Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Fertility and Shamanism in ancient South American Art

One of the earliest civilisation so far discovered in South America is the Valdivian culture in Ecuador. This dates back to between 3500 and 1800BC, and the terracotta figure of a fertility goddess pictured below (Fig 1) is from this early culture. The Valdivians generally used red and gray colors; and the polished dark red pottery, as exemplified in this piece, is characteristic of their work. Their figures were also highly individualized as each piece displayed different hairstyles and shapes. They have been found interred with the dead, buried under homes and made in very large sizes, up to several feet high, presumably for ceremonial use. This indicates the tremendous importance of the female figure in Valdivian ritual. Figures from the earlier periods emphasized detail, later ones lost expression, actually becoming cruder. Many of them appear pregnant, with holes in the centers of their bellies and some have objects inside that rattle when moved, while others have prominent busts and buttocks showing pubic hair. The piece below is certainly not crude and probably has a relatively early date. It is highly likely that such figures were intimately related to fertility rituals.

Valdivian pottery goddess

Fig 1 Height 13 cms

The Valdivia culture was discovered in 1956 by the Ecuadorian archeologist, Emilio Estrada. Estrada, along with the American archaeologist Betty Meggers, who led excavations, have suggested that a relationship between the people of Ecuador and the people of Japan existed in ancient times.You may notice that the features of this goddess have an oriental feel to them, and, generally in style, there seemed to be a strong connection between this Valdivia pottery and pottery produced by the Jomon culture from the island of Kyushi in Japan. If true this possibly could have led to a belief in the minds of the Valdivian's, that these traders from the sea were gods and goddesses to be worshipped. However, this connection is far from proven, and does no longer have a following in the academic community. Others have since emphasised the similarities with other South American cultures.

Below (Fig 2) is an idol made from lapis lazuli, from the early Chavin culture of Peru - Initial Period - and shows certain similarities to the Valdivian figure above. It's "oriental" eyes, and its nose and mouth are very reminiscent in shape, and the legs without feet also parallel the goddess figure. This piece too may have been linked to fertility rituals.

Fig 2 Height 12.5cms

What other evidence do we have of the place that fertility rituals had in ancient South American cultures? If we turn to the Nasca people, a culture based in the southern coast of Peru from 100BC to AD 750, their art contains many images of disembodied heads. A large numbers of trophy heads have also been found in the region's archaeological record, and eight headless bodies have been recovered with evidence of decapitation. Christina Conlee's (Texas State University) examined a headless body, from the site of La Tiza, and provided important new evidence of the relationship of decapitation to ancient ideas of death and regeneration. The third vertebrae of the La Tiza skeleton was shown to have dark cut marks with rounded edges, indicating that decapitation occurred at, or very soon after, the time of death. A ceramic jar decorated with an image of a head was placed next to the body and as can be seen in Fig 3 the head has a tree with eyes, directly above it, and the tree's branches encircle the vessel. It has also been shown that ritual battles often took place just before the planting of crops and trees. Unripened fruit also figured in these rituals, in which the shedding of blood was necessary to nourish the earth to produce a good harvest". Conlee writes. "The presence of scalp cuts on Nasca trophy heads suggests the letting of blood was an important part of the ritual that resulted in decapitation." This is the third "head" jar found with a headless skeleton, and may have been used to drink the blood from the sacrificial victim. Conlee says "If the head jar was used to drink from during fertility rituals, then its inclusion in the burial further strengthens the relationship between decapitation and rebirth". Notably, there is also no evidence of habitation in the La Tiza region during the Middle Nasca period (AD 450-550), to which the head jar of Fig 3 dates. All of the Nasca domestic sites in the area date to the Early Nasca, indicating that the La Tiza skeleton may have been deliberately buried in an abandoned settlement that was associated with the ancestors. "Human sacrifice and decapitation were part of powerful rituals that would have allayed fears by invoking the ancestors to ensure fertility and the continuation of Nasca society".

Reference: Christina A. Conlee, "Decapitation and Rebirth: A Headless Burial from Nasca, Peru." Current Anthropology 48:3.

