The Trois Freres caves in France contain some fascinating images. This is a short discussion on those paintings. What was its significance?

Cave paintings have a powerful fascination. They are one of our most direct ways of touching our ancestors. Those men and women who lived by primitive means would have been more aware of the world around them than we are. The nature of their lives would have made them more in touch with the seasons and patterns of life. Life and death depended on his knowledge of food supplies and seasonal variations. Was this the reason for the cave paintings?

Deep in the caves of Trois Freres (Three Brothers) in France, the visitor can see vague ancient images of figures and animals. One of these figures in particular has attracted international attention. Many believe that it is one of the first representations of a shaman.

When I first saw the images of these caves in France, I was struck by their graphic nature. The images of cattle and other beasts that surround the central figure atop the cave ceiling are now vague but skillfully drawn.

The center figure is approximately 2.5 feet or 70 cm tall. Its appearance is strange, part animal and part human. On his head are deer antlers, probably reindeer, his mask has owl eyes underneath this there appears to be a long beard. Their hands are hidden inside the paws of a lion or a bear. The back is shaped like an animal, does it carry an animal sin? The tail is that of a fox that covers his erect penis.

My copy of the Animal Master is at

Around this figure there are many comments and speculations about its true nature. It is generally accepted that it is a figure with a mask and an animal costume. It makes sense that it has some spiritual / magical meaning to the animals around it. He is also believed to be a shaman.

Beneath the shaman are a plethora of animals drawn on top of each other. Almost like a sketch pad. I know that sometimes I draw this way. I try shapes and forms, sometimes they flow from the pencil, other times I find it much more difficult to achieve the effect I want. As I scribble, the page fills with overlapping images too busy to cope. Ideas and notation. A place to return to in the future to rework a captured image.

But that’s me and maybe many other modern artists. What about the artist in the darkness of those caves? These images created, was it 14,000 years ago or more? Who really knows?

Can we assume that these artists of the Paleolithic period did not have the same mentality as they do now? Art for us is a process of registration, expression, a reflection of our inner nature and, sometimes, of the divine. What were these artists expressing or communicating?

Let’s accept one thing before continuing along this line. It would seem that the artist used some natural talent in these times, as shown by the quality of the painting and the use of the line. Often the figures were enhanced with color sprayed through a tube, mouth blown paint. Were these artists part of the magical process or were they paid in some way? Do they come from within the tribe or from elsewhere? Was it the shaman who created the art for his own rituals?

Most of these questions are impossible to answer. What is possible is to use the knowledge we have of the tribal peoples and their traditions.

The shaman or healer or priest / holy man / woman is a figure that still exists today in some cultures. In fact, shamanic knowledge is being passed on to certain members of Western cultures. Shamanic practices have been well documented by anthropologists for the past 150 years.

Shamanic practices around the world have several characteristics in common. The shaman is a link to the spirit world. Upon entering a trance, the shaman enters the other world and communicates with the spirits of animals or ancestors. These spirit guides help the shaman solve problems for individuals or entire groups. The spirit world is divided into three sections.

Middle earth where we live

The underworld land of the spirits and the dead.

The upper world, the place of gods and guardians.

To reach a trance state the shaman has several methods, the main ones being dance, meditation and drugs. When he enters the other world, the shaman seeks his spiritual guide to help him solve his search.

In these early times, as in more recent recorded events, the shaman communicated with the spirits of the animals that would be or had been killed. It was necessary to maintain a balance with the order of nature. In times of scarcity, he communicated with the spirits to help him bring food to his people. In times of drought he sang for rain.

This still does not answer the question why these images are hidden deep in a dark cave, away from prying eyes. When the shaman goes into a trance, the journey to the underworld begins, the cave could well represent that journey. The pictures on the walls are the pictures you see on the journey. This could simply be a way to record a spiritual journey. A way to retain images. It could even be used as a teaching device for new initiates. Perhaps that is why there are so many overlapping animals.

Can you imagine the impact of such paintings on the uninitiated who visit the cave? In the twilight, the images would have been clearer and brighter than today. The shaman might as well have been dressed like the one in the painting. The drum would be beating. The incense could very well be burning. Without a doubt, a great setting in which to induce hallucinatory experiences or, if you prefer, induce the beginning of a trip to the spirit world.

There are many other representations of what have been called Animal Masters in caves in Europe and Asia. They are linked to the horned and horned figures in Norse mythology and Pan in Greek mythology. Whatever the true explanation, you can allow your imagination to run through the possibilities and will certainly add to my speculations.


The spirit and art of Van James: Paleo-shamanic iconography See []

George Frazer The Golden Branch

Nevill Drury The Shaman and the Wizard

Michael Harner The Way of the Shaman

© Ian Bracegirdle 2005

You can use this article freely on the condition that you include this line of copyright and URL and that people who use this article later follow the same conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *