The Lorelei Signal
Written by Ginger Strivelli / Artwork by Marcia Borell
She was born seventy-seven thousand years ago. She was a Neanderthal woman with fiery orange curls and bushy eyebrows. She was five foot tall and a chubby two hundred pounds. She was beautiful and strong. She was smart and oh so kind to others. Her artistic talent is what changed the world, though. Her hands created history and magic. Her hands are what she is still known for to this very day.
The red outlines she made of her hands on the cave wall was not her best artwork. Thousands of years later though they would be seen as a miracle, a masterpiece, and proof that her people, the Neanderthals had created art long before the Homo sapiens came along. Those handprints would be her legacy and the legacy of the Neanderthal as they would come to be called though they called themselves by a grunt that meant ‘family.’
She liked her outlines of fruits better than the simple outlines of her own hands. When she taught herself to draw a cat’s full form from memory instead of tracing things, she was said to have become a magician able to conjure a creature to life. Her cats on the cave walls, stalactites, and stalagmites didn’t run around the cave. Nonetheless everyone who saw them knew them to be cats and the family all said that she had magically created them. She went on to draw many more cats and bears and deer as well. She drew them all over that cave her tribe lived in, as well as in other caves and on boulders by the river where she washed her hair.
It was then that she came to be called by the same purring sound that her people used to mean cats. It was not a word as later Homo sapiens would call it but it was her name.
She taught students to draw cats in the dirt but those didn’t last very long at all and would disappear overnight. That artwork all blew away from the sands of time on the winds of erosion. The cats she drew on boulders in the river were washed away with years of waves. The cats she carved on trees were burned away in forest fires. So much of her work was gone even before she was gone. Not her hands though, those lasted longer than she could have even imagined time would go on.
She expanded her artwork and began as her hair grayed to draw cats on smaller stones so they would last longer than the ones drawn in the sand but could be carried and given away. She found stones that had holes in them as the other magicians said those were lucky charms. She drew her cats on them then strung the stones on bits of reed and wore them about her neck, wrists, and ankles. She was the first Priestess of the Cat Goddess. She was the first to worship the Cat Goddess but not the last, that like her handprints also lasted all those thousands of years and onward still.
The other women started to ask her to make them such adornments. She made some with other animals like birds, fish, and spiders. These were worn by the Neanderthal women who tended the altars where the spirits of those animals were being worshiped. Her hands made the first idols of the Spider Grandmother Goddess, the Fish tailed Lord of the Sea, and the Winged Moon Goddess. She created those Gods just as she had created the Cat Goddess. Alas, she is not remembered for that but at least those Gods and Goddesses are still remembered seventy-seven thousand years after her hands were stilled by death.
When she was old and bent, she was called by her tribe’s leader and beseeched to draw warriors with arrows on the cliff wall as a magical ward to protect their village from the invading tribe to the south. She scratched tall stick figures of people carrying bows and arrows onto the cliff wall as she grunted out prayers to the Gods and Goddesses she had created with her art. She made thirteen warriors each with a moon face upon their shields. She carved one great sunface shining down upon them all from above. She knew there were thirteen moon cycles in each sun cycle and recognized the magic of that science and math. She wove those sacred numbers into her magic spell as she carved her magical artwork on the cliff wall with her hands. She hoped the spell would work but she had doubts as her mind and her magic had started to cripple along with her hands by then.
Nevertheless, in spite of her own doubts, the tribe believed in her magic and the spell worked better than anyone had expected. The invading tribe upon coming to that cliff collapsed back in fear and astonishment at seeing the rock warriors in front of them. They were terrified by the visage of defenders that they could not chase away nor kill. They dropped their own weapons and ran back to their own caves leaving her tribe undisturbed. This happened not just once but many times for many years. No one dared climb the cliff protected by the undying warriors to attack the village that laid beyond. Her village stayed safe and peaceful.
Eventually Neanderthal men from all the tribes within walking distance made pilgrimages to the cliff to lay down their weapons as offerings at the feet of the stone fighters before they made war upon any other tribe. The God of War was worshiped there. She had created Him on the cliff that she had carved with her hands.
The cliff wall marked with thirteen warriors carrying their shields, bows, and arrows magically held the other tribes at bay for sixteen generations of her tribe. Her hands had protected her tribe long past her death and the death of anyone she had ever known. Nonetheless, unlike her handprints on the cave wall, the warriors on the cliff did not last seventy-seven thousand years. The cliff wall was blown clean by the sands of time, washing away the warriors one by one within just one thousand years. When the very last warrior was chipped away by a hailstorm one summer solstice evening, the protection spell she had carved with her hands was finally broken. After that, it was not a year before her tribe’s village was invaded by one of the other tribes after so many generations of them being at peace thanks to her hands and her magic though she was long dead.
Her village which had come to be called by her name was attacked and burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt but was invaded by newer tribes and then by even newer races of people. It went on for thousands of years, long after every single one of her people had been killed and replaced by the newer race of Homosapiens who just went on killing each other as well. Her warriors on the cliff were gone and forgotten but the God of War that she had birthed with her artwork lived on.
Her handprints were hidden from the winds of erosion and the sands of time in the lost cave she had slept in. No one laid eyes on them for eons. An earthquake had collapsed the cave entrance a few thousand years after her death. Another earthquake had shaken the blocked entrance back open sixty thousand years later. Still no one wandered inside to see them for another ten thousand years. Those red handprints she had made with her hands all those millennia before were still there to be found seventy-seven thousand years later when someone finally went inside the cave again.
She laid there as well in the dust of the cave. Her people had buried her in the cave in a grave filled with flowers and fruit. Her flesh and even her bones had long since become part of the earth so they were not found in the cave that still bore her handprints.
It would have been more correct had she been remembered for her cats or for her having invented jewelry and religious idols, or for her literally being the Mother of the Gods. However her hands are what she is remembered for, though not really remembered. No one knows her name. No one even knows she was a she and not a he. They don’t know about her bushy browed round face or piercingly blue eyes or her oddly pale orange curly hair. They only know the shape of her hands and that she had left those handprints there on the cave wall seventy-seven thousand years ago.
Ginger Strivelli is an artist and writer from North Carolina. She has written for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Circle Magazine, Third Flatiron, Autism Parenting Magazine, Silver Blade, Cabinet of Heed Literary Journal, The New Accelerator, and various other publications. She loves to travel the world and make arts and crafts. She considers herself a storyteller entertaining and educating through her writing.