Excerpt from The Heavenly Shepherd: Celestial Archetypes Behind Orion and Jesus

It is curious to note that Jesus Christ never wrote his teachings down. He taught by telling oral stories. Of course, most of his audience could not read or write so speaking in parables turns out to be the best form of teaching to non-literate peoples. Something is deeply amiss in this practical assessment, however, for Christ himself explained to his disciples “Unto you it is given to know the mystery [μυστήριον] of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11). This statement suggests that the oral stories Jesus told were a metaphor for a mystērion, a secret revealed only to the acolytes who had been ritually initiated. The very word mystery held deep liturgical connotations central to ancient religious practices.

Numerous scholars have scoffed at the notion of secret rituals behind the Christian message, but oral and semi-literate cultures are orthopraxic. In such cultures the “word of God” turns out not to be the written word but rather the spoken and enacted word. Centuries of literate biblical exegesis seems to have blurred the reality that non-literate peoples must perform their religious beliefs as the only real way of conceptualizing them. Why are rituals not prominent in the surviving texts? Problematically, ritual initiation was sacrosanct and there were terrible taboos against writing about sacred liturgies. Clement of Alexandria insists that the most sacred things of deity were kept oral and could never be written down (Lundwall 70). The center of ancient religious practice was never textual. If this was true for early Christianity then the reality is rituals were not only a necessary part of the new religion but most likely the foundation of its very ethos—a part that never makes it into the New Testament.

Of what might these ritual initiations consist of? There is a curious scene in the gnostic text of The Acts of Saint John where Jesus gathers his disciples right before his crucifixion and performs a ritual. The disciples surround Jesus in a ring dance while Jesus himself sings, “Grace danceth. I would pipe; dance ye all. . . . The Whole on high hath part in our dancing. And whoso danceth not, knoweth not what cometh to pass. . . . A way am I to thee wayfarer. Now answer thou (or as thou respondest) unto my dancing. Behold thyself in me who speak, and seeing what I do, keep silence about my mysteries” (Acts of John 95-96). Jesus performs an initiatory song and dance and declares that the heavens take part in the dancing. Furthermore, the grace Jesus offers from the cross is contained in a dance! Somehow this ritual dance held esoteric information for Jesus calls his dance a mystery. One scholar observes of this scene, “This strange chorea mystica, this ecstatic cult dance, . . . is as ancient as the form of the dance mystery itself. In the Mimaut Papyrus we read: ‘Come to me, Thou who art greatest in heaven, . . . to whom heaven was given for a dancing round.’ Enraptured by hymn and dance, the mystai circle through the gates of initiation” (Pulver 174-75).

A very similar scene is found in The Acts of Saint Thomas where this apostle sings about Sophia who makes “signs and secret patterns, proclaiming the dance of the blessed Aeons” and who is herself surrounded by seven bridesmaids who are performing a ring dance around her (Barnstone ed. 467; Backman 16). Lucian states that dance and initiation were wed in every single Greco-Roman mystery tradition, and I have shown that these choral dances allowed neophytes to reenact the passage through the heavens of the pagan cosmos (Lundwall 225-40). Indeed, Sophia’s seven attendants represent the heavenly spheres and in numerous apocalyptic texts the initiate must pass through seven gates guarded by singing and dancing hymnologi (Lundwall 231). The gates of initiation are therefore heavenly gates that lead to the heavenly throne room.

The orthodox and literate Christian will object to these gnostic sources, but these texts find a remarkable parallel in the New Testament book of Revelation. Gottfried Schimanowski notes that in chapters 4 and 5 of that book we are introduced into a heavenly liturgy where the anointed ones, clothed in white garments and wearing gold crowns, circle the heavenly throne while singing hymns.  The purpose of this “ring dance” is “to draw the earthly community into the heavenly praise of God, a liturgy that is closed with the ‘Amen’ sung by the inner circle before the heavenly throne. . . . the liturgy of the throne scene serves to recreate the experience of a ritual of worship common to heaven and earth” (Schimanowski 82). The structure of this song and dance is parallel to the gnostic texts, including a group of seven attendants circling the throne and guardians of the cosmic order proclaiming “Amen” (Revelation 4:5, 5:14)

Dante ascends to Beatrice in The Divine Comedy. Surrounding the heavenly throne is a chorus (ring dance) of angels. Dante was drawing from very old cosmological and religious tradtions.

Dante ascends to Beatrice in The Divine Comedy. Surrounding the heavenly throne is a chorus (ring dance) of angels. Dante was drawing from very old cosmological and religious tradtions.

This cosmic scene may actually depict an early Christian ritual. By modern interpretation the book of Revelation speaks of end-time events. This kind of eschatology does not speak of the end of the world, however, but the culmination of cosmic time. The ultimate end of all things is determined at the very center of the universe that lay at God’s throne. Apparently, one can get there through proper initiation that includes a choral dance. The Good News was not just a written text that spoke of the grace of God, it was a liturgical dance that revealed the mysteries of God.

Although modern Christianity no longer has anything close to a choral dance as part of its liturgy, several writers of the early Church indicate that just such mystery dances had existed. Clement hints at this connection in his Stromata where he writes, “Therefore we raise our heads and our hands to heaven (during prayer) and move our feet . . . . In this way we reach blessedness and deliverance from the chains of the flesh which our soul despises” (Backman 22; italics mine). Backman insists that the phrase “move our feet” is a technical term for dancing (Backman 22). Epiphanius (fourth century CE) hints at the same tradition when he describes the Christian festival held on Palm Sunday, “Rejoice, be glad and leap boisterously thou all embracing Church! For behold, once again the King approaches . . . once again perform the choral dances . . . let us dance the choral dance before the pure Bridegroom as befits the divine bridegroom” (Backman 24).

Saint Gregory offers another picture of early Christian ritual when he describes a cultic dance, “He who had done everything preserved and prescribed by Providence in its secret mysteries, reposes in Heaven in the bosom of the Father and in the cave in the bosom of the Mother (Christ Jesus). The ring-dance of the angels encircles him, singing his glory in Heaven and proclaiming peace on earth” (Backman 22). Gregory states that there were secret mysteries in the Church which included a cave. The word initiate signifies a ritual entry into the earth. In the Greco-Roman mysteries initiation often took place underground in a hypogeum or cave. This sacred precinct was overseen by a goddess whose womb represented the regions of the underworld where the secrets of rebirth were found. In early Christianity the heavenly matriarch was displaced by the Church, and in Saint Gregory’s comment it is Jesus Christ himself who takes the role of the goddess of rebirth. The one who learns the secrets of resurrection is surrounded by a chorus of angels who are wards of the heavenly realm. For Gregory, this was a tradition that dated back to the resurrected Adam, who performed ring dances with the angels as they were “raised up to heaven” (Backman 22).

In many regions of biblical criticism high walls have been placed between the gnostic and pagan mysteries and the practices of the earliest Christians. Proper interpretation of the pagan mystery initiations is also impossible as there are no original written sources that describe them. Most of what we get actually comes from later Christian writers who criticize them. In a point of high irony we do find a second century pagan critic of Christianity named Celsus who discloses one piece of interesting information from early Christianity. Celsus writes, “Now Christians pray that after their toil and strife here below they shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and they agree with the ancient systems that there are seven heavens and that the way of the soul is through the planets” (95). According to Celsus the early Christians ascended to heaven through the seven planetary spheres. Gnostic texts appear to show this ascent was ritually performed in a secret dance that mimicked the heavenly journey. Part of this imagery appears in Revelation where the chosen priests of god and the seven guardian spirits perform a ring dance around the heavenly throne.

