||THE MOTIF OF BIRTH IN PREHISTORICAL ARTFORMS
Abstract characters in rock cutting can be discovered in the whole world from the stone-age or later epochs. Some basic elements of these systems of signs can later also be found in the first writing systems. However, originally these characters will have had no meaning as letters, but should be characteristic for particular objects, complex behaviours or thought conceptions. I would like to show in the following that earliest rock engravings can to be connected with a birth topic. Then a connection will be shown up on the basis of some recent rock pictures between the group of topics hunt/war and birth.
The phenomenon of the cups or grooves is observed again and again in prehistoric cult expressions. Those are generally small round recesses with an average scope of 4-6 cm that were struck into cliffs or special bowl stones. Although the discussion in prehistorics, at which accurate point in time humans started to express their thoughts by works of art, has not yet been brought to an end, it can nevertheless be stated that the motif of the cups can be found in the earliest sites as well as in all following periods. The execution of this recess has experienced no remarkable modifications in most different groups of cultures over thousands of years. Nevertheless I do not consider it conclusive, that a similar symbolic meaning was intended for all cups upon their production. Possibly in some cases not primarily spiritual contents were to be transported. This simple form of rock shaping could also have developed unintentionally by the use of percussive tools or could have served as marks for the hunting ground or as bait container for hunting.
Interestingly enough these cups can be seen repeatedly in reference to birth or fertility rites. With the Pomo Indians in North America cups or grooves were cut into a baby-stone, which was supposed to work against infertility. In Brittany and Normandy farmer's wives, who lacked an offspring, are to have spread butter or honey in bowl pits, in order to receive a child trough this offering. In Germany the people's faith in the cups was so deeply rooted that even the Christian churches gave it consideration. During the building of the St. Gotthard church in Brandenburg two sandstone blocks were especially added into the portal walls, at which the population could grind out cups and grooves. The rock powder from such bowls was supposed to be a means by which young married couples could make sure of child blessings. The bowl pits of many stone surfaces on Hawaii which are called Piko-holes there, are connected closely with the human birth. In order to express the desire for a long life of the child, parts of the navel cords of new-born children were deposited there as an offering.
The earliest rockcutting that certainly reveal a content of the abstract dots and lines, are supposed to show the female abdomen. These vulva-portraits are surrounded by multiple bowls and occasionally also the mouth of the uterus is symbolised by cups. The Vulva motif is possibly a direct natural representation of objects and in former times possibly already a single cup had this meaning. Both the production of rock powder as well as the abstract representation of a vulva by a cup can have led thereby to the so-called bowl stones, which can be found on all inhabited continents. In Pomerania bowl stones were called "swan stone" or "stork stone", in Switzerland it is told that the small children come from these bowls.
The form and size of these stones resemble rocks that are still often used in parts of Africa today by women in labour in order positively influence the birth process by a repeated change of position. Bowl stones could have had the same function in early cultures. If at one stone repeatedly easy and happy births had happened, the population could thereafter have regarded this stone as particularly helpful. The faith that helpful magic forces are in the stone would supply a first explanation, why rock powder was struck from it repeatedly. In addition, the cups could also have served as a sign of gratitude for a good birth.
Exactly as the vulva-symbols also the first spatially formed representations of the human body, so-called venus-statues can be connected with topics of the birth. With these small figures particularly the chest, the belly and abdomen areas of pregnant women are represented. In all these stone-age objects the portrayed female bodies are obviously looked at from the outside.
A psycho-historic look at stone-age cultural expressions, that refers itself to Lloyd deMause, might however expect an increased-also visual- representation of prenatal perceptions. In the "Grundlagen der Psychohistorie" deMause describes a model in which the prenatal perceptions can be recovered in the ritual actions of all cultures. The "foetal drama" defines thereby a sequence of four complex initial states, which are universally experienced by the foetus and from those the main scenarios for outbursts of feeling which are performed in rituals can later be deduced.
They can be called the conditions of the "nourishing placenta", "poisoning placenta", "cosmic fight for survival" during the birth and the following "releasing". He mentions in the essay "die fötalen Ursprünge der Geschichte" different rituals where the placenta has a great importance and shows examples of how this organ is transformed in legends or abstract characters. I agree that prenatal perceptions are reflected in manifold ways in ritual expressions, because nowadays it can be regarded as a proven fact that the foetus is capable to perceive prenatal stimulation and can thus get an idea of its mother from the inside. In my opinion however this picture is limited in the visual area to the perception of the uterus as a "red light district", in which the placenta cannot be perceived by the eyes as an individual object. In my eyes the cultural attention towards the placenta is much more strongly linked to postnatal observations of the assistance at birth. In the model "foetal drama" the placenta must be defined as a substantial partial aspect of the foetal environment, however the term "nourish/poisoning uterus" would in this model be a better reflection of the foetus' integral perceptions.
