Ancient statues and prehistoric paintings give a fascinating glimpse into the lives of our early ancestors. The cave paintings of Lascaux, the Long Man of Wilmington, the Venus of Laussel are all incredible vestiges of forgotten cultures. But were they created solely as art or do they have a hidden meaning? Anthropologist Dr Felicitas Goodman believes that these, and many more ancient works of art, are not simply expressions of creativity but are, in fact, ritual instructions. She discovered that when people put their bodies into precisely the postures depicted, they would report strikingly similar meditative experiences – flying, descending into the earth, meeting spirit guides, receiving healing. These experiences were very similar to those reported by shamans across the globe – but without the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Dr Goodman continued her research, intrigued by the fact that particular gestures and movements, when carefully copied, could actually trigger altered states of consciousness.
Ecstatic Body Postures (Bear & Co) written by psychotherapist Belinda Gore, who worked with Dr Goodman, gives precise instructions on how to access states of mind quite outside our normal waking reality – simply by assuming these ancient postures. Since Dr Goodman started her research in 1977, nearly fifty postures have been researched, all of which trigger journeys to what the shamans would call the world of the spirits. However Belinda Gore insists there is nothing spooky about the process; on the contrary, she believes we have much to learn from exploring alternate realities. “There are postures that teach us about the transitions of birth and death,” she says, “others by which we can ask divination questions, yet others for healing, and some for celebration.” These are truly incredible journeys.
PREPARING TO JOURNEY
1. Choose a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
2. Do not eat for an hour or two before your journey.
3. Select your posture and take a few minutes to practice it so that your body feels comfortable in that position – or as comfortable as possible (some are quite difficult to hold for fifteen minutes at first).
4. Perform a simple exercise to help calm and focus your mind. Focus on your breath as it enters your nose and then, without effort, release it. Each full breath counts as one: do fifty breaths, counting ten breaths on each finger of one hand.
5. Ideally you should now turn on a CD of Shamanic drumming or rattling. Set a timer for fifteen minutes or arrange for someone to alert you when that time has passed.
6. Now simply put yourself into as precise a copy of your chosen posture as you can and remain, quietly, in the posture for fifteen minutes. If you find you lose concentration, focus your attention on the sound of the drumming.
7. Be open to whatever happens. You may feel a change in your body temperature. You might find you start to rock or sway, or experience energy flowing throughout your body. You may see patterns of colour or see complex visions – just like watching a film. Sometimes you might hear sounds or voices. Sometimes people even report smelling aromas. If you find yourself meeting an animal or other spirit, you can ask questions and receive answers.
8. At the end of the fifteen minutes, move out of the posture and sit quietly for a few minutes. You may find it useful to drink a little fruit juice or water and eat some crackers to ground you again.
THE LONG MAN OF WILMINGTON
WHAT IT IS: The Long Man of Wilmington is a hill figure found near the town of Wilmington in Sussex. He is around seventy metres tall and holds a stake on either side of his body. The figure is estimated to have been carved maybe 2,500 years ago.
HOW TO PERFORM THE POSTURE: You will need two thin sticks or dowels, about six feet long. Position these staves at each side of your body, and grasp each stave with your hand just above shoulder level. Your left hand should be slightly higher than your right hand. In a normal standing position, with your knees relaxed, extend your right foot forward and angle it slightly to the right (putting slightly more weight on the left leg). Keep your head facing straight ahead with your eyes closed. This positioning creates a 37 degree angle in your right arm, with your elbow as the axis (the hallmark of spiritual journeys as you’ll see in the Lascaux cave posture).
WHAT TO EXPECT: Most people report feeling a great deal of heat and seeing bright light and energy. The journey seems to link the present with the far distant past; some people report a kind of “time-traveling” to the past.
THE LASCAUX CAVE POSTURE
WHAT IT IS: A cave drawing in charcoal and tallow of a stick figure of a man apparently lying at a curious backwards angle. It dates from 15,000 BC and was discovered in the huge Lascaux cave near the French village of Montignac.
HOW TO PERFORM THE POSTURE: You must position your body at a precise 37 degree angle – use a chair and pillows. Your feet should be parallel, slightly apart and at a 90 degree angle to your legs. Lean your body against the support at a 37 degree angle. Stretch your left arm beside your body, with your elbow locked. Relax your fingers but keep your left thumb stiff, so a straight line could be drawn from your shoulder, through your elbow and wrist and down to the tip of your thumb. Rest your right arm beside your body and at a 37 degree angle from your body. Face the palm of your right hand toward your thigh and rest your right thumb on top of your fingers. Keep your head facing forward but rest back on the support structure with your eyes closed.
WHAT TO EXPECT: This journey connects with the skies. A common experience is to be a bird or fly with a bird, enjoying a wonderful feeling of freedom and a powerful surge of energy.
THE VENUS OF LAUSSEL
WHAT IT IS: A figure carved about 25,000 years ago on the wall of a cave along the Dordogne River near Bordeaux in southern France.
HOW TO PERFORM THE POSTURE: This is a standing posture in which your legs are close together with your knees locked, your feet parallel, and your toes pointing forward. Your right hand holds a crescent-shaped bison horn, which you can replicate using a cardboard cutout. Hold the fingers of your right hand close together. The crescent is held between your fingers and thumb, with your fingers facing forward. Hold your right arm to the side of your body, bent at the elbow, with the crescent raised to shoulder level. The angle between your upper arm and lower arm should be 37 degrees. Hold your left arm close to your body and place your left hand on your abdomen above your navel, angled so the first two fingers of your left hand are pointing towards your navel. Spread your fingers. Face toward the left with your eyes closed.
WHAT TO EXPECT: This posture seems to deal with the concept of death and resurrection; many people feel a sense of comfort, of renewal, of transformation.
THE COUPLE FROM CERNAVODA
WHAT THEY ARE: A male and female pair of figures found in a 7,000 year old grave near Cernavoda, in the Danube delta in Romania.
HOW TO PERFORM THE POSTURE: This posture requires two people, ideally one male and one female (although you can both be of the same sex).
Female version: Sit on the floor with your left leg rigidly extended straight in front of your body. Keep your left foot perpendicular to your leg. Bend your right leg at the knee and, with your knee raised, place your right foot sole down on the floor, beside your left knee. Bend both your arms, with your elbows extending away from your body; bring together both hands and reset them lightly on your right knee. Hold your left hand stiff and arched backward, with the pads of your fingers resting on your knee. Keep your thumb close to your hand. Cup your right hand with the palm lifted and only your fingertips resting on your knee. Imagine yourself with a long straight neck as a reminder to maintain a completely erect posture.
Male version: Sit on a low stool or on pillows piled on the floor. Place your feet on the floor in front of your body, pointing forward. Your feet are parallel and about eight to ten inches apart. Placing your elbows on your knees and, bending your arms, bring your hands toward your face until your head can lean forward slightly and be supported by your hands. Make a loose fist with your hands. Allow the full weight of your head to be supported by your fists so that they push the skin upwards making folds in the skin of your cheeks.
WHAT TO EXPECT: These are postures for healing. It seems that people in the male posture act as energy sources for people in the female posture, who act as the healers. People report meeting angels or spirits which give healing to those in need.
Extracted from Ecstatic Body Postures by Belinda Gore (Bear & Co.)