticist so his introduction is helpful and I guess he does provide some pretty useful line by line commentary.

Some of the early part has cosmological principles similar in styles and layout to the Hebrew Qabala and there may well be a connection. Whether the Oracles influenced the Qabala or vice versa is unknown but I think the Jews’ captivity in Babylon and subsequent liberation by Cyrus the Persian emperor had a profound influence on their doctrines and Qabalistic doctrine may have may have emerged from such a synthesis.

The translations come from the Greek. Zoroaster may have been a generic term for “Prince of the Magi” and may have referred to any of six teachers varying widely in time as Westcott notes. Westcott lists the available versions from 1563 to 1835, about 13 in all, some which included some commentary. Chaldean thought is thought to have had a big influence on Ancient Greek thought – perhaps even influencing Plato. The same has been noted concerning Persian ideas and forms. Babylonian astronomy and philosophy was said to be transferred by Berosus but that may have been the “official” version of things.

Taylor divided the aphorisms into those thought to have been produced by a “Zoroaster” from antiquity and those thought to have been composed by Julian and other Neoplatonic Theurgists during the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Antonius who took their authority from Plotinus. Attributing to them the word “oracles” is thought to have been an honorific term to give them a sense of sacredness rather than to be oracular though the Chaldeans are certainly thought to have had oracles and omens – especially astronomical ones – they being the likely originators of predictive astrology.

From Diodorus, it is noted in the intro that Chaldean philosophical wisdom was passed from father to son in family lineages of Magi. Westcott notes that it is best studied in relation to Qabalah and Tarot symbolism. He provides comparison tables of the Four Worlds of the Qabalistic framework to the World/Minds of the Chaldean system. The comparisons, while not exact – have some clear parallels. Both are oriented from subtle to gross, from unmanifest to manifest, not too unlike the Vedic cosmology which may have been their distant source. No doubt Westcott noticed this among similar schemes in Theosophy. The World of Supramundane Light, or Paternal Depth/First Mind corresponds to the Qabalistic World of Atziluth, or God, which is composed of Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur (Negativity, Limitless, and Limitless Light). The parallel of Light is most pronounced here. The  Empyrean World, or Second Mind of the Chaldean system is linked with the Qabalistic World of Briah, composed of the Three Supernals, the sephira Kether, Chokmah, and Binah. The Chaldean Ethereal World is corresponded to the World of Yetzira, or Formation. The Elementary World, called the Flower of Fire in the Chaldean System, as the Earth Matter, is a clear parallel to the World of Assiah, the Earth Matter of Qabala which contains the sepheroth Malkuth.

The Chaldean scheme of beings or hierarchy of intelligences in the universe goes from Archangels to unzoned gods to zoned gods (zonei, or planetary gods) to higher demons , ie. Angels to human souls then to lower elementals of the four types and finally to the so-called evil demons, Lucifugous, or kliphoth.

There is a notion of the seven spheres (indeed the seven being a powerful Babylonian number), one emanating from the Empyreal World, and three each in the Ethereal and Elemental Worlds. These are said to be not the same as the seven planetary forces, though the planetary forces are said to represent them on a lower plane.

“The Oracles speak of the "Paths of the Soul," the tracings of inflexible fire by which its essential parts are associated in integrity; while its various "summits," "fountains," and "vehicula," are all traceable by analogy with universal principles.”

Each of the Worlds is said to be ruled by an intelligence, a Monad, but also to contain a Triad. The Monads of the Four Worlds has a clear parallel in the Qabala where the worlds are represented by the four letter name of God as Tetragramaton with a president for each letter.

Psellus, one of the later interpreters of the oracles considered man to be composed of three kinds of souls: divine soul, rational soul, and irrational (passional) soul – residing according to Plato’s scheme in the head, heart, and stomach zone respectively. The divine soul is considered immortal, the rational soul could become immortal, and the irrational soul is equated to the astral body. If one considers it – this is not far off from soul component conceptions among Eurasian shamanic traditions. Spiritual life is more or less concentration on the subtle soul work and not getting caught up in the wiles and passions of the irrational soul. The astral or irrational soul was equated to the imaginal realm and lunar sphere (as in Qabala).

