Seclusion of Girls – Evidence from Paleolithic Times?


(Reference:  Arachige, D. (2010) Prehistoric Venuses and Puberty Rites, this was added on 29-Nov-2010 to facilitate referencing this article)


This article was submitted to the highly regarded journal     ‘Current Anthropology’ on the 24th of Oct 2010.CA declined to publish this article     for the following reasons (some names etc from the email below are not shown):

From: behalf of Current Anthropology (
Sent: Saturday, 13 November 2010 11:39:42 AM
To: Darshi Arachige


Dear ,

…… to thank you for submitting your manuscript “Prehistoric Venuses and Puberty Rites” to Current Anthropology. I appreciate your interest in the journal.

Many readers of the journal would be interested in your argument that Venus figurines are representations of young women about to undergo puberty rituals.

However, your manuscript remains speculative and presents little evidence for the hypothesis. It generalizes quite broadly from very distant ethnography about
a past that is difficult to access. Although I am sympathetic to attempts to interpret ancient art of all kinds, only the most rigorous studies are likely to succeed.
For these reasons, I am unable to accept it for publication.

However, as I believe the ideas presented in this article are of some merit and as many of the theories on the cultural aspects about the deep history, irrespective of their perceived rigour, are mainly speculative, I will publish the body‚     of the article without the references below for the benefit of the interested readers.

Prehistoric Venuses and Puberty Rites

Since their discovery, the pre-historic Venus figurines had been subjected to much scrutiny and the theories to explain their existence abound. Present article is an attempt to provide another viewpoint that cannot be easily ignored. The idea reintroduced here is that these figurines are the representations of personage or personages related to the girls at puberty. The supporting arguments are provided from various angles including ethnographic studies.


A remarkably true statement about deep history is ‘ the voyage of discovery that takes us back to the remote periods of human development soon brings us back to the realities of human existence today’ (Renfrew 2007: viii).  A reason for this is that similar to what has been stated with regard to evolution, the soft tissues and behaviours don’t leave any remains for us to determine why and when they ‘evolved’ (Clark 2002: 45). It doesn’t matter which school of archaeology one belongs to, the interpretation of the past would always be shaded by our understanding of the present. In this article the authour is trying to view the evidence from prehistory in the light of recorded anthropological understanding from the past even though such comparisons are always wrought with danger of misinterpretation.

Paleolithic Venus figurines which were uncovered by the archaeologists since the late nineteenth century had been the subject of many studies and interpretations. However, none of them seem to explain several key features of these Venus figurines across various geographies and periods. The author of this article argues using various anthropological studies to establish that the origins of these figurines are related to the female puberty rituals. If this assumption can be backed up by some evidence from our anthropological understanding of the cultures around the world, it is shown that the features of major class of Venus figurines which have so far been taken for granted can be explained with relative ease.

Some Interpretations

The intention here is not to discuss all the interpretations of these figurines but to give a brief overview that would be helpful in the ensuing discussion. One of the first Venuses discovered is the well-known Venus of Willendorf the age of which was determined as European Gravettian.  However, in the late last century, the figurine assumed to be the earliest Paleolithic Venus figurine was discovered in Hohle Fels in Germany (Conard 2009). Between these two time points there had been so many figurines discovered from various parts of Europe and subject to a vast amount of scrutiny. Considering the time elapsed between the making of these figurines and the present day, it is doubtful that we would ever know why they were made or what they really represented. The reasons for these figurines and their occurrences might have been time-factored, localized and storied many a time. Given that now we only can conjecture about them, no matter how good a theory we can come up with, it only can be another interpretation, equally plausible as the current theories in vogue, or more plausible as a challenger.

For a long time, the Venus figurines have intrigued archaeologists and other scholars from various professions as wide as psychology and biology, attempting to understand their existence. Their views vary from these Venuses being representations of Archetypal Mother (Neumann 1991) to self-representations of their bodies by women who lived in the days before obsidian mirrors (McDermott 1996). In the late nineteenth century, studying the early figurines uncovered, Pettite (1870) noticed the larger buttocks which were also a feature of Hottentot women suffering from a condition known as Steatopygia. As White (2006) observed, Pettite who referred to the figurines as Venuses used the word ‘Venus’ more as a reference to the so-called Hottentot Venus, Sartje Baartman, with a racially biased undertone. Referring to a Paleolithic ‘myth of the genesis of the world from a cosmic egg laid by a bird’ (Gimbutas 1990:106) which gave rise to the “so-called steatopygous figurines’, Gimbutas (1991) mainly paid attention to the emphasis placed by the pre-historic artists and artisans on the body parts associated with reproduction.  These included ‘Pubic triangle’ which could also be linked to fertility and the universal goddess giving rise to the Old European Mother Goddess. One of the authours from psychoanalytical school (Neumann 1991) looked at the fatness of the body and pondered over the connection between the fertility rites and body as a vessel.  On the other hand, McDermott (1996) considered the faceless heads and the disappearing legs of these Venuses as narcissistic representations of their own bodies as pregnant women watching self from certain angles would only show distorted dimensions including tapering legs. Halverson (1987) thought these figurines have ‘no purpose beyond themselves’ or simply represent art for the sake of art.

The figurines’ body shape is not a mere, symbolic representation of female body as an embodiment of fertility. The claims by authours like Neumann (1991) and Gimbutas (1991) as discussed above, to the effect that these figurines simply represent the Mother Goddess with the fullness of body, the great container, as a show of fertility were preceded by the ideas in Johann Jacob Bachofen’s ‘Das Mutterrecht’ published in 1861 (Campbell 1991). Gimbutas (1991: xxii) wrote that the idea of a cosmic Creatrix was first conceived by the people who did not understand the copulation as the cause of pregnancy. This opinion can also imply that the prehistoric people of the antiquity of the Venuses might not have understood the role of male in pregnancy. Hence, the assumption that the fertility might have been conceived as an all-female affair cannot be too far-fetched. Thus it is very natural that Neumann (1991) imagined the prehistoric fertility cult through Jungian Archetypes.  Using a comparative study between the distribution of apparent ages of figurines and the distribution of similar female groups in a present-day community of primitive people, Rice (1981) concluded that it was the womanhood not the motherhood the Venus figurines recognized or honoured. Even Gimbutas (1991:141) considered that Venuses of Willendorf and Lespugue are not probably pregnant.  Thus, the pregnancy is not the only process that is celebrated by the artisans who made these figurines.  Presence of thin figurines like Ostrava Venus from the Gravettian site of Ostrava-Petrkovice in Moravia (Marshack 1991: Figs 173 a and b), the so-called ‘immodest Venus’ (White 2006: Fig 1) or the ‘belted figurine (White 2006: Fig 12), showing no sign of pregnancy definitely inconvenience the argument about the connection between the Venuses and fertility.

Features of the Figurines

Many authours, overlooking their specific features viewed the figurines as whole body representations to find answers to the questions these Venuses posed.  Some of these specific features can be found on many figurines scattered across Old Europe and nearby regions over long periods of time.  Supporting the opinion of Gvozdover (1989), Soffer, Adovasio, and Hyland (2000) believe that there are distinctive features inherent to different parts of Europe. However, despite the differences in the shapes of thighs, hips, bellies and breasts, at least all PKG (Pavlovian, Kostenkian, and Gravettian) figurines (McDermott 1996) follow the same underlying ‘lozenge’ shape. McDermott (1996) observed that PKG figurines embodied the key features of nudity, obesity, down-turned head, thin arms disappearing under voluminous breasts, exaggerated buttocks, presumably pregnant abdomen with a large elliptical navel and unnaturally short tapering legs “terminating in either a rounded point or disproportionately small feet”. This led him to the thesis that these figurines represented autogenous visual information.

Even though not common across all prehistoric Venus figurines or figures, two other noteworthy features are;

  1. incisions on the body and
  2. painted red ochre

which will be discussed in this article to round off the main hypothesis presented.

