Mini-Lecture Cave Paintings
In the wonderful series, Power of Myth, the noted anthropologist Joseph Campbell discusses his theories about the paintings in the caves of France. He believes that there were two important reasons that our distant ancestors created the beautiful first paintings in history:
1. The paintings serve a function in the initiation rites of young boys into the tribe of adult hunters. When a boy reached the age of maturation he was taken from his mother into the deepest parts of the cave. There in a cavern richly decorated with stories of the hunt, the boy was at first terrified, then calmed as he realized his place in his society.
In these caves, the boy confronted the realities of the hunting world. By seeing these painted images in the flickering flame lit world of the cave, he might overcome his fears and act as an adult when he actually joined the hunt.
2. There is the possibility that our ancient ancestors believed that the animals were their brothers and sisters. Both came from the womb world of the cave, mother earth bore many children. When the people of the hunting societies killed animals for food, they had to atone for their sin in some meaningful ritual. They had killed their siblings, and one had to insure that the spirits of the dead would be at peace.
There may have been incredible guilt behind the killing of living things so that you and I might survive. By painting the animals in life, we might honor them when they die.
Our discussion question for all you meat eaters out there is :
Might we learn something from the cave painters about the need to have reverence for our food? We already know that especially in our country, that we consume far more food than is necessary for survival. When we eat that cheese burger, that chicken wing, or hot dog, should we in some way honor the animal that willingly gave their life so we might survive?
Going further, should we feel at all guilty about the consumption of animals? And if we carry that guilt, and do nothing, is that a bad thing? Or is the human animal simply the dinosaur Rex in another form, the meanest kid on the block?