A couple of weeks back there was an article in the NYT Science Times about the flute found at the Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, which they now date back 42,000 to 43,000 years, not 35,000. That’s really old. I found the following speculation by “Paleogeek” re: the synthesis of music and cave art. Paleogeek cites researchers who speculate about the placing of paintings at other Paleolithic sites.
The theory is that paintings were placed at those locations inside the caves that carry the greatest acoustic resonance. One possible interpretation is that the synthesis of music and images was intended to engender altered states of consciousness, for ritual-magical-religious purposes.
This all makes me think about the cave-like and interior quality of magical and/or religious consciousness. I don’t think there is any religion that is not in some way cave-like, either literally or figuratively. This is precisely the phenomenon that should worry scholars and critics of religion.
I think the difference between inside and outside is an important difference. There are all kinds of things, good things and bad things that can happen inside that can’t happen outside. Good things might include more intense acoustic, visual, and conceptual resonance, whereas these kinds of things tend to dissipate outside. Ultimately, however, the difference between inside and outside is a difference that makes no difference. The difference makes no difference because inside is just a smaller outside and outside is just a bigger inside.
What was the function of the flute and the so-called “Venus figurines” found nearby at Hohle-Fels? I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone really knows or will ever know. The work of what Harold Bloom has called “religious criticism” (in The American Religion) is to make sure this circularity between inside and outside is a gentle or productive one, not a vicious one.