Venus Figurines and Puberty Rites

In the present paper, it is endeavoured to take the idea of Venus figurines being representations of Life or Birth Giver in a slightly different direction.  It is conjectured here that these figurines could have been shaped by puberty rites. This argument is not new as there had always been theories “that deal with sexuality in terms of the initiation ordeal that girls and boys often go through at puberty” Marshack (1991:282).  In the light of DNA evidence, the African origin of humans is not disputed any longer even though the opinions expressed by Piette, as quoted by White (2006), regarding the African influences on the European Venus figurines  have been discredited.  Moreover, there has been a slight trend recently to look back at the contribution of African ethnography to European prehistoric art. Harding (1976) argued that the Venuses of Willendorf and Lespugue show the condition called massive hypertrophy of the breasts and like the witch-doctors in today’s Africa, the Gravetto-Solutrian medicine man would have made incisions on the breasts of females to cure this condition. Lewis-Williams (1997), even though reluctant to accept the diffusionist view of the shamanic practices to South Europe from Southern Africa, see clear parallels between two ethnographic dimensions. Thus, it is not totally out of context to look at the African influence in a different light which this paper partially attempts to do. Theorizing about the symbolic explosion during prehistoric times, Knight, Power, and Watts (1995) were inclined to associate the symbolic use of red ochre as a cosmetic in the prehistoric times to the San Bushmen in Africa who represent the oldest aboriginal people in the world.

As Robert Renfrew states that the hunter-gatherers of the late nineteenth century are as distant from the Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers as today’s urban societies (Renfrew 2007:179). However, the conceptual world of the people at the turn of the twentieth century might have been less spoilt than the one around us today. The observations made by the anthropologists about the societies less exposed to Western thought might have been more relevant to Paleolithic thinking than later observations. For an example, as Renfrew (2007:205) believes, the pre-history of Australia only ended in April 1770 with the arrival of Captain Cook. Until then, it is implied that there had been some parallels that could be drawn between the prehistoric people and the aboriginal people of Australia. In any case, to make cognitive archeology sensible, some of the cognitive processes should have strong parallels between the prehistoric people and us. Thus, it is far better to use the facts collected by ethnographers in the 19th century, hence less influenced by modern ways, than the ones in more recent times unless there are known issues about reliability. This is the reason the present author relies heavily on the compendium of ethnographical facts on the puberty rites from around the globe compiled by Sir James Frazer while referring to recent studies to reinforce the older work.

Girls at Puberty: not to see the Sun


The Venus of Willendorf shows no facial features and shows a downcast head with a very intricate hair design which some authors consider as a form of hat made out of plant material (Soffer, Adovasio, and Hyland 2000).  It is interesting to note that the Brassempuy Venus (White 2006:252) has a straight looking face with beautiful eyes and exquisite facial features while the Lespugue figurine from the Rideaux cave of Lespugue (Haute-Garonne) has a faceless downcast head. While the Venus of Doln?´ Ve?stonice  is faceless, the ‘mammoth ivory head of a young woman from Doln?´ Ve?stonice ’ considered to be Gravettian or Pavlovian showed, despite of being asymmetrical,  elegantly crafted facial features with eyes, nose, mouth and a headdress (Marshack 1991:300). The point this supports is that the prehistoric artisans didn’t make facial features obscure due to their lack of skill. This can be further substantiated by another figure described in the literature. Bisson and Bolduc (1994) pointed out that the face of the female figure of ‘a double figurine pendant’ from Grimaldi Caves was intentionally made featureless by using a tool. Similarly, the downcast face was intentional symbolism on the part of the artisans. This leads us to the conjecture that the faceless downcast heads are what the artisans wanted to show on the figurines.

Frazer (1993:607) pointed out that in many cultures around the world, girls at puberty like ‘divine personages’, would not be allowed to see the sun or touch the ground. Frazer (1993:607)  further says ’Nowhere…can [the divine person’s] so precious yet dangerous life be at once so safe and so harmless as when is neither in heaven nor on earth’. As he described, many communities from various parts of the world feared the menarche of girls and imposed many taboos.  In the not so distant past, Basotho girls wore an undecorated reed/rush veil (lesira) to cover her face from strangers (DuPooly 2006:123). In Haida society, a girl in seclusion at puberty had to cover her head with a cloak made out of cedar bark, ‘leaving only a small aperture for her eyes’ as quoted in (Blackman 1992:27).  These girls in seclusion were expected to avoid looking at the important assets such as crops and livestock. In India and Sri Lanka, as recently as the turn of the current century, girls at puberty would not be left alone for the fear of attracting evil spirits and were asked to carry a piece of iron to fend off such spirits (de Silva 1981; Narayan, Srinivasa, Pelto, and Veerammal 2001).  Even though this wouldn’t be possible for a girl from a pre-Iron age society, the commonalities discussed cannot be ignored. It is not out of place to mention Artemis, the Huntress who was known in Iliad as the mistress of animals and inherited several features of a great goddess worshiped in prehistoric times by the people around the northern Black Sea Ginzburg (1992:211). No one could look at the statue of Artemis at Pallene kept concealed throughout the year except for a few days as “the eyes of the goddess turned fruits dry on the trees…” Ginzburg (1992:131).  Thus, it can be implied evil influences either entering into or emanating from the girls at puberty had to be prevented. To this end, a person can be kept inside or allowed outside with some protection. The best way to stop the gazing eyes of the figurines of these puberty related personage or personages while leaving their likeness outside for people to look at, is to make the figurines faceless, perhaps, with an implied veil.

Soffer, Adovasio, Hyland (2000) conclude that the Venus of Willendorf wears ‘fiber-based woven cap or hat’ while a similar argument can be extended to the Kostenki I limestone figurine, too. The veil that covers her face can be part of the hat. Frazer (1993:600) says that ‘the British Columbian Tsetsaut girls at puberty wears a large hat of skin which comes down over her face and screen it from the sun.’ Marshack (1991: Fig 171c) described the head of Doln?´ Ve?stonice I figurine as ‘depicting an unreal schematized face with slit, mask-like eyes’. The apparent headdress of Doln?´ Ve?stonice I figurine may well be a hood that covers her face like a Haida girl’s cloak with two slits for the eyes and the hood ends on the figurine’s  shoulders.  The thin lines starting at the slits and falling on her breasts may represent a few stray locks of hair telling us the existence of a veil covering the face.

Girls at Puberty: not to touch the Ground

As Frazer pointed out the second taboo is about not touching the ground. To prevent the girls at puberty from touching the ground a plank or a carpet had been used (Frazer 1993:593). With the tapering or broken legs the prehistoric Venus figurines cannot stand on their own legs.  Neither are they meant to be in a reclining position as their protruding buttocks or the position of hands rule this out. Thus, these figurines should be suspended or placed on a base so that it wouldn’t touch the ground.  As Marshack (1991:300) noted about the Dolni´ Vestonice Venus figurine “[t]he image..had either to lie down, be carried, or be placed upright in a hole as an idol’. The four depressions on the head of Dolni´ Vestonice figurine might have been used with wax and fibers to help the figurine to be suspended.

Conard (2009) describing the figurine from the start of the Aurignacian age wrote that “[t]he Venus of Hohle Fels lacks a head. Instead, an off-centre, but carefully carved, ring is located above the broad shoulders of the figurine. This ring, despite being weathered, preserves polish, suggesting that the figurine at times was suspended as a pendant.”  If we accepted the longer antiquity of this figurine, we could conjecture that the tradition of depicting a headless figurine later took the shape of a figurine with a head but no facial features. This again shows the deliberate attempt by the Paleolithic artists and artisans to symbolize what they conceptualized and storied within their belief systems. Through time factored processes and comparisons, they seemed to have lost the fear of showing the head of the figurines while still dreading facial features. The figurines without legs give the impression of floating or were meant to be carried around.

Girls at Puberty: other features

Next question which should be answered is about their obesity. The obese depiction of women might have associated with fattening process discussed later in this article or mere symbolism emphasizing the body parts such as breasts, genitalia and buttocks largely impacted by puberty. The obesity of figurines also point to an expression of “greatness” enjoyed by the persons behind the figurines, similar to a god or the king (Neumann 1991:115).  Thus, this symbolism also implies ‘special’, perhaps ‘supernatural’, status of a person who should be carried around.  This provides a clue to who they could be representing. The obese delineation of women by these figurines also makes them look more mature than the adolescent girls in the present times.

