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QUETZALCOATL AND THE FEARS OF KINGS
The apprehension of Moctezuma, mentioned in our previous submission, can be illuminated by a sweeping mythical tradition concerning the life and death of Quetzalcoatl, the celestial prototype of kings.
Quetzalcoatl was called the "sun," but the mythical and ritual sources remind us that this does not mean the light we call Sun today. The most revered figure of Mexican myth, Quetzalcoatl ruled for a time, then disembarked for other realms. As the great "teacher," the exemplary ruler, his life and death defined the duties and expectations of kings. But as we will see, it also substantiated a pervasive fear, and this fear always rose to the surface on the appearance of a COMET. Moctezuma's fear of the comet, the fear of the neighboring king of Texcoco, and the fear of every emperor when a comet appeared must be understood in terms of a cosmic crisis at the center not just of the Quetzalcoatl myth but of a universal tradition. When the celestial king or prototype of kings died or departed, a world cycle ended catastrophically--AND THE "GREAT COMET" WAS SEEN RAGING IN THE SKY.
To amplify this crucial point: it was not just the myth of Quetzalcoatl that reminded rulers of their tenuous hold on the kingdom and on life itself. Such is the message of universal myth, which affirms two intimately connected principles--
1) AS ABOVE, SO BELOW. This theme couldn't be more clearly stated throughout Mesoamerica: the terrestrial king lives in the shadow of the former celestial king, the Great Example for later kings. The death of Quetzalcoatl and the collapse of his kingdom (or world age) contained signposts and warnings which no terrestrial king could ignore.
2) AS BEFORE, SO AGAIN. This is the key to all mythically-rooted fear. What happened before will happen in the future. Quite apart from their interesting mathematics, for example, the mythical context of the Mesoamerican calendar system was the periodic cataclysm. But that deeply-embedded fear reached far beyond the calendar and into every expression of culture from war, to sacrifice, to such seemingly mundane practices as ritual sweeping. The collective goal was to reckon with divine caprice, to bargain for a new lease on life, to avoid the recurring disaster.
Though Immanuel Velikovsky did not give substantial attention to the myth of Quetzalcoatl, he did observe the relationship to Venus, and the catastrophic nature of the god's death and transformation. To which Bob Forrest replied with considerable skepticism, claiming that in the life and death of Quetzalcoatl he found--
"...no reference to the planets in a Velikovskian sense. True, Quetzalcoatl...was symbolically related to the Morning Star, but this is a far cry from being told that the planet Venus brought about the End of the World with a cosmic hurricane! Quetzalcoatl is here a Great Teacher, rather than a rampant super-comet."
Notice the critic's reasoning: if Quetzalcoatl was a "great teacher," his story could not involve an account of Velikovsky's comet Venus. It seems that Forrest could not imagine a celestial form filling the role of exemplary model in the myths, nor could he imagine the "death" of this charismatic personality in terms of a sweeping natural catastrophe. But this is precisely where comparative study becomes so essential. Had he known that virtually all of the celestial, "founding kings" of myth suffer some variation on the fate of Quetzalcoatl, he might have noticed as well a recurring corollary: the god-king's "heart-soul"--the planet Venus--departs to join in a celestial conflagration. (On such a grand claim as this, I can only ask the reader's indulgence as the evidence unfolds.)
Forrest's concluding exclamation mark only emphasizes the gap that separates conventional students of myth from the world of the earliest skywatchers. Coherent motives disappear before the eyes of the researcher, and the primary cultural symbols dissolve into dust under the specialist's microscope. Then it becomes possible to believe that it was merely a chaotic mixture of ambiguous and UNRELATED experiences came together as the doomsday anxiety, or gave rise to pervasive ritual sacrifice, or provided the impetus for relentless, fear-driven observations of Venus.
