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The Poisonwood Bible and the Rosetta Stone
Friday 10 August 2018

It took me 20 years to finally sit down and read this book. I enjoyed it so much I barely sat down. Haven't savoured a book like that since Suskind's Perfume or Murakami's 1Q84. This is not the forum to discuss the book, but I thought I would share one aspect.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Extract:

'She flew forward and back and I watched her shadow in the white dust under the swing. Each time she reached the top of her arc beneath the sun, her shadow legs were transformed into the thin, curved legs of an antelope, with small rounded hooves at the bottom instead of feet. I was transfixed and horrified by the image of my sister with antelope legs. I knew it was only shadow and the angle of the sun, but still it's frightening when things you love appear suddenly changed from what you have always known.'

This took me straight to the so-called 'Rosetta Stone' and the work of David Lewis-Williams - the San symbolism in the rock paintings at Game Pass Shelter in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. "One day, I was looking at a picture in which there was a dying eland and a man apparently holding its tail. The man had hooves, like the eland; his hair was standing out, like the eland's hair; his legs were crossed, in imitation of the eland's legs," he explained.

Lewis-Williams concluded that both the eland and the man were behaving as if they were dying. The man is a shaman going into trance. He is about to leave this world for the spirit world, and he is taking on the power of the eland, 'the most powerful animal of all'. The dying eland was a source of potency. Crossing over to the spirit world during trance was described as a 'death', as a metaphor for the trance state. The rock art provides the visual metaphor.

Presumably also for the shaman it would be frightening to experience a sudden change from what you have always known.

Visit the Rock Art Archive of South Africa:
www.bradshawfoundation.com/south_africa/index.php

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