Chaldean Theurgy was said to involve communicational magic with planetary forces and star clusters (constellations) in a sort of celestial yoga:

“Unto the Planets, too, colour and sound were also attributed;, the planetary colours are connected with the ethers, and each of the Planetary forces was said to have special dominion over, or affinity with, one or other of the Zodiacal constellations. Communion with the hierarchies of these constellations formed part of the Chaldæan theurgy, and in a curious fragment it is said: "If thou often invokest it" (the celestial constellation called the Lion) "then when no longer is visible unto thee the Vault of the Heavens, when the Stars have lost their light the lamp of the Moon is veiled, the Earth abideth not, and around thee darts the lightning flame, then all things will appear to thee in the form of a Lion!"

Perhaps this is the source of Crowley’s injunction to “Invoke often.”

Visions and oracles from dreams were watched closely. The Chaldeans may well have had a well developed notion of karma as cause and effect link to the soul’s path through live(s). The Chaldean Magi were said to be ascetics of a sort – though Zoroastrianism itself was less ascetic in nature. They were said to live simple lives close to nature and be nourished on cheese, herbs, and bread. The so-called Persian Magi may have originally been the Medians subjugated by the Persians from the south and so have had a different philosophical bent than the Zoroastrian Persians of the empire. Chaldea also came to include Persia and Arabia in later times. The notions of the dualistic battle between light and darkness inherent in both Zoroastrian and Gnostic lore is also present in the Oracles.

The importance of Will in the Yogic/Alchemical process of Theurgy is recounted here in the intro:
“Will is the grand agent in the mystic progress; its rule is all potent over the nervous system. By Will the fleeting vision is fixed on the treacherous waves of the astral Light; by Will the consciousness is impelled to commune with the divinity: yet there is not One Will, but three Wills--the Wills, namely, of the Divine, the Rational and Irrational Souls--to harmonize these is the difficulty.”

The chapters are arranged as: The Oracles of Zoroaster, Ideas, Particular Souls, Matter, Magical and Philosophical Precepts, and Oracles From Porphyry.

The first oracle notes God as having the head of a hawk in both elder and younger forms. Westcott links this to the Egyptian Horus: there was both an elder Horus and a Horus the younger so two forms of Horus. Taylor linked this oracle with later Theurgists and the God with Kronos, or Saturn, though the Horus linkage is rather infallible one would think. This unbegotten God is said to emanate a spiral force. The Eternal Aeon is mentioned as a support for life. This is a bit similar to the Thelemic renderings of Pan-Aeonic forces – or the all-pervading Aeon that transcends time. As the first of rather obvious Hellenistic deity syncretism we see the oracle:

“6. The Chaldæans call the God Dionysos (or Bacchus), Iao in the Phœnician tongue (instead of the Intelligible Light), and he is also called Sabaoth, signifying that he is above the Seven poles, that is the Demiurgos.”

IAO is a magickal formula used extensively in Crowley’s Thelemic system.

The various levels of souls emanating from the Paternal Mind are said be feminine and fiery. The Three Supernals are even mentioned by name and one would have to assume that this refers to that World of the Qabala. There is recounted the unfolding of Monad, Dyad, and Triad in the manner of Neoplatonism and here Westcott makes a note:

“What the Pythagoreans signify by Monad, Duad and Triad, or Plato by Bound, Infinite and Mixed; that the Oracles of the Gods intend by Hyparxis, Power and Energy." 

Regarding the section on Ideas we have notions of the soul, the senses, and symbols entering the world from the Paternal Intellect (guarded by the Three Supernals?). As in Platonism all emanates from the One, the Monad, so this all seems to follow the Platonic Monotheistic system. This descent seems to coincide with the breakup of the One into subject-object dualism, not unlike the Indian notions.

Concerning the Triad of the Second World Westcott offers the following commentary:

“The Second Order of the Platonist philosophy was the "Intelligible and Intellectual Triad." Among the Chaldæans this order includes the Iynges, Synoches and Teletarchs. The Intellectual Triad of the later Platonists corresponds to the Fountains, Fontal Fathers or Cosmagogi of the Chaldæans.”

Here are also introduced some curious Hellenic symbolatry of the bosoms of both Hecate and Rhea which carry the “Life Bearing Fire.” Hecate is mentioned several times in this regard. Also in the section explaining the world of the lower elementals we see from Greek mythology that Python, Typhon, and Echidna, being the children of Gaia and Tartaros, and being united by Uranos, are given guardianship of the disordered lower forces after a similar Chaldean Triad not mentioned. Irrational demons and Water elementals are also mentioned.