Once again we are dealing with circumstantial evidence. This is the only kind of evidence one can obtain when dealing with an artifact of history that was never written down. The truth is the book of Revelation may not be an oddity of Christian tradition, but its central ideology connected with its own version of the mysteries. Indeed, Margaret Barker explains in The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God that the word evangelion translated as “good news” really meant “reveal” signifying the revelation that came from the holy of holies or heavenly throne room (77-79). Further, the book of Revelation is the only book in the New Testament that actually identifies itself as a book of scripture “because it is the only one that carries the curse on those who alter it” (88; Revelation 22:18-19). Barker asserts that this self-identifying book of scripture “suggests it was already accepted as Scripture, even before John gave it a written form and its explanation” (88) and that the book of Revelation turns out to be the principal book in the New Testament “best fitted [for] the religious and cultural context of Jesus’ ministry” (83). Nor was this material necessarily an adaptation of pagan material into Christian form. These cosmic mysteries had existed all along within the Jewish faith. In the Old Testament Isaiah is endowed to be a prophet only within the heavenly throne room (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel takes a cosmic journey through the heavens as he is given his own keys of leadership (Ezekiel 1-2). The very founding of Israel occurs only when Jacob encounters the ladder of heaven, passes a guardian angel, and sees the face of god in the “House of God” (Genesis 28:12-17, 32:24-30).

Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending into heaven at the spot called The House of God and Gate of Heaven where he sees the face of the Lord and is given the Covenant of his people.

Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending into heaven at the spot called The House of God and Gate of Heaven where he sees the face of the Lord and is given the Covenant of his people.

What are we to make of this? Whatever the religion of Abraham, Moses, or Jesus, the writers of the Testaments lived in a different conceptual world that was rooted in a cosmological relationship between heaven and earth. This world was not accessed by texts but by rituals. This was all changing by the time of Jesus, where the old cosmological models were slowly being turned into the mechanical spheres of Greek astronomy. This happened with the advent of writing and fully literate consciousness. Science as we recognize it was being born from the fertile world of textual thought. And so was religion. We have forgotten that fantastic cosmos the pre-literate world had imbued upon all of its cultural artifacts. It was this older cosmology that underwrote the theologies of rebirth long before that new star shone in the heavens announcing a resurrecting god. In the context of biblical studies, perhaps the greatest gift from this god was not the secrets of rebirth—but finally a religion of the book.

Interview with Rev. Lynn Hubbard

Lynn is one of the most intellectually versed people I have met, equally capable of discussing religion, philosophy, and cosmology, and their social, theological, and political implications. He is a Lutheran minister at a small community chapel in California. His sermons are geared towards his parishioners, who probably only get Lynn’s devotional treatises. Even more delightfully, he is married to a Presbyterian minister, who co-runs the chapel and who is quite capable of arguing with him. I have sat and listened to the both of them argue issues with more insight than many an academic class I have taken.

Lynn interviewed me on public access television for Humboldt County, California. Here is our conversation:

 

CPAK Conference 2016

CPAK 2016 Banner

I will be speaking at the CPAK 2016 conference this year, held September 30th through October 2nd at the Westin Resort in Rancho Mirage, California. CPAK is a conference dedicated to ancient cultures, mythology, astronomy, and history. The Conference topics tend to look at historical anomalies (i.e. the Antikythera Device  or the Baghdad Batteries controversy), discusses ancient cosmology (including myth and astronomy and possible knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes before Hipparchus), the dating of archeological finds (i.e. Robert Schoch’s theory of the Great Sphinx), archaeoastronomy, and other such topics.

My presentation will be on The Mythic Canon: How Oral People’s Created Civilization. I will briefly discuss the nature of human intelligence and the epistemological divide between oral and literate peoples. I will also explain how the oral memory theater works, and how oral peoples layer their memories using cosmology, myths, rituals, and sacred space as reinforcements of one another. The knowledge they pass on deals with the central tenants of their culture and may include cultural, theological, cosmological, and technological precepts.

While there are a variety of approaches at the conference, there is some very good work being done here. Also, people familiar with Graham Hancock, Robert Bavaul, Walter Cruttenden, and Robert Schoch will enjoy this conference. Of course, it’s being held at the Westin Resort, which is absolutely beautiful. It should be a very fun conference.

Admittedly, my presentation will be academically based, but it will reorient our thoughts about prehistory and our own assumptions about human consciousness in the hoary past.

 

 

The Imponderable Size of the Size of Imponderable Things

 

A depiction of the galaxies in the visible universe. It is estimated that there are up to 500 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, and each star with planets.

A depiction of the galaxies in the visible universe. It is estimated that there are up to 500 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, and each star with planets.

 

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? —Pascal

Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand. . . . It shows us how small is man’s body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony. — Poincaré

I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets, has a deeper meaning, but at the very least it is clear that we humans who live on this Earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. — Dalai Lama

The three quotations above show three different attitudes towards the relationship between humans and their cosmos. The first cosmos swallows man into insignificance; the sheer scale of time and space reduces humankind into specks of dust. The second also recognizes man as dust, but makes his mind equal to the immensity of space because it is his mind that dares to imagine within the eternal. The third subordinates such comparisons underneath the utilitarian and even involuntary need to make meaning regardless of size or scale, and to live meaningfully in an infinite cosmos. And the cosmos is that infinite thing that, despite the separate attitudes towards it, everyone must take for granted.

The size of the universe is incomprehensible. No one really knows how many galaxies exist. Currently, scientists estimate that there are a minimum of 200 billion galaxies, though this estimate has been pushed to 500 billion by some. But no one really knows.

Each galaxy contains billions of stars. And in fact no really knows how many stars are in our own galaxy. The low estimate is 100 billion stars. The high estimate is 400 billion stars. But in such wild estimates, what’s a billion stars? Our galaxy, however, is relatively small compared to others. Many galaxies are nearly 10 times the size of the Milky Way. The largest known galaxy appears to be 40 times the size of our galaxy with a mass of 100 trillion stars.

No one knows how many planets are in the universe. No one knows how many planets are within our own galaxy. In fact, we are not even sure how many planets are in our own solar system, judging from a new report of a possible large planet at the very edge of our own system. Planets were once thought to be relatively rare. Now scientists are fairly certain that every star has a planet. Some stars, like our own, will have multiple planets. Others will have swarms of planets orbiting them. In other words, if there are countless trillions and trillions of stars, then there are going to be countless trillions and trillions of planets.

The space between the stars is also unimaginable. Stars are separated by light years of space. A light year is about 6 trillion miles. Most stars have 100 trillion miles of space around them. The closest galaxy to our own Milky Way is the Andromeda Galaxy. This galaxy is over twice the size of our own with an estimated 1 trillion stars. It is 2.5 million light years away, and it just so happens to be heading our way. In about 4 billion years the Andromeda Galaxy will collide with the Milky Way Galaxy. The thing is, there is such vast distances between stars that when the two galaxies collide they will simply “pass through” each other, the gravitational pull of the stars combining the galaxies in a cosmic dance of give and take.

And this is just the macrocosm. Consider the microcosm. No one knows how many cells are in a human body. The best estimate is about 100 trillion. There are 100 trillion cells in a human body, each clustered into their own “galaxies” of relations and functions forming a fantastically rescaled universe within each of us. And further, it is estimated that there are 100 trillion atoms in each cell. Each atom is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. And the protons and neutrons are in turn  composed of quarks. Some have suggested that quarks (for convenience sake, the “smallest” known “particle”) may in fact be composed of even smaller energies/vibrations/particles. Furthermore, the relative distance between a proton and its orbiting electrons is greater than the relative distance of stars in our galaxy to each other.

