The Sorceror of the Lascaux Caves and the stars of Orion

One of the complaints of traditionalists about ancient star maps is that what’s seen in the night skies only roughly matches that of the illustrations. But they weren’t meant to be accurate. That wasn’t their purpose. For instance, Cassiopeia doesn’t resemble a reclining woman. It’s a metaphor. Once we understand this, our ancestors’ collective mythos suddenly opens up to us.

For this same reason, there has been some controversy about whether the auroch painting in the Lascaux caves in France really does represent Taurus and the Pleiades, with the same argument mainly applied, that the dots aren’t completely in the right place.

However, our ancestors were not so much interested in the what as to the why. They were more interested in meaning. Their mythos, daubed on rock walls during the Upper Palaeolithic period (50,000 to 10,000 years ago) dealt with their connection to the universe, and in the darkness of their cathedral-like caves, they spun stories and dreams which brought the above down to the below to express this connection.

The main reason that we find this hard to understand is because we have lost that connectivity of meaning ourselves. Few of us rarely look up at the skies anymore to notice the chemtrails, never mind the stars.

“The night sky plays such an insignificant role in our modern society,” says Timothy Stephany. “In the same way, most people working in archaeology, anthropology and mythology usually have no knowledge or interest in astronomy.

“But in my work as a palaeoastronomer, I’ve been astonished at how often the night sky caught the interest of ancient people and possessed far greater meaning to them than it holds for most of us today. It became the basis for their gods and the basis for their myths. It was the starting point of the inventiveness that has led to much of our mythological literature. Such people were not inventing their concepts out of thin air, or by a process of conceiving pure fiction as we do, but through their interest and means to explain the structure and operation of the universe as it was apparent to them.

“The astounding thing is how far the stars, Sun and Moon were not merely stellar objects as we understand them, but were recognized as the very essential powers of the universe.”

The Sorceror Constellation
Timothy Stephany says that there’s been some interest lately from palaeoastronomers in what they’re calling the Sorceror constellation, after the famous pre-Ice Age painting in the Trois Freres caves in France known as The Sorceror. This constellation has been recognised by some around Orion.

From the drawing above by Henri Breuil, we can see that this enigmatic creature has the ears and horns of a stag, the eyes and beak of an owl, the bearded face of an old man, the tail of a wolf, the paws of a bear and his legs, which could be human, are dancing.

Some believe that The Sorceror is a prototype for Cernunnos, forest god of the later Celts, and that he represents the shamanic theme of shape-shifting. We see this idea of the shaman being able to shift into various animal shapes in most mythologies.

For instance, Lleu (the hero of the Welsh Mabinogian) shape shifts from man to eagle, the Celtic hero Taleisin shape shifts through many animal incarnations to reach his final form, and the Irish hero Cuchulainn starts off life as what sounds like an insect.

However, one of the problems connected with this drawing of The Sorceror is that it appears to be an embellishment, copied from a badly-lit photograph of the original in the early 20th century by one Henri Breuil. We don’t have a copy of that original; only one taken more recently. So it’s very difficult to be sure what Breuil actually saw, at the time. The best photographs of it have been taken in such bad light, that it’s difficult to ascertain how much of Breuil’s work was derived from what he actually saw, or from his imagination.

In the above photo of the cave painting, there appears to be an absence of antlers. And yet the Sorceror constellation does show antlers, leading one to wonder if the antlers were more visible to Breuil in the photo then than they are today. In fact Timothy Stephany found that much of Breuil’s interpretation can be verified in the stars.

The Great Lion stars

Stephany says:

“Identifying this figure for the first time as being a constellation began from the analysis work of Gobekli Tepe; the Great Lion stars reminded me of something … but I couldn’t remember what, and it was not until the following morning that the bowed posture I recalled was that of the famous Sorcerer drawing.

“This led to a comparison of an image I could get my hands on with the same star pattern on a modern star chart. First, the stars Castor and Pollux which make up the “owl-like” eyes, the curve of stars that match the back, Orion’s bow form that matches the tail, the Orion belt matching the knees, with Rigel as the heel star. That is the figure matches each of these exactly when overlaid.

“There is one other interesting thing, the sudden realization that the enigmatic antlers are represented in the stars, thus verifying Breuil’s depiction of it, indicating that the painting has degraded from his time to ours (which has happened to much of the cave art just in the past 100 years after remaining largely intact for thousands of years).”

He says that while it’s true that the front limbs don’t match the drawing so well, he wonders if that could have been because of the badly lit photo the artist was forced to work from.

“What is surprising,” he says, “is that, given the difficulties with selecting an accurate 2D representation of the art, that it still matches so precisely. Therefore there is nothing that could be used to criticize the identification. In addition to the figure itself, there are the points that appear to be chiseled just above the figure (it is perhaps possible that such marks locate star points too, beneath the Sorcerer paint). These correspond to the stars of Auriga. This only adds additional but unnecessary evidence in support of the identification.

“There is only one conclusion thus to draw: that the Sorcerer image derives from the star pattern around Orion.”

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  1. Pingback: 108 – “Form and Void” | Bald Move
  2. S G Books

    An interesting novel based on myth and bang-on current archaeology, and which looks at the role of naked-eye astronomy at 2200 BCE in Eire and along the north Atlantic:
    [ winner, Next Generation Award, historical fiction 2011 USA, and pending a second national award from Foreword (USA) ]
    NonUS residents can order from, or amazon in your country.


  3. Kay Gillard

    Very interesting idea. In my own personal work I am being told that our connection to (and observation of) the stars was always important for our ancestors and therefore is necessary if I want the most successful modern day shamanic work. I have actually been explicitly told to learn more about stars! Looking forward to seeing what else you come up with.


  4. Annie

    Good points, wodr. I also have you to thank for bringing this subject of Palaeo Star Maps to the Gate in the first place, and I have just elaborated on that initial offering.

    Next stop, Gobekli Tepe ~ so hang on to your hats, everyone!!


  5. wódr̥

    The Denisova Gyrllzz strike again!

    The reason I am mentioning this is the following article about the human/neandertal hybrid known as the Denisovan:

    My point, of course, is that we should not limit stellar cognition to neolithic or paleolithic H. sapiens only, but should consider a much more ancient universe, that of the neandertal and their cousins the Denisovans, perhaps the Kentaur or the wise wild men which peer from the edges of the firelight of every cultural muthos I know of……



  6. Mike Williams

    This is a fascinating idea and I cannot agree more with the comment that ancient people would have been so much more aware of the stars than we are today. Moreover, few people realise that ‘our’ constellations are actually Babylonian in origin (you will know that for sure Ishtar!) and that in different parts of the world, the constellations (but generally not the stars that form them) have very different associations.

    It is also certain that prehistoric people watched the stars. We know that Iron Age Druids observed the movements of the stars (from Pomponious Mela De Situ Orbis 3.2.18-19), we know that Bronze Age people made the Nebra Sky Disc, we know that Neolithic people aligned monuments to solar and lunar bodies, so why not earlier people? This seems a very promising line of research.


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