This God as Father is referred to as animator – placing Mind in the Soul and both of these in the human body. In the Soul he placed symbols. The “Divine Spark” is said to have been made from a mingling of Mind, Divine Spirit, and Holy Love.

Here is an Oracle given in the words of Proclus:

“98. The Oracles delivered by the Gods celebrate the essential fountain of every Soul; the Empyrean, the Ethereal and the Material. This fountain they separate from (Zoogonothea) the vivifying Goddess (Rhea), from whom (suspending the whole of Fate) they make two series or orders; the one animastic, or belonging to the Soul, and the other belonging to Fate. They assert that the Soul is derived front the animastic series, but that sometimes it becometh subservient to Fate, when passing into an irrational condition of being,. it becometh subject to Fate instead of to Providence.”

The section on Matter concerns the orders of the elements and the heavenly bodies. Nymphs and water are associated with the lunar and celestial, filling the abysses – as matter pervades the world. There is mention of ‘The Seven Firmaments of the Kosmos’ which we see in Hermetic/Neoplatonic/Alchemical diagrams. Kronos is given as the Sun Assessor and as the pole lord. The Goddess (I am assuming Rhea here) collects the cycles of the “chiefs of the air”: the Melody of the Ether, the Sun, and the Spirit of the Moon.
In the section on Precepts which is quite cryptic in parts we see that placing too much faith in divination is discouraged. We see the Gnostic style revulsion of the darkness:

“145. Stoop not down unto the Darkly-Splendid World; wherein continually lieth a faithless Depth, and Hades wrapped in clouds, delighting in unintellible images, precipitous, winding, a black ever-rolling Abyss; ever espousing a Body unluminous, formless and void.

146. Stoop not down, for a precipice lieth beneath the Earth, reached by a descending Ladder which hath Seven Steps, and therein is established the Throne of an evil and fatal force.”

Here we can perhaps see the earliest renderings that later became the Judeo-Christian-Islamic notions of Hell. These notions are well thought to have been derived from Persian dualism. The seven steps seem reminiscent of the Ziggurat in reverse or with Inanna’s descent.

There is mention of the barbarous Names of Evocation and the injunction not to change them – which securely places the Theurgists in the ceremonial magic tradition. Divinity (at least at the 3 lower souls level) in the form of fire or sacred fire emanating from Divinity rather squarely does associate the Oracles with Zoroastrian notions at least outwardly. That the father sent forth a soul full of mind in the form of feminine fire is a recurring theme.

There is much of the notion of descending flame-soul, perhaps similar to the descent of the Qabalistic lighning bolt, but there is also perhaps a notion of the path of returning to the subtle as the following adages suggest:

“170. Having put on the completely armed-vigour of resounding Light, with triple strength fortifying the Soul and the Mind, He must put into the Mind the various Symbols, and not walk dispersedly on the empyræan path, but with concentration.

171. For being furnished with every kind of Armour, and armed, he is similar to the Goddess.”

172. Explore the River of the Soul, whence, or in what order you have come: so that although you have become a servant to the body, you may again rise to the Order from which you descended, joining works to sacred reason.”

These notions would be akin to the Qabalistic Path of Return or perhaps the Egyptian and other Near Eastern cults of Ascension back to the Celestial Realms.

There is advice to bridle the soul but also to apply sacred fire to heal and purify the body. There is the suggestion that the work of the Theurgist is to transcend Fate (and the Furies) – presumably through Will and perhaps as well though the intelligence of proper method.

This whole section has no commentary. It contains cryptic ritual suggestions, visions, and curious lore about Hecate again.

The final section is Hymns from Porphyry which basically describe God. Here the Monotheistic nature of the cosmology is emphasized. This Monotheism current probably did much to permit Neoplatonic thought to permeate and influence Early Christianity and later Islam, especially Sufism.

“2. There is in God an Immense Profundity of Flame! Nevertheless, the Heart should not fear to approach this Adorable Fire, or to be touched by it; it will never be consumed by this sweet Fire, whose mild and Tranquil Heat maketh the Binding, the Harmony, and the Duration of the World. Nothing subsisteth but by this Fire, which is God Himself. No Person begat Him; He is without Mother; He knoweth all things, and can be taught nothing.

