Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pictographs And Their Meaning

Anishinabek Pictographs are the graphic symbols which communication vast meaning. A picture is worth a thousand words and pictographs use symbols derived from rock paintings and sacred birch bark scrolls, for these are the words which form the language of the Anishinabek people. The meaning communicated in pictographs is the deep consciousness of a perception that penetrates the mere appearance of form to expose the vital forces active within a form.
To perceive the earth as living and breathing: to perceive animal forces in conflict within a human being: to perceive an island anthropomorphized as a human form is to perceive with a shamanistic consciousness.
The pictographs, painted for hundreds of miles across the Canadian Shield and incised on sacred birch bark scrolls of the Great Medicine Society of the Anishinabek, are the repository of the religion, ethics and history of the Anishinabek People.
Within the Anishinabek culture, painting is the domain of shamans. Their talent is not to paint the appearance of form or the illusion of a third dimension as in western art.
Anishinabek art is a tradition of revealing the inner forces active within the living cosmos. This perception is not primitive: it rivals the findings of the most modern science by millennia. For example: Darwin created a revolution in intellectual thought with the theory that the human species is ..."not separated from, but a part of nature". (Roger Lewin, In The Age Of Mankind, Smithsonian Books 1988). His scientific basis for this idea is the close observation of the biological world. This observation defies the previous ideas of man as a unique creation in the universe or man as a rational being and therefore entirely separate from animals.
The Anishinabek observation of the natural world reveals some animal forces within human beings and also some human forces within each animal. The observation has been distilled over centuries and communicated graphically within the pictographs. The psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions within a natural form whether animate or inanimate are exposed in a language of symbolism.
This symbolism appears archetypal or primitive to western culture. But we must remember that western culture is a product of European ideas. Anishinabe pictographs reveal a profound insight into the natural world and human nature. Darwin's theory of man as a part of nature, which is closer to Anishinabe consciousness than the religious and philosophical beliefs in conflict with this theory, are a tremendous reversal in the belief system of western culture. Within Anishinabe culture, Darwin's theory does not go far enough or observe closely enough.
Freud has touched upon this animal force within human beings but Anishinabe perception identifies the type of animal and visually reveals these forces in their most dynamic expression-which is in conflict, or creation, or both. Jung, a student of Freud, developed dream interpretation to reveal these forces but Anishinabe observation developed a visual, graphic communication of these forces as well as a symbol of language to interpret and express them.
The language, legends and art of Anishinabe culture are communicated in pictographs that reveal profound meaning. Science recognizes language as crucial to the development of consciousness and culture. Consciousness is introspection and allows us to now what we know. Culture is the evolution crucial to human civilization-each generation benefits, distills and builds upon previous generations: Language communicates knowledge.
Anishinabe legends contain the religion, history and ethics of the Anishinabe people. They are the imagination of a cultural evolution that constantly develops and expands. As in all cultures man has been curious about the world in which he lives. Anishinabe legends are not mythology: they are the science of a culture conveyed in the language of symbols. The anthropologist Mary E. Southscott writes: "A very rich and flexible Anishinabe language makes possible the wealth of human values expressed by the legends. The legends, in their turn provide an inexhaustible mine for new graphic form which carries a message of it's own. Language, legend and art of create a circle of communication." (p.158, The Sound of the Drum: Boston Mills Press, Erin, Ontario, 1984).
The language of Anishinabe pictographs is in the details. The details convey the elements of meaning in which vast areas of the knowledge within the legend are illustrated. To understand the meaning within the pictograph, symbolic details are placed within a graphic form. This form is contained within a strong outline. Within this " form-line" of outward appearance, the dynamic hidden forces are illustrated in a style referred to as " X-Ray." Every detail of the X-ray communicates the story of a legend.
The legends contain the knowledge of a consciousness and culture that is beyond the familiar culture of the Industrial west, but communicates resonantly within each human being. Pictographs may appear to be simple, but the meaning conveyed is profound and complex.
Because we are conditioned by culture to understand meaning in terms of our own culture, pictographs can be disregarded or dismissed. To do this is to ignore the knowledge that is vital to our understanding. Consider the insights of ancient wisdom again in terms of science.
Cosmology and physics has discovered that the balance of oxygen and carbon nuclei within the universe must be so finely and precisely balanced to support life that they wonder if life itself wasn't designed into the creation of the universe. It is hard to imagine that life evolved as a coincidence or accident.