From the above to the below the scale of the universe is imponderable. Such numbers and relations are impossible for the human mind to fathom. In the face of such depthless dimensions and cataclysmic powers separated by an eternal yawn of space, many people have rejected any religious notion of God, or Soul, or a special place in the cosmos for Humankind. We are nothing but specks of dust, goes the thinking, residing on a speck of dust swirling within other specks of dust; neither Earth nor Man is the center of anything, and therefore has no intrinsic meaning or value.

This is a strange conclusion. If the universe is immeasurable, why are we assigning meaning to its measure? In a universe incommensurate to our understanding of size and scale, why do we assign a meaninglessness to our size and scale? To say that we are nothing but specks of dust says nothing about our relationship with the universe. What difference would it make if Man were the size of a stellar red giant? Or Woman the size of a galaxy? If size and proportion are the only things that give meaning, then what is one star or galaxy in a countless sea of galaxies?

Nor is position important. Modern science has shown that the universe seems endless. It should strike one as rather elementary that in the infinite there is no center because there is no perimeter. In the eternal, every point in space is equal. One could actually say that every point is the center. But once again such notions are only reflections on size and scale, and the eternal reduces size and scale to the irrelevant.

Furthermore, consider if you were a “conscious” nucleotide embedded within a strand of DNA. If you looked around you might at first assume that the cosmos you lived in was the cell in which you resided. Over time, however, you discovered that there were other cells, other organs, galaxies of cells and formations stretching . . . well, 100 trillion times beyond your own little cosmos. In such space you might consider yourself utterly insignificant, meaningless, and pointless. But what happens to the cell, or the body at large, if you were to remove a segment of DNA here or there? The entire universe changes, or even collapses.

Looking at the universe as a two dimensional canvas reduces human beings as specks of dust. And if the universe in nothing but “rocks in motion,” as my old friend Lynn Hubbard likes to say, then perhaps such a two-dimensional view is justified. We human beings, however, are conscious. We can imagine, reason, create, and philosophize. That makes us really interesting specks of dust. Like nucleotides, conscious specks may hold an altogether different relation to the universe at large besides the relation of size and scale.

I have always found the idea of a fractal universe more plausible than a universe that is only up, down, left, and right. Here is a dictionary definition and a picture of a fractal:

fractal: a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

Fractals are fluid geometric forms that emerge from the replication of the surrounding forms.

The image above shows a large construct of geometric forms that all flow from and reflect the surrounding forms. In fact, if you take one tiny segment of this image (the segment within the red square) and expand it you get this:

Mandlebrot Fractal_002

Fractals are scale-invariant, meaning that no matter what segment of the image you look at, that segment will be a reflection of the whole.

One can truly get a sense of the geometric relations of fractals by watching this video: Mandlebrot Fractals. Madlebrot fractals are named after Benoit Mandlebrot who was a mathematician who created an algorithm that reproduced infinite fractal shapes.

Fractal geometry shows that complex systems can be interdependent, and that the smallest form or portion of that system is not only an integrated portion of the whole, but a fundamental reflection of the whole. This is called scale-invariance. No matter the scale, each part reflects every other part. While there is a vast difference in size, the nucleotide is as invariant in form and function as the liver, which in turn is as invariant as the entire pulmonary system, or the whole body. Scale invariance recognizes that star dust is as essential as galaxies, and that the two are in a very real way a reflection of each other.

This returns us back to the idea of the individual conscious soul and its relation to the universe. We human beings are specks of dust. The fact that we are conscious specks of dust should tell us a couple things about the universe however. First off, and what should seem obvious,  if we human beings are conscious beings, that means matter creates consciousness. The fact that no one has any idea how consciousness came about, or even what it is, should tell us that we still are clueless on very fundamental aspects of matter. If we as little specks of dust are conscious, then does that mean the universe is conscious? What does that mean? What could it mean?

Secondly, what would happen to the universe if all the little conscious specks of dust in it were removed? Would the universe just keep rolling on, as so many insist, or, are we conscious specks like the nucleotides in DNA? Would our removal essentially cause the collapse of the whole system?

I think maybe the latter is the case, and that perhaps we should consider that glittering within every speck of cosmic consciousness is a reflection of the whole cosmic scheme. And when it comes to consciousness, size is irrelevant because the soul is invariant.

And when it comes to consciousness, size is irrelevant because the soul is invariant.

 

 

Whitman’s Repose

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

The soul or consciousness is remarkable for its capacity to ever spin gossamer threads of intent. Every person is their own renewable engine of thought woven together onto the conscious landscape around them. Only imagination limits the extent of this web. No wonder in the Navajo tradition, it is Spider Woman who is the guide of souls into the next world. The unyielding patience of the spider shows us the way.

Prehistory, Megaliths, and Open Questions about Stonehenge

Before the melting of the glaciers during the last Ice Age, sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower than they are today. This means of course that vast stretches of additional coastline were exposed and utilized by this land’s occupants. This also means that structures would have been built on these lands, structures long swallowed up by the slow yet steady rising sea tides. The encroachment of the sea took numerous centuries to unfold, but one may wonder if oral traditions had kept alive the locations of some of the more famous settlements and temples that were now known to be below the sea. Being that the rising ocean levels occurred worldwide, one may also hypothesize that these memories may have helped to develop the ubiquitous flood myth shared around the globe.

As evidence of ancient occupation on this prehistoric shoreline, a 30,000 pound stone monolith dating to about 8,000 BCE was recently discovered off of the coast of Sicily.  No one knows what it was used for, but its existence shows that standing stones of considerable size were being employed at this date. The construction and movement of such stones also implies complex social organization. Additionally, a Stone Age settlement has been discovered on the sea floor in the English Channel dating to at least 6,000 BCE, showing that what is now sea was once inhabited by peoples who were building, organizing, and creating communities well before the supposed “birth of civilization” recorded in our textbooks as occurring sometime around 3,500 BCE with the first established villages and small cities in Mesopotamia. The complex stone ring at Gebekli Tepe dating to at least 8,500 BCE proves that complex building as well as sophisticated social and religious organization existed millennia prior to our outdated models of human cultural evolution.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

One must remember that many of the earliest stone shrines in Mesopotamia and in Egypt are actually built after models of the nomadic tent. Tent cities leave no trace, and we assume that an ancient nomadic caravan was more interested in catching game and finding berries than in anything else. This assumption is grossly misplaced. One is reminded that when the Lakota Sioux journeyed with their teepees during the Spring, while catching game and collecting berries, they were actually following the sun’s entrance into specific Lakota constellations which had analogical representations on the ground. When the sun entered one constellation, the Lakota migrated to a mountain or hill which was the earthly representation of that group of stars.

Nomadic clans carry with them complex social, philosophical, cosmological, and religious constructs which organize their society. The megalithic rings, clay brick ziggurats, and stone pyramids are new architectural wonders predicated on very old cosmological ideas. We also assume that the nomadic tent predated these grand structures, but when we find giant monoliths and stone temples dating thousands of years before our ziggurats and pyramids, we are given pause to think that the nomadic clan may not be the prototype of civilization, but an afterthought of more complex social forms that had existed millennia prior. The conception of linear history is a product of literacy. Linear progression in history is a projection of a modern evolutionary model. These constructs are metaphysical projections which may or may not have relevance for the monolith builders of 10,000 years ago.

It is now clearly understood that megalithic rings had their architectural precursor in Neolithic wood henges. The structures are called Rondel Enclosures, and hundreds have been found throughout Europe dating to nearly 5,000 BCE. One of the most famous of these henges is the Goseck Circle, constructed in 4,900 BCE within the traditional Rondel design: concentric rings and mounds of earth with wooden palisades holding two or three openings. The openings of the Goseck Circle have been shown to be aligned with the solar cycle and allowed for the measurement of a solar calendar and most likely a lunar one as well.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

At least by 4,000 BCE this design had dispersed itself into ancient Britain. Perhaps the most famous stone circle in present day England is known as Stonehenge, first constructed from wood around 3,000 BCE, but then rebuilt with massive stones at about 2,600 BCE. Yet Stonehenge is a late model. Far to the north in Scotland is the Orkney Complex built at least 1,500 years before Stonehenge was constructed. Orkney is a Neolithic masterpiece, with one writer noting:

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

Orkney shows a massive building program incorporating multiple temples, buildings, walls, shrines, kitchens, and pottery making tools. Surrounding this complex was a sophisticated network of farms and villages interlinked by sacred space and liturgy, for most archaeologists agree that Orkney is a ritual center of some sort, though what was believed or worshipped is a complete mystery.

In the ancient world different sites were linked together. This contextual network is very different from our modern notions of sacred space, where worshippers go to “their church corner” where they worship within their tradition. Other churches have their own traditions. There may be similarities or differences, but the worshipping space is immobile and set. The idea of a pilgrimage is foreign to most modern church goers, unless it means going to some national or amusement park. Not so in the ancient world, where different sites represented different loci between heaven and earth, and where different yet related deities could influence the cosmic balance for those performing the necessary rites. Migration and pilgrimage are often blurred, as in the case of the Lakota whose Spring journey was both.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sacred sites were linked to together forming a network of belief and trade.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sites were linked together forming a network of sacred space, belief, and trade.

As such, what was once thought of as individual mounds and henges are now seen as connected in a network of sacred “zones.” It has now been revealed, for example, that Stonehenge was part of a massive landscape of standing stones. The original Stonehenge was not a solitary ring in the middle of the prairie, but was connected with colossal avenues of stone which in turn pointed to other related henges. Some scholars believe that the natural landscape was also part of this ritual cosmography, where hills and rivers also represented heaven-earth correspondences. We are dealing with a much greater cosmovision than most recently thought of, as well as a far more connected and complex society who were as sophisticated as any other people, but who were rooted in the Neolithic and Mesolithic cultures and techniques of the day.

Reflecting upon these connections has led me to propose a new theory to one of the great mysteries of Stonehenge. Stonehenge was originally a wooden henge, much like the Rondel Enclosures found throughout ancient Europe. Over the course of 1,500 years the site was rebuilt several times, and large standing stones eventually took the place of standing timber.

Eventually large rocks replaced the original standing timers. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan, with the larger standing Sarsen stones made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner “u-ring” of smaller stones made of dolerite or igneous rock.

The outer concourse of standing stones are called Sarsens and are made of sandstone or sedimentary rock. There is an inner semi-ring of stones called bluestones. These stones are made of various kinds of dolerite, which is an igneous rock formed by the cooling of lava. The rock is a kind of “fire-stone.” Recently the exact origin of these stones was discovered. These multi-ton rocks were quarried 160 miles away in Wales and transported to the site. (There are still a few geologists who insist that the blue stones were not transported by humans but by glacier drift.) The skill and labor required to transport the multi-ton stones from so far away has everyone asking, “For what purpose were they needed?” There are no definite answers.

 

Stonehenge was rebuilt replacing wooden timers with large standing stones. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock used, with the large Sarsen stones being made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner u-ring of smaller stones being made of dolerite or igneous rock.

This graphic shows the  different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan of Stonehenge.

The exact ritual or cosmological uses of the site are unknown. We would be remiss to think that the site was not used for rituals within a deep cosmological worldview. Ancient oral religion and cosmology cannot be separated. My own theory as to why the bluestones needed to be transported to the site is one of resonance. Nicholas Campion has pointed out that bronze was used even after the discovery of the much stronger iron because bronze held a symbolic equivalence with the sun. It was the “cosmic resonance” of the material that was prized over its utility. Meanwhile, Schwaller de Lubicz also provides a stunning insight when he mentions that in some Egyptian temples limestone was used in the outer walls but granite was used for the inner sanctuaries.

While granite is stronger, and again we might think of the sheer utility of the building material, ancient oral minds were always considering the types and functions of the materials they were using. Granite is also an igneous rock, and one sees in the Egyptian cosmovision that each temple was a recreation of the world, where sedimentary rock was the outer “watery” world of chaos and the central shrine was the created order of the sun god Ra. Granite was a fire rock indicative of this symbolism.

This is no idle speculation. One is reminded that when Rome was founded a trench was dug circumscribing the city. While in most textbooks we are told that this trench defined the defensive wall that was to be built, in truth the trench held a completely symbolic value as a sacred boundary between the cosmic watery chaos and the new cosmic order of the established city. In the Near East and in Egypt cities were models of the cosmos and were established upon symbolic rules that had descended from prehistory. Many temples were built also as representations of the cosmos, with the waters of chaos signified outside the temple walls and the temple shrine itself representing the ideal established order and the realm of the gods. In the Hebrew temple the holy of holies was constructed as a cube where the fiery throne of Yahweh lay. Beneath the altar was the Well of Souls representative of the apsu, or underworld waters. Here was a symbolic representation of the cosmos. It is no coincidence that Pythagoras insisted that the center of the universe was a fiery cube, or that the Egyptian dead had to sail through the dark underworld waters and arise through several lakes of fire to find eternal life.

So it is with Stonehenge. At least this is my proposal. The bluestones were igneous rocks and they held a cosmological resonance to the overall metaphysical scheme of the temple. The inner ring of bluestones was the realm of fire, the created order, and the domain of the gods. They may have also been linked with similar temples or rites that were located and practiced 160 miles away from where the stones originated. In other words, the bluestones were an absolute symbolic requirement that in some way linked the builder’s vision with heaven and earth and to other sites with similar connections. As one journeyed through the avenue of stones and entered the sanctuary they were making a “cosmic voyage” through the heavens, represented itself by the building materials, landscape features, and connections to other sites.

This theory still does not tell us what they were practicing. It simply provides a functional theory for the absolute necessity of the building material being used. There is a specific reason that the builders transported several-ton-stones nearly 200 miles for the sites’ construction. That reason is, in my view, symbolic resonance with a cosmographic scheme. The builders were reproducing a picture of the heavens in the stones of the earth.

C&L Journal, August 2015

C&L Cover 2015

Announcing the new edition of the Cosmos and Logos Journal, being published in August 2015.

This will be a great issue, including articles on the Goddess, Ovid, Medusa, myth and culture in Bali, Buddhist motifs in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the alchemical make up of the psyche. We also have several original artworks being included by very talented artists. These pieces are explorations on mythic and religious themes and symbols and are quite stunning.

Look for the issue to be released in mid-August.

The Great Flood: Reflections on Immortality

When Gilgamesh descends into the underworld to discover the secrets of eternal life he finds the only mortal to have been given this godly gift. This figure is Utnapishtim, and his name connotes “the far Distant One” who dwells at the “confluence of the rivers.” These are not terrestrial waters, but celestial waterways that swirl through the cosmos in specified stellar riverbeds where souls travel finding their eternal fate. Upon meeting the only mortal who knows how to obtain immortality, Gilgamesh asks the paramount question of the epic, “How does one obtain eternal life?”

