Pilgrim, please do not rush ahead.
The bottom of the page will wait patiently until you arrive, so take your time.
A local call is not that expensive, after all.
Read the words
Today is special. Today you will meet one of your gods, an important one, the God of The Hunt, the god to whom you prey for the beasts to fall beneath your spear, so that you and your tribe can eat. Today you will be shown mysteries, so that you can become a better hunter, and a fully initiated adult within the tribe.
It is night, and some of your tribe are with you by the small fire, preparing you for the ordeal ahead. This place is special. Before you lies the cave entrance, and beyond it are magical forces that you can barely imagine but for which you have the utmost respect. You strip naked ready to be reborn in the middle of your life, and you are given a single burning torch to light your way into the otherworld. Then you enter.
The ground is damp and slimy, and you have to be very careful not to slip off the rocky way. It goes up and down, then comes a very narrow passage about ten yards long through which you have to creep on all fours. And then again there come great halls and more narrow passages. In one large gallery are a lot of red and black dots, just those dots.
How magnificent the stalactites are! The soft drop of the water can be heard, dripping from the ceiling. There is no other sound and nothing moves ....
The silence is eerie .... The gallery is large and long and then there comes a very low tunnel. You place your torch on the ground and push it before you into the hole.
The tunnel is not much broader than your shoulders, nor higher. With one arm pressed close to your side and the other before you, awkwardly holding your torch, you wriggle forward on your stomach, like a snake. The passage, in places, is hardly a foot high, so that you have to lay your face right on the earth. You feel as though you are creeping through a grave. You cannot lift your head; you cannot breathe. And then, finally, the burrow becomes slightly higher. You can at last rest on your forearms. But not for long; the way again grows narrow. And so, yard by yard, you struggle on: some forty-odd yards in all. You are totally alone, buried in the earth. The torch is inched along and you push after. You hear the yourself groaning, your heart is pounding, and it is difficult to breathe. It is terrible to have the roof so close to your head. And the roof is very hard: You bump it, time and again. Will this thing never end?
Then, suddenly, you are through, and you can breathe. There is light ahead, and singing. It is like a redemption.
The hall in which you are now standing is gigantic. You let the light of the torch run along the ceiling and walls; a majestic room and there, finally, are the pictures. From top to bottom a whole wall is covered with engravings. The surface has been worked by your ancestors with tools of stone, and there you see marshaled the beasts that live at this time in southern France: the mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, wild horse, bear, wild ass, reindeer, wolverine, musk ox; also, the smaller animals appear: snowy owls, hares, and fish. And you see darts everywhere, flying at the game. Several pictures of bears attract you in particular; for they have holes where the images were struck and blood is shown spouting from their mouths.
Truly a picture of the hunt; the picture of the magic of the hunt.
At the centre of this whirlwind of beasts is a bison-man, dancing on his hind legs, but it is not he who sings. There is already light in this place, magical light that comes from the far end of the cave. As you approach the singing gets louder.
15 feet above you is The Sorcerer, glowing with magical light and singing. Of all the living things depicted here under the earth, only he turns his face to regard you.
And then he speaks...
8 days before the outbreak of World War 1 Count Begouen and his three sons discovered a cave system in the Pyrenees, and the count named the caves after the three brothers: "Les Trois Freres". Among the many visitors taken there by the count were Herbert Kuhn and the Abbot Breuil. That which you have just read is paraphrased from Herbert Kuhn's description of his own journey into the caves, and the drawings reproduced here were all drawn by the abbot himself.
The cave they christened The Sanctuary had engraved on just one of its walls (by the abbot's own count) over 30 bison, 10 horses, 4 ibexes and one reindeer, and at its centre a strange man/bison/god/shaman, apparently dancing and holding aloft a bow. He might almost be a very early minotaur. But this cave became famous for another image, one that the abbot called "Le Sorcier", "The Sorcerer".
In the huge cave system of which The Sanctuary was only a single room, every image was engraved, except for The Sorcerer which was drawn in black paint, making it stand out. The image appears inaccessible at first, but its location is very special. A hidden corner of The Sanctuary leads to sunken corridor and then a long narrow passage which twists and turns until it emerges once again into the far end of the same cave where there is a sort of window 13 feet above beyond which looms The Sorcerer. The abbot discovered that a man could comfortably lodge himself here in a good position to have drawn upon the wall in an apparently innaccessible place 15 feet above the floor. But there is more.
A fold of rock conceals this window from the rest of the cave. A shaman sitting there with a torch could cast light from an invisible source upon the image of The Sorcerer, and when he spoke the words would seem to come from nowhere but the god himself.
Although we are the same species as the humans who found this cave so long ago and decorated it with their art, we are now so different inside our heads that we can only guess at their reasons. The facts intrigue but do not explain.
The figure is unclear in many respects, and there is no general agreement on what animals are represented by him. His legs appear at first glance to be human, but the body and forelimbs may be feline. The ears are not human. The face could be feline, or a depiction of a man in mask. The genitals seem to be human, but in the position of those of a beast. The tail could be anything, and may even have been added much later than the rest of the image. The antlers appear to be those of a reindeer, but even these may be a late addition.
It could be a god, or a shaman in his magical skin of beasts.
He is an enigma from the dawn of Mankind.
"The Way of the Animal Powers" (part one of The Historical Atlas of World Mythology) by Joseph Campbell (Times Books, ISBN 0 7230 0256 8)
"Das Unbekannte Afrika" by Leo Frobenius (Munich, Oscar Beck, 1923)