Dreaming the Earth
from Symbolic Landscapes
by Paul Devereux
[Footnotes excluded from this extract]
DREAMING THE EARTH
It seems difficult to arrive at a clear understanding of the nature of myth, for it is a particularly mercurial aspect of humanity. Scholars still fail to agree on a precise definition.
It was because C.G. Jung saw basic mythological motifs (mythologems) occurring in the dreams of his modern patients that he came to the conclusion that there had to be such a thing as a Collective Unconscious. He postulated the existence of transpersonal processes he called archetypes deep in the Collective Unconscious that can produce related thematic imagery in any society or person of any period. These images can vary dramatically according to the cultural context they occur in, but their underlying function remains true to the archetype that originated them. Because it exists in the unconscious realms of mind, the archetype itself can never be directly known or understood but merely interpreted by the imagery it occasions in a dream or vision â or in a myth. Jung warned that modern society in cutting itself off from such mythological roots ran the risk of neurosis and 'psychic epidemics', as it had a literally rootless consciousness. According to Jung, this modern condition has come about because of the pronounced development of differentiated, conscious mentality in civilised peoples, which leads to a one-sidedness and a deviation from the roots of our being. Archetypal material does not come from our rationally-conscious minds.
The recurrence of certain mythological themes at widely separated times and places around the world gives great credence to some kind of Collective Unconscious. The mythologem of the ladder to heaven, for instance, occurred virtually everywhere. There is of course the Biblical story of Jacob's visionary dream of angels on a ladder leading to heaven, but versions of the theme, which I suggest derives from shamanic trance experience, as we shall see below, can also be found in the myths of Arctic Europe, Siberia, Tibet, the Americas and Oceania. Depictions of figures in a shamanic context teetering atop ladders is even found in the rock art of southern Africa. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss has studied the myths of related tribes in Brazil and Paraguay as recorded by missionaries over hundreds of years, and found that though particular personages and events in them changed over time, the fundamental structure of a story remained constant.
Clearly, there seems to be something in the human mind, or at least in the common neurological structure and functioning of the human central nervous system, that is outside the timescale of individual persons or societies.
Since Jung's time, it has been suggested that archetypal images can provoke automatic responses analogous to the way that certain sensory cues can cause an animal to react in a predetermined manner. (For example, a newly-hatched chick will cower if shown the shape of a hawk, yet will not react to other bird forms.) 'Each society gives its own particular form to such "archetypal images" or stimuli,' says Sheila Savill, 'for myths and legends are expressions of communal feelings and intuitions.' Joseph Campbell warned that even though our culture no longer lives by myths, they are active and dynamic parts of the psyche, however we might ignore or forget them. Myths derive their source from 'an immemorial imagination', and can be driving us in ways our conscious, civilised minds do not perceive.
Alan Watts defined myth as 'a complex of stories.., which, for various reasons, human beings regard as demonstrations of the inner meaning of the universe and human life'. He saw myth as quite distinct from philosophy, as it was 'always concrete â consisting of vivid, sensually intelligible, narratives, images, rites, ceremonies and symbols'. The processes that give a story a mythic dimension are 'very largely unconscious', which, if Jung was right, they would have to be. Watts further noted that if the appearance of archetype-derived transpersonal images in a person's dreams indicated a healing process, as Jung maintained, then those societies that lived by myth were also healthy â healthier, indeed, than our own peculiar culture. He remarked that A. Coomaraswamy saw myths as one of the ways the 'perennial philosophy' was communicated, the perpetual spiritual reality underlying all religious forms and yearnings, the reality that allowed those who could partake of it to 'wake up' to 'a vision of the world startlingly different from that of the average socially conditioned man... because of the discovery that time â as ordinarily under stood â is an illusion'.
Greek scholar G.S. Kirk has warned that myths are so varied that it is unwise to seek one single definition of them. He finds some of the theories to be questionable, while others work for certain bodies of myth in the world but not for all of them. But while he is cautious about accepting Jung's ideas in toto, he admits that myths can have a dream-like quality, with the dislocations of sequence and location common to dreams. He notes, too, that it 'is a commonplace among several tribal societies... that myths and dreams evince a similar insight into reality. Many of the Indian tribes of the American South-west agree in spite of other cultural differences that myths are dreamed, and are created in that way. They are of great importance, being closely connected with the complex of rituals on which the life of the Pueblo Indians, in particular, is centred'.
Like Watts, Kirk notes that true myths tend to be 'set... in the timeless past' while their lesser cousins, folktales, are realistic, placed in specific if anonymous time and place, with characters having generic names. The anthropologist V.W. Turner similarly mentions the unusual time quality associated with myths, and points out that in tribal societies where myths form the basis of ceremonies, the activities are performed in 'liminal' situations, between the mundane and supernormal worlds, at sacred sites in remote locations, at night, naked or in strange garb. Myths could also be 'told at a time or in a site that is "betwixt and between". He felt that myths were 'high and deep mysteries' which put a tribal person into a temporary rapport 'with the primary or primordial generative power of the cosmos'.
Various anthropologists have created phrases to describe this mythic dimension of time: Preuss referred to it as die Urzeit ('pre-time'); LÃ©vy-Bruhl as 'pre-temporal time', noting that the mythic events of the San or Bushmen of southern Africa take place in a time that 'is not time at all in any rational sense; it is a special kind of time, itself as mythical as the events it embraces...'
People from any culture, modern or traditional, who experience altered states of consciousness can encounter this mythic time, Great Time, in which a sense of unutterable antiquity is linked to a quality of timelessness which allows mythic events to have happened in some remote past and yet to be somehow eternally occurring. Tribal shamans who use hallucinogenic plants as a sacramental part of their trance rituals report that they can 'look back to the very beginning' and go 'where the world is born' (my emphasis). They meet mythic beings such as tribal ancestors or deities and are shown the secrets of creation.
Taking a loose, general consensus, then, we can view myths as having dream-like qualities, their own dimension of time â at once ancient and present â and deriving from other sources of consciousness than the rational-type of waking awareness we moderns possess. They may also reveal neurological functions common to all humanity. High or serious myths represent deep realities of mind and nature.
