Joe Caveman and the Origin of Religion

by George Foxx

Copyright© 2018 by George Foxx

Fiction Story: Have you ever wondered how otherwise intelligent people believe in the fairytales various religions perpetuate? This is one possible explanation.

Tags: Ma/Fa  

When I was a middle school special education teacher I took a page from the book of tricks of one of my best high school teachers, Mr. Everett Craft. Mr. Craft used Tignor and Cumquat as the subjects of his sentences on grammar quizzes. I used Joe Caveman as the subject of my history lessons. The silly or absurd catches the imagination of adolescents and is much more memorable to them than dates, or the names of people or places. Most of my students had some level of Attention Deficit Disorder, so I tried to teach general principles and broad concepts rather than so-called facts. After all, the winner gets to write the history.

I don’t claim the ability to see back through the mists of time, so I am not going to make up a name or invent a clan. If you think about Joe’s circumstances, I think one or more of your friends will come to mind who may have done the same thing Joe did.

Joe Caveman was a hunter. He was the best in his clan. Joe always seemed to know where the game animals were along their migration paths. He also knew when it was not safe to eat rabbits or when meat left on a predator’s kill wasn’t safe to scavenge. This helped keep the clan healthy and cut down on deaths from spoiled food or diseased animals, so the clan prospered and grew.

One day Joe was leading a hunt for wild horses. The clan drove the horses into a box canyon and Joe went first, holding his heavy thrusting spear at chest height for the big stallion who led the herd. The stallion spun around and unleashed a ferocious kick with his back legs. The hard, black hooves crashed into Joe’s right knee and totally destroyed the joint. Joe yelled from the pain and dropped to the ground, unable to walk, let alone run.

The younger hunters were able to kill two of the smaller horses. The women came and dressed the carcasses and stretched the skins on frames to begin the process of working them into usable articles. Women who knew how stripped the tendons from the bones. Other women emptied the stomach and the gut and began turning the stomach into a water skin and the gut into lacing and thread-like material for sewing skins together. The older men began the process of turning the large bones into weapons or tools while old women began to make needles and cooking utensils from smaller bones.

In minutes the bones were bare and the only evidence of the kill were piles of stomach and bowel contents. The clan moved to a near-by cave. There were many limestone caves in the bluffs along the big river that cut through the prairie. The river was so wide, even the biggest grazing animals could swim across. In times of drought bison bulls tried, but were always swept away and drowned.

Inside the cave, the wise woman made a fire. The women roasted some meat over the cooking fire and smoked most of it over a small fire in the back of the cave. Big slabs of bark made a conical roof over the smoking fire. The smoke curled out of the pointed top of the roof and a crack in the rock carried the smoke out of the cave.

There were many trees along the bluffs. A large number were what we call oaks today. They produced large acorns that the women gathered and pounded into a flour with rocks. They washed the tannins out of the acorn flour by running water from a spring through a basin the water had carved in the soft limestone rock. The acorn flour made a tasteless porridge the clan ate when there was nothing better.

The clan was ready to move at sunrise. The women left Joe a cured stomach bag filled with acorn flour and a few strips of dried meat. He could crawl to a pool where spring water collected. They left him dry oak and elm branches so he could keep the fire going.

Joe had always known hunger as he hunted the big grazing animals on the plains above the huge river, so he made the food last for two weeks. He kept his knee cold by soaking in it in the spring water. This reduced the swelling. He chewed willow bark the wise woman left him to dull the pain.

Autumn was coming and the large predators were searching for dens for hibernating or to keep themselves from freezing on the coldest winter nights.

Joe was keeping the smallest fire possible going at night so he didn’t have to drag so much wood back to the cave.

Joe wasn’t particularly surprised when a cave lion jumped the fire and rushed him. Joe thrust the point of his spear into the breast of the charging lion. The beast was wounded, but was not killed. Joe crawled back to the back of the cave and wedged himself in a crevice that was too small for the lion to follow. With the spear embedded in its chest, the lion continued to bleed and the spear worked deeper every time the lion tried to reach into the crevice to take a swipe at Joe. Sometime just before dawn, the lion died from blood loss.

Joe crawled out of the crevice, but as he pulled himself into the larger part of the cave a round gray rock rolled out of the crevice and broke in half on the cavern floor. Inside the rock was hollow, but the inside wall was lined with sparkling crystals. In the light of the fire it looked like the hollow rock contained its own fire as the firelight reflected off of some crystals and refracted as it passed through other crystals.

Joe built up the fire and stared at this rock for a long time. A plan was starting to grow in the back of Joe’s brain.

He stopped staring at the crystals long enough to skin and dress the lion. He roasted some meat and ate enough to quiet his hunger pains. Joe used a flint chip to cut the meat in very thin strips, then smoked the rest. He had to stay awake all night to keep the small, smoky fire going inside the cone of bark slabs. These bark slabs were from what we would call a shagbark hickory tree today. Joe had gone looking for one of the hickory trees to get more bark to patch the smoker. He had found some dry branches blown down by a wind storm. He dragged all the hickory branches he could find back to the cave for the smoker fire. The hickory burned slowly like the oak wood, but the smoke was more fragrant.

