"All literature stems from myth" - Northrop Frye
Why Care About Myth?
By David Talbott
A Brief Orientation
I think there's a very good reason to care about myth, even though
myth as a whole may seem to speak a language too obscure for rational,
feet-on-the-ground folk. Myth is, I believe, a window to early human
history, a more intense period of history than we've realized. The myths
have their roots in a time of celestial catastrophe, and more often than
not the appearance of confusion results from viewing myth as something
other than what it is.
In the course of cultural evolution and scientific advance, we left
behind the fabled "long ago," whose images seemed wholly out of touch
with our own world. Yet my personal conviction is that ancient myth,
when seen as a symbolic record of earth-shaking events in the sky, will
permanently change man's view of his celestial environment.
BUT YOUR CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT THOSE OF OTHERS WHO DEVOTED LIFETIMES TO
THE STUDY OF MYTH. HOW DOES YOUR APPROACH TO MYTH PRODUCE SUCH
For more than 25 years I've been working to solve a puzzle. Why do
ancient chronicles of celestial gods and heroes tell such similar
stories? Though the names differ, the various biographies of the gods
reveal more parallels than I had ever believed possible. And the deeper
I looked the more clear it became that ancient races around the world
recorded many identical experiences, even when they used different
symbols to tell their stories.
Many common themes run through the folklore of diverse cultures. From
ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Americas, from India to China,
Scandinavia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands, one finds surprisingly
similar accounts: celestial temples and cities, a lost paradise or
"Garden of Eden," a cosmic mountain, a flaming serpent or dragon in the
sky—and surprisingly similar stories of global calamity ranging from
wars of the gods, to a great flood or a devastating rain of fire and
If we'll look at these collective memories carefully, it will change
our understanding of the past. Many of the myths concern planets, but
the accounts make no sense to us in terms of the movement of these
remote bodies today. Why did the planets, these little pinpricks of
light, play such a powerful role in the mythical "age of the gods"?
Along with others working in this field, I've come to interpret the
myths and drawings and ritual practices from a new vantage point. Here
is the conclusion in a nutshell: A few thousand years ago, the sky did
not look anything like it appears today! Planets hung as gigantic,
sometimes terrifying bodies above the ancient stargazers. In periods of
stability this involved incredible beauty, but there were also periods
of mind-altering catastrophe—the most traumatic experiences in human
What Is Your Evidence for
The primary evidence comes from ancient pictures and chronicles,
submitted to extensive cross-referencing. By comparing accounts from
around the world, one can begin to reconstruct the way the sky looked in
ancient times. Is it possible that the myths and pictographs recorded,
in a language unique to the star worshippers, large-scale events we've
forgotten? By keeping that possibility firmly in mind, the researcher
will begin to identify crucial themes of myth—themes found on every
continent, but pointing to an alien sky.
As one begins to see the past differently, recent space age
discoveries will take on a new significance. Our probes of other
planets, such as the Mariner explorations of Mars, the Voyager missions
to Jupiter and Saturn, and more recently the Magellan mapping of Venus,
the Galileo probe of Jupiter, and the Mars Surveyor have produced many
stunning images of the planets and their moons, together with undeniable
evidence of large-scale catastrophe within the planetary system. Taken
as a whole, these stark profiles of our neighbors challenge traditional
theories claiming slow and uneventful planetary evolution. Moreover, a
new possibility arises from a reconsideration of the historical
material: the possibility that at least some of the horrendous scars on
our planetary neighbors resulted from events witnessed by man not all
that long ago.
What Do You Mean by the Statement that
the Planets Appeared as "Gigantic Bodies in the Sky"?
At the core of the argument is the idea that several planets were
once joined in a spectacular gathering of planets, together with gases
and dust, smaller moons and cosmic debris. For prehistoric man—who
witnessed all of this—the effect was a massive celestial display in the
northern sky. I've called this celestial assembly "the polar
configuration" because in its stable phases it was centered on the north
celestial pole. In the beginning, the primary form was the planet
Saturn, stationary but immense in the sky. Numerous lines of evidence
suggest that Saturn once towered over man and inspired the most dramatic
leaps in human imagination the world has ever known.
