Trance Dance on Kudu

Kudu Ranch is home to the remains of ancient settlements and many mysterious etchings. There are several theories about who lived here in times gone by. Dr. Cyril Hromnik’s is the most fascinating, linking the ancient settlements to traders from India.

I would like to venture an interpretation on some etchings I examined, based on Khoi-San symbolism. These etchings could be as old as a thousand years. Forms and patterns have been created by “pecking” (percussion on the rock), by artists wanting to ordain a spot with religious significance. The images are glimpses of journeys into the spirit world by the community shamans.

The creation of the etchings themselves is a precise and time-consuming task. Certainly not what the Lydenburg Museum describes as the doodles of bored herd-boys!

A shaman is literally a master of ecstasy (“Extasis” being Greek for “outside the normal seat of consciousness”). They are masters of altered states of consciousness in which the Western rules of Newtonian-Cartesian logic are no longer valid. To shamans, travel to other worlds, distant seeing and healing, clairvoyance and communication with spirits are all possible and natural.

It was the shaman’s task to intercede on behalf of the community by having useful “out of body” (OBE) experiences. The shaman’s OBE was a non drug-induced state stimulated by a ceremony in which the community chanted, clapped and drummed while the shaman, focusing on his task, danced himself into a trance.

This task might have involved travelling to the lower world, or world of animal spirits, to seek an ally in the form of a power animal for the healing of the sick. The cathartic and flamboyant ceremony was usually sufficient to effect psychosomatic healings amongst the ill in the community.

Alternatively, the shaman would “fly” to the Upper world in order to witness, possibly through the eyes of a spirit eagle, the movements of animals in the real world. This would facilitate pin-pointing game in real life for easy tracking and capture.

Near site 94 there is a design etched on a rock which looks like a giant fingerprint. This may be interpreted as a diagrammatic representation of images which swirl up from the subconscious (entoptic phenomena) in the beginning stages of the trance state. Visions of chevrons and cross-hatchings are also common phenomena not culturally linked, and cut across all world populations groups.

By the time the shaman reaches full controlled trance state, images flood his mind, and he is able to manipulate and interpret these along cultural lines. A shaman from the North Pole would probably visualize polar bears and certainly not elephants!

In times of drought, rain spirits would be contacted and made to “bleed he-rain” to nourish the earth. On a rock near site 38, I have found what I interpret to be a representation of a rain animal (symbolized as a cross between a hippo and an eland), facing due north exactly.

The eland was regarded as a mystical creature by the Khoi-San, who felt that it was invested with magical power or energy called “Num”. Num energy lines are always drawn as an upward line from just behind the hump on the back of the neck.

The eland’s dewlap is exaggerated to emphasize the dual energy of the male specimen. Interestingly, the male eland has more body fat that the female, contrary to the norm in nature.

Long lines have been drawn leading from the feet and tail of the rain-animal following the contours of the rock, and literally and figuratively “running off” the energy over the rock’s edges. The lines loop several times in places suggesting to me a consolidation and amplification of the “num” energy.

The shaman would identify so closely with the eland that he would become the animal. Sacrificed eland blood would have been used for daubing the body to invest the ritual with greater symbolic energy. One of the rocks between sites 37 and 38 has carved hollows (cup-size), which would possibly have been used as receptacles for powders too, used to paint the face and body or alternatively for oil lamps. The large flat-topped rock itself is a ceremonial altar where material objects would have been laid out signifying experiences which they wished to attract in the spirit world.

I should add that although the mind-trips were mainly the privilege and duty of the shamans, community members might nonetheless have banal, but exciting glimpses into the trance-world themselves. This would occur through what psychologists studying hypnotic phenomena would call the “chaperone effect” Individuals in the group who were clapping, singing and dancing to guide the shaman into trance, might spontaneously enter light trance themselves. The visions of the primary (non-refined) trance state would be accessible to many of the uninitiated and provide a wonderful form of escapism.

Without a hangover to worry about, and long before movies and discos, for primitive people, this was entertainment at its best.

Should you come across any rock etchings, I would suggest that you examine the diagram/pattern by facing each of the compass cardinal points. If you are able to recognise representations of animals, or alternatively any swirl, chevron or cross-hatching design(s), please let me know by e-mail (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Happy hunting!

Gavin Ford
River Lodge