Jack CassinThrough this blog, I have become acquainted with Jack Cassin, a well-known textile and carpet researcher and collector with some controversial views. Jack is a highly passionate guy! He curates two fascinating websites. The research presented, the textiles on display, and the extremely lively discussions are absolutely riveting.
Weaving Art Museum and Research Institute
During our correspondence, Jack introduced me to this textile. It is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is documented as being found at El Azam, Egypt. Although it has not been carbon dated, or its age known from any other source, some believe it is Later Islamic Period (800-1200 AD), but Jack suspects it is older.
Obviously, the picture is black and white. The actual colors are copper and white, similar to this piece presented on RugKazbah:
Slit Weave = kelim, the oldest known form of weaving, originally done with warp-weighted looms (prior to the invention of frame looms). Loom weights used for this type of weaving have been found at neolithic and Bronze Age (7000 - 3000 B.C.) archaeological sites, although the textiles themselves have long since disintegrated. The earliest (known) surviving slit-tapestry was found in Egypt, and has been certainly dated to 1453 to1405 BC. This textile bears a cartouche attributed to Amenhotep II. Two additional, smaller fragments are illustrated on Rug Kazbah, and they may predate this one, dating to between 1504 and 1450 B.C. These are also in the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Taher Square, Cairo. They were discovered during the Carter Newberry Expedition and documented in the Carter/Newberry Excavation Report, published in 1913.
Here is a detail of the Amenhoetp II piece. To my untrained eye, this bears no resemblance whatsoever, beyond the manufacturing technique, to the sample (above) that we are interpreting. I'm not sure if this is because the textiles were created in different areas, by different artists, or in different time-periods.
My interpretationFirst, a note about my perspective: In my interpretation, I look at motifs only.
The human propensity to create and appreciate art is generated by a rudimentary navigation program in the optic system, shared by all ambulatory animals. This is comprised of the ability to recognize and differentiate between lines and spaces, basically. Humans also have a propensity for altered states of consciousness (ASC). ASC is commonly experienced in stages and interpreted as traveling between various cosmic realms (earthly realm, spirit realm, etc.). The stages, commonly referred to as Stages 1, 2, and 3 are associated with varying degrees of hallucination. Stage 1 is experienced as geometric or entoptic motifs such as zigzags, concentric circles, etc. Stage 2 is a transitional stage in which geometric motifs transform into naturalistic motifs (a circle becomes a breast, for example). Stage 3 is fully naturalistic hallucination with cultural bias (e.g., a circle becomes a breast that is attributed to a particular local goddess). Between Stages 2 and 3, a vortex is commonly experienced. This is visualized frequently as a tunnel with spiraling motifs. The vortex hallucination enhances the sensation of traveling between realms.
The ASC journey of the shaman/artist is shared with the community via art. Together, art and ASC are advantageous to our species in that they form the basis for an ideology that facilitates social cohesion. Art derived from ASC reflects the experience of a multi-tiered cosmos, the central element of shamanism and most, if not all, world religions.
I look at rock art, portable art, and now textile art from that perspective.
Although it is certainly not out of the question, I do not suggest that all producers of these textiles are shamans or that they experienced ASC and then depict their visions on the cloth. I am merely looking at the possible origins of traditional motifs and designs in order to find possible links with ASC. If the artwork seems to reflect ASC, I will then take certain other aspects of the textiles into consideration, such as their uses and any behaviours connected with their production, as corroborating evidence. I don't look at technique, iconographic context, or thematic consistency as a textile expert would. That, I feel, does not relate to my particular objective.
Here is my list of criteria (please see this post for a more detailed explanation):
- A relationship between the creation of the artwork and an induction method to ASC;
- Depictions of imagery from the 3 stages of ASC and the vortex on the artwork;
- Depictions of various cosmic realms on the artwork, including
- world of the living
- world of the dead
- passage or tunnel
- Cultural beliefs and practices surrounding the production of textiles reflecting the different cosmic realms;
- Cultural beliefs and practices surrounding the use of the textiles reflecting the different cosmic realms (an association with death, healing, etc.).
There are a couple of things that strike me immediately about this piece. First, that it is divided into two roughly symmetrical sections (top and bottom, I'll call it) by a horizontal line punctuated by at least three ovoid or diamond-shaped images at fairly regular intervals. Second, that it bears what appear to be human faces along the top and bottom edges, some with six-pointed stars.
There are many clearly entoptic Stage 1 motifs present on the texile, including spirals, diamonds, triangles, meanders, radials, nested and repeating motifs, and crosses.
The human faces may reflect Stage 2 or 3 motifs, transitioning as they do from entoptic to iconic images.
The concentric/nested circles, spirals, and possibly the radials (stars) reflect vortices.
It is impossible to say whether Stage 3 images are depicted here, as I know nothing of the cultural icons of the period during which this textile was manufactured.
It appears that two realms may be depicted here. The humanoid figures on one side of the dividing line may represent the living community while those on the other side may represent ancestors, spirits, or deities. Each panel may represent a cosmic realm (the world of the ancestors/spirits/deities on one side of the line and the world of the living on the other).
The line may represent the border between the living and the dead or the living and the spiritworld. The ovoid/diamond/concentric circle shapes on the line may be symbolic of the vortex through which the realms may be traversed. The spiral shapes emanating from the humanoid figures to the center of the textile may likewise represent the vortex/traversal.
The humanoids on one side may represent living people and the figures on the other side may represent spirits or ancestors. This may be supported by the fact that the humanoids on each side of the dividing line have different motifs. In other words, each humanoid "head" has a counterpart on the opposite side of the textile. These contain similar but slightly different motifs, all seemingly related to the vortex. Radials, spirals, crosses, and other images are contained within the human figure heads. This may also represent transition between one realm and the next. It may reflect actual usage of psychotropic intoxicants by shamans, or the ability of the shamans and spirits/ancestors to access the vortex.
The ubiquitous presence of vortex imagery, entoptic motifs, and possible human/ancestor figures leads me to believe that there is a link between this textile and shamanism. It would be very interesting to know how this cloth was used.
Next: Part 1 of Jack Cassin's response. I'm psyched!!!
Please comment below! I'd love to know whether you think my interpretation is right on or if you think it's far fetched.