The answer Utnapishtim gives is one of the most curious responses in all of ancient myth. Utnapishtim replies, “I will reveal to you a secret of the gods.” And then this immortal who dwells on far distant shores relates a flood story. Literally, Utnapishtim tells a story so very close to the biblical account of Noah. As the Mesopotamian version is much older, we can only conclude that the biblical tradition is a hand-me-down from much older and foreign sources.

Clay cylinder seal depicting the Babylonian culture hero Utnapishtim who survived a great flood and was granted immortality.

How does the flood story answer the question of eternal life? It makes no sense. Indeed, scholars have written it off as extracurricular nonsense; a story interjected, out of place, and told for its own sake. This response remains the official, academic take.

Yet, a curious parallel is found in Chapter 175 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  In this portion of the funerary text the deceased descends to the underworld to find the secrets of eternal life. And those secrets are contextualized within a flood story. Here is Raymond Faulkner’s translation:

O Thoth, what is it that has come about through the Children of Nut? They have made war, they have raised up tumult, they have done wrong, they have created rebellion, they have done slaughter, they have created imprisonment, they have reduced what was great to what is little in all that we have made; show greatness, O Thoth!—so says Atum. Shorten their years, cut short their months, because they have done hidden damage to all that you have made. I have your palette, O Thoth, I bring your inkspot to you; I am not among those who have done hidden damage, and none work harm on me.

Thus says Ani: O Atum, how comes it that I travel to a desert which has no water and no air, and which is deep, dark, and unsearchable? [. . .] [Atum Replies:] You shall be for millions on millions of years, a lifetime of millions of years. I will dispatch the Elders and destroy all that I have made; the earth shall return to the Primordial Water, so the surging flood, as in its original state. But I will remain with Osiris, I will transform myself into something else, namely a serpent, without men knowing or the gods seeing. [. . .] I have made what appertains to his place in the Bark of Millions of Years, and Horus is firm on his throne to found his establishments. (BD Chpt 175)

This chapter entitled “for not dying again” opens up to a grim scene. The people of the earth have become corrupt; everywhere they commit rebellion and slaughter. The population of the earth does “secret damage” or evil acts done in darkness and exacted on all living things. This is exactly the same world depicted in the Hebrew account, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6.5). In the biblical tale God vows to wipe the population out with a great flood. The wickedness of the world and God’s vow to destroy it survives in Greece, where the same scene is portrayed in Homer’s Illiad, “when Zeus flings down his pelting, punishing rains—up in arms, furious, storming against those men who brawl in the courts and render crooked judgements, men who throw all rights to the winds with no regard for the vengeful eyes of the gods—so all their rivers crest into flood spate, ravines overflowing cut the hilltops off into lonely islands” (16.457-63).

Of the Egyptian text, it should be noted that other translators have taken this same passage and have replaced the flood imagery with the waters of creation. Instead of a great flood that destroys the wicked and through which the deceased must pass, the waters become the liquids of fiat lux, the birthing waters of the world which recreate and renew the deceased. Yet, in these translations the wicked world and the Bark of Millions of Years remain.

So which is it: are the waters through which the Egyptian dead descend the mythic flood waters or the waters of creation? Complicating this issue (and the different translations) is the fact that most world flood myths are told in the context of their respective creation stories. The waters of the flood were meant to be the waters of a new creation. This is certainly how the Bible treats the two parallel events. Read Genesis closely and you will see that the biblical flood is a reproduction of the biblical creation.

Earth is created by dividing the waters above from the waters below (1.6-7). The flood occurs when the waters above and the waters below commingle (7.11). Creation begins when the “Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (1.1). Noah sends forth a dove upon the face of the waters (8. 9-11). Creation congeals when the first dry land emerges from the waters (1.9). The dove returns to Noah with an olive leaf, indicating that the first dry land has appeared from the waters (8.11). Vegetation, animals, and man appear on earth (1.11-12, 20-27). Noah lands and releases all manner of life upon the earth (8.16-19). God commands Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth (1.28). God commands Noah to multiply and replenish the earth (9.1).

Curiously, in the Egyptian funerary texts the coffin of the deceased is treated as a boat, “towed by ropes through the waters of the cosmic sea, which is represented by drenching the coffin with water as it is pulled through narrow passages from one chamber or world to another” (MJSP 154). Furthermore, “In the Amduat, the name given throughout to the successive fields of the duat (underworld) is simply n.t, meaning ‘body of water,’ […]” (MJSP 156). Moreover, these underworld waters are always considered to reside in the heavens (MJSP 347); for the crews which tow the boat through the cosmic waters are none other than the Imperishable Stars (circumpolar stars) and the Unwearying Stars (the seven planets) (MJSP 154). Sailing through the underworld is a journey through the cosmos, an idea firmly entrenched in the Egyptian cult as there are over 370 specific astronomical terms employed within the funerary texts (HM 73).

Osiris in His Ark

In the Egyptian scheme, the deceased sails through the next world in a boat. The underworld is depicted as a series of lakes or waterways. The funerary boat was the ark of the dead that delivered its occupants to the fields of immortality.

I am reminded of that remarkable find in the Xinjiang region of China where a series of Caucasian mummified corpses were discovered in an ancient graveyard. The mummies dated as far back as 2000 BCE and each of the deceased was buried inside a boat.

In the Xinjiang region of China an ancient graveyard was found. The bodies had been mummified due to the arid climate and chemical makeup of the sand. Each of the deceased was Caucasian and was buried inside a boat.

In the Xinjiang region of China an ancient graveyard was found. The bodies had been mummified due to the arid climate and chemical makeup of the sand. Each of the deceased was Caucasian and was buried inside a boat. Depicted here is one of the small boats, inverted, next to an oar that was planted over the boat like a grave marker.

The archetype of the heavenly journey in a boat was remarkably wide spread. I am also reminded of that old book of poetry reciting the lore of the ancient Celts and called the Book of Taliesin. The book appears to have been composed by the 14th century, but many of the poems are recognized as being from the 10th century if not earlier.

In one passage from our archaic book we read a conversation between two interlocutors, one is Gwyddnaw, the priest or hierophant whose name signifies the leader of the boat, “from Gwydd, presence, attendance, and Naw, an old term for a ship” (Davies 245). The other is a neophyte seeking admittance into the Bardic mysteries. The neophyte must enter a coracle, or ark, and literally sail across the waters to an island where the initiation takes place. Our poem has our hierophant declare “To the brave, to the magnanimous, to the amiable, to the generous, who boldly embarks, the ascending stone of the Bards will prove the harbor of life! It has asserted the praise of Heilyn, the mysterious impeller of the sky; and, till the doom shall its symbol be continued” (Davies 250). The initiate responds, “Though I love the strand, I dread the wave: great has been its violence–dismal the overwhelming stroke. Even to him who survives, it will be the subject of lamentation” (Davies 250). To which Gwddnaw assures, “It is a pleasant act, to wash on the bosom of the fair water. Though it fill the receptacle, it will not disturb the heart […]. As for him who repented of his enterprise, the lofty (wave) has hurried the babbler far away to his death; but the brave, the magnanimous will find his compensation, in arriving safe at the stones. The conduct of the water will declare thy merit” (Davies 250-251).

This initiation takes place by the crossing of cosmic waters, as is now familiar to us, whose purpose is to land upon the mooring place upon the garden island where the initiate is taken from his coracle and received “at the stones” (probably a megalithic ring) in an embrace and conducted to his “father” and acknowledged a “complete Bard of the highest order” (Davies 252). The Bard is given a new name, Dedwydd, “one who has recovered intelligence” or one who “has been brought back into the presence” (Davies 252). A curious title as it is synonymous with the Greek Εποπτης, the name that describes the person who has been initiated into the greater mysteries of Eleusis.

