Fish Underworld Journey

fish underworld journey rockart

Fish Underworld Journey

Deciphering Rock Art from the Negev Desert.

Copyright © 2017 by Yehuda Rotblum

www.israelrockart. com

The analysis of text, iconography in rock art and pottery reveals a deep belief in the underworld 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

The underworld is often characterized by darkness, many road forks, gates, and by hungry and dangerous animals that are waiting to devour the innocent souls. The underworld journey has also to overcome the physical barriers of vast land, water, air, and avoid the underworld hinders. Failure to cross the underworld meant an eternity in oblivion. For this uncharted journey, the soul needs to perform magic to cross the dangerous void. It needs a guide! A 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)  from the Negev Desert and the Aegean ship (not a rock art) that is pulled by a fish. The ships are means for transportation in the lower world full of water, they are carrying the souls. which are represented by the vertical lines, to the underworld (Golan A. 1991).

The circle in scene1 represents a sun at the head of an upside down boat symbolizing a night journey. The Aegean ship scene2, added here in order to illustrate the idea of a fish as a psychopomp 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 on the first line. 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 in all sides, including the bottom, by water a natural habitat for a fish. The underworld was deep down below the earth full of water, called by the Sumerian the lower water, and some imagine it at the edge of the world beyond the Ocean. By ancient logic, it makes sense that the fish, in its natural habitat, will be a guide for the wandering souls through the underworld maze. Fig2 shows two rock art from the Negev Desert with a fish in an 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 bird (tri-fingered) is entering the underworld.

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 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.


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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