This is where Velikovsky's comet will help to rescue ancient myth and ritual from a theoretical vacuum. It will do so by providing a coherent reference, sufficient to substantiate an entirely new approach to the subject matter. The comet Venus enters ancient myth as the celestial agent of disaster, and its emergence is synonymous with the DEATH OF THE CREATOR KING. In the story we will reconstruct, we will see the now-peaceful Venus again and again appearing in ancient times as the great god's heart-soul, departing from him (or removed violently, or flung into the ensuing holocaust) to become a comet-like flaming star, then presiding over the re-establishment of celestial order, the dawn of a new world age.
It will take time to tell this story with sufficient color and detail, but I can assure every reader that we ARE dealing here with a coherent and universal theme--a theme completely ignored by specialist too preoccupied with their own narrow turf to discern the definitive patterns of human memory.
To see Velikovsky's comet in its globally-defined and catastrophic role is to realize something overlooked by the specialists: that a planetary history we have forgotten will do more to explain the pervasive fears of ancient cultures than all of the more fashionable speculations combined. How are we to understand the unending ritual wars and sacrifices in which rulers remembered, honored and satisfied the gods, hoping to hold the heavens together? How do we interpret the complex calendars of world ages, anticipating the return of doomsday with every completion of a Venus cycle? Or the endless preoccupation with catastrophic omens and portents tied to the planet? For centuries the priest-astronomers reacted with terror to any natural phenomenon that might suggest the return to world chaos. In what experience did this fear arise? Surely one way of illuminating the symbols of celestial TERROR is to consider the possibility of TERRIFYING EVENTS.
To make this point completely clear it will be useful to look at a few of the Mesoamerican symbols of the doomsday fear, asking the reader at each stage whether we are considering randomly-evolved absurdities, or the coherent reflections of a traumatic experience remembered around the world.
Velikovsky reminded us that to the natives of Mexico the planet Venus bore a very special significance. No celestial body loomed more centrally in their meticulous observations of the sky. To emphasize the point, Velikovsky noted the Augustinian friar Ramůn Y Zamora's report that the Mexican tribes held Venus in great esteem and kept a precise record of its appearance. "So exact was the book-record of the day when it appeared and when it concealed itself, that they never made mistakes," stated Zamora.
In Velikovsky's interpretation, the carefully recorded observations of Venus by the Mexicans, Babylonians, Chinese and other cultures arose in direct response to Venus' cometary past. And for many centuries after the cometary disaster, the astronomers perceived closer approaches of Venus as a grave potential threat.
If Velikovsky was correct, astronomy arose in response to UNPREDICTABLE planetary powers, but could only flower as a science after planets achieved their present predictable orbits. Then the new observational science strove to bring the movements into a comprehensible system, enabling the priest to reckon with the gods and, by reading ancient signs properly, to ANTICIPATE divine behavior.
The special place of astronomy in Mesoamerican myths and rites is acknowledged by the best authorities, though the origins of this culture-wide theme appear lost in a gray past. "It has been clear to all serious students of Mesoamerican culture," writes David Kelley, "that there was an intimate relationship between astronomical knowledge, the calendar, and religious beliefs and rituals."
Or, as Anthony Aveni puts it, "...Quite unlike our modern astronomy, the raison d'Ítre of Mesoamerican, particularly Mayan astronomy, was ritualistic and divinatory in nature." But what were the roots of the religious motive, placing such an emphasis on astronomy?
The intense interest Venus is noted by Burr Cartwright Brundage--
The true role of the planet Venus in the development of the Mesoamerican cultures is not understood. It might not be far wrong to look upon the Mesoamerican's great skill in numeration as a child of that planet and to state that their intellectual life pulsed to its periods. Certainly a significant portion of their mythology involved that planet...
To observers approaching the Mesoamerican cultures from an interdisciplinary vantage point, the cultural preoccupation with Venus immediately stands out. E. C. Krupp, a popularizer of modern archaeoastronomy, was impressed with the Venus profile in Mesoamerica, noting that the priest-astronomers computed portentous moments "based upon their calendar and the behavior of Venus. They installed their kings, sacrificed prisoners and went to war by these omens." But why? Must we assume unhesitatingly that the anxiety over Venus' movements arose under a tranquil sky?
This unquestioned presumption of cosmic regularity is surely the single greatest obstacle to our comprehension of ancient fears.