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"A Nameless fear grips all mankind . . . " - H. Focillon, The Year 1000 (1969)
"The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the Mysterium tremendum." - A. Huxley, The Doors of Perception (1954)
"Man's greatest instrument, his psyche, is little thought of, and it is often mistrusted and despised. 'It's only psychological' too often means: It is nothing." - C. G. Jung, Man and His Symbols (1964)
"Like the early memory of a single man, so the early memory of the
human race belongs to the student of psychology. Only a
philosophically and historically, but also analytically trained mind
can see in the mythological subjects their true content . . . " -
Somewhere between the infinite reaches of outer space -- the Cosmos -- and the labyrinthine recesses of the human mind -- the Cosmos Within -- lie two of Mankind's most profound psychological and emotional creations -- Myth and Religion. Together, they have served man's basic need to bridge the known and the unknown, the finite and the immeasurable, the tangible and the intangible.
Yet, for all their significance, the origin of myth and religion remains tantalizingly elusive and continues to provide one of the most intriguing problems in the study of man.(1) Despite the varied and monumental attempts to discover their true source, no single hypothesis has been universally accepted, for the simple reason that scholars have been unable to free themselves from uniformitarian dogmas which look for the solution in the common and the ordinary at the one extreme, or the excessively obscure at the other.(2)
Recognizing that the solution is not to be found in the everyday events of life, recent works have turned to the celestial sphere and sought the answer in the awe-inspiring heavens. But even these contain obvious ad hoc explanations which present neither a unifying hypothesis nor a substantive example of causation.
Hamlet's Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time is a case in point. This scholarly but abstruse work is a study in futility. While concluding that the celestial sphere is the wellspring of myth, the authors -- de Santillana and von Dechend - have, nonetheless, conformed to a uniformitarian cosmology in their interpretation of myth. This has thus prevented them from perceiving the real reason behind an influential cosmos though they unequivocally conclude that the great myths of the world do have a common origin, that mythic actions are those of celestial bodies, and that mythic geography is not that of the Earth but rather the heavens. (3)
In point of fact, "astrogeography" was so implicit in the beliefs of the ancients that there appears to be a compelling force which not only caused Mankind to raise its collective eyes and arms in cosmic supplication but to conceive celestial cities as well. "The assumption that all things on earth have their counterparts in Heaven was a belief universally accepted in Babylonia in the pre-Christian centuries and widely accepted throughout Western Asia in the Apocalyptic and Gnostic period. It gave rise to a passionate belief in 'the mansions in the skies', and Jesus taught His disciples, 'In my Father's house are many mansions.'"(4)
In the Sumerian Creation myth, the storm god Enlil is reported "as being in the city of Nipper -- a cosmic, celestial Nippur, antedating the creation of the earth, but destined to serve ultimately as the model of the terrestrial Nippur, for the Sumerian cosmic pattern was, in general, designed on the principle of Heaven (Sky),Earth parallelism."(5)
In Mesopotamia, it would appear that "all the Babylonian cities had their archetypes in the constellations: Sippara in Cancer, Nineveh in Ursa-. Major, Assur in Arcturus, etc. Sennacherib has Nineveh built according to the 'form ... delineated from distant ages by the writing of the heaven-of-stars'." Even "the Tigris has its model in the star Anunit and the Euphrates in the star of the Swallow."
Other areas of the world also possessed a comparable cosmological "religio-philosophical" attitude regarding the creation of terrestrial cities. "A celestial Jerusalem was created by God before the city was built by the hand of man ... ; in India: all the Indian royal cities, even the modem ones, are built after the mythical model of the celestial city where, in the age of gold (in illo tempore), the Universal Sovereign dwelt."
