Magdalenian Painting of a Horse

Less common in Paleolithic art, the mutant man-animals, such as the horned and tailed “shaman-sorcerer” recorded by Abbé Breuil at the cave of Les Trois Frères, are suggested to be the product of deep-level trance images. The beholding of so-called therianthropes (from Greek: therion, a wild beast, and anthropos, a man) could be compared to the effects of datura, which induce images of, and sensations of being, animals.

Lewis-Williams and Dowson's hypothesis located the San rock art within a larger context of mythology and shamanic practice. The stretched and mutated figures correspond to descriptions of trance states experienced by shamans, quoted in the ethnography of the San. The classification of entoptic imagery was derived from psychiatric models and the iconography of peoples known to still use hallucinogens, such as the Tukano. This allows an analytical framework that can be extended. Entoptic imagery is treated as a “human universal,” something remaining constant irrespective of racial or cultural background and conditioning. Leroi-Gourhan's analyses are limited to particular sign-forms, treating them as ideograms or stylized pictograms. Lewis-Williams's theories can be applied to more random markings and to overall compositions, such as the famous mural of horses from the cave at Pech-Merle in Cabrerets, south of Lascaux. Here, sprayed blobs represent dapples on one horse's body, but also extend beyond the outline to create a halo. The blobs can be seen to correspond with images from the third of Lewis-Williams's six categories of entoptic phenomena. Images from all six states are represented in European Paleolithic art and also the Shoshonean rock art of Coso and that of the San in Africa.

Image and excerpt from Adrian Morgan's Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Folklore, and Cultural Oddities of a Strange Association, (1995, pp. 178-179).

For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see:

Magdalenian Painting of a Horse
Magdalenian Painting of a Horse Description
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