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A glance at prehistoric "religions"
These elaborate and ritual stellar-lunar-solar calendars with multi-annual cycles and connections with the world’s major myths and mythical figures provide us with a glimpse of "religion" in the Paleolithic. The groups of rites and beliefs are sufficiently well-structured to launch pilgrimages and to reunite a number of more or less related nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes in holy places.
The dominant characteristic of this set of beliefs appears to be the veneration of a celestial energy that created the Universe, and whose majesty is revealed in the starry night.
"They went forward, eyes focused on the stars"
says the Book of the Mayas, speaking of distant ancestors wandering during long and cold tribulations.
We could imagine that this sort of religion asserted itself during the last ice age, when the heavens appeared as crystal clear to the keen eye of the hunter as they do to astronomers who build their observatories on the highest snowy summits.
The names and myths of the Milky Way that have come down to us in the context of this impressive cosmos evoke a flow of vital energy that uses the Sun and the Moon to impose its rhythms of incarnation and disincarnation - Life and Death - on all earthly creatures. The next step is a generalized animism where everything - mineral, plant and animal - is in perpetual metamorphosis. This is because Life – the Hunter-Predator sees it in every moment of his existence – is a continual absorption of one form of energy by another, an intuition that is a perfectly accurate assessment of the Condition of Existence.
In this predominantly nocturnal religious expression, we also observe that the Moon plays a fundamental role as the messenger the closest to us. It shows us the cyclic character of the invisible flow of energy.
When the occasional eclipse arrives to disturb this reassuring regularity (the Ankh), we get a hint (see ritual demonstrations that still mark this event in a number of cultures) that the continuity of Existence cannot be taken for granted. In the version of Ssu Fen, the myth of ten suns, as recorded by Jacques Pimpaneau, the Great Celestial Mother is ill ("Mémoires de la Cour Céleste, Chine, Mythes et Dieux" Picquier Editions, 1999), this vision of cosmic energy must be maintained, encouraged. How? Through exchanges with human energy, veritable "exchanges of life" between Heaven and Earth. This was accomplished in the great sacrificial rites, which left dramatic and obsessional traces in mythic memory of mankind. The religious concepts of prehistory and the practices that resulted appear to be preserved nearly intact in what we know of the beliefs and ceremonies of pre-Columbian cultures, particularly of the Aztecs.
The real cradle of religious fermentation appears to be located in the Caucasus, north of the Ararat range, between Asia and Europe. This is where one of the most prestigious cyclic ceremonial calendars of the stone age was produced and where a number of primordial mythic images have their confluence: this is where the starry ship Arca landed on the crests of the sacred mountain.
In this repertory of images are found the figures of easily recognizable fixed stars whose main interpretations we have already listed. Tilak posits that the predominant signal for liturgies, the epoch of the "Moon in Gemini" (interpreted as two enemy brothers), apparently corresponds to the dawn of proto-history, when the dramatic and wide-sweeping agricultural revolution was an emerging feature. New forms of thought arose, leading to new codes of social organization where - progressively and never definitively – ritual killing was gradually replaced by animal sacrifices (theme of Abraham’s sacrifice) and seasonal ceremonies abruptly appeared on the stage as theatrical representations.