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VENUS AND COSMIC UPHEAVAL
Across Mesoamerica Venus was celebrated as the radiant heart and soul of the great cultural hero whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl. Yet enigmatically, the appearances of the star after periods of absence stirred extraordinary fear. The noted archaeoastronomer, Anthony Aveni, observes:
Evidently, the reappearance of Venus in different quarters after a prolonged absence carried various evil connotations for the people of Yucatan....Obviously, they were deeply concerned about where and when Venus might appear to reverse their fortunes.
Expressions of this fear will be found at all levels of the culture. There is the general association with death, as noted by Thompson and others, but also the more specific association with the death of kings. Thus the Mayan date name of Venus, Hun Ahau was a day of "death" and "darkness." But more specifically, the same day among the Aztecs signified the death of Quetzalcoatl and the transformation of his "heart-soul" into Venus.
"There seems to be no doubt that unlucky days were associated with the heliacal rise of Venus (its first appearance as morning star, after a period of absence), each to be regarded with appropriate ritual," Aveni writes.
The fear engendered by the heliacal rising of Venus was noted centuries ago by one of the earliest European chroniclers, Sahagun:
And when it (Venus) newly emerged, much fear came over them; all were frightened. Everywhere the outlets and openings of [houses] were closed up. It was said that perchance [the light] might bring a cause of sickness, something evil when it came to emerge.
In response to the new and bright appearance of Venus, kings called for sacrifices of captives to please the gods, for it seems that the planet's appearance could invite great calamities--from the outbreak of war to famine and flood. Could this be a key to understanding the mysteries of Venus- portents? As will become clear, the perils of Venus are the perils of the COMET in the global lexicon.
We have already noted that, throughout the ancient world, the comet portended the death of great kings. But interestingly, the heliacal rising of Venus conveyed the same celestial message, as reported by Brundage.
It is curious that the Mesoamerican peoples thought of the morning star so consistently as malign. He was to them, whether they were Aztec or Mayan, the very father of calamity. The dates of his heliacal rising were forecast so that the dooms ahead could be adequately read and prepared for...Significantly, his malice could also be directed at rulers, for if he arose on the trecana opened by one-reed, then great lords sickened and died.
Thus, the Anales de Quahtitlan, a chronicle from the Mexican highlands (colonial times), describes the perils of the "piercing rays" of Venus. On the day One Reed, (the day of Quetzalcoatl's birth, and the day of the same god-king's death), the rising of Venus is deadly: "It shoots the kings," the texts say. Notice here that an underlying logic is at work, running from the specific to the general, from the archetype to the symbol. Quetzalcoatl died at a critical moment in cosmic history, a moment signified by both the end and the beginning of the time-reckoning cycle, mythically the end of one world age and the beginning of another. In the calendar system and in the sacred rites, the cyclical principle established by the life and death of Quetzalcoatl is both repeated and generalized: as above, so below; as before, so again. Hence, kings will die on the day One Reed, the day that Quetzalcoatl's heart-soul departed to become the planet Venus.
What, then, is the significance of the fact that the symbolism of Venus replicates so precisely the global symbolism of the comet? The new appearance of Venus as morning star is a moment of great peril for the kingdom (the "world"), as is the appearance of the comet. It harkens back to the death of the god-king, as does the comet. It is the heart-soul of the god-king rising in the sky, as is the comet. Is this, then, just another "coincidence" to add to all of the others previously noted? The further one descends into the various cultural levels at which the fear was expressed, the more clear becomes the equation: the fear of Venus' rising was, in every way, identical to the fear instilled by the arrival of a COMET.
VENUS AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Immanuel Velikovsky, in developing the theme of cometary disaster, noticed that one ancient culture after another spoke of former catastrophes so devastating that the "world" came to an end. This collective memory, in turn, seems to have given rise to the general notion of recurring cycles, or world ages. While Velikovsky noticed surprising parallels among far-flung nations, including the Babylonians, Greeks, Hebrews, Chinese, and Polynesians, he was particularly fascinated with the Mexican ideas:
An old tradition, and a very persistent one, of world ages that went down in cosmic catastrophes was found in the Americas among the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas. A major part of stone inscriptions found in Yucatan refer to world catastrophes. "The most ancient of these fragments [katuns, or calendar stones of Yucatan] refer, in general, to great catastrophes which, at intervals and repeatedly, convulsed the American continent, and of which all nations of this continent have preserved a more or less distinct memory." Codices of Mexico and Indian authors who composed the annals of their past give a prominent place to the tradition of world catastrophes that decimated humankind and changed the face of the earth.