Myth and mind
This is our clue. Dreams are private myths, as someone put it, and myths are tribal dreams. They both clothe processes going on deep within the human psyche. Looking at the examples of mythologised landscapes given in the first section of this essay, it is indeed difficult to avoid the feeling that we are dealing with some kind of dream world, a dream world that was allowed to develop a resonance with the physical world. I can vouch for the fact that this can happen directly in dream consciousness, for I am one of those weird people who sometimes sleeps with his eyes a little open. I have on numerous occasions experienced a dream in which some object my sleeping eyes happened to be fixed on in the bedroom became something else in my dream an ornate doorknob becoming an eagle, for instance. Conversely, when I have awoken from such dreams, the dream image slowly dissolves and I am left staring at the physical object in my surroundings that gave rise to it. As I awake, the physical object becomes divested of its dream or 'mythic' aspect.
Even those who do not possess my curious sleeping quirk, must have experienced an external sound or touch working its way into the matter of their dreams.
Dreaming is, of course, the one type of altered state of consciousness familiar to us all. Even those who are most vehement about the horrors of hallucinogenic drugs (which they unfortunately mix up with dangerous 'hard drugs' and chemicals which can be 'sniffed' from certain commercial products) have dreams, and dreams, it now seems, are produced by hormonal hallucinogens secreted by our own brains.
In my heady youth, when I was an art student in London during the 'Swinging Sixties', I took some LSD (it was still technically legal then). I took, unknowingly, a very large dose and I had a wild cosmic ride. One of the multitude of experiences I underwent has a bearing on our discussion here: as the session finally began to subside from its overpowering, transcendental heights, someone with me took out a handkerchief. It was what in those days was a rather fashionable khaki colour. He held it at one corner, and as he had taken a teaspoonful out of the tall glass I had drunk containing the LSD, he paused to look at it, empowered with the enhanced observational abilities released by the hallucinogen. I did likewise. The limp, hanging cloth fell into folds from the held corner. As one might catch a semblance of a face or a castle or whatever in a cloud, I saw the lineaments of a dove. A dirty, mud-covered dead dove, an impression literally due to the colouring given by the khaki material of the handkerchief. In the twinkling of a mythologising eye, the piece of cloth and its folds 'hardened' into a very perfect, realistic representation of a dead dove being held by its beak. I knew it was a handkerchief, but I was looking at a dead dove. As I was 'returning' from transcendental heights back into the world of mortals, of fallen humanity, I found the symbolism of the dead dove to be powerfully relevant. I marvelled at the fluid ambiguity of perception and of symbolism, and the symbiosis existing between them.
It is this type of 'loosened' perception, this mixing of sensory and symbolic data, I feel we have to acknowledge when we look at mythologised landscapes. We are not dealing with the enforced, brittle, intellectual consciousness we tend to employ in trying to 'read' a reclining woman 'into' a range of hills, or a Dreamtime hero 'into' a boulder. The Dreamtime is literally that, and we must envisage a people who could see in the fashion I have described above. They can see the 'lineaments of legend' in the land. They do not have to translate it as some simulacrum as we have to do.
Writing in 1935, LÃ©vy-Bruhl acknowledged that to Aborigines 'the mythic world and dreams have some important principle in common'. The Kalahari Bushmen told Laurens van der Post that 'there is a dream dreaming us'. They felt themselves to actually be part of the dreaming of the world.
The term 'Dreamtime' is not an Aboriginal word. It was, in fact, coined by B. Spencer and F.J. Gillen, the explorer-anthropologists who trekked through the Australian Outback in the latter part of the nineteenth century, observing the ceremonies of, and speaking with the Aborigines they encountered. To Aborigines the term is altjira, dzjugur, bugari, lalan, depending on the tribe. Mountford noted Gillen's and Spencer's invention was a 'particularly apt word' for the Aboriginal term, a feeling obviously shared by the Aborigines themselves who adopted it when trying to explain altjira to Europeans. Anthropologist A.P. Elkin learned that the Aboriginal terms had a number of meanings for the Aborigine
...all of which, however, are summed up in the long-past time when the culture-heroes and ancestors introduced the tribal culture and instituted its rites and laws... The same term also means 'dream' (noun or verb). But to the Aborigines this does not signify mere phantasy, but spiritual reality. A man's 'dreaming' is his share of the secret myths and rites, of the historical traditions, of the old or 'eternal dreamtime'. (My emphasis.)
James Cowan is at pains to emphasise the altered states of consciousness quality of this Aboriginal Dreaming. Contact with the Dreaming is the primary objective for participants in ceremonies at sacred sites along Dream Journey routes, he states. 'It is not a divine place that they are endeavouring to enter by way of ritual gesture, but a state of mind â a return to the source.' Aboriginal holy men, 'Men of High Degree' or karadjis, have direct contact with the Dreaming and the spirit figures that populate that realm of mind. As a consequence of this direct contact, a karadji is the only person who can create new dances, songs and stories. In Jungian terms, it would be said that because he has access to the Unconscious, he is able to extract authentic mythic material â transpersonal, timeless. Jung was confident that "myth-forming" structural elements must be present in the unconscious psyche'. Cowan points out that the Dream Journey is at once an exoteric activity, a social activity, and an esoteric or inward journey:
In both cases, however, there is a certain amount of ritual activity designed to encourage a new awareness of environment and the way personal 'country' can inspire a greater understanding of nature itself... both journeys overlap in their significance because many of the stories, myth cycles, sacred environments.., and cave paintings are common to both.
By using the Dreaming, Cowan argues, the Aborigines were able to find in topographical features a 'profoundly symbolic language'. Their Bible, Bhagavad-Gita, Torah or Koran was written on the face of the Earth. The landscape became 'a rich source of information on the sacred... the land had a story to tell to mankind.., a topographic story elicited from a given landscape by a tribal member is not a 'just-so' tale but a demonstration of mythic data'.
The mythologised land emerged, then, from the interaction between the physical environment and a particular state of mind experienced by its human inhabitants. The land came to be haunted â by human consciousness. Ideas of 'sacred places' do not emerge from the land, they can only be sacred if human consciousness is present. Symbolism and sanctity are what we invest the landscape with â they are not factors that exist separately in the environment.
