From the end papers ...
Native Californian rock art includes some of the finest examples of traditional art in the world. Ranging from complex polychrome cave paintings and deeeply incised designs on basalt canyon walls to large earthen figures along the terraces of the Colorado River, this art invites wonder and curiosity.
But The Art of the Shaman is more than a gallery of lavish illustrations. Beginning with a basic description of the nature, age, and variability of California rock art, David Whitley accomplishes the ambitious goal of interpreting the symbolism itself. His well grounded exposition sets this book far apart from other rock art books based on stylistic analyses, simplistic associations with celestial events, or "hunting magic" explanations.
In many instances, shamans produced rock art at the conclusion of their vision quests to illustrate the spirits they had seen and the supernatural events in which they had participated. The rock art depicted a shaman's spirit helpers, portrayed his supernatural alter ego, and graphically illustrated the manipulations and rites he conducted while in the sacred realm, including curing, rain making, and sorcery. The shaman's rock art site was also a sacred place that served as his portal: during his altered states of conciousness, the cracks in the walls of the site were believed to open to allow him to enter the sacred realm.
Whitley demonstrates that California rock art represents symbolic systems that communicate relatively few specific ideas. These include vision questing, initiation, fertility, sexuality, the mythic past, life crises, and altered states of conciousness, all centered on shamanistic experience in this world and beyond. Inasmuch as shamanism was the basis for all Native Californian religions, Whitley taps the rich ethnographic information available on the subject to illuminate the underlying logic for much of the art in the various California traditions.