Ibex Hunt and Sun Journey
The Ibex that stole the Sun.
According to a belief in Central Asia, from the Neolithic time, a volcanic fireball tossed from earth into the sky created the Sun. The underworld then perceived as the sun’s home from where it rose and set. The ibex appears in many rock art seems to be associated with the sun as illustrated in Fig1 and Fig.2. His role deciphered as the fertility god and the logic of him being linked to the sun, the life source of all, complements his role as a sun carrier. On the other hand, the Ibex hunting scene, in Negev Rock Art, attempts to explain the mysterious Sun journey, its daily birth, and death. The rock art deciphered this imaginary hunt by relating it to a known myth circulated in Central Asia that explains the daily sun journey magic. A. Golan captured the myth essence in his book (Myth and Symbols ):
“A deer, an earthly creature, stole the sun maiden from the underworld and escaped with her to the sky; the furious lord of the underworld, the hunter, chased the deer, struck him down and got his sun maiden back.”
A very similar description of the sun’s journey, although carried by boats, circulated in the Indo-European mythology (Antti Lahelma).
“The sun maiden is chased by the monsters of the night, riding on her chariot through the bright sky, and is eventually engulfed by the waves at dusk and captured to the dark abyss of the night. She is rescued by the Twin Gods (the Dioscuri of Classical mythology), who defeat the forces of the night, take the sun on their divine ship and sail towards the safety of a new dawn – only to repeat it all over again the following day.”
In the Negev Desert and Asia, there are many examples of the ibex hunting scene carrying the sun. The sun shape varies it may be a circle, dot, cross, as illustrated in Fig.1 and Fig2.
The hunt myth rock art
The hunt symbols in this myth are the Hunter, the Sun, the Ibex, and sometimes dogs that are the underworld god helpers. Fig. 3 shows two rock art scenes, from the Negev Desert, which are a classic myth illustration. In the left scene, it shows a struggle between the ibex and the hunter. The hunter, a figure with a beak, a symbol of the god, chased and caught the ibex by the horns and thus releases the sun, the circle in front. He brings the sun safely back to the underworld and the daily harmony is restored.
The right scene in Fig.3 illustrates a hunting scene with dogs. The scene contains four symbols, they are the hunter, the ibex with the sun between his horns, the two dogs and the underworld fire beneath the ibex. The hunter, the archer wearing a corona over his head, impersonates the underworld god with its dog’s help, he brings the sun back home to the underworld.
There are artistic similarities in both illustrations hinting that the same story played here. The revealing clues here are the appearance of the sun and the ibex behavior. The trapped ibex between the hunter and the dogs seems calm and not alarmed as wild animals suppose to behave. He looks at the hunter quietly and even surrenders to him graciously. The artist could illustrate motion, or fear, as we can see in the hunter and the dog’s diagonal postures. The un-natural ibex behavior suggests that what we see is not a real event. It is beyond the illustrated simple hunt elevating it into the mythical sphere.
The sun hunt myth spread through many places in the world and a similar concept appears in the mythology of Egypt (see Sun Journey) Asia and Europe. In essence, the hunt explains the cyclical order of the sun, an intricate dilemma in the ancient world. The myth premise is that mysterious forces act in nature that asserts the Sun behavior but they also guarantee the sun orderly course every day. The cosmic order is maintained!
Golan A. (1991) Myth and Symbol
Kristiansen K. (2018) The winged triad in Bronze Age symbolism: birds and their feet
Lahelma A, The Circumpolar Context of the Sun Ship’ Motif in South Scandinavian Rock Art
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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