“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”
Cave Paintings of Cat in Brazil - 10,000 Years Old
The discovery of a stone age depiction of a large cat painted around 10,000 years ago stunned archeologists in 2009. Mysterious though it appears to be, the paintings were made in a mixture of styles suggesting that tribes came from far and wide to enter the caves and make art.
But why would ancient humans go to all the bother of travelling huge distances to sit in a dark cave and paint pictures? And who would choose to risk everything to make art at a time in history when life was short and brutal? Surely it would make more sense to stay at home in relative safety? Some ethnologists, such as Leo Frobenius in 1932 suggest that the reason for this extreme behaviour might have something to do with what is sometimes called ‘sympathetic magic’.
To put it simply, sympathetic magic happens when a link is made between a person, object or concept and a representation of that person, object or concept. Like a poppet or voodoo doll. Creating a picture of an animal you’d like to hunt or whose skills you’d like to have was once believed to create a connection between the magician/shaman/priest and the animal in question.
Therefore, if a neolithic shaman wanted to influence an animal such as a puma he or she would enter the cave, go into a trance, draw the animal, do some kind of ritual, and somehow draw its power into the cave. Many stories of this kind of magic have entered the realms of folk tales. We read them today as charming tales of human/animal hybrids. Mermaids and centaurs, wolf-people, bird-people, bear-people, the list goes on. There is evidence to suggest the result of these powerful magical rituals, often undertaken whilst under the influence of mind-altering plants, led people to believe the shaman actually mated with the animal spirit and learned how to change their physical form.
Perhaps shapeshifters have always been with us. They just keep very, very quiet about what they do when no one is looking. And they know how to keep secrets.