Mar 21, 2021

A Look At The Steadiness Of Mythology Over Time & Watch A Ritual Practiced By the Ainu Of Japan That Appears To Be Neanderthal In Origin, If Not Earlier

"Very deep." Wrote Thomas Mann at the opening of his mythologically conceived tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers. "is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" And he then observed: "The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable." Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell page 5

The first identifiably human - identified, through the art of the hunt/butchery and killing with weapons - already must have had a markedly human culture he/she was living in with an accepted level of clothing/body-decoration, mythology/symbology and hunting-gathering traditions. Hunting is very old and religions/spirituality associated with it must be very old too. Scavenging and gathering plants and tending to plants as a food source is probably even older.

Researchers working in Ethiopia's remote Afar region have recovered evidence that humans began using stone tools and eating meat far earlier than previously thought. The finds—cut-marked animal bones dating to nearly 3.4 million years ago—push the origin of butchery back a stunning 800,000 years. Furthermore, these ancient butchers were not members of our own genus, Homo, but the more primitive Australopithecus, specifically A. afarensis, the species to which the celebrated Lucy fossil belongs.

Some aspects of culture can be found going back so far back its impossible to tell where it began. This is because, where people go they carry what they value the most with them.

"Through land-nama, "land naming" or "land taking," the features of a newly entered land are assimilated by an immigrant people to its imported heritage of myth." i.e. "The new land, and all the features of the new land, are linked back as securely as possible to the archetypes - the spiritually, psychologically, and sociologically significant archetypes - of whatever mythological system the people carry in their hearts. And through this process the land is spiritually validated, sanctified, and assimilated to the image of destiny that is the fashioning dynamism of the people's lives." - Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology, Page 199

One aspect of that past inheritance appears to be the hearth, where fire has a religious function in the household or community itself. How the fire is used changes but the emphasis on its connection to the divine/spirituality remains the same.

But then why the hearths?
It has been suggested that they were used to heat the caves, and this, indeed, would seem to have been the only practical end to which they were turned. However, even if this were the case, one would still have to ask by what accident Sinanthropus could have learned that the blast of a forest, prairie, or volcanic fire could have been turned to such congenial use.

A possible answer is provided by the Ainu ritual of the mountain bear ceremonially entertained during his night-long conversation with the goddess of the hearth; for the fire in that context was not a mere device for the provision of heat but the actual presence of a divinity. The earliest hearths, too, could have been shrines, where fire was cherished in and for itself in the way of a holy image or primitive fetish. The practical value of such a living presence, then, would have been discovered in due time.

The suggestion is rendered the more likely, furthermore, when it is considered that throughout the world the hearth fire remains to this day a sacred as well as secular institution. In many lands, at the time of marriage, the kindling of the hearth in the new home is a crucial rite, and the domestic cult comes into focus in the preservation of its flame. Perpetual flames and votive lights are known practically everywhere in the developed religious cults. The vestal fire of Rome, with its attendant priestesses, was neither for cooking nor for the provision of heat. And we have already learned of the holy fire made and extinguished at the times of the installation and murder of the god-king.

The hearth, then; the mountain sanctuary of the bear; and the ceremonial burial with grave gear, animal sacrifice, and perhaps occasional ritual cannibalism - these, in the period of Neanderthal Man, supply our chief clues to the religious life of a broad middle paleolithic province, documented from the Alps to the Arctic Ocean, eastward to Japan and south to Indonesia. But where the mythogenetic zone and where the diffusion zones within this vast area may have been we do not know, though, surely, the earliest points of reference thus far discovered are the bear-skull sanctuaries of the Central European peaks.

The reason I have this above extract here is to show the religious significance fire took on AND that it was associated with the goddess of the hearth and is another tradition that has carried on for a serious number of years into the unfathomable past. This means a hearth goddess may be one of humanities oldest religious cults, along with the hunting ones and the head hunting ones, that probably all existed simultaneously at some time in the past with different groups of people.

Goddess Of The Hearth? It has been discovered that female/venus statues goes back all the way to Homo Erectus, i.e. humans 1-2 million years ago and, if true, is most likely one of humanities oldest religious symbols.

