Tag Archives: religion

Cave paintings and Sympathetic Magic

While we can often see depictions of large animals with fine detail in rock paintings, we seldom see a representation of realistically proportioned humans. Study suggests that the religion at that time, whatever it was, forbid people from painting realistic humans. I guess this would be one of the earliest examples of religious censorship on art. It is believed that the people employed shamans before hunts to either act out the upcoming events while in a trance or paint them on the cave walls. During this “drama” the shaman is believed to be in another plane, the spirit world.

The reason for the shamans to paint said paintings are still being discussed – one group believes it was a narrative on what really happened around them while another group believe the paintings are meant to be prayers. I side with the group who believes they were wishful portrayals they wanted and/or needed to be realized. This would explain the large animals in most of the paintings rather than small animals that would not feed the entire family/tribe. This sort of belief is similar to sympathetic magic:

“Sympathetic magic is based on the metaphysical belief that like affects like. Sympathetic magic is the basis for most forms of divination. The lines, shapes and patterns in entrails, stars, thrown dirt, folded paper, the palm of the hand (the longer the lifeline, the longer the life), etc., are believed to be magically connected to the empirical world–past, present and future. It is also the basis for such practices as sticking needles into figurines representing enemies, as is done in voodoo.” (http://skepdic.com/sympathetic.html)

Similar practices still exist in Turkey  in the form of tradition instead of religion. During certain days, such as “Hidirellez” people draw and/or write their wishes on a piece of paper and either bury or tie them to trees in their yards (possibly, depending on the geographical area the practice might have adapted ie:if there are no trees, bury it.).

Such similarities can also be seen in Voodoo Dolls in popular culture which can be tracked backed to “poppet”s in folk magic. Actions taken on a voodoo doll is believed to affect the victim – whoever the doll represents.  I would also consider drinking “the blood of christ” to be cleansed of sins as sympathetic magic as well.

sympathetic magic

more on sympathetic magic

participation mystique