"In Iranian cosmology of the Zarvanitic tradition, 'every terrestrial phenomenon, whether abstract or concrete, corresponds to a celestial, transcendent invisible term, to an 'idea' in the Platonic sense'."(5a)
A similar but slightly variant concept was likewise to be found in ancient Egypt. There, the existence of a heavenly Ann (the Heliopolis of the Greeks) was to the Egyptians what Jerusalem was to the Jews and what Mecca still is to the Moslems. "The heavenly Anu was the capital of the mythological world . . . [However,] like many other mythological cities . . . the heavenly Ann had no geographical [specific celestial] position." (6)
"Man constructs according to an archetype. Not only do his city or his temple have celestial models; the same is true of the entire region that he inhabits ... This participation by urban cultures in an archetypal [celestial] model is what gives them their reality and their validity." On the other hand, all "wild, uncultivated regions and the like are assimilated to chaos" and when possession and exploitation of new territory begins "rites are performed that symbolically repeat the act of Creation: the uncultivated zone is first 'cosmicized,' then inhabited." (6a)
The art historian Eugenio Battisti, of the University of Genoa, has also acknowledged the cosmic impetus for Mankind's thought. But he, too, apparently restricts his ideas to uniformitarian precepts seemingly unconcerned with catastrophic factors.
The observation of celestial phenomena and the concept of their relationships with historical events and with human life have always been of fundamental importance for religious concepts, for philosophy, and for the actions of individuals and of societies . . . astronomy and astrology have [thus] had an important impact ... in the direct depiction of heavenly bodies [and] in the symbolic representation inspired by astral mythology . . . . Certainly one must in this connection speak not so much of a consistent and uniform body of iconographical themes, as of an emotive source of conceptual inspiration, one which is esoteric and extremely varied, but which is at the same time intense and constantly recurrent in all cultures and at all times. (7)
Why, then, should the cosmos have exerted such an intense influence on Mankind's mythology, religion, and philosophy which are all too frequently imbued with an inherent sense of dread and cataclysmic preoccupation? "Why," asks Immanuel Velikovsky "is theomachy the central theme of all cosmogonical myths? Should not a thinking man pause and wonder why the ancients in both hemispheres worshipped planetary gods; why temples were erected to them, . . . why [were] sacrifices, even human sacrifices brought to them?"(10) It is Velikovsky himself in Worlds in Collision, with its rigorously detailed and documented application of cosmological euhemerism, who provides us with the fundamental and plausible answer: Cosmic catastrophism and its simultaneously overwhelming universal effect were clearly responsible for a common astral origin of world religions, particular eschatological beliefs, and the inculcation of unshakable fear.(11) The myths and legends of all peoples conclusively support this contention.
An eighteenth century forerunner of Velikovsky, Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger (1722-1759), likewise "analyzed the cosmogonies and mythologies of several far-spread peoples of the Earth, such as Germans, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, Peruvians, Mexicans, and Caribs, concluding that rites, ceremonials, and myths reflect the fact that the human race was subjected to a series of cosmic convulsions ..."(12)
Scholars try to explain the widespread common themes of mythology by a slow diffusion of ideas from one culture to another. Velikovsky contends that the commonality of world myth is the result of mankind',s common experience and common observation involving global disasters arising from extraterrestrial causes. Catastrophism and the conditioned fear generated by any unusual celestial movement, therefore, inspired a "related" world-wide polygenetical mythology which was similar yet varied according to local interpretations. Admittedly, modification could conceivably occur through a later diffusionist intrusion but basic cultural uniqueness would be retained. (13)
How else are we to explain the universal worship of the planet Venus, its prominent rank in religious pantheons, and the numerous ceremonies associated with the Morning Star? (14)
What, for example, could have "induced the Mayas to call by the name of Scorpion the constellation known to us and to the ancients by the same name? The outlines of this constellation do not resemble the shape of this insect. It is 'one of the most remarkable coincidences in nomenclature.' The constellation, which is not at all like a scorpion, probably was called by this name because a comet that looked like a scorpion appeared in it." (15)
In many unrelated cultures we find similarities in form and emblem which suggest a common cosmic implication: for example, the dome, either with or without a central opening; the pyramid; the tower; the mound or staircase; the canopy (which imitates the vault of the heavens); the egg or gilded ball, frequently an attribute of imperial power; the crown, etc. The greatest difficulty in the study of such forms arises from the amalgam of cultures present everywhere, as a result of which archaic cosmological concepts survive alongside other concepts either of a later period or foreign in origin.(16)
Worlds in Collision is thus a work that is primarily a reconstruction "built upon studying the human testimony as preserved in the heritage of all ancient civilizations [which] tell in various forms the very same narrative that the trained eye of a psychoanalyst could not but recognize as so many variants of the same theme." (17)
This theme, the catastrophically changing order of the cosmos with its attendant sense of awe and wonder, must have furnished ancient man with a fluctuating and complex source of celestial imagery. This then precipitated numerous attempts at harmonizing meaningful depictions of the divine with the ever-varying "cosmic picture."
