IF I SEEK US
Modern Myth Articles
Memories and Symbols of Planetary Upheaval
OF PLANETS AND GODS
It seems that a great gulf stands between the textbook profile of the planets and the descriptions given by the first sky-worshippers. It is known that ancient cultures of both the New World and the Old honored the planets with much pomp and zeal, including human sacrifices on a horrifying scale. And when the priestly astronomers invoked these points of light, they summoned memories of heaven- shattering catastrophe. What was it about these planetary specks that so preoccupied our ancestors, or prompted such pervasive fears? From ancient Babylon to China, from the Mediterranean to the Americas, planets loomed as the dominating powers of the universe. Among the Greeks and Romans we meet planets with remarkably well-defined personalities—old Saturn, the ancient ruler of the heavens; Mars, the impetuous warrior thundering in the sky; Venus, the temperamental goddess with the long-flowing hair, and Jupiter, presiding over the renewal of a world which had fallen into chaos. But the "personalities" of these planets are rooted in much earlier traditions, tracing to the origins of astronomy.
In ancient literature the planetary gods are a quarrelsome lot— and often violent. Wars of the gods not only disturb the heavens but threaten to destroy humankind. The planets wield weapons of thunder and fire and stone. Their behavior is not only capricious and unpredictable, but dangerous to human health! What a stark contrast to the placid solar system portrayed in our astronomy textbooks. For centuries now, science has regarded stable and predictable planetary motions as a bedrock principle, to which no credible challenge is conceivable. Yet ancient testimony IS a challenge to modern theory insofar as the testimony is both consistent and worldwide. There is a point at which ancient accounts, by their agreement, WILL weaken one's faith in established doctrines.
In these volumes we present global evidence for an alien sky, recorded in pictures and words and ritual reenactments. It was apparently only a few thousand years ago that several planets moved extremely close to the Earth, appearing as massive spheres above us. This was a time of celestial splendor and chaos, of human wonder and overwhelming fear, the measure of which cannot be gauged by anything presently witnessed in the heavens.
But now, having lived for millennia beneath a tranquil sky, we are deceived by appearances. It is easy to fall into a trance, easy to assume that natural processes observed today can be projected backwards indefinitely. Indeed, all well-known theorists in the sciences assume without question that observed cycles of the Sun and Moon and planets are virtually identical to the cycles witnessed by our early ancestors. A mere guess has become a dogma—not even a theoretical issue for official science.
But have you ever wondered why ancient races insisted, with one voice, that the Sun and stars and planets do not move on their original paths? That was Plato's message more than 2300 years ago. It was also the message of the philosophers Democritus, Zeno, and Anaxagoras. The historian Diodorus of Sicily noted this belief among the Chaldeans. The Babylonian priest- astronomer Berossus said it too: the planets now move on different courses. The same statement is made in the Persian BUNDAHIS, the Hindu PURANAS, and the Chinese BAMBOO BOOKS.
But these are only the more familiar voices amid a chorus of ancient witnesses. For the truth is that every culture on earth recalled a prior time of celestial discord, when the sky collapsed violently. To this disruption of the heavens the Greeks gave the name SYNODOS, a word meaning, in its original contexts, "a collision of planets" and "the destruction of the world."
PLANETARY UPHEAVAL AND HUMAN MEMORY
For many years the leading scientific theorists assumed that evolutionary principles have worked by slow and imperceptible degrees to produce an upward movement over great spans of time— the formation of galaxies, suns and planets, the evolution of a habitable earth, the first appearance of life, arrival of Homo sapiens, emergence of civilization, and the final victory of rational science over myth and superstition.
But recently much of this scientific confidence has given way to uncertainty. With the arrival of the space age, we turned our attention—and highly sophisticated technology—to our neighboring planets, and the remote landscapes revealed the unmistakable signature of large-scale violence. We have seen close-up photos of the torn and disfigured surface of Mars, its every square mile littered with freshly-strewn rubble. We have mapped the surface of Venus, a super-heated cauldron now said to have been "turned inside out" by a global catastrophe of unknown origin. And we have observed the devastated moons of Jupiter and Saturn, testifying to celestial encounters more dramatic and unusual than any astronomers had anticipated.
Who could deny that earlier theoretical frameworks, predicated on nearly imperceptible linear evolution over many millions of years, are being eroded by an avalanche of new data and new theories? The new theme is evolution by catastrophe, and here the Earth is not the safe place we once imagined. Cometary disasters, global floods or tidal waves, tropical climates giving way to ice ages, sudden extermination of species—once the province of science fiction, the new speculations have given rise to the field of "catastrophics"—the study of EARTH-CHANGING catastrophe.
