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11.5 Story-telling and Myth-making

The capacity for telling things increased with their vocabulary. The simple individual fancies, the unsystematic fetish tricks and fundamental tabus of Paleolithic man began to be handed on and made into a more consistent system. Men began to tell stories about themselves, about the tribe, about its tabus and why they had to be, about the world and the why for the world. A tribal mind came into existence, a tradition. Paleolithic man was certainly more of a free individualist, more of an artist, as well as more of a savage than Neolithic man. Neolithic man was coming under prescription; he could be trained from his youth and told to do things and not to do things; he was not so free to form independent ideas of his own about things. He had thoughts given to him; he was under a new power of suggestion. And to have more words and to attend more to words is not simply to increase mental power; words themselves are powerful things and dangerous things. Paleolithic man’s words, perhaps, were chiefly just names. He used them for what they were. But Neolithic man was thinking about these words, he was thinking about a number of things with a great deal of verbal confusion, and getting to some odd conclusions. In speech he had woven a net to bind his race together, but also it was a net about his feet. Man was binding himself into new and larger and more efficient combinations indeed, but at a price. One of the most notable things about the Neolithic Age is the total absence of that free, direct artistic impulse which was the supreme quality of later Paleolithic man. We find much industry, much skill, polished implements, pottery with conventional designs, co-operation upon all sorts of things, but no evidence of personal creativeness.[1] Self-suppression is beginning for men. Man has entered upon the long and tortuous and difficult path towards a life for the common good, with all its sacrifice of personal impulse, which he is still treading today.

Certain things appear in the mythology of mankind again and again. Neolithic man was enormously impressed by serpents ? and he no longer took the sun for granted. Nearly everywhere that Neolithic culture went, there went a disposition to associate the sun and the serpent in decoration and worship. This primitive serpent worship spread ultimately far beyond the regions where the snake is of serious practical importance in human life.

[1]Ludwig Hopf, in The Human Selected, calls the later Paleolithic art “masculine” and the Neolithic “feminine.” The pottery was made by women, he says, and that accounts for it. But the arrow-heads were made by men, and there was nothing to prevent Neolithic men from taking scraps of bone or slabs of rock and carving them — had they dared. We suggest they did not dare to do so.

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