Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 14

Bjørn Berg

The Concept of Nature:

Rock Carvings and Shamanism
in Arctic Norway

The idea of nature that prevails today is incommensurable with shamanism, which is closely
linked to animism. Animism must be handled on it’s own premises, which I identify to be
influenced by the emotional aspects of human life, rather than the mechanical logic of the
intellect. According to the science of phenomenology, as described by Edmund Husserl, the
traditional split of mind and body related to human epistemology result in a view of na-
ture that creates a world of ideals. This ideality is justified, but a problem arises when our
personal bodily sensations no longer correlates to the ideal world of abstract or mathemati-
zated truths. The perceived world becomes something false, with a ‘true’ or ideal meaning
behind the matter. This causes a gap or dilemma between life as a felt reality, and life as an
ideal, or non-personal truth. These two modes, I argue, uses two different ‘languages’. The
phenomenological is a direct language, i.e. a language that contradicts the infamous sign-
signified concept of Saussure and the linguistic tradition, which states that the connection
between a sign and the signified are arbitrarily constituted. This theoretical background I
use to draw some interpretations upon the rock art from Amtmannsnes, Finnmark County.
These carvings I primary read as metaphorical embodiments reflecting a shamanic praxis
connected to seasonal changes.

In this paper I argue that its time to re­consider body, nature and human etc. My argument
some aspects concerning the way we perceive is that society today is extremely interwoven
and understand the concept of Nature. This within this dichotomy, and that we hardly
is important because we as academics and really understands views that contradicts this
part of an urban society must be aware of dichotomy, which, of course, also colors the
that our attitude towards ‘nature’ may not way we interpret pre-historic society and
always be suitable in regard our interpreta- mental life. By taking a closer look at phe-
tions of prehistoric past and people. We have nomenology, we get a possibility to achieve
to pay attention to the fact that we live in an understanding that makes sense in the
a world quite different from the life of pre- light of a monistic view upon nature, as op-
historic people. This includes people’s mental posed to a dualistic view. The important thing
life and that we today maybe comprehend is that both views are proper and thereby
the world from an essentially different view represent a reality, which is based on certain
compared to people in the past. premises. The real question is to uncover
This leads to a discussion upon the justifica- these premises. One such dominant premise
tion on the use of concepts such as mind and is the human intellect.

This point is very touchy, but signify for me tional system of classification. Magic and
the core of the problem. On an axis stretch- other ‘mystical’ elements concerning native
ing from dichotomy to monism, the view peoples life could therefore be viewed as
of what I denote as the intellect, equals a expressions of peoples basic search for some
world of dichotomy. And this view is bound kind of order or categorizing of nature and
to miss, or at least neglect, some important universe. Important for Lévi-Strauss is that
parts of human life and attitude of mind. The the same kind of logic works in both cases,
emotional sphere of man is one such aspect, but are expressed in different ways. Magic
which operate on a different level than the and science are viewed as two parallel modes
intellect alone; intellect and emotions speaks of acquiring knowledge, which require the
different languages. same kind of mental operations (Lévi-Strauss
It’s my ‘hypothesis’ that prehistoric people 1996:13). In my view, these mental operations
perceived the world in a far more monistic work on completely different levels that are
way than today. By doing so, I find it more incommensurable.
rational to grasp concepts concerning a These problematic aspects I then transfer to
spiritual world, as we find by studying top- a brief discussion upon shamanism and rock
ics such as shamanism, which is full of con- art from Amtmannsnes, Finnmark County
cepts that contradicts our intellectual way in the northernmost parts of Norway. This
of thinking. With this statement I also attack site has frequently been seen as an expres-
earlier explanations connected to ‘primi- sion on shamanism, without any profound
tive’ or ‘savage’ thought, in the way writers discussion concerning the very phenomena
such as Lévi-Strauss does. In his book ‘Savage of shamanism itself. An exception from this
Mind’, Lévi-Strauss’s mission is to understand is conducted by Berg (2003, 2004). I see sha-
‘primitive though’ in terms of being a ra- manism as a kind of animism, which is incom-