Since the discovery of the Homo Erectus female statue we can take Joseph Campbells outdated view and stretch it back further indicating that Goddess cultures/religions might be one of humanities first religions along with the religions of the hunt:

The richest finds of the first of these two complexes have turned up in the Ukraine, though the range extends westward to the Pyrenees and eastward to Lake Baikal. Provisionally, therefore Ukraine may be designated as the mythogenetic zone; and this liklihood is rendered the more evident when it is considered that many of the basic elements of the complex were to reappear in the neolithic goddess-cults of the fifth millennium B.C., directly to the south, on the opposite flank of the Black Sea."

Another cult/religion that must have existed for a long time is the cult of the headhunt whose practitioners, even today, open up skulls as Neanderthals did tens of thousands of years ago. 

Sinanthropus, it will be recalled, who had already captured fire as early as c. 400,000 B.C., was a cannibal; so also Neanderthal Man: we have mentioned the opened skulls at Krapina and Ehringsdorf. But in Java too a number of such opened skulls have been found among the remains of Solo (Ngandong) Man, neanderthal's Oriental contemporary; and these were opened precisely in the way of the skulls of the present day headhunters of Borneo. Neanderthal and Solo Man, therefore, may have practiced some form of ritual cannibalism in connection with an early version of the headhunt; and if so, the formula should perhaps be carried back even to the period of Plesianthropus, who killed and beheaded men as well as beasts - in which case, this grim cult might be proposed as the earliest religious rite of the human species.

Its possible, even likely, that all these different types of religions/cults existed simultaneously in their own geographic area. This would make sense with Homo Erectus showing definite human behavior going back 2 million years AND spreading all over the earth over its 2 million year existence.

Life after death is a theme so old we see it in 300,000 year old burials;

Neanderthals started burying their dead possibly as 300,000 years ago in southern Europe, and indisputably since 130,000 years ago.

As Joseph Campbell writes on page 66; "the idea of the earth as mother and of burial as a re-entry into the womb for rebirth appears to have recommended itself to at least some of the communities of mankind at an extremely early date. The earliest unmistakable evidences of ritual and therewith of mythological thought yet found have been the grave burials of Homo neanderthalensis, a remote predecessor of our species, whose period is perhaps to be dated as early as 200,000 – 75000 B.C. Neanderthal skeletons have been found interred with supplies (suggesting the idea of another life), accompanied by animal sacrifice (wild ox, bison, and wild goat), with attention to an east-west axis (the path of the sun, which is reborn from the same earth in which the dead are placed), in flexed position (as though within the womb), or in a sleeping posture – in one case with pillow of chips of flint. Sleep and death, awakening and resurrection, the grave as a return to the mother for rebirth; but whether Homo neanderthalensis thought the next awakening would be here again or in some world to come (or even both together) we do not know."

Of course, simply because the first burials we find are Neanderthal doesn't mean that other species of humans going back to Homo Erectus didn't believe in an after life. In India, for millennia, burning bodies has been seen as the right way and cremation is gaining popularity today. In other cultures, such as the Tibetans, you find a burial by feeding the body to vultures. Both traditions, burning and feeding a dead body to scavengers, could be alot older than the burial tradition.

Neanderthals have also been linked to cave art and thus must have started the Temple Cave tradition/religions and not us (which still influences religion today);

"The second mythology of this important era, that of the great temple-caves, is definitely centered in northern Spain and southern France - the so-called Franco-Cantabrian zone - and though the cult may have commenced as a provincial form of some earlier mask ritual of the men's dancing grounds developed in areas to the south, it achieved here a character and ritual investment of such force that the area must be regarded as our first precisely pin-pointed mythogenetic zone; one, furthermore, from whose truly marvelous amplifications of the symbology of the labyrinthine chambers of the soul every one of the high religions and most of the primitive, also, have received instruction. Page 397

In fact given the number of artifacts linking our species and Neanderthals living side by side, its likely we inherited much from the Neanderthals. Did you know they wove string? Since wood and fibers don't survive time they are not found in ancient archaeology but they must have been the first objects used for decoration and thus the oldest. So string could be an ancient invention going back to Homo Erectus (and probably is).

