The Primal Ghost – Ancestral Mysticism and Ancient Rites
Homo naledi, an extinct species of hominids, exhibited complex behaviors related to death, such as intentional burials and the use of symbols, long before Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, as evidenced by recent findings. The fossils of Homo naledi were first discovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013, and the latest studies reveal that they buried their dead, adults and children alike, in the fetal position in cave depressions and covered them with soil. This burial practice predates any known Homo sapiens burials by at least 100,000 years. The cave system where these discoveries were made is vast and complex, presenting significant challenges to the researchers exploring it.
During their investigations, researchers found symbols engraved on the cave walls, estimated to be between 241,000 and 335,000 years old. These symbols included deeply carved hashtag-like cross-hatchings and other geometric shapes. It’s believed that similar symbols found in other caves were carved by early Homo sapiens 80,000 years ago and Neanderthals 60,000 years ago and were thought to have been used as a way to record and share information.
Regarding the interpretation of these symbols, there are many ways they could be related to death rituals, although it’s important to note that any interpretation would be speculative due to our limited understanding of Homo naledi culture. If we follow this speculative line of thought and assume that the Homo naledi had a concept akin to Memento Mori, it’s an intriguing possibility to imagine that these ancient hominids possessed a sophisticated understanding of mortality.
“Memento Mori,” a Latin phrase that translates to “remember you must die,” is a concept that encourages reflection on mortality and the transient nature of life. It’s a theme that has appeared in art, literature, and philosophy throughout history, often symbolized by objects like skulls, hourglasses, and wilting flowers.
If the Homo naledi had a similar philosophy, the symbols found on the cave walls might have served as a constant reminder of life’s impermanence. These carvings, perhaps witnessed daily by the Homo naledi, could have instilled a sense of perspective and humility, encouraging the community to value their time and relationships.
In this context, the act of burial itself could be seen as a manifestation of this understanding of death. By treating the dead with respect and conducting burial rituals, the Homo naledi might have been acknowledging the inevitability of death and the value of life.
The notion that a proto-human species might have had such a profound understanding of mortality is fascinating. It suggests that the seeds of spiritual or philosophical thought might have been planted far earlier in our evolutionary history than we typically imagine. Perhaps these early hominids were not just cognizant of their own mortality but also sought to make sense of it and pass on their understanding to subsequent generations through rituals and symbols.
The inter-generational transmission of these ideas could have shaped the evolution of human culture and spirituality. As these proto-humans migrated and evolved, they might have carried these concepts with them, laying the groundwork for more complex religious and philosophical systems in later human societies.
The “Book of the Dead” is a compilation of spells and rites from ancient Egypt, intended to guide the deceased through the afterlife. If Homo naledi had a concept of an afterlife and rites to guide the deceased, their symbols could represent an early form of this.
Medjed is an ancient Egyptian deity or spirit that appears in Egyptian mythology. The name “Medjed” is derived from the Egyptian word “mȝḏ” or “mdj” which means “the one who is feared” or “the terrifying one.” Despite its mysterious and enigmatic nature, there is limited information available about Medjed in ancient Egyptian texts. Medjed is most notably known for its appearance in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, specifically in Chapter 17, known as the “Book of Breathings.” In this chapter, Medjed is described as a benevolent deity who helps the deceased during their journey through the afterlife. It is believed that Medjed assists in clearing obstacles and protecting the soul from evil spirits.
Iconographically, Medjed is typically depicted as a mummified or skeletal figure, sometimes wearing a white crown or headdress. Its exact form and appearance can vary, as it is not as extensively represented as some other deities in Egyptian mythology. In ancient Egyptian mythology, there were various deities associated with death, the afterlife, and the underworld. It is possible that Medjed was connected to these concepts and invoked a sense of fear or reverence due to its association with the realm of the dead. The mummified or skeletal form in which Medjed is often depicted may have also contributed to its intimidating image.
The portrayal of Medjed as a ghost-like figure may also serve as a symbolic representation of the liminal space between life and death. Ghosts and spirits were thought to inhabit this intermediate realm, and by depicting Medjed in such a manner, it could have signified its connection to the transition from one state of existence to another.
Additionally, in ancient Egyptian belief systems, there were deities and spirits associated with both benevolent and malevolent forces. It is possible that Medjed was perceived as having powers or attributes that could be both beneficial and potentially dangerous, leading to a sense of fear and caution.
It’s important to note that the limited information available about Medjed in ancient Egyptian texts leaves much to speculation and interpretation. The exact reasons for its fear-inducing nature are not explicitly detailed, and our understanding of Medjed is based on fragmentary evidence and scholarly analysis.
In recent years, Medjed gained attention through internet culture and popular media. The character’s association with ancient Egyptian mythology and its distinctive appearance have made it a subject of interest in various forms of entertainment, including video games, comics, and memes. It is important to note, however, that the modern portrayal and interpretation of Medjed in popular culture may not necessarily align with its original ancient Egyptian significance.
Overall, while Medjed holds a place in ancient Egyptian mythology, its exact role and significance remain somewhat mysterious due to the limited information available in ancient texts.
If we speculate that Homo naledi, with their advanced cognition and symbolic practices, had a similar concept of fearsome spirits or entities, we might imagine that their symbols could represent these beings. Perhaps, among the cross-hatchings and geometric shapes, there might have been symbols meant to represent or ward off such entities, similar to the way Medjed was depicted in ancient Egypt.
These symbols could have been a form of proto-spells, serving not only as a means of spiritual protection for the deceased but also as a teaching tool for the living. In this light, the symbols can be seen as an early form of writing or pictorial instruction, communicating important spiritual concepts and knowledge across generations.
