Fig 4 - Height 3.2cms
Fig 13 - Width 11 cm
Below (Fig 15) is a beautiful duck in transluscent pale green jade possibly obtained by the Olmec people from Guatamala, and which would have been used in bloodletting rituals. The duck symbolised the link between earth, water and sky, thus linking the natural world of earth with the supernatural world. The small receptacle in the centre of this jade piece would have been used to receive blood, possibly from the penis of a ruler, for use in fertility rituals. Blood was seen as a magical substance, opening a window between the natural and supernatural worlds, as an enacted ritual to bring rain to fertilise the crops, particularly maize. Blood from the penis was seen as especially life giving, being linked to fertility.
Fig 15 - Length 8.5cm
Fig 16 - Height 17 cm
Below, (Fig 18), is a Chinese bronze figure from the Warring period period (3rd century BC) from Sichuan province. The figure is very reminiscent of the pottery dancing figures with long flowing robes that would be involved as musicians and dancers in rituals for the dead. The figure is male and has several interesting characteristics. Firstly his ears are in the form of snakes, a creature from the underworld. Secondly his eyes are uncharacteristically large and penetrating. I take him to be a shaman who accompanies the dead on their journey to the underworld. Then thirdly his body is out of proportion with extremely short legs and possible some disability, a group in society who were also known for their shamanic powers. So many shamanic characteristics seem to traverse the continents.
Fig 18 - Height 15 cms
Returning to the practice of the shaman, below (Fig 20) is a carved black stone spoon, again depicting a jaguar head. Its eyes are inlaid with turquoise, and it has retained a considerable amount of red cinnabar, in the bowl of the spoon and around the carving of the jaguar's head. Turquoise was a greatly prized mineral and was associated with death, the sky the afterlife. It was often used to decorate objects to be buried. No-one was allowed to own or wear turquoise, rather it was reserved as an offering to the gods.
This spoon is from the Chavin culture, which emerged in the central Highlands of Peru around Chavin de Huantar in the mid second millenium BC, and dates from about 1,200 BC. It would probably have been used by the shaman to measure out his hallucinogenic drugs and to ingest it as snuff. A number of Chavin stone sculptures have been found showing mucus strands hanging from the nostrils of the figure depicted. this is a clear indication that the psychotropic drugs were ingested as snuff. The spoon was probably used as part of a ritual involving a dead person, with whom the spoon was buried. Perhaps the spoon was given as part of the deceased resources for use in the afterlife.
Chavin art has a developmental sequence with an increasingly abstract style. Things began, in what is known as the Pre-Chavin period, where significant artistic developments emerged in the Kotosh period spanning 1500-1200 BC. Depictions expressing the "feline cult" were generally naturalistic in form and were distinguished by round cornered curved lines that often ended in elaborate snake andfeline depictions. Fig 21 is from this period and one can see two felines chasing each other's tails in a yin/yang formation, where one of their tails is actually depicted as a snake, a not unusual art depiction of this period. Other snakes appear at various points in the scene. The scene still bears traces of cinnabar indicating its burial context.
Stylized felines, birds and snakes featured prominently in the art of this early period, representing metaphorically the three realms of nature : earth, sky and sea. In this early period the snakes are depicted as having seperate eye, nose and mouth elements, and the claws of the felines are seperate from the paws, and are short and recurved.
Increasingly the feline images took on an anthropomorphic dimension. The image of the god, for instance, represented by the "Lanzon Stone" (the prime stone religious image in the old temple at Chavin de Huantar), is later and clearly anthropomorphic" (Fig 22). This early anthropomorphic rendering of the "god" is usually referred to as the "Smiling God".
The Castillo, which houses the Lanzon, is a strange building with few entrances and little light access. This has led to speculation that it is in fact a tomb. The Smiling God depicted on the Lanzon may therefore depict a specific revered chief/shaman/priest who came to be seen as a god.
The next piece of Chavin culture shamanic ritual, is a deeply incised stone (steatite) plate (Fig 27 and 28), deeply carved with four depictions of the Staff God, dividing the plate into four distinct sections. These plates were used in ceremonial rituals involving a variety of herbs used to facilitate the drug induced state. This piece should be dated slightly later at the end of phase 2, around 900BC. It depicts pairs of canines on either side of the mouth reminiscent of the Staff God. Snakes emanate from the hair in profusion. It is interesting that on this plate there is a greater sophistication in the depiction of the snakes, than on the two pectorals. The close up of one quadrant of the plate in Fig 28 shows plant leaves emanating from the god's mouth, linking the image to fertility and bountiful crops.
The beautiful stone sceptre below (Figs 29 and 30) and also belongs to the Chavin culture, originally belonging to a shaman for use in shamanic rituals. The figure represented wears some kind of crown, which may link the shaman to a position of some power within the community, even an association with royalty.
I would just like to digress for a moment to compare the the shamanic transformation images of the jaguar in South American art, with similar images emerging in widely disparate places in the world at a very similar time period.
Fig 31 below is a Chinese bronze chariot axle pin from the Western Zhou Dynasty dating to about 900 BC. It depicts the fused image of a shaman with a tiger, where the man's buttocks are also the tiger's nose, the man's back is the tiger's forehead, and the man's foot the tiger's tongue. This represents the shaman entering on a spirit journey to meet with the ancestors, and harnessing the power of the tiger to enable him to do this. Please see my Chinese blog :
Fig 32 - Height 12.5cms
The story however doesn't seem to end there. This same image, this time of a lion/man, has occured at a far earlier time. A group of sculptures carved in ivory, were discovered in a cave in South Western Germany, near Ulm, including one in this form (Fig 33). They were discovered in the lower levels of the sediments of the cave floor. The sculpture is 29.6 cm in height and was carved out of mammoth ivory with a flint knife. Opinion has been divided as to whether the figure is male or female. It is made more difficult by the fact that male lions of this period did not have manes. This is an amazing discovery depicting, so long ago, man moving easily between his immediate world and an imaginary world. A smaller lion headed figure has since been found, with several bone flutes, in another cave in the same region of Germany. This adds weight to the sense that this image played an important role in the mythology/religion of the people of the time, and is consistent with shamanic beliefs of spirit journeys to the life beyond the grave embarked on by shamen in later times.
Below in Fig 35 is a quartz crystal head from the Moche culture of the north coast of Peru, dating to about 100 AD. Like previous pieces, it would have had a ritual and magical function. It is not a carving of a diety, but a human head, possibly an ancestor. It would be seen as an object of power for the person who owned it.
Yet another piece of shamanic ritual art can be seen in Fig 36. It is a black stone palette, again from the Tiwanaku or Pre-Inca culture in the Tarija Valley in Bolivia, and dating to about 100 AD. It has four compartments for different coloured paints, used for facial and body painting in important rituals. It is decorated on two corners by llamas and on the other two corners by strange faces.
Inside the vessel were found traces of lime, which was used to aid the release of cocaine from coca leaves, which would almost certainly been part of inducing a shaman's ritual trance.
The stone mask of a female (Fig 39) below comes from the same culture of San Augustin in Columbia, and from the same period as the vessel in Fig 37 and 38. It would have been attached to other artifacts, linked to the deceased, in a mummy bundle.
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