W. F. Albright, the late dean of American archaeologists, once alluded to the latter phenomenon when he wrote that "we have only to glance at the mythologies, the iconographies, and the litanies to see that NearEastern gods shifted in disconcerting fashion from astral form to zoomorphic, dendromorphic, and composite manifestations."(18) Albright failed, however, to make the "cosmic connection" where ancient myth and religion were concerned preferring the conclusion that "the sublime description of the theophany may owe certain features to the two most majestic spectacles vouchsafed to mankind: a sub-tropical thunder-storm and a volcanic eruption." (19)
And yet, despite occasional localized upheaval, cosmic forces remained the preeminent concern of the ancients. At times, in almost frenetic desperation, they would switch Planetary allegiance, like betters at a roulette wheel, in the hope of winning heavenly and divine favor. (20) Eventually, well-nigh all astral deities came to be equated with the Sun or Moon as the power of the ancient gods was diminished through rationalization, obliviscence, and the acceptance of the present cosmic arrangement as being retroactively constant, eternal and unalterable.
The Fountain of Forgetfulness
In order to avoid a "mental overload" the human mind is geared to repel and filter out excessive stimuli and, that being the case, it is highly difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what the psychological effect of a world conflagration wrought by cosmic fury would be. It would certainly not be unreasonable to expect a Lethean* defense mechanism to assert itself.
The above statements gain credence from the personal experiences of the noted author Aldous Huxley which were recounted in his book The Doors of Perception. While under the self-imposed influence of Mescalin, Huxley experienced a form of transcendent consciousness which, for him, "illuminated the anatomy of inner space and projected the idea that man himself is a b ridge between two worlds, the earthly and the supersensible. It also publicized the then little known fact that the brain, nervous system and sense organs function as a protective barrier against what would otherwise be an overwhelming intrusion of the 'Total Mind', acting like a reducing valve to ration out that 'measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this planet'."(21)
As the world -of ancient man was plunged into a state of primeval chaos resulting from cosmic catastrophism, physical helplessness could, therefore, be overcome by psychological retreat. The actual cataclysmic consequences were suppressed through mythic and epic conversion -- a form of "fantasy escape" -- while memory fadeout also acted as a healing device; the mind blotted out reality displacing the terrifying events from the conscious "into the unconscious strata of the mind, where they continue to live and express themselves in bizarre forms of fear."(22) Velikovsky views this process of forgetting and suppression as a form of "collective amnesia."(23)
The modern mythographer Giorgio de Santillana, one of the authors of the work previously referred to, Hamlet's Mill, spent considerable effort delving into the problem of astromythology. But, he excluded the catastrophic element in considering the cosmic source of myth and religion which is surprising in as much as he feels that contemporary science has been led by its modem evolutionary and psychological bent to forget about the main source of myth, which was astronomy -- the Royal Science . . . Today expert philologists tell us that Saturn and Jupiter are names of vague deities, subterranean or atmospheric, superimposed on the planets at a 'late' period; they neatly sort out folk origins and 'late' derivations, all unaware that planetary periods, sidereal and synodic, were known and rehearsed in numerous ways by celebrations already traditional in archaic times . . . Ancient historians would have been aghast had they been told that obvious things were to become unnoticeable. Aristotle was proud to state it as known that the gods were originally stars, even if popular fantasy had later obscured this truth.(24)
Velikovsky, in Worlds in Collision, had already previously drawn attention to the solarizing tendency vis-a-vis the ancient gods which began with Macrobius in the fourth Christian century. Earlier religious beliefs were disregarded as the cult of Sol Invictus gained ascendancy in the days of the Late Roman Empire. (25)
Yet, "in former times the planets played a decidedly more important role in the imagination of peoples, to which fact their religions give testimony." The enumeration of the Sun and Moon "among the seven planets sometimes startles the modern scholar, because these two luminaries are so much more conspicuous than the other planets: [still] the dominance of Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars [in antiquity] must startle us even more as long as we do not know what was displayed on the celestial scene a few thousand years ago." (26)
It is highly probable that the very cosmic terrors which inspired religious and eschatological beliefs may, in themselves, be responsible for mental blocks inhibiting their ideological acceptance thereby suggesting that man's desire not to know is often as great as his desire to know.