mensurable with today’s view of nature as becomes superstition. This implies that whole
something external or unfamiliar to human traditions are based on false premises; we
life and quintessence. These two points of know that there is no such thing as ‘spirits
departure I call Nature as Human (or subject) in the mountains’, that people really don’t
and Nature as Object. The latter represents have ‘separate souls’ etc. My intention is to
the conventional science that prevails to- show that opinions like this must be regarded
day. The former touches the discipline of as reality, from a certain point of view. And
phenomenology. this view is more related to people’s emo-
The aim for this paper is therefore to es- tional aspects rather than the human intel-
tablish a plausible explanation concern- lect alone.
ing presumably incongruent world-views I feel that contemporary publications upon
such as Nature-as-Object, in terms of being rock carvings and shamanism in a to far ex-
something alien, unrelated or external, and tend is trapped in old truths, focusing on
Nature-as-Subject, as familiar entities with the ‘same trance’ and to identify shamanic
inner relation to each individual human be- emblems. I see this as a problem because I
ing. Concepts of so-called ‘holy mountains’ experience that most of the research upon
inhabited by spirits and supernatural power shamanism and rock art has stagnated in a
makes no sense in Nature-as-Object, but as reproduction of old concepts, such as the
I will argue, makes a great deal of sense in infamous three-stage-trance-theory as de-
Nature-as-Subject. scribed by Lewis-Williams & Dowson (1988),
which in its most rigid form actually does
not tell us more than that every one of us
Amtmannsnes and Shamanism are able to experience extraordinary visual
The rock carvings at Amtmannsnes have or entopic phenomena by means of altered
primary been documented and published states of consciousness. This means that
by Helskog (1988). Other publications that an identification of entopic look-alikes in
in different degree handle this locality are rock carving by no means can be regarded
Autio (1991), Berg (2003, 2004), Engelstad as proof on a shamanic praxis. It is just an
(2001), Evers (1994,1999), Grønnesby (1998), indication of shamanism. An elaborate discus-
Hesjedal (1990) and Olsen (1994). Common sion concerning this problem is conducted
for all but Berg (2003) are in first place an ex- by Bahn (2001). Still, this does not imply that
clusive focus on each motif isolated. Secondly, shamanism is irrelevant as a model of expla-
all but Engelstad (2001:275), which focus nation, as we shall see.
on aspects of gender and identity, existing The real problem of shamanism, in my opin-
interpretations point towards the motifs as ion, is that there is no solid way to define the
symbols of shamans trance experiences, as very word and meaning of shamanism. Since
an expression of the shaman ecstatic ritual the middle of 19th century, when researchers
and believes connected to shamanic world- first began to discuss shamanism as a topic
views. The result, I argue, is that the carvings (Price 2001:4), we still haven’t managed to
at Amtmannsnes have become emblems of reach a satisfying definition of shamanism.
shamanism, without an elaborative discussion I see this as a sign that maybe tells us to
concerning the phenomena of shamanism question the very search for a once and for
itself. all definition of shamanism as a phenom-
For instance, is it possible to understand sha- enon. Hence, my aim is to bring forth that
manism and related concepts as expressions shamanism must be studied as related to
of something ‘real’? For me it’s not sufficient animism, as part of a world-view, as Pen-
to handle the phenomena of shamanism as tikäinen (1987:139) writes.
something people just thought as reality. My understanding of shamanism is therefore
I think it’s very easy to prejudge shaman- something that fetches a much broader scale
ism as an incommensurable tradition that of a society compared with the very restricted
contradicts and holds no truth compared ecstatic trance experience of the shaman,
to our modern days of thinking. Shamanism which indeed seems highly enigmatic, and

therefore exotic and as a popular object to ries), and the bricoleur creating structures
study. Unfortunately, as with most of what by means of events (Lévi-Strauss 1996:22).
becomes popular, it stiffens and becomes Concepts, he says, ‘aim to be wholly transpar-
rigid and full of clichés. ent with respect to reality, signs allow and
even require the interposing and incorpora-
tion of a certain amount of human culture
The ‘Bricoleur’ and ‘Engineer’ of Lévi- into reality. Signs, (…) ‘address somebody’
Strauss (Lévi-Strauss 1996:20).
The approach to the concepts of shaman- The basic line, as I see it, is that a bricoleur
ism and related topics are in my opinion creates abstractions from tangible entities,
colored of a certain attitude of mind as re- and the engineer creates tangible entities
searchers such as Lévi-Strauss represents. A from abstractions. At this point I’m not satis-
good example is illustrated by Lévi-Strauss fied with Lévi-Strauss argumentation. I don’t
while he introduce the concepts ‘bricoleur’ think there is such a fundamental differ-
and ‘engineer’ to explain the difference be- ence between a bricoleur and an engineer
tween a ‘primitive’ and ‘modern’ rationality. as Lévi-Strauss claims. These two approaches
A bricoleur, as a kind of do-it-yourself-man, are in essence the same, both the bricoleur
uses whatever he or she can find in their and the engineer uses hypotheses to solve
environment as tangible tools in a process to problems, to establish possible relations be-
create something new. These tangible tools tween entities in the world. By hypotheses
are not specialized for one purpose, but can I mean speculations, i.e. to imagine what
be reused for different purposes. The tools will happen if I do this or that, and so ex-
are not fixed for one use only. An engineer, ecute these speculations in real life, to see
on the other hand, depends on specialized if it works or not. What Lévi-Strauss claims,
tools, which first have to be invented to fit a is actually the exactly opposite of his own
special purpose (Lévi-Strauss 1996:17). goal, namely to treat primitive thought as a
Lévi-Strauss argue that a bricoleur creates representation non-less sophistical than the
by a continual reconstruction from the same modern. The engineer act on problems in
materials (Lévi-Strauss 1996:21). The tools are advance, by breaking the limits of the outer
therefore ‘open’, not fixed. This imply that a world, whereby the bricoleur is doomed to
bricoleur’s world consist of an almost unlim- a life only to rearrange already existing el-
ited set of entities with a ‘going together’ ements inside this outer boundary. By do-
potential. And most important; their poten- ing this, the bricoleur never really creates
tials are always in retrospect, they addresses something new.
or signify elements in a closed world. This is
not the case for an engineer. An engineer, What’s common in both these ‘systems’ of
on the other hand, first has to decide or fix the bricoleur and the engineer is that we
the relations that have a ‘going together’ find people who deal with a world of outer
potential. By doing this, the engineer makes objects and an inner world of the human
a specialized tool, something that does not mind. From my point of view, I think that
address itself in retrospect. The result is that Lévi-Strauss misses some important aspects
an engineer always tries ‘to make his way out regards certain aspect of human life. As I
of and go beyond the constraints imposed see it, Lévi-Strauss operate only at a strictly
by a particular state of civilization while the ‘intellectual’ level, that is, he neglect the fact
‘bricoleur’ by inclination or necessity always that people through all times not necessary
remains within them’ (Lévi-Strauss 1996:19). sees Nature as we do today, as observers of
The difference is also understood by refer- an external nature. For me this is a crucial
ring to an engineer working by means of point, which brings the subject to the infa-
concepts and a bricoleur by means of signs mous Nature-Human dichotomy of today.
(Lévi-Strauss 1996:20), or that an engineer (or This dichotomy, or attitude of mind, I claim,
scientist) create events, or change the world is exclusive for a pure intellectual approach
by means of structures (hypotheses, theo- towards nature, and represent what I un-