Fig 3

So in the hostile environment in which the Nasca lived, many rituals, which were always carried out by the shamans, related to propitiating and controlling the forces of nature. Magic was invoked in an attempt to ensure adequate water, good soil, and a sufficient harvest. The trophy heads were thus symbolic of, or a metaphor for, regeneration and rebirth. This concept can be seen iconographically in various scenes pictured on ceramics where plants are growing from the mouths of trophy heads as in Fig 3. In their view of the world, the Nasca people must have placed great importance on the human head as a source of power, and the burial of groups of trophy heads a way of concentrating a reservoir of ritual power.

It may be that the human skull acted as a similar source of power over regeneration and rebirth, to the Aztecs in Mexico. This piece (Fig 4), beautifully crafted in ala
baster, probably belonged to a shaman and was made around 1400AD.

Fig 4 - Height 3.2cms

Below is a second Aztec skull (Fig 5) from a similar period, this time in turquoise. These skulls obviously had a very important role in Aztec ritual, being made of such precious materials, and were thought to be used by shamen to conjure up the spirits of the ancesors to ease the passage of the deceased into the afterlife. Fertility in terms of crops etc was very much seen in a wider perspective in terms of the generation of new life in terms of life beyond the grave.

Fig 5 - Height 2.9cms

Below in Fig 6 is a huge stone axe of beautiful aethetic form, where the central area gives a perfect fit for the human hand. This axe was made by the Narino Carchi people of Northern Ecuador and Southern Columbia and dates to a time somewhere beween 850 and 1500AD. The purpose of this axe would have been ritual in nature, and may actually have been used for decapitation.

Narino Cachi black stone axe

Fig 6 - Height 23.5cms

Shamanism has been rife throughout South and Central America over the centuries. Below is a depiction of a shaman in a trance state, handmade from tumbago, an alloy of gold, silver and copper, by the Tairona people of Columbia, who are known since 900AD. This gold object (Fig 7) and also the piece shown in (Fig 8) were found in a place called "El Dragon" (The Dragon) 10 km. from the Sierra Nevada de Sta. Marta in the Magdalena Valley region by Mr. Julio Sanchez in circa 1802. Object was later acquired by collector Mr. Pedro Dominguez on April 1894. Mr Dominguez was a well known and reputable historian and politician in Columbia. Their exact age is unknown but probably around 15th century. The depiction we see in Fig 7 is of a male shaman holding a ritual vase in each hand, possibly containing hallucinogenic drugs to aid the trance state. He wears a number of ceremonial ornaments including a spiral crown,earrings,bracelets and a 6 strand necklace. The expression on his face, in his eyes and his mouth, suggest a trance state. One of the hallucinogenic drugs used was a highly toxic substance that was excreted from the head of a particular toad, to protect it from its enemies. Another is a drink made from the ayahuasca vine.

The shaman also has an aura or crown around his head in Fig 7 which represents an abundance of light, it is seen as multicoloured, and only appears when he is in an altered state of consciousness. Also it can only be seen by another shaman in a similar altered state of consciousness. When he is radiating light he is also believed to be able to see into the darkness.

