'Ghost in the Wood' by Andy Hemingway

On Prehistoric Rock Art & Psychedelic Experience

It was a sunny autumn day, and I took about 7.5mg of 2CB1 before venturing onto Rombald’s Moor, West Yorkshire. This dose was enough to elicit minor psychedelic effects, but not enough to pass the threshold into a full-blown trip. This is commonly known as a ‘museum-level’ dose: enough to deepen appreciation of art without making it difficult to function in ‘everyday’ situations. I find this level useful for enhancing wanders across the moor and still being able to find the right change for the bus back home.

Drawing showing carvings on the Barmishaw Stone, Ilkley Moor
Drawing showing carvings on the Barmishaw Stone, Ilkley Moor

My first stop was a flat rock bearing several cup-and-ring type petroglyphs, which includes a couple of ‘ladder’ designs instead of the usual singular grooves extending out from the central cups. The rock is just south of a cluster of trees on the north side of the moor, to the east of Spicey Gill, and is known as the Barmishaw Stone (OS reference SE 1123 4648). Paul Bennett tells me that Barmishaw is from the Yorkshire dialect for “spirit in the woods”, as in “Barm i’ Shaw”. The rock lies near the highest edge of Barmishaw Woods.

I knelt next to the stone and gazed over the glyphs. My first intuition came as a result of a modulation of my spatial perception. I believe this aspect of psychedelic experience may be very important in the investigation of rock art, and landscape archaeology in general. As I gazed at these glyphs, I began to feel that the flat surface of the rock was a full landscape in itself, and I was a large, omniscient presence flying above it, surveying its features. This reminded me of (and was possibly unconsciously prompted by) the concept of shamanic flight in the ‘middle’ world of the three-levelled shamanic cosmos. Shamans often claim to be able to leave their bodies and fly not only into alternate realities, the upper and lower worlds, but also across the surface of this world. They often use this technique to perform common tasks like finding lost objects or searching for animal herds. As this concept melded with my perceptions of the rock, I simultaneously began to sense a dissolution of the barriers between my perceptual world, which was occupied solely by the rock, and the rest of the surrounding landscape.

This particular sensation is very difficult to convey to those who aren’t sensitive to alterations in consciousness and haven’t used hallucinogens. It was the very first astounding experience that I had on my first LSD trip, by a lake at dawn. I held my head in my hands, probably as an attempt to hold it together, and was amazed at what happened when I closed my eyes. I could still perceive the entirety of my surroundings, but felt them to be spatially located between my hands. This exchange or fusion of inner bodily experience with outer sensory experience is found throughout the literature of mysticism and magick. It is explicit, in relation to physical landscapes, in certain aspects of Tantric practice, and has surely influenced Australian Aboriginal beliefs.

My experience of it at this carved rock, together with my feeling of ‘flying’ over the rock surface ‘landscape’, brought me back to the first idea I had when I saw cup-and-ring marked rocks—that they are maps. One idea that flitted through my head as I looked over the rock surface was that the stone could have been used by shamans in trance states to transpose their consciousness to a broader perspective on the landscape. The rock surface would become the local landscape, and the shaman would become the sky, or be transported into the sky. During modulations of spatial perception, the rock could become a doorway to a more omniscient perspective on the local geography.

Many people have tried to correlate cup-and-ring marks with the local landscapes in order to test this hypothesis, but none (as far as I’m aware) have been successful. Recently, my research has led me to the conclusion that if they are maps of any sort, they are more likely to be maps of ‘spiritual’ realms, symbolic delineations of the structures of inner experience. My experience over this rock led to a third hybrid hypothesis: that the glyphs are maps of the region where the local landscape overlaps with the inner human landscape. There are many possible variations on this idea, which is very close to Aboriginal perceptions. As James G. Cowan notes,

That landscape is the ‘bones’ of Aboriginal myth making suggests a new (in reality, an old) way of looking at the earth. It implies a metaphysical structure within the earth that enables it to transcend its material limitations, and so enter the minds of men as a symbolic image.

The Aborigine Tradition, Element, 1992, p. 80

One would expect, then, that if cup-and-ring marked rocks are a microgeography of the ‘mythical’ aspects of the surrounding land, depicting key sites and their inter-relationships, they would still correspond to observable features in a literal way. They would be selective in their cartography, filtered through whatever geomythical complexes the carvers had developed, but they would still have yielded results in the aforementioned ‘map hypothesis’ tests (which they so far haven’t). Perhaps we should explore the notion of structures of energy in the earth imperceptible to ‘unaltered’ consciousness.