View of Altafjorden. Photo: Gerhard Milstreu

derstand by the concept ‘nature as object’, with non-human beings as well’ (Ingold
as opposed to ‘nature as subject’. The latter 1996:129).
I state to be a characteristic of an animistic This view also works well as a description
view towards nature. of essential elements related to shaman-
ism, which could be viewed as an activity
that embraces not just the mind, but also
Animism the totality of body and mind. Nature as
Early definitions of animism often give as- object represents an opposite view to this.
sociations to people that understood the Arturo Escobar points out that such a view
world childishly and erroneously (Bird-David treats Nature as a passive arena where people
1999:68). During the last years there have works upon a given or static nature (Escobar
been done a great deal to understand ani- 1999:8). This is not how things work. People
mism as an expression of a world-view that in an environment act with within nature in
in many ways contradicts the dichotomy be- a two-way responsive relatedness, as Bird-
tween body and mind, nature and culture, David (1999:77) argue. In such a world there
supernatural and natural, subject and object makes no sense to speak of the relation be-
etc. (Bird-David 1999:68). Tim Ingold shred tween subject and object as a fixed dualism.
some light upon this ‘dichotomy problem’ Ingold describes it like this:
when he argue that ‘it is as entire persons,
not as disembodied minds, that human be- ..it seems to me that organisms, through
ings engage with one other and, moreover, their development and through their ac-

tivities, constitute their environments; but prepared for dualism, which appears im-
in a sense environments constitute organ- mediately afterwards in Descartes (Husserl
isms too because, through its development, 1999:60).
the organism (or human being, as a kind
of organism) embodies its own perceptual According to Husserl, the dualistic view of
experience of involvement with the world the world is an abstraction, without a fun-
(Ingold 1991:29). dament in concrete experience, but from a
mathematizated nature (Husserl 1999:61).
Implications that can be drawn from this tells This implies the belief on mathematics as the
us that the gaining of knowledge, as we usu- highest form of truth, as an ideal. Problems
ally see it in Nature as Object, can’t be viewed concerning such an approach are that this
as a process whereby we as human being ‘ideal’ world of mathematics involves an
collects knowledge from an already existing abstraction in the very moment this math-
external world of prefabricated objects. ematics are used to explain the ‘real’ world.
It’s important to elucidate what we call ob- The gap between meaning and manifesta-
jective knowledge usually signify neutral tion, mind and matter, needs to be filled,
knowledge, in sense of being something un- and one way to do this is by reducing the
affected by our own thoughts and our own real world properties to fit the rigid rules of
participation. This may not be entirely correct mathematic, which is one way of ordering
for all people through time and space. the world. The problem is evidently that what
In case of animism, the opposite may be we see is not what we get, the mathematized
stated. Here we find that people treat na- calculations expressed by numbers demands
ture in terms of being something human. The one basic premise; and that is explicit meas-
world conceals something that is related to urement or quantification of qualities of the
one self as a human. An understanding of a world. Such a demand for explicit expressions
world like this makes it reasonable to speak suits a mechanic understanding of the world,
about human having an intentional relation which involves the classic chains of causality
with forces of nature and other entities in within a system of rigid logic, which belong
people’s environment (Humphrey 1996:85). solidly to the realm of intellect.
Hence, what affects nature, affects you, and The aim is not to ‘criticize’ this approach; the
vice versa. The philosophical basis for ani- logic or rationality of this system is of course
mism, where the world is characterized in valid and justified, but what we often forget
terms of being a non-fixed assemblage of is that while the mathematized approach
interrelated subjects, is in my opinion phe- stipulate an all embracing universality and
nomenology. self-evidence, so also could be said about
what Husserl denote as ‘life-world’.
The life-world is our pre-given sense-experi-
Phenomenology ences that we take for granted and nourish
Edmund Husserl as a philosopher was one of the life of thought (Husserl 1999:76). This life-
the first to question the basis for a science world represents a contrast to the dualistic
that conceived the world as a fixed dualism ideality-reality (or phenomena) of mathemat-
between objects and subjects. Husserl makes ics. When Descartes started to question the
this explicit by referring to the emerging truthfulness or quality of our sense-experi-
worldview advocated by Galileo: ences, when our senses for the first time was
One can truly say that the idea of nature as called into question, the result was that the
a really self-enclosed world of bodies first sense-experience, and its correlate, the world
emerges with Galileo. A consequence of this, in it self, also where conceived as a deceiving
along with the mathematization, which was factor (Husserl 1999:76). And so on with eve-
too quickly taken for granted, is [the idea rything corporal, as a contrast to the mind.
of] a self-enclosed natural causality in which Only the ‘I’ who thinks becomes undoubted.
every occurrence is determined unequivo- Descartes thereby excludes the living body,
cally and in advance. Clearly the way is thus the sensible world in general. The result is a

