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Fish Underworld Journey

fish underworld journey rockart

Fish Underworld Journey in Rock Art

Deciphering Rock Art from the Negev Desert.

Copyright © 2017 by Yehuda Rotblum

www.israelrockart. com

The analysis of text, rock art iconography, and pottery 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 an afterlife journey soul guides. We have a record in rock art, from the Negev Desert and the world, that illustrate these psychopomps participating in an underworld journey (see Birds Afterlife Journey). But very few describe a journey that is guided by a fish. Over millennia’s the small Negev Desert, located between Egypt and Israel, visited by many major cultures (see Rock Art in Israel): Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Roman. They left their mark by engraving the desert rocks with their beliefs. The underworld Journey is just one of them.

The Underworld Soul Guide

Darkness, many road forks, gates, hungry and dangerous animals awaiting to devour the innocent souls entering the underworld.  The physical barriers of vast land, water, air, and the underworld hinders requires faithful soul guides. Failure to cross the underworld meant an eternity in oblivion an idea that no living can accept. 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, a sign of death in rock art iconography, 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 from the horizontal line, on top, that ends as a fork the souls attached to the ship. Under the boat, a bird is flying with stretched wings bringing more souls.

fish underworld journey rock art

Fig. 1 Underworld journey ship scenes (ships in scene 1 and 3 are upside down): 1- Sun Boat loaded with souls (Negev Desert rock art), 2 – Aegean Cycladic culture ship with fish pulling 2000BC (Salimbeti A. 2014). 3– A Large bird (blue) with spread wings carrying more souls into a ship.  Ship on top (red) (Negev Desert rock art,  photo Razi Yahel)

The Fish a Soul Guide

In ancient thought, the earth was surrounded by water in all sides, including the bottom. The underworld was 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 fish, in its natural habitat, acted as a guide for the wandering souls through the underworld maze.

Fig2 shows two rock art from the Negev Desert illustrating the fish underworld journey. In scene1 the fish carrying the souls advances toward the sun that is attacked by a snake. In scene2 the fish carrying the souls emerges from the underworld, below a water bird (tri-fingered)  bringing more souls for the journey.

fish underworld journey rock art

Fig. 2 Underworld fish scenes rock art from the Negev Desert, Israel (photo Razi Yahel):
Scene1 1-A snake around the sun. 2-The sun. 3- The souls on fish top. 3-The fish.
Scene2 1-A crack in the rock symbolically represents the underworld. 2-The souls on fish top. 3-The fish. 4-A tri-fingered (Kristiansen K. 2018) bird flies into the crack representing the underworld.

The mind has no boundaries when it reaches the borders of a far and unknown place, it paints an accurate map as if entrenched in its memories cells. The underworld is such unknown place where no living mind physically visited yet it is fully described by ancient myths and pictures in every culture.

More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.

Biblography

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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