Tairona tumbago shaman in hallucinogenic state

Fig 7 - Height 7cms

Mircea Eliade, philosopher of religion and professor of the University of Chicago, said shamans are the last human beings to be able to talk to the animals. This engagement with a broad sweep of animals is very evident in their art, and is seen, not as a link to an individual animal, but to a connection with a whole species, which then performs a guardian role to the shaman, and the shaman is then believed to take on the spiritual power of the species. One animal which particularly comes to the fore, in South American culture is the jaguar. The jaguar plays an important part in the beliefs and rituals of shamans, who see this large cat as a spirit companion or "nagual", which will protect them from evil spirits, while they move between the earth and the spirit realm. The jaguar was thought to have the ability to cross between these two worlds. Daytime and nighttime represented these two different worlds. The living and the earth were associated with the day, and the spirit world and the ancestors were associated with the night. As the jaguar is quite at home in the nighttime, the jaguar was believed to part of the underworld. In order for the shamans to combat whatever evil forces may be threatening, it was believed necessary for them to actually transform into a particular animal, often the jaguar, sometimes the bat, to enable them to cross over into the spirit realm. The jaguar was also chosen as a "nagual" because of its strength, so that the shamans could "dominate the spirits, in the same way as a predator dominates its prey" (Saunders 1998:30). As well as its nocturnal habits, the jaguar was also thought to possess the ability to move between worlds because of its comfort both in the trees and the water, and the habit of sleeping in caves, places often associated with the deceased ancestors. They were also associated with war because of their ferocity, and with magic and sorcery because of their furtive behaviour. For all these reasons, the jaguar was considered the most effective ally of the shaman,who was believed to magically transform into a jaguar and harness the animal's magic. Below in Fig 8 is depicted a shaman in the process of this ritual transformation into a jaguar. His face is clearly transformed, and his hands have become claws, but the figure still retains some of the shaman's ritual ornaments.

Tairona tumbago shaman transforming into a jaguar

Fig 8 - Height 7.5cms

The pre-Colombian ceramic mask pictured below, of a "were-jaguar" (Fig 9) encodes an Amanita muscaria mushroom into the nose and forehead of the human side of the mask and then depicts the effects of the mushroom on the left side as underworld jaguar transformation. (photo, by Prof.Gian Carlo Bojani Director of the International Museum of the Ceramics in Faenza)

Fig 9 Ceramic "were jaguar"

The spirit world of the Nasca, and many other ancient groupings in South America, included the most powerful creatures of the air (condor and falcon), earth (jaguar and puma) and water (killer whale and shark). These should be viewed as symbolic representations of either the nature spirits themselves or of the spiritual power (huaca) that they emit. The shamans were the intermediaries between the spirit world and the everyday world. They used various means to contact the spirits, including hallucinogenic drugs to induce visions and to gain control over supernatural forces. All this took place at sacred sites, such as certain mountains, rather than temples, and involved special paraphernalia including panpipes, mouth masks, animal skin cloaks and Spondylus shell necklaces, as part of the religious ceremony. The spondylus shell below, with eye and ear spools inlay, in Fig 10, shows a similar transformation where the head is part human, part jaguar. This is from the Moche culture, which flourished in Northern Peru from 100-500AD. One can see the very distinctive canines emerging.

Spondylus shell shaman transforming into a jaguar

Fig 10 - Height 10cm

The Moche people also produced beautiful gold work for burial, and below is a gold mask (Fig 11) which would have been buried with a member of an elite family. It would probably have represented the link between the transforming shaman in this life and the dead person in the world of the ancestors.

Moche gold burial mask of a shaman transforming into a jaguar

Fig 11 - Diameter 12 cms

Below is yet another example of the beginnings of a transformation into the "were-jaguar", this time from a very different culture in the art of the Olmec people who lived in Mexico from 1600 to 300 BC (Fig 12). This image is found on the a great variety of art ranging from the smallest jade maskette, as in this case, to the largest stone sculpture, on celts, masks and elongated figurines. The eyes are always almond shaped or slit-like, the nose is human, the mouth is down-turned and the upper lip everted, and toothless gums are usually visible. A cleft on the head is also often visible. This piece is from the Middle Formative period (900-300 BC). These images symbolise the beginnings of new life, depicting the "baby" were jaguar.

Returning for a moment to the lapis lazuli idol in Fig 2, the slit like eyes and the cleft in the forehead are clearly visible in this very early piece, and this may represent some kind of precursor to the "were jaguar".

Olmec jade maskette of a were jaguar

Fig 12 - Height 4 cm

Below is a larger Olmec jade maskette from the Veracruz area of Mexico, showing a much more developed were-jaguar form, a protruding upper lip, a pronounced cleft in the middle of the forehead, a broad nose and elongated almond eyes. The face has a very distinctive feline form, further on, in the transformation process of the shaman sharing his identity with the jaguar. The cleft in the forehead is thought to represent a natural feature seen in a jaguar's skull.