pure intellectual approach of reality, and the that nourish each individual life. This could
language of this reality is the mathematical be called anthropomorphism, which is to
rationality (Husserl 1999:79). say that nature consist of something that is
analog to the individual human being (Peirce
1994:47). Nature is thereby conceived as re-
Nature as Object and Nature as Subject lated to the human soul, or Man is seen as
When I speak of a ‘pure’ or one-sided intel- a reflection or a micro-cosmos of a bigger
lectual approach upon nature, I understand macro-cosmos (Cassirer 1965:98).
this as a state of consciousness, not as a defi- With such point of view, we see that this
nition of specific peoples characters. It’s easy demands a quite radical change of inves-
to forget that each human life involves more tigation in regard our understanding and
than the very moments of intellectual specu- explanation of presumably mystic or irra-
lations; as observers of a world inhabited by tional human belief and behavior. Nature
‘dead forces of nature’. I see the possibility as Human involves a language that, by my
that whole groups of peoples in the prehis- words, is based on processes rather than
tory in a far more extent than today where isolated objects. With processes I mean some
‘disposed’ to approach nature in terms of be- kind of forces that is analog to our emotional
ing something alive, and thereby much more understanding of bodily experience con-
related to the fluctuating life of emotional nected to different aspects of each human
forces such as the feeling of rage, anger, during a lifetime. Such a language doesn’t
sorrow, pleasure, good, bad, etc. These are distinguish between sign and signified, the
indeed individual feelings, which cannot be wolf is the fear. This language contradicts
regarded as something else than reality. Still, Saussure’s old semiotic treatise concerning
they cannot be regarded as objective entities the so called arbitrarily relationship between
in terms of being something observable or expression and meaning. Willam Gregory
visible, and hence difficult to measure: i.e. to Bateson touches an important core related
separate as a closed entity. Emotional aspects to this problem (or language) by stating:
do not follow the rules of mechanics in an
objectified world. The distinction between the name and the
The problem, of course, is that these emo- thing named or the map and the territory is
tions only refers to the subject alone, and perhaps really made only by the dominant
therefore difficult to use as a basis for gen- hemisphere of the brain. The symbolic and
eral truths, or laws, such as the law of gravity affective hemisphere, normally on the right-
etc. If I ‘feel’ that the law of gravity doesn’t hand side, is probably unable to distinguish
concern me, I soon find out that this feel- name from thing named. (…) For example,
ing is based on false premises. But if I relate with the dominant hemisphere, we can re-
some characteristic features of a wolf or a gard such a thing as a flag as a sort of name
similar animal with certain aspects of my own of the country or organization that it rep-
inner life, I establish a link of knowledge resents. But the right hemisphere does not
that could be shared with other people, as draw this distinction and regards the flag as
a truth based on our own subjective state of sacramentally identical with what it repre-
consciousness. We then create characteristics sents. So ‘Old Glory’ is the United States. If
or general knowledge (discover connections somebody steps on it, the response may be
in the world), which can be reckoned as an rage. And the rage will not diminished by
inter-personal reality, i.e. something that not an explanation of the map-territory relations
just each individual experience as truth. And (Bateson 1985[1979]:38).
so on with other characteristics and forces in There is a huge difference between these
people’s surroundings. The sun as a bringer of two modes of attitude. One of them strongly
live is another example. It’s not ‘speculative’ relate to peoples emotional side, and there-
to claim that the forces of the sun and the fore could be described as deeply rooted in
way it effects life, brings forth some paral- the human soul, or person, the other mode
lels related to inner feelings of something respond on a different level, the intellect,