The existence of a ‘proto-Medjed’ figure in Homo naledi culture could have served as a cautionary symbol, teaching individuals about the dangers of the spirit world and the need to lead a virtuous life to avoid attracting the wrath of such a being in death. These teachings could have been an integral part of their rituals and communal gatherings, a shared knowledge that strengthened the bonds within their community and helped them navigate the mysteries of life and death.
The Homo naledi could have believed in a primal entity similar to Medjed, not only as a terrifying figure to be avoided but also as a powerful entity that could guide souls to positive experiences in the afterlife. In this context, the act of knowing and invoking this entity’s name would be of profound importance, as it could potentially grant protection, guidance, or favor from this entity during one’s journey in the afterlife.
The symbols found on the cave walls might have served multiple purposes in this context. They might be seen as a form of ancient “warning sign,” cautioning the community about the potential wrath of this primal ghost. This could have been particularly important during the burial process, where the correct rites and practices needed to be followed to ensure the safe passage of the deceased.
Moreover, these symbols could also represent the name of the primal ghost or a code for invoking its protection. This would be a secret knowledge, passed down through generations, like a spiritual key to navigating the mysteries of death and the afterlife. Those who were privy to this knowledge would have been able to invoke the primal ghost’s protection during their own death rites, or when they were performing rites for others.
The concept of an entity that can grant positive afterlife journeys if its name is known has parallels in later human cultures. In ancient Egypt, for instance, knowing the true names of gods and spirits was considered to grant power and protection.
This creative interpretation, while speculative, could add another layer of depth to our understanding of Homo naledi’s cognitive capacities and cultural practices. It suggests not only a sophisticated understanding of death and the afterlife but also the possibility of complex social structures and religious practices.
If we venture further into speculative territory and consider the possibility that Homo naledi assigned symbolic meanings to certain animals, much as many human cultures do, we can imagine a rich tapestry of symbolic communication that these proto-humans might have developed.
In many human cultures, animals are often associated with specific concepts or ideas. In the context of death and the afterlife, animals like crows, owls, bats, and vultures have been seen as omens of death or carriers of souls to the afterlife. Others, like the phoenix, are symbols of resurrection and renewal.
If the Homo naledi had similar symbolic associations with animals, the symbols they carved on cave walls could represent these animals and their associated meanings. For instance, a particular geometric shape might represent an owl, serving as a reminder of mortality. Another symbol might represent a vulture, symbolizing transformation and renewal.
This could have added another layer of complexity to their understanding of death and the afterlife. The symbols might not have just represented abstract concepts or rituals, but also specific creatures that played a role in their cosmology.
The burial rituals of the Homo naledi could have been influenced by these beliefs. For instance, if they associated certain animals with the journey to the afterlife, they might have included representations of these animals in their burials, perhaps even using the symbols as a way of guiding the spirits of the deceased.
This idea, that a proto-human species might have had such a complex symbolic system and understanding of death, is fascinating. It suggests a depth of spiritual or philosophical thought that we don’t typically associate with early hominids.
Speculating on the religious beliefs of Homo naledi, if any, can be a fascinating exercise. The existence of burial practices and symbolic carvings suggest that they might have had some form of belief system or spiritual understanding of the world, even if it would likely have been vastly different from the organized religions we’re familiar with today.
Religion, in its various forms, often serves to help humans make sense of life’s mysteries, especially those surrounding death and the afterlife. If Homo naledi had a form of religious belief, the symbols they carved could indeed represent concepts of death, the afterlife, or deities associated with these concepts.
Perhaps these symbols represented a deity or spirit that the Homo naledi believed watched over the dead, similar to how Osiris was seen as the god of the underworld in ancient Egyptian religion. Or maybe they symbolized a concept of the afterlife, serving as a map or guide for the spirits of the deceased.
These symbols could also have played a role in their burial rituals. If they represented deities or concepts associated with death, they might have been carved as a way of invoking protection or guidance for the deceased. Alternatively, they might have served as a form of communication with the divine, perhaps asking for the spirit of the deceased to be accepted into the afterlife.
This possibility suggests a level of spiritual or philosophical complexity in Homo naledi that goes beyond what we typically associate with early hominids. It implies an awareness of mortality, a reverence for the dead, and a desire to understand and perhaps influence what happens after death.
The use of color in rituals and symbolic representation is a common practice across many cultures. This extends to death rituals, where specific colors are used to represent mourning, the afterlife, and other aspects related to death.
In the case of Homo naledi, if they had a similar understanding of color symbolism, it’s plausible to speculate that their symbols could have been painted or otherwise colored to reflect this. For example, if we consider the Egyptian Book of the Dead, we see that color played an essential role in its depiction. The green skin of Osiris symbolizes rebirth, while the black soil of the Nile symbolizes fertility and regeneration.
Applying this to Homo naledi, perhaps their symbols, if colored, might have used similar earth-based pigments, perhaps derived from minerals or plant matter. Each color could carry a specific symbolic weight: red for life-blood, white for purity, black for death or the underworld, green for regeneration and life after death. These colors could have been used in their burial rituals, painted on bodies, or applied to the cave walls around their burial sites to express their understanding of death and the afterlife. This use of color could have added another layer of symbolism and meaning to their burial practices.
However, it’s important to note that while this is an intriguing possibility, there is currently no direct evidence of color use in the Homo naledi symbols. Any color they might have used could have faded or disappeared over the hundreds of thousands of years since these symbols were created. Without such evidence, we can only speculate about this aspect of Homo naledi’s potential symbolic practices.