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Ancient Myth Articles
Note: The author of this site knows David Talbott very well, and considers him to be the foremost mythologist in the world, if not the foremost scholar. He is a polymath of extremely high intelligence and integration capability. More importantly, in scholarship his integrity and valuation of the truth is at the highest level.
Labyrinth & Fortress of the Gods
Amy asks: Humbaba/Huwawa has the ugliest mug I have ever seen, made up of "intestines" twined around a couple of eyes (see Hamlet's Mill, By Georgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, pg. 291). The authors connect the monster's face and name with intestines and with the labyrinth. They also point out similarities to the Aztec Tlaloc, although Tlaloc's face was formed from two snakes rather than intestines. I can imagine that the superstition that you can read a person's fortune in the windings of steaming intestines also came from this image. Where did it come from? Was it part of the polar configuration?
Dave responds: Well, I thought I'd take a little time to respond, since I've already stuck my neck out by claiming that, when it comes to the landscape of myths and symbols, all roads lead to the polar configuration.
Amy, you're right about the ancient labyrinth and its connection to superstitions regarding entrails and fate. And yes, the labyrinthine "intestines" do have a logical place in the evolution of the polar configuration.
The image relates to a rather complex phase, involving the transition from Saturnian to Jovian sovereignty. Here we also meet the terrible goddess (Venus) in her "entangling" aspect, and the legendary perils confronted by the Martian hero. As I've noted previously, I find it difficult to discuss these later sequences without the use of pictures, particularly while so much of the earlier symbolism remains to be presented at a sufficient level of detail. It is the earlier images that give the necessary context to comprehend the later evolution of the configuration.
The brief comments here are for those familiar with the basic planetary forms of the polar configuration.
The general motif involves these common elements, among others:
1) meandering, "drunken" or "crane"-dance of the hero;
In all of these forms we see key sequences in the hero's confrontation with the chaos powers. Though the images are quite diverse and often complex, the root explanation provided by the Saturn model is surprisingly simple.
The explanation begins with the planetary alignment of the polar configuration–the juxtaposition of Mars, Venus and Saturn–when four luminous streamers were seen radiating from Venus in the form of an equal-limbed cross. (As I've noted on other occasions, this is the most frequently recorded form of the discharging Venus.) In a phase of intense discharging linked to the onset of instability, these streamers took on a whorl-like appearance, a form that numerous ancient cultures recorded stylistically as the swastika. There is reason to believe that initially the whirling appearance retained its symmetry as the streamers wound up the polar axis. But eventually the displacement of the aligned planets produced an irregular and complex streamer pattern, as Venus and Mars danced around the polar center in awkward motions, due to the visual effects of displacement from the polar axis and the moving position of the observer on a rotating earth. In their labyrinthine windings these streamers acquired the appearance of an impenetrable citadel in the heavens. Fundamentally, that is what the labyrinth means: a great fortress which only the hero, be he Gilgamesh or Theseus, will succeed in entering.
There is much more to the ancient imagery of this celestial "stronghold" or "prison". The cavernous "bowels" of the divine habitation, the Gordian Knot, the mythic "cavern" of the hero's initiation or re-birth, and the labyrinth all mean the same thing. Moreover, only a few of the experts have discerned the essential corollary to this theme: the conjunction of the hero and mother goddess. The windings of the labyrinth are, in fact, the very essence of the goddess, and the hero's entry into the labyrinth can not be separated from his conjunction with the great mother. (As I've stated more than once, ALL mythical themes involve the conjunction principle.)
Thus, the Saturn model provides a series of acid tests. It identifies specific forms in the sky as the objective references for seemingly incompatible mythical and symbolic images. What appear to be DIFFERENT symbols actually refer to the same external form and to the same sequence of events. The imaginative symbols will appear to have no connection to each other in the absence of the external references. But if you grant the concrete forms in the sky–if only for the sake of the obvious tests–then the connections will be EXPECTED. It is this logical expectation that supports the claimed "predictive power" of the model. The model implies entire complexes of symbolic equations that would not be anticipated under any other theory of the past.
Since it will take a sizable volume to detail the labyrinth motif, for now I will simply provide a few random notes–
Many themes relating to the terrible goddess and the ordeal, initiation, or rebirth of the hero occur in association with the first appearance of Jupiter. In one way or another the motifs of swallowing, cavernous hiding place, wrapping or winding, binding, and imprisonment run through all of the accounts relating to Jupiter's emergence as sovereign power. Ideas as to who was doing what to whom, and how badly, will vary according to highly subjective mythical interpretations. A good starting point for confirming the complex of motifs noted above might be Hesiod's Theogony recounting the fate of Kronos and the "birth" of Zeus. But don't expect everything to become immediately clear! Every motif or symbol has a larger context requiring cross-cultural analysis. It is the rigorous comparative approach that enables us to confirm the integrity of the substratum.
That a great fortress in the sky would be composed of "intestines" is really quite ridiculous UNTIL one grants something visible in the heavens to prompt the mythical language. In the words of the Babylonians themselves, Humbaba/Huwawa was the guardian of "the fortress of intestines", and more than one specialist has proposed that this mythical fortress was a prototype of the labyrinth.
But other crucial associations of the labyrinth are usually overlooked. The swastika at the center of the labyrinth occurs not just in Cretan and Attic art, but among the Hopi Indians as well. The most common centerpiece of the labyrinth, of course, is the equal-limbed cross, from which the swastika itself arose, representing the whirling aspect of the cross.
One scholar who did not overlook this connection was A. B. Cook. From his extensive study of the theme, he concluded [Zeus, Vol 1, p. 478]: "it seems certain that both Attic and Cretan art presuppose the swastika as the earliest ascertainable form of the Labyrinth."
So it is simply inconceivable that the labyrinth motif could be illuminated without simultaneous illuminating the cross and swastika (or vice versa). One theme leads inexorably to another, each adding nuances and perspective: intestines, labyrinth, swastika, dance. There can be no doubt, for example, that the swastika is inseparably connected to the whirling dance of the hero and goddess when the world has slipped into chaos. Moreover, this dance is consistently linked to the labyrinthine passage. Indeed, one of the more common dance patterns in ancient times was that of whirling performers, dancing along a path marked by a labyrinth. Cook, for example, relates the pattern simultaneously to a symbolic "imitation of the sun's movements in the sky" and to a pattern of imitative spiraling dance. The word "labyrinth" often MEANS dance, and the archaic roots of the symbol are acknowledged to have given rise to the "Troy dance" and similar children's games.
But again, the relationship of the swastika to the dancing form of the hero (in conjunction with the goddess) will virtually always go unnoticed by the specialists, while nothing in familiar experience today will suggest any link to the complex images of "intestines". Yet curiously, from the Americas to Africa to the South Pacific we find recollections of the dancing trickster-hero "unraveling his own intestines". That such ludicrous imagery would recur from one land to another surely requires an explanation!
It is important to note that the labyrinthine dance of the hero has its own unique and awkward form, as we should expect. The dance of the warrior Theseus, most famous for his entry into the Cretan Labyrinth, was called the Crane Dance, a very appropriate image for the visual movements of Mars in relation to the origins of the labyrinth motif. Numerous Hindu myths relating to the "dance of Shiva" are suggestive of the same concepts while adding vital associations. The illustrated movement of the dancing hero's arms and legs mimic the whorl/swastika form of the discharge streamers. The warrior Siva holds his consort Sati above his head (again, as we should EXPECT), and in their violent whirling movement, the body or essence of Sati is dispersed in flame–
From Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Shiva, pp. 319-20: "He danced exceedingly, his arms flailing the regions. The stars were scattered by the swish of his hair. Death, love, and despair syncopated the escalating speed of his Tandava dance; the earth shook while Siva went on dancing in frenzy, his eyes whirling ... As Siva danced on and on, the body of Sati became lighter and lighter, and he saw that limbs and parts had fallen from it." In the end all that was left was the mystic yoni, the core identity of the goddess (the planet Venus, in the Saturn model).
A comparative analysis will show that that the god's four arms "flailing the regions" are, beyond any reasonable doubt, the arms of the whirling cross or swastika that mark out the four regions or quarters of the celestial habitation. So too, the comet-like "hair" whirling in the heavens will trace to early images, such as those
from Sumer, showing the arms of the swastika as the long- flowing hair of female figures. Hence, the presence of a swastika in the center of the labyrinth is a crucial piece of evidence.
