Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Tag: prehistory

New book

I’m pleased to say that next year Iff Books will be publishing a new work called I Am Taurus. This is a bit of a departure for me, owing to events in the publishing world – a move from genre fiction to nonfiction. The book is short, and describes the history of the Sacred Bull, all the way from Lascaux in 17,000BCE to Spanish bullfighting. I wrote it this summer, and really enjoyed the experience. I am planning two sequels, I Am The Moon and I Am Mars. This new book was inspired by reading the very first page of Jo Marchant’s superb The Human Cosmos, which I reviewed on this blog in March. More details as they arrive…

Aurochs bull & Pleiades star cluster.

Deciphering Ancient Minds

Deciphering Ancient Minds by David Lewis-Williams and Sam Challis

Continuing the theme of prehistoric images, art, belief and thought, this book by Sam Challis and (author of the outstanding The Mind In The Cave and Inside The Neolithic Mind) David Lewis-Williams covers a modern group of people, the San, of whom one remnant living today are the San of the Kalahari Desert.

The authors’ intent is to properly understand the methods, purpose and meaning of the beautiful and complex San cave and rock shelter paintings, in particular to clear up innumerable mistakes and assumptions made by Westerners. The opening chapters underline this prejudiced, unthinking attitude, which in the main bolts on Western concepts of art to San work. In particular, emphasis is given to shamanic practice and beliefs, whether it be “spiritual travelling,” “rain making” or interactions with animals.

The final chapter is particularly telling, pointing out the irrational, often ludicrous nature of Western beliefs which are presumed to be superior to non-Western ones, eg. the “Holy Ghost.” In the end, a marvellously vivid and satisfyingly complex picture is offered of the San, their art and their beliefs.

David Lewis-Williams is to be congratulated on another profound book which is at once illuminating and readable. Highly recommended to students of the human condition.

Mythos & Cosmos by John Lundwall

Mythos and Cosmos by John Knight Lundwall

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and the best on its subject for a long time. I bought it after searching for something on oral, prehistoric cultures, hoping that it would be insightful. Well, it’s more than just insightful, it’s fascinating and very thought provoking.

The author is an intriguing person, a man of the stars in his native country (where he does star tours and photographs the heavens), as well as an expert on comparative myth. This is his only book, and it reads like a distillation of decades of observation and wisdom.

The book covers several main areas: how we in the literate world greatly misinterpret oral myth-making because of our structural biasses, most of which are due to our use of the written word; how we can reconstruct comparatively little of those oral myths; how life in an oral culture profoundly effects our use of memory; how nature and above all the starry skies act as metaphors, memory aids, calendars and much more; and how specific myths can be shown to cover the same basic themes over and over again as the millennia pass.

The author uses both his knowledge and insight in his endeavour, but is not afraid to speculate where appropriate. There is not much speculation however as the rest of the material is so well sourced and presented, but what is there is pretty convincing, with the author never straying into the horrors of Graham Hancock territory. I especially liked his thoughts on the music of the spheres and the number 50, i.e. 49+1, which crops up everywhere in the ancient world.

The book concludes by offering three examples to bolster the author’s case, namely Gilgamesh, the Labours of Herakles, and parts of the bible’s old testament. Compelling stuff!

For those fascinated by how the natural world affects our collective story telling, especially the star-filled heavens which we see so little of these days, this is an essential read. I recommend it highly.