In the chronicles of the Mexican kingdom it is said: "The ancients knew that before the present sky and earth were formed, man was already created and life had manifested itself four times."
To Velikovsky, this language sounded remarkably close to that of the Greeks and other ancient peoples, who similarly recounted the passing of former ages and destruction by water, fire, wind or flood. For some nations, he said, the transition from one age to another meant a new "sun" in the sky.
An oft-repeated occurrence in the traditions of the world ages is the advent of a new sun in the sky at the beginnings of every age. The word "sun" is substituted for the word "age" in the cosmogonic traditions of many peoples all over the world.
The Mayas counted their ages by the names of their consecutive suns. These were called Water Sun, Earthquake Sun, Hurricane Sun, Fire Sun. "These suns mark the epochs to which are attributed the various catastrophes the world has suffered."
"The nations of Culhua or Mexico," Humboldt quoted Gómara, the Spanish writer of the sixteenth century, "believe according to their hieroglyphic paintings, that, previous to the sun which now enlightens them, four had already been successively extinguished. These four suns are as many ages, in which our species has been annihilated by inundations, by earthquakes, by a general conflagration, and by the effect of destroying tempests." ...Symbols of the successive suns are painted on the pre- Columbian literary documents of Mexico.
"Cinco soles que son edades," or "five suns that are epochs," wrote Gómara in his description of the conquest of Mexico.
To Velikovsky, the idea of former "world ages" or "suns" belonged to a collective memory of upheaval and world- changing shifts in the order of the solar system. The earth was disturbed in its rotation, its axis tilted, the path of its revolution around the sun changed, and vast nations were devastated. Then, from the ensuing chaos, the world was born anew under an altered celestial order.
Sacred astronomy throughout Mesoamerica was particularly conscious of the heliacal rising of Venus, the planet's first annual pre-dawn appearance (beginning its phase of greatest brilliance due to its proximity to the Earth). According to Aveni, this first appearance as Morning Star "was probably the most important single event in Maya astronomy."
One of the extraordinary "coincidences" of Venus' present behavior is the resonance of its observed cycle with our year of 365 1/4 days. Like clockwork, due to the synchronous movements of Venus and Earth we noted earlier, Venus first appears as morning star on the same calendar day every eight years, and during that span of time it rises heliacally a total of five times.
This synchronous relationship of Earth and Venus is reflected in the Mesoamerican calendar rites. Many centuries ago, a sacred calendar system was perfected within a cultural environment that is not yet clear to archaeoastronomers. The original system is unknown. What we do know is that at the time of the Spanish invasion, all of the primary Mesoamerican cultures shared a common calendar structure, an outgrowth of the unidentified "original system," in which the Venus-cycle played a crucial role, but not one that appears fully comprehensible to the scholars seeking to understand it.
The calendar combined two time-keeping systems: one based on the familiar solar year, which was divided into 18 "months" of 20 days, to which five "unlucky" days were added at the end of the year, rounding out a 365-day year. In their veintena festivals, the Aztecs celebrated the end of each 20-day cycle of the solar year, making sacrifices and offerings to the gods in the hope that the sun and stars would continue their orderly movement across the heavens.
The other calendar was based on a 260-day cycle whose original meaning is still being debated. Enigmatically, this ritual calendar appears to have no self-evident logic in terms of the natural cycles one would expect to find reflected in calendar phases. And yet, for ritual reasons, the sacred 260-day calendar dominated the solar calendar. This, Robert and Peter Markman tell us, was "a sacred calendar tied directly to no single cycle observable in the world of nature." Rather, "it embodied and celebrated the essence of cyclicity abstracted from its occurrence in natural phenomena. This was the calendar used for prophecy and divination since in its workings it allowed man his closest approach to the world of spirit." How, then, did it connect mankind with the world of the gods?
The 260-day ritual calendar combined two different sequences, one a series of 20 days-signs, the other a sequence of 13 day-numbers, so that there were a total of 260 combinations of the two sequences to complete a sacred calendrical period. Since each day and each number had its own gods and associations, every day in the 260-day cycle had a different ritual significance. The Markmans write--
Understanding calendrical lore allowed a special group of priests to understand the implications of the signs of the calendar and to divine the future... These periods could determine the augury of each of the days, since the essence of the day (kin among the Maya) was itself the prophecy (also kin).