Tests for this hypothesis will inevitably be difficult. They should be greatly aided when researchers sympathetic to these ideas get their hands on more advanced computer resources than word processors. I look forward to the day when I can get (or develop) a Wharfedale CD-ROM, incorporating detailed OS maps of the area, a full image bank of all the carved rocks, the ability to selectively superimpose advanced geological maps showing fault lines and other geological data, perhaps together with a compilation of ‘fringe’ data assembled from dowsing, measurement of electromagnetic anomalies, and the experiences of pagans and magickians in the area. [Haha! Now I can, I’m too busy… Gyrus, 2002] However, it is possible that, even if the ‘metaphysical landscape’ idea is close to the mark, no amount of rigorous assimilation of presently available data will reveal the perceptions of the glyphs’ originators. Maybe their perceptions were far too idiosyncratic to be recovered.

Then again, while I’m very interested in the impossible task of piecing together our distant ancestors’ perceptions and beliefs, I’m also into how we today can alter our perceptions and beliefs in order to relate to the environment (‘natural’ and ‘constructed’) in a closer and healthier way. My experience at this carved stone had precedents, but it may not have bonded so closely to my feelings about the landscape if it wasn’t for my interest in the stone’s carvers. Even if this particular idea is never verified as being relevant by consensus, I would still think of it as interesting and useful. Fascination with the past often acts as a good catalyst for novel perceptions. Just don’t confuse inspiration from the relics of the past with direct knowledge of the past (which happens in the ‘earth mysteries’ community as often as unexamined assumptions distort academic notions about the past).

Audiovisual Hallucinations

Drawing showing carvings on the Badger Stone, Ilkley Moor
Drawing showing carvings on the Badger Stone, Ilkley Moor

I moved from this rock to the nearby Badger Stone, a little to the south (SE 1108 4605). By this time, the effects of the 2CB were sufficient to lend a pale violet ‘glow’ to the edges of rocks and the hills. I knelt in front of the carved side of the stone. I began to do some chanting. I have a friend who is skilled in overtone chanting, and although I have only been able to elicit overtones sporadically, practising chanting with him has enabled me to greatly deepen and broaden the range and resonance of my voice while chanting pure vowel sounds. As with spatial perception, vocalization is a different experience for me in the open countryside. There are no inhibitions about being heard by neighbours, and the feel of a wide open landscape, fresher and more vigorous than indoors, contributes to the chanting. I seem to be able to discover a much richer voice on the moor.

I placed my face a few inches away from the rock surface, and began to intone a range of sounds. I shifted across the rock, noting various acoustic differences in chanting at different areas. I finally rested on one spot, and although cup-and-ring glyphs cover most of this side of the stone, I focused not on a carved pattern but on a patch of plain rock. A familiar perceptual shift occurred: when faced with a repetitive but irregular pattern, visual perception influenced by hallucinogens seems to smoothly rearrange the pattern into a more regular and geometrical (but constantly mutating) one. I experienced this with the minutiae of the rock surface’s texture, the irregular arrangement of tiny crystalline structures. They shifted, arranging themselves into different regular patterns, sometimes with diaphanous shapes and symbols embedded in the network. The mutation of the patterns seemed, as I had expected, to be governed by my modulation of my voice.

There is evidence to suggest that some shamanic ceremonies of Amazonian tribes using ayahuasca (a blend of plants, also called yagé, containing the synergistic hallucinogens harmine and dimethyltryptamine) are directed by the power of vocalizations to elicit visual phenomena. Shamans’ songs are not really sung here for the sounds they make, but for the visual sculptures they produce in the perceptions of those hearing the song during ayahuasca intoxication (Terence McKenna, The Archaic Revival, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, pp. 116-141).

Amazonian Indians do not, as far as I’m aware, sing to rocks. But their art is inextricably linked to their drug visions. G. Reichel-Dolmatoff said that when he asked Tukano Indians about the paintings on the front walls of their homes, they replied: “This is what we see when we drink Yagé…” (R.E. Schultes, & A. Hofmann, Plants of the Gods, Healing Arts Press, 1992, p. 121). There is some surviving ancient rock art, similar to contemporary paintings, in the Amazon. One of the key images in most Amazonian ayahuasca art—as with many preliterate cultures, ancient and contemporary—is a dot surrounded by a circle.

