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Modern Myth Articles
Reconstructing the Saturn Model
It was in 1950 that Immanuel Velikovsky published his groundbreaking work, Worlds in Collision. triggering one of the most heated scientific controversies in this century. Based on a reading of mythical and historical material from around the world, Velikovsky described a series of catastrophes which he claimed occurred between 1500 BC and 686 BC, and he said that the agents of these disasters were planets moving on erratic courses. Most controversial of all was his claim that a few thousand years ago the planet Venus roamed the heavens as a terrifying "comet," whose catastrophic near collisions with the Earth brought an end to numerous civilizations.
In his labors to comprehend early human history, Velikovsky commanded respect from many intellectual giants of the twentieth century: Sigmund Freud and Freud's first pupil Wilhelm Stekel; Harvard historian Robert Pfeifer; Harry Hess, one of the world's most respected geologists; noted French archaeologist, Claude Schaefer; and Albert Einstein, who edited the physics and mathematics section of Velikovsky's Scripta Universitatis. But this respect from such distinguished scientists and scholars would not redeem Velikovsky in the eyes of the larger scientific community, whose responses ranged from anger to misrepresentation and ridicule.
The sweeping dismissal of Velikovsky by science implied that no fundamental aspect of his work had the slightest merit. And yet, even if Velikovsky was only correct at some elementary level, his treatment by the scientific elite will rank as one of the darkest marks on science in modern times. The prospect that major theoretical edifices could collapse under the impact of Velikovsky's revelations is hardly a small matter either.
THE ESSENTIAL VELIKOVSKY
Velikovsky saw in ancient literature, with its pervasive imagery of disaster and improbable monsters in the sky, a story of planetary instability. And he argued that the records of early cultures permit a reconstruction of the crucial events. Whether Velikovsky was correct in the details of his analysis is another matter. But our first interest is in the fundamental concepts:
1. The planetary system was unstable in geologically recent times, and the present order of the solar system is new.
2 Erratic movements of the planets dramatically affected our Earth.
3. Episodes of interplanetary catastrophe occurred within human memory.
4. World mythology and ancient astronomical traditions preserve vivid accounts of these events.
5. Both Venus and Mars were directly involved in earth-disturbing encounters.
6. The planet Venus took the form of an earth-threatening comet.
These vital tenets of Velikovsky's work, we believe, will find converging support from both historical testimony and physical evidence. And certainly one cannot deny that, since the publication of Worlds in Collision, a major shift in scientific perspective has occurred.
When Worlds in Collision appeared in 1950, astronomers and geologists were entirely captivated by 19th century models, in which global catastrophes had no place in the history of the solar system, the evolution of the Earth, or the human past. But under the influence of space age discovery, has it been Velikovskians, or Velikovsky's critics, who have have lost the most ground?
In the past two decades the notion of cometary catastrophe has emerged as a great fascination to science, and while this fascination is often focused on an apparent global disaster linked to extinction of the dinosaurs, it now extends as well to speculations on more recent cometary disasters. A good example is the work of the British astronomers, Victor Clube and William Napier, authors of The Cosmic Serpent, and Cosmic Winter, offering a theory of doomsday comets that not only sounds a lot like Velikovsky, but IS Velikovskian in more ways than one.
VELIKOVSKY'S SATURN HYPOTHESIS
In addition to the well-publicized claims of Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky had, in an unpublished manuscript, set forth an extraordinary idea. He suggested that in the earliest= remembered time, the Earth was joined with other planets in a planetary arrangement vastly different from anything we observe today. He suggested that the Earth was a satellite of the planet Saturn, a planet Velikovsky associated with a former Golden Age or paradisiacal condition on earth. He identified Saturn as the "dying god" of ancient lore, and he claimed that a disruption of Saturn was responsible for the mythical Deluge, a global catastrophe which brought Saturn's Golden Age to an end and gave rise to a new epoch dominated by the planet Jupiter. But over the last 25 years of his life the details of his Saturn research remained sketchy, and nothing more than a few pages was ever published.
Investigation of the Saturn question did not stop with Velikovsky, however. Over the past three decades a few independent researchers, inspired by Velikovsky's speculations, have pursued the question in great depth, exposing a collective memory far beyond anything suggested by Velikovsky himself.
