Author Topic: Paleolithic tribal culture, divinity and the role of women  (Read 1923 times)

Offline michaelintp

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Paleolithic tribal culture, divinity and the role of women
« on: November 19, 2015, 11:59:45 am »
When people travel to France, they think of the culture, the museums, the shopping, the restaurants. Or tragically, now geopolitical/terrorist events.

But for me, only one subject comes to mind:

Pech Merle Cave

This was the most spiritually humbling place I’ve ever been.

Imagine the awe you feel when you look up at a perfectly clear night sky, away from the city, filled with an infinitude of stars.  How small and insignificant you feel, and yet at the same time part of something Greater.

This is the feeling I had at Pech Merle, except instead of gazing out into space, I was gazing back into time. 25,000 years. To who we were, at our earliest spiritual core.

Other than “Ohhh my God ...,” I was speechless.

In this large cave, there are images of prehistoric beasts, spotted horses, human beings, and images made directly of human hands - both as handprints and as negative images of hands ("paint" blown around a hand, with the hand then removed).

“A recent theory suggests that these hand-prints are feminine and not masculine because of the delicacy and fineness of the fingers. This theory, which I support, would change completely our appreciation of these astonishing cave paintings. These painters were perhaps shamans or priestesses who alone had the right to go into the depths of the earth in order to draw, paint or engrave hunting scenes and religious symbols on the walls of the caves. Their identity and the meaning of their paintings has been lost in the mists of time.”


There is a theory that during the Paleolithic period, fertility was a great mystery. Women were revered, as the mothers embracing this extraordinary magical gift. When one recognizes that the connection between sexual relations and pregnancy was not intuitively obvious, but was in fact one of humankind's first "scientific discoveries," this makes perfect sense. Before the domestication of animals, and probably for some short time thereafter, pregnancy and childbirth was a source of wonder, the sole province of the female.

The revered role of women was likely heightened further by the fact that women, rather than men, were probably the first to develop herbal medicines. While the men were out hunting wild game, it was the women who remained behind, collecting plants and berries, for food. It seems that, in this role, women would have been the ones to discover the curative powers or certain plants and herbs. Thus, women also became the first custodians of medicinal cures, another great mystery enhancing the life and survival of the clan.

It is no wonder that the first priestly officiates may well have been women, priestesses well versed in the healing arts. This would explain the widespread appearance of myriad earth goddess fertility figurines throughout the human-occupied world during this period. Perhaps the earliest concept of deity was female as well. Connected with life itself, a positive and beautiful paradigm.

Then again, a more cynical interpretation of the widespread figurines, representing exaggerated female anatomy, is that they were the product of a male-dominated culture, and were nothing more than the Paleolithic equivalent of modern-day young men drawing naked women in their notebooks. A form of sexualized imagery. However, the fact that the hand images in Pech Merle were likely made by women suggests to me that this is not the case. That, instead, women held a revered rank equal to, if not exceeding, that of men. At least in the magical realm of the mystical and spiritual.

Populations during the Paleolithic period were dispersed. Organized large-scale and prolonged warfare of the type that developed later was unheard of.  City-states had not yet come into being. These cultural changes, and even before that the discovery of the process of reproduction, may have led to the demystification of the female, the usurpation of the healing arts, the glorification of war, patriarchal dominance, and the subjugation of women.

Here are more links on Pech Merle:

The Venus of Lespugue

I have a statuette of the Venus of Lespugue in my office. I saw the original on the same trip to France.  25,000 years old, carved from mammoth ivory.  It is a beautifully abstract and powerful image.

Don't ask how any of these thoughts reconcile with contemporary religious dogmas.  They don't, except perhaps to the belief that what is Ultimate Reality cannot be truly comprehended by our limited minds. These speculations represent part of an entirely different meta-level of conception, transcending religions per se, touching upon a more primal spiritual reality. At least, I think so. For in its most transcendent forms, the Ultimate is both male and female, while neither. An energy that cannot be conceptualized or described in words (with even the word "energy" entirely flawed). And yet, from our very origins, humanity has tried to connect to It.  As demonstrated in Pech Merle and the Venus of Lespugue.

My reaction was, and is, nothing but total awe.

To me, it is all so mind- blowing!

I’ve always wondered what anthropologists have found with isolated hunter-gather peoples. If some isolated tribe existed somewhere, in say the 19th or 20th centuries that was “discovered” that had no contact with the outside world, what are the roles of women and men?  Any “primitive” culture where women are co-equal with men? Is there a difference between marital roles (or other roles) vs. magical/spiritual roles? 

If some “primitive” hunter-gatherer people were found who accorded women leadership spiritual roles, that would support the theory above as to what was taking place during the Paleolithic period.

However, the absence of such a “primitive” culture would not disprove the theory. Because a “contemporary” culture (existing in the past few hundred years) that relies on hunting and gathering for its sustenance probably is aware of the causative relationship between sex, pregnancy and childbirth. This kind of knowledge would likely spread to peoples who were otherwise isolated, or later became isolated, as information has a way of spreading quickly.  Also, it may be that “contemporary” hunter-gather cultures might have some rudimentary experience with some forms of small domesticated animals (though on this, I’m not sure), where they could have connected the dots even if wholly and forever isolated from the rest of the world.

Bottom line is that it is hard for me to imagine any peoples living in the past few hundred years who remained totally isolated from the rest of humanity going all the way back to the Paleolithic period.  I mean, that’s really something out of fantasies like “The Land Time Forgot.”  The human population has expanded from that it was in Paleolithic times, and it seems inevitable that at some point all peoples “bumped into” each other, if you look back far enough.

The reason I raise this question is that, I believe, there are hunter-gatherer cultures we are aware of that are patriarchal (like, I believe, some Native American cultures).  I just don’t know to what extent there are identified cultures that are or were truly matriarchal, with women playing major leadership roles (spiritually as shamans or priestesses, in tribal leadership, in marital relationships such as polyandry vs. polygamy, etc.).

Anyway, I find this all very interesting.  With my focus being looking way back to humanity’s origins, both cultural and spiritual.  To sense who we really were and what we connected with throughout most of human existence (before the past few thousand years of recorded history).

The spirit of emptiness is immortal.
It is called the Great Mother
because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth.
It is like a vapor,
barely seen but always present.
Use it effortlessly.

Tao Te Ching, Ch. 6