Trinkaus (2005) finds it difficult to explain the adiposity paradox posed by the obesity of the Willendorf and Doln?´ Ve?stonice Venuses. However, the rituals associated with girls at puberty help explain this paradox without resorting to semi-sedantism and  brief high caloric eating habits of these prehistoric people believed to be very mobile and hard-working. In some African cultures the girls at puberty are required to undergo a period of fattening in what are called ‘fattening-houses’ (Benedict 2005:27-28, Oe 2009). The girl at puberty who can be secluded for years and refrained from any physical activity is fed with sweet and fatty food. Supposing our hypothesis holds true, the said cultural elements could have been found in the Paleolithic cultures too. This might have risen independently or through diffusion for which a directional dimension cannot be attributed without further research. The independent rise of the fattening can be due to biological observations these Paleolithic people made over thousands of years. It is a well known fact that the onset of menarche is dependent on girls achieving a certain average critical body weight (Frisch 1994:116). In the recent past, the girls didn’t reach menarche until their mid teenage years (Cobb, 1998:194). This may lead to the assumption that the fattening was done not only for a perceived beauty but also for controlling the timing of menarche. On the other hand, the late menarche after a prolonged thelarche can also be a reason for the mature look that comes out of the Venus figurines. Moreover, not having the facial features makes it very difficult to judge the ages of women represented by the pre-historic Venuses.  From a different angle, the forced sedantism of puberty, if prolonged, could also result in obesity. This later case might be a more plausible scenario.

The view that the obese figurines embody the fertility should not be accepted without questioning. Since the times of Hippocrates, it was suspected that the obesity makes the women less fertile (Hill & Smith, 2005). The prehistoric people could not be totally oblivious to this historical observation as these obese women represented in their arts should have been modeled after people living among them. As many of the early inventions came through observing the surrounds, it is more than likely the pre-historic ancestors might have observed this and even might have used obesity intentionally to make the chosen initiate issueless. Neumann (1991:115) mentions the Paleolithic petroglyph from Algeria (Neumann 1991: Fig 11:114) where a male hunter is connected, from genital to genital, to a female figure with upraised arms, again with no feet. Note that Campbell (1972: Fig 17) considers the same drawing from a prehistoric site near Tiout as the hunter and hunter’s mother. However, given the upraised arms and the torso without feet of the female figure, the former interpretation seems to be more plausible. Similarly, the Venuses carved on the limestone blocks at Laussel should be considered as a ‘part of the repertoire of figures’ (Marschack 1991:335) which includes a “hunter”  and figures of animals.

One important observation was made by Conrad (2003) about the Aurignacian mammoth ivory figurines from Hohle Fels Cave where an Aurignacian female figurine was found was that “the Swabian Aurignacian ?gurines, while emphasizing predators as well as large, strong and fast animals, also depict a broad range of animals that the occupants of the region presumably admired”.  The depiction of animals admired by these Aurignacian people might indicate their desire for taming, at least some species of them. Irrespective of the fact that the figurines are connected with hunting or taming magic, the above mentioned rock drawing suggests the sexual connection between the goddess or priestess with the upraised arms and the hunter.  If such a sexual connotation hinted at in Algiers figure can be extended for the Venuses, a pregnant woman would not be the best model for a special woman whose blessing would be sought to bridge the gap between the “hunter” or the “tamer” and the animals. Secondly, as the “goddess” should be a person of flesh and blood, not a spirit, it would more likely be the representation of a priestess or a special woman. Thus, the protruding bellies of Venuses can also be attributed to the obese looks of the woman or women immortalized in these figurines.  Apart from alluding to pregnancy, a protruding belly can symbolically mean the significance of the belly, in combination with breasts and pubic area, in puberty.

Incisions and Red Ochre

Now it is a good juncture to turn the attention to the incisions on Doln?´ Ve?stonice figurine and red ochre found on some of these Venuses including the Venus of Willendorf. According to Gimbutas (191:51) Doln?´ Ve?stonice figurine shows a stream flowing from her eyes down the body signifying the divine moisture. However, Harding (1976) thought the incision on Venus figurines can figuratively or realistically mean the work of a ‘Gravettian-Solutrian medicine man’ to treat the massive hypertrophy in the breasts. It is well known that the virginal breast hypertrophy can affect the girls at puberty and thus, points towards the puberty of girls. Regardless of the incisions being related to the hypertrophy, they can also be indicative of an initiation activity that is practiced in South African cultures. As DuPlooy (2006:98) states “[t]wo slight parallel cuts are made on significant points of the body. Notably, these include: at the base of the throat, at the hairline in the centre of the forehead, on top of the head, at the base of the skull, on the points of the shoulders, the inner part of the elbows, inner and outer wrists, lower back, at the back of the knees, ankles, the top of the feet and between the big and second toes. The practitioner applies (sesetsa) protective medicines into these small incisions”.  These incisions will be filled with linctus made to Vaseline-like consistency. The incisions of the lower back of the Venus figurine of Doln?´ Ve?stonice may be associated with such incisions, though exaggerated, indicating an initiation ritual.

Other important observation, from a cognitive point of view, DuPlooy (2006) makes is about the perception of her Basotho informants about the origin of the initiation rite, which according to them started from the legendary Basotho prophetess Mantsopa.  She prophesied the victory of tribal King Moshoeshoe over the English led by Major Douglas Warden (Times Live 2006). Most of the initiation rites are looking for initiates who would become a witchdoctor or magician. In case of San Bushmen, every boy wants to become a ‘doctor’ and after many trials and years of apprenticeship about half would make it (Pfeiffer 1973: 349). The need for such a special person in a tribal setting is very clearly stated by (Thomson 2005: xviii).

‘As religious principles developed themselves among primitive savages, men began to learn something of the mysterious natural forces which would enable one tribal wizard to pit himself in ghostly combat against the warlord of another clan, and defeat him by his superior magic.’

Petru (2006) states that the red ochre was associated with the Venuses of Mauern, Grimaldi, Willendorf and Laussel.  The famous bas-relief of the naked woman at Laussel is ‘ochered red’ (Marschak, 1991:335). It is believed that red ochre is associated with initiation rites. According to DuPooly (2006:136) painting body with a mixture of red-ochre and fat is the final stage of initiation process for the girls in Basotho even though there is no direct connection between the Basotho initiation and the puberty. After the end of seclusion related to rites of passage, tribes from Congo painted themselves red (Petru 2010). Quoting Jacobson-Widding (1979), Petru (2010) points to red as a sign of sexual maturity and beauty. In some cultures, the red ochre also has a therapeutic quality. Thus, the red ochre on the Venus figurines may indicate the significance of the puberty rites in the context of the origins of the figurines. In a very well researched-paper, Knight, Power, and Watts (1995) suggested a neo-Darwinian interpretation which go against Gimbutas (1991: xxii) who expressed the view that the pregnancy wasn’t linked to copulation by the prehistoric people. According to them, in pre-historic times, the red-ochre had been used by non-menstruating members of a coalition of women with one or more members in their monthly cycle as a ‘sham-menstruation’ strategy to deceive the males by signaling fertility. This study directly points to the connection between red-ochre and menstrual blood.


Arachige (2009:123) suggested that the puberty rites could have a Paleolithic origin and the present paper carried this idea somewhat further with supporting facts. However, in the past, puberty rites and Paleolithic Venuses have not been linked via the anthropological evidence about female puberty rites reported by various anthropologists and ethnographers. If we bring together the factual information from the sources including Frazer (1993), it was shown that an explanation for the some features of the Venus figurines can be constructed. It can also be seen that the plausible link between Venuses and puberty is not a new idea.

In the previous sections of this article it was tried to build up the case that the pre-historic Venus figurines are connected to the girls at puberty who were being groomed as initiates. To feed them to obesity and to keep them out of their daily chorus incur a social cost that should be compensated by some special task they had to fulfill. Being initiates who would become a ritualistic functionary would be a useful way to serve their totem or social group.  The pre-historic puberty rites should have been instrumental in a magical ritualistic endeavour.   As in many societies described by Frazer (1993), in the pre-historic Europe, the pubescent girls might have had to participate in an initiation process which made them adhere to a penance like process of isolation. During this period they were bound by many taboos and hardships at the end of which some of them could have become initiates who had to fulfill the roles of  ‘witch doctors’ or ‘shamans’. Finger prints found on the left side of the back of Doln?´ Ve?stonice Venus figurine (Kralik, Novtny and Oliva 2002) points to a girl around 11 years of age with a maximum age set at 15 year. This can indicate that the prehistoric girls at puberty made these images of a storied personage associated with puberty. The previous discussion about the Algerian figures of the hunter and the carvings on limestone blocks at Laussel point toward a storied being or beings.  The prehistoric person’s ability to imagine such a being is very much evident from the mammoth tusk engraving of a ‘most unusual’, ‘geometricized female’ figure from Predmost, belonging to a time closer to Doln?´ Ve?stonice I Venus, which Marshack (1991:303-305) referred to as an ‘image of a mythical “female” beyond time’. Similarly, Neumann (1991:105) considers this as an “abstract” representation indicating the transformation and spiritualization that tends toward ‘an ornamental design’.

