The Mystical, Religious and Philosophical Culture of the Paleolithic Fertility Cult

Regardless of the diversionary mumbo-jumbo entrapping of magic and religion, the central theory to the shamanic philosophy of the Upper Paleolithic Master of Animals was the solipsistic theory of the God-man: that the world is a dream, the vatic-shamanic personality the dreamer, and, consequently, that the mental states of the shaman are the engine driving the course of events in the real world.

Man had been born with what appears to be a genetically predetermined illusion of centrality with respect to his environment; a psycho-affective predilection which, no doubt, had been fostered by the reality editing behavior of the nursing female. The personal psycho-affective conflicts of the God-king Osiris in historic times, for instance, arose from the conflict between the king and his political rivals. At the cosmic level, the king’s travails translate into the conflict between the forces of good and evil, dramatized in the sacred play of the Osirian mystery cult as the conflict between the god Osiris and the devil Seth. The resolution of the shaman’s private psycho-affective conflicts translates on the grand cosmic scale into resolution of the thematic good versus evil conflict of history. But “good” is not an absolute defined independent of a personal perspective. The shaman’s perspective, however, is the perspective of God, and God is absolute.

Every religious culture is to a significant extent a millenarian cargo cult. The magical and religious culture of Upper Paleolithic man had been in response to the crisis of his time: the gradual desiccation of the fertile, game rich plains and the consequent increasing difficulties in making a living by a wholly hunting-predatory lifestyle. As it has been usual in history, magic and religious techniques of adaptation had been man’s first resort in the face of crisis. But when, as it is usual, magic and religion failed, technological innovation came to the rescue. Irrigation technology was developed to boost agricultural productivity. Human population swelled in the banks of the great rivers of the Fertile Crescent. The shaman’s magic claimed the credit, and the shaman, in an upbeat mood, changed his address from the humble cave residence to the Pharaoh’s Palace.

Historians have long acknowledged that the widespread myths of marriage of a male pastoralist deity to the mother-goddess signify the settling of previously nomadic-pastoralist people amongst sedentary-agricultural people. The pattern in which people abandoning the nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle become absorbed into sedentary-agricultural societies continued deep into historic times and have marked points of major shifts in the course of historic civilization as much as it did in the course of human bio-cultural evolution in Paleolithic times.

The Paleolithic Roots of the historic institution of Divine Kingship had been in the institution of the cave dweller’s fertility cult. The constitution of the Paleolithic fertility cult may be determined from a study of the fertility cult and religion in historic times; the so-called Witches’ Coven.

The invigorating transformation of the earth-mother goddess worshiping societies by infusion of cultural elements of the sky god worship ping nomadic society, which led to the blossoming of historic civilization, finds mystical-philosophical equivalence in the notion of the fecundating-virilizing influence of a masculinized spiritual essence on a feminized material principle.

Mircea Eliade would observe, for instance, that in traditional thought, if any aspect of the physical were of an extraordinary proportion or quality, it was thought of as infused with mana, and was as such a hierophany: a manifestation of the sacred in the profane. Traditional thought proceeds to assert that such hierophany was not merely of symbolic significance but that infusion of any aspect of the profane by the sacred lifts such beyond the realm of profane to participate in the Otherworldly realm of the sacred.

Christian theologians may recognize the language of shamanic philosophy in Johannine Christology. The God-man, in this context, enjoys the benefit of an unconventional form of hybrid vigor, being possessed of sacred as well as profane aspects; he is here and there at once, bridging the gap between the heavenly and earthly realms. He is an earthly “selem” infused with heavenly “demowt” essence or mana. The flesh of the God-man being infused with mana, the Apostle John would have Christ say: “Truly, I say unto you; except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Here, John makes Christ echo the mana imbibing theory underlying ritual cannibalism in traditional cultures. The life essence of the God-man is the ontological essence of divinity. To partake of the flesh of the God-man, therefore, is to imbibe the “demowt” essence of divinity conferring immortality on the communicant. “I am the resurrection and life…I am the living bread which came down from heaven, if any man eats of this bread he shall live forever.”

One may express the view that the Apostle John’s theology, influenced by Greek thought, had developed, over his long life, far beyond that of Jesus himself. But the ceremony of the Last Supper, instituted by Jesus contained, at least, a germ of Johannine Platonic metaphysical ontology. Christ, as the pre-existent word, the divine word of life, harps back to the shamanic Master of Animal’s theory of mind generated thought, expressed in symbolic order, as the genetic essence of bio-physical relational order; a theory which took centuries to confirm with discovery of the DNA symbolic code.

