Velikovsky's Comet Venus-13
by David Talbott
Discerning the relationship of archetype and symbol is particularly
crucial when the symbol, in its familiar associations in daily life,
cannot convey the extraordinary power of the archetype. By
"archetype" we mean the original experience or idea giving meaning to
a symbol. Without that relationship in view, the symbol can only
appear random and absurd, because there is nothing standing behind it.
A recurring symbol among the Aztecs is that of the broom. In this
case the symbol may seem so far removed from our subject as to have no
place in this analysis. Yet since this very symbol does recur in
ritual contexts of darkness and upheaval, it is only appropriate that
we seek out the underlying idea.
The broom plays a part, for example, in the myth of Cihuacoatl, or
"Woman Snake," the chief advisor to the Aztec ruler. Cihuacoatl stands
in close but enigmatic association with both the horrifying serpentine
goddess Coatlicue and the revered mother goddess Toci. But strangely,
Cihuacoatl's relationships and symbols suggest two extremes, with no
apparent bridge between them. In her most familiar role, she speaks
for "domestic" responsibilities (she holds a broom and was remembered
in the daily sweeping of the household shrine); but she was equally
"at home" in her Terrible Aspect, the man-eating mistress of chaos.
We must remember what Mircea
Eliade and other perceptive students of
comparative religion have taught us about the motives of myth and
ritual. Inherent in the idea of correspondence with the gods was the
idea of sacred moments, sacred domains, and sacred gestures,
distinguished from the insignificant and "profane" by their connection
with the great events and deeds of the gods. The principle applied at
all levels of activity, not just the publicly visible centers of
collective ritual. Every household had its sacred aspect, as did the kingdom.
"Women had care of the household shrines, and the presentation of the
little broom at birth signaled their sacred responsibility to keep the
home zone well swept, and so free from potentially dangerous
contamination," writes Inga Clendinnen, in her book AZTECS. In this
single statement lies the key—the relationship of macrocosm and
microcosm. "Dangerous contamination" operates at all levels and the
words take their meaning from the myths of gods and heroes. The
sacred domestic role of the broom is defined by a "broom's" role in an
earlier cosmic drama the modern world has failed to understand.
It may be hard for many of us today to fully appreciate that the
morning sweeping of the household shrine was a commemorative occasion,
symbolically tied to the sweeping away of DARKNESS. Symbolically, the
localized "disorder," the gathered dust and debris, referred back to
the vastly greater disorder of the COSMIC night. And this elementary
symbolic relationship is the bridge between microcosm and
macrocosm—the "domestic" goddess, and the all-devouring, raging hag
with disheveled hair, rushing across the sky when the world had fallen
into chaos. With "broom" in hand, the raging goddess pursued the
chaos hordes, "sweeping" away the celestial debris of the world-ending
Every household was an
extension of the sacred order defined in
ancestral times. In each household was thus kept the sacred fire,
symbol of the animating light of heaven, ritually extinguished at the
end of every 52-year world cycle, then re-ignited with the dawn of the
new cycle. Every 52 years, the household re-lived a cosmic disaster.
Then, on the following morning, as a symbol of the same events, the
ritually-ordained sweeping occurred, to the sounds of a beating drum.
This reverberating drumbeat meant nothing other than the voice of
Ehecatl, the Dawn Bringer, avatar of Quetzalcoatl. In the words, of
Jacques Soustelle, "The morning star shines with the brilliance of a
gem and to greet it the wooden gongs beat on the temple-tops and the
conchs wail." The dawn was thus an echo of the COSMIC morning when
the world was "set in order" after the great cataclysm. Ritual
sweeping repeated the ancient event of cosmic renewal, the defeat of
the fiends of darkness. For these "fiends" WERE the celestial debris
or cometary cloud descending upon the world, symbolized in later rites
by the gathered dust in shrines and on pathways.
In ritual symbolism, matters of degree and scale cannot change
original meanings. Goddess, broom, sweeping, drumbeat—the clearing
of the cosmic night was remembered with each dawn of day. The holder
of the household broom, therefore, fills the symbolic role of the
goddess. And though broom and celestial conflagration may not seem
compatible, the mythical memory does place them side by side. A hymn
to the "broom"-goddess celebrates Cihuacoatl—
plumed with eagle feathers,
with the crest of eagles,
painted with serpents blood with a broom in her hands...
goddess of drum beating...She is our mother,
a goddess of war, our mother a goddess of war,
an example and a companion from the home of our ancestors...
She comes forth, she appears when war is waged,
she protects us in war that we shall not be destroyed...
She comes adorned in the ancient manner with the eagle crest.
The hymn makes our point for us. The goddess provides the EXEMPLARY
figure to explain the later rites. The symbols of disaster, of war,
and of drum beating combine with those of the broom and of protection.
A goddess who "appears when war is waged" has a now-familiar sound.
That is precisely the mythical role of the comet, as we have seen, and
precisely the role of Venus in Mesoamerican astrology. It seems as if
the commentators have failed to notice that a broom or whisk, be it
constituted from straw or feathers, is a COMETARY symbol. (See our
brief list supplementing the five major comet symbols noted earlier.)