In the current paper, no attempt was made to explain the utility of the figurines as the utility could have been varied across different communities and is very likely to have time-factored. The viewpoint expressed in the article is that the Venus figurines from the Upper Paleolithic period represent an imagery related to girls at puberty or undergoing puberty related initiation ritual. The material presented in the preceding sections makes it difficult to ignore the importance of the viewpoint expressed in the current article.



Arachige, D. 2009. The lure of noma: on the elegance of religion, Perth: Ocean Publishing

Authentic Maya 2010. Waka,

Benedict, Ruth 2005 (1934) The patterns of culture, Mariner Books: New York

Bisson, Michael S. and Pierre Bolduc. 1994. Previously undescribed figurines from the Grimaldi

Caves, Current Anthropology 35(4): 458-468

Blackman, Margaret B. 1992 (1982) During my time: Florence Edenshaw Davidson: a Haida woman, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Campbell, Joseph. 1972. The hero with a thousand faces, 2nd Edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press

Campbell, Joseph. 1991. Foreword. In The language of the goddesses. Marija Gimbutas, New York: HarperSanFrancisco

Clark, Mary. E. 2002. In search of human nature, London: Routledge

Cobb, Nancy. J. 1998. Adolescence: continuity, change and diversity, 3rd Edition, California: Mayfield Publishing

Conard, Nicholas.J. 2003. Paleolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of ?gurative art, Nature 426 (18): 830-832

Conard, Nicholas.J. 2009. A female figurine from the basal Aurigancian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, Nature 459 (14): 248-252

De Silva, Deemathie W. 1981. Puberty rites for the Sinhalese female. Lambda Alpha Journal of Man, 13, 35-46 (

DuPlooy, Shirley. 2006 Female initiation: becoming a woman among the Basotho, M.Soc.Sc Thesis, Department of Anthropology, the University of the Free State, South Africa (…/DuPlooyS.pdf)

Frazer, James. 1993 (1922) The golden bough: A study in magic and religion, Ware: Wordsworth Reference

Frisch, Rose E. 1994. The right weight: body fat, menarche and fertility, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 53: 113-129

Gimbutas, Marija. 1990. The goddesses and gods of Old Europe: myths and cult images, London: Thames & Hudson

Gimbutas, Marija. 1991. The language of the goddesses, New York: HarperSanFrancisco

Ginzburg, Carlo (1992) Ecstasies: Deciphering the witches’ Sabbath, London: Penguin Books

Gvozdover, M. D. 1989. The typology of female figurines of the Kostenki Paleolithic culture, Soviet Anthropology and Archaeology 27(4):32–94

Halverson, J. 1987. Art for art’s sake in the Paleolithic, Current Anthropology 28: 63-89

Harding, J.R. 1976. Certain Upper Paleolithic ‘Venus’ Statuettes considered in relation to the pathological condition known as Massive Hypertrophy of the Breasts, Man New Series 11(2) : 271-272

Hill, H. Gardiner and J. Forest Smith 2005 (1930) The Relation of fatness to sterility, BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 37 (2): 256-271 (On line version DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1930.tb16222.x published 2005)

Kralik, Miroslav; Vladimír Novotný and Martin Oliva 2002. Fingerprint on the Venus of Dolní V?stonice I,

Knight, Chris; Camilla Power and Ian Watts 1995. The human symbolic revolution: A Darwinian account, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 5(1):75–114

Jacobson-Widding, Anita. 1979. Red–white–black as a mode of thought: a study of triadic classification by colours in the ritual symbolism and cognitive thought of the peoples of the Lower Congo, Uppsala studies in cultural anthropology, 1

Lewis-Williams, J. D. 1997. Harnessing the brain: vision and shamanism in Upper

Paleolithic Western Europe, in Beyond art: Pleistocene image and symbol ed. Conkey, Margaret. W, Olga Soffer and Deborah Stratmann, Nina G. Jablonski, Memoirs of the California Academy of Science 23, San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences

Marshack, Alexander 1991. The roots of civilization, Moyer Bell Limited: New York

Matobo,T.A., M. Maktasa, and E. Obioha 2009. Continuity in the traditional practice of boys and girls in contemporary Southern African society, Studies of Tribes and Tribals 7(2):105-113

McDermott, LeRoy  1996. Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current

Anthropology 37(2): 227-275.

Narayan, K.A, D.K. Srinivasa, P.J. Pelto and S. Veerammal 2001. Puberty rituals, reproductive knowledge and health of adolescent schoolgirls in South India, Asia-Pacific Population Journal 16(2): 225–238

Neumann, Eric 1991 (1955) The great mother: An analysis of the archetype, Princeton/Bollingen Mythos Series, Princeton: Princeton University Press

Oe, Enang 2009. The fattening rooms of Calabar – a breeding ground for diabesity, DiabetesVoice Special Issue 54:40-41

Petru, Simona 2006. Red, black or white? The dawn of colour symbolism. Documenta Praehistorica 33: 203-208.

Petru, Simona. 2010. Power of colour, IFRASO Congress Pleistocene art of the world,

Pfeiffer, John E. 1973. The emergence of man, London: Cardinal

Renfrew, Colin 2007. Prehistory; the making of the human mind, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Rice, Patricia. C. 1981. Prehistoric Venuses: symbols of motherhood or womanhood, Journal of Anthropological Research 37(4): 402-414

Soffer, Olga, J.M. Adovasio, D.C. Hyland 2000. The ‘Venus’ figurines: textiles, basketry,

gender and status in the Upper Paleolithic, Current Anthropology 41(4): 511-537.

Thompson, R. Campbell 2005 (1908). The Semitic magic: its origin & development, Elibron Classics, Chestnut Hill: Adamant Media Corporation

TimesLive 2006. Resolute prophet lives on as a ‘saint’,

Trinkaus, E. 2005. The adiposity paradox in the middle Danubian Gravettian, Anthropologie (Brno) 43, 263-271

White, Randall (2006) The women of Brassempuy: A century of research and interpretation, Journal of Aracheological Method and Theory, 13(4):251-304

Authour: D Arachige

Final Draft for submission: 24/10/2010

Full article can be obtained by writing     to

(This article is copyrighted)


Posted in Seclusion of Girls at Puberty | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Radicalism

It is a sad fact that many critics of religion take religious radicalism as a reason for spreading the message for religion free world. It is also a sad fact that few people use religion to motivate believers to kill non-believers and other innocents to achieve their political goals and aspirations.   If God knows that people who He created kill their fellow beings en masse without a shred of reasonableness, He, if a reasonable, kind person would block the door of His Kingdom to all those who commit such crimes.   However, the perpetrators of such crimes don’t seem to think so implying that God is unkind, unreasonable blood-thirsty Being. If the recent past is looked into, it is not unreasonable to say that many innocents were killed by the fringe group of Islamic believers. Many Muslims are peace-loving average people that you would love to have around.   But for a few, world is only a place to be blown up into pieces.   Why, for them, is hatred towards their own fellow human beings, the creation of the only true God, their overwhelming drive?

Would God be pleased when mothers weep for their young sons and daughters who hugged and kissed them minutes ago, get blown into pieces of flesh in front of their very eyes? Would He be pleased when the unborn babies and children like flowers blooming in a morning end up as scattered, crumpled petals splattered with blood? Neither did they bear arms nor did they have an inkling of an idea about politics or religion. Would a reasonable God, let alone a reasonable Devil, do such things? It is true all those who were born should die. But being murdered for no reason other than being in a place at a random time and dying are not the same. Why as humans cannot we look at other people with little respect? It is true rich and powerful nations and their backers sometimes misuse their powers. However, is it justifiable to kill the innocents to avenge them?

Francis Fukuyama in his essay ‘Has History Started Again’ (Policy, Winter 2002, The Centre for Independent Studies) argued that despite the events of September 11, 2001, modern liberal democratic systems and market oriented capitalism with the principles of freedom and equality embodied in them would remain a dominant force. He further stated that contrary to the claims about ‘American foreign policy in Palestine or toward Iraq”, it is radical Islam that forms the backdrop to a broader sense of grievance that is far deeper and more disconnected from reality than elsewhere’. He also called for all the moderate Islamists to extend a more approving hand towards the West, ignoring Islamo-facism.

