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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the gods home, 1 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods (Hardcover)
If anything jars your sensitivities, it's the claim that your brain is driving you instead of the other way around. Yet, many cognitive studies suggest that's often precisely the case. If David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce are correct, then mentally-driven activities have contributed to the making of many social conditions. One of those conditions, a universal which provides support for their thesis, is religion. The definition of "religion" has been subjected to some drastic changes lately. It's been broadened to encompass many "spiritual" themes. Today's spiritual movements tend to hark back to earlier, simpler modes. The authors assert that some of these can be traced to the Neolithic period in Europe and Western Asia.

Using the recent finds of archaeology and the cognitive sciences, the authors postulate that Neolithic society developed the foundations of religion. Moreover, religion pre-dated the adoption of agriculture and husbandry. Archaeology has revealed sites in Asia Minor suggesting that hunter-gatherer groups built shrines, seasonally visited for ritual purposes. Communities grew around these shrines and agriculture was developed to support them. The shrines marked a departure from earlier practices of dealing with the spirit realm in caves, represented by such sites as Lascaux and Chauvet as described in Lewis-William's previous book, "The Mind In the Cave" [2002]. The above-ground shrines allowed greater community participation and a new social structure. One aspect of that change was the burial of heads beneath the floors of houses. Some of the corpses may indicate more than just ancestral burial, and represent sacrifices. Was spiritual power derived from those buried heads, the authors query?

In moving communication with spirits out of caves and involving more of the community, religious figures - shamans - assumed a different role in society. The authors note that all religions possess an ecstatic component, and nearly every individual has experienced various forms of altered consciousness. From this, the authors postulate "the consciousness contract" in which those who could experience and interpret the results of altered consciousness rose to become religious and community leaders. Instead of waiting for visions to occur, the shamans came to prompt them through physical exertion or psychotropic drugs. Thus supercharged, the visions seemed more intense, hence, more meaningful. Even if the community shared but a lower-level version of the visions, they were sufficiently aware of them to understand what the shamans described. What was already lodged in the mind emerged with greater force and wider acceptance.

Group activities reached peaks of drama and expression with the establishment of burial sites and stone shrines in Western Europe and the British Isles. Although the best known today, Stonehenge is but a small facet of what belief produced in shrines and burial places. Lewis-Williams and Pearce provide an impressive guided tour of the sites, their structure and arrangement. There is a good deal here to indicate how altered states of consciousness can be transformed into the physical world. Spirals, for example, often seen by those in trance or other altered states, are a fundamental component of many burial and shrine sites. The illustrations, including colour plates, depict these and other manifestations to greatly enhance an already vivid text. Although, the reader's preconceptions about religion or early societies may be challenged, but they will have no difficulty in understanding the evidence or conclusions the authors provide. A truly stimulating and provocative book, well worth the time and investment to understand thoroughly. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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Initial post: 7 Jan 2011 17:05:48 GMT
Peasant says:
This is an absolutely exemplary review. Thank you
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

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