REINCARNATING THE WORD

 

             Though they be mad and dead as nails,
             Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
             Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
             And death shall have no dominion.(1) 

 

It is an ancient and widely distributed teaching that humans and animals were once able to converse with each other, along with plants, the wind, and the constellations.(2) Back then, human nature was nature itself. As the Genesis declares, "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech." (As with so much else in the Bible, the interpretation of this phrase was narrowed to include only humans.) This is our inheritance, a palimpsest drawn from all of existence, which is why it was natural for our Paleolithic ancestors, whose minds still contained their ancestral animal sense, to layer their images over each other when painting the walls of their cave-sanctuaries over thousands of years. They were, in the term we use now, "networked."

We will never be positive what the extraordinary art in these caves meant, but we’ve been getting closer. We know that the caves were difficult and dangerous to enter. One had to crawl through narrow pitch-black passageways. We also know that they weren’t domiciles. They were created by a numinous imagination, and probably were where the initiation of children into the tribe's mythology was carried out.

Imagine being a child forced to crawl into the pitch-black womb of Mother Earth, "a vessel containing the rawness of physicality, a place where blood, tissue, and bone alchemically transform."(3) Finally through, knees and shoulders bruised and bleeding, you stand up in a large chamber lit by flickering oil lamps, overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of the huge colorful paintings of animals and unfamiliar marks that suddenly appear on the walls, looking almost alive! Although there were rumors, you couldn't have imagined anything like this existed. Then the leader of the group, dressed in frightening animal skins, begins to drum...the sonorous slow thudding bouncing off the walls, becomes hypnotic...you and your friends begin  dancing, and chanting words you never heard before...then the animals begin singing and dancing too.

As time went on, Paleolithic became Neolithic, with its budding agricultural communities, property rights and the accumulation of wealth. From the evolving human brain and its budding psyche rose "a feeling or impression, sometimes amounting to a delusion, that one is not alone. There is a sense of a presence of someone beyond the self. It is not a visual hallucination, nor is it a misidentification; it is rather a feeling or sense of company."(4) Gods began to appear, each promising protection from the unpredictable forces of nature and the marauding of other tribes. In turn, they demanded sacrifices, sometimes of animals, in some cases, humans. Even while expanding, human consciousness was narrowing like walled cities they were building, gaining apparent safety at the cost of losing breadth.

Over millennia shamans, who were until then artist/physician/priest, began specializing. Those who became priests adopted the most successful gods as their own. Leaving behind their unique costumes, whose designs were discovered on transcendent journeys, they donned robes that marked a self-same authority, and a priesthood took shape. Meanwhile, charismatic leaders were garnering more and more wealth and power, until they felt themselves not to be mere mortals anymore. Then one day there arrived in the region of what we now call the "Holy Land," a small tribe of warriors named Hebrews. Subjected to the power of the Egyptian Pharaoh, they came upon the notion of a single, transcendent, omnipotent God, one who would, of course, choose them as his people.

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