The nub of the matter revolves around the state of consciousness in which this process took place. We do not mythologise the land nowadays; not, at least, at any sort of cultural level. Why not? Surely because our modern, urbanised (literally 'civilised') Western-style consciousness is much more differentiated than that of traditional or early peoples. Our minds have hard edges. We do not melt into the landscape, we sit aloof on it, dig into it, use it as a material resource. It is 'separate'. In the way that we put up walls and fences, and hedge in blocks of land, so too does our modern consciousness have its defined boundaries. From an originally diffuse sense of self, we have developed iron-clad egos, that is, personal mental vehicles. But early and traditional peoples were not so 'locked into' our present-day form of waking consciousness. Indeed, the question arises as to whether they were in continual, or at least readily-accessible, altered states of consciousness. Did earlier, prehistoric, peoples wander the Earth in an actual dream or entranced state? I have elsewhere suggested that the great division of time we moderns with our 'hardened consciousness' make between 'history' and 'prehistory' â documented and undocumented time â can be seen as analogous to the division between waking consciousness and the unconscious psyche. In such an analogy, the waking mind floats like a small cork on the unknown depths of the Unconscious, as history bobs along on the ocean of prehistory. To try to interpret ancient sacred sites or mythologised landscapes is, therefore, a little like attempting to peer into the depths of our unconscious minds.
Landscape as a gateway to the mind
Whatever the state of mind earlier peoples may have had, we have to accept, I think, that they were more easily able to enter trance conditions than we are, generally speaking, today. We see this still with the !Kung of the Kalahari (the exclamation mark denotes a glottal, click sound). They engage in trance dances that can project them into a profoundly altered state of consciousness (they call it kia) that most modern Westerners in normal conditions would require a drug as potent as LSD to experience. Ancient and traditional peoples were or are more at home in extended states of mind, and needed less of a stimulus to enter into them. The very landscape could act as such a stimulus. Elkin said that the country of the Aborigine 'is the symbol of, and gateway to, the great unseen world...' (My emphasis.) Working with the Marind-anim of New Guinea, anthropologist Paul Wirz observed that holy spots, the places of Dema or spirits, had hallucinogenic properties in themselves:
In most cases such spots have a striking outward appearance in consequence of some strange or unexpected aspect. In them occur unusual land formations, chasms, uplands, swamps with sandbanks or gravel deposits fresh or salt. Curious noises may be heard in them... Occasionally people catch sight of strange apparitions, the Dema themselves, rising out of the earth, though mostly such visions are but fleeting and uncertain...
Given the right preparation, a spiritual or poetic interaction with the external environment can still occur with modem people, of course, though without the framework of tribal myth. An intriguing instance of this was given by Philip O'Connor, an articulate vagrant. He felt that the study of the mental effects of walking were akin to the effects of certain drugs, and has been insufficiently researched. He found that in walking endlessly the roads of England that he could sometimes obtain an 'incomparable feeling...as though one were a prayer winding along a road; the feeling is definitely religious. ..' He found that during prolonged periods of tramping a deep mental rhythm, 'poetic in its effects', began to dominate all his perceptions. 'All hard nodules of concepts are softly coaxed into disbursing their cherished contents...' he observed. 'Maybe mental fireworks, will gloriously light the mind â but quickly the world will attach the inner light to outer phenomena... The speed of transit between inner state and outer appearance is a feature of tramping.' (My emphasis.) One's 'identity-sense' becomes 'diffused into the landscape'. On one occasion O'Connor passed an uprooted tree by the roadside. He thought, or heard within his head, the curious words 'She has left me'. O'Connor noted that a pressure at the back of his head accompanied 'this perversion of thought, or insight of poetry'. Furthermore, 'Time stops in such perceptions'. A cessation of mechanical, linear time-sense was somehow caused by 'a high sky, a statically spread landscape'. The different experience of time when alone in the landscape was markedly shown up whenever he came in contact with townspeople. They would appear 'terribly quick, jerky, and doll-like, with chatter to suit'.
In normal modern, urban consciousness, with its mechanical rather than elemental, cyclical kind of time, we are prevented from entering into a poetic dialogue with the land.
The bicameral brain
Julian Jaynes, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, has put forward a contentious but well-argued and attested theory that ancient peoples did actually have a differently-functioning consciousness to ours today. It is worth spending a little time to consider this idea.
The human brain is divided into two 'halves' or hemispheres, separated by a band of over two million fibres called the corpus callosum. In each hemisphere is an area known as the temporal lobe, which seems to be related to dreaming, hallucinations or visions, language and other functions. These two are connected across the corpus callosum by a thin bundle of nerve fibres called the anterior commissure. In very crude terms (it is more complicated than this), the left brain handles speech, logic, analytical thought, stage-by-stage cognition, while the right hemisphere handles gestalt, patterns, connections, intuition, emotion and poetic matters. (O'Connor's reaction to the uprooted tree, above, was a right-brain response.)
Many of our sensory functions cross over, so that what is seen by the left eye is processed by the right hemisphere of the brain. When a person has undergone a complete commissurotomy, that is, the cutting of the midline connections between the hemispheres, nothing is generally seen or felt to be different. But when sensory input is closely monitored, defects are found. For instance, on a page of writing everything to the left of the middle of a line of writing is 'seen' by the right hemisphere, and vice versa. The 'you' in your left hemisphere, which has articulated speech, would cognise the words on the right-hand side of the line as normal, but those on the left-hand side could not be 'told' to the 'you' in the right hemisphere, because that hemisphere does not have speech. Similarly, a person with 'split brain' cannot describe the contents of a slide shown to the left eye (and thus the right brain), but the left hand could point to a matching picture. It is as if there were two persons inside the brain. As only the left brain has articulate speech (though both hemispheres understand language) it is the one that dominates cognition in a culture like ours.
Voices of the gods
Jaynes argues that the ancients had each hemisphere of their brains operating on separate tracks as it were, and 'heard' voices that originated in their right brain or hemisphere and for which, Jaynes suggests, the anterior commissure acted as a bridge. Like the voices 'heard' by schizophrenics today, these auditory hallucinations, which were taken to be the voices of the ancestors or the gods, had an inescapable authority, and gave instruction to ancient peoples' left hemisphere or waking, daily consciousness. Jaynes calls this condition 'the bicameral mind', and has argued in the sort of detail that cannot be given here how this structure of consciousness gave rise to great bicameral civilisations of the past. Early tribal peoples 'heard' their ancestors, but as societies grew more complex and cities formed, the ancestors' voices became those of the gods, and it was the king who spoke to and was guided by the hallucinatory commandments of the main gods of the culture. The instructions of the gods were carried out through extremely hierarchically-organised societies. Although individual people could consult 'household deities', their voices were culturally accepted as subordinate to the institutionalised voices of the great gods transmitted through the king or governing theocratic elite. The consciousness of these bicameral peoples was pitched so differently to ours that even the stress of an unfamiliar situation could be enough to trigger auditory hallucinations in them.