It needs to be emphasized here that the identification of Shiva's dance with the famous dance of the Theseus will not be justified by a mere reading of popular summaries. Too much is lost in trivial approaches to myth. How, for example, do we know that the dance of Theseus was in conjunction with a GODDESS, since the usual treatments do not mention such a thing? The builder of the labyrinth of Knosos was Daidalos, who constructed the palace-like fortress to imprison and protect the Minotaur. Though the labyrinth became the ground for the Crane Dance of Theseus, we read in the Iliad that Daidalos "once wrought in Knosos broad a dancing-ground for fair-haired Ariadne". But the real key is the golden "thread" of Ariadne, unraveled by Theseus as he danced through the winding passages. For the comparative approach will confirm that the spiraling thread of life and fate is nothing else than the luminous essence of the goddess herself. The hero's unraveling of the "thread" in his meandering dance is in fact a counterpart to Shiva's whirling dispersal of the essence of Sati. The dance of Theseus is in conjunction with the goddess. This is why, as noted by Cook, the labyrinthine dance was said to be "the first occasion on which men and women danced together." Here, as so often is the case, we see the telltale signature of an archetype, the cosmic "first form" to which all imitative or ritual practices direct our attention.
[An aside: in Egypt one of the key images is that of the red ab- heart of Re, the "heart of carnelian" which Egyptian texts identify with such warrior heroes as Shu and Horus (Mars, in our reconstruction). This innermost masculine heart is presented within (i.e., in conjunction with) the feminine hati-heart of Re, The hieroglyphic image shows a male figure in a dancing posture virtually identical to that of Shiva, who similarly stands in conjunction with the Hindu mother goddess. But none of these images seems to be intelligible to Egyptologists or other specialists. Thus, they do not notice that the swastika itself symbolized the whirling, dancing heart of the ancient sun god (Saturn). And until the underlying equations are recognized, such obvious clues as the placement of a swastika on the HEART of Apollo in familiar Greek representations, will mean virtually nothing to them.]
As noted above, a symbol linking the winding path of the labyrinth to a winding rope, cord, or string is the "thread of Ariadne". The Greeks claimed that Theseus' way through the labyrinth was MARKED by this very "golden thread" which he unwound as he entered the cavernous path. [Hero unwinding the golden thread = hero unwinding intestines = hero winding through the passages of the labyrinth = dancing hero and goddess] A common association noted by numerous comparative symbolists was that between the labyrinth and symbolic "knots" or elaborate "knotwork", a connection fitting perfectly with the Saturn model's identification of the labyrinthine pathway and the "Gordian Knot". In fact, the symbolic knotwork of Ireland and Scandinavia will often present striking parallels to the labyrinth, and I am fully satisfied that, at root, the two motifs arose from the same experience. Labyrinth and knotwork also overlap in the Chinese image of the p'ang-chang, the "endless knot" or "knot of happiness". Nor can the symbolic "intestines" be separated from this particular theme, for the legends describe the p'ang-chang as a "knot" formed from the INTESTINES of a slain enemy. All of which reminds us again of the "fortress of intestines" to which Humbaba/Huwawa, the enemy slain by Gilgamesh, gave his name.
I should hasten to add that the most common association of the labyrinth revealed by cross-cultural comparison was with the mythical cave or cavern entered by the hero (as we should also expect). Thus Dorothy Norman, in The Hero, p. 107, writes: "In those cases where the ritual has been preserved, the labyrinth itself, or a drawing of it, is invariably situated at the entrance of the cave or dwelling". The Saturn model says: labyrinth entered by the hero = cavern of the hero's initiation.
In fact all of the predicted symbolic equations or identities noted above can be fully verified by an independent researcher following the keys provided by the Saturn model. The hero untying or finding his way through the "knot", as observed by Chevalier and Gheerbrant, is equivalent to the hero "being swallowed by the monster"–a universal motif. The disgorging of the hero is simply one more form of the god's victory and release.
To untie the knot is to defeat the chaos power. The labyrinth is a "puzzle", a challenge to the hero, and conceptually it is only a short distance to the mythic riddle or paradox, a folklore variant of the same critical juncture in the biography of the hero. When Oedipus answered the riddle of the sphinx correctly, the devouring goddess plunged over the precipice.
Among those comparative symbolists who have discerned the essential connections (though certainly not accounted for them), I would list J. C. Cooper, who writes in An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols: "[The labyrinth is] related to the symbolism of the cave and with initiation rites, often held in a cavern or crypt, or with funerary rites, all of which are associated with death and rebirth. It also shares the symbolism of the knot in binding and loosing, restricting but uniting. The labyrinth is also thought to have been concerned with the symbolism of the coiled snake [a globally-recognized form of the devouring goddess] or with patterns of entrails divination and the bowels of the earth. The labyrinth in a square depicts the four cardinal points and the cosmos and may be connected with the swastika."