only as a neutral observer of something that and summer dwellings or areas (Pentikäinen
does not really concern each individual at a 1987:137).
personal level. It is extremely easy to pre-
judge the ‘emotional’ mode as subjective, Further on, in such a cyclic society the sha-
or less real reality. Of course, for the ‘brain man, as a kind of ‘religious’ leader, played
alone’, the flag in the abovementioned quote an important part, especially in connection
could denote all sorts of ‘meanings. But this I to huge seasonal sacrifices, which involved
claim is to miss the target, because we forget several family-groups from different areas.
that emotions deals with experiences at- These sacrifices could be held at a specific
tached to us as persons, while the intellect time the year, such as spring and autumn,
deals with descriptions of entities detached but also at mid-winter (Mebius 1968:88,100).
from our self as persons. These two modes I will not discuss the character of these sacri-
of attitude represent two ways of acquiring fices in detail; I will rather focus on aspects
knowledge, and most important, they are not concerning the drive-forces behind these
mutually exclusive to each other, both are ceremonies, or sacrifices. Why are ceremonies
fully rational, based on their own premises. If like this seen as necessary at first place? To
I experience a certain feeling from a certain answer this question I find it necessary to
color or a certain sound, this effect doesn’t take a closer look at what I previously called a
vanish if I at the same time think of the sound shamanistic world-view. This opens up, in my
and light as specific physical waves traveling view, for a more comprehensive understand-
through a certain type of medium. ing of shamanism, and that this shamanism
With such a background, I find it rational to expresses a reality that is reflected through
handle topics like shamanism and animism as rock art, as one medium among others.
a reflection from people that is disposed to
express their knowledge in terms of a more
emotional language than we usually express Aspects of a shamanistic world-view; the
our self today. Therefore, if we are to study significant life of the living dead
a society which felt the nature as something According to Bäckman (1975:9), Hultkrantz
strongly related to their own inner being, I (1987:111) and Schanche (2000:256), sájva,
find it reasonably to suggest that they expe- saivo, or jábmeáibmu are important concepts
rienced themselves as far more interwoven connected to Saami religion. The meaning
in the surroundings changing character dur- of these concepts is manifold, but one com-
ing a cyclic year, and that these changes in mon feature is that sájva refers to the realm
the environment where incorporated and of dead souls (Bäckman 1975:67-78,84). This
experienced as an element intimately related realm is often located to a mountain or rocks,
to each individual human beings character in caves, near the sea or by the shore of a
and emotional ‘temperament’. lake (Vorren 1987:95, Holmberg [1915]:31).
An ethnographic example from the Saami And most important, the souls of the dead
people in arctic Scandinavia could serve as where thought as real, in the same way as
a good example at this point. Among some living people on the earth. The souls of the
Saami groups many important aspects con- dead where seen as a crucial part of human
nected to their life where strongly connected life, capable to bring both health and sick-
to and followed the seasonal changes in ness to the earth and its people (Bäckman
the surroundings (Pentikäinen 1987:138). In 1975:86). These spirits could also be used
these arctic and sub-arctic areas, the seasonal as the shaman’s helping- or guiding-spirits
changes where strongly felt, where the win- (Bäckman 1975:116).
ter was denoted as a long period of kaamos On such a background the shaman, or the
without any sun at all, while the summer rep- Saami noaide, play a vital part as a kind of
resented many months of a never vanishing negotiator with the dead. Sacrifices of dif-
sun. These aspects were also reflected in the ferent animals, such as reindeers, could be
Saami’s nomadic and semi-nomadic life-style. viewed as a negotiation with the dead. Only
This involved a separation between winter the noaide had the knowledge and skills to