As with people who hear voices today, the inner speech could seem to come from some point in the environment. A schizophrenic may hear a piece of furniture, or a wall, issue sounds at him, for instance. In the bicameral world, if Jaynes is right, auditory hallucination was highly organised and was conducted mainly through the use of statues and idols. These were consulted and they spoke in reply. Indeed, there were ancient ceremonies involving the mouth-washing of idols, to keep their speech clear, and the Spanish conquerors of the Maya were told by the Indians that their statues spoke. The earliest forms of writing also give the speech of the gods as if dictated, and some, such as a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet of the first millennium BC, specifies that it was 'the royal image' (statue) that spoke. (I knew one mental patient who organised his auditory hallucinations in something of a similar fashion, so he could cope with his condition in daily life: when he heard a voice 'coming on', he would make for the nearest telephone booth and lift the receiver. In this way, he could converse with his voices in a socially acceptable way!)
Such idols were often depicted with large eyes, as eye-to-eye contact is an important factor in communication â when a mother speaks to an infant, for exam ple, it looks at her eyes, not her lips. Ancient idols the world over often had huge eye orbs, or had gems inserted for eyes, and sometimes their lips were half open as if in speech. These powerful images held their human makers in their thrall.
The use of idols as organised sources of hallucinated speech may have derived from much older traditions of ancestor worship, if Jaynes' ideas are correct. The whole groundplan of some early communities was so designed as to place the tomb of a dead chieftain in a position still at the centre of living activity. With a range of evidence that cannot be entered into here, Jaynes suggests that the voice of the dead king could still be 'heard', if not by the community in general, then by the chief's or king's successor. The arrangement of the ancestor's bones, particularly the skull, and the type of grave goods, as if for a living person, together with the veneration and even dread obviously bestowed upon the graves of the ancestors, all suggest that the dead leader was thought of as in some way still alive. The dead king became a living god.
Temples eventually replaced tombs, and as the ancestors became the gods, their skeletons were supplanted by idols. As Scully noted, the temples were houses for the gods, not for people. Jaynes has identified particular types of street and building layouts in ancient communities that he feels indicate bicameral consciousness.
The hallucinatory associations with the ancestors' bones could explain the various head cults of early societies, Jaynes suggests. It is certainly a fact that the head was seen by many people as the seat of the soul, and in Stone Age temple-tombs skulls are often found placed in separate compartments to other bones. This was noticeably the case at the Neolithic chambered mound of Isbister, the so-called 'Tomb of the Eagles' on Orkney, and we will encounter something similar in the Avebury complex in Part Two.
An example of a speaking head being mythically associated with a particular topographical feature occurs in ancient Celtic literature. The tale of Branwen in the old Bardic stories collected in the Mabinogion tells that Bran the Blessed ('The Blessed Raven', possibly originally a major Celtic god) was mortally wounded during a raid in Ireland. His followers cut off his head and took it back to Wales with them. The head continued to speak and instructed the group to take it to the White (meaning sacred) Mount in London (now site of the Tower of London). On the way, the Assembly of the Wondrous Head was delayed for years in an enchanted condition, but eventually reached the White Mount and there buried Bran's head, to protect the sovereignty of Britain. The origin of this story is, of course, the Celtic head cult, and hundreds of pagan Celtic heads fashioned from stone have been found, and countless more made out of wood must have been lost.
In and out of style
We have to try to envisage a style of consciousness in the bicameral world in which the sense of 'I' is greatly diminished, and with no sense of space within the head. (We all think of ourselves as a little person inside our head , which is, of course, a sustained, culturally-sanctioned hallucination, We feel a sense of mental space, in which the little inner person sits looking out at the world as if in a room with five sensory 'windows'. Our little person can also wander around in our thoughts, like a clerk sifting through a filing cabinet, and we can glimpse ourselves, our little person, in our memories and fantasies. We can create mental space. All this is likewise a sustained hallucination. There is no 'person' nor any empty space inside our head, which is solid tissue, liquids and bone. A characteristic of altered mental states is that the location of the 'person' can wander to other parts of the body, or even out of it; the seat of consciousness becomes mobile.) This state of mind was not because of some different physical structure of the brain, but due to a differently jigged range of neuronal patterns and connections. To use computerese â a software difference rather than one of hardware. Bicameral awareness would feel a little like our mental state when doing a task such as driving a car, things were done almost 'unconsciously'. When a novel situation was encountered, the bicameral person would be instructed by their god or gods, that is, their right brain, how to handle it: there were thousands of portable idols and household statues to focus any daily instructions by the lesser 'gods'.
Jaynes points out that our present-day style of consciousness is probably quite recent (no more than 2000-3000 years old in his opinion) and not necessarily permanent. We produce a culture based on our state of consciousness, and that in turn gives us feedback helping to sustain that state. But for all sorts of reasons, changes in worldview can change dramatically, and long-term, cultural-scale changes of worldview require actual alterations in the way consciousness works, how perceptions are made, what priorities govern thinking. Our present cultural state of consciousness could transform into something that would be unrecognisable to us today. (This could happen on a scale hitherto impossible because of the worldwide telecommunications that now exist and which are themselves approaching the global equivalent of the human cortex in information connections.)
The speaking environment
Although the use of idols was the great organiser of hallucinated 'god'-voices during what Jaynes would call bicameral times, actual topographical features could also take on the aspect of deity in themselves. He records the Hittite mountain shrine of Yazilikaya in central Turkey:
That the mountains themselves were hallucinatory to the Hittites is indicated by relief sculptures still clearly visible on the rocks within the sanctuary, showing the usual stereotyped drawings of mountains topped with the heads and head-dresses used for the gods. As the Psalmist sings, 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help.'
On one of the faces of this mountain temple, the robed king is carved in profile. Just behind him in the stone relief towers a god with a much loftier crown; the god's arm is outstretched, showing the king the way, whilst the god's left arm is hugged around the king's neck and grasps the king's right fist firmly. It is testament to an emblem of the bicameral mind.
