Fish Underworld Journey
Fish Underworld Journey in Rock Art
The mythological afterlife journey captured the imagination of the living. In myths, death represented eternal living and the underworld was the last corridor before salvation. The analysis of an ancient text, rock art iconography, reveals a deep belief in the afterlife from the Bronze age. Much is written about a horse, dog, bird, sun, and ship acting as soul guides. We have a record in rock art, from the Negev Desert and the world, that illustrates these psychopomps participating in an underworld journey (see Birds Afterlife Journey). But very few describe a journey guided by a fish. Over millennia’s the small Negev Desert, located between Egypt and Israel, was visited by many major cultures (see Rock Art in Israel): Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Roman. They all left their mark by engraving the desert rocks with their beliefs wishing the departing souls a successful afterlife journey.
In ancient belief, the earth was surrounded by water on all sides including the bottom. The underworld, located deep down below the earth called by the Sumerian the “lower water”, and some imagine it at the edge of the world beyond the Ocean.
The successful passage through the underworld guaranteed salvation but one had to overcome many hinders that awaited the departing souls in the lower waters. Darkness, many road forks, gates, hungry and dangerous animals awaited to devour the innocent souls entering the dark and unknown netherworld. The physical barriers of vast land, water, air, and the underworld void require faithful soul guides. For this uncharted journey, the soul needs to perform magic to cross the dangerous void. It needs a guide! In Negev Desert rock art, confirmation of these faithful psychopomps, such as a horse, a bird, a sun, a ship, and surprisingly even a fish.
Souls Ship Description
Fig.1 shows the underworld ship rock art (engraved upside down meaning sailing in the underworld) from the Negev Desert and the Aegean ship (not a rock art) pulled by a fish. The ships transport the souls, represented by the flipped vertical lines, to the underworld (Golan A. 1991).
The circle in scene1 represents a sun leading the upside-down boat on a night journey. The Aegean ship, in scene2 in Fig.1, added here to illustrate the idea of a fish as a psychopomp. The ship is attacked by a huge snake a typical scenario for an underworld journey; the souls are situated under the snake. In scene3 the boat, upside down (red), comprised of the horizontal line on top, ends as a fork carrying the souls attached to the ship. Under the boat, a bird is flying (blue) with stretched wings bringing more souls for the final journey.
Underworld Journey Fish Rock Art
In its natural habitat the underworld water, the fish acted as a guide and carried the wandering souls through the underworld maze. Fig2 and Fig.3 illustrate two rock art from the Negev Desert demonstrating the fish underworld journey. The symbols meaning in Fig.2 rock art: symbol3 the fish carrying the souls engraved as the sticks on its back representing the soul’s shade, symbol2 represents the dead souls carried by the fish, symbol4 the crack in the rock symbolizes the exit from the underworld, symbol1 a bird (tri-fingered ) enters the underworld to bring more souls for the journey continuation.
The rocks can’t talk but images carry the essence of the recorded myth that lives forever. It manifested the spiritual victory by describing the ways to overcome the challenging underworld journey. In Fig.3, the fish, symbol4, carries the souls (the stick figures on the fish top symbol3) advances toward the sun (symbol2). The snake (symbol1) attacks the sun to hinder its progress. This scene reminds the sun’s underworld journey described in the Egyptian myth. (see Sun Journey).
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
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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