The Shaman of Trois Freres
The Shaman of Trois Freres
The caves at the Shaman of Trois Freres in France hold some fascinating images. This is a brief discussion around those paintings. What was their significance?
Cave paintings hold a powerful fascination. They are one of our most direct ways of touching our ancestors.
Those men and women who lived by primitive means would have been more aware of the world around them than we are. The nature of their lives would have caused them to be more in touch with seasons and the patterns of life. This includes the Shaman of Trois Freres
Life and death depended upon their knowledge of food supplies and seasonal variations Was this the reason for the cave paintings?
Deep into the Trois Freres ( Three Brothers ) Caves in France the visitor can see vague ancient images of figures and animals. One of these figures in particular has attracted international attention. Many believe it to be one of the first depictions of a shaman - the Shaman of Trois Freres
When I first saw the images of the Shaman of Trois Freres from these caves in France I was stunned by their graphic nature. The pictures of cattle and other beasts that surround the central figure high up on the cave roof are vague now but skillfully drawn.
The central figure is about 2 and ½ feet or 70 cm tall. His appearance is strange, part animal part human. On his head are deer's antlers, probably reindeer, his mask has owl eyes below this there appears to be a long beard. His hands are hidden inside lion or bear paws. The back is shaped like that of an animal, is he wearing an animal sin? The tail is that of a fox covering his erect penis. This is the Shaman of Trois Freres
My copy of the Animal Master is above.
Around this figure there are many comments and speculations as to its true nature. It is general accepted that he is a figure in a mask and animal disguise. That he has some spiritual / magical significance to the animals surrounding him makes sense. It is also widely thought that he is a shaman.
Below the shaman of trois freres there is a plethora of animals drawn over figure the top of each other. Almost like a sketch pad. I know at times I draw in this manner. I try forms and shapes sometimes they flow from the pencil at other times it seems much harder to achieve the effect that I want. As I scribble the page becomes full of overlapping images too busy to cope with. Ideas and notation. A place to be returned to in the future for a captured image to be reworked.
But that's me and perhaps many other modern day artists. What of the artist in the dark of those caves? These images created, was it 14,000 years ago, or longer? Who really knows?
Can we assume that these artist of the paleolithic period were not of the same mind set as now? Art for us is a process of recording, expression, a reflection of our inner nature and sometimes of the divine. What were these artist expressing or communicating?
Lets accept one thing before I continue in this vein. It would seem that some natural talent was used by the artist in these times as the quality of painting and use of line shows to us.
Often the figures were enhanced by colour sprayed through a tube, the paint blown from the mouth. Were these artists part of the magical process or were they paid in some way? Did they come from within the tribe or from elsewhere? Was it the Shaman who created the art for his own rituals?
Most of these questions are impossible to answer. What is possible is to use the knowledge that we have of tribal peoples and their traditions.
The shaman or healer or priest / holy man / woman is a figure still in existence today in some cultures. In fact the shamanic knowledge is being handed on to certain members of Western cultures. Shamanic practices have been well documented by anthropologists over the last 150 years.
The shamanic practices through out the world have several features in common. The shaman is a link to the spirit world. By going into a trance the shaman enters the other world and communicates with the spirits of animals or ancestors. These spirit guides help the shaman to resolve problems for individuals or whole groups. The spirit world is divided into three sections
Middle Earth where we live
The Underworld land of spirits and the dead
The Upperworld the place of Gods and Guardians
To reach a state of trance the shaman has several methods, dance, meditation and drugs being the main ones. When he enters the other world the shaman seeks his spirit guide to help him resolve his quest.
In these early times as in more recent recorded events the shaman would communicate with the spirits f the animals who, would or had been killed. Keeping a balance to the order of nature was necessary. At times of shortage he would communicate with the spirits to help him bring food to his people. At times of drought he would sing for rain.
This still does not answer the question as to why these pictures are there hidden deep in a dark cave away from prying eyes. As the shaman enters trance he begins the journey into the underworld the cave could well represent that journey. The pictures on the walls are the images seen on the journey. This could simply be a way of recording a spirit journey. A way to hold the images. It could even be used as a teaching device for new initiates. Perhaps this is why there so many overlapping animals.
Can you imagine the impact of such paintings on the uninitiated visiting the cave. In the dim light the images would have been clearer and brighter than today. The shaman could well have been dressed as the picture. The drum would be beating. Incense could well be burning. Certainly a great setting in which to induce hallucinatory experiences, or if you prefer, induce the beginning of a journey into the spirit world.
There are many other depictions of what have been called Animal Masters in caves around Europe and Asia. They link with the antlered and horned figures of Nordic mythology and Pan in Greek mythology. Whatever the true explaination is you can allow your imagination to run over the possibilities and no doubt add to my speculation of the Shaman of Trois Freres.
Biblography for the Shaman of Trois Freres
Van James Spirit and Art: Paleo-shamanic Iconography See
George Frazer The golden Bough
Nevill Drury The Shaman and The Magician
Michael Harner The Way of the Shaman
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