So the topography could actually speak to earlier peoples, if Jaynes is correct.
Schizophrenia is considered by Jaynes to be a vestige of bicameral consciousness, and he notes that many patients 'heard.., voices as emanating from strange and unknown places'. Amongst several examples he gives is of a 26-year-old woman whose topographical 'stimulation point' was a river bank where she would hear a man and a woman calling to her. Also the sounds in the world around a schizophrenic can provide the matrix in which voices can form. One patient described hearing voices...
...sometimes sounding from the wind, sometimes from footsteps, sometimes rattling dishes, from the rustling trees... I hear the voices only if I attend to them... The voices are words that tell me one story or another... The whole day through they keep on telling truly my daily history of head and heart.
Researcher John Steele quotes the case of 'The Talking Stone' in Seneca Indian tradition, which long ago told a Seneca boy the history of his people, a history which itself became enshrined in the story of the speaking rock. 'Thus our earliest ancestors,' writes Steele, 'lived in what can be described as a conscious interactive environment.'
The bicameral fate of cities In Jaynes' view, hallucinated voices may have been responsible both for the foundation of city sites and their desertion during the bicameral period. Jayne's cites the mysterious case of the lost Mayan cities:
...the curious inhospitable sites on which Mayan cities were often built and their sudden appearance and disappearance can best be explained on the basis that such sites and movements were commanded by hallucinations which in certain periods could be not only irrational but downright punishing â as was Jahweh sometimes to his people, or Apollo (through the Delphic Oracle) to his, by siding with the invaders of Greece.
(In this regard, it is worth noting that Istanbul was effectively founded by Byzas in 657 BC as a result of a somewhat oblique pronouncement by the Delphic Oracle.)
The actual bicameral act may be recorded on stone reliefs from Santa Lucia Cotzumalhaupa, a non-Mayan site in Guatemala: a man is depicted laying face down on the ground listening to two spiritual beings speaking over him. To this day, seers in the region adopt this posture in order to hear prophetic voices, though they now use the hallucinogenic cactus peyote. (Jaynes considers the use of hallucinogens to have developed as natural, spontaneous bicameral ability began to decline. Personally, I doubt that this is true. However, proto-historic peoples like the Etruscans did develop the use of divination techniques to found cities, and it is possible, as we shall note, that this began to emerge as bicamerality broke down.)
The sacred sun
Auditory and other hallucinations can originate from parts of the cortex that imbue them with a religious aura â there are apparently brain structures that accommodate this function. Jaynes notes that the sun, 'as the world's brightest light', takes on a special religious significance in many unmedicated schizophrenic patients, just as it did in the theocracies of bicameral civilisations. One modern schizophrenic has written:
The sun came to have an extraordinary effect on me. It seemed to be charged with all power; not merely to symbolise God but actually to be God. Phrases like: 'Light of the World,' 'The Sun of Righteousness that Setteth Nevermore,' etc., ran through my head without ceasing, and the mere sight of the sun was sufficient greatly to intensify this manic excitement under which I was laboring. I was impelled to address the sun as a personal god, and to evolve from it a ritual sun worship.
Fairly recent research, probably unknown to Jaynes, at the great temple complex of Karnak, at Luxor (the ancient Thebes), on the east side of the Nile some 370 miles south of Cairo, gives some support to the bicameral theory. It has been suggested by researchers since the beginning of this century that the axis of this temple complex, which was respected throughout the many centuries of structural changes and additions in the second millennium BC and possibly earlier, was oriented on the setting midsummer sun. But Gerald Hawkins, an astronomer with the Smithsonian Institution, discovered that the orientation was, in fact, in the other direction, eastwards, giving midwinter sunrise during the second millennium BC. Hawkins found that in the main building housing the sanctuary there was an upper chamber, the 'High Room of the Sun', from where the event could have been observed:
There was a square altar of alabaster in front of a rectangular aperture in the wall. This roof temple was dedicated to Ra-Hor-Akhty, the sun-god rising on the horizon. The wall carried a picture of the pharaoh, facing the aperture, one knee to the ground, making a gesture of greeting to the risen sun... The platform was elevated, the view clear of obstruction. Here the priest-astronomer could make his observations to check the sun was on course.
Eastwards beyond this building are two small temples, one dedicated to Ra-Hor Akhty, the other 'The Temple of the Hearing Ear', an intriguing and â in the light of the bicameral theory â significant dedication. It contains hymns of praise to the god that appears at dawn. It may relate to auditory phenomena 'heard' as the sun rose on the special day â if the ancients could 'hear' mountains, why not the sun? It is perhaps worth recalling that William Blake, the poet, painter and mystic, indicated that he was able to hear the sun rising like a host of angels singing. It would be unwise, especially in the case of Blake, to assume this to be mere poetic license.
Across the Nile from Luxor is the Valley of the Kings, itself defined by a horned skyline on one side, according to Scully, and a conical mountain, an extraordinary natural pyramid, with a 'teat' â a pre-dynastic mound â on the other. Two giant sandstone statues, 60 feet tall, stand near the Nile in isolation. They represent Amenhotep III and flanked the entrance to his mortuary temple which was also dedicated to Ra-Hor-Akhty but has now disappeared. Their stoney eyes stare eastwards, and Hawkins has been able to confirm an earlier suspicion of Sir Norman Lockyer's that they are in fact also oriented to the midwinter sunrise. During an earthquake in 27 BC, one of these great statues was cracked, and began to make sounds at dawn. In proto-historic Graeco-Roman times they became known as the Colossi of Memnon, and were consulted as an oracle because of the dawn sounds which issued forth.
The age of oracles
According to Jaynes' view, the 'age of oracles' in the proto-historic period (the period between undocumented pre-history and fully-documented historical times) was a symptom of the breakdown of the archaic bicameral mind as modern mentality with its sense of 'I' and illusion of interior, mental space began its ascendancy. He considers this process began to occur in the Old World during the third and second millennia BC, but accelerated dramatically in the final thousand years BC due to vast natural disasters (such as the eruption of Thera â Santorini â in the Mediterranean, which sent out a tidal wave 700 feet high that drowned key areas of Mediterranean civilisation) and the subsequent chaos caused by refugees and disruption of the carefully-balanced bicameral social structures. In fact, the size of cities had begun to threaten these structures in any case. The emergence of writing, too, can be seen as increasing left-brain dominance.
