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"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 SURPRISING CONCLUSIONS?

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 gravel.

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 history.

What Is Your Evidence for This?

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 the myths.

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 collapse.

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 celestial order.

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 history.

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.

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