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Thunderbolts of the Gods
"It is the thunderbolt that steers the universe!"
These are the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, living in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. To our ears today, the words are quite meaningless and easy to dismiss along with a thousand other "superstitions" of the ancient world. But in truth they point to an archaic teaching which, were it comprehended in our time, would overturn modern cosmology and transform our understanding of the human past.
Cross-cultural analysis will show that the mythic thunderbolt held a most prominent place in the imagination of all early civilizations. But this awesome weapon of the gods is only indirectly connected to the "lightning" familiar to us today. Typically, the ancient stories describe the gods hurling their weapon not against humanity, but against each other, thereby throwing the heavens into turmoil. Universally, the thunderbolt is a symbol of cosmic upheaval - events powerful enough to re- arrange the heavens and change the course of human history. That, at least, is the way the ancient poets and historians remember it. The flaming weapon is most familiar to us in the images of the Greek Zeus (Jupiter), who hurls his bolt across the sky. It is this fiery weapon which proves decisive in the god's confrontations with such chaos powers as the dragon Typhon or the rebel Enceladus.
The god Yahweh, in Hebrew accounts, brandishes his lightning bolt against Rahab or Leviathan, the dragon of the deep, as the whole world trembles. Similarly, it is with lighting that the Babylonian Marduk blasts the dragon Tiamat, whose attack threatened to destroy creation.
As we trace such images back to their earliest sources, we find that the feared thunderbolt really has nothing to do with local storms or regional events. When the world falls out of control, a sovereign god employs the weapon on behalf of "order" or renewal of the world after devastating catastrophe. When we examine the accounts systematically and in their specific details we see how clearly they exclude the popular interpretations given in our own time.
As the ancient chroniclers tell it, even the gods themselves are "scarred" or "wounded" by blasts of lightning. Lightning streaks along the world axis, presenting the form of a luminous pillar in the sky. Repeatedly, we find popular warrior-gods taking the form of the lightning-weapon, while numerous mother goddesses are "impregnated" by the same fiery bolt. Or the lightning-weapon is hurled as a spiraling sphere trailing fire. Among numerous ancient cultures we find thunderbolts appearing as symmetrically arranged "arrows" launched toward the four quarters of the heavens, represented pictographically by a cross of light.
Everything about the mythic lightning bolt is enigmatic, as if utterly divorced from natural experience. And yet the symbolism consistently points back to archetypal forms and events. Why was lightning, in the first astronomies, wielded by gods who are identified as planets? Why was the fiery bolt itself often presented with a twisted or corkscrew form? And how do we account for the famous "sulfurous stench" said to accompany the lightning- stroke? Or the universal claim that meteorites or stones ("thunderstones") fell with the lightning of the gods?
A modern reader is easily desensitized to such "make believe." Were not all early races the victims of ignorance and wild imagination? All too frequently we grow so accustomed to the fantastic aspects of their accounts that we lose interest in the details. Or worse, we fail to notice the recurring patterns, the most vital keys to discovery. The thunderbolt will illustrate the extent of this dilemma while carrying us well beyond the particular symbol. As we intend to demonstrate, the patterns of ancient memory are simply too powerful, too detailed, and too consistent to be explained in the usual way.
UNSTABLE SOLAR SYSTEM
Much of the emphasis of this book will be on the dynamic and unpredictable roles of planets and moons, when they moved through highly active electrical fields. Planetary motions observed today are not a reliable guide to solar system history. But it seems that over many centuries observational science came increasingly under the spell of a predictable and uneventful planetary arrangement, and now certain questions are rarely if ever asked. How stable is the solar system? Have the planets always moved on their present courses?
For many years, a principle called uniformitarianism has ruled the sciences. The principle says that evolutionary processes occurring in the past can be deduced from processes observed now. It is assumed, for example, that by noting uniform natural processes today, an observer can deduce how long it took the crust of the earth to shift and mountains to rise, for wind and water erosion to occur, and for lava flows and regional floods to sculpt the Earth's unique surface features.
With the arrival of the space age, the same principles were applied to the natural events shaping the surfaces of planets and moons. As our probes sent back vivid images of planetary surfaces and the surfaces of the remote moons of Jupiter and Saturn, geologists drew primarily on a count of craters to "date" the surfaces. They simply projected theoretical impact rates backwards across great spans of time, and the results were the presumed "dates" for different surfaces, typically ranging from millions to billions of years.
Such suppositions as these have guided data analyses throughout the space age. But are these suppositions really justified? Suffice it to say, if their assumption of uniformity is incorrect, planetary scientists have directed many billions of dollars toward asking the wrong questions.
From the nineteenth century onward, the uniformity principle remained unchallenged. Undoubtedly that underlying supposition constrained the thinking of historians as they began to explore the world of our early ancestors and to offer translations of previously unknown ancient texts.
Antiquarians—ethnologists, archaeologists, and students of the archaic languages—assumed without question that the celestial forms celebrated in the great "sky religions" answer to the Sun and Moon and other bodies as they appear in our sky today. But what would happen to our understanding of the myth-making age if we set this supposition aside just long enough to ask the question: What were the sky-worshippers seeing in the heavens when they invoked the prodigious forms of the gods? And what did they mean by the gods' awe-inspiring weapons of fire and stone?