There is good evidence that some cultures who produce rock art do sing to stones, though:

Over the last ten years Steven Waller has investigated over 100 rock art sites in France, Australia and USA for sound reflections, and found unusual echoes at every one of them. . . . Direct ethnographic evidence for acoustics as a motivation factor for the production of rock art has recently been found in India. Echoes have religious significance to members of an indigenous tribe called the Korku. This tribe continues to produce rock art today, using echoes as a selection criteria when choosing which caves to paint.

Bob Trubshaw, At The Edge #8, December 1997, p. 6

Cup-and-ring art is obviously a different case. Being largely carved on rocks on open land (as opposed to paintings done on larger rocks and cave walls), they were probably not sited according to echoes.

Prehistoric multimedia

I feel, though, that it’s entirely possible that the cup-and-ring producers incorporated sonic elements into the carving and/or use of these glyphs. Indeed, cultural anthropologist Robert Andreas Fischer has argued that we should begin to recognize the multi-media aspects of ‘preliterate’ cultures. (NOTE: ‘Multi-media’ here has nothing to do with CD-ROMs! The term is used to highlight the fact that much ‘primitive’ art, in the way it functions in society, cannot be categorized as purely ‘visual’, ‘acoustic’, etc.) Citing research into the teaching systems of Australian Aboriginal mothers, where symbolic visual elements, hand gestures and language are utilized simultaneously to impart information about the mythical landscape, he argues that

Western societies imprinted . . . a negative definition of communication codification on non-alphabetical societies, because they are—from their point of view!—not using the same model of language codification. They were therefore defined as oral societies. . . .

So-called orality within indigenous societies has, however, never existed. Oral communication is the tag non-alphabetical literate societies have received from alphabetic literate societies. In reality, so-called oral communication is composed of an extremely sophisticated, multi-layered, polysemic codification-system of simultaneous communication systems. The “orality” of indigenous societies is actually a form of “savage multi-mediality”.

‘Protohistoric Roots of the Network Self’, in Towards 2012 part III: Culture & Language, Unlimited Dream Company, 1997, p. 33

We can’t be sure how far the cup-and-ring folk had got with language. Anyway, we need to think of ‘language’ and ‘communication’ in much broader ways in relation to this art. While Aboriginal culture may be much more complex than and quite different from stone age Yorkshire culture, I think we should use Andreas’ redefinition of indigenous societies to build more sophisticated visions of possibility for prehistoric societies. Rock carvings and flint arrow heads are just about all that’s left on Rombald’s Moor from before the Bronze Age. We can never know if they painted or anointed the carvings, what sounds they may have made at them, if they danced around them, or how they dressed or painted their bodies if they did dance. But, given the evidence from contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures, it’s unlikely that they just sat and stared at them!

Symbols and trance

Recent rock art research has begun to admit to the possibility that visionary states of consciousness have something to do with rock art. Well, not just admit to the possibility. The blatant obviousness of this idea (which is seen when altered states are experienced) has made it impossible to resist, once it was brought to light. Indeed, the hypothesis that shamanistic trance states are related to prehistoric rock art is now dangerously (and ironically) close to becoming new dogma.

Neat, unexamined ideas that ‘explain away’ prehistoric relics are not new to archaeology. It used to be common for any anthropomorphic sculptured stone to be explained away with the word ‘idol’. So many writers harp on about the ‘deities’, ‘gods’, and ‘goddesses’ of the stone ages without any real personal idea of what emotional and cognitive structures, and what direct experiences these words can imply. Our culture’s atrophied and dying relationship to the Divine has a lot to do with it. I don’t think a degraded and spiritually forgotten tradition of monotheism from the Middle East will suffice in trying to understand artefacts from more ancient polytheistic cultures in other lands.

Again, it’s a cliché/joke in archaeology that artefacts which can’t be accounted for are explained away as ‘ritual objects’. The fact that this category became such a catch-all refuge for puzzling relics reveals how hazy, unformed, or plain absent our contemporary ideas about (and experience of) sacred ritual are. There are endless codifications of ritual elements, documents of ritual practices, etc.—and a lot of this work is invaluable—but I think people with a passion for anthropology or archaeology owe it to themselves to experiment, even a bit, with whatever practices seem connected to the understanding of their area of study. As Goethe once said, “One only understands what one loves.” Love doesn’t just mean a keen interest. It means involvement, connection and an openness to new experiences. This isn’t a new idea to the human sciences. The importance of direct, involved experience has long been recognized in anthropological fieldwork. Prehistoric studies are hampered by the lack of evidence as to what they should get involved in to help their research. I suggest the playfully serious use of the imagination.

