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Thundergods and Celestial Marvels
In ancient traditions, few images find more vivid expression than the great thunderbolts of the planetary gods. When the gods went to war, the heavens shook. Lightning sped between the planetary combatants as flaming weapons, with the fate of celestial kings and kingdoms hanging in the balance.
Again and again, we find sovereign gods relying upon a "thunder weapon" to defend cosmic order. Rulers of the sky vanquish chaos monsters with stupendous, earth-shaking bolts. We see this most dramatically in the confrontation of the Greek Zeus with Typhon. But the thunderbolt is also decisive in the Babylonian Marduk's battle against the dragon Tiamat and the Hebrew Yahweh's war against Leviathan. So too, we see the mythic thunderbolt when Indra engages Vritra, or Horus battles Set, or Apollo vanquishes the dragon Python.
It is also noteworthy that great hero-gods alternately hurl lightning against the chaos dragon, or TAKE THE FORM of the thunderbolt itself. In the global pattern the hero is often inseparable from his own arrow, sword, spear, club or axe -- even a "tusk" in his mythical form as a "boar" -- while all such symbols merge as distinct forms of the cosmic lightning. [See Lightning Motif #8 in our previous article: "Lightning takes the form of an ancestral warrior, the hero god who defeated chaos monsters in primeval times and consorted with the mother goddess."]
A systematic review of lightning themes will make clear that the regional lightning of later times was but an echo of the vastly more terrifying bolts which once held the entire world in awe. Consider the ancient images of the gas-giant Jupiter, whom the Greeks remembered as the ruler Zeus, the victor in the celestial clash of the Titans. Jupiter is just a speck of light in our sky, but ancient races recalled the GOD Jupiter as a heaven-spanning form, employing lightning as his most effective weapon.
If we've failed to recognize the celestial players, it's because the implied references are PLANETS appearing huge above the ancient skyworshippers, while our present knowledge of the planets is constrained by their remote and predictable courses today. We see no evidence of unstable planetary motions today, and most assuredly we see no interplanetary lightning arcing between them!
Yet that IS the human memory. In Hesiod's Theogony, the poet describes the god Zeus, when the dragon Typhon threatened to destroy the world: "From Heaven and from Olympus he came immediately, hurling his lightning: the bolts flew thick and fast from his strong hand together with thunder and lightning, whirling an awesome flame." In this overwhelming conflagration there was "thunder and lightning, and ... fire from the monster, and the scorching winds and blazing thunderbolt." Destroyed by a searing bolt from Zeus, the world-threatening dragon came to be known as the "thunderstricken." Similarly, Typhon's counterpart Enceladus, struck down by Zeus, was the "lightning-scarred" god.
Hebrew tradition recalled the lightning of the gods in similar terms. Thus Psalm 77 proclaims, "The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook." From India, the Mahabarata and Ramayana describe great battles in which lightning of the gods filled the heavens like a rain of fiery arrows. So too, in the texts of ancient Egypt, Babylon, Scandinavia, China, and the Americas, myths and legends describe conflagrations attributed to divine thunderbolts, appearing in the forms of flaming arrows, darts, lances, and other weapons.
For anyone seeking to comprehend ancient images of the gods, there can be no greater mistake than to rationalize away the cosmic scale of the described events. But that WILL be the tendency so long as scholars demand that present references in nature account for the ancient depictions.
EVIDENCE FROM MANY FIELDS
This is an interdisciplinary investigation. To expose the roots of the mythical and symbolic archetypes, we must range across highly diverse fields of evidence. Archaic images of the thunderbolt will provide a unifying thread, connecting planetary geology, plasma science, and astronomy to a most extraordinary epoch of human history, anciently remembered as "the age of gods and wonders."
In this investigation, the "lightning bolts" now spanning galaxies will offer crucial analogies for the remembered thunderbolts of mythical gods and heroes. Physical scars on solid bodies within the solar system will become evidence EXPECTED under a new model of planetary history. And the configurations taken by plasma discharges in the laboratory will confirm the accuracy of highly enigmatic rock art and other depictions of the divine thunderbolt. It is the correlation between the different domains of evidence that provides the acid test of a hypothesis. For if, as we claim, planets once waged battles in the sky, then all related fields of inquiry should support the same conclusion, even if the experts, expecting something else, have missed the underlying story.