He is Infallible in His designs, and His name is unspeakable, Behold now, what God is! As for us who are His messengers, We are but a Little Part of God.”

This is a classic and very important text in the occultism of the western esoteric tradition. There may well be “initiated” commentaries on it in various fraternal orders and mystery schools – whether from Renaissance times or reintegrated more recently. It is now in public domain and free from – Sacred Texts – as well as free on Kindle.

Friday, January 13, 2012

THe Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe

Book Review: The Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe by D. Bruce Dickson (University of Arizona Press 1990)

This book is a good survey of what is known of the Upper Paleolithic peoples of this part of Europe and the various academic explanations of what their beliefs may have been and the possibilities as to how they were formed.

The first section involves methodology: for defining culture and religion and the complexity of religion. He invokes the work of Emily Durkheim, Sir James Frazer, Claude Levi-Strauss and many others. In defining the complexity of religion he refers to the classification scheme of Anthony F.C. Wallace who classified cults towards increasing complexity as: 1) individualistic cults – where everyone is his own priest or shaman and no one else interfaces the supernatural for one; 2) shamanistic cults – where a part-time shaman endowed with special abilities and inspiration interfaces the supernatural on behalf of the community members of band-level societies; 3) communal cults – which are more elaborate than shamanistic cults and associated with bigger and more complex societies. In addition to shamans there are also various societies based on age, gender, kinship, and vocational abilities; 4) ecclesiastical cults – these are the most complex and exist in very large societies with much hierarchy and involve full-time priesthoods.

Next is more background into early humans before the Paleolithic period. The change from homo erectus to homo sapiens is briefly touched upon. The problem of the Neanderthals is also given where the three competing hypotheses (framed by Apsimon) are mentioned: 1) Neanderthals evolved into homo sapiens sapiens; 2) sapiens immigrated leading to extinction of Neanderthals; 3) sapiens immigrated and interbred with Neanderthals resulting in loss of distinctive Neanderthal characteristics. Consensus at the time of this book was that Neanderthals are not direct ancestors of modern humans but that may have changed or at least weakened in the last 20 years.

The divisions of the Paleolithic: Lower Paleolithic - 2.9 my to 90,000 yrs before present; Middle Paleolithic – 90,000 to 35,000 yrs before present; and Upper Paleolithic – 35,000 to 10,000 yrs bp are generally divided on the basis of changes in stone tool complexity.

The earliest evidence of human concerns beyond biological needs were noted by Stephen W. Edwards as intentional collection of red ochre and red rocks and special treatment of human and animal skulls. This activity was noted in the Early Paleolithic among homo erectus. Ochre, in the form of soft rocks and soil materials with iron oxides such as hematite, goethite, and limonite in red, yellow, brown, and black, when powdered and mixed with water and animal fat, later made excellent and durable paint – for walls and body. Humans’ relationship with ochre is exceedingly ancient and widespread. Ochre was involved in what Lewis Mumford termed “technical narcissism.” This refers to body decoration in the form of ornaments, masks, tattoos, scarifications, wigs, and clothing for purposes of establishing a human identity or purpose. It is also possible that Homo erectus was the first to utilize animal skulls. Greater complexity of tools and occasional burials with possible mortuary offerings occur in the Middle Paleolithic. Intentional burials among Neanderthals occur in widely scattered sites. It is thought that some corpses in both Neanderthal and Homo sapiens sapiens sites were bound in fetal positions – and whether this was to fit them into the hole or to bind them to keep them from returning to the living (as was done in some Germanic grave sites) is not known. There are sites where Neanderthals are thought to have stacked cave bear skulls on wall niches in a possible Bear Cult possibly similar to the bear veneration among Siberian peoples and the Ainu of Japan. Whether this was a bear cult or just where the bears died and ended up has been debated. Interestingly, a bear skull was found on a wall niche facing one entering a chamber in the recently discovered Chavez cave in southern France – a few years after the publication of this book. Another Neanderthal site in Italy shows a cave bear skull surrounded by a circle of stones. The veneration of the bear as ancestor in Siberia and the observation among Native Americans that a skinned bear looks remarkably like a human lends some credence to the bear cult scenario as well.