Slowly the gods became dumb and retreated, mythically, into the sky. Heaven was created. (Although the sun, planets and stars had become gods, and there were important sky deities, most of the gods had physical locations in the landscape.) Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets of the late second millennium BC bemoan the disappearance of the gods. 'One who has no god, as he walks along the street, headache envelopes him like a garment' says one, perhaps referring to a physical sensation caused by the neurological re-patterning. 'My god has forsaken me and disappeared' wails another tablet. And around 1230 BC, Tukulti-Ninurta I, an Assyrian tyrant, had a stone altar made that showed him, sequentially, emphatically gesturing towards and kneeling before an empty throne. The empty throne became a feature of declining Mesopotamian bicameral civilisations.
Oracles were a carry-over of the earlier mentality, Jaynes claims. They occurred, he notes, in locations where 'because of some awesomeness of the surroundings, or some important incident or some hallucinogenic sound, waves, waters, or wind, suppliants, any suppliants, could still "hear" a bicameral voice directly'. Over time, the bicameral ability diminished in the general population even under such stimuli, and selected people with surviving bicameral traits â prophets, priestesses (women are more 'lateralised' in brain function than men, their psychological functions being less tied to one or other hemisphere) â took over the role until eventually even they could not 'hear' and actual right-brain consciousness was overtaken by rote procedures or divination.
One of the greatest oracles of the ancient world was at Delphi, on the southern slopes of Mount Parnassos, Greece. Originally dedicated to Gaia, the Earth Goddess, the site was appropriated by the cult of Apollo. A temple complex developed. A female prophetess, the 'Pythia', gave responses to questions from commoners and the high born. She drank the waters of the local holy springs before giving audience. Even today this place is still redolent with numinosity, and seems wedded to the elements. It is prone to earthquakes (the ancient Greeks built the temple of Apollo on an anti-seismic wall of ingenious design), and fierce electrical storms that blaze and roar within the confines of the steep valley on the side of which the temple complex clings vertiginously. Zeus and his thunderbolts are very close, and in its heyday the oracle site must have seemed profoundly awesome. Even archaeologists acknowledge that the 'brooding physical power of the site must be considered in any account of its history' Jaynes suggests that due to the stresses of the pilgrimage to the site, plus preparation and powerfully-endorsed social expectation, a suppliant would be in a primed psychological state.
To this causative expectancy should be added something about the natural scene itself. Oracles begin in localities with a specific awesomeness, natural formations of mountain gorge, of hallucinogenic wind or waves, of symbolic gleamings and vistas, which I suggest are more conducive to occasioning right hemisphere activity than the analytic planes of everyday life. Perhaps we can say that the geography of the bicameral mind in the first part of the first millennium BC was shrinking down into sites of awe and beauty where the voices of the gods could still be heard.
Certainly the vast cliffs of Delphi move into such a suggestion and fill it fully: a towering caldron of blasted rock over which the sea winds howl and the salt mists cling, as if dreaming nature were twisting herself awake at awkward angles, falling away into a blue surf of shimmering olive leaves and the grey immortal sea.
The voice of Zeus could be heard at Dodona, and was consulted by Odysseus. At that time the site was probably just a great sacred oak, and Jaynes suggests that the voice was stimulated hallucinogenically from 'the wind trembling in its leaves' and wonders if the oaks of the Druids may have acted as similar stimuli. In the fifth century BC, Zeus could no longer be heard directly, and there had to be a priestess who spoke for the god while in trance. As the direct voice connection at oracle sites diminished, more elaboration had to take place at them.
At Lebadea, 20 miles east of Delphi, was another oracle site and one of the last 'direct voice' oracles where suppliants heard the gods for themselves without temple intermediaries. Jaynes finds that Lebadea 'even today bears some remnants of its ancient awesomeness'. It is at the junction of three steep precipices, where 'murmuring springs' emerge and fall away into the ravines. The suppliant, after extraordinarily complex preparations, retired to a carved-out cell in the rock where one ravine winds into the heart of the mountain, and is situated over an underground flume.
Dreams became a source of omens, a contact with the ancient processes of the bicameral mind, as they still are. Dream omens were collected in Assyrian society in the first millennium BC and recorded in dream books such as the Ziqiqu. 'Temple sleep' was commonplace in Greece, as noted in the previous section of this essay, and throughout the Mediterranean world. In fact, all forms of divination proliferated, from the relatively simple, such as the casting of sticks, soil and stones, to the more sophisticated, such as reading bird flight, the heavens or using cards and charts, because mancy is another way of circumventing the tyranny of the left brain.
And there was singing and chanting. Although the left brain has speech, the right brain has song. This is shown by the so-called Wada Test, in which a person has one brain hemisphere sedated. With only the right side active, a person cannot speak, but can sing. When the right hemisphere is sedated, the person is unable to sing but can speak. Electrical stimulation around the temporal lobe in the right hemisphere often produces hallucinations of singing and music. The right brain is dominant, also, in our attention to music and song. Knowing this, we can see the significance of the fact that the first poets sang their verse. The wandering Celtic Bards, the Greek Aoidoi, and others, sang the ancient myths, the stories of the gods, the history of the people. We might also recall from the previous section that the Aborigines chanted at their sacred sites. Each piece of mythically significant topography had its song; the Dream Journeys were lines of songs, and tribal boundaries were noted by song. At sites, the elders would scan the imagery on the Churingas and chant what they told.
The words of the gods and songs of the Muses (what 'music' is) only became imaginary to a left-brain-dominated consciousness. We moderns have lost the soundtrack of prehistory.
Gateways to the Dreamtime
We cannot be sure, of course, if Jaynes is right in his theorising, but it has to be admitted that when all his evidence is considered, his case is persuasive. Whether he is right or wrong, or, more likely, partially correct, however, we can be certain that the ancient worldview was arrived at through a different filter of consciousness than that prevailing today.
