Importance of Valid Myth Interpretation
By David Talbott
A BRIEF ORIENTATION
With the next issue of THOTH,
I shall begin a series of articles focused on a
single "snapshot" of the planetary configuration which we have claimed
dominated human imagination in ancient times. As a prelude to that series, I
am submitting the following introductory questions and answers for the
benefit of the many new subscribers to this newsletter.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT MYTH?
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 35 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 starworshippers, 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.
BUT 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
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
starworshippers. 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.
ON THE USE OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
YOU'RE SUGGESTING THAT EARLY MAN WITNESSED SPECTACULAR EVENTS IN THE
SKY. BUT SKEPTICS WOULD CLAIM THAT ANCIENT RECORDS ARE A HOPELESSLY
ELUSIVE SOURCE FOR "PROVING" SUCH A CLAIM.
Of course they would, and the response should not surprise us. The
common objection to the "Saturn theory" is that it rests on the words of
storytellers who understood nothing about the world in which they
But we need to re-think these familiar responses. One reason
ancient memories seem so absurd is that they speak for things that
clearly do not exist - today. Our thinking is governed by an incredible
amount of inertia, and only the rarest of investigators has ever asked,
"Do we really know what ancient starworshippers saw in the sky? Can we
really be certain that the natural world our ancestors experienced
several thousand years ago is a mirror of our world today?"
SKEPTICS MIGHT SAY THAT YOU CAN "PROVE ANYTHING" BY RESORT TO MYTH.
Well, you certainly do hear that statement a lot, and the statement is
obviously not intended to be taken literally. The skeptic is saying
that all sorts of strange and exotic ideas have been proposed on the
basis of myth, and he is saying you could argue for anything under the
sun if all you have to do is select a few myths for support.
The answer to this perfectly natural objection is to adopt investigative
groundrules which exclude all selective use of historical testimony. In
the approach I've proposed, the entire inquiry rests on well-established
patterns of memory, patterns that have survived thousands of years of
tribal mixing and still shine through despite the inherent tendency
toward distortion over time. The value of limiting admissible evidence
to RECURRING themes is that this approach will expose the substratum of
human memory. And that is when the great surprises come: with
astonishing consistency the substratum speaks for an alien sky.
Additionally, this approach will place the highest emphasis on the
oldest sources, those situated closest in time to the original
experience, where there is the least opportunity for distortion. It is
in the oldest sources that you find the most poignant and literal
expressions of the universal themes, with minimal dilution of the
celestial images involved.
AND YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN "PROVE" YOUR CASE ON THE BASIS OF MYTHICAL
AND HISTORICAL EVIDENCE?
The "proof" begins with certain well-established celestial forms
repeated in myths and pictographs and ritual reenactments around the
world. Not one of these primary forms, when placed under the
microscope, will reveal any relationship to things experienced today.
There are "sun"-wheels, to be sure, but on examination they have nothing
in common with the body we call sun. We find images of "stars" in great
abundance, but they do not behave like any stars in our sky. One finds
as well a distinctive crescent-form, recorded by all ancient cultures,
but why do the particulars NEVER correspond to the crescent moon?
The researcher's first impression will be of confusion - one
astronomically absurd image after another. A star in the center of the
"sun." A crescent holding in its hollow a central star. A crescent on
the great sphere of the "sun". A sun standing motionless at the center
of heaven. A "sun" occupying the summit of the world axis. A celestial
column rising along the polar axis to support a great crescent "moon".
A star with a spiraling tail. A star carrying inside itself an
unexplained dark or reddish sphere. The theoretical problem is that,
from one ancient nation to another, there is far more consistency to
these "astronomical absurdities" than is rationally conceivable if they
arose from imagination somehow driven to DENY natural experience.
And that's the dilemma in a nutshell: random, irrational ideas could
never produce global, coherent patterns at any level of detail; but
there are demonstrable global patterns, and in greater detail than any
comparative mythologist has previously recognized; therefore, the images
cannot be random in the sense typically assumed.
In truth, the dilemma has no answer until one finds a new vantage
point for interpreting the coherent substratum of myth. But finding that
vantage point will require us to stop projecting our own sky onto that
of prehistoric man. The good news is that nothing else is necessary in
order to open the door to discovery.
NEVERTHELESS, YOUR DEPENDENCE ON MYTHICAL IMAGES WILL SURELY INSPIRE
Of course! On the face of it, myth is the most incoherent, confused
least credible source of information in the world!
In common perception myth has, for centuries, meant fiction. And
in one obvious sense, IS fiction. It is make believe. It should be
obvious we're not suggesting that things occurred in the manner implied
by mythical language itself. We don't need to be told that fiery
serpents and dragons, or heaven-sustaining giants, or ships in the sky,
or witches on brooms do not exist in the sense understood by the
myth-makers. The questions we're asking are: where did the myths come
from? What are the celestial references? In what human experiences did
the most powerful themes of myth originate?