One might argue that in his techniques of fertility magic, the shamanic master of animals had overestimated the power of thought, symbolic order, in effecting its prescriptions of physical relational order, but we may forgive his naivete for he had very little cultural experience with which to judge his conclusions on how nature works. Not even the DNA symbolic code has been shown to effect its thought prescriptions of biological relational order magically; a physical bio-molecular assembly line is utilized.

In historic times, however, the solipsistic theory of the God-man creator of the universe found its most extreme expression in the Ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom. The Pharaoh’s colossal pyramids reflected his solipsistic megalomania. The sacrifice of tens of thousands of human lives to the grandiose dreams of a single individual betrays the shamanic solipsistic philosophy underlying the political system of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. The totality of statecraft dovetailed into the personal enterprise of an individual. Egypt was the Pharaoh’s private estate, the people his property as much as his cattle, sheep, and goats. Egypt was the dream; he, the Pharaoh, was the dreamer, and thus, his personality was central to “ma’at:” the order of things on the cosmic scale. The Pharaoh, his thoughts and feelings, generated the reality he experienced even as it did his dreams. Everyone else become cartoon figures playing on the screen of his majesty’s divine consciousness.

A great deal of needless confusion has arisen from the fact of conflict of sex and gender Identity in the traditional spirit possession cult. While some scholars have taken the data as evidence of prevalence of homosexuality in primitive societies, others have preferred to interpret the data as evidence that, at least, some traditional societies are “genderless” societies. A third category of scholars have argued that institutionalized transvestism, that is, cross dressing, in the spirit possession cults is an expression of the hierarchy of sociopolitical power relations rather than an expression of tendencies in sexual or sexist ideological orientation of traditional peoples.

Most of the confusion, I believe, arises from the failure to sustain active distinction between the concepts of sex and gender as conceived of in traditional mystical-philosophical thought. To begin with, traditional societies are generally far from being genderless; gender identity being always an important factor in the social-economic and political status that an individual may aspire to. Gender identity impacts on social-political power relationships, a fact which, as we shall see, may motivate highly driven but sexually disadvantaged individuals to find creative means of transcending the socially imposed role associations of sexual identity. Traditional societies evolving institutions, under the pressure to adapt to unfavorable conditions, can scarcely afford the luxury of pre-occupation with mere sexuality in the public social-political forum as rich and affluent modern societies can afford to.

Sex is a physical attribute. Sexual identity is ascribed to a person wholly by reference to physical anatomical features. Gender, however, is socio-culturally ascribed identity. Ordinarily, in traditional societies, gender embraces the diverse manners in which sexual identity is construed, in the social context of division of labor and roles between the sexes, by reference primarily to the believed qualifying psycho-spiritual virtues of the dominant gender. It would appear that conflict of sex and gender identity in traditional cultures tends to accentuation in strongly militarized cultures in which a marked bipolarity of social roles attends to duality of sedentary agricultural and non-sedentary military adventurism as an alternative lifestyle.

My preferred case study in this context is the imperial military culture of the African Oyo Empire of the Yoruba. As a rule of thumb, institutionalization of transvestism in religious culture points to incidence of psycho-spiritual stress associated with fulfillment of gender roles in a social environment in which the fault-line of gender identity coincides with sexual differentiation of the population. With regards to male sex and masculine gender identities, it happens that in socio-cultural circumstances in which gender roles are not markedly distinguished, sex and gender identities appear to assort in a familiar and predictable pattern which leads to the assumption that masculine gender identity is the logical corollary of male sexual identity. However, in circumstances of marked differentiation of gender roles, nature begins working to reserve significant exceptions to the familiar rules of assortment of sex and gender identity in individuals to the effect that masculine gender identity cannot be assumed to arise automatically from male sexual identity. Public attention begins to be drawn to instances of conflict between sex and gender identity in certain socially deviant individuals. Thus, may be found, individuals identified in physical-sexual terms as male but in gender-spiritual terms as feminine. This curious, eyebrow raising phenomenon becomes more prominent in militarized societies in which the male comes more than ever under intense psycho-spiritual pressure to express his physical-sexual identity in psycho-spiritual terms by living up to socially ascribed gender role expectations.