treat the remains of the animal in a proper (Eliade 1998:48). This case also refers to two-
way. By doing this they control the reindeer’s sided or ambiguous conditions, where both
regenerative powers, and therefore to se- life and death are represented in the journey
cure the forthcoming resurrection of other of the neophyte from one state of being to
reindeers (Schanche 2000:265). another (Turner 1999:133-134). Besides the
Another important aspect connected to this references to life and death, there is also a
is that the sacrifices depend on the seasonal third-sided aspect connected to this.
character of the year. Each time of year de- According to Turner the neophytes could be
mands different sacrifices, which correlate connected neither to death, nor life, but as
to the access of game, such as sacrifices con- something in between, as a living dead. They
nected to reindeer at autumn and sacrifices are viewed both as alive and dead at the
connected to fishery at spring, when the riv- same time, and therefore place themselves
ers and freshwater melts (Mebius 1968:100- beyond all traditional categories (Turner
101). 1999:134). In the case of shamanism, this
Activities like these could be viewed as a ‘third category’ is a frequently observed at-
ritual that follows the ecological cycle, and tribute related to the shaman’s praxis and
are a common feature among several socie- ways of expression. One example is that
ties (Helskog 1999:84). Bases on the view of a shaman by means of trance, or altered
shamanism and animism, in a world that is state of consciousness, combine different
experienced as a nature as subject, I argue characters from the environment into hy-
that an understanding of these rituals can brid-expressions, such as the combination
be compared to what Victor Turner (1999) of a human-animal (Clottes & Lewis-Williams
describes as liminales, or rites de passage, 1998:17).
which exist in societies all around the world. Based on these concepts, there is possible
An essential attribute is the ambiguous or to line up a few headlines for a shamanistic
indefinite character connected to the ex- praxis that focuses on the nature understood
pressions or appearance related to these in a language that resonate to personal expe-
transitions. Turner denotes these ambiguous riences of life as a series of processes which
features in terms of representing a structural is felt emotionally, as a concrete ‘life-world’.
invisibility with a two-sided characteristic Additionally; it makes sense to speak of this
(Turner 1999:133). language as metaphorical, where individual
experiences seeks an equivalent side in the
This statement points to the transference processes of outer nature. Processes of nature
from one condition to another, and works are in term of this understood as something
both on an individual and an environmental that resembles the inner qualities of human
level, such as for instance the change from life and emotional state. I will focus on a few,
juvenileness to adulthood and the seasonal but central aspects related to all kinds of
transformation from winter to summer life, namely growth and decay, understood
(Gennep 1999:22-23). These circumstances as processes of life and death.
of liminales occurs through a combination
or blending of qualities associated with the
previous and forthcoming state, as the case is Negotiations with the dead as a re-vitali-
at spring, when both the qualities of winter zation of life, expressed as rock carvings
and summer emerges at the same time, as If animism is to be taken seriously, and not as
a two-sided characteristic connected to the some kind of misunderstanding of the world,
phenomena. with ‘spirits’ and ‘souls’ etc., i.e. concepts
On the individual level the same principal which usually doesn’t give any meaning at all,
works. An example on this is for instance that we must be aware of that this animism actu-
the neophyte or the ‘shamanistic apprentice’ ally isn’t that mystic or unrealistic, compared
at a certain level is associated with character- to what we normally regard as a concrete
istics connected to death and destruction of reality. But, in the moment we understand
the body, followed by a renewal of the body the basis of animism, which in my point of

Fig. 3. Amtmannsnes II (Helskog 1988:66-67).

Dietrich Evers


’Shamanic rock carvings: The rise and fall

of spirits among the living’.

Rubbing after Dietrich Evers 1994.

Rubbing after Dietrich Evers 1994.

view represent a more aesthetic or artistic relate to the character of the environment.
world-view, which cannot be reduced down The fact that different time of year demands
to a rigid system of logically interrelated enti- different types of sacrifices, as I mentioned
ties, we see that animism in its own peculiar earlier through Mebius (1968:100-110), is one
way represents a fully rational, and thereby example. I would also suggest that people
realistic world-view. saw these changes in the environment as
To understand the ‘magic’, or ‘unrealistic’ an increase and decrease of qualities that
part of shamanism as animism, such as the in essence is similar to human emotional
helping spirits of the shaman, I find it ap- sphere of experience. To describe the sun as
propriate to compare this to the Saami joik, ‘dying’ when it is fading away at nightfall,
as a kind of singing that in many aspects is a the autumn as something that ‘dies’ and the
expression that not only signify something, winter as nature ‘sleeping’ are some exam-
but also must be regarded as a expression ples of my point. These expressions must be
that shares some similar qualities with the taken literally, not as some kind of ‘romantic
‘object’ or phenomena itself. By doing this, it tittle-tattle’. It’s my conviction that a person
is possible to express a joik that resembles the with a character that is deeply ‘tuned’ to-
qualities of for instance a juvenile reindeer. wards nature, in some way would develop
The basic line, as I see it, is that a tradition a language that embraces the qualities of
like this shows a tendency for a profound nature in a more organic (and hence vivid)
knowledge of the natures living qualities, mode than a person who study the nature
which I would describe as ‘contemplative as a kind of ‘mechanical machinery’.
observations’. The second hypotheses deals with the ex-
It is possible in the same manner to understand pression of such an ‘organic language’. If
the shaman’s expressions and ideas concern- nature is sensed and perceived as animated,
ing the world of spirits. If the belief in these as processes of life and death, this involves
saivos, as I described earlier, were thought a focus on conditions rather than entities as
of as especially important and ‘loaded’ with isolated objects. If an expression is ambigu-
potentially harmful spirits, as living forces ous, for instance a carving that appears as a
with certain qualities, there is possible to hybrid between man and woman, as figure
understand these spirits as contemplative 1 shows, where the central motif is a depic-
observations reflecting the forces of nature, tion of a human that could be viewed as
which, in terms of anthropomorphism or a bi-sexual, displaying attributes of both male
phenomenological-monistic view upon nature, and female character at the same time.
is closely related to the emotional aspects This specific expression could be understood
of human life. Thereby, the spirits resemble in terms of shamanism, and the carved motif
and resonate to the individual life of each depicts a felt reality of an animated nature,
personal being. as a particular power of nature at a specific
If we combine the concepts nature as subject locus and time of year, like for instance the
(as the theoretical base of animism), saivo spring, which could be described as a limi-
and shamanism, seasonal sacrifices (where nalistic third category, like a state of being
the life of a society strongly follows the cli- expressed as a combination of the winter
matic and ecological changes through a year) and summers qualities.
and Turner’s liminales (connected to rites Based on what I previous wrote, where the
de passage), this gives us an opportunity shaman works as an important operator con-
to draw some interpretations of the rock nected to seasonal sacrifices, my claim is that
carvings at Amtmannsnes. The first factor this specific carving could be understood as a
important for an elucidation of a potential emblem of a spirit (or power), that is located
background of the rock carvings concerns the to what I described as a saivo, as a powerful
interrelation between the individual human place. Further on, the shaman is the one who
life and changes in the nature. can intervene, and thereby negotiate with
So, my first explicit hypotheses state that these powers. To carry out a sacrifice is a
people’s mental life (or focus) strongly cor- proper way to do this. If these powers were