We would be remiss if we failed to make clear that both authors of this volume were independently inspired by the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, one of the most innovative and controversial theorists of the 20th century. In 1950, Velikovsky's bestseller, Worlds in Collision, presented evidence for global catastrophes in historical times. He wrote that only a few thousand years ago planets moved on erratic courses and more than once the Earth itself was disturbed by errant planets. These upheavals, according to Velikovsky, were memorialized around the world in myth, art, ritual, language, and architecture.
Three principles were paramount in Velikovsky's hypothesis:
1. Unstable motions and near-collisions of planets have produced large-scale terrestrial catastrophes on the earth.
2. Ancient cultures preserved massive records of these catastrophes.
3. Taken as a whole, historical records suggest a vital role of electricity: In catastrophic episodes, great bolts of lightning passed between planets.
Velikovsky's approach was interdisciplinary. He used the insights of a professional psychoanalyst and the methods of a trained historian to investigate the astronomical, mythical, and religious traditions of diverse cultures. He discerned deeply rooted themes which others had failed to see. These cultural records told the story of traumatic events, apparently experienced on a global scale. Using a comparative method, he pieced together a coherent story.
In support of his reconstruction he found physical evidence from geology, paleontology, and archeology. He also formulated a series of predictions-consistent with his hypothesis, but unexpected by previous theories. He predicted that the planet Jupiter would emit radio signals; that the planet Venus would be much hotter than astronomers expected; and that craters on the moon would reveal remanent magnetism and radioactive hot spots. Velikovsky's ability to anticipate scientific discovery produced a surprising statement from the renowned geologist Harry Hess (in an open letter to Velikovsky in 1963):
"Some of these predictions were said to be impossible when you made them. All of them were predicted long before proof that they were correct came to hand. Conversely I do not know of any specific prediction you made that has since been proven to be false. I suspect the merit lies in that you have a good basic background in the natural sciences and you are quite uninhibited by the prejudices and probability taboos which confine the thinking of most of us."
For ourselves, the authors of this work believe that Velikovsky was incorrect on many details of his reconstruction. But his place among the great pioneers of science will be secure if he was merely correct on the underlying tenets of his work: an unstable solar system in geologically recent times; close encounters of planets marked by interplanetary electrical discharges; catastrophic disturbances of the Earth; and human witnesses to these events; all with the most profound effects on human imagination and on the collective activity of early civilizations.
In the 50 years since Worlds in Collision was published, the viewpoint of orthodox science has changed dramatically, leading some to say that the only mistake Velikovsky made was presenting his theory at the wrong historical time. Over the intervening decades various innovators began to investigate catastrophic possibilities previously ignored.
One of the milestones in this trend was the hypothesis of Leo and Walter Alvarez, claiming dinosaur extinction by asteroidal impact. While the initial response of official science was ridicule, over time the hypothesis began to gain general acceptance within the scientific community. Soon thereafter, the respected biologist Stephen Jay Gould acknowledged the occasional catastrophe in a theory of "punctuated equilibrium." And the British astronomers Victor Clube and William Napier opened the door even further by postulating cometary or asteroidal disasters so recent as to have inspired vivid human stories (myths) of these events.
Then several other astronomers, astrophysicists, and geologists added support to such speculations. Among these theorists are the eminent astronomers Fred Hoyle and Tom Van Flandern. According to the latter theorist, an "exploding planet" devastated the surfaces of Mars and other bodies in the solar system, perhaps leaving its scars on human imagination as well.
And now, a half century after Worlds in Collision, a few well- accredited catastrophists, including dendrochronologist Mike Baillie, are beginning to admit a debt to Velikovsky, usually with the disclaimer that of course he was wrong about unstable planets being involved in these events. This general assessment of Velikovsky is shared openly by the popular science and science fiction writer, Jerry Pournelle, on his website <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/science/moremusings.htm>:
"Taken as a whole, Velikovsky's specific hypotheses are, in my judgment, quite beyond belief. On the other hand, his general hypothesis, that there were astronomical terrors in the Bronze Age and memories of them have come down to us in myths and legends, has always seemed to me to be well worth taking seriously and is in fact very probably true."
We want to make it clear at the outset that the authors of this upcoming book stand with Velikovsky—if not on all the details of his reconstruction, then certainly on the general principles. When it comes to solar system stability we believe that Velikovsky was fundamentally correct, though it is certainly understandable that many intelligent writers find the errant planets of Worlds in Collision "quite beyond belief."
Indeed, belief itself may be the greatest obstacle to objective investigation on this subject, given the inertia of prior assumptions. The very idea that wandering planets could quickly settle into their present highly uniform and predictable orbits is simply too much to countenance under accepted principles of Newtonian gravity and energy conservation.
But in fact, the issue can be resolved dispassionately. The belief in uniform planetary motions over millions of years, though understandable, is just a belief. Placed within a wider field of evidence—a field ranging across the global testimony of ancient cultures and into a vast library of space age data—the very foundations of the belief will collapse.
Newton developed the concept of gravitation in 1666, eight decades before Franklin flew his kite and more than two centuries before Maxwell wrote his famous equations. Astronomy developed in the gaslight era before electricity was known.
In this volume we intend to show that something is missing from the standard treatments of planetary history and celestial dynamics. That missing component is electricity.