"There are a thousand hacking at the
Ancient Saturn Worship
Site Section Links
I can remember a light going on in 1972. That was when I realized that one of the most familiar themes of myth−the "creation"−has been entirely misunderstood by modern scholars. The misunderstanding did not originate in our time, however; it began long, long ago and can be explained by a pervasive phenomenon we have already noted−the tendency of every ancient culture to localize the archetypal events of myth.
Because the global mythscape is strewn with a hundred thousand contradictory details, it is virtually impossible, in one's first confrontations with myth, to recognize the integrity of the substratum, or how it was that the madhouse of contradictory details arose. As I will try to make clear, contradictions arose through regional symbolic representation, localization, and elaboration of a universal experience. The original events themselves were complex enough, but each and every instance of localization introduced a *contradiction*. It located an event somewhere other than its true location, introduced a regional symbol which on its own could not possibly represent the full texture of the thing symbolized, and invited local explanations which could only aggravate the disparity between the symbol and the archetypal form standing behind the symbol. Symbolic representation and localization progressively stripped the archetypes of various interconnected meanings and directed the celebrants attention to the wrong place, the wrong time, and the wrong ideas.
When we encounter a creation myth we assume that the original intent of the story was to explain how our world, the land and sky, mountains and seas, creatures of air and water, of desert, forest, and plain, came to be. And in the course of transmission, that is precisely what the creation myth came to signify for those telling the story. The surprise is the discovery that the first forms of the story do not relate to things seen in our natural world today. They concern, exclusively, the tumultuous events by which the Universal Monarch, the creator-king, brought forth the ancient land of the gods. This universally-remembered habitation−the place par excellence−does not occupy any region "down here." It is the mysterious *lost* land, the radiant, primeval island, city, or province of beginnings−the mystic dwelling which, across the ages, explorers and voyagers around the world sought to locate, but which will never be found on earth.
A rupture occurred. The island of Atlantis sank into the sea. The Bridge of the Gods came crashing down. The cosmic mountain of Meru, whose summit *was* the dwelling of the gods, collapsed in flames. The world tree Yggdrasil, whose branches held aloft the luminous dwelling, toppled into the abyss. Or Midgard, the city of the gods, succumbed to a rain of fire and gravel.
So in a sense, the first step in a reconstruction of the creation myth must be a step backwards. We have to free ourselves from the inertia of modern interpretations, to ask without prejudice, What was the nature of the habitation created by the Universal Monarch? And how did this dwelling come into existence? In finding the answer to this question we will be brought right back to our starting point−"THE ONE STORY TOLD AROUND THE WORLD."
The creation myth is recounted from more than one vantage point. Creation means the Universal Monarch's organization of a divine habitation out of primeval chaos. What is created is the god's own dwelling. Which is to say that the "universe" originally ruled by the creator is not the expanse of earth and sky we would imagine today, but a very specific place with a very specific form. Around the world, artists drew pictures of the created realm, and attached human memories to the pictures. Both the memories and the pictured forms are, when traced to their roots, astonishingly similar, giving us a very good reason to take the underlying ideas in the most literal and concrete sense: the events of creation mean things seen and heard.
But creation also means the Universal Monarch's acquisition of a luminous *form*, his external "limbs" or "body"−a distinct contrast to his previous "formless" state. Out of formlessness , the creator god acquired his visible attributes, and this activity is synonymous with the activity by which he *became* the Universal Monarch, the ruler of "all creation."
There are several points I will want to make about the nature of the "creative" activity, but I am trying to proceed by degrees, from the most fundamental and general observations to the more specific. Reduced to *irreducible* categories, the chapters in the biography of the Universal Monarch, are: 1) Original formlessness (of god and world), 2) first creation, 3) upheaval, world destruction, 4) regeneration, second creation, or rejuvenation of the Universal Monarch), and 5) final rupture.
Now please understand that I did not formulate this summary just to antagonize the feet-on-the-ground folks who may be reading this. THERE ARE NO OTHER SUBJECTS OF WORLD MYTHOLOGY! Honest. It is just that appearances can be highly deceiving. If you simply open a popular dictionary of myth you will immediately encounter what will appear to be hundreds of contradictions to the statement. What does Hercules have to do with this story? How does the "love goddess" Aphrodite fit into this elementary structure? Where is the famous Medusa, of the deadly countenance?
The only way to answer these questions is to start with an outline. I previously listed seven "archetypal figures" of myth, including the overarching figure of the UNIVERSAL MONARCH. My contention will be that each of these figures has a most explicit role in the story, a role that can be tested through intensive cross-cultural comparison. And when these roles are fully illuminated, we will, in fact, possess a unified theory of the myth-making epoch as a whole.
From beginning to end, the story recounts the critical junctures in the biography of the UNIVERSAL MONARCH, who is remembered as the original Unity, the great sphere of "heaven" when heaven was close to the earth, the formless world (celestial sphere) existing prior to the first activity of creation.
The pictograph for this original undifferentiated state is the universal "sun"-sign, a circle with a smaller dot or circle in the center, one of the most common symbols in the ancient world. But what does the small circle in the center denote? It means the central eye, heart and soul of the Universal Monarch. It denotes the conjunction of male and female powers in one "seed" prior to differentiation−i.e., the unformed, unborn, primeval state of the QUEEN OF HEAVEN and the WARRIOR-HERO. What appears as a *single* small dot or circle, in the acts of creation, will emerge as *two* distinct and highly active powers.