Are ‘trance states’ to become the catch-all explain-away box for rock art? The vital element missing in research that will prevent this happening is the development of a much deeper understanding of trance states themselves. By seeking to understand trances more, from the inside-out, we will be able to assess their possible relevance to rock art more accurately. If such states of consciousness are just brushed against, our lack of understanding will make ‘trance states’ as hazy and unclear a term as ‘ritual’ often is. It will become a concept very easy to explain things away with, and also very hard to discuss openly without being refuted by knee-jerk cynicism.

It’s easy to resign to the belief that a pragmatic understanding of altered states can never become a part of ‘scientific’ research. Consciousness unshackled from habit is unbelievably plastic and mutable, and inevitably interwoven with subjectivity—with the perceptual and cognitive habits we return to. Individual beliefs usually overlap with a lot of other people’s, but sometimes bridges to consensus academic opinion are difficult to build. A good tactic here is to say, “Fuck it! Who cares if some people don’t get it?” Many breakthroughs in human culture would never have happened if everyone was afraid to say this. Then again, nobody, no subculture, and no academic discipline is an island. One of the most basic bridges that cries out to be built is between the intellectual study of prehistory (specifically its religious/shamanic aspects) and the experience of visionary states of consciousness. This is already happening, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. One of the problems involved may be that some of the human sciences are being asked to move even further away from the status of being a ‘science’. If information from altered states is used not just as ‘evidence’ but as openly acknowledged inspiration—heck!, you may as well move your human so-called ‘sciences’ department over to that arts block. I’m not advocating some free-for-all in archaeology or anthropology, turning them into the academic equivalent of one of those tedious Usenet psychedelic discussion groups. Expanding the parameter of a science does not mean ditching coherent analysis. An even greater diversity of opinion about prehistory(!) will develop—so be it. At least we’ll each have a more tangible, creative and involved relationship to our ancestors.


So, trance states. The most common idea being tossed about is that some ‘abstract’ rock art patterns are connected to entoptics, geometric ‘inner eye’ visuals seen behind closed eyelids while entering a trance. Another name for these patterns is ‘endogenous visual phenomena’, meaning “imagery determined by neural structures rather than hallucinatory images derived from visual memory.” (Trubshaw, ibid., p. 3) Just to give you the idea, there is an array of entoptic forms shown to the left (copied from Jeremy Dronfield’s article on Irish passage grave art, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 1996).

This notion accords with previous research I have done into the body, specifically inner experience of the body, as a source of visionary and mythical motifs. The clearest ethnographic evidence for this idea I’ve come across is Henry Munn’s article on mushroom use among the Mazatec Indians in Central America. He says, “There is a very definite physiological quality about the mushroom experience which leads the Indians to say that by a kind of visceral introspection they teach one the workings of the organism: it as if the system were projected before one into a vision of the heart, the liver, lungs, genitals and stomach.” I would expand this list by adding brain physiology, the central nervous system, DNA, and the flow of energy around the body.

I like this entoptics theory. A big cautionary note I’d like to add to the debate is: don’t fall prey to dualism! We’ve made this mistake for far too long now. Things can get pretty confusing when the boundaries between inner and outer experience melt and dissolve, but let’s not be frightened off by this initial bewilderment. I’d hate to see research into visual hallucinations and neuropsychology totally neglecting any correlations between neuropsychology and patterns in the environment, be they exoteric and observable (e.g. shapes in trees, water and the sky) or esoteric and hidden (e.g. cellular, atomic and energetic structures). Also, the visual hallucinations experienced while staring close-up at rock surfaces fall, I believe, into that important borderland between inner and outer experience. The shifting networks and symbols I saw were the result of a dynamic interaction between my inner eye and my two flesh eyes, between my neuropsychology and my perception of the rock. But isn’t that just as true when I look at a rock ‘unaltered’? All experiences (except perhaps dreams and very deep trance states) are dynamic interactions between the body-mind and the environment. What we’re looking at with the ‘endogenous visual phenomena’ theory are circumstances where external sensory input is lowered, and heightened internal perception begins to reveal the more esoteric structures of the human body.

