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In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky noted many tales of disaster and upheaval in which the agent of destruction possesses cometary attributes, even as it is identified with the planet Venus. The anomalous "cometary" traits of Venus in world mythology thus became key pieces of the argument, and the strength of the argument derived from the breadth of sources.
Velikovsky did not rely on traditions of one region only, but drew on key evidences from every ancient civilization. He noted, for example, that in Mexican record, Venus was "the smoking star" the very phrase natives employed for a "comet." He noted in both the Americas and the Near East, a recurring association of Venus with celestial "hair" and with a celestial "beard," two of the most common hieroglyphs for the comet in the ancient world. But another popular glyph for the "comet" was the serpent or dragon, a form taken by the planet Venus in virtually every land. And the same planet, among the Babylonians and other races, was called the "flame," or "torch of heaven," a widespread symbol of a comet among ancient peoples.
According to Velikovsky, the history of the comet Venus, inspiring the most powerful themes of ancient myth and ritual, speaks for a collective memory of global upheaval: earthshaking battles in the sky, decimation of nations on earth, an extended period of darkness, the end of one world age and the birth of another.
When it comes to debunking Velikovsky's historical argument, no critic has applied himself more energetically than Bob Forrest of England. In a six volume work, Velikovsky's Sources, Forrest undertook to analyze virtually every historical reference employed by Velikovsky, concluding that, when taken in their actual context, the data brought forth by Velikovsky simply do not support the thesis of Worlds in Collision
Forrest's work was later updated, corrected and summarized in a very readable volume called A Guide to Velikovksy's Sources. which is the source we will use in this overview.
Since publication of the latter work in 1985, Forrest's critique has been frequently cited by scientific skeptics as a definitive blow to Velikovsky, delivered on Velikovsky's own turf (ancient myth and history). And whatever one's opinion on the merits of Forrest's analysis, it is to his credit that, in the forty years since publication of Worlds in Collision, his work is the only substantial critique of Velikovsky's use of myth. "Despite the scholarly appearance of Velikovsky's work," Forrest writes, "I think the theories put forward in Worlds in Collision are wrong at an elementary and common sense level."
And what, at an "elementary level," does Forrest object to? "The gist of the objection to it is that one will nowhere find anything like a direct historical reference to catastrophic bombardments by the planets Venus and Mars."
Having devoted more than twenty years to the exploration of myth, I find the objection particularly interesting because my own conclusion is quite the opposite. The planetary subjects of Worlds in Collision are Venus and Mars, and the catastrophic roles of these planets in ancient times are not only evident, but provable through normal rules of logic and demonstration. (For the sake of focus, these brief submissions will consider only the cometary Venus.) It is not only possible to answer the question--was Venus formerly a "comet"?--but to answer the question in overwhelming detail, with verifiable data and an inescapable conclusion: Velikovsky's comet Venus lies very close to the center of ancient religious, artistic and literary traditions.
How can it be that two researchers, approaching the same field of data, can draw such incompatible conclusions? The heart of the issue, I suggest, has to do with one's approach to the subject matter. In penetrating to the core of ancient celestial imagery, methodology is everything.
VELIKOVSKIAN RESEARCH AND CATASTROPHISM
The gap separating the mainstream sciences and social sciences from Velikovsky's revolutionary approach to myth needs to be appreciated: The Velikovskian investigator has discovered that none of the primary themes of myth answers to our familiar sky. Hence, to focus on recurring themes is to focus on the recurring anomalies of myth.
But rather than confront the issue of recurring anomalies, Forrest descends into a swamp of marginal details, picking at virtually every paragraph of Worlds in Collision, while rigorously avoiding cross-referencing. As a result, the author consistently fails to see past the veil in which modern perception has wrapped ancient myth. It is as if general patterns and connections are of no interest. In every case of an anomaly noted by Velikovsky, Forrest's "answer" is simply to cite someone else's guess at an explanation (and I DO mean guess)--though many of the cited authorities offered their guesses prior to Velikovsky's novel interpretation, and none of these authorities seems aware of the larger pattern.
In this way, Forrest reverses Velikovsky's approach, for Velikovsky connects anomalous Venus images of one land with corresponding anomalies from other parts of the world. Recurring anomalies, as correctly perceived by Velikovsky, are the key to discovery.
Let me say at the outset that I have no interest in defending Velikovsky's every word. More than once, Velikovsky did misuse his sources. (I had stated this emphatically to others perhaps ten years before Bob Forrest's published criticisms) And my own opinion is that Velikovsky placed the events in the wrong time. Additionally, I think that many mythical-heroic figures Velikovsky assumed to have been historical were in fact part of a mythical tradition having nothing at all to do with men of flesh an blood.)
Can globally-experienced events account for the recurring "catastrophe myths," or must they all be explained by wholly separate, localized disasters? If one resorts to the latter explanation, then no underlying integrity of catastrophe myths is even possible in significant detail. But the inescapable counterpart of this observation is that, if the myths of widespread cultures present the same improbable story in significant detail, then it is the localized explanation that becomes impossible.
A reasonable methodology cannot ignore the convergence of recurring themes on an underlying idea, even if that idea stands outside modern perception. To make this point it will be helpful to start with a single example in one region, then work toward a comparison with the Venus symbolism of other lands.