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Velikovsky's Comet Venus-5
David Talbott


We have previously observed that, in seeking out Velikovsky's comet, "methodology is everything." A useful methodology will not dismiss a widespread theme just because it appears highly irrational or incapable of explanation. In Bob Forrest's critique he acknowledges such "comet" themes as the death of a king or great leader at the appearance of a comet, good wine in the year of a comet, and the comet signaling outbreaks of war. As to the roots of such odd ideas, "heaven only knows," he exclaims. So why should we accept only those comet ideas that support Velikovsky's thesis?

Here Forrest missed each and every opportunity to account for what he assumed could never be explained. If worldwide comet symbolism originated in the experience of a truly terrifying intruder, it is simply impossible to know which portions of comet lore are relevant prior to reconstructing the story from the global evidence. And in truth, ALL of the comet themes cited by Forrest are illuminated by the biography of the Great Comet, as I intend to demonstrate with more than sufficient evidence in this series.

First there is the matter of pervasive fear; for when it comes to "irrational" terror carried as luggage from the past, little else compares to the universal fear of THE COMET. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, in their book Comet, find the fear to be virtually universal:

Rarely have so many diverse cultures, all over the planet, agreed so well. In the history of the world, more societies have advocated incest or infanticide than have taught that comets were benign, or even neutral. Everywhere on Earth, with only a few exceptions, comets were harbingers of change, ill fortune, evil. It was common knowledge.

Most of us are, in fact, so accustomed to the common expressions of this fear that we fall into a trap of illogic: "Comets, of course, were always regarded in antiquity as omens of disaster," wrote the esteemed authority on comparative religion, Theodore Gaster. It sounds as if ("of course") the overwhelming fear is completely natural and needs no explanation BECAUSE it is so universal.

The trap also caught author David Ritchie: "For thousands of years comets have been associated with all manners of disasters and misfortune. This association is easy to understand." But the pervasiveness of an irrational fear is not an explanation.

I find it of interest that Fred Whipple, one of the deans of modern astronomy, did not find an easy explanation for the hysteria.

"Why should comets–those graceful, sometimes majestic, creatures of the sky–frighten people? They move very slowly, without startling changes in shape or aspect. They make no sounds and emit no dazzling flashes of light. In short, they do nothing that seems to me to be threatening. Yet comets have terrified people as long as there have been people to terrify."

The ancient and poorly understood fear aroused by the appearance of a comet continued through the Middle Ages and even (in a more tempered expression) into the twentieth century, with the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1910. "We may all die laughing when the comet [Halley] comes," the French astronomer Camille Flammarion was quoted as saying, with language that fed a widespread pre-existing apprehension of the fin du monde.

In earlier times the extent of comet fear was deadly. On the arrival of the comet of 1528, the famous French surgeon Ambroise Paré described the public reaction: "This comet was so horrible and so frightful and it produced such great terror in the vulgar that some died of fear and others fell sick."

The range of comet fears is impressive. According to Aristotle, the comet brings wind and drought. Among both the Greeks and Romans, "The comet was inevitably the presage of some cataclysmic event," states A. Barret. Josephus reports in his History of the Jews that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies, "a comet shaped like a sword" hung over the city for an entire year. (While Carl Sagan hastens to point out the impossibility of the literal occurrence, it effectively mirrors the mythical role of the comet.) According to Servius, the ancient and infamous comet Typhon produced terrible famine. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded "firedrakes"–fiery dragons–"seen flying in the air" at the time of a great famine in 779, observing as well that a great comet appeared at the time of famine in 975. And so too does a comet bring great famine in the traditions of the Masai of East Africa.

In Byrhtferth's Manual, published in the year 1011, occurs this description of a comet: "There is a star called a comet. When it appears it betokens famine or pestilence or war or the destruction of the earth or fearful storms." Similarly the Eghap of Nigeria say that pestilence is the regular companion of the feared comet.

Even the historian Isidor Bishop of Seville (602-636), a well known skeptic when it came to astrology, could not set aside the belief that the comet presaged "revolutions, wars, and pestilence." Gregory of Tours (c. 541-594), writing in De Cursu Stellarum, tells us that when a comet "spreads its hair abroad darkly, it announces rain to the country." Nor is it surprising to find the rumor that the Great Plague of London was due to the appearance of a comet; or that a comet is also said to have accompanied the great earthquake at Lima, Peru, in 1746.

