The science of mythology, as I’ve come to practice it, has three primary
components, each entirely dependent upon the comparative method: (1) the
demonstration of parallels between the myths and mythical characters of
different cultures; (2) the identification of various mythical
characters with the respective planetary bodies (or in some cases, as in
that of the Babylonian Sin, with some property of this or that planet);
and (3) a reconstruction of the celestial scenario behind the respective
myths–specifically, an analysis of the unique behavior or visual
phenomena associated with the planets which gave rise to the particular
myths/characters in question.
Although each of the three components should be considered necessary
steps in a comprehensive analysis of myth, it is also true that each of
the various stages of analysis may stand on their own. For example, our
documentation of the numerous parallels which exist between Heracles,
Nergal, and Indra remains valid whether or not one accepts our
identification of these particular figures with the planet Mars.
Similarly, even if one grants the possibility that Heracles and Indra
are mythical twins, each modeled upon the planet Mars, it is always
possible that some other explanation besides that of the polar
configuration can be found to explain the red planet’s peculiar mythical
prominence (that of Velikovsky or de Santillana and von Dechend, for example).
Although a satisfactory analysis of a particular myth necessarily
involves completion of each of these three steps, in actual practice–as
in psychoanalysis–one rarely achieves a complete or perfect analysis.
As with all historical reconstructions, there are always pieces of the
puzzle which remain elusive. There are several reasons for this
situation, including the fragmentary nature of the myths themselves; the
intrusion of foreign elements into a cult resulting in a modification or
confusion of the original myth; problems caused by the faulty
transmission and/or translation of a particular myth; gaps in our
knowledge regarding the chronology of the events surrounding the
formation, evolution, and eventual dissolution of the polar configuration, etc.
Fortunately, most of these difficulties can be factored into the
methodological equation or overcome/compensated for by the comparative
method. For example, the fragmentary nature of the cult of Latin
goddess Venus can be compensated for by comparative analysis of the
extensive materials provided by the cult of Inanna. The possibility of
foreign influence on the Latin cult of Mars, likewise, can be controlled
to some extent by comparison with the cults of Babylonian Nergal and
In actual practice one also finds that there is frequently a
discrepancy in the degree of resolution of the respective steps of analysis.
Typically step three lags far behind the other two steps as the details
and chronology of the formation, evolution, and eventual dissolution of
the polar configuration continue to be worked out. In a relatively new
field of science this is only to be expected.
Comparative mythology, in addition to being the proper starting point of
any successful exegesis of myth, is also the most crucial step in the
analytic process. It must always take precedence over actual planetary
identifications, whether anciently attested or not. Planetary
identification, although relatively reliable in the hands of an expert,
remains a tricky business in light of the contradictory testimony of the
ancients themselves. Not only are the planetary identifications
necessarily later than the myths themselves, many cultures never
attained proficiency in astronomy and thus their statements–frequently
made to modern-day anthropologists and folklorists themselves ignorant
of astronomy and the comparative method–can often be misleading. Nor
are the most ancient astronomies always to be trusted. Even at the
outset of formal astronomy, as it is represented in ancient Babylon, for
example, one finds an entirely artificial system whereby various gods
are identified with this or that planet or constellation. It would be
methodologically unsound to accept these statements at face value. Only
by comparing the Babylonian identifications with those from cultures
free of its sphere of influence, such as Mesoamerica, is it possible to
arrive at reliable equations.
A corollary to the first rule: One should
never attempt to construct a theory on the basis of a planetary identification. Rather, a
planetary identification should only be attempted upon concluding a thorough
and detailed comparative analysis of a particular myth, hero, or god.
This would appear to be an ironclad rule of mythological exegesis.