Spears over 380,000 years have been found in a German coal mine. Wood dissolves over time yet , by luck, we have found 400,000 year old spears so its only logical that wooden spears must be humanities oldest weapons. Add to that stone tipped spears over 500,0000 years old that have also been found should seal that fact (we are clearly looking at 2 very different ancient cultures here). So, an important note I want to make here is that cultures probably developed in wood and left no traces behind till they started working with stone. So a culture once formed in stone - something that will last and will be easy to find - may have incredibly older roots in wood;

And finally, as to the question of other possible mythogenetic zones and ritual syndromes developed during the course of this long period, whether in Africa, western Europe, or Southwest Asia, nothing has yet been found that could be read as evidence. However, it is entirely possible that the cults of the female statuettes and temple caves, which appear abruptly in the following period, were in the process of formation in this earlier, darker day, but have left no evidence; for where wood is abundant as a material for sculpture, and leaves, bark, feathers etc., for ritual masks, no remains survive. Some part of the great primary field of the tropics, therefore, may have been the mythogenetic zone for the earlier stages of the cults that abruptly appear, already fully formed, in the documented late paleolithic areas of the golden age of the Great Hunt. Pages 394-395

Another thing that doesn't survive time very well is fire use but we have found evidence of fire going back to Homo Erectus, so fire may be a very old religious symbol indeed.

Science Daily: Evidence that human ancestors used fire one million years ago: Scientists have identified the earliest known evidence of the use of fire by human ancestors. Microscopic traces of wood ash, alongside animal bones and stone tools, were found in a layer dated to one million years ago at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

Also, the female statutes (also called Venus figurines) and temple caves Campbell is referring to is from around 30,000 BC. which in his time was the oldest date these finds could be attributed to: 

Stage IV, then (c. 30,000 - 10,000 B.C.) reveals the mythology of the naked goddess and the mythology of the temple caves. Page 397

More recently it has been discovered that female/venus statues goes back further than that, all the way to Homo Erectus, i.e. humans 1-2 million years ago and, if true, is most likely one of humanities oldest religious symbols.

For primitive man, as Campbell put it, to change a form (a ritual or even a tool such as an axe) is to destroy its magical or spiritual power so the forms continue for an incredibly long time.

Indeed, some excavations (for example, those of L. S. B. Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in the north of Tanganyika) have revealed in perfect sequence every stage of the evolution of the hand ax from the pebble tools of man’s first beginnings to the finely finished, really elegant axes of the period of the Neanderthal. And if the view into the depth of the well of time that we obtained in the South of France was great, this of Olduvai is simply beyond speech. But what is even more amazing than the profundity of the prehistoric past here illustrated is the broad diffusion over the face of the earth of exactly the same ax forms as those of Paleolithic East Africa. As Dr. Carleton S. Coon has remarked: “During the quarter of a million years when man made these tools, the styles changed very little, but what changes were made are to be seen everywhereThis means that human beings who lived half a million years ago were able to teach their young skills that they had learned from their fathers in most minute detail, as living Australians and Bushmen do. Such teaching requires both speech and a firm discipline, and the uniformity of hand-ax styles over wide areas means that members of neighboring groups must have met together at stated intervals to perform together acts that require the use of these objects. In short, human society was already a reality when the hand-ax choppers of the world had begun to turn out a uniform product.

All of which speaks volumes for the force and reach of diffusion in the primitive world.

Moreover, what is perhaps more remarkable still is that some of the most beautiful of the symmetrically chipped hand axes of this period are as much as two feet long, a size too cumbersome for practical use; the only possible conclusion being that they must have served some ceremonial function . Professor Coon has suggested that such axes were not practical tools but sacred objects, comparable to the ceremonial tools and weapons of later days, “used only seasonally, when wild food was abundant enough to support hundreds of persons at one place and one time. Then the old men,” he supposes, “would cut the meat for the assembled multitude with some of these heavy and magnificent tools,” after which, like the magically powerful tjurungas of the Australians, the sacred implements would be stored in some holy place. Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell, Page 364

So, a culture adds to itself and reinterprets symbols and meanings but cultural artifacts once added to a culture will often continue as long as that culture exists. Especially in the primitive world.

Which brings me to the oldest religion that exists today, that we have video of. The tradition may have picked up some more recent influences but the basic form will still be the same, so watching this ritual is watching something that is immensely old. Maybe something that has existed in some form or another since Homo Erectus, if not earlier.

"The Cult of the Cave Bear" is a specific hunting religious cult/tradition so long that it stretches from the age of the Neanderthals (and probably earlier to Africa), to its last remnants in Japan today. The cult of the cave bear. The minimum age of this cult of 40,000 years given how old the archaeological find is:

Joseph Campbell — Cave Bears and the Birth of Mythology
Mythologist Joseph Campbell explores the earliest history of human religion, looking at bear cults from the time of Neanderthals to the modern day.

