Page 158

147 related. San healers describe cords that hang from the sky (Schapera 1930: 184, 188; Marshall 1962: 238, 1999: 21; Biesele 1980: 55-56; Guenther 1999: 188) and that lead, ultimately to God’s house. Lewis-Williams and co-writers (2000), quoting the San, now call these motifs “threads of the sky” or “threads of light” as described by San shamans. Healers climb on these threads during trance to visit God’s house (Marshall 1962: 238, 241, 242; 1999: 25; Keeney 1999: 61, 62). The line motif in Figure 3 also emerges and disappears under handprints that are superimposed on the formling. This association may not be accidental. Handprints probably, different from painted figures holding or walking on such “threads of light”, suggest the holding of the cosmic “threads” en route to God’s house. If this inference is correct, then the panel may suggest the San conception of God’s house and the healers’ access routes to it. The painted contexts of formlings also feature therianthropes and human figures (Figs 4, 9, 21, Plate 6) crawling towards, or moving out, or kneeling on or near them. In a complex example (Garlake 1995: fig. 121), two typical formlings are juxtaposed and their orifices face each other. In between are seven plant forms, with shapes that recall the domical caps of formlings (Garlake 1995: 103). Winged insects, which I have argued represent termites, hover around these plants in a similar manner to Figures 15 and 16. Nearby are antelope. The formling on the right has an unusually enlarged orifice, out of which comes a human figure with a “leaf shape” on its navel. Other formlings have similar human figures or therianthropes emerging from their openings on the boundary lines include Figure 10. Garlake’s (1995: 155) note that, “spirit figures appear to crawl towards and gather strength as they approach some formlings” recalls the Ju/’hoan belief that supernatural beings walk the spirit realm as people do on earth (Marshall 1999: 3). In keeping with these images of people seemingly visiting God’s house,

Continuity and change in San belief and ritual  

A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg, for the degree of Master of Arts. 2002, by Siyakha...

Advertisement