But when did the hypothesized disasters occur? Just twenty years ago the familiar theories, such as the dinosaur-exterminating asteroid claimed by the Alvarez team, placed the catastrophes in a very distant past, many millions of years before the arrival of Homo sapiens—not something we should be particularly concerned about More recently, however, the look of catastrophics has changed dramatically, as one theorist after another has invoked global upheaval within the span of human history. These theorists include the noted astronomer Fred Hoyle, the British astrophysicist Victor Clube and astronomer William Napier, astronomer Tom Van Flandern (former head of the Naval Observatory), archaeologist Mike Baillie, geologist Robert Schoch, geologist C. Warren Hunt, and many others as well.
Given the present scientific and scholarly interest in recent catastrophe it is no longer possible for the scientific mainstream to ignore human testimony on these matters. Memories of catastrophe pervade the ancient cultures, and a great wealth of evidence suggests that the eye-witnesses did not invent these stories: they used all of the means available to them to record extraordinary experiences. But historians have not understood the ancient words and symbols because they only listened superficially, then looked to our familiar heavens and found no correspondence. Nothing in the archaic language made sense to them.
ARCHETYPE AND SYMBOL
Our investigation will concentrate on the patterns of human memory. Mythology, we will seek to show, means things remembered, however clouded by the language of magic and superstition. Since the investigation rests on cross-cultural comparison, a crucial level of evidence will be the archetypes, those deep structures of thought evident in the earliest writing systems and ritual practices, patterns so powerful as to find continuing—even global—cultural expression across thousands of years.
It was the distinguished psychoanalyst Carl Jung who first used the term ARCHETYPES in connection with the origins of myth and symbol, suggesting universal patterns too often ignored in prior studies of myth. An archetype is a model or first form, a prototype. In connection with world mythology, it means the original idea or structure of thought—whether it is the root idea behind the "goddess" image, the model of a "good king" or "hero," or the ideal form of a sacred temple or city. To recognize the archetypes in the ancient world is to open up a new and crucial field of investigation.
A considerable debt is also owed to the distinguished student of comparative religion, the late Mircea Eliade of the University of Chicago, author of numerous books on the subject and editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of Religion. Perhaps Eliade has done more than any other scholar to show that world mythology rests upon a coherent substratum. It is not the mere collection of disconnected fragments traditionally assumed within the western world.
So too, the late Joseph Campbell has probably done the most to awaken popular interest in myth. Following a comparative approach, Campbell brought to light a large number of global themes—the "hero with a thousand faces," the "angry goddess," the "world mountain," renewal through sacrifice, and dozens of other motifs.
Each of these impressive researchers came to discern certain unified layers of myth, layers never anticipated by mainstream scholars laboring under traditional cynicism about myth. 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 layers of coherence.
It is vital that the reader keep in mind, however, that by "archetype" we do not mean the unconscious structures of thought to which Jung referred, so much as the original patterns of conscious human experience, to which numerous unconscious ideas and tendencies may indeed trace. It can now be stated with assurance that any one of the acknowledged archetypes, if explored in its full context, will open the door to incredible discovery. But it is also clear that the pioneers of comparative study could not account for the content of myth in terms of any verifiable human experience. And they stopped short of asking the most important question of all: if the natural references of the myths are missing, is it possible that they were present in a former time?
Campbell, for example, recognized the worldwide doomsday theme— the idea of a prior age collapsing violently. But he did not relate the memory to anything that may have actually occurred in our world to inspire the universal memory. We, on the other hand, will take a firm stand on behalf of concrete experience. When widely dispersed memories point to an underlying natural event, those memories constitute evidence deserving rigorous study.
When we speak of the archetypes as the "substratum of human memory" we refer to the underlying patterns shared by far-flung cultures. In a comparative approach these themes will appear as "points of agreement" shining through despite wildly divergent interpretations, fragmentation, dilution, and localization of myth over time. Were it not for the integrity of the original human experience, these patterns as a whole COULD NOT BE THERE.
The mythmakers are telling us we've forgotten what they considered most worthy of remembrance. We've forgotten the age of the gods. By assuming that the sky has remained unchanged over the millennia, we failed to discern the underlying agreement in their testimony. The only appropriate answer to that error is to hear the witnesses without prejudice and to invite the mythic nightmares into the light of day.