Since plasma science is far from my own field of expertise, I must emphasize that, in the following discussion of planetary discharges and plasma environments, I am indebted to the contribution of Wal Thornhill, my co-author of the forthcoming book, Thunderbolts of the Gods. Also, I must credit Amy Acheson for numerous helpful contributions. (Of course, if I've failed to accurately paraphrase either, they are not to be held responsible.)
THE ELECTRIC UNIVERSE
In recent decades, the majority of space age surprises could be listed under a single heading: electromagnetism. Electrical and magnetic principles, though never envisioned by the pioneers of gravitational theory, are evident at all scales of observation, from comet tails to the most expansive intergalactic structures. But the accepted models of planetary evolution permit virtually no discussion of electricity.
When electrons are removed from atoms, the result is an assembly of charged particles, a plasma. The removed electrons provide the negative component and the remainder of the atom -- called an ion -- the positive. It was Irving Langmuir (1881-1957) who first described the behavior of plasma as a kind of "gas" of charged particles, and it was he who coined the name "plasma," due to its similarity to the biological plasma of the bloodstream. When subjected to electric and magnetic stimuli, plasma will respond as if alive -- and often unpredictably.
Langmuir describes what happens when a charged object is placed in plasma. The charges within the plasma adjust their positions to form a barrier, called a "Langmuir sheath." This Langmuir sheath then shields any object outside it from the introduced charge. Langmuir sheaths also form around larger bodies immersed in plasma, such as planets. These planetary sheaths are called plasmaspheres or magnetospheres. The charged objects will not "see" each other electrically until the sheaths themselves touch.
This unusual effect can be demonstrated with a novelty plasma ball, perhaps most familiar to us in the old sci-fi movies showing the laboratories of mad scientists, with strange spheres zapping away and emitting luminous, filamentary arcs in every direction.
The ball is constructed from a glass sphere filled with a low- pressure gas and enclosing an inner conductor, usually a smaller ball. A high voltage, radio-frequency power source is connected between the two spheres and ionizes the gas -- that is, the components of the atoms dissociate into charged particles. The resulting plasma forms glowing, twisting filaments. If you wave your hand through the air around the ball, the filaments in a plasma ball will be unaffected. However, when you touch the glass, your hand will introduce additional charges. The filaments will be drawn toward your hand and will follow it when you move it along the surface of the glass.
Similarly, if two electrically charged planets were to approach each other, neither would respond to the electrical charge of the other so long as their plasmaspheres made no contact with each other. If, however, they moved sufficiently close that their plasmaspheres touched, a discharge would occur between planets.
DO PLANETS CARRY CHARGE?
To justify an exploration of interplanetary lightning bolts, we must address the issue of planetary charge. Accepted wisdom in astronomy states that all bodies in space are electrically neutral; that is, they must contain equal numbers of positive and negative charges throughout, with a net charge of zero.
This theoretical assumption, usually stated as fact, stems from a misunderstanding of the electrical nature of space. The foundation of astronomical theory, Newton's theory of gravity, was formulated before the electric light or Maxwell's equations -- even before Benjamin Franklin flew his kite. Under the influence of gravitational doctrines, phenomena that are now better explained electrically, such as the behavior of cometary ion tails, were forced into an electrically sterile, gravitational explanation. But recent decades have seen an explosion of new data challenging all traditional suppositions. Much of the data comes from space age tools farther beyond Newton's gravity than electric light-bulbs are beyond Victorian gas-lights. Of particular significance are the contributions of plasma experiments, utilizing electrical forces to replicate many extraordinary and previously unexplained configurations now observed in deep space.
Space is not empty. It contains atoms and charged particles whizzing about in intricate patterns -- a plasma. But since plasma is a better conductor of electricity than copper, astrophysicists (virtually none of whom are trained in electrical phenomena) supposed that a plasma environment will not support charge differential. To this supposition, astronomer Donald Menzel added an exclamation point with his now-famous statement, "the Sun could not hold enough charge to run a flashlight for more than a few minutes."
But the statement is false. That plasma is a very good conductor is only half the story. Equally crucial is the fact that plasma in space is extraordinarily tenuous -- thinner than the thinnest vacuums science can produce on Earth. Hence, there are very few charged particles to carry the currents. If the Sun is electrically charged, the only sign of it would be an accelerating, tenuous "wind" of charged particles "blowing" away from it. Of course, that flow of charged particles is exactly what our modern probes discovered. We call it the "solar wind."
