When we last left off, I had just assaulted, with some difficulty, a heavily-defended Izila fort. With my tamed animals, I managed to nevertheless defeat all the enemies and captured Roshani, who taught me how to craft fire bombs. He’s now locked up in a cage at the Wenja village, but the upgrade screen tells me that I’ll eventually be able to build him a hut just like I did for Dah. I look forward to see how his story unfolds.
In the meantime, there are other matters that require my attention in the village. I go to the hut of Tensay the shaman. Tensay has been preparing another potion for me to drink, which will again induce another vision. Anthropologists have observed how less complex societies, such as hunter-gatherers, possess a deep knowledge of plants and are able to produce both psychoactive and anaesthetizing compounds. Modern people, by being so far removed from nature, have lost a great deal of knowledge when it comes to harnessing the power of nature.
Richard Rudgley, whose book Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age I recommended in an earlier instalment in this series, has done a lot of research in the field of intoxicating and psychoactive substances and the like. One of the things that surprises a lot of modern people is by how effective hunter-gatherers are at treating injuries and other ailments. Yet, there were (and are) obvious limits to what simpler societies can accomplish. For example, Tensay the shaman has cataract in one eye, which presumably would have gone untreated in 10,000 BC. As far as we know, it wasn’t until the Romans that special needles were developed that could be inserted into the eye to cut loose and push down the afflicted lens to clear the patient’s vision a bit.
In any event, Tensay hands me the concoction and I drink it all done. The “Vision of Fire” that ensues is similar to the “Vision of Ice” that I experienced before. In the latter, I moved among the Udam, saw that they worshipped a Venus figurine, and then had to fight off hordes of Udam with a club. The Vision of Fire starts off with me walking towards Batari, who is standing behind a large, flat rock that holds a mask. “Do not touch Krati!” she yells, just like Ull in the previous vision warned me not to touch the Venus figurine. Of course, I have no choice but to touch it, after which I enter the combat portion of the vision.
This time, I don’t have to chase a statue. I’m wearing the mask of Krati and am armed with a bow. By shooting attacking Izila, I can power up the bow. In that more powerful state, I get to loose three arrows at once, and the game tells me to “break the moon”. The moon has moved in front of the sun, creating a partial eclipse. Shooting the moon causes it to begin to crack, as every hit with the arrows is accompanied also by a blast of meteors. I work my way along the map, destroying some stone pillars and killing Izila by the dozens, while at the same time shooting the moon whenever my bow is powered up.
Eventually, I succeed in destroying the moon. It explodes in a beautiful light show and I am dropped back into Tensay’s hut. There are many questions that are left unanswered at this point. Who is Krati? According to Tensay, the Vision of Fire showed me the Izila’s greatest fear. There is something about the mask that they are deathly afraid of; they believe Krati will destroy them. The truth will undoubtedly be revealed in time. For now, Tensay wants to be left alone to meditate on the issue, and so I leave his hut.
Could Krati be some sort of deity? It seems likely that as long as modern humans have existed, they also believed in the supernatural. This seems particularly likely in an age where humans lived in relatively small groups, close to nature, and subjected to natural violence such as lightning storms and hunted by predators. But what would their religion have been like? From art, we have examples of human-animal hybrids, but are these spirits of some kind? Do they represent hunters wearing skins as camouflage? Or are they shamans that, like Tensay, wear animal skins?
Anthropology provides some clues as to what the religious thoughts of our ancestors might have been like. Perhaps they didn’t believe in ‘gods’ as such, but rather in a large collection of spirits, including deceased ancestors. Animism is, after all, encountered among many cultures. In the game, Wogah at one point sent me out to collect material to create a new totem for the village. Totemism – the belief that a (kinship) group has a shared bond with a particular being (animal or plant) – occurs among many cultures throughout the world, and might also have been a feature among our Stone-Age predecessors. Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), the famous French sociologist, wrote, among other things, about totemism (which he saw as the earliest form of religion), and his ideas are still influential today.
We know that our Stone Age ancestors must have believed in something, since the deliberate burial of the dead is often taken to indicate belief in a spirit that continues to exist after death. We know that even Neanderthals buried at least some of their dead. But the way in which people in the past disposed of corpses may not always have left traces visible in the archaeological record. For example, corpses may have been left exposed to the elements, such as tied up high in a tree, in a ritual comparable to traditions among certain Native American tribes. Or perhaps people practiced excarnation, as in Tibet.
It is often argued that Palaeolithic (and Mesolithic) religion was apotropaic, i.e. involving sympathetic magic. Cave paintings are sometimes seen in this light: by painting animals on the walls, the hunters tried to curry favour, ensuring success in the hunt. But there’s a lot of discussion regarding the interpretation of Palaeolithic art. They might have had a ritual significance. But wear patterns on the painted walls suggest that they were also frequented by children, and it’s possible that the paintings were used by adults to explain to their children what the world was like, which opportunities it held and also what dangers lurked beyond. The online Encyclopedia Britannica has a pretty good article on prehistoric religion (though sadly lacking a bibliography).
Regarding people from the Palaeolithic, it seems that there is much uncertain. Unlike, for example, ancient Mesopotamia or Rome, there are no texts to shed light on the archaeological evidence. Christopher Hawkes developed the idea of a ‘ladder of inference’ to indicate how easy or hard it was to reconstruct certain aspects of human life based on archaeological data. At the bottom was technology (tools and the like), followed by subsistence-economics, then sociopolitical institutions, and finally religious institutions and spiritual life (the aspects deemed most complex to reconstruct). For the Palaeolithic, it was long thought that the social and religious lives of our ancestors would forever remain an enigma, but this idea was challenged, among others, by Clive Gamble in his The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe (1999), which I cited in an earlier piece, and more broadly by Colin Renfrew (‘cognitive archaeology’).
To return to the game, I mess around in Oros for a bit before going back to the village. I pay a visit to Sayla. She tells me that if I want to confront Ull, I will have to head to his base of operations, which is located in an area shielded by “rot fumes”. But if I collect a certain yellow flower, she’ll be able to produce an antidote that will protect me from these fumes and allow me to breach the defences, confronting Ull and hopefully deal with him and the Udam threat once and for all. So my next mission is clear: head north, find the flower, and bring it back to Sayla. Somehow, I doubt things will go easily.