A friend recently relayed her trip to the Lascaux Cave Painting exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Many of you are familiar with the nearly 18,000 year-old Lascaux cave paintings discovered in France in the 1940’s. Werner Herzog’s recent documentary film Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an amazing opportunity to see the paintings come to life, as well.
It is believed that Lascaux was a shaman’s cave. A place where possibly many shamans came through the years, centuries—even millennia!—to worship, create and (possibly) tell stories.
There is one particularly intriguing drawing in the cave—the only representation of a human. Yet it is not a human, but that of a bird-man. Like Thoth in the Egyptian pantheon, this long-beaked, tall creature is a shape-shifted half-man, half-bird creature.
Our oldest images of our humanity are in fact shamanic in nature. We were to be seen as animal-first, as connected to our spirit world intrinsically. We can think of this from a contemporary shamanic perspective that shamans did not not simply “go on a journey”, but rather we were so ever-connected with spirit that we would be entwined with animal spirit and then painted, etched and carved into stone for future visitors to remember.
The Lascaux exhibit is very much about “perspective”, both how the shamans created the artwork (along the bumpy cave ceilings with a mindfulness of how a viewer on the floor might perceive the animal) and how we can use our modern perspective to visualize (using 3-D modeling and infrared light) how the painting were created.
But we also know that the bird-man offers another perspective. That of how the spirit world and this plane are one; how Eagle (bird) sees the world from that uniting of these planes; how we are invited to move between these worlds with the soaring and graceful spirit of a bird in flight.
Pretty powerful stuff.