Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lion Woman and Cave Mind

What do you see here?

This figurine was carved from mammoth ivory some 32,000 years ago. It is 11.7 inches tall. It is said to be the oldest zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and one of the oldest of all sculptures. The pieces of the body were found in the Stadel cave of Hohlenstein Mountain, in the Swabian Alps in Germany, in 1939. The lion head was discovered, restored and set on the shoulders nearly sixty years later, in 1998.

In German, the figurine is called Löwenmensch, a word that is gender-neutral in meaning (though grammatically masculine) and can be translated as "lion person" or "lion human." Some scholars think the figure is female: a woman's body surmounted by the head of a an ancient cave lion.

To contemplate this little statue is to be transported into the era of Cave Mind. It is a state of being and consciousness in which human, animal and god are not set apart from each other. Waking and dreaming stream together. Fluidity of consciousness is matched by the mobility and mutability of the energy bodies. A bear may become a man, a woman may become a lion, appearing in two places at once, as animal and as human.

There is little doubt in my mind that the lion-human of Hohlenstein-Stadel is a shaman of Old Europe, with the shaman's ability to shapeshift, to meld forms, and to operate on multiple levels of consciousness.

In a provocative recent essay, William Irwin Thomson suggests that

One of the skills of the shaman that contemporary Everyman does not possess is the ability to separate the vital or etheric body from the physical body and to project it to take possession of an animal—a lion or a jaguar—as was dramatized in Val Lewton’s classic 1942 horror movie, Cat People. Contemporary Everyman often has experience of astral projection, or out-of-the-body travel, but this skill of animal possession is much rarer. Modern man as a geek alienated from nature is much more likely to project his etheric body into a computer or an avatar in a computer game

I won't mourn if contemporary Everyman has lost the power to "possess an animal" (that is to say, to possess an animal body) in the manner of the horror movies. But in a gentler mode, the power of transfiguration - to reshape and project energy bodies - is still with us, though dormant in most people, in a time when the Cave of Mind is an electronic cloud of geek projections.


Artful Alchemist said...

I am struck by the sculpture's similarity to the form of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, who has a lion's head on a woman's body. It's fascinating to see this depicted from a much earlier era.

Robert Moss said...

Yes, others will see that resemblance too. Worth remembering that Egypt had other lion-headed goddesses, including Tefnut.
Hohlenstein Woman is not only much older, but a figure from Old Europe, so the plot thickens.

Wanda Burch said...

I felt a similarity as well to the Egyptian figures. He/She is quite stunning. I recall a guide in Egypt telling me that there is an ancient period where the gods traveled back and forth between areas not considered so easily traversed by those who study the culture in purely academic terms.

In the everyday world of a much later time in America I love a simple story of personal shamanism - or maybe just personal magic - revealed in one of the slave narratives collected by the WPA interviewers. The question was - do you believe in dreams: "I do believe in dreams. I had one once I laid down on the bed and took a nap and then I dreamed that somethin' was a choking me and I pulled at my dress and a big snake dropped out of my bosom and rolled down on the bed. Then on the floor and when I woke up sho nuff there was a snake on the floor by the bed and I killed it then I knowed that I had an enemy sure enough in a few days a woman I thot was my friend turned against me. By killing the snake I knowed that I would conquer that enemy. She had no power against me. I brought in my power and she couldn't touch me."

Robert Moss said...

Wanda - I suspect that the time/space where the gods and animal powers travel back and forth between realms is not only then but Now, in the spacious Now of dreaming.

Your adventures among American records are always fascinating, and in this WPA-culled narrative of a (former) slave we certainly see an old-time style of dreaming. She gets a snake off her body in the dream, then kills a literal snake in her place, then finds that someone close was a snake in another sense and that the previous actions had removed the close enemy's power to harm. Great stuff.

Anne said...

I'd visited the Löwenmensch in Ulm a number of months ago. I was so struck by its magic, that I put its picture up.

For me, mammoth has been about lessons in personal strength and identity--so much that its been a part of my email address for years. I was amazed to see how the mammoth tusk provides the energy and form for the lion-human shapeshifting.