The institutionalization of transvestism in the possession cult of the Sango war deity of Oyo appears to have been during the years of exile of the Oyo ruling aristocracy at Igboho. The Igboho exile had been the result of the years of bloody struggle with the Tapa. It is noteworthy that the Yoruba are generally not considered a military “race” by their neighbors. The Reverend Samuel Johnson in his History of the Yorubas describes the Oyo as a generally timid people. The militarized of Oyo society was the forced response to the threat of invasion and dispossession by its neighbors. The cult of Sango apparently emerged as an institution to manage the stressful impact of war in the psycho-spiritual realm and to provide asylum for those male individuals permanently psychologically incapacitated by wartime service.

Since spiritual qualities override the physical in the ascription of gender identity, a seeming male who proves his psycho-spiritual essence feminine under war stress will be denied membership in the exclusive fraternity of masculine men. The spirit possession cult of the war deity thus becomes the institution for accommodating the fact that the military ranks of the male members of society will inevitably produce “men” unable to cope with the psychic stress of fulfilling the expected roles of gender identity in the profession of soldiering; soldiering being the masculine gender profession par excellence. Thus, regardless of physical-sexual identity, the Elegun, or medium, in the spirit possession cult of the fiery war god, Sango, is of feminine gender identity; the priests and priestesses of Sango are Iyawo, wives of the masculinized war spirit Sango. Conscious attempts are made to correct perceived conflict of physical-sexual identity with gender identity by cross-dressing the male Iyawo Orisa. The ascription of feminine gender identity to the male priest is completed in the male priest’s feminine hairstyle, the suku and agogo hairstyles which proclaim the man’s hidden spiritual femininity. The state of spirit possession trance in the medium is interpreted in the language of dominance-submission postures in heterosexual relationships. The Elegun is described as “ridden” by the masculine spirit of Sango. The male medium becomes theEsin, Horse or Cavalo of the spirit which bestrides him. Being ridden by the spirit of Sango, the paragon of male militaristic valor, the Esin becomes imbued with power and in her state of possession may inspire the men to combat with acts of valor.

Most sociologists commenting on the phenomenon of transvestism in the Sango spirit possession cult of the Yoruba have failed to appreciate that spirit possession trance embraces the techniques of psychotherapy for accommodating and managing war neurosis in servicemen.

To understand the social status of the Elegun, we need appreciate that in male dominated societies, there always is a thinking, sometimes unconsciously held, which identifies femininity as a pathological condition of some sort, admittedly not an ordinary pathological condition, but a special psycho-spiritual deficiency in which the “patient” falls short of the intended ideal of masculinity. You are of feminine psycho-spiritual disposition because an essential spiritual element symbolized by the physical penis is missing in you. To express the notion crudely, it might be said that women by nature do not have virilizing souls, only men do. The cure of the pathological condition of femininity is by acquisition of the missing, virilizing spiritual member. It is indeed inevitable that in highly militarized societies, the masculine condition will be contrasted with the feminine condition to the advantage of the masculine. In militarized societies every male comes under pressure to prove his masculinity. It is simply not enough to have physical balls to call yourself a man; you need spiritual balls to qualify for the status of masculinity. The spirit possession cult is the psychiatric asylum to which ball-less men are sent to acquire balls by possession trance therapy.

War time crisis may also occasionally bring up the even more curious spectacle of the masculine woman. Every society has its Joanne d’Arc, the woman who in times of crisis proves the masculinity of her psycho-spiritual essence. At the core of the ideology of the spirit possession cult of the male war deity is the sexist assumption the psycho-spiritual essence of masculinity is the essence of divinity. The spiritual essence of masculinity becomes therefore a valuable essence to be possessed of irrespective of physical-sexual identity constituted of deceptive appearances which cannot be relied upon in passing judgment on the matter of true gender identity of the individual.

The dance and drum techniques of inducing spirit possession trance states of altered consciousness merely afford the Elegun the privilege of partaking temporarily in the coveted divine essence of masculinity, for the induced state is liable to wear off. The Elegun in “her” temporary state of psycho-spiritual elevation is akin to the mystics of oriental traditions who experience divine consciousness as a transient state of ananda, a state which lasts only for as long as the Iyawo is being ridden by her spirit-husband god.