To see this image more concretely, we have to "magnify" the hieroglyphic dot-in-circle. In fact, numerous larger, more detailed renderings by ancient artists, achieve this magnification for us. They show that what appears in the smaller glyphs as a dot or tiny circle is, or becomes, *two* concentric circles, as will be seen in the famous wheel of the Babylonian Shamash, but appears in countless renderings in other cultures as well. (And by no stretch of the imagination could any conventional interpretation as a "Sun"-sign account for this unique and extraordinary form.) In the reconstruction we are offering the outer circle of the two means the QUEEN OF HEAVEN, while the enclosed or inner circle means the WARRIOR HERO, the two powers here standing in conjunction, with the unborn hero dwelling as the child in the womb of the goddess, the pupil of the eye, the innermost, masculine heart of the enclosing feminine heart.
The best source for discerning the earliest meanings of the symbolism, I believe, is the ancient Egyptian creation legend. The "seed" of Atum-Ra, his solitary eye or heart-soul, was spit out by the god, to become two independent powers. These powers are, 1) the goddess Tefnut, the first form of the QUEEN OF HEAVEN; and the god Shu, the first form of the WARRIOR-HERO. Hence, the texts remember Tefnut as the Eye of the sun god, and the god Shu as the "pupil" of the Eye.
By this first act of creation, the solitary Atum, the "All," became three powers: the motionless sun god Ra ("Atum-Ra"), plus the two active powers of creation, Shu and Tefnut, by whose activity the distinct first forms of creation came into being. Moreover these first forms can be identified in the most concrete of terms. The masculine power Shu brought forth the world pillar or world mountain, a column explicitly identified with the god himself. And the feminine power Tefnut brought forth a band or enclosure, the sacred dwelling, the created "land of the gods." (In truth, of course, it was the evolving forms themselves that produced the male and female identities of the two powers−the generative column and the enclosing womb at the summit.) When we strip away all of the other nuances and complicating events, that is the elementary creation story at work throughout all of ancient Egypt.
How, then, does the CHAOS MONSTER come into this story? For simplicity, I will cite here only the feminine form of the monster: the flaming Uraeus serpent. Though the full history of the serpent is complex, the identity is beyond dispute. It is the *goddess* herself, the Eye of Ra, sent out in connection with a cosmic catastrophe, a disruption of order, a "rebellion" in the heavens. Egyptian texts of all periods describe the Eye-goddess becoming a fiery serpent, a "Great Flame" moving in the sky to attack the enemies of the sun god, or a raging lioness with a smoking (cometary!) "mane."
But if a "rebellion" occurred in the heavens, who are the rebels? They are, in fact, the CHAOS HORDES, who are born in the tumultuous *outflow* from Atum-Ra, or his Eye, in connection with the birth of Shu and Tefnut. Originally they appear as streams of "radiance" or "glory" adorning the face of Ra, but in their rebellion they become a cloud of darkness threatening the light and life of Ra. (It is in the fundamental character of the CHAOS HORDES such as the Norse Valkyries or Greek Erinnyes that they first appear as figures of beauty and grandeur, only to take on a terrifying and world-threatening role in the catastrophe.) Enigmatically, these powers are simultaneously remembered as demon-like armies overwhelming the cosmic order, and as the *retinue* of the raging goddess, whose role is simultaneously that of *scattering* and of *gathering up* the luminous, cloud-like material.
But this is where, for the sake of brevity, we must short-circuit some of the most interesting aspects of the story, to state as simply as possible the underlying relationship of the rebelling powers to the "creation." THE REBELLING POWERS THEMSELVES WERE THE RAW MATERIAL BY WHICH THE SUN GOD FASHIONED HIS DWELLING IN THE SKY.
Remember that the typical account has creation evolving by phases, punctuated by wholesale catastrophe. So we are not talking about a single event here, but a principle running through the phases of creation, destruction, and renewal, in which the QUEEN OF HEAVEN and the WARRIOR-HERO play the active roles−in distinct contrast to the more passive role of the UNIVERSAL MONARCH. Goddess and hero are the agents by which the god-king configures his celestial habitation, and acquires his own evolving *forms*. The raw material−called the radiant "limbs" of Atum-Ra−is the very material which, in episodes of catastrophe, swarms across the heavens as a sky-darkening cloud.
What, then, are the concrete forms taken by the CHAOS HORDES in their role as the raw material of creation? They take the respective forms of the goddess and hero we have just cited: 1) in specific relation to the activity and identity of the hero, the chaos powers come to constitute the cosmic column; and, 2) in specific relation to the activity and identity of the goddess, the chaos powers take the form of an enclosure, the organized land of the gods, the cosmic temple or city, the great wheel of the gods.
In the full course of the story both the cosmic column and enclosure move through the phases of creation, destruction and renewal. The subject is an evolving configuration, not a static form, though certain periods of stability are noteworthy and these stable aspects can be analyzed in remarkable detail.
Hence, our purpose here is to establish just enough of an outline to enable us to state clearly the "predictions" of the model with respect to the universal themes of myth. Perhaps the best way to achieve this outline will be to take each of the archetypal figures and state their general contributions to the ONE STORY in a bit more detail, including figures outside of Egypt. This I will take as my immediate task.
A footnote: for the sake of simplicity I've skipped the role of the PRIMEVAL SEVEN. In the Egyptian system, these are the seven "Watchers," seven "souls" of the divine habitation, the seven scorpion-companions of the goddess Isis, the seven "heads" of the serpent Nau-shesma, and a good deal more.