Anishinabe creation legends, like all other civilizations, consider these questions of vastness and meaning. For example: British physicist Paul Davies, asks this questions scientifically: " Could it be that living observers were written into the laws of physics, or is our presence in the world merely a highly improbable accident occasioned by a felicitous conjunction of numeral values adopted by the constants of nature? The answer, depends on one's philosophical, or even theological, turn of mind. (p.238, In The Age Of Mankind).
Anishinabe legends consider this question and tend to observe " living observers" and give them a name in the Anishinabe Language: "Manitou." The meaning in Manitou is no less complex or profound than the question posed by Davies. It is more simply stated by placing a small dot into the graphic form. The dot signifies: Manitou.
The meaning in Manitou takes many paragraphs to convey. First , the "dot" communicates that the creation of life , the earth, and the universe is not considered to be an accident. The " living observer " of Manitou is often translated as spirit, but this has confused Western culture into a mistaken assumption of pan-theism or superstition.
To understand the meaning of one dot in a pictograph, we look again to modern science for it's findings. Quantum physics and the frontiers of artificial intelligence have discovered that it is the arrangement of molecules-not the properties of the molecules themselves - that creates life, intelligence, and consciousness. This knowledge prompts Princeton physicist: Freeman Dyson, to state: " It makes sense to imagine life detached from flesh and blood and embodied in networks of superconducting circuitry." ( p. 243, In The Age Of Mankind ).
"Superconducting circuitry" is a much closer translation of Manitou and helps us to understand why Manitou is present in animate or inanimate form. Physicist Heinz Pagels, of Rockefeller University broadens our understanding of Manitou when he states: " The Universe it seems, has been finely tuned for our comfort, it's properties appears to be precisely conductive to intelligent life " (p.236, In the Age Of Mankind)."
Science defines Manitou as " Intelligent life" as closely as any one definition is able to come to so vast a meaning. The Anishinabe word "Gitchi" is translate into English as "Great". Gitchi Manitou is more closely understood in science than in western religion or philosophy. Scientist Author Roger Lewin writes: "The more scientists discern the physical laws that govern the state of the universe, the more these laws appear to have been established with human life 'in mind.' " (p. 237, In The Age of Mankind ).
" In mind" is the intelligent mind behind the intelligent universe: Gitchi Manitou. The meaning expands to more than human life and includes the creation of all life forms, including a living earth and breathing universe. This meaning helps us to understand why the earth is considered sacred. It is why Anishinabe legends caution human behavior in relation to how we treat Mother Earth.
This profound meaning is represented inside the form of a pictograph by a single dot. Imagine the meaning in a circle which Southcott tells us: " denotes, perfection, completeness and continuity. ( p.40, The Sound Of The Drum). The pictographs which form the basis of Anishinabe art, communicate the vast meaning and knowledge of Anishinabe culture and consciousness through the language and symbols which are ancient. The language is fluently spoken and graphically illustrated to this day.
If the creation of the universe is no accident: if intelligence is imbedded in animate and inanimate natural forms: if the cosmos is sacred - What are the universal ethics of the human being? Anthropologist Margaret Conkey of the University of California at Berkeley, addresses this survey of meaning of ancient pictographs: "You have to ask, what was the social context of the art that made it meaningful to the people who painted and used these images. What was in the lives of the artist that made these images meaningful? (p.150 In The Age Of Mankind). The question still applies to Anishinabe pictographs.
The Anishinabe pictographs are painted solely by shamans, which means contemporarily in Southcott's words: "They have a mandate from the Great Spirit to paint,... This spiritual motivation is unique. It is the strongest of all motivations" ( p.126. The Sound of the Drum). Because the ancient Anishinabe language is still fluently spoken, the pictographs answer the question of meaning and the questions asked by anthropologists, "... if we could speak ( the language), we would then know the world that our ancestors knew 50 millennia ago. "( p. 186, In The Age Of Mankind).
Language is considered by anthropologists to be essential to consciousness and culture. Plato's phrase "loom of Language" denotes language as necessary to the formation of culture. " So central is language to our humanity that a world without words is simply unimaginable. " (p.154, In The Age Of Mankind ).
Because the Anishinabe are one of the few Native North American tribes to have a written form of language that is fluently spoken, it is possible to reach what anthropology has given up on ever finding in Anishinabe pictographs: " An understanding of a psychological domain that is separate from our own and yet clearly identifiable with it." ( p. 154, In The Age Of Mankind ).