Joseph Campbell writes in Primitive Mythology:

In Dreachenloch and Wildermannlisloch little walls of stone, up to 32 inches high, formed a kind of bin, within which a number of cave-bear skulls had been carefully arranged. Some of these skulls had little stones arranged around them; others were set on slabs; one, very carefully placed, had the long bones of a cave bear (no doubt its own) placed beneath its snout, another had the long bones pushed through the orbits of its eyes.

The cave in Germany, Petershohle, near Velden, which was explored by Konrad Hormann from 1916 to 1922, had closet like niches in the walls, which contained five cave-bear skulls – and once again the leg bones.

Now the cave bear, it must be told, for all its size, was not an extremely dangerous beast. In the first place, it was not carnivorous but herbivorous, and in the second place, like all bears it had to go to sleep in the winter. But during the ice age the winters were long. The bears would go into the caves to sleep and, while there, could be readily killed. In fact, a tribe of men living in the front part of a cave with a couple of sleeping bears in the rear would have had there a kind of living deep freeze. 

Vestiges of a circumpolar Paleolithic cult of the bear have been identified throughout the arctic
, from Finland and Northern Russia, across Siberia and Alaska, to Labrador and Hudson Bay: among the Finns and Lapps, Ostyaks and Vogul, Orotchi of the Amur river region, Gilyaks, Goldi, and peoples of Kamchatka; the Nootka, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, and others of the Northwest American Coast; and the Algonquins of the Northeast. And so here is a northern circumpolar hunting continuum in counterpoise to tha broad equatorial planting belt which we traced from Sudan to the Amazon in Part Two. And just as there a certain depth of time was indicated, going back to perhaps c. 7500 B.C., the dawn of the proto-neolithic, so here too there is a depth in time – but how very much greater! For in the high Alps, in the neighborhood of St. Gallen, and again in Germany, some thirty miles northwest of Nurnberg, near Velden, a series of caves containing the ceremonial arranged skulls of a number of cave bears have been discovered, dating from the period (it is almost incredible!) of Neanderthal Man.(Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology page 339)

Page 349: Several other themes also emerges from the evidence reviewed. The orientation east-and-west of the skeleton at La Chepelle-aux-Saints points to a solar reference; as does likewise the position of the handsomely buried rickety 4 year old in the much later grave at Malta. The crouch position of the two adult skeletons at La Ferrassie, as well as of the child at Malta, suggests the fetal position for rebirth; though, on the other hand, they may represent an attempt so to bind the ghost that it should not return to terrify those left behind. For the burial rites of the Ainus, as well as those of the more primitive Aranda of Central Australia, illustrate vividly a primitive fear of the dead, which, as we have already said, is in radical contrast to the attitude expressed in the rites of the primitive planters of the Sudan. The North African hunter's ritual of defense against the killed panther's evil eye, and the curious thrusting of the bones through the eyes of the paleolithic bear, suggest, by analogy, that in that remote period, too, fear was felt of the revengeful magic of the slain beast. And finally, we note that as the animals of the hunt changed, so too did the focal figure of the rites. The earliest animal master, apparently was the cave bear, whose counterpart in Africa was the lion, leopard or panther; whereas in what was perhaps a later context we find the mammoth; and then bison.

The mythology of the hunt probably kept a similar form throughout the ages with only the primary animal changing. In other words, the basic religious/ritual form being followed for the cave bears probably is much older and goes back to Africa where it was probably used for lions or panthers:

In short, then, a prodigious continuum has been identified, deriving in time at least from the period of the Riss-Wurm inter-glacial, about 200,000 B.C. It is represented in its earliest known forms in the high-mountain Neanderthal caves of Germany and Switzerland, but then also, millenniums later, in the caves of Homo sapiens of southern France. Its range in space extends, on the one hand, northeastward throughout the circumpolar sphere of the primitive arctic hunters and collectors, where its ritual of the Master Bear is continued to the present day, and, on the other hand southward into Africa, where the great felines - lion, leopard, panther, etc. - are in the role that is played by the bear in the north. In the survey of the main outlines of the archaeology of our subject, in Part Four, we must ask whether, actually, the African forms of the cult may not go back even further in time than the bear cult of the Neanderthal, so that the shift of role would have been rather from lion to bear then from bear to lion - according to the principle of land-nama, described earlier. For the present, however, our concern can be only: (1) to identify in the broadest terms the cultural zone of the cult of the animal master; (2) to see it in contrast to the younger mythological zone of the maiden sacrifice; and (3) to distinguish both primitive (or relatively primitive) contexts, as far as possible, from the much more securely documented prehistoric assemblages of the basal and high neolithic. from which emerged the great civilizations of the hieratic city state. page 348

i.e. The Bear hunting cult/religion probably originates from the South and a much older culture (Africa). The only differences is that the primary animal changes depending on what is available and the accompanying body of myth and ritual simply becomes attached to this new animal through a process coined as "land naming". This is how a myth can carry forward for so many millenniums.

