Fish Underworld Journey

Rock Art mythology research news, fish underworld journey rock art

Fish Underworld Journey in Rock Art

The mythological underworld journey in the afterlife transition 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, a dog, a bird, a sun, a 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.

The Underworld 

In ancient belief, the earth was surrounded by water on all sides including the bottom. The underworld is 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 passage through the underworld was the last chance for salvation but many hinders awaited the departing souls in their way 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! Confirmation of these faithful psychopomps such as a horse, a bird, a sun, a ship, and surprisingly even a fish, appears in Negev Desert rock art.

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 scene2, added here in order to illustrate that the idea of a fish as a psychopomp existed in other cultures, is attacked by a huge snake a typical scenario for 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.

mythological ship underworld journey rock art
Fig. 1 Underworld journey ship scenes (ships in scene1 and scene3 are upside down): scene1– Sun Boat loaded with souls traveling to the afterworld (Negev Desert rock art), scene2 – Aegean Cycladic culture ship with fish pulling attacked by a snake 2000BC  (Salimbeti A. 2014). scene3– A Large bird (blue) with stretched wings carrying souls into an upsidedown ship. The ship is shown on top (red) (Negev Desert rock art, (photo Razi Yahel)

Underworld Journey Fish Rock Art

The fish, in its natural habitat the underworld water, 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 in Fig.2 rock art: symbol3 the fish carrying the souls engraved as the sticks on its back symbolically representing the soul’s shade, symbol2 the crack in the rock symbolizing the exit from the underworld,  symbol1 a bird (tri-fingered ) enters the underworld to bring more souls for the journey continuation.

 Rock Art archaeology research news, fish underworld journey rock art
Fig.2 Underworld fish scenes rock art from the Negev Desert, Israel (photo Razi Yahel) A crack in the rock symbolically represents the underworld. symbol2-The souls on fish top. symbol3-The fish. symbol1-A tri-fingered (Kristiansen K. 2018) bird flies into the crack representing the underworld.

Then rocks can’t talk but images engraved 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).

 Rock Art mythology research news, fish underworld journey rock art
Fig. 3 Underworld fish scenes rock art from the Negev Desert, Israel (photo Razi Yahel): Scene1 1-A snake, in red, around the sun. 2-The sun. 3- The souls on fish top. 4-The fish.



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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