Undoubtedly, it is very necessary to reach out to moderate Muslims to bring them into the fold of liberalism. However, this is currently almost like an invitation to become a non-Muslim. The rigidity of Islamic faith is embedded in the religion itself as well as its institutions. As Arachige (2009) points out the suppression of dissent in Islamic circles is challenging the need of believers to yield to their individual ambitions while accommodating the unifying force of God. Believers are not allowed to deviate from their faith in the supreme God’s word as stipulated in the Koran. They cannot find a place for their individual differences within the institutionalised Islam. The individual is always bound by his or her obligation to the community which police their behaviour. They, the men wielding the power in the society, go to the Mosque together and   pray together.   Women are expected to follow them. The traditionally-Muslim   individual is afraid of severing his or her   ties to the family and community. There are many Muslims who break the rules in secret.   However, they don’t dare challenge the establishment. This makes individuality inconspicuous and institution the ultimate sanctuary. The end result is a cataclysmic convergence towards the   traditional values.    This is where radical Islamic sects like Wahhbism take root.   This is why the sects like Sufism and Baha’i faith have never been embraced in a bigger way in Islamic societies. Not such diversions but the martyrdom in the name of institution is the ultimate path to achieve individual ambitions.

Can Islam change and accept the individual? For this to happen there should be a sea-change in the way Islamic society looks at the world. Masses in many Islamic countries are not economically, hence intellectually powerful enough to challenge the institution. The few who are, are more likely to become   fake believers to make use of the institution to dominate the masses through politics or inherited power. The power in Islamic society is in the hands of men. They make the rulers of the people as well as wielders of power in the family. They also turn religion into a political force that   takes them to the seats of power.   The secular politics in these societies becomes only an unexpressed aspiration of the oppressed.

Thirdly, women in Islamic society don’t enjoy the freedoms the other women world over enjoy. Some willingly submit to their inferior destiny while others do it for the sake of family or tradition. Many women would be willing to say that the subjugation is their choice. But the real test is to see how an Islamic woman would behave if she was given the same freedom as a Western woman away from the gaze of a watchful society. It is very doubtful that she would be any different to her ‘physiological sisters’   across the world as is the case for Islamic men. In a   strictly patriarchal society a male has so much to lose by empowering women, especially when the family unit struggles to survive.

Thus, change, if it ever will come, should start with the equality for women. As the African saying goes, educating a woman is educating a community. Revolution would start at the household, which would eventually embrace the community. Then, the economies of the Islamic societies should improve. There should be better schools, better universities and, in general, better education available to the masses, boys and girls as well as men and women. These trends will be resisted by the radical forces. Radicalism, however, will have a upward struggle in a more economically independent society. These moderate individuals coming out of a more independent society can start the change that would eventually see a more embracing Islamic tradition and secular governments. This change not only will bring the different   ideologies in the world together but also will help the long term future of Islam as a faith. Judaism took this step a long time ago and open the path for its long term survival. Believers of Islam should see   the Sacred Koran beyond its beautiful Arabic.   Be it Arabic, Urudu, Basha Malay or Hindi;   Koran should be accepted above all the languages. That would be a step towards moderation. Similarly, Muslims world over should be able to see God beyond the Prophet.   They all should be able to see Allah as the   God who created the whole humanity, Muslims and Infidels.   Like Sufis, they should be able to find a more embracing   attitude towards Infidels.   These wishes may be too wild to come true; and I am not qualified to preach to an Islamic audience. My only concern is the concern towards our duty to humanity.

Next is going to be the turn of Islam to allow the diversity and call the radical brothers and sisters to deviate from their jihadist march towards world domination. Do we really believe another Ottoman Empire or a massive eastern Islamic Empire is possible in the foreseeable future?   Even the radical elements should come to their senses one day. With all their frailties liberalism and capitalism would survive much longer than the Islamic radicalism makes us believe because of their sheer appeal to the individuality. Whether we believe in selfishness of our genes or not, moderate individualism will dominate over the the communal feelings into the distant future.

This essay is not only against radical islamism but also against every form of religious radicalism or fundamentalism. Be it Christian or Buddhist; religious radicalism is something all sensible   religious leaders   should suppress. Radicalism is the bane of religion as well as a bane for the mankind.  We all should remember that Religion is for the mankind but mankind don’t exist for the religion.

Posted in Religion in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A scientific boost to a hypothesis proposed in ‘the lure of noma’?

One of the main claims made in the chapter three of ‘the lure of noma‘ is about the connection between  the seclusion of girls and the rise of religion. To establish a reason for the seclusion we were inclined to emphasise the supernatural aspect of the puberty rites and the females’ increased susceptibility to mental illness.

A recently published article in the online journal Molecular Psychiatry (Bangasser, D. A., et al., 15 June 2010) | doi:10.1038/mp.2010.66) implies that given their observations from the experiments on rats, the reserachers could assume a link between the neuropeptide, CRF and the increased susceptibility of females to the stressors.

This is a kind of a boost to the hypothesis about the adolescent girls and their higher susceptibility to mental disorders as discussed in the book.  The book argued that in the pre-historic times, this situation shouldn’t have been any different. Even though it is known that the females are twice as more susceptible than the males to psychological disorders, it is not easy to establish that the situations had been the same over the ages. We can not completely rule out the lack of adaptation over the last forty or so thousand years of human history since the Great Leap Forward’. However, if the increased susceptibility arises from a biological cause, which is also found in the animal kingdom, we can be more confident as to the retrospective validity of our argument.  It is not disputed that the problem of establishing the nature of the said pre-historic disorders and understanding the exact nature of these ancient stressors still exist.

Link to the abstract of the paper:

(In a future article, I plan to povide more anthropological information arising from my research to further support the cultural aspect of the hypothesis)

Posted in Seclusion of Girls at Puberty | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seclusion of Girls at puberty -Part 2

There is a question people keep asking. Why is the seclusion of pubescent girls so special? It is true some social commentators say that there is no difference between male and female puberty rites as in many cultures; puberty is rather a social event than a physiological event. But these commentators then recognise that there are differences, between male and female puberty, associated with menstruation (See Ruth Benedict’s essay on ‘the diversity of Cultures‘ in ‘Cultural Sociology‘ ed by Lyn Spillman, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002 p 21-22). Thus, in general, there are differences between male and female puberty recognised, at least, by some cultures and these differencese are directly or indirectly linked to menstruation.

To answer the above question we also need to consider a few facets of the place women were held in the historical times. One obvious physiological difference between male puberty and female puberty is the menstruation. For the early humans it might have taken a long time before they discovered the connection between menstruation and the fertility. Perhaps, until they could develop a proto-language they might not have been in a position to communicate the universality of menstruation. However, once they developed some communication skills, it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence or time to see the difference between male and female puberty. It is very difficult to argue for or against these theses due to the fact that, as Mary.E. Clark (In Search of Human Nature, Routledge, London, 2002, p45) says, soft tissues and behaviours do not ‘leave behind any physical evidence’ for us to trace’ when and why they evolved’.

However, the physiological difference could not surely have been missed for long. Even before our ancestors understood the link between menstral cycle and the fertility, they might have seen any connection between the puberty and the mental disturbances simply due to the proximity between the cause and effect. As we know, child birth takes around ten months and all the ovulating women do not end up giving birth. Even though the girls were not mature enough to be fertile, they would have been surrounded by mature, fertile males since the humans started living in groups. These might have increased the stresses suffered by the young girls. (More details in this regard could be found in ‘the lure of noma’.)

Secondly, the connection between male puberty and the seclusion is not mainly related to the superstitious beliefs that many authours describe to exist around female puberty. The male puberty is significant in some cultures due to other cultural connotations rather than the physiological importance.

Posted in Seclusion of Girls at Puberty | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Religion in making?

The main point discussed in Chapter 4 Making of a Religion” was about the link between the supernatural and religion. Religions arise around phenomena which people perceive as beyond their understanding. The gap between the understanding and experience is filled with the supernatural and the miraculous. This natural reaction is not caused by human frailty.  Humans tend to attribute causes to effects that they sense. Many a time we use the ‘rule-of-thumb’ logic, based on simple resemblances, to come up with the answers.  Many a time we convince ourselves.  In the fourth chapter of the book, we look at the overlap between our need to explain and religion. In turn, we discuss the way people flock together around a central figure, Sai Baba, to found a new religious movement.