A bundle of straw is an old European symbol of the comet. As we will
discover also in our discussion of the world-destroying hag, the
famous flying broom of the European witch stands alongside the witch's
disheveled, flaming hair and her serpent-dragon apotheosis as a
cometary image. In China comets were remembered above all else as
"brooms" sweeping away one kingdom (world age) and introducing a new
order—the very function of the broom in Mesoamerican ritual.
In fact, the broom plays a symbolically crucial role in more than one
Aztec rite. A major celebration of the mother goddess Toci fell on
the sixteenth of September, which was also a special day in the
calendar of world ages. The name of the feast was Ochpaniztli, which
means "Sweeping of the Roads." The chronicler Duran calls it "the
Feast of Sweeping." The feast, as reported by Duran, was marked by
human sacrifice, terrible commotion and feigned skirmishes in which
the goddess Toci herself participated. In the ritual celebration, the
goddess was personified by a warrior who, donning the skin of a
sacrificed female victim and ARMED WITH A BROOM, pursued a chaotic mob
of warriors. At her descent (i.e., the descent of the impersonator),
and in response to the moans of Toci, "the earth moved and quaked at
that moment." (The images are reminiscent of the moans in the air
when Caesar died, his soul to rise as a COMET above the quaking earth.)
Hearing this report Duran was highly incredulous—
I tried to investigate this
and attempted to laugh off and mock
this absurd belief. But I was assured that this part, this area of
the temple, trembled and shook at that moment. Imagination may
have served them well in this case, and the devil, always present,
undoubtedly aided the imagination.
Such is the power of archetypes. The integrated motifs are:
commotion in the sky, moaning heavens, quaking earth, goddess with a
"broom" pursuing the hordes of darkness.
In these rites, the sky-darkening armies themselves were personified
by warriors "armed" with brooms and appareled with colored streamers
and plumed ornaments. "A bloody fray then took place among them.
With sticks and stones countless men came to the combat and fight,
something awesome to see..." In such manner was the havoc of the
cosmic night re-enacted every year. The harsh sounds, the great din
of clashing arms, the comet-like brooms and streamers of the unleashed
mobs—themselves a dramatic personification of the swarming chaos
powers in the sky—all accented by hurled stones and debris. Could
one concoct a more vivid portrait of the cosmic upheaval terminating a
former world age? A cometary disaster, involving vast "armies" or
clouds and debris in the vicinity of earth, pitted against the PARENT
OF COMETS, the dragon-like Venus "sweeping away" the cosmic night,
provides us with a Velikovskian scenario par excellence.
Clendinnen has given us an intensely dramatic account of the
"sweeping" festival and its key ritual components, noting again and
again the role of darkness and terror, and emphasizing the paradox of
the "domestic" goddess hurled into a fray with the best warriors of
the city. "These men, who scorned to turn their back in battle, fled
through the dark streets...as Toci and her followers pursued them with
brooms, the' domestic' female symbol par excellence, speaking of the
tireless cleansing of the human zone, but now sodden with human
blood." It was Toci herself, "in her paper regalia and her great
bannered headdress" and her symbolic broom, who inaugurated the ritual
slaying of captives. Then she confronted the warrior-mob again,
"driving them ahead of her with war cries" and her broom, the hordes
scattering as she chased them, until Toci was alone and victorious,
having swept away the warriors of darkness—"triumphant as the
pitiless mistress of war, insatiable eater of men."
The great sweeping festival, says Clendinnen, was "a brilliantly
constructed horror event, in its abrupt changes of pace and its
teasing of the imagination through the exploitation of darkness."
Here we see "the image of the women's broom dipped into human blood
and so become a weapon of terror, before which warriors famed for
their courage were driven like leaves." A paradox indeed! The broom
wielded as a "weapon of terror."
But let us be clear on this: a broom on its own instills no fear. Only
as a mirror of the COMETARY "broom," the terrifying "weapon" hurled
against celestial armies of darkness, can the symbol make sense. And
then the paradox dissolves before our eyes.
Duran tells us that on the day of the feast to Toci, the people swept
their houses and pathways, guided by some ancient belief he is unable
to illuminate. Significantly, community roads and highways were also
swept on this day, according to Duran, particularly the road passing
by the shrine to the goddess Toci. The feast itself, as we have
noted, was called "The Sweeping of the Roads," and this too is a key,
for it enables us to complete the circle with respect to the sweeping rites.
In Evon Vogt's book ZINACANTAN, the author gives a poetic tale from
the Highlands of Chiapas concerning the planet Venus. It seems that
the people remember Venus as a GIRL WITH A BROOM, for the folk tale
"describes the Morning Star (Venus), who is believed to have been a
Chamula girl transformed into a 'Sweeper of the Path' for the Sun."
It is the astronomical association, then—the connection with
celestial sweeping, the clearing of the way for the new "sun" or world
age—that finds the planet Venus in the very guise we should expect.
Even in the wake of vast cultural evolution and fragmentation, the
nations of Mesoamerica kept alive the ancient link of the Great Comet
to the planet Venus, in the symbolic form of the girl and her broom.