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Modern Myth Articles
THE CENTRAL, POLAR SUN
To the traditions of a polar power, previously cited, should be added the following:
In the Persian Zend Avesta the creator-king Ahura Mazda rules from atop the world axis, the fixed station "around which the many stars revolve." Iranian cosmology, as reported by Leopold de Saussure, esteemed the celestial pole as the center and summit of heaven, where resided Kevan, the sovereign power of heaven, called "the Great One in the middle of the sky." Throughout the ancient Near East, according to the comprehensive research of H. P. L'Orange, the "King of the Universe" appears as a central sun, "the Axis and the Pole of the World."
These archaic traditions can help us re-interpret the images of the sun god kept alive by Greek and Roman symbolists. In astrological representations, the primeval "sun" occupies the central, axial position while the other planets or stars revolve around him. The definitive celestial profile of Helios is as Basileus Helios, the Royal Sun, recognized by Franz Cumont as the prototype of terrestrial kings or princes surrounded by their guards. In the time of the Roman emperor Nero, the sun-god was still remembered as the axis, the genius loci, the center of the cosmos, and presented as such in astrological depictions, with the emperor himself serving as the terrestrial image of the original sun god.
It is significant too that, as noted by John Perry (Lord of the Four Quarters), the Etruscans—predecessors of the Romans—claimed there was one supreme deity, held to be the axial "Pole" Star.
"According to Jewish and Muslim Cosmology," wrote the eminent authority on Semitic religions, A.J. Wensinck, "the divine throne is exactly above the seventh heaven, consequently it is the pole of the Universe." (An echo of the ancient tradition will be found in the words of the prophet Isaiah, who locates the throne of El in the farthest reaches of the north.)
Amongst Finno Ugric peoples, the supreme ruler of the sky is Ukko. As stated in the Finnish Kalevala the seat of Ukko was at the Pole. And this assertion, according to the prominent chronicler Uno Holmberrg, was part of a pervasive tradition of the creator-king seated atop the world pole.
A remarkable counterpart is provided by the Ashanti of Ghana, who remembered the old sun god as "the dynamic center of the Universe, from which lines of force radiate to all quarters of the heaven." Thus, according to the Ashanti, this former sun god is "the center around which everything revolves."
This idea of an ancient sun god ruling from the axial center stands in dramatic contest to the common suppositions of mythologists and historians. To the modern mind nothing could be more absurd than a polar sun. Yet the unmoving sun is the ancient tradition, as noted by E.A.S. Butterworth in his insightful work, The Tree at the Navel of the Earth. Upon evaluating the archaic images of Helios and other ancient sun gods, Butterworth concluded that this luminary "is not the natural sun of heaven, for it neither rises nor sets, but is, as it seems, ever at the zenith! There are signs of an ambiguity between the pole star and the sun."
How could such an improbable "ambiguity" have dominated the cosmological thought of ancient star worshippers—in every corner of the world? Butterworth's insights have a considerable history behind them. The precedence of the cosmic center among the great ancient cultures has been noted and documented by others. Almost a hundred years ago, William F. Warren, in his groundbreaking work, Paradise Found, identified the celestial pole as the home of the supreme god of ancient races. "The religions of all ancient nations...associate the abode of the supreme God with the North Pole, the centre of heaven; or with the celestial space immediately surrounding it. [Yet] no writer on comparative theology has ever brought out the facts which establish this assertion."
In the following years a number of scholars, each focusing on different bodies of evidence, reached the same conclusion. The controversial and erratic Gerald Massey, in two large works (The Natural Genesis and Ancient Egypt), claimed that the religion and mythology of a polar god was first formulated by the priest-astronomers of ancient Egypt and spread from Egypt to the rest of the world.
In a general survey of ancient language, symbolism, and mythology, John O'Neill (Night of the Gods, two volumes) insisted that mankind's oldest religions centered on a god of the celestial pole.
The renowned Mesoamerican authority, Zelia Nuttall, in Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilization, undertook an extensive review of New World astronomical themes, concluding that the highest god was polar. From Mexico she shifted to other civilizations, finding the same unexpected role of a polar god.
Reinforcing the surprising conclusions of these researchers was the subsequent work of others, among them the noted Finno-Ugric authority, Uno Holmberg (Der Baum Des Lebens), who documented the preeminence of the polar god in the ritual of Altaic and neighboring peoples, suggesting ancient origins in Hindu and Mesopotamian cosmologies; Lopold de Saussure (Les Origines de l;'Astronomie Chinoise), who showed that primitive Chinese religion and astronomy honor the celestial pole as the home of the supreme "monarch" of the sky; Ren Guenon (Le Roi du Monde and Le Symbolisme de la Croix), who sought to outline a universal doctrine centering on the polar gods and principles of ancient man.
In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century these revelations were viewed as highly unorthodox and generally given little attention. But more recently the pioneering historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, together with many of his colleagues, has documented numerous traditions of the cosmic center—the place where it all began—and noted again and again the relations of the cosmic center to the celestial pole.
Most of the writers cited above possessed a common—if unspoken—faith in the ceaseless regularity of the solar system, seeking to explain the polar god in strictly familiar terms: the center of our revolving heavens is the celestial pole; the great god of the center and summit, in view of his role as axis, must have been the star closes to this cosmic pivot.
But then, as we have seen, it's simply impossible to separate the tradition of the polar power from that of the former sun god, the central sun, lighting the world from one spot. So it is not just a matter of ancient star worshippers looking up at the pole and noticing that the circumpolar stars slowly wheel around that center. The mystery is the location of the supreme luminary, the power many nations called "sun", at this improbable station in the sky. How did an idea contradicting all natural experience today, establish itself around the world?