In the excellent video collection Ted Henry, An American Journalist, has made available to us in his website we can hear first-hand from the devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba about why they follow their Guru, what they think about him and how the unexplainable can be explained.When we listen to these devotees I couldn’t help wondering why the element of wonder experienced around Jesus and Mohammad could be any different to what we hear from these devotees.

You can view Ted’s video collection at:

Posted in About noma | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why religion is not so bad!!!!


“Hauser (2005) pointed out that even though we share the overwhelming majority of DNA with chimpanzees they are not as well adapted as humans to know what the intentions of other people are.  In some situations, they do not perform as well in this sphere as our canine friends do.  Thus, we do not have to ignore scientific evidence to agree with Maurice Bloch to accept the religion as uniquely human.  We deviated from him to argue that the ‘Transcendental Social’ can be a person with special mental abilities.  Previous chapters unfolded the proposition that in the primitive hunter-gatherer societies, the early humans’ genuine experiences of the strange abilities of some individuals gave rise to the belief in the supernatural.  This had been a uniquely human experience.  I also argued that the rituals related to puberty of girls might have arisen because of their ability to develop abnormal mental states that resemble paranormal phenomena.  We speculated that the Goddess Culture in the Palaeolithic Period might have had some links to the puberty rites.  The supernaturally powerful people or their actions soon became widely known with the help of human need for arousal.  New things or unusual events easily arouse our curiosity and make us flock to investigate and to know more about.  This should have happened in yonder times too.  These events then instinctively led to next part of the action which was the need for attribution.  They used a rudimentary form of logic, the Rule-of-Thumb Logic, to connect the ends to the means.  The supernatural, which was occasionally seen to act at a distance, gave rise to the animism that populated the physical world with the unseen spirits.  With the advent of agrarian societies, the natural progression of these animistic ideas led to the polytheism with an anthropomorphic character.  These gods, unseen in their ‘human’ form, but visible in their ‘action’ could be easily tied to the animistic spirits by the human tendency to cogitate and attribute.  The supernatural can be implored to help the humans with their mundane wishes.  As humans, we always look for personal gain and thus, can be called ‘upside hunters’ using a financial market analogy.  With the upside hunting what come naturally is ‘herding behaviour’ which makes people imitate others.  The humans are born to imitate and they imitate the actions that would help their personal aspirations, like the cargo cult followers imitating the foreigners to bring in the much-valued cargo.  Monotheism was the next big idea which did not need a special path of development.  The polytheistic gods in the hands of nomadic societies gave rise to the monotheistic God who could protect them anywhere on their travels.”

“The people who could use abnormal abilities could have been the very first priests.  These priests later came from a hereditary caste or the initiates.  When they could not meet the expectations of the community with its expectation of the special abilities of the priests, they might have experimented with other means like hallucinogenic plants.  They might have tried rhythmic sounds and body movements to achieve similar ends.  Many of the ancient Indian Sacred Texts were said to be written by Rishis with extraordinary abilities.  Egyptian priests were known to have some mystical knowledge that was only given to the initiates.  The Oracle at Delphi in Greece was a priestess who could talk to the supernatural.”

“We also discussed that the religions show a tendency to consolidate as bigger groups and then form small groupings within the bigger religious movements.  This was compared to monopolistic competition in economics.  The competing interests, namely, the power of the supernatural and the more localised needs of the believers created this situation.  Polytheism became monotheism and the supernatural became more powerful.  However, the needs of the local believer could not be satisfactorily met by the super-size supernatural.  Thus, the people created deities or saints with more local or specific influence.”

“To reinforce the claims about the origin of the religious concepts,  the life stories of religious leaders were discussed and showed that they all had some exceptional abilities that pulled the people towards them.  In the followers’ eyes, many of them showed the strange ‘mental’ abilities that were beyond the capacity of the average person.  They also made use of the times they lived in and preached a message easily reaching the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women toiling in the sun-soaked fields and the soot-filled workshops.  The story of Sai Baba movement was used to provide a modern example to illustrate these points and claimed that the next stage of religious development would be more of a synthesis of many religions than a brand new religious philosophy.  This diversity within unity is embodied in the Sai Baba Movement and thus, may soon attain the status of a new religion; a new religion in the shape of what the future religions would look like.  The Sai religion has the potential to make use of the economies of scale achieved through all the religions it embraces while allowing the individual religions to keep their identities.  This would provide a symbiotic relationship between the Sai religion and other religions.  So the religion in the future will become more of a thread binding humanity together than a force scattering mankind over the religious idiosyncrasies.”


“The religion is not inherent evil so that we have to dismantle all the religious institutions for the sake of human progress.  The religion should be left to tread its own course without interference from the non-believers as it fills a vacuum that no other human endeavour can.  It provides hope and sanity to many for whom the modern lifestyle provides only despair and desolation.  Many argue that the morality can exist without religion.  Contrary to this, a recent study reported by Shariff and Norenzayan (2007) showed that when the people were primed with the religious ideas, they became more prosocial; the researchers assumed the idea of supernatural watcher as a possible explanation for the increased generosity among the subjects.  In this debate about morality, we can pick the side that we like.  Thus, the best the clergy and scientists can do for the humanity is to adhere to the principles of NOMA and avoid unnecessary clashes.  The religions should not try to explain the religion through science as Gould (1999/2001) advocated.  NOMA is about humanity and the duty of humanity is to respect all aspects of its mental evolution even if one group do not agree with the other.  The truth may not always and entirely be theirs or ours.  We should let various theories and explanations that we come up with as part-and-parcel of our mental evolution, to survive or die a natural death.  I respect what I believe and I equally respect your non-belief of what I believe.  As the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, ‘Let us, even when we do not appreciate what others say, respect their views and their ways of life.’  Likewise, NOMA is about co-existence and non-interference.  It is also about respect and humility.  The lure of NOMA lies in the elegant message it struggles to convey……………….”

(Please note the above passages are mainly from an early version of the book ‘the lure of noma’ )

Posted in About noma | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Updated Bibliography

A missing entry was added to the bibliography of’ the lure of noma’ and hence, the list below is more complete than the book.

Ajzen, I and Fishbein, M. (1980) Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behaviour, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, New Jersey

Antoine, H.F.M.P, Drumm, J. et al (2001) Absence of Germline Infection in Male Mice Following Intraventricular Injection of Adenovirus, Molecular Therapy, 4(6), p603-613

Argyle, M. (2000/2005) Psychology and Religion, Routledge, New York

Atran, A.F. and Norenzayan, A. (2004) Religion’s Evolutionary Landscape: Counterintuition, Commitment, Compassion, Communion, Behavioural and Bran Sciences, 27(6), p713-770

Auerbach, E. (1975) Moses, translated by R.A. Barclay and I. O. Lehmann, Wayne State University Press, Detroit

Axlerod, R. (1984) The Evolution of Co-operation, Basic Books, New York

Bauval, R. and Gilbert, A. (1994) The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids, Mandarin, London

Bloch, M. (2008) Why Religion Is Nothing Special But Is Central, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0007

Bloom, P. (2004) Descartes’ Baby: How Child Development Explains What makes Us Human, William Heinemann, London

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment, Basic Books, New York

Boyer, P. and Bergstrom, B. (2008) Evolutionary Perspectives on Religion, Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, p111-130

Bowker, J. (2002) God: A Brief History: The Human Search for Eternal Truth, DK Publishing, London

Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM,

Claridge, G and Davis, C. (2003) Personality and Psychological Disorders, Arnold, London

Clarke, A.C. (2000) Profiles of the Future, Indigo paperback, London

Collier, J. (1986) Entropy in Evolution, Biology and Philosophy, 1, p5-24

Crossan, J. D. (1992) The Historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, HarperCollins Publishers, New York

Darwin, C. (1872/1998) The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Senate, Middlesex

Davies, P. (2007) The Goldilocks Enigma, Penguin Books, London

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Dawkins, R. (1986) The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Books, London

Dawkins, R. (1999) Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for wonder, Penguin Books, London

Dawkins, R. (c2004) The Ancestor’s Tale; A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London

Dawkins, R. (2005) The View from Mount Improbable, Penguin Books, London

Dawkins, R. (2006) The God Delusion, Bantam Press, Sydney, London

Dennett, D. C. (2006) Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Allen Lane, London