Anthropology is able to define the importance of language but has given up on being able to find it..."because, before the advent of writing a mere six-thousand years ago, human discourse simply vanished. "( p.180, In The Age Of Mankind). Anishinabe pictographs cannot be carbon dated because the pigment has become chemically bonded with the rock, but the symbols which form the mnemonic devices of Anishinabe language have never vanished and the meaning of these symbols is still retained. Believing that it is impossible to know the meaning of ancient art, anthropology has turned to measuring hominid brains or studying the tools and guessing at the meaning of ancient art objects. They hope to find clues to brain structures and the earliest evolution of the vocal tract for determining the origin of language. Anthropology may be unprepared for James Simon Mishibinijima's statement: "The symbols came first."
Lewin writes: "Turning from hominid remains of the tools and art objects these living beings left behind, we invoke the old proverb, 'by their works we shall know them.' The question is, how intimately small we know them? ( p. 184-85, In The Age Of Mankind). Anishinabe pictographs allow us to receive ancient wisdom true to ancient meaning. Science provides a universal understanding of the profoundness of this meaning even when it's tools are too limited to be able to decipher it. The Mathematician Jacob Bronowski has stated: " In reality science is neither a villain debasing human dignity nor the sole source of human wisdom." (p. 236, In The Age Of Mankind).
Even science faces a culture blindness. The "scientific civilization" as Bronowski characterizes the highly Renaissance influenced culture of the west, has for historically conditioned reasons overlooked the ancient wisdom of nature consciousness. All consciousness, science agrees, is embedded and developed through language. Language, consciousness, and culture provides the stimulus for ideas. The scientist William McLaughlin, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, states: "The real motive force behind the advance of the world has always been provided by ideas." ( p. 243, In The Age Of Mankind). The assimilation of Native children has always prohibited the use of their language.
Anishinabe civilization can contribute knowledge to the scientific civilization which developed intellectually at the same time that it explored new navigation routes and accidently discovered civilizations it was unprepared to understand. Scientific technology is even younger, with the rapid development that is largely a product of the industrial era. Within five hundred years, science and technology have developed an unintentional crisis of global proportion by overlooking the natural world.
The fragmentation of scientific proofs and products has guided the scientific civilization without benefit of knowledge provided by ancient wisdom concerning the biological earth. Lewin states: " But there is one great curiosity- a potentially fatal flaw in the drive for knowledge... Our scientific sights... have overlooked something obvious and important to us: namely, the rest of the biological world.... if the search for knowledge is our destiny, then we clearly have fallen badly short of fulfilling it with our biological heritage ( p. 246, In The Age Of Man). The heritage of Anishinabe consciousness is oriented to the biological, as well as a cosmological heritage.
In this way, the meaning of Anishinabe pictographs contributes knowledge to scientific frontiers. Lewin, states the importance: "Surely, as Francis Bacon urged, humankind must be an adventurous explorer, striving for new horizons as yet beyond our sight. But at the same time we must be aware of what we are in danger of losing through ignorance in the world we already know." (p.217, In The Age Of Mankind).
From anthropology, in which Conkey questions the meaning encoded in ancient pictographs and the lives of the artists who painted them, to the state-of-the-art questions of artificial intelligence, to the words of philosopher Daniel Dennett, of Tufts University: "Here we begin to ponder one of the most exacting of frontiers: What is mind? What is meaning? What is reasoning and rationality? (p.240, In The Age Of Mankind). Anishinabe civilization contributes meaning.
Ancient wisdom has avoided certain pit-falls in the duality that fragments modern scientific research. The quantifying formulas of Aristotle, formalized by Ptolemy and grounded in academic disciplines rooted in the European Middle Ages, has provided the basis of "progress" to the scientific civilization. As this civilization advances to from the Industrial Revolution to the " Information Revolution" as Mclaughlin names the period of change, the world is faced with an environmental crisis and the psychological ignorance of ancient wisdom.
The contribution of ancient wisdom remains encoded within the symbols, language and meaning of Anishinabe pictographs. In the words of science itself to explain this, the words of Princeton physicist Freedman Dyson, are borrowed: "This unimaginably great and diverse universe, in which we occupy one fragile bubble of air, is not destined to remain forever silent.... the expansion of life, moving out from earth into it's inheritance, is an even greater theme than expansion of England across the Atlantic. Such is the power of mind."(p.245, In The Age Of Mankind). Dyson is speaking of the physical laws of the universe which is also the heart of the meaning contained within Anishinabe pictography. All we have to do to find their meaning- is to ask the artists who continue to paint them.
Mishibinijima and E.C. Lewis - Copyright 2008