The flared upper lip expressed, for the Olmec, a ferocity, a snarling mouth, and was also used to designate a link with the supernatural world.

The jaguar was also thought to have a winged partner, the harpy eagle. Peter Furst in "The Olmec World - Ritual and Rulership" says "In Olmec art we frequently find the feline combined with its celestial counterpart (the harpy eagle) the latter appearing in shorthand form as flame (or plumed) eyebrows on were-jaguar masks" (p 75). This characteristic is clearly visible on the mask below. This symbolism has also been reported in the Chavin culture of Peru, which was contemporary with the Olmec. Peter Furst goes on to say "wings, claws and beaks, and presumably all the rest of the harpy features, also occur in Olmec art, but the characteristic that came to stand more than any other for the bird is the prominent feather crest (flame eyebrows). The crested harpy, the most powerful winged predator, which flies in the tall canopy of the tropical forest with incredible agility at speeds up to fifty miles per hour, is to the upper world what the jaguar is to the surface of the earth and the world below."

Furst also says "the white hairs from the jaguar's underbelly and the harpy eagle's fluffy white down feathers are essential in shamanic initiation. Stuffed together in his ears, they provide the initiate, who is in an ecstatic trance induced by Virola powder (made from the inner bark of the Virola tree) with magical hearing and the ability to understand the language in which the spirits speak."

Fig 13 - Width 11 cm

Fig 14 is another transformation figure, this time a shaman can be seen in the mouth of a toad. This toad, (bufo marinus), secretes a powerful hallucinogen that was probably used by shamen in the transformation process, and the toad was seen as a spirit companion to the shaman, the toad carrying the shaman in its mouth on its supernatural journey. The toad shed its skin, and then ate its own skin, and so very symbolically was identified with a transformation process. This piece is made of pure chrysocolla, a copper ore and a semi-precious stone. It originated in the Zapotec culture in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.

Fig 14 - Length 4.5cm

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

The large mask shown in Fig 16 and 17 is from the Mezcala culture and comes Guerrero state. This culture was almost contemporary with the Olmec culture, and there was a certain overlap between them geographically. The protruding upper lip here is very reminiscent of Olmec style. Having said that, this mask primarily portrays the very distinctive geometric style of Mezcala culture. At certain points there is a yellowish colouration, which is characteristic of the use of iron pyrites, possibly as an inlay for the eyes.

Fig 16 - Height 17 cm

Fig 17

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.

Chinese Warring States bronze dwarf figure of a shaman

Fig 18 - Height 15 cms

The were-jaguar face was only one of the images depicted by the Olmec. The maskette below(Fig 19) shows a more human figure, rounder eye sockets, more pronounced nose, this time with teeth. This is probably an image of a ruler of the people and originates from the Veracruz region.

Olmec jade maskette of a young ruler

Fig 19 - Height 5.5 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 black stone spoon for measuring out hallucinogenic drugs for a shamanic ritual

Fig 20 - Length 5.5 cms

Staying with the Chavin culture, below are six more pieces from the shaman's ritual. First, below, you will see two whale bone pectorals (Figs 21 and 24), worn around the shaman's neck during ceremonies, and on each one can see the two holes used for suspension around the neck. When the shaman was on a spirit journey to meet the god into whom he was seeking to be tranformed, he would wear a bone pectoral as, both a protecting breastplate against the power of the deity, and as an identification with the deity to aid the transformation process. Whale bone was used in the coastal regions for various ritual objects. Richard Burger in his very informative book "Chavin and the origins of Andean Civilisation" pictures two items on page 97 - whale bone snuff trays. The two bone pieces were found originally near Trujillo on Peru's north coast.

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.

Chavin gilded shamanic llama bone pectoral

Fig 21 - Diameter 14.5 cms

Chiaki Kano writes about the development of artistic form in "The Origins of the Chavin Culture", seeing this as expressing the development of the "god concept". In Pre-Chavin times, up until about 1200 BC, Kano says "Zoomorphic images of the god indicate religious concepts still in the animistic stage as in Fig 21. The form of a feline god represented is not simply the "feline" of the natural world, but an animistic being, possessing supernatural conjuring powers and exercising control of the religious world.