Denton, M. (1986) Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, Bethesda

Desharnaisi, R. A. and R. F. Costantinoz, R.F. (1982) Natural Selection And Fitness Entropy In A Density-Regulated Population, Genetics, 101, p317-329

Diamond, J. (1992/1993) The Third Chimpanzee, HarperPerennial, New York

Diomond, J. (1997/2005) Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History Of Everybody For The Last 13,000 Years, Vintage, London

Drake, F. and Sobel, D. (1991/1994) Is Anyone Out There? Pocket Books, London

Edelman, G. M. and Tononi, G. (2000) A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Basic Books, New York

Ehrlich, C.S. (2004) Understanding Judaism, Duncan Baird Publishers, London

Einstein, A. (1954) Ideas and Opinions, Wings Books, New York

Eldridge, N. and Gould, S.J. (1972) Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative To Phyletic Gradualism, in Models in Paleobiology. ed byT.J.M. Schopf, Freeman Cooper & Co, San Francisco

Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1960) The Tibetan Book of The Dead, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, London

Fincher, C.L and Thornhill, R. (2008) Assortative Sociality, Limited Dispersal, Infectious Disease And The Genesis Of The Global Pattern Of Religion Diversity, Proceedings of Royal Society B, doi: 10.1098/ rspb.2008.0688

Fontana, D. (2003) Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

Frazer, J (1993) The Golden Bough, Wordsworth Edit.ons Ltd, Ware, Hertfordshire

Frith, C.D. and Frith, U. (2006) The Neural Basis of Mentalizing, Neuron, 50, p531-534

Gibran, K. (1926/1980) The Prophet, William Heinemann, London

Gould, S. J. (1998) Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and The Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History, Jonathan Cape, London

Gould, S. J. (1999/2001) Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the fullness of life, Jonathan Cape, London

Gould, S.J. (1977/1986) Ever Since Darwin; Reflections in Natural History, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth

Gribbin, J. (2004) Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life, Allen Lane, London

Gunaji, N. V. (1996) Shri Sai Satcharita, Shri Sai Baba Sansthan, Shirdi

Hallam, E. (1994) Saints: Over 150 Patron Saints for Today, National Book Distributors, Brookvale

Halpern, J. (1948) History of Our People in Bible Times, 3rd Edition, Shapiro, Vallentine & Co, London

Haraldsson, E. (1997) Miracles Are My Visiting Cards: An Investgative Report On Psychic Phenomena Associated With Sathya Sai Baba, Revised and Updated Edition, Sai Towers Pubslishing, Prasanthi Nilayam

Hassnain, F. (1995) A Search for The Historical Jesus, Gateway Books, Bath

Hatfield, E. Cacioppo, J.T. and Rapson, R.L. (1994) Emotional Contagion, Cambridge University Press, New York

Hauser, M. (2005) Our Chimpanzee Mind, Nature, doi:10.1038/nature 03917

Havecker, C. (2002) Understanding Aboriginal Culture, Cosmos, Brisbane

Hiriyanna, M. (1993) Outlines of Indian Philosophy, M/S Kavyalayam Publishers, Delhi, India

Hodgson, G.M. (2007) Meaning of Methodological Individualism, Journal of Economic Methodology, 14(2), p211-226

Ioannidis, J.P.A. (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, PLoS Med 2(8): e124

James, W. (1901) The Varieties of Religious Experience, Over 4000 Works of Literature, Eureka Multimedia

Kaila, V.R.I. and Annila, A. (2008) Natural Selection for Least Action, Proc. R. Soc. A, oi:10.1098/rspa.2008.0178

Kamath, M.V. and Kher, V.B. (1991/1997) Sai Baba of Shirdi: a Unique Saint, Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai

Kimura, M. (1968) Evolutionary Rate at the Molecular Level, Nature, 217, p624-626

Kirkpatrick, L. A. (1992) An Attachment-Theory Approach To The Psychology Of Religion, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2, p3-28

Kirkpatrick, L. A. (1999) Toward an Evolutionary Psychology of Religion and Personality, Journal of Personality, 67, p921-952

Koestler, A. (1959/1989) The Sleepwalkers; A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe, Penguin Books (ARKANA), London

Kondratove, A. (1974) The Riddles of Three Oceans, Progress Publishers, Moscow

Kusch, M. (1999/2006) Psychological Knowledge: A Social History And Philosophy, Routledge, London

Lang, A. (1900) The Making of Religion, 2nd Edition, Project Gutenberg EBook

Lennox, J. C. (2007) God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God, Lion, Oxford

Lewis-Williams, J.D. and Dowson, T.A. (1988) The Signs Of All Times: Entoptic Phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic Art, Current Anthropology, 29, p201-245

Lieberman, D., Toohy, J. and Cosmides, L. (2003) Does Morality Have A Biological Basis? An Empirical Test Of The Factors Governing Moral Sentiments Relating To Incest, Proceedings of Royal Society, B, 270, p 819-826

Maqsood, R.W. (2003) Teach Yourself Islam, Hodder Headline Plc, London

Margulis, L. and Sagan, D. (1994) Microcosmos in From Gaia to Selfish Genes; Selected writings in the Life Sciences ed. by C. Barlow, The MIT Press, Massachusetts

Meltzoff, A. N. and Moore, M.K. (1983) Newborn Infants Imitate Adult Facial Gestures, Child Development, 54, p702-709

Murphet, H. (1971/1997) Sai Baba: Man of Miracles, Macmillan India Limited, Chennai

Myers, D. G. (2002) Intuition: Its Powers And Perils, Yale University Press, New Haven

Nickell, J. (2001) Real-Life X- Files; investigating the paranormal, The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky

O’Connor, D. (2001) Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Religion, Routledge, London

Parker, A. (2003) In The Blink Of An Eye: the cause of the most dramatic event in the history of life, The Free Press, London

Prinstein, M.J., Borelli, J.L., Cheah, C.S.L., Simon, V. A. and  Aikins, J. W. (2005) Adolescent Girls’ Interpersonal Vulnerability to Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Examination of Reassurance-Seeking and Peer Relationships, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114( 4), p676–688

Raffaele, P. (2006) In John They Trust, Smithsonian Magazine,

Rohl, D.M. (1995) A Test of Time, Volume One, The Bible – From Myth to History, Century Ltd, London

Roland, P. (2000) Investigating the Unexplained: Explorations into Ancient Mysteries; The Paranormal & strange phenomena, Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd, London

Roll, W. G. (2003) Poltergeists, Electromagnetism and Consciousness, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 17( 1), p75–86

Scheidel, W. (1997) Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt, Journal of Biosocial Science, 29, p361-371

Seto, M.C., Lalumiere, M.L. and Kuban, M. (1999) The Sexual Preferences Of Incest Offenders, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108(2), p267-272

Shariff, A. F. and Norenzayan, A. (2007) God Is Watching You, Psychological Science, 18 (9), p803-809

Sheth, J.N, Mittal, B. and Newman, B. (1999) Customer Behavior: Consumer Behavior and Beyond, The Dryden Press, Fort Worth

Simmonds, P. (2004) RNA Viruses – Evolution in Action, Microbiology Today, 31, p163-165

Sjöö, M. and Mor, B. (1991) The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, HarperCollins, San Fransisco

Singh, S. (1997/2002) Fermat’s Last Theorem, Fourth Estate, London
Hayek, F. A. V. (1942) Scientism and the Study of Society: PART I, Economica, New Series, 9(35), p267-291

Smart, N. (1989) The World’s Religions, Cambridge University Press, London

Sosis, R. (2003) Why Aren’t We All Hutterites? Costly Signaling Theory and Religious Behavior, Human Nature, 14(2), p91-127

Spurr, M. J. (2007) Sathya Sai Baba as Avatar: “His Story and the History of an Idea, Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Steele, E. J., Lindley, R. A. and Blanden, R.V. (1999) Lamarck’s Signature: How Retrogenes are Changing Darwin’s Natural Selection Paradigm, Basic Books, New York

Tabor, J. D. (2006) The Jesus Dynasty, Harper Elements, London

Thompson, J. E. S. (1954/1993) The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilisation, Pimlico, London

Tuchman, B.W. (1984) The March Of Folly, from Troy to Vietnam, Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Velikovsky, I. (1973) Ages in Chaos, Abacus, London

Villarreal, L. P. (2004) Can Viruses Make Us Human?, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 148(3), p296-323

Weiss, R. (2005) The Global Guru:Sai Baba And The Miracle Of The Modern, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 7(2), p5-19

White, C. S. J. (1972) The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of Indian Saints, The Journal of Asian Studies, 31(4), p863-878

Whitlock, F. A. (1987) Hysteria in The Oxford Companion to The Mind edited by Richard L. Gregory, Oxford University Press, New York

Wilkins, W. J. (1882/1982) Hindu Mythology, Rupa Paperback, Delhi

Williams, Dr. W. F. (2000) Encyclopedia of Pseudo Science from Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy, Facts On File Inc, New York

Wilson, C. (1987) Paranormal Phenomena and The Unconscious in The Oxford Companion to The Mind edited by Richard L. Gregory, Oxford University Press, New York

Winston, R. (2006) The Story Of God, Bantom Press, London

Zeevaart, J. A. D. (2006) Florigen Coming Of Age After 70 Years, The Plant Cell, 18, p1783-1789

Zimmer, C. (2002) Evolution, William Heinemann, London

(In the bibliography, it was tried to give the year of earliest publication whenever it was available.  This should give the reader the sense of the history of ideas in those publications.)