One of the ways we do know for sure that consciousness was modified in the ancient world â and often today also where traditional societies survive relatively intact â was by the use of hallucinogens. Botanical sources gave access to the Dreamtime Earth â the spirit version of the material world, what LÃ©vy-Bruhl called 'supernature'. (Interestingly, this is also the term the Irish nature mystic, G.W. Russell â 'AE' â gave to his perception of the visionary environment: see the final section of this essay.) Certain plants, trees, bark, vines and fungi provided 'doorways' into the Earth's Otherworld. All Eurasia had its botanical drugs for religious and shamanic use: hemp (cannabis; hashish) â samples of which have been dug up in Iron Age burials in Germany; Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) and psilocybin mushrooms; henbane; mandrake; belladonna; ergot; opium... The list is almost endless. Africans, too, used plants to give access to the Otherworld: marijuana; khat (murungu, otyibota); kwashi bulbs and who-knows-what herbs and roots. The Australian Aborigines made use of pituri. The Americas are vastly rich in hallucinogens, and the shamanic Amerindian peoples made great use of the fact: in North and Central America there was wide use of hallucinogenic mushrooms; Datura-type hallucinogens such as Jimson Weed (a pre-Columbian wall painting in a Zuni kiva in New Mexico shows a medicine-man holding Jimson Weed); the mescaline-containing peyote cactus, and mescal bean amongst many others â even toads which secreted hallucinogenic bufotenin and hallucinogenic fish! In South America there were a variety of narcotic snuffs; coca; hallucinogenic fungi; San Pedro cactus and many preparations of the vine, Banisteriopsis, such as ayahuasca. Such substances taken in a ritual setting were viewed as sacramental to ancient and traditional peoples, and enhanced their social integration: we have to be careful not to project our own, modern drug prejudices.
I also suspect that there were other 'gateways' into the Dreamtime Earth that have been largely overlooked by archaeologists and many alternative researchers alike, namely, the actual materials of the landscape itself. That ancient peoples were good geologists cannot be in doubt â other wise, where did the Bronze Age come from? They knew how to find and work copper seams and iron deposits. Before that, they knew where the very best sources of quality flint were to be mined. They would not have thought in geophysical language like we do today, naturally, but the knowledge was there. It is surprising that we have tended to overlook the geophysical characteristics of prehistoric sacred sites, for both folklore and anecdotal experience tell of unusual 'energy effects' at sites, such as curious light phenomena, stones that give electrostatic shocks, and sites where effects on mind and body can be had.
The Dragon Project Trust has done extensive if poorly-resourced work on this aspect, and I have written at length on what is currently known about various energy effects at sites in books such as Earth Lights Revelation and Places of Power, where the interested reader can obtain detailed information. Here it is enough to state just in caption form some things we have found.
We have discovered naturally-magnetic stones at stone circles (usually just one at a site and in a key position) and at natural holy spots â such as a rock outcrop, an Indian power place, on Mount Tamalpais, near San Francisco, and a mountain peak called Carn Ingli ('Hill of Angels') on the Preseli range of south-west Wales, where a Celtic saint had visions and where modern people have reported physiological and mental effects. (It is known that magnetic fields can affect the temporal lobes and the pineal gland, both areas of the brain that seem involved in the production of dreams, memories and visions or hallucinations.) Compass needles spin and magnetometers record unusual magnetic variations at such places.
The Dragon Project has confirmed that certain types of sacred sites the world over occur in close proximity to fault lines â fissures or breaks in the Earth's crust (like the San Andreas Fault) which tend to be the scene of tectonic stress, magnetic and gravitic anomalies, and enhanced mineralisation (which can cause variable electromagnetic fields).
Such geological zones also tend to be high-incidence areas of 'earth light' phenomena â exotic and currently unexplained lightforms apparently emerging from processes within the earth and which hover at the extreme limits of known geophysics. They sometimes act as if they have mass, at other times as if weightless. They have electromagnetic properties, yet also possess other characteristics that go beyond known physics. There is even a strong hint in the available evidence that these lights possess some rudimentary intelligence of their own. Energy fields associated with the lights may also have hallucinogenic properties in close-encounter witnesses.
I think it possible that this last factor was put to use by some ancient shamans. Certainly, such 'earth lights' were known by many ancient and traditional peoples. Min min lights were sorcerers or ancestor spirits to some Aborigines, and eskuda'hit, 'fire creatures' to the Penobscot Indians of Maine, were shamans in flight, as they were to the Lapps. The Snohomish Indians of the American north-west saw the lights as gateways to the Otherworld, and some Yakima Indians to this day use the lights for divination, much as the old Etruscans used birds. Hawaiian Islanders saw their akualele lights as spirits. Folk living in the Himalayan foothills around Darjeeling were warned not to approach the lanterns of the chota admis, 'little men'. Similarly, the Wintu Indians of California called such lights 'spirit eaters'. West Africans called the lights aku, and saw them as devilish. In the Celtic world until recently, and still in some remote, rural parts, lights would readily be identified as fairies â literally 'fairy lights' â or 'corpse candles', denoting an imminent death.
Sacred monuments where lights are seen from time to time range from temples in India and China to stone circles in Britain. Indeed, Asian temples could be built precisely because of the appearance of lights at a spot, and even in the Alps there is a chapel dedicated to 'St Mary of the Lights'. Also, sacred peaks often have reputations for unusual light phenomena. Sorte Mountain in Venezuela, for instance, produces lights near its peak at sunset. They are thought by contemporary shamans to be spirits, and to see them is a good sign that healing there will be effective. Mount Shasta in northern California is said to produce curious lights and fleeting apparitions. Identical reports abound about Pendle Hill in Lancashire, where George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, had a mystical vision and where the Pendle Witches, the shamans of their day, congregated. In May 1869, for instance, a 'firey goose' was seen flitting a hundred feet above the hill slopes. This happened at the time of a local earthquake. In modern times, of course, such lights seen over the hill are interpreted as 'UFOs' â the sci-fi mechanistic myth of our times. The holy mountain of Athos in Greece displays light phenomena from time to time which are interpreted as appearances of the Virgin. The legendary Welsh mountain of Cader Idris is said to harbour the entrance to the Underworld and to produce lights at the Celtic new year. In fact, it was midsummer eve of 1982 when I personally witnessed (with others) a ball of blue-white light erupt from the north side of the mountain. It flashed overhead, and I was later able to estimate its speed at over 600 mph. The mountain is of volcanic origin and stands on the Bala Fault.
I suspect that these lights are nature's most direct intermediary between mind and land.