In both the Oriental and African systems, however, are a select few who claim divine consciousness as a permanent state of mind: In the Yoruba mystical-philosophical system, the Iya l’Orisa is female in her physical aspects but permanently masculine in the spiritual aspects of her person and being. However, a sex-gender identity riddle presents to the casual observer with regard to the Iya l’Orisa; a sex-gender identity riddle which appears to justify the postulation of a “third term” sex-gender categorization of her person, a third term not female/feminine, not male/masculine, nor androgynous; a curious Otherworldly condition of masculine woman-ness as opposed to the obviously pathological condition of the feminine man.

The Witches’ Coven is the league of masculine women, the women’s political party in the struggle for power in male dominated societies. The Witches’ Coven has been much feared and respected in all history. In the Yoruba mystical-religious system, the masculine women are second only to the gods in the hierarchy of being. No medicine man dares confront the witches in a contest of magical powers. He propitiates them on behalf of his client even as he propitiates the gods.

When the sexist ideology of the spirit possession cult is viewed from the perspective of the politically ambitious female, society may become plunged into a political war of the sexes. In the fields of power struggle, the female is obliged to concede to the male chauvinist doctrine that the masculine psycho-spiritual principle is a must-have essence for any pretender to power and influence in the polity.

The political party of the Witches’ Coven is the form that the spirit possession cult of the masculinized warrior deity may assume when women members of the cult gain ascendancy. The ideal from the perspective of the female aspiring to power and influence in a polity is the possession of the divine spirit of masculinity on a permanent basis. The theology of the possession cult may therefore be revised or reoriented to the female perspective in the Witches’ Coven. The essence of masculinity ceases to exercise dominance in a rider-ridden relationship demeaning of womanhood; rather the male spirit becomes the possession of the woman, as any other member of her organic whole; a special member, admittedly, but she is the conqueror, the owner of her essential male member, the domesticator of God in her feminine frame. Gone, forever, is the crude form of master-slave relationship in which the male essence mounts and dismounts, uses and discards her body like a sex slave. She cages the flighty bird in her person.

The ideology of the Witches’ Coven preserves the core sexist doctrine of the male dominated spirit possession cult but revises the sexist language and metaphor in a manner more palatable to the masculine woman. In the revision of language and metaphor lies the distinction between the condition of the female spirit medium and the masculine woman or witch. The Elegun or medium is dominated by the wild spirit of her husband-god; the witch domesticates the essence of divinity in her material being.

Now, what becomes of the feminine man in the possession cult of the Witches’ Coven? We may find evidence of his predicament in the pan-Mediterranean traditions of the male dying and resurrecting fertility deity. The prominence of cannibalistic rites in the magical culture of the Witches’ Coven is universally attested to. Practically every culture has traditions communicated in hushed tones of nocturnal rites in which witches indulge in ritual feasting on the flesh, often, of “infant” males. Such flesh is not served as gourmet meal. It is eaten raw, still fresh and warm, much for the same reason as the nutrition faddist eats his vegetables raw.

The Christian ceremony of the Last Supper had very ancient antecedents The magical theory of ritual cannibalism assures the masculine woman that she could enhance her reserves of the essence of masculinity by feeding on the flesh of the male in appropriately designed magic ritual ceremonies. Yet, it is the rule in the world of predators and their prey that you may aspire to satisfy your lust for flesh only by preying on those weaker than you are. It is, in the given context, therefore, predictable that the magic superstition steeped masculine woman will cast predatory eyes on the helpless feminine man of her spirit possession cult. He may have been defined “not-male” by his fellow men, yet the fact of his physical sexual identity could not have failed to make an impression on the masculine woman. The masculine woman also finds that she may reassure herself of her spiritual masculinity and potency by finding a man to dominate. The warrior god Sango is praised as one who turns a man into a woman. The masculine woman seeks to be likewise praised. So, in the history of the Mediterranean fertility cult, we find the masculine woman attended to by a youthful male consort, inferior to her in status: for when the masculine woman looks around for a man to dominate she finds not the assertive male warrior but only the feminine man presenting as vulnerable subject.

The Witches’ Coven’s theological position in which the masculine woman is seen as possessing rather than possessed of the essence of masculinity finds expression in social and magic ritual customs in which the masculine woman expresses dominance of the feminine man. But unfortunately, physical sexual domination of the feminine man by the masculine woman finds, as already noted, a sinister dimension in magical ritual cannibalistic rites.