It was a great surprise to find Löwenmensch on your blog. If I can ask, why this particular post today?

It was a beautiful synchronicity for me. Just this afternoon, I'd confirmed my registration in a class to create a replica of a flute found in a cave in the same area and estimated to be about as old. I'd been pondering how to use the flute, if I succeed in making it. Now, I think I should start by playing something for Löwenmensch.

Robert Moss said...

Anne - I am very interested in the project to replicate that ancient flute, and would love to hear more if you succeed in doing that and in playing it.

Why post on the Löwenmensch today? Well, a friend sent me a link to an article by William Irwin Thomson (quoted in my piece) where the image is used, without much explanation. And I am in the midst of writing more about the shamanic approach to the animal powers in a new book.

nina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Moss said...

Nina - Yes, it's interesting that in Eastern Orthodoxy, St Christopher sometimes appears with the head of a dog. Word-play between Canaan and "canine" (the original Christopher was Canaanite) has been suggested. In pious legend, the saint had the appearance of a ferocious attack dog before he found Christ.

I'm intrigued by a possible continuity between depictions of the most famous dog-headed guide for the soul's journey, Anubis (linked by Coptic Christians to Gabriel, the archangel of dreams) and Christopher.

Irène said...

Why this particular post today? I don't yet know, but I feel certain that it's linked to last night's the solar eclipse. ... The strangest things do cross my mind when I read these posts.

Robert Moss said...

Irene - Do you mean the full moon lunar eclipse (not visible from North America)? A scary time, for peoples living before artificial lighting.

Unknown said...

Yesterday I ventured to the art store to price some supplies. There was an older gentleman clerk sitting by a rack of paper I needed to look at, and after asking him about that, he struck up a conversation with me. He went on to tell me about an interesting art history class he took on 'the grotesque' in art, and asked me if I knew the origins of this. I could only think of the drawings da Vinci had done, but he went on to tell me it came from ancient grottos in Italy they'd discovered underground, where interesting arrangements of humans with plants and animals were found.

Unknown said...

When I went to the art supply store yesterday, an older gentleman clerk ended up helping me price some supplies I needed. He struck up a conversation with me, which led to him telling me about an art history class he'd once taken focusing on 'the grotesque' in art. He asked if I knew where grotesque originated. I didn't... so he told me it derived from ancient grottoes in Italy, where human remains were found in odd arrangements with plants and animals alike. After looking this up online here, I don't really see much information about any chimeric remains found? But grottoes/grotesque, interesting!

Unknown said...

Aw, I thought my other comment disappeared after logging in! Sorry 'bout that. eep!

Robert Moss said...

Meredithea - Now worries about the posting glitch. We certainly can't call it "grotesque" now you have reminded us what that word means :-)

Anne said...


Thank you for the encouragement in my swan flute project. It's to be made using the same types of stone tools as the original.

I think of the caves and area there as the Land of the Magic Flute, and (now that I'm officially registered in the workshop)will be asking for dreams about other steps in creating and working with such an instrument.

Part of me wants to time travel back, to see how it was done thousands of years ago. Another
part wants to travel forward for ideas from your upcoming book on shamanism and animal powers.

Am looking forward to reading it!

Robert Moss said...

Anne - and why shouldn't you travel back to those times before history? You'll find the core techniques in my book DREAMGATES, a description of how they are central to the new syncretic discipline I call dream archaeology in my SECRET HISTORY OF DREAMING, and an account of a personal and group journey to a priestess of an ancient Earth Goddess in my DREAMER'S BOOK OF THE DEAD (in the chapter titled "Death and Rebirth through the Goddess").

Adelita Chirino said...

This post is fascinating and inspiring, Robert. Cave Mind is a great shorthand for your definition of our ancestor's consciousness. I'm thinking of an important dream I had where a young man shape-shifts into a magnificent German Shepherd, a dog I met the next day in waking. You've given me a whole new purpose with which to enter this dream. I also look forward to your new book. Ache!

Robert Moss said...

Gracias, Adelita! I'll take all the "Ache" I can get right now as I work towards completion of the new book.