Posted in About the book | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some comments about ‘the lure of noma’

The following quotes are the unedited paras from the email communications.

My sincere gratitude to those who took their precious time to read ‘the lure of noma’ and comment!!

It’s a huge subject and I think you cover it well. I’ve read some of the books you quote – The God Delusion, The Golden Bough. There’s that old Chinese saying that even if you stand on the tallest mountain you can’t see the whole world because you can’t see the mountain you’re standing on! So I think the it’s a bit like that. -a graphic designer

I enjoyed reading it and I think it is a very helpful contribution to the debate. I wish it was more widely available. – an academic

I read the book through and am very please to tell you that it is very erudite and it  demonstrates a breadth of scholarship which indicates a lot of research has gone into it.The book is also very well written. It is far from boring and I finished reading it very quickly.- an academic

Posted in About the book | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seclusion of Girls at Puberty – Post 1

The seclusion of girls at puberty is a topic that bears an importance to the discussion about the origin of religion. The thesis proposed in  the lure of noma: On The Elegance of Religion is that the practice of secluding girls at puberty can have a significance in the context of the origin of religion as the reasons for such a seclusion is more supernatural than hygienic. It is not easy to prove the existence of such practices since the pre-historical times. From various places around the world there are various records of such puberty practices (see The Golden Bough of Sir James Frazer).  Even in historical times, these practices might have been confined to the mainly illiterate classes of these societies and hence, had a very small probability of being written down in any historical documents. Some of these societies only had oral traditions of passing down their customs.  It is noteworthy to see Frazer’s comment on that the Greek and Kirghiz legends about daughters kept by their fathers in seclusion.

However, modern records can provide us clues as to their prevalence in pre-historical times.  Here, we need to make assumptions about some facets of human behaviours. If we connect these puberty rites with the some behaviours evident among the pubescent girls in our modern society and assume these behaviours had some uniformity throughout the major part of human history, we can expect some parallels.  In a survey conducted in 1997 about the Mental Health Needs of Youth in the Juvenile Justice System in Ohio (as quoted by Prescott, L., Adolescent Girls with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System,the GAINS Center, NY,USA,1997), it was found that 84 percent of the girls displayed the need for mental health assistance compared to 27 percent of the boys. This is evidence for the fact that the adolescent girls, especially with a history of abuse, than the boys, are more vulnerable to mental problems. It is interesting to note that some of these girls experienced ‘hearing voices’ and had flashbacks. This study cohort of girls may be different to normal cohort of girls. However, the conclusion that the vulnerable girls, more than boys in similar situations, are prone to develop mental problems is still tenable. The disposition of girls over the history of human race couldn’t have changed so drastically.

The second set of evidence for girls’ behaviour issues come from the so-called poltergeist activities. Rickard and Michell (Rickard, B. and Michell, J., The rough Guide to Unexplained phenomena, Rough Guides Ltd, London, 2007, p86) describes a Romanian girl of about eleven years by the name of Eleonore Zugun. This is a case well documented and the girl was taken to England for study in 1926. Among the noticeable activities around her presence were the movement of small objects seemingly on their own account, and the appearance of bite-like marks on the skin of her face and arms. Her affliction disappeared after her fourteenth birthday and the onset of menstruation. Another story is about a girl who was in the service of a Lewis Burtis of New England. This nearly illiterate girl had been a living sketchpad with all sorts of images and words appearing on her skin. There are so many other such cases associated with young girls. The stage of life around the onset of puberty seems to be an interesting period in girls’ lives in many ways than one. It doesn’t need for these supernatural activities to be real. What is important is the perceptions about them in the immediate society. Thus, attributing special status to girls at puberty is perhaps not surprising.

If the facts about the treatment of girls at puberty across many ancient cultures and the documented evidence about some special mental conditions that can occur in girls around this age can be combined, it is not very difficult to imagine the special status accorded to the girls in some traditional communities. Frazer’s claim that these girls were treated similar to royalty and in turn to priests or magicians is significant. These similarities can be further supported by the work done by Thorstein Veblen around the turn of twentieth century. Veblen, writing on Pecuniary Canons on Taste, states that the priestly servitors of the divinity should not engage in industrially productive work; that work of any kind must not be carried on in the divine presence. This is not very different to the king’s duties. As the king is divine incarnate in many ancient societies, the divine beings cannot be thought of as doing any productive work. When we look at the secluded girls in this light, the practice seems to carry the practical theme of the supernatural.

In summary, we can now see why it is more natural to see a sociological explanation, as discussed in the lure of noma for the origin of religion. The so-called natural explanation based on animal responsiveness to the environment is forcing us to believe something which we cannot prove. This is an argument that may also be extended against the human experiences based explanation given above. The difference is the presence of many religions which are based on the perceived special gifts of the founders. And we all are not born religious. Nonetheless, we are yet to see any proven religious behaviour in animal kingdom.  Humans may not be unique but all behaviour and anatomical differences between humans and its closest relative, chimpanzees, cannot be currently explained away by genetic atomism. Thus, it is not unfair, at least until the day less than 2% genetic material difference between man and chimp can explain everything, to believe that the religion arose as a uniquely human reaction to what they could see around them as ‘supernatural’.

Posted in Seclusion of Girls at Puberty | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Lure of NOMA: On the Elegance of Religion Contents

The following list of topics discussed in the book are there for someone who wish to send a comment on the book. There may be many shortcomings that eluded me in writing the book. Please feel free to email your criticism ot post your honest comments about  “the lure of noma” .



Chapter 1 Religion – An Overview

Cargo Cults

What Is Religion?

Dimensions Of Religion

Attribution, Arousal Seeking And Cognition

Magician Among Us

The Logic For Everyone

Shamanism – It’s Just The Natural Selection, Stupid!

Then Came Many Gods!

Pantheons Of Gods

The Arrival Of One God

Why Are There Many Religions And How Do They Spread?

Another Look At The Evolutionary View

Chapter 2 – Religions Of The World

Was Moses Real?

Jesus, The Son Of God

The Rise Of Islam

Buddhism – The Religion Without God

There Are Others, Too

What Can We See In The People Who Started Religions?






To End The Discussion

Chapter 3 How Did The Religion Arise? An Alternative View

Polytheism Within Monotheism

The Role Of Individualism

Immersing In Herding Behaviour?

Rule-Of-Thumb Logic

The Rule-Of-Thumb Logic Meets The Upside Hunter

A Brief Critique Of Current Views

An Imaginary Being – Transcendental Social

Entry Of Spirits

Anecdotal Evidence?

Was God Female?

A Bit Of Imagination Is Not Out-Of-Place

Role Of The Odd Ones

To End The Chapter

Chapter 4 -Making Of A Religion

Shiridi Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba

Has Sathya Sai Baba Failed Us?

Sai Baba’s Place As The Founder Of A New Religion

Is Sai Baba Movement Really A Religion?

A New Wave Of Religious Thought?

An End Note To The Chapter

Chapter 5 – To Wrap It Up

Appendix – Should The Darwinian Interpretation Be The Be-All And End-All Of Religion?

Evolutionary Theory As A Dogma

A Brief Look At Darwinian Theory

A Selfishly Blind Process?

Efficiency In Biological Systems

How Are The Environmental Impacts Passed On?

Switching Genes

Calling Lamarck To Help

Macroevolution – A Tough Nut To Crack


Posted in About the book | Tagged | Leave a comment