• 5th December 2015 – 28th March 2016
At the dawn of time, man and beast lived in close symbiosis. From the hunters and gatherers of the Palaeolithic era, through to the Siberian and Sami peoples of modern times, animals are viewed as man's alter ego, with related form and identity.
"Shamans" acted as medium and interpreter between Man and Beast, and equally, between this world and the next. Ecstasy and trance, imagined form-changing and out-of-body experiences were important elements of the effect they had. The exhibition takes a look at rituals and shamans' practices which are linked to two prominent animal species among the forest wildlife: bears and antler-bearers.
The cultic worship of the bear, who moves around upright and sleeps in caves, is one of the oldest shamanic phenomena in the northern hemisphere, and was being carried out by the Neanderthals as long ago as 80,000 years before Christ. It was observed and documented among peoples living in the arctic regions, into the 19th century. Here, the bear was seen simultaneously as forebear, as King of the Forest and as incarnation of the Highest Being. The Bear Festival, with the bear's ritual death, a feast and the subsequent funeral ceremony of the bear, stood at the centre of the Eurasian Bear ceremonial.
Animals with antlers, too, suppliers of meat
and symbol of the cycle of fertility, have been worshipped
since ancient times. The shaman's dance, in the costume of a red or roe deer is recorded in cave paintings from around 15,000 BC, and still practised in the modern age. Here, too, a bestial corporality, which is experienced as a religious action, manifests itself in a bodily ritual.
In the exhibition, the worship of bears, the ‚deer dance' and the practice of shamanism will be presented in cave paintings, archaeological finds and tools as well as numerous ethnographical objects of Siberian and Sami peoples. The zenith will be the Sami bear graves from the northernmost part of Sweden and Norway, the staging of a palaeolithic cave bear cult, archaeological evidence from the Mesolithic era of the deer dance and other shamanic rituals, complemented by ethnographically documented illustrations of the Bear Feast among the Nivkh and Sami.