A note on this: If excluding external sensory information increases internal perceptions, as in floatation tanks and sensory deprivation rooms, does it work vice versa? No. If you minimize internal perceptions (e.g. numbing the body with an anaesthetic), you most definitely do not increase your awareness of your environment! Funnily enough, if you take an anaesthetic like Ketamine, you end up deep inside again, journeying in other worlds. An increase in sensory input usually leads to heightened internal perceptions as well—go to a good club and tell me you don’t feel your body, or travel in your head. This can be taken to extremes, as in the American Indian Sun Dance ritual, where continued and intense sensory stimulation, such as pain and dancing, eventually—usually after ‘fainting’—banishes awareness of the environment and leads you back inside. We should appreciate the intensely interlinked and complex relationship between ourselves and our environment when we look into any altered state of consciousness.

The most powerful part of my chanting at the Badger Stone was one of those tantalising and elusive psychedelic moments where you feel like you’re on the verge of something big and then feel that the effects of the drug are on their way down—like hitting the accelerator to catch up with something and finding you’re out of fuel. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right time. It had a big effect on me, nevertheless, and it’s given me a good idea of where to head for. At one point in the chanting, as I hit a particularly piercing and resonant tone, I felt the atmosphere change noticeably. The shifting patterns in the rock surface seemed to stabilize, slightly ominously. I felt that if I hit a certain tone, the patterns would part, and I would be able to go through. An intentional ritual based around this idea, and maybe a higher than museum-level dose of sacrament, will be useful to explore this further.

This experience may sound tenuous to anyone who hasn’t had a similar ‘not quite there’ moment on psychedelics. Also, it was almost certainly affected by my having read Grant S. McCall’s article ‘One Medium, One Mind’ months before:

In many cultures, the shaman in his trance passes through the rock into the spirit world, and to communicate what had happened in the trance, the shaman depicts what had happened on the other side on the rock. . . . In addition, several contemporary shamans have acknowledged that the rock art is a marker for where a shaman could enter the rock.

He also mentions the opinion of African rock art researcher J.D. Lewis-Williams, that “the rock is merely a ‘veil’ between this world and the spirit world, and that rock art is the destruction of this veil.” It could well be that my trance was influenced by my having previously considered this theory. What makes the idea more interesting to me is that afterwards I quickly remembered an experience my friend who I practice chanting with had had. Before I had really begun to study rock art, he had chanted to a stone in Avebury, and even though he wasn’t stoned on anything, he returned very shaken up. He said that while chanting he had gradually developed the feeling that something in the stone was drawing him in, and he pulled back and stopped out of fright. This experience was totally free of influence from theories about rock art.

Well this may all be on the ‘bloke in the pub’ level of credibility to some, but it has greatly enriched my ideas about rock art. Firstly, we have to consider the fact that these rocks were probably not related to in the same way that modern portrait artists relate to their blank canvases. Rocks were almost certainly alive in some way to archaic humans, already imbued with their own idiosyncratic visual and tactile textures, perhaps also containing spirits, a force of their own, or a gateway to the spirit world. Blending carvings with existing irregularities in the rock surface is typical of cup-and-ring marks, showing in a very basic way that there is no ‘blank canvas’ in rock art.

Even mild trance states can make the life of a rock plainly visible. Maybe the hypothesized ‘endogenous visual phenomena’ were not seen behind closed eyelids but in the dancing networks of crystals on the rock, visions made flesh by carving them into the very surface upon which they manifested. Maybe these surface patterns were seen to function as keys to the spirit world, or locks to be opened with vocal techniques. There have been reports from Aborigines that they use singing or didjeridu-playing to unlock the spirits in rocks. Further, visionary journeys behind the rock surface would have been a very rich and compelling source of imagery to carve into the rock gateway.

I have intentionally concentrated here on the possible significance of trance states in relation to rock art. I’m not suggesting that all cup-and-ring art emerged from visionary experiences. Or that those which could have were connected to trances induced by psychedelic plants.

Our culture has become almost entirely devoid of traditions of trance-induction, indeed it is only recently that intense ecstatic states of consciousness have begun to shed their taboo status (at least in some subcultures). It seems pretty apt that the first suggestion of evidence for an association between trance states and rock art among indigenous people was published in America in 1967! However, it’s obvious from many other cultures around the world that humans don’t necessarily need drugs to change neurochemistry. Those prepared to experiment can do the scientific thing and verify this for themselves. I’m not a chemical zealot, I’m just trying to use psychedelic insights to loosen up some blocks in my visions of the past, as well as in current debate about trance-related prehistoric art.

