Saturday, July 14, 2007

Symbolic Restitution

I was intrigued by the following passage in Walter Burkert's Greek Religion:

The finds from the Neolithic town of Çatal Hüyük now make it almost imossible to doubt that the horned symbol which Evans called 'horns of consecration' does indeed derive from real bull horns. The serried ranks of genuine bull horns discovered in the house shrines at Çatal Hüyük are hunting trophies won from the then still wild bull and set up in the precinct of the goddess; in the background lies the hunter's custom of partial restoration, the symbolic restitution of the animal killed. (p.37)

Growing up in the Midwest where there are scores upon scores of hunters (especially deer hunters), I am used to seeing partially reconstituted animals tacked, for example, to the wall of the living room, sometimes (I think) near the hearth, if the house had a fireplace, but often elsewhere as well. I don't usually reflect on it too much, and think of them simply as trophies, a remembrance of accomplishment. But I wonder: is there any 'symbolic restitution' going on there, lurking 'in the background', as it were? I realize the contexts are different--a house as opposed to a 'house shrine', etc. But I'm curious. Any hunters in the audience care to enlighten me?

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