"Through land-nama, "land naming" or "land taking," the features of a newly entered land are assimilated by an immigrant people to its imported heritage of myth." i.e. "The new land, and all the features of the new land, are linked back as securely as possible to the archetypes - the spiritually, psychologically, and sociologically significant archetypes - of whatever mythological system the people carry in their hearts. And through this process the land is spiritually validated, sanctified, and assimilated to the image of destiny that is the fashioning dynamism of the people's lives." - Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology, Page 199

Put that all together and we suddenly have video evidence of a ritual and body of myth so old its like looking at one of the earliest religions of humans. Given that its basic form may go back even earlier to Africa and the lion (which the Sphinx may have originally been) we may be looking at one of humanities oldest rituals in the hunting religions;

Iyomande: The Ainu Bear Festival

A documentary film which records the religious bear festival ceremony of the animistic Ainu people in Japan. Includes songs

Campbell: The main idea would seem to be that there is no such thing as death, but simply, as we have said, a passing back and forth of the immortal individual through a veil. The idea was well expressed in the words of the Caribou Eskimo shaman Igjugarjuk: "Life is endless. Only we do not know in what form we shall reappear after death." This idea is apparent also in the Ainu prayers both at the bear sacrific and at teh funeral rite. To the bear: "Precious little divinity... please come again and we shall again do you honor of a sacrifice"; and to the man: "Take hold of [your staff] firmly at the top, and walk securly, minding your feet." The grave gear and sacrificed animals found in the graves in the Dorgone, at La Ferrassie,  Le Moustier, and La Chapelleaux-Saints, surely indicate something of the kind for the period of Neanderthal. And though we do not know whether burials of such a type were unusual or unusual at that time, the fact remains that in these cases, at least, a life beyond death was envisioned. Was the handsome hand ax in the grave at Le Moustier a souvenir to be presented to the god or ancestors in the other world? We do not know. And would the dead return at will, or remain with the ancestors. This we do not know either. But there was another world, there can be no doubt. [Primitive Mythology -Pages 348]

Campbell: 1a. With an identified center in central Europe dating from the third inter-glacial period and a range extending, on the one hand, eastward to Labrador, and, on the other. southward to Rhodesia, an abundantly documented mythology of the hunt has flourished, of such a consistent character that we may well speak - indeed have to speak - of an area of diffusion. It is impossible to name with certainty the basic traits of this mythology in its earliest phase. In such contemporary manifestations as the Ainu bear sacrifice and burial rite, one has to recognize, besides the earliest paleo-Siberian strain of tradition, the probability of a very much later neolithic, Sino-Mongolian, Japanese, and even recent Russian influences.  Nevertheless, certain patterns of thought and ritual appear in these traditions that can be readily matched in other parts of the great continuum, and these - if we do not press them too far - can be taken to represent in the main general stance of the mind in this domain, which has fundamentally colored the web of whatever culture has come into form within its sphere of force.  [Primitive Mythology -Page 349]

What I want to leave you with is this thought. Given the genetic link of the west to Neanderthals and the East to Denisovans (even in Tibet)... are we living, in some way, the spiritual/mythological heritage of ancient humans? The genetic distribution divide almost exactly matches the mythological divide that Joseph Campbell describes, in his Masks Of Godas Occidental and Oriental mythology. Its just a little to the east as far as genetics goes;

Svante Pääbo: DNA clues to our inner neanderthal - Sharing the results of a massive, worldwide study, geneticist Svante Pääbo shows the DNA proof that early humans mated with Neanderthals after we moved out of Africa. (Yes, many of us have Neanderthal DNA.) He also shows how a tiny bone from a baby finger was enough to identify a whole new humanoid species.

The ranges of Neanderthals and Denisovans, with genetic sharing going on between Denisovans and us as early as 14000 years ago;

The amount of DNA we share with the two ancient human domains, depending on which way we were migrating;

Antiquities Research

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