If the Earth is electrically charged, there should be a detectable electric field at the surface. And there is. In fine weather, this electric field measures 100 volts per meter as you travel up from the surface. If the Earth is charged, we should also expect electrical currents to flow between the Earth and space, particularly when the Sun is continuously emitting a "wind" of charged particles past the Earth. And we do find such currents. Most obvious are the auroras, now forecast like weather on the Internet.
But there is another phenomenon so familiar that it may not be recognized as a planetary electrical discharge. This phenomenon is lightning. In recent years it has been found that lightning storms may be accompanied by strange faint glow discharge phenomena, playfully called elves, sprites and jets, radiating toward space above the clouds. This is exactly what we should expect if regional lightning is part of a continuous exchange between the Earth and the larger electrical environment through which our planet moves.
If the Earth is charged, it should possess a Langmuir sheath. And it does. Astronomers call it a "magnetosphere," implying that electricity is not involved. However, this sheath not only traps the planet's magnetic field but the electric field as well. This means there is a flow of electricity across the plasma of interplanetary space. Hence, the term "plasmasphere" would be more fitting.
WHEN PLANETS SPEAK ELECTRICALLY
Evidence from wide-ranging disciplines will enable us to reconstruct the events accompanying the close encounter of another planet with the Earth. This evidence will include ancient accounts of interplanetary "thunderbolts," modern day experiments with electric discharge phenomena, and the scarring patterns on planets and moons. Taken as a whole, the evidence will permit an interdisciplinary "forensic" approach, one that must remain open to the possibility of extraordinary cosmic events in ancient times.
But before we can discuss the effects of a planetary close encounter, three major types of electric discharge in plasma need to be briefly described. The first, noted above, is a "wind" composed of neutral atoms being driven by collisions with ions, or charged particles, as they are accelerated in an electric field. (By this mechanism, ionic air fresheners give rise to a gentle "breeze" that can be felt.) The second discharge type is more energetic and is called a "glow discharge." It can be seen in auroras and neon signs, and is occasionally observed on high- voltage power lines. The third and most energetic discharge is the electric arc, as illustrated by terrestrial lightning.
It should also be noted that plasma phenomena are known to be scalable over at least 12 orders of magnitude. This means that phenomena seen in the laboratory and recorded in billionths of a second may span light-years and last for centuries in space. It is this scalability that enables us to compare laboratory discharge phenomena with galactic-scale events. It also enables us to compare similarities between laboratory discharge patterns and ancient depictions of the sky. In both cases, plasma discharge phenomena will account for data that have no other explanation in scientific theory.
We are thus reminded of Immanuel Velikovsky's warning many years ago that science can not afford to ignore the role of electricity in the evolution of the solar system. Velikovsky pondered the ancient stories of earth-threatening thunderbolts, envisioning near collisions of planets and electrical discharges flying between them. In Worlds in Collision he wrote:
"I became skeptical of the great theories concerning the celestial motions that were formulated when the historical facts described here were not known to science. ...The accepted celestial mechanics, notwithstanding the many calculations that have been carried out to many decimal places, or verified by celestial motions, stands only if the sun ... is as a whole an electrically neutral body, and also if the planets, in their usual orbits, are neutral bodies. Fundamental principles in celestial mechanics including the law of gravitation, must come into question if the sun possesses a charge sufficient to influence the planets in their orbits or the comets in theirs. In the Newtonian celestial mechanics, based on the theory of gravitation, electricity and magnetism play no role."
This was written several years before the space age began. But now, more than fifty years later, the vital role of electricity and magnetism can no longer be denied. The outcome will be a more holistic science for the third millennium.
Through our own investigations, weighing ancient evidence against the revelations of plasma physics, we have come to accept Velikovsky's underlying hypothesis.
We have, however, gone beyond Velikovsky's observations to identify numerous details of an ancient gathering of planets vastly different from the arrangement observed today. An assembly of planets and moons, moving close to each other within a plasma sheath, produced a celestial drama that is unimaginable to astronomers. The most extraordinary aspect of this hypothesis is the ancient "polar configuration."
It is the mythic thunderbolt that has catalyzed the merging of my own reconstruction -- the polar configuration -- with the electric universe as summarized by the pioneering work of Wal Thornhill. And thanks to the voluminous descriptions left by our ancestors, it is now possible to show in detail that all ancient images of the divine thunderbolt are nothing else than images of the ancient planetary forms, as reconstructed over more than a quarter century.