As he fed small sticks into the fire, Joe thought about his status and wondered what he might do about it. A wounded or crippled clan member was sure to attract predators and endanger the other clan members. Clan tradition was to leave those not able to travel to fend for themselves. Joe knew that with a thrusting spear, a healthy solitary hunter would only survive a few months. With his damaged knee, Joe knew he might only last a few weeks.

Joe prepared the lion skin and worked to preserve it. He made it into a cape, with the head still attached. He hollowed out the skull and used the brain to preserve the skin. The skin was longer than Joe was tall, so he cut off the bottom portion of the skin so it wouldn’t drag in the mud. He made a skin bag out of the remnant. Joe left the lion’s hind paws attached to decorate the bag. He used the bag to hold his remarkable stone.

Joe experimented with different sizes of branches and finally fashioned a splint to lash to his leg and hold his knee stiff. He found an oak branch that was the right length to use as a crutch. He was able to drag himself to the clan’s wintering cave.

The wise woman was inclined to let him in, but the mate of the clan chief made Joe sit and wait outside the cave. When the clan chief returned, he and the wise woman debated for a long time.

The chief said, “I don’t think you are Joe. Joe is dead and you are a ghost. If we let you in the cave you will cause sickness and death.”

The wise woman said, “I was midwife when Joe was born. He has a brown mark on his skin just above his penis. This is not a ghost because it has real skin and has the brown mark. A ghost would not have the same mark. Also, when I looked for the skin mark, his body is warm. A ghost is cold. When I touched his body to make sure the mark was real, not just paint, his penis got hard. Ghosts don’t have a penis, so they can get hard to be ready to mate. This all means this is a person, not a ghost. This person is Joe.”

Oak Club said, “I have hunted many summers and starved many winters with Joe. Let this person speak, and I will tell you if it is really Joe or some kind of ghost trick.”

The wise woman said, “That is a good plan. Let this person speak.”

Joe told his story, but he changed some of the events. This is the story Joe told:

“I was lying in the cave, keeping warm by the fire, and staying alive because of the food you left for me. I was thinking of your kindness when I heard the cave lion roaring outside the cave entrance. I knew about a small crack in the rock back by the smoking fire pit, so I crawled back there and pulled myself as deep into the crack as I could. I was hoping that inside the crevice, the lion’s claws couldn’t reach me. I dragged my spear with me to help me lift my body off the floor.

“As I tried to make myself as small as possible and get as deep into the crack as possible, something happened. This rock fell from the ceiling of the cave and broke open in front of me. As I looked into the crystals, I saw my father in one of the shining stones. He told me to look into the sharp, pointed crystals. In one, I saw my grandfather. Grandfather showed me all of my other hunter ancestors. They spoke to me and gave me their strength. The lion jumped over the fire and charged into the cave. He rushed at the crevice where I was hiding. I wedged the bottom of my spear against a big rock in the crevice and I left the tip sticking out. When the lion charged and tried to claw me, the tip of the spear went into his breast. The spear pierced the lion’s heart, and he died.

“I crawled out of my hiding place, skinned the lion, cut out his heart, roasted it and ate it. As you see I made a cloak from the lion skin. I have captured the spirit of the lion. Now I own his claws and teeth. He tried to kill me, but I have eaten his heart.

“With the magical stone I found, I can capture fire in the stone and hold it in my hand. I can see and speak with the ancestors to get their help, strength, and advice. I am crippled, and you left me to die, but you see that I am alive and strong as ever. I will not be a curse to the clan or a useless mouth to feed. I will speak with the ancestors and tell the hunters where to look for each kind of game animal. I will help the hunters find food for everyone when winter is cruel and the snow is deep or when the sun is hot and the earth cracks from lack of rain and the game vanishes because the grass is dead.”

Oak Club said, “This is not a ghost. It is a person. From what this person says, I am convinced it is Joe.”

The wise woman said, “I believe we should ask this person to join our clan. It will be better to have a wise woman AND a wise man. I think this will balance the forces of the spirits in out cave. I am convinced this person is Joe, but if the clan chief thinks it is not wise to invite one who was left to die back into the cave, we can give this person a new name and invite that new person to join our clan.”

The clan chief agreed it would not be wise to refuse to shelter a cave lion slayer, especially when he had the skin, claws, and teeth to prove he made the kill. Such a person might have all kinds of magical powers.

The clan decided it really was Joe, and it would not anger any spirits to call him by his real name. Joe shared the lion jerky with all the hunters. The clan chief decided the woman who led the women who smoked meat should taste the lion jerky because the flavor given by the hickory smoke was better than the flavor of meat smoked over oak, elm, poplar, or cottonwood. Of course, everyone already knew that pitchy wood like pine made meat taste terrible if you used it for your smoking fire. There were very few pine trees along the bluffs and almost none on the plains. It was many days journey toward the lands of bitter cold and deep snow before the hunters found the vast, dark green pine forests.

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