In the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh must be led by Utnapishtim, who, like our Gwyddnaw, is the leader of the ark which sails between worlds. Osiris, too, is placed in an ark and led to his place of destiny. This brings to mind a series of flood and ark stories which all have correspondences whose import has never been satisfactorily explained. Clearly the Biblical Noah is such a chief figure, whose ark saved his family from a worldwide flood, though according to one old tradition the entrance into Noah’s ark was “esteemed a passage to death and darkness” (Davies 231); in other words the ark was a representation of the underworld. How could this be if it is the ark that is saving the human race from the world wide flood? It all makes perfect sense, however, if one understands the worldwide flood to be death itself which consumes all human flesh and whose spirits are consigned to the dark, foreboding deeps of the netherworld unless they are initiated within the boat, coracle, ark, or ship whose guide (Utnapishtim, Osiris, Noah, or Gwyddnaw) and his retinue lead the deceased to holy and blessed fields.

Dionysus is also said to have been placed within an ark (Brown 80); while in the Homeric hymn dedicated to this god Dionysus first appears, as if out of nowhere, “by the sand of an empty sea, how it was far out, on a promontory, how he was like a young man, an adolescent” (Boer 9). Like many of our mystery saviors Dionysus emerges from the sea. Moreover, the journey of the ship over the “divine sea” or the ark through the underworld is an image we find with numerous mythological heroes who have sailed the celestial axis of the ancient cosmos and have inherited lordship. A brief list of such ark-floating figures includes: Gilgamesh, Sargon, Osiris, Noah, Moses, Cyrus, Tammuz, Karna, Dionysus, Adonis, Jason, Perseus, Romulus, Siegfried, and Lohengrin, or the Knight of the Swan. Surprisingly, Oedipus himself is also depicted sailing in a chest or an ark on a Boeotian cup of the first century BCE (Edmunds 18), representing a portion of the Oedipus myth that has been lost. Remarkably, one possible etymology for the city of Thebes (Thebai) is tebah, a box or chest, itself a representation of the ark (Brown 194). Nor can we ignore the fact that in the Isis and Eleusis Mysteries, an ark or chest was carried by the procession of initiates which contained the secret tokens of the initiation which in turn symbolized eternal life.

Painting by Alexey Tyranov. Moses is saved from death and delivered to inherit kingship in an ark. There are numerous mythic heroes who do the same, and at least one tale, that of Sargon the Great, predates the biblical account while replicating all the major themes in the ark pericope.

Painting by Alexey Tyranov. Moses is saved from death and delivered to inherit kingship in an ark. There are numerous mythic heroes who do the same, and at least one tale, that of Sargon the Great, predates the biblical account while replicating all the major themes in the ark pericope.

The ark is the mystery precinct or temple where the initiation took place. Moreover the ark is a representation of the cosmos through which the journey is made. More specifically, the ark crossing the waters is an image of the deceased sailing through the underworld on his quest for eternal life, for it is only in the underworld that the secrets of resurrection and immortality are kept (Zimmer 84).

In other words, the answer Utnapishtim gives Gilgamesh may not be so strange after all. We have forgotten the uses to which myth was put. In the oral cult the myth of the flood may have been adapted to the journey through the cosmic waters of death, that consumes all the earth in time. Yet the deceased, placed in the appropriate ark, might find new and dry land upon which to land, in the next world.

Such are the turns of myth.

Read more in my upcoming book, Mythos and Cosmos: Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age.

Ancient Temples, Mercurial Tombs, and Strange History

On April 28, 2001, I stood at the south end of a grand avenue laid with stone. I was thirty miles north of Mexico City, at an ancient site known as Teotihuacan, a word that variously translates to “the place where the gods were born,” or “the place of those who know the road of the gods,” or even “the place where men became gods.” The “road of the gods” is an interesting epithet, as the grand road that traverses the city was known as “The Great Way of the Dead,” or even “Way of the Stars.” Some scholars have suggested that the road was an earthly replica of the Milky Way, and that the entire city itself “reproduced on earth a supposed celestial plan of the sky-world where dwelt the deities and spirits of the dead” (qtd. in Hancock and Faiia, 25).

Picture taken from atop the so called Pyramid of the Moon at the north end of the Avenue of the Dead. Here the entire city layout of Teotihuacan can be seen. To the right the large structure is the Pyramid of the Sun, and just south of it is the Temple of the Plumed Serpent.

Picture taken from atop the so called Pyramid of the Moon at the north end of the Avenue of the Dead. Here the entire city layout of Teotihuacan can be seen. To the left the large structure is the Pyramid of the Sun, and just south of it is the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. Photo by author.

According to Aztec tradition this city was built by the earliest ancestors. The emperor Montezuma would often make pilgrimages here. The largest structure, the Pyramid of the Sun, was not only the supposed birthplace of the gods, but also the primeval mound from which creation was made—the axis-mundi or navel of the world. The city itself appears to have been founded sometime in the 2nd century BCE and grew to an approximate population of over 150,000 people. Such population size makes this settlement a major metropolis in the ancient world.  Truthfully, almost nothing is known about the originators of the city; their ethnicity, language, culture, and religion has been lost behind the veil of forgotten history. The city appears to have been abandoned after apparently several invasions where the city was sacked, sometime around the early 6th century CE.

The third largest pyramid in the world, this structure measures 233.5 feet in height by 733.2 feet in length, with a volume of about 41,842,000 cubit feet of material. Called the Pyramid of the Sun by later peoples, its original name given by its architects is unknown. Photo by author.

The third largest pyramid in the world, this structure measures 233.5 feet in height by 733.2 feet in length, with a volume of about 41,842,000 cubit feet of material. Called the Pyramid of the Sun by later peoples, its original name given by its architects is unknown. Photo by author.

At the south end of the Way of the Dead lies the smallest pyramid-structure named the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. The Aztecs called this deity Quetzalcoatl, a name that means “feathered serpent.” This translation is inexact, as the the term coatl is derived from co, serpent, and atl, water. A more exact translation of his name may therefore be “Plumed Water-Serpent.” Quetzalcoatl is the supreme deity of the Aztec and Mayan pantheons. He was a great being who brought civilization to man. He created the calendar, introduced corn and agriculture, and was the inventor of the arts. Like King Arthur, this mythic hero is lost to history, with some scholars suggesting that there might have been an historical figure from which the later legends were based.

The deity itself appears to be a representation of the cosmic process of becoming through the amalgamation of opposites. He is composed of the base materials of the earth (water-serpent) and has the plumed feathers of the heavens (the quetzal was a bird whose bright green feathers not only represented flight, but also transcendence and the heavenly sphere.) According to the earliest known myths, Quetzalcoatl refused human sacrifice and was kind and benevolent. Yet, during a drunken bout had intercourse with his sister. As penance, the deity immolated himself in fire, and his body was reborn out of the ashes as the planet Venus.

Quetzalcoatl is a sort of phoenix, who represents the process of birth out of the ashes of death. Indeed, his name also has a secondary meaning: “precious twin.” This twin was a deity named Xolotl and was represented by a dog. This dog was a representation of Venus as the evening star, and Quetzacoatl was, among other things, a representation of Venus as the morning star. These twins represented the heavenly cycles of birth and death, and both deities figure large in Mesoamerican underworld mythology. Xolotl is the guide of the dead. He also protects the Sun as it journeys through the underworld. He is a sort of counterpart to the Egyptian Anubis, who was also the dog-headed “Opener of the Ways” through the underworld for the Egyptians. Interestingly, in Hindu mythology, when the Pandavas descend into the underworld they are also accompanied by a dog.

