Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The Shaman of Trois Freres
The caves at 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. 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.
When I first saw the images 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 skilfully 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.
My copy of the Animal Master is on the web site http://www.mask-and-more-masks.com/The-Shaman-of-Trois-Freres.html.
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 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.
Biblography 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
©Ian Bracegirdle 2005
You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
Ian Bracegirdle 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK.01535 692207
Thursday, May 05, 2005
What does this strange bodiless head represent? Why does his face look at you from the pillars and doorways of ancient churches? What is he doing in our cavernous cathedrals? And believe it, or not, he can even be found on the walls of New York and Chicago banks.
Versions of the same face can be found all over the world
Keep your eyes open when visiting some of the old English churches for the images of the Green Man. Why does this Pagan figure exist in Christian churches and Cathedrals?
Would you like a description of the face? Usually it is carved in wood or stone. Sometimes it is high up on the roof supports or pillars. Occasionally it is hidden from sight. In other places it is carved on the end of pews. Some churches have several.
The strange face is generally wreathed in greenery, leaves all around his head. Often the branches spew out from his mouth and twist about him in a symmetrical pattern. The leaves appear to be of different types, oak, ivy etc. Sometimes he has bunches of fruit on his foliage.
If you get to visit some of the traditional European Midsummer festivals watch out for the green leafed figure. He is still around today.
Just what the Green Man represents is not clear to us in this age. Being green and covered in leaves we can assume something to do with fertility. Or can we? The following is a brief exploration of this phenomena.
Did you ever watch the film The Wicker Man. It is a strange low budget, British, film set on one of the Scottish Islands. The story revolves around the building of a mid summer wicker man to burn and celebrate the Solstice. Human sacrifice is also a feature of the story.
The story relates back to ancient pre Christian times when sacrifices were made to the gods at mid summer. The green man also comes from these times. He appears to represent the rebirth.
One of the sources that I have used is the Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer. In it he mentions the Green Wolf and similar festivals. These take place in Scandinavian counties. During the election and initiation of the Green Wolf he and his fellow would dance around a fire. Another part of the occasion would involve capturing Green Wolf and pretending to throw him into the bonfire.
These reflect back to the Celtic traditions of burning a human sacrifice in the mid summer bonfire. The wood used for this was Oak. A timber considered as sacred in ancient traditions.
So when the Green Man appears in festivals such as seen at Urnash in Switzerland. His leafed mask and costume reach back to the Celtic fertility rites. He represents the magic of the tree, rebirth and sacrifice.
The Bodiless Green Man in the church was an effigy taken by the Christian church from the powerful pagan celebrations and brought in to the building as a way to appease the converts. That he has been used in the banks shows how this figure now represents the fertility of money and commerce. Would those ancients who set the whole thing in motion approve?
As I have said before you can speculate long and hard on these ancient links to our everyday life. To follow up the brief discourse here visit.
www.mikeharding.co.uk/greenman/greenindex.html Mike is an English folk singer and teller of very funny stories. His site has some interesting details.
Here you can see the photos of Nigel Rushbrook of Green Men in the South West of the UK.
The Quest for the Green Man by John Matthews ISBN 0-8356-0825-5
The Green Man by Kathleen Bastford
Also if you are really keen on the mythology and practices of the pre Christian era read The Golden Bough by James George Frazier.
Illustrated Isbn 0-7134-8108-0 I recommend this version for a lighter read.
Text version 0-684-82630-5
Ian Bracegirdle is a teacher, course leader and therapist. He is the creator of the site www.mask-and-more-masks.com a site for all interested in masks. Ian is fascinated by the art form of masks as well as the cultural connotations. He has researched many areas of masks and recognise commonlinks in many ancient traditions. He believes our current masking traditions are linked back to the time of shaman and other forms of magic predating monotheist religions.
The earliest masking records are at least 25,000 years old.
© Ian Bracegirdle 2004 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK 01535 692207
http://mask-and-more-masks.com You may use this article freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and that people who subsequently use this article follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
The Mask and More Masks Site
The whole thing developed from my mask making courses at the Commonwealth Institute in London. The teachers and other students that I taught needed background information. I compiled much of the following for that purpose. Later additons have followed as my knowledge has expanded.
Below is a list of the content and the links that you need to access the site.
I'm Ian Bracegirdle I live in the UK. I would like you to join me in this exploration of mask and more masks. Sign up for the news letter that will be on its way to you in the next few weeks as I build the contacts. As you provide me with thoughts and ideas lets see where we can go........................
©2005 Ian Bracegirdle 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK. 01535 692207
Tribal masks and traditions from around the World, Africa, The Americas. Oceania, Asia and Europe
Latex Masks Halloween Masks and Fun Masks
A whole area of great infromation devoted to Latex Masks Halloween Masks and Fun Masks with links to suppliers and mask making techniques
Carnival Masks and Masquerade Masks
Carnival masks and the history of masquerade from the earliest times maybe a bit controvertial
An introduction to American Masks, North South and Central. Including Mexican Masks, Haida Masks, Kwakiutl Masks, Guatemalan Masks
Entertainment Masks information and listings from all sources. These include Theatre Masks, Film Masks, Wrestling Masks, Noh Masks both old and modern.
mask makers and mask making
The place for Mask Makers and those who wish to know about mask making featuring techniques, experts and galleries.
Help Me Please
Contact me page about masks from all over the World, what I know and what I don't know
An introduction to African Masks from many different tribes, including old danced masks, recent masks and decorative masks
About me, why is it that I enjoy masks so much visit me for an exchange of information about masks and related topics
An introduction to European Masks, with consideration of European Masks, Austrian Masks, Hungarian Masks, Swiss Masks, French Masks, Spanish Masks, British Masks their styles and influences
Paper masks, making simple paper face masks using a single piece of paper, use you imagination
An introduction to theatre masks from different times and cultures
An introduction to Party Masks do it yourself or but it that is the question
A Introduction to the traditions of Wrestling masks in UK, Mexico, Japan, USA and other places.
an page that will introduce you to noh masks the history traditions and makers ancient and modern
The Masked Fool
The fool in masking traditions plays a key role organising the watchers and treading that thin line between sane and insane the spiritual and the material
Join our Newsletter
The sign up page for the the mask and more masks newsletter.com
Museums and exhibitions
An upto date list of exhibitions and museums around the world
Reviews of books on masks
Fair Trade Sites for Masks
A page with links and affiliate links to sites selling mask using fair trade guidelines.
About Mask and More Masks Site
A descrition of the mask and more masks site the author and the site structure.
African Masks the Art of Creation
African masks were created for specific purposes. The process of creation was often secret and followed set rituals.
The Shaman of Trois Freres
The caves at Trois Freres contain some of the earliest records of shaman masks.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Hello and welcome to the Mask and More Masks Blog
The www.mask-and-more-masks.com site is for people interested in all kinds of mask, ancient, tribal and modern. Take a look.
I will be adding jottings and thoughts to this blog around my interest in masks and mask making.
At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to an article on the Green Man. This figure, sheathed in green leaves, is common in some masquerades. He relates back to pagan festivals but is found in churches and cathedrals around Europe.
Who is he and why is he there?
Where did his body go?
For more on the Green Man keep watching this space.
Isn't Blogging a wonderful idea.
More regular updates to follow on all sorts of interesting Mask subjects.
Watch this space.