The Franco-Cantabria region of Southern France and Northern Spain is the main focus of the book as there are numerous Upper Paleolithic sites and caves here with well-preserved art and artifacts. The various industrial traditions through time are recounted as are the varying weather patterns through time. The Ice Ages tended to push people to the south to these regions. Large and small herd animals were available for hunting, sometimes in abundance as well as salmon spawning inland in the spring. Both the large migrating herd animals and the salmon were cyclic in availability. Portable and cave art appear. Mobile artifacts of bone, ivory, and antler become more common in the Upper Paleolithic and the appearance of personal ornaments ensues in the form of amber, shells, flint, and ochre. The number of burials increases drastically in the Upper Paleolithic. Quantity and diversity of grave goods increased much in the Upper Paleolithic. Female burials become prominent for the first time in the Upper Paleolithic. All these changes suggest a more populated, more complex, and less overall mobile society. Paleolithic peoples were thought to have lived quite short lives. One study showed only 12% of skeletons over 40 and most under 30.

Mircea Eliade coined the term “heirophany” to describe “manifestations of the sacred.” The collection and use of ochre, the arrangement of skulls, and ritual burial can fall into this category. The use of red ochre to coat corpses is thought to represent blood and to promote the idea of life to the dead presumably in another world. The above mentioned body ornaments and clothing also appear on corpses at this time. It is in the Upper Paleolithic that we see the decoration of tools, ornaments, and weapons. We see drawings and possibly symbols. Andre Leroi-Gourhan classed these implements as: 1) expendable weapons – such as spears, 2) implements of lasting utility – such as spear-throwers and pierced staffs, 3) objects to be suspended – such as ornaments, , and 4) miscellaneous objects. Engravings on mobiliary art objects led Alexander Marshack to conclude that these referred to a calendrical and notation system. Leroi-Gourhan describes the objects of religious significance as statuettes and decorated slabs. Statuettes of animals are quite rare in the Franco-Cantabrian area but are more common in Upper Paleolithic sites to the west. The most numerous of statuettes in the Franco-Cantrabrian area as well as throughout Eurasia are the Ice Age Venuses – such as the Venus of Willendorf from Austria. They were made between 14000 and 29000 yrs bp but most may have been made between 23000 and 25000 yrs bp. The large buttocks and protruding breasts of the figures suggest the acknowledgement of the mysteries of female fertility.

The term “parietal art” refers to the Upper Paleolithic cave paintings which are plentiful, well preserved, and well drawn, are mostly drawings of animals, and include animal-human hybrids. There are hundreds of these caves in Europe and likely more to be discovered. In many of these caves there are drawings of later times superimposed on those of earlier times and since these “traditions” represent thousands of years some have suggested changes in styles to be representative of different time periods. Leroi-Gourhan classed these into time periods as: Style I Primitive (32000 bp to 27000 bp) – naturalistic renderings of animals, female genitalia, and lines and dots; Style II Primitive – drawings appear in rock shelters and these drawings achieve their maximum geographic distribution; Style III Artchaic (20000-15000 bp) – polychrome becomes more common and improvements in painting and sculpting technique are seen. Rectangular and bracket-shaped signs appear; Style IV Classic (15000 -11000 bp) – shading, texture, and line work lead to the technological and aesthetic height of this form of art among these peoples. There are other classification schemes and much uncertainty as exact dating of these artistic layers is not always reliable. The artists definitely utilized the natural relief of the rock walls to enhance drawings (as can well be seen in the recent Werner Herzog documentary – Cave of Forgotten Dreams – about the Chavez cave discovered in 1994).
The paints were mineral-based which led to their survivability into the present day. The most common subjects of the paintings are large mammalian game animals such as horse, bison, auroch, mammoth, ibex (wild goat), and deer. Less common are reindeer, wooly rhinoceros, bear, lion, antelope, and musk ox. Other subjects are patterns and symbols such as meander patterns (W and M), lines, grids, ovals, parallel lines and dots. Animals were later superimposed on other animals in rather artistic ways. Some original drawings were re-engraved or re-painted. This suggests that the drawings retained their ritual value and so were restored. Less common subjects are fish and birds, less common animals such as boar, fox, wolf, and ferret, hybrid animals where a head of one animal is paired with body of another, human –animal hybrids (such as the famed Sorcerer at Les Troise Freres), and strictly human depictions which are rare. There are some profiles of humans and engraved depictions of human vulvas. Images of human hands (in red and black) also appear though infrequently – but sometimes in dense clusters which suggest some sort of ritual function. Deformed hands, or hands with missing fingers, are sometimes depicted. Rarer still are story panels. Story panels are more common in the rock art of the San people of South Africa and the Pueblo of the North American southwest. Depictions of plants and insects are very rare though Marshack sees them as representative of a seasonal calendar system and possibly more widespread than previously thought. Certainly the paintings may well have been much more common than we see today as they are so old that they are only preserved in the depths of the caves. Paintings were likely present in cave openings and more exposed places as well. Many of the preserved paintings are in cave chambers that are quite difficult to reach – some requiring significant climbing and/or crawling. This suggests to some researchers that different chambers served different cult functions – where the less accessible chambers were used by a minority of humans. The proximity to underground springs and ponds may have been significant as well. These sacred waters (according to Bahn 1978) may have been associated with rebirth and the underworld.