Might the masculine woman not enhance her coveted stores of the essence of masculinity by feeding on male flesh? Now, if the flesh of the masculine man, the macho warrior, would be difficult to procure for dinner, why not the flesh of the feminine man? Granted, that the stores of male essence in the feminine man’s flesh are rather depleted, yet the masculine woman could horde up a significant store of male essence by gorging herself on large quantities of the feminine man’s flesh? Every drunkard knows that diluted wine is intoxicating when taken in adequate quantities.

Every society, at some time or the other in its cultural evolution, attains that level of understanding and insight into the workings of nature and of the human mind potential in which it begins to transfer its notion of power from its expression as physical coercive force to innovative-creative mental process. Darwin had conceived of the success of novel biological forms and functions in wholly utilitarian terms. In the context of the militarized hunting-predatory culture in which the immediately pressing issue in the struggle for survival is the next kill, the feminine man finds himself in a precarious survival situation.

The scenario in which the masculine woman gains ascendancy in the spirit possession fertility cult appears to have been the rule in the early sedentary agricultural societies of the Neolithic. Historians have noted the evidence that women played a prominent role in Paleolithic societies. Given the subordination of the feminine man in the Upper Paleolithic- Neolithic fertility cult, the original spark of genius which transformed society’s notion of God from a fiery warrior into a somewhat neurotic artificer could only have been the masculine woman’s. Such inspiration had been in the interest of her socio-political aspirations in conflict with those of the male warrior. In the new theology of the Priestesses of God, the feminine man becomes a handy tool in the feminist’s machinations for political power. The evidence is that circumstances often favored her new theology. In the late Paleolithic period, for instance, gradual desiccation of the Sahara leading to increased scarcity of game must have undermined the warrior god’s confidence in the power of brawn. In times of extreme scarcity of game, the warrior could easily have been convinced that his brawn was in need of magical assistance. Glabrous Jacob in league with the political party of the masculine women would begin gaining ascendancy over his brawny brother Esau.

Animal fertility magic became the preoccupation of the spirit possession cult in the Upper Paleolithic era of prolonged drought and gradual extinction of the Saharan hunting grounds in North Africa. Evidence from murals of Upper Paleolithic cave sites shows that the animal fertility cult of the pre-historic hunter was predominantly female. A single male might occasionally be shown with an erect penis, dancing the magical dance of fertility in a ring of women with heavy pendulous breasts. He was, no doubt, the personification of the masculinized spirit essence of life, the fecundating spirit of nature, the master of animal life.

The shaman was Master of Animals because he had acquired creative mastery of the genetic stuff of life. In spirit possession trance states, he could journey into subjective realm, the spirit realm, in which the genetic-pattern essences of living things could be creatively manipulated to ensure the preservation of those species which the early hunting societies required for survival.

The shaman Master of Animals had been little more than a pawn in the political power rivalry of the female dominated Witches’ Coven and the male hunter-warrior class of pre-historic society. The Master of Animals was used, successfully, by the Witches’ Coven to legitimize its pretensions to power. The final triumph of the agricultural-sedentary lifestyle over the hunting-nomadic, at the end of the Neolithic, witnessed the transformation of the shaman Master of Animals into an agricultural shaman. The power struggle between the Witches’ Coven and male warrior class merely went through a gear shift. In the largely matriarchal sedentary agricultural societies of the Mediterranean world, at the dawn of historic civilization, the Witches’ Coven contrived to restrain the power of the divine king by imposing severe restrictions on his person. The king, like the Alaafin of Oyo, was held practically incommunicado, in legal custody by The Coven: He was a god, and as such, mortal eyes could not be allowed to behold his form. The king was displayed by The Coven in public only once in his reign, at the coronation. He ruled by deputation of a cabinet of ministers constituted by The Coven. A limited term was imposed on his kingship at the end of which he was made into a sacrificial victim in the earth-fecundating fertility rites of The Coven. The appointment of a new king to replace the old was celebrated as the magical renewal of the life and reign of the previous king. Thus the sequestration of the king was exploited in support of the myth of the king’s immortal divinity.

The spread of urbanization in the Fertile Crescent, however, provided circumstances which favored the rise of the king to a new height of power and influence. The circumstances allowed the king to shake free of The Coven’s strangle-hold. The king was forced to save his life and secure the independence of his throne by aligning himself with the male military class. With the support of the military class, The Coven’s imposed death sentence on the king could be abrogated. A substitute, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, was provided to die in place of the king and appease the blood-thirstiness of the earth-spirits.