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".

Chavin gilded llama bone shamanic pectoral

Fig 22 - The Lanzon Stone - Chavin De Huantar

Kano talks about this transition in the Kotosh period, moving on from pure feline form as seen in Fig 21, to the beginnings of anthropomorphism in bone objects discovered in the tombs of Kotosh leaders, and showing similarities to the Lanzon. This has been seen to indicate, by Kano, "that the chief, as the performer of the feline cult rites, had an especially close relation with the feline deity. Morover, the custom of burying an image of the god inside a human grave probably shows that the god and chief /shaman were gradually becoming identified with each other....the chief/shaman/priest would perform the cult rites in place of the god.... The god would communicate his wishes through the shaman, by virtue of the spirit of the deity residing in his body/

Kano observes that "the head of the Lanzon Stone (Fig 21) is that of a feline monster, but the body (torso) is human in form and is adorned with ear pendants, a necklace, tunic and girdle. Snakes are shown at the ends of the hair and eyebrows; these probably represent lesser gods, attendants of the jaguar god". Its likely that the dress represented on the Lanzon equates with the ceremonial dress used by the shaman. Thus it seems that the image of the Lanzon was a fusion of the images of the feline deity and the shaman of the Pre-Chavin period. The building of a permanent shrine for the Lanzon is thought to link the image with an ancestor deity, representing the beginnings of ancestor worship in the Chavin culture.

Richard Burger in his book "Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilisation" points out that the Lanzon has "its right arm raised with open palm of the hand exposed, and its left arm is lowered with the back of the hand visible. This pose eloquently expresses the role of the deity as a mediator of opposites, a personification of the principleof balance and order". By balance and order, achieved as a result of shamanic activity, would be meant abundant rainfall, ample harvests, the avoidance of disasters and illness, and harmony within the community. The Lanzon would be seen as key to achieving this as the source of power and prosperity.

It holds a place at the centre of the Old Temple in an underground chamber, the top of the sculpture penetrating the roof of this chamber. This is thought to be "symbolic of its role as an axis or conduit connecting the heavens, earth and underworld". A verticle channel leads down from the top of the sculpture and it has been suggested that the blood of sacrificial victims was poured from above into this channel running down the sculpture as part of the shamanic ritual.

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 second pectoral shown in Fig 24, is from a slightly later time, the beginning of the second period of Chavin history, dated about 1100BC, where the sculptural form had begun to have more vertical and horizontal lines and sharper edges. The pectoral depicts one of the main deities of the Chavin people, that has come to be known as the "Staff God", carrying a staff in each hand, and famously depicted on the "Raimondi Stone" (Fig 23), in the New Temple in Chavin de Huantar. The Staff God is usually portrayed with claws, a feline face with crossed fangs, a staff in each hand representing authority, with snakes emanating from his hair and his belt. This image, like the image on the Lanzon, may also represent a revered chief/shaman/priest god from a slightly later period. As seen below, the Raimondi Stone shows significant development in complexity of imagery, when compared with the earlier Lanzon.

The religious development in this period went hand in hand with a significantly growing population, which would have had a deep influence on social order, producing cohesion in the community. Anyone countering the human authority of the day, would have had to also counter the authority of the deity.

Chavin Raimondi stone

Fig 23 - Raimondi Stone

Interestingly the Staff God depicted on the pectoral below (Fig 24) does not have crossed fangs, as is usual for the Staff God, but simply two large fangs in the upper jaw. Two fangs is the normal depiction of the "Smiling God" to be seen on the "Lanzon Stone", the centrepiece sculpture of the Old Temple, a god that seems to predate the Staff God. It is thus likely that god on the pectoral is a very early rendering of the Staff God, that still retains this feature of the Smiling God of the Old Temple. This is thus evidence that this pectoral probably comes from as early as 1100 BC.