Nothing is more obvious than the myth-maker's relentless tendency to
interpret events: monstrous creatures in the sky, celestial cities and
kingdoms, sky pillars, rivers or fountains of life, celestial kings,
heroes, and warriors, mother goddesses and divine princesses,
heaven-embracing trees, crescent-horned bulls and crescent-ships, demons
of chaos - there is no limit to the role of human imagination, whatever
may have inspired these ideas. Ultimately, there is only one question
here: is it even conceivable that the general patterns could have arisen
without an external reference to prompt the ideas? What we are claiming
is that these themes arose from a natural environment more dramatic and
terrifying than anything known in modern times.
Since there's virtually no limit to the field of evidence, there are
logical groundrules for determining if the references are alien to our
sky. Why not apply these reasonable groundrules and see where they
The first step toward understanding the myth-making epoch is to
distinguish between the unusual and the imaginative. The events are
unusual, while the interpretations are imaginative. I'm not asking
you to agree that a shining temple or city of living "gods" once stood
in the center of the sky; or believe that a great hero of flesh and
blood once arose to rid the world of the chaos-monsters; or that this
very same hero once consorted with a "mother goddess". I WILL ask you,
however, to consider whether these unexplained and global themes may
have roots in uncommon natural events. In our skepticism about such
global themes we forgot the elementary distinction between event and
interpretation, then tossed out the entire body of evidence.
A new approach will simply let the dominant patterns of myth speak
themselves, suggesting the concrete forms behind the imaginative
interpretations. If it can be seen that the diverse mythical images, in
their earliest uses, point to the SAME underlying forms, it becomes
rationally impossible to deny the presence of those forms. And in the
same way, once the concrete forms have been identified, the concrete
sequences of events will provide additional acid tests.
WHAT, THEN, IS THE HEART OF YOUR ARGUMENT?
For several years now I've been asking those with an interest in the
subject to see if they can find a global mythical theme explicable by
reference to known natural phenomena. I do not believe it will ever
happen. Despite appearances at a superficial level (where the
translators of various texts ASSUME a reference to the sun or moon, or
some other readily accessible phenomenon), there is, in truth, no theme
of myth answering, in its earliest expressions, to the world we know.
Now if this assessment is correct, we're left with only two options
theoretically. Either we must imagine that the ancients populated their
mythical world with forms and events never experienced, denying natural
experience at every turn (something no theorist has ever claimed); or we
must assume that the world formerly presented to the mythmakers a range
of sights and sounds unlike anything known in modern times.
That's why I've urged an analytical approach concentrating on the
universal themes of myth. Nothing will boost the researcher's
confidence more than discovering, first, that there are authentic but
unexplained patterns; then discovering that the patterns are all
inseparably connected, as if joined to a single taproot.
Just consider, for example, the collective memory repeated in myths
world over - of a former "age of the gods". It began with a period
frequently termed the "Golden Age", but was punctuated by a collapse of
the original order, sweeping catastrophe, wars of the gods and
eventually a departure of these visible powers. Yes, there are a
hundred variations on the theme, and countless contradictions in the
localized versions, but at root we have the idea that the great gods
were overwhelmed in a deadly catastrophe, wandered off, or flew away to
become distant stars.
We've never really reckoned with this collective memory - of a time
man himself lived close to the "gods". The general theme is both
universal and remarkably persistent. From the dawn of history onward,
that theme never gave way to a contrary idea - UNTIL the contradiction
between the memory and the experienced world became so great that men
stopped believing in the gods!
By concentrating on the themes that have survived for thousands of
years, in all major cultures, the investigative approach itself prevents
you from slipping into subjective interpretation, or dwelling on aspects
of myth that are clearly evolutionary and localized.
AND HOW DO THE PLANETS FIGURE INTO THIS?
In the most direct way. The great celestial powers first celebrated
man were planets and aspects of planets, all playing concrete roles that
can be demonstrated through systematic analysis.
When I started my own investigation in 1972 it was obvious that most
mainstream scholars do not admit any meaningful relationship of early
gods and later planets. It soon became clear why this is so. The gods
are far more dominant, more active, and more violent than could possibly
be explained, or illuminated in any way by the present fireflies of
light we call planets. We know that the early priest astronomers upheld
cosmic traditions dating back to the dawn of civilization. And when the
first stargazers of ancient Mesopotamia, China, and Mesoamerica began
recording the movements of settled (or nearly settled) planets, they
insisted with one voice that these distant bodies once dominated the
world as "the gods". The incredible discrepancy between the biographies
of these gods and the present little specks in the sky presents a
fascinating and unexplained global anomaly.
I'm suggesting, in other words, that we pay serious attention to the
profound shift in ancient ideas about gods and planets, a shift
occurring some time in the first millennium B.C. Gradually, the
"capriciousness" of the gods gave way to fixed and repeated cycles of
planets. Whatever you may think of our reconstruction, it cannot be
denied that the dramatic change in human perception IS consistent with
the claimed transition - a shift from the active and dramatic presence
of the gods to the remote, uniform and predictable planetary system we
observe today. Until the establishment of stable cycles or patterns, of
course, observational, mathematically-based planetary astronomy would be
Now obviously, the unshakable opinion of astronomers is that the
system of our ancestors looked very much like it does today. Yet
surprisingly, though celestial "sun" and "star" symbols are everywhere,
one searches in vain for evidence of PRESENT planetary movements. What
we find is thus what we should EXPECT to find if the planetary system
changed dramatically within human memory.