Literski, N: A Depth Psychological Contribution to the Study of Paleolithic Cave Art


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For over 150 years, archeologists and anthropologists have sought to interpret the images of Paleolithic cave art, applying lenses such as art for art’s sake (Lartet & Christy, 1864), to totemism (Tylor, 1866), to structuralism (Leroi-Gourhan, 1965), and most recently, shamanic trance (Lewis-Williams & Dowson,1988). Each approach has been subject to criticism, and in truth, most scholars currently apply various amalgamations of these perspectives. Still, opinions regarding Paleolithic images differ widely. Archeologist Paul G. Bahn (2010) has called for both professionals and amateurs to bring forth innovative new methods of interpretation.

When archeologist Julien Monney first examined the 36,000 year old images within Chauvet Cave, he found himself so overwhelmed that he dreamed for several nights of the many cave lions portrayed in the cave. Rather than being afraid, he said he experienced these dreams as “a feeling of powerful things and deep things, a way to understand things which is not a direct way” (Herzog, 2010). Monney’s experience invites a depth psychological perspective to the study of cave art, complete with its emphasis on imaginal ways of knowing.

In this paper, I will respond to Bahn’s (2010) call, examining how the work of C. G. Jung can provide a meaningful addition to existing practices of Paleolithic cave art interpretation. Expanding upon earlier, tentative examinations (Literski, 2018), I propose active imagination as a method of depth psychological inquiry that can both embrace and adds to the longstanding contributions of archeology and anthropology. The results draw upon our own primordial psyche to offer insights regarding the Jungian religious instinct, and what it means to be human.

Presenter Bio:

Nicholas S. Literski, MA, is adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies and a PhD candidate in depth psychology with emphasis in Jungian and archetypal studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Nick’s dissertation work involves a depth psychological analysis of the Paleolithic artwork of Chauvet Cave, with the aim of contributing to Jungian understanding of the religious instinct. Nick holds a Juris Doctor, along with master’s degrees in both depth psychology and spiritual guidance.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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