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148 San medicine specialists describe in detail their journeys to this place (Marshall 1962, 1999; Biesele 1975a, 1980, 1993; Keeney 1999). To understand the logic of the God’s house interpretation one must look carefully at the ‘natural models’ of formlings—termitaria and honeybees’ nests. These natural phenomena, like God’s house, are located underground (= spirit world) or in trees (or trees growing on termitaria), which, in Chapter Seven, I argue comprise a significant component of the spirit world (see Appendix 1 Fig. 1.9). Potency appears to be the thread that connects these seemingly disparate contexts with termites and honeybees being the key natural models in the expressed symbolism. While formlings are depictions of termitaria as powerful symbols of the zenith of supernatural potency epitomized by God’s house, some artists conceptualised this house or seat of potency in idiosyncratic ways. For example, Garlake (1995: Plates XXXI-XXXII; see Appendix 1 Fig. 1.19) identifies a small formling superimposed on a human abdomen as symbolising the seat of potency in human beings. But, formlings in general transcend the human source of potency in the gebesi. I have suggested a realm of potency that is much more unified and diverse than its individual constituents, of which the gebesi is part. In this realm, very potent entities are compounded to produce a powerfully saturated and ultimate source of potency; this realm is God’s house and the spirit world. San beliefs also show that trees are a crucial element of this house. I now turn to the paintings of trees and plants from the rock art of Matopo.

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...

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