In terms of interpretation of this art and religion there are four main ideas and these overlap quite a bit: 1) totemism, 2) rites of passage, 3) hunting magic, and 4) cave art shamanism. The totemism interpretation stems from the work of Emily Durkheim who compared Upper Paleolithic peoples to the native Australians. These aborigines regarded the totem plants and animals as representations of sacred beings related to their clans and social groups. He concluded that this was the worship of the clan itself, and that all religion is the worship of society. Rites of passage refer to the usual rituals of coming of age, marriage, and death as the most important transitions in the life of a human. Here one crosses a boundary between one ‘status’ and another. The notion of hunting magic was derived mainly from the work of James Frazer regarding sympathetic magic. Frazer made a distinction between magic and religion. Magic, he said was manipulating the material world through the supernatural while religion is propitiating the power of the supernatural. Frazer felt that religion developed after magic as a response to the difficulty of magic. Frazer’s magic is based on two principles: homeopathy- or like produces like, and contagion – where things that are connected in some way can influence one another. So here the drawings of game animals are seen as a form of imitative magic. Pictures of animal predators such as bears and lions – which are rivals – can be seen as a form of destructive magic. Various stab-marked and wounded predator and prey animals support these ideas. Body positions of several drawings suggest dead animals and perhaps the study of the appearance of dead animals in order to be able to depict them for magical purposes. Some have noted that the absence of fish and waterfowl that were thought to be abundant and used as a main food source suggests that hunting magic is not the main focus of the drawings – although others have distinguished between big game hunting requiring skill and less skilled harvesting of abundant fish and fowl. Magic may have been aimed at increasing availability of game. Depictions of animals giving birth support this hypothesis. Cave art as part of shamanic tradition does not contradict Frazer’s notions. The animal-human hybrids here can be seen as the shaman in communication and cohabitation in body with the creation form or universal form of the animal species itself. The ideas of Andreas Lommel through his 1967 book - Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art - are here examined. Lommel mentions four motifs originating in shamanism: 1) man-animal representations, 2) hybrid creatures, 3) scenes depicted men and animals or animals fighting, and 4) drawings in X-ray style. Examples of man-animal and hybrids are the Sorcerer at Les Trois Freres,the “chamois man” and the bird-headed man being charged by a wounded bull in the cave at Lascaux. Interestingly, there is a report by an amateur archaeologist describing an unreported site with many drawn figures of bird-headed and fish-headed men. These man-animal figures and animal hybrids likely represent shamans in trance according to Lommel which is quite reasonable when one looks at the known history of Siberian and Native American shamanism which almost certainly stretches back to the Upper Paleolithic. Man-animal combat scenes may represent psychic battles between shamans and spirits or they may be taken at face value as a history of an event. The X-ray drawings may represent as well the shamanic vision powers to see within and to penetrate to the inner or bone level – or the vital level. These may possibly be related to motifs of counting the bones in order to reconfigure the slain prey (as well as the initiated shaman) and taking care not to break bones. Perhaps, as Eliade conjectures, Upper Paleolithic man was dominated with the mystical relations between man and animal – and as Leroi-Gourhan contends – with the mysteries of reproduction and especially the woman’s role.