The Chavin shaman, like in so many early South American cultures believed in transformation into the form of a god or animal, through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Interestingly a major source of hallucinogens was the "San Pedro cactus" and the staffs of this god depicted are similar in form to this variety of cactus. Again there is evidence of a cinnabar coating on the pectoral.

Chavin llama bone shamanic pectoral

Fig 24 - Diameter 18.5 cms

I would like to think a little more about the depictions of snakes in these various objects. They seem to occur emerging from the head and the genital region, which makes me wonder if the snake is a symbol of magical potency for the Chavin people, thought to reside in the head and the sexual organs. Even in the early zoo-morphic images such as the bone pectoral in Fig 21, the snakes emerge from these two regions.

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.

Chavin shamanic steatite stone plate with depiction of staff god for ritual herbs

Fig 27 - Diameter 22 cms

Chavin steatite shamanic plate with fertility symbols coming from god's mouth Fig 28

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.

Fig 29 - Height 29 cm

Fig 30

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 :

Chinese shamanic bronze axle pin fusion of shaman and tiger

Fig 31 - Height 12 cms

Then in Fig 32 we have a bronze standard from Luristan in ancient Iran dating to approximately 1000 BC, where the two heads of the shaman are confronting powerful felines, and merging into their bodies. Here is man confronting and controlling the forces of nature and harnessing their energy for shamanic purposes. Please see my Near Eastern blog :

Luristan standard with shaman/ruler confronting panthers
Fig 32 - Height 12.5cms

So we have a common time period early in the first millenium BC, and a very similar image appearing in three continents, and each one linked to shamanism. Assuming that these images did not emerge from physical contact between these peoples, their seems to be a powerful parallel collective process emerging from the human psyche, as a part of mankind's spiritual development. Actual contact between these cultures so early is highly unlikely, and if it had been the case, one would expect more evidence of cross fertilisation of form as well as expression of convergent religious belief in the archeological history of the different cultures.

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.

Fig 33 - Height 29.6 cm

Another piece of a shaman's equipment is pictured below in Fig 34. This is a black stone insufflator tube decorated with a scorpion, which was used in ritual healing. Illness was often associated with possession by evil spirits, and the tube would have been placed in the ill person's mouth by the shaman. In the course of the ritual the patient would be encouraged to blow into the tube, expelling the evil spirits, and then breathing in the good spirits to restore health. This piece comes from Tiwanaku or Pre-Inca culture in the Tarija Valley in Bolivia, and dates to about 100 AD.

Bolivian shamanic insuffulater depicting scorpion for ritual breathing out of evil spirits

Fig 34 - Length 8cms

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.

Fig 35 - Height 6.5cms

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.

Black stone palette for body paints Tiwanaku culture

Fig 36 - Length 16.5cms

The piece below (Fig 37 and 38) perhaps gives a greater sense of the feeling and the atmosphere of shamanic ritual in ancient times. It is a volcanic stone ritual vessel consisting of two squatting figures, male and female, joined by their backs as one, holding, with their right hands over their heads, an offering vessel, with the figures as a pedestal. This is reminiscent of the Lanzon where one hand is raised and the other lowered as a symbol of the mediation of opposites and the principle of balance and order. It depicts the opposites of male and female, duality as unity, also symbolising a sense of harmony with the community. The vessel they hold has two carved lizards, godlike animals in the Pre-Columbian cultures, associated with water and fertility. The pedestal is amazingly carved, with the nose ring of the male figure and the ear rings of the female figure carved out of the same piece of stone. By its size this piece may have been placed over an altar.

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 sculpture comes from La Chaquira near the San augustin archeological park in Columbia and dates from the Formative period somewhere between 800 and 300 BC.

San Augustin volcanic stone sculpture altar for coco leaves for shamanic ritual masculine and feminine images equality

Fig 37 - Height 38 cms

San Augustin vessel held by masculine and feminine figures lizards

Fig 38

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.

San Augustin volcanic stone burial mask

Fig 39 - Height 27 cms

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