The archetypes and the numinous art of the caves
Taking language as our model archetype has shown us its genetic, neural, behavioral, apperceptive and hereditary dimensions, and that no archetype can be sharply distinguished from any other. Overlapping and nesting inside one another, archetypes are the complexities within complexities that Jung found to be the best description of psychological reality. One essential aspect of archetype, however, has barely been mentioned: numinosity, the fact that archetypal realities are accompanied by an irresistible emotional force that arrests our attention and moves us to do what moments before seemed quite unthinkable. Like the face of Helen that launched a thousand ships or the cosmic intuitions that moved the Egyptians to build the pyramids and the Europeans of the Middle Ages to build the cathedrals, archetypes speak always and everywhere with vital motivating force. Numinosity derives from numen, Latin for “divine command.” Archetypes speak with the authority of a god. Jung says, “Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus” (CW13: ¶54). “The archetypes are . . . patterns of behavior . . . which express themselves as affects. The affect produces a partial abaissement du niveau mental” (CW8: ¶841); this “partial lowering of the mental level” means a loss of conscious energy so that the fi eld of awareness is narrowed down to the archetypal theme. An archetype speaks with the authority of a god because it fascinates us so powerfully that we no longer have the interest or will power to consider everyday matters that concerned us just a moment ago. When we think of our species’ fi rst culture, nothing fascinates us more than the painted caves. The images have not lost their power, for the people who were fascinated enough to make them were just like us. “The brain that painted the caves of Altamira was quite good enough to invent moon rockets; it has not changed in the meantime” (Fox 1989: 133). Our brain is still gripped by those images, and that raises the question as to whether the force that caused our ancestors to integrate their mental modules-to begin using language for physics, biology and politics, and not just gossip; to become revolutionary inventors of weapons, hunting techniques, political alliances and great art-might be connected with those fascinating caves. Caves with elaborately painted walls have been found at more than 300 sites throughout Europe, from Andalusia to the Ural Mountains. There were probably
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4
thousands of them-some not surviving weather or geological changes, some under water since the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age (Clottes and Courtin 1996; Clottes and Lewis-Williams 1998: 59). Upper Paleolithic art appeared as a fl ood of production, as though what had long been possible and “in the wind” suddenly became irresistible and manifested everywhere (Rudgley 1999: 234-9). Because we will never recover the meaning of the caves for the people who painted them (Davidson 1997: 127), African rock-art specialist David LewisWilliams proposes four principles to follow in drawing up a convincing account of the art. No theory can be fi nally “proved,” therefore one must strive for a view that (a) has internal consistency, (b) accounts for diverse fi elds of evidence, (c) is anchored in verifi able, empirical facts, and (d) leads to further questions and research (Lewis-Williams 2002: 48f). In the end, Lewis-Williams and Jean Clottes base their view-today’s most widely accepted account-on three undeniable facts. First, that each cave complex has to be seen as a single, planned unit which makes sense as a whole. Second, that the images themselves have a dreamlike, fl oating, detached quality. Third, that whatever our ancestors were up to, they were employing the same brain and body that we have today.