experienced as phenomenological reality, of death. On an individual level, as praxis
this reality would resonate to the emotional connected to shamanism, these motifs also
aspects of human life. The very character of works as a description of experiences related
a sacrifice could be viewed as a deliberately to the shaman or the noaide’s ‘negotiations’
act that connect and establish a link to two with the powers of nature, in form of helping
very important factors related to a society’s and guiding spirits, as I wrote earlier. The
survival, namely life and death. carvings of Amtmannsnes could therefore
If the survival and reproduction of natural be understood as an animistic expression
resources and human health are understood of changes from one condition to another,
as guided or governed by different kind of both on an individual and a ‘dividual’ level,
spirits or forces, I find it rational to extend as seasonal changes through the cycle of
these concepts, and to propose that some a year.
specific types of spirits, or forces of nature
characterizes each specific time of year. A Conclusion
world-view like this could therefore be de- Much more could and should be said about
scribed as constituted by a waxing and vein- Amtmannsnes, but I will conclude this paper
ing of different kind of spirits through the by stating that the shamans personal experi-
cycle of a year. One example that serves as ences deals with forces of nature, expressed
a description on this is the view of autumn as metaphorically embodiments referring
as nature that dies or fades away. In terms to a corporal reality of life and death. One
of a phenomenological/shamanistic/animistic purpose of this paper is to show that the
view of nature, this is actually a quite precise study of rock carvings and prehistoric cul-
and adequate description of a natural proc- ture in general, must release itself from the
ess. Again, this is a different language that boundaries of a science, that in many cases
is inspired from organic life. Therefore, the reduces nature to an entity alien to human
expression of this language deals with dif- essence and life.
ferentiations of life and death. If we take a
closer look at figure 3 in the upper left frame Bjørn Berg
we se a motif that consist of a human figure calidris@runbox.no
with ‘two folded potency’, with female and
male characteristics. I read this as an explicit
symbol of fertility, as an accumulation of References:
life, in contrast to death. Therefore, this Autio, Eero. 1991. The snake and Zig-Zag Motifs in
motif could actually be viewed as the sign Finnish Rock Paintings and Saami Drums. The Saami
of spring, or at least as a sign of power, as a Shaman Drum, s. 52-79. Tore Ahlbäck and Jan Berg-
potent condition. mann (red.). Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis
Another aspects that gives strength to this XIV. Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm.
view, is the motif of a relatively big human Bäckman, Louise. 1975. Sájva. Föreställningar om
figure oriented horizontally compared to the hjälp- och skyddsväsen i helliga fjäll bland samerna.
majority of the other human motifs. I read Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion. Almqvist
the underlying zigzag line, which stretches & Wiksell International, Stockholm.
from the horizontally oriented human motif Bahn G. Paul. 2001. Save the Last Trance for Me: An
towards the vertically oriented human motifs, Assessment of the Misuse of Shamanism in Rock Art
as a line of connection, and that the motifs Studies. The concept of Shamanism: Uses and Abuses,
therefore can’t be studied as isolated enti- 51-94. Henri-Paul Francfort and Roberte N. Hamayon
ties alone. The relative orientation affects (red.). Biliotheca Shamanistica 10, Budapest.
therefore the motifs meaning. Bateson, Gregory. 1985. Mind and Nature, a neces-
The horizontally oriented human figure could sary unity. Fontana Paperbacks, London.
be understood as an emblem of nature as Berg, Bjørn. 2003. Amtmannsnes II. Spor etter sjama-
a force of death at winter. In fact, this is a nisme? Hovedfagsoppgave, Universitetet i Tromsø.
quite precise expression of something dead Berg, Bjørn. 2004. Sjamanisme og helleristninger /
or inactive, as a corporal metaphorical symbol Shamanism and Rock Carvings. In Orestad Sørgaard