A SATURN MODEL
In the broadest sense, the hypothesis we present in these pages will offer a new way of viewing the human past. Our thesis is that the myth-making phase of human history arose as a direct response to natural phenomena no longer present. Astronomers and astrophysicists, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and students of ancient myth and religion are asked to reconsider common assumptions about the ancient world, including many that have rarely if ever been questioned.
We agree with Velikovsky that major changes in the planetary order have occurred within human memory and that our ancestors preserved a global record of tumultuous, Earth-threatening events. Moreover, we intend to demonstrate that the origin of the first civilizations is simply inexplicable apart from ritual practices honoring, imitating, and re-living these extraordinary natural occurrences. The dominant powers celebrated in ancient myths and rites were planets moving close to the earth.
That the present order of the solar system may be extraordinarily recent, and that planet-sized bodies appeared gigantic in our sky will not be easily believed in an age accustomed to billion-year scenarios of planet formation and evolution. Nevertheless, the model we shall present has one advantage that prior theories based on ancient testimony have lacked: it is specific enough to be easily falsified if wrong. Whatever else one may think of our reconstruction, it meets that universal test of a good theory.
The theory holds that our Earth formerly moved in a congregation of planets unlike anything observed today. For earthbound witnesses, the result was a spectacular and at times highly unified planetary form in the heavens, visually dominated by the gas giant Saturn.
A fear-inspiring form, constituted by Saturn and an assembly of planets and moons, stretched across the northern sky, towering over the ancient world. We've termed this the "polar configuration" because it was centered on the north celestial Pole. And we've proposed that the history of this configuration is the history of the ancient gods, recorded in the fantastic stories, pictographs, and ritual reenactments of the first sky worshippers. Included in the evidence we shall consider are the following highly enigmatic patterns which can be documented around the world:
Is it possible that such diverse images (we've cited only the barest few among hundreds) could have a unified explanation? Our claim will be that the common patterns of world mythology answer to a simple planetary model. And in this sense, our model can properly claim to provide a unified theory of ancient myth and symbolism.
It needs to be emphasized, therefore, that this model is fully testable against a massive historical record, and we invite systematic evaluation of the reconstruction by qualified researchers. Additionally, the model will suggest numerous tests within the physical sciences, relating to expected physical markers on planets and moons. If the claimed events occurred, our Earth must have been affected in dramatic ways, and this would include effects so unlikely under the usual assumptions of science as to constitute a series of critical tests.
Of course the subject is far too vast to be summarized adequately in a few pages. In several cases the broad themes identified will require separate volumes—they are simply noted, perhaps with an illustration or two. Our immediate goal is to substantiate an underlying idea—that the recurring themes of myth and symbol are not the isolated fragments historians have assumed, but intimately connected pieces of a whole, all tied to identifiable forms in the sky.
[NOTE ON THE CO-AUTH0RS OF THE PRESENT VOLUME]
David Talbott was serving as publisher of Pensée magazine's "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered" series in 1972, when he received a two-page summary of Velikovsky's Saturn material. That began an intensive research project to investigate Saturn's place in world mythology.
In The Saturn Myth (Doubleday, 1980) Talbott presented evidence of the planet Saturn's central role in ancient myths of beginnings The book summarized the mythical Golden Age of Saturn and claimed that a spectacular planetary configuration once towered over mankind. It argued further that this unique planetary arrangement provided the objective source for numerous mythical and symbolic forms recorded by ancient civilizations on every continent (world pillar, world mountain, eye goddess, wheel of the sun, celestial city, bull of heaven, etc.)—images that historians and mythologists have always regarded as metaphors with little if any concrete reference in nature.
In 1980, Ev Cochrane, then a graduate student at Iowa State University, was pursuing independent research on Velikovsky when a correspondent recommended Talbott's book. His reading of the book led eventually to communication with Talbott and the beginnings of collaboration extending over many years. Cochrane is now the publisher of AEON: A Journal of Myth, Science, and Ancient History, founded by Talbott in 1987. He is also author of the volume, Martian Metamorphoses, published in 1997, exploring the role of Mars in the ancient planetary configuration. Talbott, in his turn, published a notebook "Symbols of an Alien Sky" in 1997, offering a visual summary of key phases in the evolution of the planetary assembly. Both Talbott and Cochrane have, together with fellow "Saturn theorist," Dwardu Cardona, published many articles in AEON discussing aspects of the hypothesis. The present book begins the authors' efforts to clarify the reconstruction through a series of volumes.