Some of the earliest forms of art have been found on the walls of the caves where prehistoric man painted what seem to be the scenes from his “daily life”. At least that’s what historians thought until recently.
However, it’s a little known fact that for ancient people, art meant a lot more than just an aesthetic pastime with hedonistic purposes.
Ancient people used art as a form of magic and in purposes of reconnecting with the spiritual world. All the best historians and theoreticians of art know that sacred rituals were the birthplace of art. This was the heart and soul of Shamanism.
So what does art have to do with the spiritual world, you may wonder… Simply put, art is a sacred ritual in which symbols are employed to affect the matters of the spirit…
In that regard, the famous painting of the bison in the Altamira caves some 20,000 years ago does not depict what our ancestors liked to eat or hunt as most of the people thought…
What we think we know
Those paintings are used to honor the spirits of the animals in which many shamanic cultures saw the spirits of their ancestors.
It was believed that the paintings had soul-trapping properties. You trap the soul of the life form you paint. That’s why Muslim art forbids painting their prophets to this very day.
Anyway, soul-trapping sounds a bit dire, but it’s not to say that paintings were used explicitly to capture and control the painted.
It’s more probable that ancient shamans used those paintings to communicate with what they painted.
It’s important to note that there were 2 kinds of rituals as well as (at least) 2 kinds of prevailing desires of the humankind:
1) those meant to control nature for one’s own purposes and rise above the natural order
2) those meant to honor nature, nurture it, learn from it and bring a state of harmony between man and nature
First kind of strife strayed into black magic and (2000 years later) into industrialism which brings about spiritual and ecological catastrophes.
The second kind of strife is what real shamans are about. We use the word “shaman” in its most broad sense as someone who communicates with the spirits of nature and calls upon them to help us heal.
When we say “spirits of nature”, we mean “spirits of our ancestors”, as well as all shamans, know that man is one with the earth.