By accident, the Dragon Project has stumbled on another aspect of natural energy: it has found that areas of heightened natural radiation seem capable of precipitating spontaneous but fleeting altered states of consciousness of a very vivid nature in certain people. Granite is a particularly radioactive rock, and the Dragon Project has identified stone circles containing granite megaliths that have exceptionally active spots on them which emit constant streams of gamma radiation. Could this have been used by the old shamans of the megaliths? Possibly. Alberto Villoldo has reported how the contemporary Peruvian shaman, Don Eduardo Calderon, teaches his students to place their spine or foreheads against certain sacred stones at Machu Picchu. These stones are granitic (and the site is situated on a fault).
Enhanced natural radiation zones are created in enclosed ceremonial monuments (such as Neolithic dolmens) built from granite. Egypt's Great Pyramid is a vast limestone structure, yet granite was shipped 600 miles from Aswan to clad the interior of the King's Chamber. To the Egyptians, granite was the stone of spirit, Maat. I have measured the interior of the King's Chamber and found its radon levels to be virtually identical with those so far measured in prehistoric granite monuments in western Europe.
Subterranean ritual sites such as the kivas of the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest and the Iron Age souterrains or underground stone passages of the Celtic fringe of Europe, all seem to occur in areas of high natural radiation, such as granite regions or zones with relatively high uranium levels in the ground. The role of enhanced natural radiation in mind-change effects awaits a serious study.
The use of a fire in ceremonial practices increases the ionisation of the atmosphere generally, and, particularly, negative ions, as well as inducing trance-friendly alpha brain rhythms by the flicker effect of the flames. But there are more powerful negative ionised environments. Harner comments that the Jivaro Indians of South America might retire to 'a cave, the top of a mountain, or a tall waterfall' in their quest for a guardian spirit. Mircea Eliade records how the Aranda shamanic initiate of Central Australia goes to sleep in the mouth of a remote cave. The spirits come and carry him into the cavern's interior, where the Aranda's paradisal land is situated. And we have already noted the Greek legend of Epimenides who 'slept' and fasted for a long time in the cave of Zeus on Mount Ida in Crete and emerged as a master of trance consciousness.
Now, caves, mountain peaks and waterfalls are all notable places where natural ionisation occurs. The moving water of a waterfall charges the surrounding air, and mountain peaks can sometimes be seen with ionised glows around them (well-known in the Andes as the 'Andes Glow'). Light phenomena have even been seen around the apex of the Great Pyramid. Cave mouths are notorious for being subject to a high incidence of lightning strikes due to ionisation. (Indeed, earlier this century, one of the explorers of the Henne-Morte caverns in France was struck by lightning 200 feet beneath ground!) The reason for intense ionisation in caves seems to be the accumulation of radioactivity from subterranean rocks by the action of groundwater. The radiation builds up within the enclosed space of a cavern. This is sometimes expelled during hot, summery weather, and can cause a stream of ionisation skywards, providing a path for lightning.
Ionised air is known to have an effect on certain hormone levels in mammals, and hormones in turn regulate brain function and hence affect consciousness. It is now thought that emissions from rock can affect serotonin levels in mammals, for instance, and serotonin is associated with the production by the pineal gland of hallucinogenic beta-carbolines, which, it is thought, aid in producing dream imagery.
Caves are also very dark places, of course. The training for a 'Mama' ('Enlightened One') or shaman in the Kogi Indian society of Colombia involves his being incarcerated in a cave from infancy or childhood, and not seeing the light of day for several years. Even when brought out at night, he wears a broad-rimmed hat so he cannot see moon or stars directly. This must have an enormous effect on the hormonal workings of the pineal gland, which is regulated by light-dark cycles. When he finally emerges, the young Mama can 'see' the Spirit or Dreamtime Earth, which the Kogis call aluna, interfused with the physical terrain. He can see supernature.
As we have noted, cave environments contain heightened levels of radiation. We associate radon â the naturally radioactive gas that is produced by uranium decay in the ground â with cancer, because a house sealed for air-conditioning or heating situated over a radon emission point (a 'radon chimney') will accumulate radon. A person breathing this in over many years is subject to greater risk from lung cancer. However, there is some evidence that in limited doses, or in aerated environments, radon might well have a beneficial effect. At the turn of the century, people resorted to radon-filled caves in Colorado much as their European counterparts took the waters at fashionable spas for the betterment of their health. Yet in at least some cases, those European waters also contained mildly enhanced radiation. The famous hot springs of Bath in Britain, for instance, used for seven thousand years from Neolithic times through the Celtic and Roman periods into recent centuries, are radioactive. The waters of Chalice Well at Glastonbury are likewise said to be radioactive. Even now, old gold and uranium mines in Montana are used by people suffering ailments such as arthritis and diabetes. Sufferers are placed in the old mine workings for timed periods, and cures over a given course of such 'treatments' have been claimed. Further, Dr Bernard Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh has taken measurements in 415 US counties and found that in those where the level of radon would have been expected to produce a 25 per cent increase in female lung cancer, cancer incidence was actually down 30 per cent. Similar unexpected inverse relationships have been found in Finland, the UK, and elsewhere.
Geophysical conditions were probably not used on their own for producing mind-change, and are perhaps best seen as factors augmenting other techniques such as trance dancing, drumming, breathing methods, hallucinogens, and so on. Further, relevant geophysical conditions do not exist uniformly throughout the world, any more than do plant hallucinogens, so they could only have been made use of where they occurred.
In overview, then, it seems that ancient peoples sought altered states of consciousness â trance conditions â by many routes, botanical, geophysical and physiological, used both separately and in conjunction with one another. Myth is the reflex of other realms of mind, from dreams to trance states. The very word 'trance' derives from a Latin term meaning 'a passage' or 'a crossing over', as in entrance. The landscape therefore provided literal entrances to the Other world. The ancients' neurological software may have been 'rigged' differently to our own, if Jaynes is right, at some point in the past; they may have sought other techniques when this began to change. All we know for sure is that states of consciousness other than that consensus one we nowadays claim as 'normal' were used. When studying ancient sacred sites and mythologised landscapes, this factor has to be taken most powerfully into account. We have to learn to view them with different eyes.
We also have to understand that when in trance states, it was possible, is possible, to move around in a spirit version of the physical landscape, and the figure in ancient and traditional societies who best exemplifies this ability is the shaman.