ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
Caves (1998) have advanced shamanic interpretations of Paleolithic art in decorated caves in southern France. There also have been the interpretations of Abbe Henri Breuil, whose theories of hunting magic dominated the field until after his death in 1954. Breuil was fascinated by a figure in a cave on the estate of French aristocrat Count Begouen in the Pyrannean area of southwestern France. This figure, whom Breuil called “The Dancing Sorcerer,” is a human wearing reindeer antlers, clad in skins (the hindquarters of a horse, perhaps), and with prominent genitals, engaged in what seems to be some kind of ritual dance. Beneath him is a profusion of engraved animals. Some recent authorities have renamed him the “Master of Animals.”
For our purposes here, what is most interesting about the popular study presented by Clottes and Lewis-Williams is their discussion of shamanism itself. They do so in terms of “altered states of consciousness” or ASCs, a theory advanced by the California-based psychologist Charles T. Tart in a book of readings entitled Altered States of Consciousness (1969) that appeared at the height of the counter-culture. He, and contributors to the book such as Arnold Ludwig and Richard Deikman, were interested in the kind of experiences which hippies were having under the influence of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, and were attempting to explain them in the context of other unusual experiences. This study, while dated, is still useful.
Borrowing Tart’s term, Clottes and Lewis-Williams assert that altered states of consciousness are at the heart of shamanism throughout the world, and that the latter is a “neuropsychological” phenomenon. They contend that shamanism provided the “principal access that we have to the mental and religious life of the people who lived in western Europe during the Upper Paleolithic.” These were Homo sapiens sapiens, people like ourselves who lived and flourished in the Ice Age around 40,000 years ago. Presumably, they had the same kind of nervous system as people today. As Clottes and Lewis-Williams reiterate (drawing on Emil Ludwig), “Alert consciousness is the condition in which people are fully aware of their surroundings and able to act rationally to those surroundings.” The “inward” or “reflective” states are all “light” ASCs, such as daydreaming, in which one is less alert, night dreaming, and “lucid dreaming,” the state in which one can (or can be taught to) control imagery. Shamans make full use of all of the above.
The deep stage of the ASC continuum is essential to shamanism. It includes hallucinations, perceiving things which are not there—not only visions, but states in which one hears, smells, and tastes things which are not real. Shamans enter this state at will, and value it highly. It is also an important state of mind for occultists. While this ASC is characteristic of some of the mentally ill, it also can occur in healthy minds. Shamans live perfectly competent lives apart from their participation in shamanic trances.
According to Clotte and Lewis Williams, geometric forms are seen in the lightest stages of ASC. These may be dots, zigzags, grids, sets of parallel lines, nested curves, or meandering lines, of which hundreds have been found on the walls of caves in southwestern France decorated 15,000 to 35,000 years