While the association of the comet and wide-ranging disaster is worldwide, the pattern may initially seem diffuse, with insufficient coherence to support any unified theory of comet fears. Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedia, for example, included the following description under the heading "comet":

Not only in antiquity, but through the centuries among all peoples, comets have aroused in man a feeling of terror and foreboding. These mysterious visitors in the heavens have been thought to be connected with war, famine, the plague, the downfall of kings and monarchs, the end of the world, universal suffering, ill-luck, and sickness.

How, then, did this curious profile of the comet arise? The darkly pessimistic ideas about comets inspired Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan to muse–

There is an overwhelming sadness to the literature of comets. With melancholy consistency we discover that disaster has always been a commonplace; that any comet at any time viewed from anywhere on Earth is assured of some tragedy for which it can be held accountable.

Such is the logic of efforts to explain mythical ideas through experiences familiar to our own day: the commentator simply assumes that when a comet appeared the undisciplined primitive mind freely associated it with one or another disaster occurring around the same time. But this suggested habit will not explain why the first instinct of stargazers was to look for a COMET to account for the occurrence of great disasters.

Nor will the stargazer's haste to connect the comet and disaster explain the deeper theme of the WORLD-ENDING apocalypse. If one looks at comet lore more closely, it will be realized that what the stargazers feared most was no local calamity.

Ancient Chinese comet lore held that "Comets are vile stars. Every time they appear in the south, something happens to wipe out the old and establish the new." In the language of myth that means the end of the world. Both the Sibylline Oracles and a Dead Sea Scroll (War of the Sons of Light and Darkness) present the comet as a sign of the Last Days–all of which sounds very much like the Aztec's comet-like plumed serpent presiding over the end of one world age and beginning of another.

Consider, for example, why it is that the comet soars into prominence as our own calendar approaches a "critical moment," at the end of a millennium. (Yes, it seems that round numbers and "critical moments" go hand in hand, fed by the sense of cyclical time and the global myth of a world age ending in sweeping catastrophe.) Mary Proctor tells us that as the year 1000 approached "even the most simple phenomena assumed terrible proportions." And this included, not surprisingly, "reports of earth-quakes, and a comet visible for nine days." Here again is the earthquake-comet association despite the failure of any known comet to redeem the association. The role of an archetypal myth in influencing reports of ostensibly historical comets will be clearly seen in the following chronicle of the year 1000, cited by Proctor:

The heavens having opened, a kind of burning torch fell upon the earth, leaving behind a long train of light similar to a flash of lightning...as this opening in the heavens closed, imperceptibly there became visible the figure of a dragon, whose feet were blue, and whose head seemed continually to increase.

Even the world-famous dragon finds its way into the story, when the calendar calls for it! But let us not forget the distinction between the symbol and the thing symbolized. Every break in the natural order was a reminder (symbol) of what world mythology presents as a universal disaster; in this sense, the local pestilence needed a comet to find its place in the mythically-defined scheme, particularly at the end of the millennium. Even today, as we approach a new millennium, the apocalyptic fear expresses itself with every local catastrophe, offering a "sign" of the anticipated end of the world–just as, century after century, virtually every wisp of a comet played its required part in the psychological drama. How the underlying story and its symbols originated is an entirely different matter, involving patterns that could never be explained by any local disaster or any local experience whatsoever.

That many of the most significant patterns are poorly recognized is due almost entirely to the methodology and suppositions of the investigators. The result is a heap of evidential fragments–more than sufficient to illustrate the global fear of comets, but with little or no comprehension of the remembered events from which the patterns emerged.

The "portentous" news brought by the comet can be summarized as follows:

€ the comet foretells the fall of the kingdom;

€ the comet predicts the arrival of plague, famine, earthquake, pestilence;

€ the comet means the end of a world age, the arrival of universal darkness or night, the occlusion of the sun by chaos monsters, a victory (though temporary) of rebelling powers.

€ the comet forecasts the death of kings or great rulers;

€ the comet heralds cataclysmic wars.

For the present discussion, I shall simply cite enough instances to illustrate the key ideas. These recurring motifs do not explain themselves! Why the repeated idea that a comet means the death of kings? It is the archetype and nothing else that will explain the symbol. (As we will see, appearance of the Great Comet was synonymous with the death of the Universal Monarch, the PROTOTYPE of kings.) While the unobtrusive comets observed in our time only accent the irrationality of ancient fears, the worldwide portent symbolism of the comet answers so completely to the Great Comet (Venus) as to logically preclude the customary, localized explanations of these fears. The things which ancient nations believed about comets are, in every case, inseparably tied to the story of one heaven-shattering, universally-remembered comet, an archetype in every sense of the word.

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