The author gives a survey of more contemporary interpretations of Upper Paleolithic art and religion – mainly the work of Andre Leroi-Gourhan and Alexander Marshack but also Anne Sieveking, Clive Gamble, and Michael Jochim. Leroi-Gourhan surmised that the deep cave chambers were sanctuaries. He defined seven types of zones in the caves. He thinks the most important central positions of cave art were occupied by the most important animals: bison, wild oxen, aurochs, and horses. Smaller prey like deer and ibex – but also mammoth – occupy a less important position, and prey animals like bear, lion, and rhino occupy a different position. He interpreted the signs near the animals as representative of human genitalia and so assigned bison and aurochs to female genitalia and horses, ibexes, and mammoths to male genitalia. He saw these representations as a sort of syntax though I don’t quite get it. These ideas are controversial and do not seem likely or at least of utmost importance to me. The work of Marshack also challenged past interpretations in that he postulated that various markings especially on bone and antler mobiliary art (which would be assumed to be always near a mobile people) represented “time-factoring” by these ancient peoples. These markings had previously been assumed to be decoration but Marshack thought they had to do with marking the passage of time. He tried to find and present evidence that various markings were made at different times, possibly by different people and different tools so that they represented tallies of the passage of time. These decorative markings occur in widespread areas and time periods of the Upper Paleolithic so could possibly have a been a widespread “language” of sorts for reckoning time. Particularly, he noted markings of 29 to 31 likely to represent moon phases. Lunar periods could be used to count to the changes of seasons. He interpreted migratory animals and fish as occurring with images of plants (though the images are apparently hard to interpret as plants) as time-season reckoning for availability of these animals and plants. Plants and hook-jawed salmon in spawn would represent spring and fighting stags would represent autumn. The appearance of a crescent horn with 13 marks has rather obvious lunar phase symbolism. Apparently though much of Marshack’s examples are way less than obvious and his interpretations have been criticized. Anne Sieveking analyzed animal migration patterns and human settlement patterns in the Pyrenees region in order to define likely homogenous social groups. These groups likely had winter and summer residences based on food availability, movement of reindeer herds, and salmon spawning in spring. She also thought that since similar mobiliary art styles were widespread that the social systems were also related and widespread. Clive Gamble suggested that the need for collaboration in hunting big game like reindeer was closely related to the development of art – that maybe the art was a strategy for maximizing hunting success. This required larger human groups that may have been related through wider kinship ties. This strategy and technique of tracking and hunting may have had initiatory components as the young were introduced to the reindeer hunting groups. Michael Jochim compared the population dynamics required of reindeer hunters (small) and salmon gatherers (large). Both of these game could be gotten in large quantities but only in part of the year. Both could be stored and indeed the cold winters of the Upper Paleolithic in this area may have allowed meat and fish to be stored through the winter. The difference is that salmon are much more predictable than reindeer and so lead to a settled pattern for part of the year. The settled pattern would also lead to a territorial exclusiveness around certain rivers. Reindeer hunting required mobility and perhaps the sharing of regional information by different hunting groups in order to maximize success. This sharing of information may have led to extended social groups, social affiliations, and marriage ties between groups.

The next section analyzes recent and modern hunter-gatherer societies for comparison. He lists the following characteristics of these societies: 1) a simple technology – tools, skills, and social organization, 2) a subsistence system capable of producing only relatively low levels of food energy, 3) little emphasis on accumulation – possessions are a hindrance to mobile people, 4) a low population density – as resources dictate, 5) a dependence on spatially dispersed wild foods with seasonally fluctuating availability. 6) a population size determined by the amount of collectible wild food during the season of minimum availability, 7)  band organization, 8) reliance on kinship as most important social bond, 9) economic distribution and exchange based on reciprocity – gifting to balance needs and surpluses among groups, 10) individual and collective ownership – individual in terms of tools and weapons but collective in terms of resources and distribution of resources, 11) absence of full-time specializations, 12) absence of statuses and roles (beyond those of age and sex), 13) feuding, but no true warfare.

Different styles of hunter-gatherers have been recognized such as: 1) pedestrian hunter-gatherers – ie. the !Kung San of South Africa; 2) Fishing, with supplementary hunting and gathering – ie. the Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest – who were much more settled and socially stratified than other h & g groups; 3) equestrian hunter-gatherers – ie. the Cheyenne of the plains of Western North America – interestingly among them the seasonal festivals were arranged around the times when the regional groups converged for bison hunting.