We need to fully admit to (and sometimes submit to) the psychedelic experience in order to deal with the matter of trance states in general more clearly. My own experiences have convinced me that psychedelics are entirely valid tools for altering consciousness, though they are not danger-free (like all such tools). I have also experienced a much broader range of non-drug altered states since beginning to use them.

I am writing here with rock art researchers and not the psychedelic underground in mind. But I’ve tried to forget all pressures to sanitize discussion of psychedelic drugs for fear of knee-jerk reactions in my gentle readers. Maybe I should have used the word ‘entheogen’. This term has been adopted by serious chemical fans to avoid the baggage loaded onto the words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘hallucinogen’. Cynicism informs me that whatever word is used, there will always be resistance to psychedelic research as least as long as possessing psychedelics is a criminal offence.

One final pre-emptive remark. Even though I’ve concentrated on the genesis and function of rock art in relation to trance states, it’s entirely possible that some originated in association with inner visions, but functioned in other ways for the tribe/community. I do not deny the possibility of non-shamanic, more mundane functions, because I don’t believe in a singular model for any rock art. Carvings were probably used by different people through time for different purposes; by different people across space for different purposes; and almost certainly by the same people for different purposes. And all these people will have had a very different ‘normal’ state of consciousness from you or I, because of their different psychic, social, economic, spiritual and (pre)historical circumstances. Even if this art was produced by shamans or some proto-priesthood, it’s still possible that it would have resonated more powerfully in non-shamans then than Holy Communion does in Catholic priests today.

There is a huge amount of exploration to be done. The bulk of this essay was written rapidly over a few days. It feels a bit foolhardy to throw such hostility-invoking thoughts into the research arena without arming them with enough references to ‘authorities’ to defend themselves. My hope is that they will help out, and be helped out by, allies in this turbulent, rapidly moving debate. I need to do a lot more research, but I hate sitting on interesting ideas—especially when the internet gives you no excuse for not publishing.

Some significant areas to explore further seem to be:

  • The relationships between entoptic patterns in humans from different cultures, abstract rock art patterns, archetypal patterns in nature, and the structure of human neurophysiology. This research is already underway, I hope it grows and continues.
  • The effect of sustained harmonic tones on human brain chemistry and perception, under ‘normal’ conditions and under the influence of the various hallucinogens. Some bizarre areas of research are suggested by Terence McKenna’s account of his experiment with mushrooms in the Amazon, True Hallucinations (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993). His brother Dennis proposed that psilocybin may make the spin resonance of electrons in brain DNA audible as an internal perception, that chanting could harmonize with this tone and modify it, thus modifying neural genetics. I’m not aware of any evidence backing this idea up, but the experiences that evolved from the theory seem astonishing enough to make it worth looking into. In any case, the general study of harmonic chanting, neurochemistry, and the tryptamine family of psychedelics (especially psilocybin mushrooms, the only tryptamine native to the areas in Europe where cup-and-ring art is found) could have an important bearing on rock art research. I mention tryptamines so much because they’re closely associated with unusual and powerful audiovisual experiences, as well as with the generation of bizarre linguistic structures, sometimes reported as being like a meta-linguistic ‘ursprach’. States of consciousness where the roots of language and symbolism seem to be unearthed should be of supreme relevance to ‘abstract’ rock art, even if there’s no reason for believing that the art’s creators took tryptamines.
  • The re-examination of rock art sites with broader ritual possibilities in mind. Ritual has always been seen as significant in Palaeolithic cave paintings like Lascaux, which are often concealed in places that are extremely hard to reach, and could only have been viewed by one or two people at a time. This immediately suggests that they were sacred, restricted paintings, possibly involved with ritual initiation. All possibilities need to be considered for any rock art site, though. We should begin to look more at acoustic anomalies, and at the way that the human body can relate to the rock (are the carvings easy to get to, easy to touch, easy to be face-to-face with?).
  • Most importantly, and this area is being explored more and more, we need to look at how our position at a site places us in the local landscape. The land may have changed—for instance, Rombald’s Moor may well have been covered in forest when the cup-and-ring marks were made—but a more holistic landscape-based approach always bears vital fruit. At the very least, it will help us to begin developing our own relationship to the land, and to our environment in general.


  1. 2CB was invented by Alexander Shulgin in the seventies, and is a close relative of mescaline. For more information on this fascinating substance, check out The Lycaeum. [back to text]

Header art: 'Ghost in the Wood' by Andy Hemingway