Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part one

Although C. G. Jung is not referenced in J. T. Thomas' paper the Cousins of Sarah Baartman, the topics it covers give credit to a Jungian approach; perceives a number of Jungian concepts; and would be even more enhanced by direct reference to Jung's work in both the psychology of the modern individual (in this case, the archaeologist and the anthropologist) and also the mythologies of the ancient people that are studied.

Anyone completely unfamiliar with with the work of Jung and the mythologists strongly influenced by his work (most notably Joseph Campbell) might well ask about what we can possibly know about the mythologies of pre-literate peoples. While there are many problems in this sort of study, they are lessened, somewhat, first by the fact that the structure of our modern brains are no different from that of the earliest Cro Magnons; second, because people sharing similar environments and problems often come up with similar solutions, and this does not require any sort of diffusionism for this to happen; third, that beliefs also spread through syncretism, and when this happens, both the transmitted and the received beliefs change somewhat. Even in cases where people are "converted" to a new religion, that conversion does not wholly replace previous cultural elements. If that did happen, there would not be multiple sects within any religion.

To make things easy, I will format this post as a series of notes to Thomas' paper with the section number and title. Sometimes, the  topic will be directly Jungian, but where I speak of scientific topics, the Jungian content will be to question the psychological basis of why such scientific evidence was not considered. Obviously, I will often not be able able to answer this, or even suggest various possibilities, but the reader might speculate on these individually, and according to one's own interests and knowledge.

II. Ancient Races of the Ice Age

Thomas questions the "Fertility Idol" theories, but this presupposes that the idea of presenting a very corpulent female is to create fertility and not to create the conditions whereby fertility naturally occurs. Famine survivors are less fertile and this infertility can last in their children and grandchildren, However, these later generations are smaller and less subject to starvation. Thus this becomes an epigenetic evolutionary survival trait. We can thus see two possibilities for the creation of such figures in the fertility theme: the hope for plenty in the future, or the celebration of plenty in the present. These figurines also do not have to reflect the actual body types of the people who made them, the images can be symbolic and exaggerated. We do know, from cave art, that these people were quite capable of presenting realism, but often did not choose to do so and presented things, also, in symbolic ways. We do the same, today, and intention is the defining factor.

III: A Religion of Magical Homeopathies

In Primitive Mythology, Joseph Campbell (p.296-7) quotes a passage by Leo Frobenius about him, in 1905, asking some Pygmies in the Congo to go hunting for an antelope. One of the Pygmies tells him that certain preparations must first be made (I have abbreviated the quoted passage considerably):
"...One of the men, with an arrow in his drawn bow, stepped over to the cleared ground. In a couple of moments the rays of the sun struck the drawing and at the same instant the following took place at lightning speed: the woman lifted her hands as though reaching for the sun and uttered loudly some unintelligible syllables; the man released his arrow; the woman cried out again; then the men dashed into the forest with their weapons. The woman remained standing a few minutes and then returned to the camp. When she had left, I came out of my hiding and saw what had been drawn on the ground was an antelope, some four feet long: and the arrow was stuck in its neck. ...The hunters caught up with us that afternoon with a beautiful buck. It had been shot with an arrow through the neck.... They caught up with us again only two days later... And he told me simply that he and the others had run back to plaster the hair and blood on their drawing of the antelope, pull out the arrow, and then erase the picture... He pleaded earnestly that I should not let the woman know that he had talked to me about these things."
 Thomas stresses the anthropological fashion of the time in contrasting practices of magic in the past to more modern "civilized behaviour". However, the solution seems to have been to discount the idea of  magical practices, thus doing exactly the same thing again! In actual fact, we continue to use magic. It is just that we do recognize that we are doing that. Every time you read a newspaper or magazine where "Experts say" is given and without any reason given for believing that what they say is indeed true, you are experiencing the modern form of belief in magic manifested as an  inviolate belief in experts even though so-called experts often do not even agree with each other. This also has an unfortunate backlash effect on academia when they buy into that same idea and become psychologically inflated. I have seen the quality of research drastically diminish in areas where such inflation has taken place and where cliques are dominant. They all prop each other up! My term for dismissing the past completely and without any regard for what was actually well-researched is "the conceit of the present". It is rather pathetic when the only way that one can raise oneself up is to dismiss all that had come in an earlier time.

IV. The Raw and the Cooked

While it is true that tends in theory influence the question we ask of anything about the past, we should really try to understand that history (or pre-history, for that matter) is not "what happened" but a dialogue between the present and the past.This was well known to E. H. Carr when he wrote What is History in 1961. Perhaps E. H. Carr is now considered "old fashioned". When we enter a "new present" the "old present" then seems antiquated. The problem with this is that we rarely understand that our present ideas will always seem just as antiquated to future generations. This is why old forgeries are easy to detect. It is not that they are bad, it is just that they will always reflect the age in which they were made. Unfortunately, we are unable to perceive the nature of our own age because we cannot stand back from it. We think that we are now right about everything .

More tomorrow.

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