What does ‘prehistory’ mean?
Though historians and scientists may use it in one context (before ‘recorded’ history, etc.), it stubbornly suggests quite a different one. In this sense, it means something quite animistic, something mythological. It wouldn’t surprise me if modern folks use it as a way to dismiss the ‘reality’ of three million years of rich human life, events, and interactions. Certainly our culture seems to equate ‘myth’ with ‘false’, with the need to ‘believe’ in it, because we certainly couldn’t ever prove it or experience it. If a mythic (not mythical!) event happened to you, why would you need to worry about whether or not you ‘believe in it’. You witnessed it. I suppose Christians would call this type of thing a miracle.
Anyway, I think I’ve gotten a little of track here. Back on subject:
Indigenous cultures often have three broad categories of stories, recognized as such. Stories of ‘when Animals and Humans still spoke the same language’, stories of the Ancestors of the people, and stories of the people themselves. Though these can overlap in purpose and category, they do tend to shake this way: myths, ancestral history, and the present era.
You’d think they proceed in a linear fashion, from creation stories (the beginning), to stories of historical ancestors (what came next), to the present era. And you’d have it pretty much the way most anthropologists understand it (and the way modern folks feel most comfortable with it). But you’d have it far differently from how animists see it.
The time called Dreamtime, Myth, and ‘the time when Animals and Humans still spoke the same language’ didn’t come first, it comes deepest. The time when they spoke together, you’ll notice happening right now, if you choose to go there. Right now.
As before, knowing your Dream-self never sleeps, the Dreamtime itself never went away. If it did, all life would end, because the Dreamtime occurs deepest and first in the creation of the present moment. The Waking-self happens on top of it, supported by it, as a ground on which to occur.
Modern humans prioritize Waking thought, intelligence, and logic as indicators of superiority, of primacy, without realizing them as flowers blossoming on an ancient tree of Dreaming. No tree, no flowers. No dream, no wake. The wood looks dead, the leaves and blossoms full of life. But don’t let appearances deceive you.
Animists can see the living nature of stones, wind, and stars, because they don’t only see Waking beings, but also the Dreaming beings that may or may not wake. What does it matter if they do or don’t? Without them, we certainly couldn’t.
This makes sense both in the most material sense, and in the most profound and spiritual sense.
At any moment, fully sober, you can choose to step into Mythspace, the Dreamtime, when Humans and Animals still spoke the same language. You simply change how you experience the moment. It doesn’t necessarily even take belief, although it may take at least ‘pretend’.
It should neither astonish nor impress anyone that children more easily access the Mythspace, the time of legend, for they play ‘pretend’ all the time. We don’t need Peter Pan to tell healthy children to believe in fairies. Adults however, and many children of cynical adults, do need him and messengers like him.
To geek out a little bit, I think Einstein first articulated the notion of space-time, an inseparable wholeness to an experience or event. I think that expresses the Dreamtime/Mythspace experience quite well.
In the past, Animists didn’t have clocks, but certainly experienced linear time as the Sun tracked across the sky. They also experienced rhythmic time, ecstatic time, and all kinds of time.
Our modern word for time means almost nothing useful. When animists describe time, they describe a whole different paradigm of experience. For me, Time best describes a way of experiencing, which I see people doing all the time.
The Time of waiting in line at the bank, differs substantially and experientially from the Time of an athlete in the zone, or a baby coming into the world of light and air. Both differ from the Time of Dream and Myth.
Too far down this path lies hallucenogenic self-indulgence and phantasmagoria. I’ve never valued that destination, because for me it ruins both the poetry of this, and the utility of it. Can I say these things without it degrading into total gibberish? I think it has helped me that I’ve never ingested any hallucinogen or entheogen, and so I’ve never relied on them for this experience. I don’t pass judgement on whether or not others use them, so don’t take it that way. I just want you to know the context in which I say all this. I first and foremost want to say something useful, rather than something entertaining, aesthetic, or impressive.
So if useful, how do you use it? I can only offer you as compass, that I mean every word quite explicitly, and I see all these ways of experiencing as quite testable and ‘falsifiable’ (in the scientific sense: you can test whether it models your experience well, or not). Try them out. Can you choose to enter a world full of living, dreaming, and waking other-than-human beings?
I bet you can.