If we acknowledge that a foetus in the last three month of pregnancy has the same sensual abilities as observed with an early-born then the following picture is revealed.
The foetal organism can hear, feel and register movements with its organ of equilibrium. At the same time it possesses all prerequisites for smelling, tasting and crying. But not all of its abilities can be used in the mother's body filled with amniotic fluid. The larynx cannot produce acoustic waves underwater and the nose cannot smell. The foetal eyelids cannot be opened for a long time, because they are grown together within the lash area. I did not find an exact time in literature when the separation of the lids normally takes place in the uterus. Indications vary between the sixth and eighth month. But I have found a more exact specification of the point in time when the eye pupils start to react reflex-like to a change in the lighting conditions. This is supposed to be the case in the 35th week of pregnancy. At the same time the eye movements are frequently still uncoordinated and if objects are caught hold of, then only in a viewing distance of 20-25cm. The uterus is surely not perceived as an eternally black cave. On radiating sunny days, even through the clothing sufficient light can fall into the abdominal cavity of pregnant women, so that it is can be distinguished by the foetus. Starting from the 35th week the foetus would thereby possess the visual ability to see its uterine environment. But at this time it might have no sufficient space to distinctively regard individual objects, because by now the closely fitting motherly integument would constantly limit its view to a few centimetres. In earlier stages of development the foetus would perhaps have had a free view with sufficient light, but at that time its eyes were still closed.
Already in the embryonic development stage (8th week) reactions to contacts can be observed. I believe that only tactual sensations enable a differentiation between the own body and a surrounding integument. Every time the foetus touches itself, e.g. hand and foot, then at two points of the body nerve cells are stimulated and the outgoing signals are passed on the brain simultaneously. Whereas the foetal nerve cell is only stimulated at one point when the integument is touched. Starting from the 16th week the sense of touch is already so far developed that the foetus can distinguish different surface textures. In an ultrasonic picture from the 22nd week a foetus is shown that strokes the placenta. The bulging and pulsating vein network of the placenta will at this time differ clearly from a comparatively smooth surface like the tight motherly abdominal wall.
If whole walls in stone-age caves can be found, whose surfaces are decorated with deeply engraved strokes and lines, then these ritual expressions must not have been exclusively planned as visible characters. Even if we primarily look at these characters nowadays, they could have originally served as feeling characters.
The phenomenon of cult objects in rituals that are primarily touched can be proven in Australia. The natives there keep stone disks decorated with deeply engraved lines. Each of the individual disks is connected to a legend, which is told by the inaugurated men on the occasion of certain rituals, when they feel the disk soaked with fat and blood. Although the engraved characters are also clearly visible, they apparently have no visual expression, but address themselves only to the sense of touch. The Aborigines themselves explain such rituals with happenings in a mythical distant past, the so-called dream time. Inaugurated men are supposed to reconstruct the past incidents in their rituals. The mystical dream time however, is not supposed to be identical to the common dreams of an adult. The term dream time is a word creation used first by ethnologist at the start of the 20th century. These Ethnologists most likely never assumed that the dream time can refer to prenatal experiences. In the meantime there are however investigations that prove that the sleeping and awakened status of foetus differ in one point substantially from those which occur in the later life.
On normal function the brain produces tiny electric currents that can be measured on the scalp. On the basis of such an EEG it is possible to differentiate whether a person is awake, sleeping or dreaming, because each of these states of consciousness is characterised by specific wave patterns. The first recognisable state of consciousness, that can be recognised with early-born is the REM-sleep, which is characterised by a wave pattern, that is typical for dream phases. While a twenty-year old person with a sleeping time of eight hours has on average several (REM-sleep) dream phases lasting several minutes, a foetus is during the last three months apparently for hours in dream phases. A baby born in time sleeps 16-18 hours a day; half of it is still REM-sleep. It seems to occupy itself thus one third of the day with dreaming. Obviously we have already learned to dream before we came into the world. The functions of the differently fashioned dream phases in development have not been completely clarified by the sleep and brain research. From my point of view temporally extended sleep and dream phases could make it easier for the foetus to bear the painful fluctuations of the oxygen and nutrient supply, as it is assumed in the model of the foetal drama. However, traumatic prenatal experiences must not completely be missed by sleeping or dreaming. The fascination for fire which can be found in all cultures, which probably is the most impressive in the christian mythology of an impressively decorated conception of hell, corresponds in my eyes with the perceptions of a foetus during its awake phases, i.e. to be trapped in a space with red light and suffering hardship. Exactly the same way I can interpret the christian fantasy of hell as a transfiguration of prenatal experiences, the fantasy of a radiating white sky where milk and honey flows and beings fly can be read as a transfiguration of experiences, which can be made in the first year after birth. The light perceived by the new-born child is not filtered in red, there is mother's milk to drink and as long as the child can't walk it is carried again and again, which provides the impression of floating.
According to my interpretation the "hemispheres" heaven and hell show in a transfigurative way "imaginations", which we already became acquainted with at the start of life and not places of refuge, which we face in view of death. We would have known the uterus not only as stronghold of eternal joy, that is worth to flee back to, but as a temporal prenatal hell in which we were repeatedly confronted with enormously painful sensations. The consequences of these pains are a traumatisation, whose marks remain formative for our perceptions in the later postnatal heaven. Moments of greatest fear, which emerge again and again in life, would then falsely be associated with death. The speechless, confused states of feverish excitation and a simultaneously convulsive and helpless remaining of the body in a "fright rigidity" do not reflect "mortal agony", but are reminiscences of reactions already encountered by the foetus in prenatal stress situations. We are unconsciously less afraid of an encounter with the unknown, e.g. death, than of a repetition of the experiences banned in the subconscious, like birth.
In her book "Blutrituale - Ursprung und Geschichte der Lust am Krieg" Barbara Ehrenreich supports the opinion that none of the common cultural-philosophical theories is so far sufficient to explain the fascination of martial violence or the complex feelings that leads humans to set war in scene as a quasi religious ritual. She then presents her own "theory of feelings", where there it is above all the bloody sacrificial rituals of prehistoric times, which are to supply hints to the true nature of war. According to her opinion in the spiritual theatre of war rituals humans try to master a primeval fear of being eaten by an over-powerful predator as a sacrifice or prey.
In "Die Erschaffung der Götter- Das Opfer als Ursprung der Religion" Gunnar Heinsohn seems to pursue a similar theory, when he presupposes that the fearsome experience of environmental disasters firstly lead humans to create THE DIVINE. However he connects the primeval fears with cosmic devastations of heaven, mountainous upheavals and regions buried under floods. The survivors of early volcanic eruptions, floodings and meteorite impacts could master their panic neither by escape, attack or negotiations. The disturbed survivors found a hold in individual, ark-typical priests, which supplied a therapeutic way-out: Like infants the whole community re-enacted the overwhelming impressions as a means of healing.
Both Ehrenreich and Heinsohn pay no direct regard to the content of the theories of deMause. They do not mention him in their bibliographies. At least Heinsohn should know the writings of deMause, since in other context he had already expressed himself very polemically against deMause. Perhaps they wanted to prevent an objection arising out of the monocausal basic concept of the foetal drama: that the primeval fears they postulated are likewise connected with a birth trauma. The fear of large predators, earthquakes or flood disasters can develop in the individual years later and only in connection with a set of birth experiences. A long time before we as a child could differ between a rabbit and a tiger at all, we were "swallowed" as a foetus for weeks in a closely fitting integument. In the primeval fear of being swallowed, the primeval trauma of having been swallowed is reflected. The fear of comets and meteorite hails colluding the skies blood-red is connected with the trauma of having already once been locked up in a blood-red environment. The traumatic perception of labour pains can have laid the foundations for the fear of disruptions and earthquakes. The fear of flood disasters results from the desire not to be completely enclosed by the amniotic fluid again. The short term overcoming of these primeval fears in rituals can give joy and lead to the compulsive community games in early cultures, which are called war as birth or hunt as birth.
The basic motive of the compulsive desire for war-hunt deriving from a birth trauma reads: Kill the beast that surrounds you and you can go back to the Kingdom of Heaven. In each case however the beast is a representative for an earlier uterine environment, which was left in the bloodbath of the birth.
A reference between hunt and birth can be pointed out substantially more clearly in prehistoric rock characters than by a threat of predators or environmental disasters. There are hunters connected by lines with other persons. An intellectual connection with the navel cord imposes itself here. In other places pregnant women form the background of hunting pictures. In some scenes persons are shown in positions that are typical for birth representations. The hunted animals are often decorated with large ornamentations perhaps symbolising wounds or running blood.
With the birth of their children, adult women have the chance to relive an internalised birth trauma with exchanged roles in their own body, weakening it gradually. Men cannot do that. These individuals shaped likewise by pre- and perinatal trauma seem to have found a form of appeasement of their primeval fears in joint hunting and war experiences. That is the reason why these activities are carried out primarily by men. The classical picture of the gender-specific division of labour would acknowledge itself here, i.e. women get children and men make war, only the classical reason why women should take less part in war actions would now have to be revoked. Women do not go to war as frequently because they have to get children, but because they can get children and therefore simply have much less need for martial actions as the men. The blood baths, which the greatest predator of the world causes again and again since the stone-ages, are not primarily for the satisfaction of our physical hunger, because we could nourish ourselves more easily with vegetable food, but to satisfy the soul strained by a foetal blood craving.
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