Fish Journey Rock Art
Fish Underworld Journey in Rock Art
Deciphering rock art from Israel, israelrockart.com.
The concept of the afterlife has fascinated cultures throughout history, with beliefs and traditions surrounding death and the soul’s journey varying widely between cultures. Rock art found in the Negev Desert provides insight into the beliefs of ancient cultures regarding the journey of the soul after death.
According to ancient mythology, death was viewed as a pathway to immortality, with crossing the underworld being the most challenging part. In many of these tales, various creatures such as horses, dogs, birds, the sun, and ships served as guides to assist the soul on its journey to the afterlife. Interestingly, few references have been found to fish serving as guides on the afterlife journey. However, it was widely believed that these creatures played an important role in guiding the soul to its final resting place and ensuring a successful journey.
The Negev Desert is a place of great cultural significance, having been occupied by numerous civilizations over the centuries, including the Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks, and Romans. Each of these cultures left its mark on the desert rocks through engravings that reflect their beliefs about the afterlife journey.
These rock art engravings serve as a record of the diverse beliefs and traditions surrounding death and the afterlife. The symbols and images show a wide range of beliefs, including the idea of a journey to an afterlife realm, the concept of immortality, and the belief in the psychopomps that assisted the soul on its journey.
In ancient times, beliefs about the afterlife often included the idea of water surrounding the earth, including an underworld located deep below the surface. The Sumerians referred to this underworld as the “lower water,” which was thought to exist at the edge of the world beyond the ocean. This realm was shrouded in darkness and considered a mysterious and unknown place.
Passing through the underworld was seen as an essential journey for achieving salvation, but it was also fraught with danger and treachery. The soul had to contend with a variety of obstacles and hindrances, including darkness, multiple road forks, gates, and dangerous animals that were hungry and aggressive. The physical barriers of vast land, water, air, and the void of the underworld made it necessary for the soul to have a guide to navigate the journey successfully.
The role of the soul guide, known as a psychopomp, was crucial in helping the soul cross the dangerous void and overcome the obstacles of the underworld. The guide needed to possess both faithfulness and knowledge in order to succeed in this dangerous journey.
Souls Ship Description
The depiction of the underworld ship in Fig. 1 is a fascinating example of ancient beliefs regarding the journey. Engraved upside down, the ship symbolizes its journey through the underworld, with the vertical sticks on the ship representing the souls being transported.
The rock art showcases three different scenes, each with its own symbolism of the ship’s journey. In scene 1, a circle representing the sun leads the upside-down boat on its nighttime journey through the underworld. In scene 2, the Aegean ship is depicted with a fish serving as a guide, but it is shown being attacked by a huge snake, a common belief in ancient times regarding the treacherous journey to the underworld. In scene 3, the boat is shown upside down, with a horizontal line on top, and ends in a fork while carrying the souls attached to the ship. A bird with outstretched wings, depicted in blue, is shown flying beneath the boat, bringing more souls for the final journey to the underworld.
Underworld Journey Fish Rock Art
The fish played a significant role in ancient beliefs about the afterlife, particularly in guiding the souls of the deceased through treacherous underworld waters. This is demonstrated in two examples of rock art from the Negev Desert, depicted in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3.
Fig. 2 features symbols with specific meanings related to the fish’s journey. Symbol 3 represents the fish carrying the souls, symbolized by sticks on its back, which represent the soul’s shade. Symbol 2 depicts the deceased souls being carried by the fish, while symbol 4, a line showing the crack in the rock, represents the exit from the underworld. Symbol 1 features a bird with three fingers, which represents its descent into the underworld to bring more souls for the ongoing journey.
Fig. 3 features a rock art scene that depicts a fish carrying souls through the underworld. The scene is characterized by several symbols that represent different elements of the story. The fish, symbolized by symbol 4, is carrying the souls, represented by the stick figures on top of the fish, symbol 3. The fish is shown advancing toward the sun, symbolized by symbol 2. However, there is also a snake, symbolized by symbol 1, that is attacking the sun and attempting to impede its progress.
This scene is thought to represent the sun’s journey through the underworld, as described in the Egyptian myth known as the “Sun Journey.” The myth tells the story of the sun god Ra, who travels through the underworld each night to emerge in the east each morning. The snake in the rock art scene represents the forces of darkness that seek to hinder Ra’s journey, while the fish serves as a guide to transport the souls safely through the treacherous underworld. Overall, the scene is a vivid representation of the beliefs and mythology surrounding the afterlife and the journey of the soul in ancient times.
Rock art, which is a form of visual storytelling, can reveal much about the culture and beliefs of ancient civilizations. Although the art itself cannot speak, the images depicted within it tell a story about the essence of the recorded myth. The art serves as a visual representation of the spiritual journey and its challenges.
The use of symbols in rock art helps to convey complex ideas and stories in a concise and visually striking way. The image of the fish carrying the souls, combined with the attack by the snake, effectively conveys the concept of the spiritual journey and the challenges that must be overcome in order to reach the sun. The sun, in this context, symbolizes enlightenment, and the journey to reach it represents the path to spiritual victory. Through rock art, ancient civilizations were able to share their myths and beliefs in a way that could be understood by all members of the community.
The rock art found in the Negev Desert provides a glimpse into the ancient beliefs surrounding the journey of the soul after death. Although few references have been found to a fish serving as a guide, recent discoveries have uncovered rock art that depicts the fish’s journey in the underworld as a psychopomp. The fish’s role as a guide in the underworld journey is depicted in two rock art scenes and symbolizes the transport of wandering souls through the underworld. The rock art provides a visual representation of the ancient beliefs and traditions surrounding the journey to the afterlife, serving as a testament to the cultural significance of these beliefs.
Golan A. (1991) Myth and Symbol
Kristiansen K. (2018) The winged triad in Bronze Age symbolism: birds and their feet
Salimbeti A. (2014) The Greek Age of Bronze Ship
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