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187 Idiosyncrasy in San rock art is a feature that has been observed in some South African sites. As Dowson (1988: 117) has argued, the religious experiences of outstanding and charismatic shamans, albeit idiosyncratic, may become generally accepted as accurately representing the spirit world. This point explains partly the uniformities in concepts that are evoked by both San rock art and revelatory testimonies contained in San ethnography. But not all the reports of spiritual experiences have the same level of success and it the less successful reports that “remain idiosyncratic revelations.” Idiosyncratic depictions would also have been culturally understood, as the “thought processes involved in their creation were necessarily part of the San cognitive system” (ibid.: 118). In this understanding, my argument, based on the consistent painted contexts of formlings, shows these motifs to be representations of a powerful reservoir of potency. Drawing on the same principles and cultural understandings of the symbolic significance of termitaria other artists also interpreted the concept in terms of the stomach. Termitaria and trees are a major component of San cosmology. They evoke the shamanic mediation between the physical and the spirit worlds, and primarily the concept of God’s house. San trancers often describe their visits to God’s house (Biesele 1978; Keeney 1999; Lewis-Williams et al. 2000). Although there are inconsistencies as the exact nature of this house, the San all understand its associations and what trancers can expect to encounter there. This realm contains a litany of powerful animals, creatures and objects, said to be God’s possessions (Biesele 1978: 933). This profusion of potent creatures asserts and bestows the powerful ambience of God’s house. In the paintings, formling contexts feature potency symbols, such as trees, plants, non-physical creatures, felines, antelopes and, principally, giraffe and kudu, two of the powerful “great meat animals” that

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...