“No tree… can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” Carl Gustav Jung
Earth is the domain of heaven and hell. Hell is the brutal realm of animal consciousness where all life resides in ever-changing conflict and inter-dependency. Axis Mundi connects hell and heaven. It is a path only man can traverse. Heaven is the light from which everything springs; it is eternal, where everything is one and man is one with everything. However, to exist, our lives are conditioned on having roots in hell.
This shaman figure, made of bone, is depicted wearing a hat with seven heads, presumably representing ancestors, historically important clan members or wise men. The heads are the shaman’s helper spirits or guides in the world underpinning the world of the living; the world before it’s tangible to our senses. The spirit helpers provide the shaman with multiple perspectives which is the essence of wisdom, the stock-in-trade of shamans. The triangular shaped head, pointing down and perfectly balanced on the torso, implies an open mind with no predilections. The figure has a disproportionally large head (40% of its entire body while man naturally is 14%), implying that, unlike others who use their physical body when working, the head plays an outsized role in the shaman’s work.
Moreover, the figure is sexless as, unlike most work in tribal societies which is exclusively the domain of one sex or the other, a shaman can be male or female. As well, without sexual identity, the shaman’s perspective is unbiased, nondual.
This contemporary, post-WWII, object describes the evolution of society from tribal peoples to the modern world. The social evolution is marked by the change from a group-centered to an individual-centered world. The base of the container represents the foundation of civilization, tribal peoples. The tribe members are connected as one in dance. The faces of the dancers are undifferentiated and their bodies unclothed, implying their essential selves. Each member is not an individual; they are the dance. As societies evolved, they centered around the head, the mind. The members’ heads surround the container, the mind, and are differentiated by facial expressions and hairstyles. At the top, the container’s lid, is a man sitting alone in contemplation, lost in thought. The man, now individual-centered, closes the container/mind and no longer connects to others as in the dance.
This 5500 year old female figure comes from before the dawn of the written word. Much has changed since then but perhaps men have not, as the figure is depicted with eyes, nose, breasts and a vagina; no mouth which is how many men would prefer women.(1)
This apparently sacred object is archeologically/artistically significant and open to various interpretative readings. My offbeat reading clearly is intended to be humorous. However, some reading this post might be put-off by my reading of this figure. If so, forget the artwork and consider what your view says about you?
(1) The Book of Matthew (Matthew 15:11), 3500 years later, elaborates: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
Thousands of these presumably votive “Eye Idols” have been found in a building now called the Eye Temple in Tell Brak. They depict a deity who observes the world but lacking ears and a mouth does not hear or speak. The deity’s view is pure, unadulterated by the words of others which could have the deity see the world as they would wish the deity to see it. Lacking a mouth, the deity knows but does not speak; implying that those who speak do not know and those who know do not speak. In the contemporary world, seeking enlightenment, some monks take a vow of silence.
To view other eye idols, click here.
Sunset, August 22, 2020, Kaizouji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
Before midnight, August 1st, 2020, Awaji Island, Japan.
Awaji was the first of a group of islands born from Izanagi, a creator deity in Japanese mythology.
This surreal figure (wood and pigment, 21 cm) is from the Lega tribe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is called “Sakimatwematwe” or “Mr. Many Heads who has seen an elephant on the other side of the river.” As an aphorism, to see the greatest animal in the jungle (which is not easily seen as it is on the other side of the river) requires wisdom, fairness and omniscience, characteristics of someone who can view things from the different perspectives of many heads.
This object is in the Tomkins Collection. The collection can be viewed at tomkinscollection.org.
Three years ago I was in LA in a shop that sells clothing and accessories. There I found the pendant in the photo above. Store manager said he had found it at a flea market and that it was a “Navajo star.” While I’m not a jewellery kind of guy, the pendant was sufficiently engaging that I purchased it. Researching after, I couldn’t find a Navajo star like it or another similar star. But that was of no matter as I liked the pendant as it was, regardless of any associations or stories that often accompany artworks. In time the pendant revealed itself as a symbol of pantheism, the view that everything is a manifestation of God.
The pendant depicts two stars with a common center. The shorter star ends in points and the longer one ends in heads. The shorter star represents energy/light. The longer star represents matter. Energy and matter have a common center as they are equivalent (E=M*C*C). The common center is God; hence, a pantheist pendant
The heads at the endpoints of the longer star represent consciousness; five heads, five senses. The longer star also appears like a “spread eagle” cheerleader pose, a celebratory pose.
When we realize we are one with everything and one with God, we experience the world via our senses, not our mind. That’s something about which to celebrate.
I’ve made 25 copies of the pendant and give them out to friends who would wear them. Three years later, I still have 15. I suspect none would be left had I offered them for sale.
This whimsical, unique, rare dancing figure is not an iconic example of African art but one that is both inventive and allegorical. (For additional images of this figure, click here.)
With its arms oversized and swaying and its legs bent, the figure is dancing. The arms are oversized as they would be in a slow shutter speed photo of a dancer in motion.
It is both male and female. But unlike hermaphrodite figures generally (which host breasts and a penis), this figure has a vagina, a male torso (no breasts) and an Adam’s apple. It is a man with female genitals, as in dancing celebrations in West Africa where males dress as females.
Unlike this dancing figure which is rare, the majority of tribal art figures are standing, not dancing, and host a head that is disproportionately large relative to torso. This figure has a tiny head and long neck separating the head and the torso. The message it conveys is that when we are dancing our experience is physical and our heads play a disproportionally smaller role in how we experience the world. A corollary is that when we are not physically engaged our experience is a function of our head.