Archaic Body and Cosmic Man

by | Apr 8, 2019 | Inglese | 0 comments

In the book of Genesis, it is written: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1, 26-28.31a). On the basis of this myth of origins, which constitutes the starting point of the Jewish religion, the absolute being, God, can create man in his image and likeness only starting from the awareness of his own anthropomorphic structure. The conception of the body that emerges from the analysis of iconographic, archaeological and ethnographic documents, allows us to elaborate an idea of creation that originates from a similar starting point, which is based on the cognitive modalities of archaic man. In this perspective, man attributes to the Universe the form and functions of a divine entity after having obtained them, by analogy, from his own body. Archaic man, therefore, considers cosmic events as acts and behaviors in which a God endowed with a human form is manifested. The foundation of this hypothesis, which has unfortunately not been developed in all its premises and whose conclusions have not been drawn in full, was formulated by Marcel Jousse, a Jesuit priest and French anthropologist (1886-1961). According to Jousse the knowledge of the origins is a drama that leads back to two actors: on the one hand the multiplicity of the manifestations of the cosmos, on the other the archaic man, whom Jousse calls Anthropos. The spectacle of the Universe suggests two questions: what does man know? And how does he know it? The answer is clear: what Anthropos knows are the actions it can detect in the cosmos and how to know them depends on its cognitive tools, first of all the body, through which the language of the origins is spoken. Starting from this perspective, the Whole presents itself essentially as energy and Nature as movement. His personality and his sensitive life are the only basis available to the archaic man for a coherent causal observation. Thus the cosmos is read as a concatenation of interactions, a formidable tangle of interactive gestures. “Faced with something that moves – continues Jousse – the archaic man sees the action and tries to imagine the one who does it. But no one can see the force that moves the world”. Jousse claims that archaic man knows things in bodily and gestural ways. Consequently, he believes that the actions he sees taking place in the cosmos are attributable to an absolute entity, a super-man, God, in fact. Based on these assumptions that the cosmos is a macro-Anthropos, legends have been told for millennia that explain how the birth of the cosmos is a consequence of the sacrifice and subsequent dismemberment of an immense human being, the Cosmic Man, existing before creation. The pieces of his body thus formed the entire universe. In the myths of origin from the Middle East, the body of the Cosmic Man is broken into two parts.


In the Egyptian myth, Shu, god of the air and cosmic axis, separates Geb (god of the earth) from Nut (goddess of the sky) interrupting their sexual act (Piantelli, 1983). In the Babylonian poem “Enuma Elish” (2nd millennium BC) the body of the goddess Tiamat, which the god Marduk has divided into two like the valves of a shell, forms the sky and the earth. In the Indo-European myths, the parts of the universe come from the dismembered body of the Primordial Cosmic Man. Western sources, the “Grimnismal”, an ancient Germanic poem and the “Gylfaginnig”, written by the Norwegian Snorri Sturlson (13th century), tell the story of Ymir, the first being in the Universe, a giant already existing before creation who is killed and dismembered by Odin, the supreme deity of the Germanic Olympus. “From the flesh of Ymir, the earth was formed, from the blood the seas, the mountains from the bones, the trees from the hair and from the skull the sky.”


The Vastu Purusha Mandala, a geometric figure corresponding to the square divided into 81 boxes used in the game of chess, is the sacred space in which the position and orientation of the celestial bodies and supernatural forces acting in the cosmos are indicated. The Mandala, which expresses the geometry of the universe, corresponds to the body of Purusha, the cosmic man, in turn depicted with his head turned to the east and his feet to the west. The Rgveda, one of the oldest religious repertoires of the Aryan populations of India (end II-I millennium BC), tells that Purusha, the Cosmic Man “born from the beginning”, is sacrificed and the cosmos comes from its subsequent dismemberment. From his mouth Brahman is born, from the arms the warrior, from the thighs the people, from the feet the servant. The moon is born from the mind, the sun from the eye, the god of fire (Indra) from the mouth. The wind comes from the breath, the space between sky and earth from the navel, the sky from the head, the earth from the feet, the directions of the space from the hearing. The dismemberment of the Cosmic Man could also provide an explanation for human sacrifice.

tamburo siberiano

An anthropomorphic view of the cosmos is also represented on the skin of shamanic drums of Scandinavia and central Asia. The circular surface of the drum, which is the symbol of the entire universe, is occupied by the image of the anthropomorph with open arms in the position of the cross which is, as we have already seen, the gesture of the Universal Man.
In the belief of shamanic peoples, the sound vibration produced by the percussion of the skin caused powerful magical effects connected to the most ancestral sounds of nature. The drum is indeed endowed with magical powers, such as that of transferring the shaman to the upper or lower world. The drum is associated with the earth, the moon, fertility, rain, thunder, the beating of the heart. It was made from the wood of the tree in the center of the world, “axis mundi” which connects the sky to the earth. At the center of the drum is depicted the anthropomorphic with horizontal arms, the cosmic man who is the personification of the Cosmos. The space above the arms is the sky with its cosmological elements. Under the arms is the natural world in which animals and human beings move, including the shaman in action with his drum (from Mallery).

La Danza delle Origini

Versione cartacea

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi


C’era una volta il Torchio

Versione digitale

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi


L’ Albero del Tempo

Versione digitale

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi



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