Quetzalcoatl really represents a “scale of being,” with one end being gross matter, and the other end being the heavenly realms. He is mortal and immortal. He is light, and through his twin, also dark. According to one scholar, he is “a kind of ladder with man at the center, but extending downward into animal, water, and mineral; and upward to the planets, and life-giving sun, and the god creators” (Burland, Nicholson, and Osborn 210).

 

The head of the Plumed Serpent at the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. Called by the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl, and by the Mayan, Kukulkan, this deity apparently represented the twin nature of being: mortality and immortality.

The head of the Plumed Serpent at the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. Called by the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl, and by the Mayan, Kukulkan, this deity apparently represented the twin nature of being: life and death, mortality and immortality, light and dark. He was central to the Mesoamerican cosmovision, and with his twin, Xolotl, represented all the processes of becoming. Photo by author.

More remarkably, in May of 2011, archaeologists discovered a hidden tunnel buried beneath the entrance to the Temple of the Plumed Serpent that extended to the subterranean heart of the pyramid structure. During excavation, archaeologists discovered large amounts of liquid mercury contained in vessels that had been buried in a side chamber.

In 2011 archaeologists discovered a tunnel beneath the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, running from the entrance to the subterranean center of the pyramid. It is believed that this tunnel system, including side chambers, leads to a royal tomb.

In 2011 archaeologists discovered a tunnel beneath the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, running from the entrance to the subterranean center of the pyramid. It is believed that this tunnel system, including side chambers, leads to a royal tomb.

No one knows what the liquid mercury was used for. The leading theory suggests that it symbolized a lake or body of water in the geography of the netherworld that the dead had to surpass.

Tunnel running underneath the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent. Several artifacts have been found, including vessels containing liquid mercury.

Tunnel running underneath the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent. Several artifacts have been found, including vessels containing liquid mercury.

This curious discovery reminds me of the ancient tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. This tomb has not been opened, but archaeologists certainly know of its existence. In 1974 a farmer discovered an underground pit filled with terracotta figures. These were representations of the soldiers who would accompany the emperor into the afterlife. It is estimated that there are 8,000 life size statues of these soldiers, with 130 real-sized chariots and 520 horses.

The Terracotta army of the first emperor of China, buried at his royal tomb.

The Terracotta army of the first emperor of China, buried at his royal tomb.

The emperor’s tomb lies underneath a giant mound. Archaeologists have yet to open it. There is, however, a description of it recorded in a 2nd century BCE history penned by Sima Qian and entitled Records of the Grand Historian. In this account we read:

Craftsmen were ordered to make crossbows and arrows primed to shoot anyone who enters the tomb. Mercury was used to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow River, and the great sea, and set to flow mechanically. Above were representation of the heavenly constellations, below, the features of the land. Candles were made from fat of “man-fish,” which is calculated to burn and not extinguish for a long time. (Wikipedia, Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor)

Once again mercury is used to represent waters in a tomb. In this instance, according to the biographer, the waters being represented were the terrestrial waters of China. One wonders if this would be the only symbolism, as in most ancient tombs the symbolic representations on walls and ceilings deal with the landscape, not of this world, but of the netherworld. No one can know for sure until the tomb is opened. Problematically, soil samples taken from the tomb reveal high levels of mercury, a natural poison to the potential archaeologists digging at the site. The Chinese government has prevented any excavation on the tomb itself, and through the foreseeable future, the lost tomb of the first emperor will remain a mystery.

The burial mound of the first emperor of China. Surrounding the mound is the "necropolis," including pits of terracotta warriors. The tomb proper has not been excavated.

The burial mound of the first emperor of China. Surrounding the mound is the “necropolis,” including pits of terracotta warriors. The tomb proper has not been excavated.

There is another connection between the mercurial tombs of Mexico and China: how little anyone really knows about them. As already mentioned, the people who built Teotihuacan are a complete enigma. It has been said that less than 15% of archaeological excavation has been done in Mesoamerica. This estimate is credible. In Santiago Tuxtla, Mexico, I climbed a large mountain called Hill Vigia. From the vantage point of this vista I saw endless miles of rolling hills, mounds, and forests. What is not noticed is that pretty much the entire landscape is overgrowth on top of an ancient civilization.

In Santiago Tuxtla, the surrounding hills and forests grow atop an ancient civilization.

In Santiago Tuxtla, the surrounding hills and forests grow atop an ancient civilization.

Nobody really understands the depth of this truth (pun intended). Everywhere I drove throughout the outback of Mexico I would see large mounds covered in trees and grasses. These mounds were all buildings untouched by the excavator’s hands. It is said that when the Spanish conquistadors entered Teotihuacan, they were utterly unaware that it was a city, for the great pyramids and temples were all covered with forest. So it is that in San Lorenzo, we drove around unsuccessfully looking for the Olmec museum, only to run into an eight year old boy who told us that his barn had more artifacts than the museum. We followed him to his farm where he charged us a couple pesos to look inside his chicken coup. He was right, for there, lined up in rows were some of the most impressive statuary we had ever seen. The boy said his father digs them up all the time while plowing his fields.

A mound in a field is actually an ancient building. Such mounds are found throughout the Mexican outback.

A mound in a field is actually an ancient building. Such mounds are found throughout the Mexican outback. Photo by author.

Boy shows us his barn filled with Olmec statuary. The boy said his father dug up artifacts all the time, while plowing his fields. Photo by Dan Lundwall.

Boy shows us his barn filled with Olmec statuary. The boy said his father dug up artifacts all the time, while plowing his fields. Photo by Dan Lundwall.

In Calakmul, on the border of Guatemala, we explored an ancient Mayan city, where only a half dozen buildings had been partially restored. A mass of tumbling stones spread out for a thousand yards in each direction, indicating a once thriving establishment had entirely succumbed to the equatorial jungles. It was here that I came across a tree literally swallowing an ancient stone stela. No better image could be taken of the literal evaporation of history, eternally ebbing underneath the growth of the incessant and forgetful present.

A stone slab, eight feet tall, is being swallowed by a tree. In equatorial regions, the jungle overgrows everything, breaking down stone, mortar, clay, and wood, and erasing the marks of ancient civilization. Were it up to me, I would put this picture on the cover page of every book dealing with ancient history, as it is a reminder of how little we actually know. Photo by author.

A stone slab, eight feet tall, is being swallowed by a tree. In equatorial regions, the jungle overgrows everything, breaking down stone, mortar, clay, and wood, and erasing the marks of ancient civilization. Were it up to me, I would put this picture on the cover page of every book dealing with ancient history, as it is a reminder of how little we actually know. Photo by author.

From the grand staircases of wondrous pyramids, to the cryptic whispers of heaven-earth correspondences, we are dealing with times, peoples, cultures, and imaginations that are both radically different and radically the same as ours. The curious parallels in pantheons, the dog psycho-pomp of the underworld, and the mercurial tombs across continents suggest a link between cultures and consciousness. The ever stretching of history that fades into a mist on the horizon reminds us that despite all that we know, and think we know, there is more to discover about our past than perhaps will be discovered in our future. Such a sternward journey is worthy of the greatest explorers of our species. What treasures will be found beneath root and hill? Many seek for gold. But the true treasure is the hidden revelation about the eternal self.

History of Mind, History of Self

In 1894 the eminent A. H. Sayce acquiesced, “We are but just beginning to learn how ignorant we have been of the civilized past, and how false our ideas have been regarding it” (Simpson 1). A century later, and with ten-thousand-score additional history books, we find ourselves in about the same position. The ancient past, from several points of view, remains inscrutable.