Delayed-return subsistence systems probably represent an evolved (or new) form over immediate-return subsistence systems since they support surpluses and temporary settlement. This also likely aids the development of more complex social systems. One important difference between the Upper Paleolithic societies of southwestern Europe and those of both today’s pan-arctic regions and modern hunter-gatherers in other areas – is that the availability of food resources is thought to have been significantly greater in the Upper Paleolithic of that region giving more possibility of more settlement time and larger populations than we see in h & g groups today. The environments were different as well – tundra and grassland in a temperate to subtropical region which we don’t see today.  The Saami, or Lapps of northern Finland and Scandinavia may be the best analogy for Upper Paleolithic peoples as they still follow and keep reindeer herds. Their food gathering is seasonal-cyclic with fishing and sea mammals in spring-summer, trapping and reindeer hunting in fall, and “broad-spectrum subsistence” in winter. Socially, they are arranged in bands with a council that heads a group of bands. The confederation of groups also provides for help to the sick and poor and they share hunting and fishing resources such as weirs. Surpluses among the Tlingit were distributed as part of a ceremonial gift-giving reciprocity and this may have been a model in the past as well, especially at convergence times among different groups.

Analogies of the religious organization of modern hunter-gatherers reveal that they do not tend to have religious specialists but that the ability to enter altered states of consciousness is highly-prized. Hunting and the distribution of meat are filled with procedure and prohibition – essentially religious taboo. He notes that anthropologists tend to divide rituals into two types: rites of passage and rites of intensification. Rites of intensification may be more related to seasonal rites in order to re-orient the group focus to the new activities of the new season. Rites of passage are mainly concerned with the change from childhood to adulthood. The scale and elaboration of funerary rites among hunter-gatherers is determined “by the degree of their sedentism, the nature of their seasonal schedule, and whether or not they practice a delayed-return form of subsistence.” Typically, the Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal burials are interpreted as a new interest in an afterlife and the Upper Paleolithic burials due to increased population but they may be related to increased sedentism as well. 

Interestingly the caves where parietal art are found are not where people lived so there was a separation of sorts where these areas were used for special purposes but not for living quarters. Since the more difficult to reach areas of caves were decorated more elaborately and in more detail it has been assumed that these areas played a more intense ritual role. The idea that ceremonial centers built up around seasonal times when different groups could converge (like the Cheyenne did) seems a reasonable assumption in a society relying on similar resources. The author thinks the site of Altamira may have been such a site being close to variable resources as well as the coast. Seasonal pilgrimages may have included visits to the abundant parietal art caves in the region.

There is a short section speculating on ideas of binary thought among Upper Paleolithic peoples. This includes an analysis of the drawing of codes, pairs of things, and hands. Hands were seen to be red or black (two opposing colors: red for life, power, sex and black for death, morning, and decomposition) left or right, positive or negative, and whole or with missing digits.

The author takes all the above views and synthesizes them a bit. He considers that the art and religion is related to recognition a sexual dualism of sorts. He considers Marshack’s account of recognition of the lunar cycle and its relationship with the female menstruation cycle as well as the cycle of human birth, growth, and death (in terms of waxing and waning). Based on this he suggests that:

“... the Upper Paleolithic worldview probably represented a fusion of understanding of two separate, empirically knowable phenomena of the natural world: the passage of time and the nature of human – especially female – sexuality. Both of these natural phenomena are characterized by dramatic surficial or formal changes that can be observed and predicted with great ease and precision by virtually anyone.”

He says the predictability of these things molded how early man contemplated nature. The experience of cycles allows greater predictability and some idea of certainty. Predictability in nature allows practical advantages in finding food.

Regarding the Venus figures some have suggested that they were not goddesses but representatives of woman with rare medical conditions who were venerated as magical because of it. I find this unlikely due to their widespread nature in space and time. It seems more likely that they were fertility and child-birth aids. Some have given the icons not sacred functions but secular and psychological functions. Most of the Venus figures were found in domestic settings so this supports that they were perhaps not exclusively sacred.

Here is a final quote at the end of the book that I found interesting:

   “Human life is fragile and transitory and its essential fact – the inevitability of death – can be countered only by birth, by more life. Human existence is both obvious and mysterious: we know it must end in death yet it is filled with signs and portents suggesting otherwise. Fragility and mystery – fear and hope – provoke the yearnings for fertility and immortality in humankind. To find that we share these yearnings even with peoples of as remote an age as the late Pleistocene is to recognize our kinship with all humanity.”

Worthwhile read indeed.