Jung and the Collective Unconscious
Carl Gustav Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, was born on July 26, 1875 and early in his career for a short but intensive period of time came under the sway of Sigmund Freud with whom he eventually broke. Jung was very much concerned with the unconscious realm of man's mind which he divided into the Personal Unconscious and the Collective Unconscious. The former, he contended, consists of "forgotten, repressed, subliminally perceived and felt material of all kinds"; the latter "does not include personal acquisitions specific to our individual ego, but only contents resulting 'from the inherited possibility of Psychical functioning in general, namely from the inherited brain structure'."(27)
Further, Jung declared that "the unconscious is older than . . .
consciousness. It is the 'primal datum' out of which consciousness
ever arises afresh [and] the unconscious manifests itself as though
it were outside space and time."(28) Moreover, "the collective
unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind's
evolution born anew in the brain structure of every individual."(29)
Since, according to Velikovsky, the collective unconscious acts as "a receptacle and carrier of ideas deposited there in primeval times, which plays an important role in our concepts and actions . . . we may well wonder to what extent the terrifying experiences of world catastrophes have become part of the human soul and how much, if any, of it can be traced in our beliefs, emotions, and behavior as directed from the unconscious or subconscious strata of the mind."(31)
There are numerous examples of what seems to be the unconscious memory of these past events breaking through into the conscious and thus playing a dramatic role in behavior. Such is the case, apparently of the seventeenth century author John Bunyan. "As the Puritan teaching spread around him, Bunyan's deviltry was disturbed by thoughts of death, the Last Judgment, and hell. Once he dreamed that he saw all the sky on fire, and the earth splitting beneath him. He woke in terror, and frightened the family with his cries: 'O Lord, have mercy on me! . . . The Day of Judgment is come, and I am not prepared."(32)
Another instance comes from a dream received by Jung from an acquaintance which the latter had had on May 27, 1957. The dream contained a reference to a sphere which approached the earth at high velocity and was at first thought to be Jupiter in aberration from its proper orbit.
The object, however, though large, was then seen as being much too small for Jupiter; and as it continued on course bringing with it the realization that it must certainly make a terrific impact upon the earth, fear was felt in which awe was more predominant." Soon "another and yet another sphere emerged from the horizon and sped towards the earth."(33)
Jung was not unfamiliar with the "Jupiter motif" and ultimately
interpreted the dream as fear of a new World War "although, to all
appearances, a cosmic catastrophe is about to happen." (34)
Freud and Anamnesis
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), too, was concerned with and searched for the primordial urges in present day man. He came to believe that the earliest experiences of mankind and the way they were assimilated created a general behavioral pattern not unlike that found in the individual. In the latter, the "earliest impressions, received at a time when they were hardly able to talk, manifested themselves later in an obsessive fashion, although those impressions themselves are not consciously remembered." (37)
Freud also concluded "that the mental residue of . . . primeval times has become a heritage which, with each new generation, needs only to be awakened, not to be reacquired."(38) He also subscribed to the notion that the events of the past had been "repressed" but was analytically vague as to the actual nature of those events. (39)
Freudian therapy, for those who are neurotically reenacting their
repressed traumatic experiences from a subconscious compulsion
involves anamnesis -- a recalling to mind on the conscious level
those events which are buried in an individual's psychic history. In Velikovskian terms, those events were both traumatic and real; early
man's suffering was caused by "disorders in the solar system of a
purely mechanical nature. Early man interpreted these disorders as
actions of divinities with motivations that resembled his own. His
two prime reactions took the opposite forms of guilt and aggression.
He felt guilt insofar as he fantasized that the gods were destroying
man to punish him, and he became aggressive insofar as he identified
with the gods to the point of imitating them."(40)
But what could have induced this particular "primal crime?" Freud
seems to have overlooked the most significant fact that the major
myths of mankind tell of the supersession of father by son on a
cosmic level where one planetary god supplanted another, often
through violent means.