Possibly, the authors say, there was a connection of the 260-day cycle with Venus: "The interval between the appearance of Venus as morning and evening star is close to 260 days."
The mystery is heightened by another fact that rarely receives attention: in the Maya calendrical ritual the listed movements of Venus do not accord with the planet's observed movements today. The synodical revolution of Venus divides into four periods:
1) after inferior conjunction Venus appears as Morning Star for an average of 263 days;
2) during superior conjunction the planet disappears for an average of 50 days;
3) the planet reappears as Evening Star for an average of 263 days;
4) Venus then disappears again for 8 days during inferior conjunction; after which it reappears as Morning Star, to complete the synodical period.
But these are not the values in the Maya Venus cycles, which seem to follow an unfamiliar logic of their own. The considerable discrepancy is emphasized by Aveni--
They assigned an eight day period to the disappearance at inferior conjunction, which is close to that observed today. But, peculiarly, their manuscripts recorded a disappearance interval of 90 days at superior conjunction, nearly double the true value. Furthermore, they assigned unequal values to the intervals as morning and evening star: 250 and 236 days, respectively. In fact, the true intervals are equivalent at approximately 263 days. Since we know that the Maya were careful and exacting timekeepers, there may have been ritualistic reasons for these changes which overrode the observations.
It seems as if another anomaly rears its head: the ancient Mesoamerican astronomers, so admired for their accurate record keeping of Venus' motions, do not have Venus moving on its present course. Yet Aveni assures us that the Maya developed the observational precision and reasoning power to predict eclipses and to determine "the length of the Venus year and the lunar month to accuracies of less than a day in several centuries." Thus, the calendar discrepancy, to say the least, should draw one's attention!
In considering this mystery, we well to remember Velikovsky's admonition on the subject of recurring anomalies--the true key to discovery. It is a fact that the recorded anomalous motions of Venus in the ritual calendar- a calendar originating in an undefined period preceding any of the known cultural variants--has a significant and more ancient Near Eastern parallel. As Velikovksy himself observed almost 45 years ago, the Babylonian astronomers, in the famous Venus tablets of Ammizaduga, recorded extensive observations of Venus' movements. Like their Mesoamerican counterparts, these founders of astronomy were revered for their observational skills and mathematical accuracy. Nevertheless, the Ammizaduga records of Venus' appearances and disappearances are filled with "errors" suggesting that (in the minds of the stargazers, at least) Venus did not move on its present visual path.
And speaking of recurring anomalies, the seemingly preposterous 90-day disappearance of Venus at superior conjunction may prove to be more of a headache for orthodox archaeoastronomers than they have bargained for. In the "erroneous" Babylonian records of Venus, one encounters a 90-day disappearance as well! Aveni reports--
It is curious that the Babylonians also counted a three- month disappearance interval, indicating that the planet would move approximately one-fourth of the way around its cycle in the tropical year.
While an anomalous variance in the movement of Venus may frustrate mainstream investigators, for anyone believing that Velikovsky's comet participated in Earth-disturbing events as recently as a few thousand years ago, the troublesome records of Venus' motions are more likely to bring a bemused smile. Following the great cometary catastrophe recorded in the myths, nothing would seem more reasonable to the Velikovskian researcher than a transitional period-perhaps millennia--in which Venus did not move on its present path as seen from the earth.
The larger issue, of course, is that posed by the very existence of the sacred 260-day calendar. How could it be that a calendar with no firm basis in an observed natural cycle could have had such a broad cultural influence? Even as late as 1940, the ethnologist J.S. Lincoln was able to confirm that the Ixil peoples of northwest Guatemala continued to use this calendar. Ethnologist J.A. Remington, living among the Quiché and Cakchiquel peoples of the Guatemala highlands, found that the 260-day cycle was still practiced for purposes of forecasting, with this "unnatural" calendar still dominating the time-keeping rituals.
When it comes to ancient calendars, one of the possibilities that should be considered--but never is considered--is that of a shifting length of the year. Velikovsky argued, for example, that in former times a calendar of 360 days prevailed throughout much of the ancient world, and that the five added days (called "nothing days" by the Aztecs) came only after a disruption of the earth's motions. Though I have some doubt about this, there is no reason in the world to exclude such possibilities in advance of serious consideration.
But whether or not calendar changes are indicated, one can be certain that the 260-day ritual calendar bore an extremely significant relationship to the myth of collapsing world ages, as we shall see.