Our work puts a new emphasis on the unusual celestial events
reflected in the myths. When you first dive into world mythology, all of
your prior training will tell you to dismiss the myth-makers as
fabricators or victims of hallucination. But there's another way to see
Ancient man experienced extraordinary events, then strove to remember
and to reenact them in every way possible. The result was not only a
global mythology, but entirely new forms of human expression. And the
whole range of expressions—sacrifices to the gods, wars of conquest,
monumental construction, pictographic representations, and endless
celebrations of the lost age of the gods—left us a massive reservoir of
evidence. These highly novel expressions are, in fact, the
distinguishing characteristics of the first civilizations.
Why Should We Believe the Sky Has
changed So Drastically?
The best I can ask for is a willingness to consider an argument. I
could show you, for example, that certain celestial images preoccupied
ancient man to the point of an obsession. A great cosmic wheel in the
sky. The pyramid of the sun. The eye of heaven. Also the ship of heaven,
a spiraling serpent, the raging goddess, and four luminous "winds" of
the sky. The problem for conventional perspectives is that these images
are far, far removed from anything we see in the heavens today. But that
is only the beginning of the theoretical challenge. As soon as you
realize that far-flung cultures, though employing different symbols,
tell a unified story, all of the previous "explanations" of myth
Of course the point will not be proven in a few sentences, and not in
a few pages. But the more you learn on this subject, the more compelling
the collective memory becomes.
So You Are Challenging the idea that Things have
Not Really Changed that Much
within the Solar System.
Yes, we are challenging an intellectual system as a whole. What is at
stake here are the pillars of the modern world view. How could it be
that the sky has completely changed in a few thousand years? Our
textbooks do not talk about such a thing. When instructing us on the
history of the solar system, the evolution of our planet, the birth of
man, the origins of civilization, no one speaks of an unstable solar
system, of interplanetary upheaval, or of wholesale changes in the
When the popular astronomer Carl Sagan presented his impressive
exposition on the nature of things, called Cosmos, he didn't ask if we
may have misunderstood our past. Rather, Sagan's expressed view—the
official view of science for many years—fits comfortably within the
textbooks on astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology, and ancient
When we launched the U.S. Space program in the late 50s, then devoted
billions of dollars to exploring neighboring planets, no one thought to
ask if the planets might have followed different courses in earlier
times, whether recent disturbances of the planetary system might have
left their tell-tale marks on these remote bodies. So when our cameras
and measuring devices reached the planets Mars and Venus, and the
Voyager probes provided spectacular glimpses of Jupiter and Saturn—well,
we were left with a hundred enigmas and unanswered questions.
And yes, there's a certain irony to this. The prevailing view of myth
proclaims that, through science, man escaped the bonds of superstition
and make believe. But now, in the twentieth century—the age of science
and reason—it is myth and symbol that will provide the lost key to the
past, the key to a new understanding of the solar system and of human
origins. At the heart of this claim is a bedrock principle: the
myth-making age arose from the human urge to REMEMBER; hence, the
patterns of myth are the patterns of human memory. And if it can be
rigorously demonstrated from cross cultural comparison that numerous
DIFFERENT words and symbols and mythical themes actually point to the
SAME HIGHLY UNUSUAL EVENTS, then the patterns of memory will carry more
weight than science has ever considered.
How Do You Distinguish These
Ideas about "Planetary" Myth from the Ideas of Other Researchers Such as
Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade?
Each of these impressive scholars came to discern certain unified
layers of myth, layers our traditional cynicism about myth never
anticipated. Perhaps the greatest contribution of these pioneers is
their acknowledgment that the common view—seeing myth as random
absurdity—will not suffice to explain the subject.
I think the late Joseph Campbell has done the most to awaken popular
interest in myth, and he is one of my own favorites too. Following a
comparative approach, Campbell brought to light quite a number of global
themes. He noted, for example, the myths of the central sun, the world
mountain, the flowering of creation through sacrifice, the birth of the
hero, the terrible goddess, and so on.
Any one of these themes, when explored in its full context, could
open the door to incredible discovery. But Campbell, like so many
others, stopped short of asking the most important question of all: if
the celestial references of the myths are absent today, is it possible
that they were present in a former time?
What Is the Real Message of
Myth in Your View?
The mythmakers are telling us we've forgotten the very thing they
regarded as most vital—in fact, the source of all meaning to the first
star worshippers. We've forgotten the age of the gods. We've assumed
that as long as man has journeyed on our planet the world looked and
behaved almost exactly as it does today. And that is the fundamental
error of modern perception.
The answer to that error is to re-envision the past. With the help of
the ancient chroniclers, its time to bring the forgotten dramas—both the
beauty, and the nightmare scenarios—into the light of day.