To those individuals who would view the ethnological condition and cosmological beliefs of ancient and primitive man strictly from the social, historical or agricultural standpoint, with only the occasional terrestrial disturbances a discordant factor, a condition of scholarly myopia must inevitably develop. (44)
A good example is found in the studies of the late Henri Frankfort, a renowned Orientalist, both singly and with others. In Kingship and the Gods, for example, Frankfort presented a Sumerian poem which supposedly evokes the memory of a golden age: (45)
In those days there was no snake, there was no scorpion . . . There was no lion, there was no wild dog(?), no wolf,
There was no fear, no terror,
A discussion of the god Enlil immediately follows while no attempt at poetical analysis is made. Frankfort was primarily interested instead in the early Mesopotamian "consciousness of solidarity" or sense of "oneness" which yielded later to separatist concepts of city-states and strict politico-religious divisions resulting in territorial fragmentation not generally found in Egypt.
That the original solidarity of early Mesopotamia may have been broken for reasons other than the character of the land, never occurred to Frankfort; and consequently the Sumerian poem is totally overlooked as literary evidence of celestial disturbances in historical times. But could there have been some outside force which was responsible for irretrievably disrupting the initial unity of Mesopotamia aside from armed conflicts and the deficiencies of political institutions?
Unfortunately, Frankfort, along with his colleagues Groenewegen-Frankfort, Wilson, and Jacobsen, cannot see beyond terrestrial limitations. To them, cosmic events signify the order of the natural world -- a purely earthbound conception. (47)
Wilson subscribes to the theory that the Egyptian cosmos, like the Nile valley, "had limited space but reassuring periodicity."(48) Jacobsen and the Frankforts tend to adroitly circumvent the identification of any specific cosmic phenomena.
But now let us reexamine the Sumerian poem in the light of a
Comets also appear as a "pageant of the sky" and "actually every comet has its peculiar shape which may change during the visibility of the comet." (52) On one of the Babylonian astronomical tablets it states that ,.a star flared up and its light radiated bright as day, and as it blazed, it lashed its tail like an angry scorpion." (53)
While it is true that the references to the cosmological phenomena cited above post-date Sumerian times, it is not unreasonable-to suppose that similar appearing celestial images were also seen in the days of Sumer. It may even be that the later Babylonian texts perpetuated much older Mesopotamian astronomical observations. With this imagery in mind, it is now possible at the least to approach the above quoted poem with a new insight in the hope of extracting its deeper and more profound meaning.
We need only ask the following questions: Why should a developing urban society protected by city walls (54) look upon certain animals with fear, nay terror,(55) while nostalgically recollecting its blissful past? Are the animals referred to merely a recognizable allegorical substitute for a far greater threat? What could the expression "one tongue" signify?
Terror in the Year 1000
In his last written work, left unfinished by his death, the great French scholar Henri Focillon expended considerable energy analyzing the psychological atmosphere surrounding the year 1000 (A.D.) and the concept of millenarianism. (56)
He observed that "the year 1000 presents a picture of strong contrasts [and] while there is no text that allows us to assert that in its obscure strata it was shaken by the fear of the world's end, yet fear -- an ill-defined fear feeding on everything -- was dominant nonetheless. That fear exceeds the year in point of time, it was present earlier and does not end when the year ends."(57)
It cannot be denied that an end of the world attitude prevailed as the year 1000 approached. But Focillon was unable to explain in a totally satisfactory manner "the problem of the terrors" as they related to the year 1000 and was ultimately powerless to ascribe the terrors to any one single factor. He did demonstrate, however, that they existed independently of the year 1000.(58)
Whether or not the year 1000 should have even been designated as the apocalyptic moment is questionable. The eschatological cognizance of that date was 1) both a function of the accepted length of cyclical termination, itself variable; 2) the uncertain chronological starting point for computing the passage of a millennium.(59)
The best and most reliable contemporary source of information dealing with "the millennium syndrome" is Raoul Glaber (60) who was educated at Cluny and was a world traveller. To Glaber the year 1000 marked the "imminent end of the world" when Satan, "the prince of metamorphoses" would soon be unleashed. And then in the year 1000 something did happen:
It appeared in the month of September, not long after nightfall, and remained visible for nearly three months. It shone so brightly that its light seemed to fill the greater part of the sky, then it vanished at cock's crow. But whether it is a new star which God launches into space, or whether He merely increases the normal brightness of another star, only He can decide who in the mysterious secrecy of His wisdom prepares all things. What appears established with the greatest degree of certainty is that this phenomenon in the sky never appears to men without being the sure sign of some mysterious and terrible event. And indeed a fire soon consumed the church of St. Michael the Archangel, built on a promontory in the ocean, which had always been the object of special veneration throughout the whole world.(61)
Despite the collective reaction to this cosmic phenomenon which resulted in a spontaneous religious procession−"a picture of anguished humanity" in the words of Focillon himself−the full import of the event is, nonetheless, surprisingly downgraded by the Frenchman.