What makes the observation of Sayce so interesting is its timing. He wrote this statement just a few decades after Darwin published The Descent of Man. Darwin’s ingenious biological theory of evolution was greedily applied to the consciousness and intelligence of the human species. As a result, all of human history was engulfed in the idea of cultural evolution. Suddenly, vast stretches of time were economized not only within the idea of linear time, but also within linear consciousness.

World History is written from a sociological point of view. Most of the ancient past has been put together by the theories of the modern present.

World History is written from a sociological point of view. Most of the ancient past has been put together by the theories of the modern present.

And the results have been disastrous. Nothing has done more damage to our own historical consciousness then the misapplication of Darwinian theory to history. Many history books might get many of the facts right, but the organization of those facts are ultimately modern projections onto the material. The resultant picture is a highly skewed and often grotesquely ignorant picture of humanity—past and present.

A few decades ago, the ever controversial Martin Bernal pointed out that the materials with which we have to work with when organizing our ideas of history are so sparse that debates over ancient history “should not be judged on the basis of proof, but merely on competitive plausibility” (Berlinerblau 72). For what is to be called “proof” amongst so little surviving material? Of course Bernal’s own construction of the past has been blasted by numerous scholars, leaving one critic to lament, “Yet the same critique of [Bernal’s competitive plausibility] can be directed at these scholars, a state of affairs which demonstrates how utterly problematic research in ancient history can be” (Berlinerblau 73). This same scholar notes that history is made up of vast amounts of mostly irrecoverable data, “our awesome lack of knowledge about the ancient world imprisons us within a discourse of plausibilities, not probabilities” (Berlinerblau 73). Sturt Manning sums up the situation simply, “It seems a depressing reality unless one simply chooses to ignore it” (qtd. in Berlinerblau 73).

But why ignore vast stretches of nothingness when one can use it to underwrite any idea that serves the present? It was the Nazi application of evolutionary theory on society that created the path to the “final solution.” Millions were burned in the ovens, because, as history explained to them, this was best for the future. What irony. Then again, it was the Aztec application of astrological theory (historical evolution in a different sense) that underwrote the historical consciousness that codified the endless bath of bloody corpses.

Every social movement has an historical construction that supports it. The point is, those historical constructions are very often predicated upon an ignorance that is both vast and surprising. As it must be, for ancient history is just beyond our best attempts to reconstruct it. All those thousands of pottery shards, figurines, bone piles, and archeological debris can tell us a great deal about methods and modalities, but they cannot tell us about the real thoughts and imaginations of their creators.

Constructing history upon these pieces is like understanding a dramatic play only by reading its prop list: “Act 1, Scene 1; a table center stage with a plate of eggs and a dagger nearby.” How do we interpret this? Well, Marx would tell us that the small quantity of egg has produced the dagger; and what we are seeing is the beginning of a revolution. Frazier might see the dagger as a sacrificial implement for a fertility ritual, and that the eggs are really the analogical object of exotic secret rites. Freud would tell us that, … well, … isn’t it obvious.

All the more complicated if not comedic does the interpretation become when reading the next set of data: “Act 1, Scene 2; several pillars marked with geometric forms surrounding a mound. A donkey pulls a casket. Left stage is a barrel of fish.” Hmmm. Marx: “The peasant has been killed by the oppressive state and his body is being dragged to the burial mound by his lowly beast of burden.” Frazier: “Here is the sacred temple of the fish god who reinvigorates the season of spring through the sacrifice of his dead body being pulled by an ass.” Freud: “The casket is the vagina succumbing to the virulent donkey who drags it upon the upright phalluses of the state. Fish are exuberant procreators, and the barrel of fish is the promise of sex, indeed, the absolute necessity of sex, standing by the burial mound which is also the swollen womb of the mother.”

You get the point. History is a sociological construct. And the farther one goes back, the more modern sociology is applied. I am not saying that all history is sheer fabrication. Only parts of it. And sometimes the parts overcome the whole.

When it comes to the ancient past there are generally three overarching views which interpret the prop lists of history. First, there are the Howlers. These are people who believe that everyone in the past was a “howling barbarian,” borrowing a phrase from the prestigious Richard Atkins, who declared that the builders of Stonehenge were intellectual primitives. Despite a great deal of deconstruction on this view in the past few decades, the truth is that this worldview is so steeped into our modern historical consciousness that we no longer notice it in our own thinking. Ancient man was primitive. Modern man is not. We can prove it: pottery-shards versus iphones!

Comparing ancient pottery with modern microchips is only comparing the evolution of technology. It is not comparing the evolution of the mind or of consciousness. Few people understand the difference.

Comparing ancient pottery with modern microchips is only comparing the evolution of technology. It is not comparing the evolution of the mind or of consciousness. Few people understand the difference.

Few people seem to understand that such a comparison is a false one, and that, in the broad sense, scientific and symbolic thought does not evolve. Rather, it is rooted in the very nature of consciousness, and is attached to the culture and language of society; it is only the latter that evolves. The mathematician Giulio Magli comments that the idea of evolution of a primitive mind to a modern one is a “ridiculous and fundamentally sloppy hypothesis” (4). The historian of science Giorgio de Santillana concurs, “The point is this: that what we observe as ‘primitive’ conditions are, with very few exceptions [. . .] only what is left of the rise and fall of past higher cultures; what appeared to be a universal steady state of superstitions from which thought grows is only the common denominator to which decaying civilizations run in the end” (10).

The second common view of history is the Romantic view. Like the primitive ideology of the Howlers, the Romantics believe that “simple” culture is better culture, and that ancient men and women were more in tune with the landscape, with mother earth, and with their own souls. This is a “Romantic Savage” view of ancient woman, and it has reached such daring heights that it now asserts that ancient matriarchies were peaceful, and in the words of one scholar, as a result, there was no warfare for over three thousand years!

The problem with such thinking is manifold. There is no such thing as “simple” culture. Ancient history was full of violence, and ancient cultures often practiced human sacrifice, ritualized prostitution, and rampant slavery. There were no carbon emissions from factories or automobiles in the ancient past. That’s true. But ancient civilizations deforested entire landscapes, burning stumps as they went. And whatever time the shaman had to meditate upon the earth (which itself is funny, for the shaman’s primary stewardship was to be a guide into the next world, away from all things of the earth) was trumped by the mass of humanity stuck in one perpetual and monotonous state—described in the words of the historian Tacitus, “Toil, toil, toil!” The Romantic view is also “a ridiculous and fundamentally sloppy hypothesis.”

The third historical viewpoint can be called history as written by the Conspirators. With these people, the aliens built the pyramids, and the megalithic rings, and all ancient technology. Why? Because, like the Howlers, the Conspirators believe that ancient man could have done no such thing by themselves. This ideology is nothing more than a neo-mystical Darwinian view of the self and its relationship with cosmos. Not even the “mother-ship” can save us from ourselves.

All three viewpoints: the Howlers, the Romantics, and the Conspirators, are wrong. And being this kind of wrong has modern implications. Each one of these views produces a set of metaphysics by which we live. And that metaphysics creates an image of the self. We are, according to these views, either the apex of civilization, or the victims of civilization, or the cosmic riff-raff who got its best ideas by stealing them from other-worldly civilizations. The dignity of our identity, which has always been individual, infinite potential, is curtailed by the poverty of our historical conceptions, which remains collective and finite projections.

Read more in my upcoming book: Mythos and Cosmos, Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age.