(ed.), Arktisk steinalder/Arctic Stone Age. Gjenre- tory, Åbo/Finland. Almqvist & Wiksell International,
isningsmuseets skriftserie nr 2. pp. 48-59. Lundblad Stockholm.
media, Tromsø. Humphrey, Caroline. 1996. Shamans and elders. Ex-
Bird-David, Nurit. 1999. ‘Animism’ revisited: Person- perience, knowledge, and power among the Daur
hood, environment, and relational epistemology. Mongols. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Current Anthropology Vol 40. University of Chicago Husserl, Edmund. 1999. The crisis of European sciences
Press. s. 43-79. and transcendental phenomenology: an introduction
Cassirer, Ernst.1965. Et essay om mennesket. Asche- to phenomenological philosophy. Northwestern
houg, Oslo. University Press, Evanston, Illinois.
Clottes, Jean & David Lewis-Williams. 1998. The Sha- Ingold, Tim. 1991. Human world are culturally con-
mans of Prehistory. Trance and Magic in the Painted structed. Group for debates in Anthropological
Caves. Harry N. Abrams Inc. Theory. Edited by Tim Ingold. Department of Social
Eliade, Mircea. 1998. Sjamanisme: Hen­rykkelsens og Anthropology, University of Manchester.
ekstasens eldgamle kunst. Oversatt av Erik Ringen. Ingold, Tim. 1996. Hunting and Gathering as Ways
Pax, Oslo. of Perceiving the Environment. Redefining nature.
Engelstad, Erica. 2001. Desire and Body Maps: All the Edited by Roy Ellen and Katsuyoshi Fukui. Berg.
Woman are Pregnant, All the Men are Virile, but… Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1996. The Savage Mind. Oxford
Theoretical Perspectives in Rock Art Research. Knut University Press, London.
Helskog (red.). Institute for Comparative Research Lewis-Williams, J.D. & T.A. Dowson. 1988. The Signs
in Human Culture, Novus forlag, Oslo. of All Times. Current Anthropology 29 (2):201-246.
Escobar, Arturo. 1999. After Nature: Steps to an An- Mebius, Hans. 1968. Várrõ. Studier i samernas för-
tiessentialist Political Ecology. Current Anthropology. kristna offerriter. Religionshistoriska Institutionen
Volume 40. Number 1. s. 1-30. i Uppsala. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm.
Evers, Dietrich. 1994. The Magic of the Image. Prehis- Olsen, Bjørnar. 1994. Bosetning og Samfunn i Finn-
toric Scandinavian Rock Carvings. Translated by Mar- marks Forhistorie. Universitetsforlaget, Oslo.
cus Grewe. Pulsar Verlag. Warmsroth/Germany. Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1994. Semiotik og pragma-
Evers, Dietrich. 1999. Zeichen die Shamananen setzen. tisme. Gyldendal, Oslo.
Felsgravuren der Steinzeit Skandinaviens. 84-96. Pentikäinen, Juha. 1987. The Saami Shamanic Drum
Adoranten. Scandinavian Society for Prehistoric Art. in Rome. I Saami Religion. Redigert av Tore Ahlbäck,
Tanum Hällristingsmuseum Underlös. 124-149. The Donner Institute for Research in Reli-
Gennep, Arnold van. 1999. Rites de Passage. Over- gious and Cultural History, Åbo/Finland. Almqvist &
gangsriter. Translated by Erik Ringen. Pax Forlag, Wiksell International. Stockholm.
Oslo. Price, Neil. 2001. An archaeology of altered states:
Grønnesby, Geir. 1998. Skandinaviske helle­ristninger Shamanism and material culture studies. In The Ar-
og rituell bruk av transe, 59-82. Arkeologiske Skrifter chaeology of Shamanism. pp. 3-16. Edited by Neil
fra Universitetet i Bergen. Price. Routledge, London & New York.
Helskog, Knut. 1988. Helleristningene i Alta. Spor Schanche, Audhild. 2000. Graver i ur og berg. Samisk
etter ritualer og dagligliv i Finnmarks forhistorie. gravskikk og religion fra forhistorisk til nyere tid.
Bjørkmanns Trykkeri, Alta. Davvi Girji OS, Karasjok.
Helskog, Knut. 1999. The Shore Connection. Cognitive Turner, Victor W. 1999. Midt i mellom. I Rites de
Landscape and Communicatio with Rock Carvings in Passage, Overgangsriter, av A. Van Gennep, Pax
Northernmost Europe. Norwegian Archaeological Forlag, Oslo.
Review, 32:73-94. Vorren, Ørnulv. 1987. Sacritical Sites, Types and Func-
Hesjedal, Anders. 1990. Helleristninger som tegn og tion. I Saami Religion, 94-109. Tore Ahbäck (red.).
tekst. Magistergradsavhandling i arkeologi, Univer- The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and
sitetet i Tromsø. Cultural History, Åbo/Finland. Almqvist & Wiksell
Holmberg, Uno. 1987. [1915] Lapparnas Religion. International, Stockholm.
Uppsala Multiethnic Papers 10.
Hultkrantz, Åke. 1987. On Beliefs in NonShamanic
Guardian Spirits among the Saamis. In Saami Reli-
gion. Redigert av Tore Ahlbäck, 110-123. The Donner
Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural His-