Focillon dismissed the response to "the comet of the year 1000" on the grounds that it "is not the sole example of a prodigy in the sky during the [general] period" under consideration since another "meteor" appeared in 1022.(62) Yet, a reaction did occur and a highly acute one at that! Thus, when confronted with a logical solution to "the problem of the terrors" -- subconscious fear of cosmic catastrophism -- Focillon was reluctant and even unwilling to accept it.
We must wonder at Focillon's own pedantic and psychological attitude. He either became so scholastic in his study of "millenarian terror" and "an end of the world" Mentality(63) that he unintentionally remained inconclusive and rambling in his attempt to uncover the real psychological basis for the terrors -- which he correctly perceived were not bound to the year 1000; or, Focillon was unable to fathom the underlying psychological cause of medieval man's terror for he himself, in failing to completely grasp the often overwhelming effect of celestial phenomena, may have possessed his own defensive psychological blind spot on the matter. Perhaps Focillon unknowingly shared the same subconscious fear as those he analyzed and so, like the physician who could not heal himself, could not properly diagnose his patient. To put it another way, the final precise revelation was deliberately unconsciously avoided because it could not be faced. What else can we conclude from Focillon's indecisive circumlocution?(64)
As Velikovsky has observed -- "comets, because of their causal relation to world catastrophes, and also because of their terrifying appearance, were the kind of phenomenon to kindle the imagination of peoples. But for some reason, the impression they must have made on the peoples of antiquity is not considered in explanation of myths and legends" nor properly evaluated in explanation of mankind's ever present and unwavering subconscious fear. (65)
The seventeenth century presents a picture of fear and crisis not unlike "the problem of the terrors" which cast such a pall over the period immediately surrounding the year 1000; astronomy and history apparently conspired to reenforce an already impending sense of disaster.
Ever since 1618 at least there had been talk of the dissolution of society or of the world; and the undefined sense of gloom of which we are constantly aware in those years was justified sometimes by new interpretations of Scripture, sometimes by new phenomena in the skies. (66)
The appearance in 1618 of a brilliant new comet, with a tail fifty million miles long, seemed to support the prophets of doom. James I of England "was convinced that it was an omen, not only of the fall of the House of Stuart, but also of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). John Evelyn, the diarist, also blamed the comet for the war."(67)
Yet these reactions are strange indeed since the wars of the
seventeenth century were, in a sense, only a resumption of those of
the sixteenth century. But for all that, the entire fabric of the
seventeenth century is dramatically altered. "It is broken in the
middle, irreparably broken, and at the end of it, after the
revolutions, men can hardly recognize the beginning. Intellectually,
politically, morally, we are in a new age, a new climate. It is as
if a series of rainstorms has ended in one final thunderstorm which
has cleared the air and changed, permanently, the temperature of
It was at this time that cyclical theories of history became fashionable and the decline and fall of nations was predicted, not only from Scripture and the stars, but also from the passage of time and the organic processes of decay. Kingdoms, declared a Puritan preacher in 1643, after touching lightly on the corroborative influence of the comet of 1618, last for a maximum period of 500 or 600 years 'and it is known to all of you how long we have been since the conquest'.(69)
Like the time of the year 1000, an end of the world syndrome prevailed. Once again a dormant but virile fear embedded in mankind's psychic makeup evidently reasserted its presence.
It is an interesting but undeniable fact that the most advanced scientists of the early sixteenth century included also the most learned and literal students of biblical mathematics; and in their hands science and religion converged to pinpoint, between 1640 and 1660, the dissolution of society, and the end of the world.(70)
The seventeenth century also witnessed the European witch-craze the product of an inexplicable "great fear" that enveloped the continent. "When a 'great fear' takes hold of society, that society looks naturally to the stereotype of the enemy in its midst; and once the witch had become the stereotype, witchcraft would be the universal accusation."(71)
The appearance of the witches thus provided a necessary scapegoat at a time when European society in all its aspects demanded one. And what is even more amazing is the fact that witches manifested themselves voluntarily as though responding instinctually to the scapegoat needs of the moment. At the same time, as though unable to resist a lapse into irrationality, "some of the most original and cultivated men of the time not only accepted the theory of witch-craft, but positively devoted their genius to its propagation."(72)
Perhaps therefore the motivating roots for the seventeenth century European witch-craze are not to be found in any contemporary milieu after all. Perhaps the strata of mankind's psyche should be searched instead in order to see if the residue of terrifying past experiences regarding the cosmos were responsible. (73)
Beyond the Year 1000
The generations of mankind have not been allowed to forget the restless heavens." Comets, meteors, and exploding stars have all repeatedly contributed their luminescent display upon the celestial screen. Comets, in particular, have struck a frightening chord in the heavenly theophany; and war, plague, famine, and the death and birth of notables have all been attributed to their appearance. "From the dawn of written history to the present the superstitious have always regarded comets with fear as the portents of disaster." (74)
Man, by an inherited instinct, regards the comet as a great terror and a great foe; and the heart of humanity sits uneasily when one blazes in the sky. Even to the scholar and the scientist they are a puzzle and a fear; they are erratic, unusual, anarchical, monstrous -- something let loose, like a tiger of the heavens, athwart an orderly, peaceful, and harmonious world. They may be impalpable and harmless attenuations of gas, or they may be loaded with death and rain; but in any event man can not contemplate them without terror.(75)
What is now called Halley's Comet has, in itself, been a cause of extreme consternation at those times when it appeared in days gone by. In 1066 it was viewed as a precursor of the Norman Conquest. In 1456 the Turks, who were besieging Belgrade, along with the city's defenders were suddenly seized with fear at its appearance. "Pope Calixtus III, himself struck with general terror, ordered public prayers to be offered up for deliverance from the comet and the enemies of Christianity."(76)
The description of the comet of 1528 by the famous French surgeon Ambroise Pare is especially noteworthy:
This comet was so horrible and so frightful and it produced such great terror in the vulgar that some died of fear and others fell sick. At the summit of it was seen the figure of a bent arm, holding in its hand a great sword, as if about to strike. On both sides of the rays of this comet were seen a great number of axes, knives and blood Coloured swords among which were a great number of hideous human faces with beards and bristling hair.(77)
"In 1910 many Chinese villagers shot off fireworks in the hopes of driving Halley's comet away. In the United States many people believed that the comet of 1812 foretold the war of that year and that Donati's comet in 1858 heralded the Civil War."(78)
Like comets, supernovae (faint stars that suddenly flare up with extreme brilliance) have also caused consternation. One appeared in 1054 and was recorded in the Chinese annals, though surprisingly not mentioned in any surviving European document. It "appeared so brilliant that for 23 days it could be seen in full daylight."(79) Modern astronomy has succeeded in locating the supernova of 1054 in the constellation of Taurus.
In 1572, however, Europe was shaken by a supernova later known as Tycho's Nova which suddenly appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia and in only a few days "grew brighter than Venus and could be seen in broad daylight. The superstitious were certain that it heralded some dreadful disaster, perhaps the end of the world."(80) Kepler's Nova made its appearance in 1604, did not fade until 1606, and was as brilliant as Jupiter but not as bright as its sixteenth century predecessor.
In 1885 an extraordinary brilliance was observed in the galaxy known as the Andromeda Nebula. The sudden stellar flareup lasted for 25 days and "that single star shone more brightly than 10 million suns. Then it faded to such an extent that it was no longer visible through the most powerful telescopes." (81) Additional novae have also been observed with telescopes and the unaided eye since 1890 without, however, causing any undue alarm.
People have been extremely frightened and intimidated by meteor showers as well. (82) For example, "a spectacular display of meteors, visible over the eastern half of the United States on the night of November 12, 1883, convinced many terrified witnesses that the end of the world was at hand. The display began before midnight and increased in intensity as the night wore on. In the hours before dawn the meteors were as thick as snowflakes and it appeared as though the heavens were raining fire. Some of the meteors rivaled Jupiter or Venus in brightness. One was reported to have been nearly as large as the moon. It was estimated that 10,000 flashed across the sky in an hour."(83)
Astronomers soon came to recognize a periodicity to this cosmological phenomenon and also realized that the meteors had come from one point in the constellation of Leo. "This meant that the earth had collided with a vast swarm of meteors."(84)
It has been suggested that the Chicago fire of 1871 as well as less publicized Midwestern and Farwestern fires were the result of a cometary flyby. "If the detritus from the ephemeris of one such as Biela's comet did impinge on our atmosphere, how much frozen methane or cyanogen would it take to set six states afire, in a path that took a southwest to a northeasterly direction about a thousand miles long by several hundred wide?"(85)
As in other times, the twentieth-century has not been without its share of celestial excitement. On June 30, 1908 something from outer space apparently collided with the Earth in the Tunguska area of central Siberia producing a devastating mid-air explosion seconds before impact. A "pillar of fire" was seen in Kirensk, 250 miles away, while "horses were thrown down in an area south of Kansk, more than 400 miles distant."(86) Had the celestial object arrived slightly less than five hours later along the same latitude, it would have leveled St. Petersburg (Leningrad) the capital of Imperial Russia.(87)
Various theories have been put forward to account for the Siberian disaster. It has been proposed that the Earth was hit either by a comet, a giant meteor, a chunk of antimatter, or a tiny "black hole." Even the possibility that intelligent extraterrestrial beings caused a nuclear explosion, or fired a laser beam at the Earth, or crashed in an attempt to land here has been posited.
But, regardless of the reason, something did strike our world and
while "no explanation satisfies everyone . . . we are left with the
real possibility of a recurrence. Should it take place without
warning in a populated region and resemble a nuclear blast, could it
trigger an atomic war?" (88)
There may be some doubt concerning the authenticity of the
celestial phenomenon recounted above due to what appears to be a
lack of corroborating scientific documentation from other quarters.
The descriptive terminology employed, such as the word "planet,"
certainly gives one reason to pause. Nevertheless, the probable
reality of the 1937 observation cannot be entirely dismissed out of
In endeavoring to establish the historicity of "the words of Isaiah and of other seers . . . of the Old Testament," Velikovsky criticized the exegetes Maimonides and Spinoza for their insistent metaphorical conversion of Biblical Scripture.(91)
"Events were called miracles and were explained as subjective apperceptions or as symbolic descriptions because they could not t)e otherwise accounted for." Nevertheless, there is no "room for doubt that by 'stones falling from the sky' were meant meteorites; by brimstone and pitch were meant brimstone and pitch; by scorching blast of fire was meant scorching blast of fire; by storm and tempest, storm and tempest; by a darkened sun, by the earth removed from its place, by change of time and seasons, were meant just these changes in the regular processes of nature . . . Until the fall of meteorites in 1803, science was sure that stones falling from the sky occurred only in legends."(92)
Yet, through the millennia, Mankind has repeatedly cringed before the cosmos. Neither the great nor the lowly; the good nor the bad; the meek nor the aggressor; the wealthy nor the poor; the pious nor the irreverent have been spared a sense of anguish arising from the "inconstant heavens." And always the question Why? remains to mock those who would evade it; while the most elaborate scientific explanations for a uniformitarian cosmology stand to be confuted so long as there is disregard for the human record and the reactions of the human psyche.(93)
1. See G. S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and
Other Cultures (Univ. of Calif. Press: Los Angeles, 1973), pp.
280-285; the article "Myth and Fable" in the Encyclopedia of World
Art (EWA), X (N. Y., 1961), pp. 448-451; V. Deloria, "Myth and the
Origin of Religion," Pensee, Vol. 4, no. 4, Fall 1974, pp. 45-50.