When caves are mentioned, some of us may still imagine unwashed, unshaven, grunting brutes lumbering about, dragging women behind them by the hair. These hand prints from the Cave of El Castillo, made at least 37 centuries ago, tell a different story. Let’s think about how movingly astounding they are.
Early humans worshipped the Earth Mother who, like human mothers producing life from their wombs, produced minerals, vegetables and animals, including people, out of hers. To celebrate, imitate and ‘assist’ in this process, they crawled in total darkness, most often through tortuous claustrophobic tunnels, their only light coming from thin branches tied together, or stones shaped to contain animal fat. Going through narrow passageways to deeply buried caverns, was like entering the Earth Mother’s womb, from whence came the animals needed for survival – with meat for food, and skins for clothing and shelters.
They drew these animals on the cavern walls. Sometimes bulges and indentations suggested an animal shape, as if it were there, waiting to be ‘born’, and so they drew round the shape to ‘bring the animal out’. In the darkness and flickering light, these amazing people must have built ‘scaffolding’ to reach high walls and ceilings.
Then there are the hand prints! Somehow red ochre was sprayed over a hand, to leave its imprint. Why? Perhaps it was an artist’s ‘signature’. Perhaps it was a means of ‘contact’ with the Earth Mother – a gesture of gratitude or worship. Perhaps it was like the “so-and-so was here” of latter day graffiti. I like to think of it as the offer of a handshake, across countless thousands of years, from people not as different from ourselves as we tend to think.
What this speaks to me about, is the redundancy of racism, ‘race’ being nothing more than a counter-productive cultural construct. If we have to use the word, let’s confine it to the human race. Among us there are neither chosen people nor subhumans; neither Übermenschen nor Untermenschen. Our technology having moved on from the stone age, we are now more ubiquitously accessible to one another than ever before, and the more we can meet and shake hands, the more we ought to grasp and value our inter-related oneness.
A hand shake across thousands of years surely reminds us of how amazing it is to be a human being, and of how self-serving and senseless it is when we, and too many of our so-called ‘leaders’, envy, resent, attack and destroy one another. What a betrayal of the very best of our centuries’ long heritage! Perhaps what’s needed, from deep ‘caves’ in our psyches, is a reawakening and resurgence of the Great Mother archetype, to remind us that we are one family living on our one and only planet, who need to care considerately and constructively for her, as well as for all our brothers and sisters across the reaches of our world, and so honour the precious heritage of innumerable centuries.