In this investigation we will see that many threads of evidence lead to the same unified conclusions. In preceding segments we have reviewed these unexplained associations:
1) Helios as Saturn; Helios as central sun, and Helios as axis of the celestial revolutions.
2) Assyrian Shamash as Saturn, Shamash as central sun, Shamash at the polar "midst" and "zenith."
3) Egyptian Atum-Ra as central sun, Atum-Ra as Saturn, Atum-Ra atop the world pole.
There is a way to test the integrity of the ancient ideas we have reviewed. Are there any independent astronomical traditions enigmatically connecting the outermost visible planet to the celestial pole? This would be particularly significant because nothing in the appearance of Saturn today could conceivably suggest such a connection? And it would show a coherence of the collective memory beyond anything historians would have thought possible.
The answer is clear, and it is stunning. Wherever ancient astronomies preserved detailed images of the planet Saturn, it seems that Saturn was declared to have formerly occupied the celestial pole! The priestly astronomy of Zoroastrianism knew the planet Saturn as Kevan, called "the Great One in the middle of the sky" locating his primeval seat at the celestial Pole. In neo-Platonist symbolism of the planets, Kronos-Saturn is claimed to rule the celestial Pole, or is placed "over the Pole."
It is also known that Latin poets remembered Saturn as god of "the steadfast star," the very phrase used for the pole star in virtually every ancient astronomy. Thus Manilius recounts that Saturn, in his fall, toppled to the "opposite end of the world axis." Hence his original throne could only have been atop the world axis.
A stunning example of the polar Saturn is provided in Chinese astronomy, where the distant planet was called "the genie of the pivot." Saturn was believed to have his seat at the pole, according to the eminent authority on Chinese astronomy, Gustav Schlegel. In the words of de Saussure, Saturn was "the planet of the center, corresponding to the emperor on earth, thus to the polar star of heaven."
Interestingly, the theme also appears to have passed into the mystic traditions of numerous secret societies (Rosicrucian, Masonic, Cabalistic, Hermetic, and others rooted in an unknown past). The greatest authority on such societies was Manly P. Hall, who published numerous volumes on the related belief systems. In the general traditions reviewed by Hall, the god Saturn is "the old man who lives at the north pole." Even today, it seems that in our celebration of Christmas we live under the influence of the polar Saturn, for as Hall observes, "Saturn, the old man who lives at the north pole, and brings with him to the children of men a sprig of evergreen (the Christmas tree), is familiar to the little folks under the name of Santa Claus."
Santa Claus, descending yearly from his polar home to distribute gifts around the world, is a muffled echo of the Universal Monarch spreading miraculous good fortune. But while the earlier traditions place his prototype, the Universal Monarch, at the celestial pole, popular tradition now locates Santa Claus at the geographical pole—a telling example of originally celestial gods being brought down to earth.
A planet at the celestial pole? The consistency of the message cannot be denied, and it is anything but the message anticipated by conventional models of the ancient sky.
As odd as this tradition of Saturn at the pole may appear, it has been acknowledged by more than one authority, including Leopold de Saussure. The principle also figured prominently in the recent work of the historian of science, Giorgio de Santillana and the ethnologist Hertha von Dechend, authors of Hamlet's Mill, a revolutionary work suggesting that, according to an ancient doctrine Saturn occupied the celestial pole!
But the authors, maintaining an unqualified attachment to the clockwork solar system, excluded in advance any extraordinary changes among the planets. Instead they spoke of Saturn's polar station as a "figure of speech" or astral allegory whose meaning remains to be penetrated.
"What has Saturn, the far-out planet to do with the Pole?" they asked. "It is not in the line of modern astronomy to establish any link connecting the planets with Polaris, or with any star, indeed, out of reach of the members of the zodiacal system. Yet such figures of speech were an essential part of the technical idiom of archaic astrology." This statement is made particularly interesting by the fact that the authors are able to adduce not a clue as to the origins of the idea.
It seems that the primordial age, as chronicled in accounts around the world, stands in radical contrast to our own era. One can no more explain Saturn's ancient connection with the pole by reference to the present arrangements of the planets than one can explain, within conventional frameworks, Saturn's image as the Universal Monarch, the founder of the Golden Age, or the primeval sun god. Yet the fact remains that throughout the ancient world these images of Saturn constituted a pervasive memory which many centuries of cultural evolution could not obliterate.
Separate threads of evidence, each posing its own mystery for the specialists, actually lead to a singular conclusion, albeit a conclusion far removed from modern-day belief. The threads are: Myth of the Golden Age, myth of the creator-king or celestial prototype of kings, reverence for a former sun god, the archaic day beginning at sunset, placement of the sun god at the cosmic center and summit, identification of the cosmic center with the axis of the turning sky, Saturn as founder of the Golden Age, Saturn as creator-king, Saturn as primeval sun or best sun, Saturn as god of the day (the day beginning at sunset), Saturn as resting god or ruling the "day of rest," Saturn at the cosmic center and summit, Saturn ruling from the celestial pole.
In attempting to comprehend such enigmatic threads, we can no longer afford to ignore the most fundamental of questions: Is the sky we observe today the same sky experienced by the first stargazers? Is it possible that the myth of the Golden Age, the myth of the Universal Monarch, and the myth of the central sun speak for a time when planets visibly ruled the sky?