The Red Hand on the Cave Wall by Carolyn Lee Boyd

As I have gotten older, I find I am drawn more to non-anthropomorphic, inexpressable-in-words, nature, and everyday focused visions of the Divine. Whereas before my spiritual practice involved more rituals and circles, unusually indoors, with others, now I more often engage in solo quiet contemplation, outside in the wild when I can. I think more about ways of being rather than ways of doing and more about the small messages I want to leave to generations to come instead of  major accomplishments.  I feel as if I am contracting in towards the center of the spiral of my spiritual journey.

All over the world, very ancient cave art includes hand prints made by painting or blowing ochre around a hand or putting ochre on a hand and pressing it to the wall. Research has shown that about 75% of these were made by women, making them a very early form of feminist art. I wonder if some of them might have been made by women who had transformations and thoughts similar to mine. Here is a poem in the voice of such a woman. 

When I first crouched low, crawling into the
cave chamber, a young woman led to her first ceremony,
I was in awe of sacred sister animals running along the walls
in the torchlight. Relentless chants and drums, my village in trance.
Today I am alone, inching towards my destination, my body
aching, knees bleeding, in silence. I carry no one but myself.

Hand print from Pech Merle Cave in Le Lot, France.

I am not an artist who paints the beasts who fall in sacrifice that we may live,
Or the shape-shifters who travel between our realm and the spirits,
whose handprints are here to be seen and touched with honor.
But I have tucked some ochre in my leather pouch and I press my hand to the wall and, with my mouth, spray
blood red around it.

I will make my hand’s image a little different from the others.
It will look like a tree.  It will, in some lights, make you think of a bird.
One finger will bend like a snake crawling among the grass.
I will move my hand like my body as it breathes
So whoever sees its smeared outline will know that the person
who made this hand was once alive.

I have only seen my face in the water, blurry and swiftly disappeared,
though my lover tells me I am still pleasing.
But I can see my hair and my hands
and I know that I am reaching the moment of life
when my body grows withered and fragile,
and one day soon I will lay down and never again rise with the sun. 

I want the people from the future who discover my handprint to know that
when I walked out of my shelter in the morning
you could not see the blue of the sky for the clouds of birds.
The meadow air made us drunk with the perfume of spring blossoms.
Hives of bees buzzed around my head but never stung.
The land quaked with the stampede of reindeer herds.

I want the people from the future who discover my hand to know that
I have dug into the soil for roots in wrathful hunger.
I have carefully arranged the still bodies of lovers, mother, 
father, sons, daughters, friends, almost everyone I have ever loved.
I have awakened at dawn and been unable to rise so many tears have covered my face and so much agony has my body suffered.
But still, these trials have only made the other mornings more precious.

Who knows what the future will hold? One day the reindeer may leave the land
and not return. The people may no longer revere She Who Created Them 
and instead cry out unheard to craven hollowness
that will never answer with gentle, warm rain and 
the songs of the trees in the wind. 
Our bones may crumble unburied and no one will call to me as their ancestor 
in times of both despair and merrymaking.

So I will sit here for a moment until the ochre is set
and play on my flute so magically made for me
by my grandchild from the wing of a vulture.
The celebrated ones who made the other hands have long stories and songs 
to tell of spirits and creation and life’s endless tasks.
Their rituals here last for days and are marvelous for those who experience them.
But now I see only what is in front of me.
I leave my handprint to remind you, people from the future, 
who stumble into this place of sanctuary, that 
Your world is beautiful. You are loved.

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, student drummer, and herb and native plant gardener who lives in New England.  Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Magazine, Sagewoman, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download.

Image: Prehistoric negative hand print from Pech Merle Cave in Le Lot, France. Public domain.



Categories: Aging, Ancestors, Archaeology, Art, Death, Death and Dying, Earth-based spirituality, Spiritual Journey

Tags: , , ,

24 replies

  1. I wrote about these handprints in an earlier blog on FAR. Your poem is fantastic and really helps us to imagine women in the caves.

    WOMEN ARTISTS AND RITUALISTS IN THE GREAT CAVES: THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF INDOLENT ASSUMPTIONS by Carol P. Christ

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and also the link to your wonderful previous post about the handprints. When we look with fresh eyes, so many aspects of women’s spiritual history seem clear that have been, and sometimes still are, denied by those who can’t see beyond their own culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for carrying me there, and thank you to this ancestor woman of the ochred hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Moving post… like you “I think more about ways of being rather than ways of doing and more about the small messages I want to leave”.. the messages of our hands seems so real and yet so mystical…The hand I want to leave I pray will be one I leave on a living tree.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carolyn, thank you for this lovely post! From time to time I think about those long-ago women, working by torchlight to express their feelings in art, lifting little ones up so they too could leave an ochre handprint on the wall.

    I feel kin to them. I wonder what they thought about, what their religion was. In those days the average life expectancy was 30 years. Nowadays, we think of that as the the threshold of adulthood in the sense of settling down.

    From a distance of forty thousand years, we share our womanhood with those long-ago women who preceded us. Let us remember them always.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you! Yes, it is so important to remember the women of the past and our kinship with them. I always feel more hope for the future when I think of the countless millennia of women who have faced their own challenges and survived and thrived. No matter how alone we may feel in our own time, we always have our place linking generations of the past and of the future.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Inspired poem. I really believe in that woman and her thoughts. I’ve never been to a cave and seen handprints, but I’ve certainly read about them, but previous accounts I’ve read have been scholarly and sorta dry. You made the woman human. Her hands, too. Many thanks! Bright blessings. Let us all leave metaphorical handprints in as many place as we can reach to hopefully counteract all the hate and sickness in the world today.

    (P.S. I’ve been sick for a week, so no comments. I think I’m back now.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have never been to a cave with paintings either, but it is definitely on my “post-pandemic” list to go to one or one of the replicas that have been built. If you haven’t seen it, you might enjoy the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the Chauvet cave in France. I’m so sorry you have been ill and glad you are on the mend!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. An absolutely beautiful poem! I have no additional words as you have expressed them so magically, as well as the women who have left their hand print stories in the caves.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for this moving poem and for making the woman, and countless women, who have left their handprints in caves come alive for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is awesome… I am awash in goosebumps… thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What we leave behind? I love that we leave such a legacy. I have been playing with the concepts of using hands as blessings – the Hebrew letter Kaph was written (or drawn) in Semitic Ancient script as the palm of a hand. Any words which have that letter in it, I have started seeing as including a blessing because don’t we hold up our hands to give and receive blessings.
    It feels like your poem tapped into that. Thank you.

    Like

    • Thank you for this fascinating perspective! That’s really interesting about the Hebrew letter Kaph. It makes me think of the many statues of goddesses and priestesses who use their hands for blessings. I also think that hands have significance as the means by which we give care, make art, interact with the Earth when we grow plants or nurture animals, etc.

      Like

  10. Thank you Carolyn, for the good journey as always. Part of the Beltaine rite as we do it at my place, is for each to press their hand into wet earth and make a print on card paper, for the calling of the Earth direction. It is usual for each to affirm something like: “I desire you, am held by you, desire to make my mark with you, as all have done before me.” I have one of these framed.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Carol P. Christ Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: