The subject of this video series by Dave Talbott is the ancient experience of towering celestial forms that are no longer present. From a single snapshot of the configuration, we can work backwards to the first appearance of these bodies out of an undifferentiated cloud or sea of dusty plasma. We can then follow the configuration’s evolution through phases that range from quasi-stability to earth shaking catastrophe.
recovered through WayBackMachine Website
VENUS IN MYTH AND SCIENCE
Modern astronomers have always believed that Venus, evolving within its own enclave in the solar system, has followed its present path for countless millions of years. Working under this assumption most planetary scientists believed until the 1960's that Venus might be very much like the Earth, and many scientists speculated freely on the possibilities of life on Venus.
But the space age brought more than a few surprises. Instead of an earth-like environment, astronomers discovered an incredibly violent planet, a seething, volcanic cauldron and a host of paradoxes yet to be unraveled.
The mythical Venus-image presents many paradoxes as well. In the popular imagination, Venus means something like the love goddess, and many authorities connect the very name of the planet-goddess with feminine charm.
But peel away the more familiar layers of symbolism, accented from the classical age onward, and you will find an ancient goddess of a far more unpredictable character, a celestial power raging against gods and heroes, a charmer who is the acknowledged prototype of the world-threatening hag or witch.
From what reservoir of human experience did the curious but immensely powerful Venus image arise? And how does one account for many parallel symbols of Venus around the world?
In myths the world over, Venus is the only planet consistently identified as a female power, but there is no acceptable reason for this, and on such issues historians and mythologists are prudently silent.
In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky unleashed an international controversy with the publication of his book Worlds in Collision. Very quickly the book became the nation's number one best seller, stirring at the same time a vitriolic reaction by established science.
In a heavily documented presentation, Velikovsky argued that the planet Venus, only a few thousand years ago, appeared as a terrifying comet. More than once, Velikovsky claimed, the comet and protoplanet Venus disturbed the Earth, devastating early civilizations.
But Velikovsky did not draw significantly on modern data or observations of Venus. His key sources were historical. In fact his primary source was myth, and his work implied that the mythical profile of Venus holds a more promising key to planetary history than either astronomers or historians have ever imagined.
In 1972, Velikovsky's work became the exclusive subject of a journal I had founded called Pense, and over the following three years Pense's ten-issue series, Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered, helped to bring considerable international attention to the Velikovsky debate.
For myself, Velikovsky's thesis sparked a deeper personal interest than any subject I had ever encountered. Suddenly a door opened to incredible possibilities, though scarcely a handful of researchers had yet ventured through that door. One could not enter the realm of Velikovskian research without raising the most fundamental questions about the history of the solar system and planet Earth.
It was interesting to learn that prior to the explosive controversy, many scholars around the world held Velikovsky in high esteem. He had been a colleague of Albert Einstein. He was a respected psychoanalyst, and was the founder and editor of the scholarly journal, Scriptas Universitatis, the physics section being edited by Einstein.
But Velikovsky's academic accreditation would not redeem him when it came to challenging the pillars of modern science.
WORLDS IN COLLISION
He claimed that Venus moved on an elliptical orbit intersecting the orbit of the Earth. And it acquired the form of a comet, with a luminous tail or train of gas, dust, and stone.
On at least two occasions, the earth passed close enough to the Venus comet to be disturbed in its motions, and a rain of celestial debris descended on our planet. This celestial conflagration, Velikovsky claimed, entered global mythology as the attack upon the world by a cosmic serpent or dragon (and/or overwhelming wars of the gods).
The Velikovsky controversy is important today for more than one reason. To begin with, it offers an excellent study in scientific intolerance. Even as Worlds in Collision topped the national bestseller list, the scientific elite, led by the respected astronomer Harlow Shapley, threatened a boycott of the publisher Macmillan, and its collective voice was loud and fierce enough to cause the publisher to drop the book, which was transferred to Doubleday. Astronomers and other experts in the affected fields issued sweeping pronouncements against Velikovsky's thesis most without even reading the book. This included, for example, the leading astronomers and textbook authors Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, whose refutations of Velikovsky showed virtually no concern for facts.
In various more subtle ways this intolerance of Velikovsky and everything Velikovskian has thrived over the past twenty years as well, most commonly in the form of indifference and disdain, and an unwillingness to consider highly significant revelations about the past.
In an article for a special issue of Analog devoted to the Velikovsky controversy, Isaac Asimov coined the acronym CP crackpot for those who, like Velikovsky, would question the suppositions of modern science. One of those who has helped to set the tone of the scientific establishment's response to Velikovsky is the popular Cornell University astronomer, Carl Sagan.
Look up his books published through the 70's and 80's and you will find in most of them a section debunking Velikovsky.
In his television series Cosmos, and in the book of the same name, Sagan treated Velikovsky at length, dismissing the idea of a cometary Venus without regard to the historical evidence. Sagan himself participated in a politically organized and controlled confrontation with Velikovsky, intended to debunk Worlds in Collision, at the 1974 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Velikovsky affair has provided the twentieth century with one of its most poignant demonstrations of the difficulties confronting theorists with truly novel ideas. And I say this knowing full well that the defenders of orthodoxy will raise a chorus insisting that their more recent responses to Velikovsky have been a model of propriety and open-mindedness.
Since it is not my purpose here to re-tell an oft-told story, I will simply state my opinion that the scientific elite's response to Velikovsky will, in the end, prove to be much more of an embarrassment to science than ever it was to Velikovsky.
When all is said and done, the Velikovskian inquiry into the past will change the way we view the solar system, the history of planet Earth, and the history of man.
VENUS THE PLANET
Five Venus synodical years equal eight Earth-years. At its closest approach to the Earth, it always shows the same hemisphere. Hence, both its rotation and its revolution around the Sun present a fascinating synchronous relationship with the movement of our planet: a Venus day or full rotation turns out to be longer than its sidereal year (revolution around the Sun) but is equal to the interval between the planet's closest approaches to the Earth.
Though Venus is about the same size as Earth (Venus= 12,080 kilometers in diameter; Earth= 12,728 kilometers) and its orbit quite close to that of the Earth, there is little else in common between the two worlds.
For reasons not easily explained, Venus appears as a fish out of water in our solar system, since astronomers consider both its rotation rate and direction of rotation as bizarre. Whereas the usual planetary pattern is rotation from west to east, Venus rotates from east to west.
And while the enshrouded orb of Venus spins very, very slowly, taking 243 Earth-days to complete one rotation, above the surface the massive atmosphere races around the planet at twice hurricane force, or almost 400 kilometers per hour, circling the planet in just four days. No prior theory of planetary dynamics can account for this seemingly impossible situation.
Astronomers, in drawing the new profile of Venus, often summon medieval images of the fires of Hell. Venus, it turns out, is a doomsday world looking for an explanation. Massive clouds of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide 20,000 meters high create an atmospheric pressure at the surface some 90 times that of the Earth.
The temperature at the surface may be as high as 900° Fahrenheit, vastly hotter than scientists expected 40 years ago.
For astronomers, the most dramatic new look at Venus came with the Magellan probe, launched in 1989. When Magellan moved into orbit around Venus on August 10, 1990, its detailed radar-portrait of our closest neighbor displayed features as small as 100 meters across. The result was the most sweeping change in theoretical perspective since scientific study of Venus began.
Nothing is more striking about Venus, or indicative of unanticipated planetary stresses than the dominating presence of volcanoes covering virtually every square kilometer, this presence being emphasized as well by broken volcanic rock strewn across the face of the planet. A minimum of 100,000 volcanoes have been estimated, causing one scientist to declare that the entire planet is one big volcano! . But what was the source of the massive planetary stresses involved?
In geological terms, much of the lava flow is incredibly recent, covering vast portions of the surface, and throwing normal dating systems into chaos. Astronomers have traditionally guessed at the formative periods of a planet's or moon's surface by the number of impact craters. The more craters, the older the surface.
But in the case of Venus, much of the surface has been so recently covered (eliminating all craters) that no reliable dating is possible. On the geological time scale, for all we know, whole portions of the surface were re-sculpted only yesterday.
The mystery was duly noted by Science magazine.
The planetary geologists who are studying the radar images streaming back from Magellan find that they have an enigma on their hands. When they read the geologic clock that tells them how old the Venusian surface is they find a planet on the brink of adolescence. But when they look at the surface itself they see a newborn babe.
Indeed, a great deal of volcanic activity is apparently still going on, certainly much more than any astronomer had expected.
Complementing the planet-wide lava flows are the many suggestions of crustal movement, with continental scale stretching and folding, together with stupendous rifts, creating zigzag lines or fractures reaching across much of the planet's surface. Immense fractures in spider-like patterns called Arachnoids having no terrestrial counterpart stretch up to 250 kilometers across.
Even larger formations, likened to failed souffls (both in appearance and in formative process), are the giant coronae great volcanic domes hundreds of kilometers in breadth, rising under the pressure of expanding lava, then collapsing as the lava oozed away. That an Earth-sized planet, settled in its own quiet corner of the solar system, would generate volcanic activity on such a scale is a mystery not easily resolved by traditional theories of planet formation.
Add one more piece to the Venusian puzzle: astronomers are now musing over the paradox of water or one should say the absence of water for there are indications that Venus once had water in abundance.
Now there is none.
On any scenario accounting for this disappearance of water, there has been a massive escape of gas from Venus, at the very least the hydrogen component, due to dissociation of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere.
At the present time the unveiling of Venus means nothing to the historian, because neither the historian nor the astronomer acknowledges any connection between the mythical history of Venus and the planet's actual history.
But it was this presumed chasm between myth and science that Velikovsky challenged in Worlds in Collision, when he claimed that the mythical record presents a coherent story of celestial disaster, with Venus as provocateur.
I must emphasize at the outset that I do not know of a single Velikovskian researcher who accepts Velikovsky's interpretation of myth in detail. Later investigation has shown that major dimensions of the mythical material must be re-interpreted. But to evaluate Velikovsky's place in the history of science you have to focus on fundamentals.
It was at the most fundamental level that Velikovsky's new perspective threatened modern theoretical frameworks, for he claimed:
These principles are not just novel, but central to an entirely new way of looking at man, the Earth, and its celestial habitat.
Now, more than forty years after publication of Worlds in Collision, as astronomers wrestle with new images of Venus, it is only appropriate that we ask for a reassessment of Velikovsky's place in history, and pose the question once again: did Venus enter ancient history as a comet?
It is time to raise the question because only Velikovsky's claims anticipated the present glaring mysteries about Venus. What extraordinary stresses on Venus occurred so recently that the most candid of astronomers are unwilling to assign any geological age to massive resurfacing of the planet?
If the emerging profile of Venus does indeed provoke astronomers and historians to ask the forbidden question, there will be no stopping the avalanche: to ask the question is to open the door to other unasked questions, and ultimately to legitimize a field of research with no prior legitimacy in the eyes of popular science.
And where will this lead? The astronomer Shapley's now-famous words have become a two-edged sword: If Velikovsky is right, the rest of us are crazy.
The shifting perspective caused by the new Magellan data is barely a hint of the upheaval to come, once the mere possibility of a comet Venus is entertained. For Velikovsky's comet will, in fact, be found on every page of ancient sources.
Grant an authentic celestial reference for the global pictographs and accounts of Venus and your perception of the past will be forever changed.
CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
According to Velikovsky, the planet Venus sprang originally from the gas giant Jupiter, its elliptical orbit around the Sun intersecting the orbit of the Earth.
Velikovsky called the protoplanet Venus a comet because, as it circled the Sun, it carried with it a trail of gas and debris. The largest portion of Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision is devoted to aspects of his thesis concerning Venus, a planet he says nearly collided with the Earth twice first around 1500 B.C. and then again some 52 years later.
The axis of the Earth was disturbed, and fire, gas, dust and stone descended on the Earth, accompanied by earthquakes and wind, decimating whole populations around the world.
Was Venus a comet in early historic times? If so, a hundred secondary issues debated by Velikovsky and his critics are virtually irrelevant to Velikovsky's place in the history of science.
Are there hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus as Velikovsky had suggested? Did vermin actually descend on the earth as a result of a Venus encounter? Did a destructive encounter with the Earth really occur around 1500 BC, followed 52 years later by another? Is it physically possible that a planet-sized body could have been ejected from the gas giant Jupiter?
It is certainly conceivable that questions such as these, which have tended to draw much of the attention over the 40-year Velikovsky debate, could all be answered in the negative with Velikovsky still emerging victorious for having brought to light the cometary Venus, the previously unrecognized roles of planets in myth, and the more general catastrophic motifs.
If Venus did indeed enter history as a fear-inspiring comet, settle into its present orbit only in geologically recent times, and emerge as a primary subject of world mythology, then neither friend nor critic could dispute Velikovsky's pioneering role in one of the great intellectual revolutions of modern times.
VENUS AND THE PLANETARY GODS
In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky noted many tales of disaster and upheaval in which the agent of destruction possesses cometary attributes, even as it is identified with the planet Venus.
The anomalous cometary traits of Venus in ancient myth and astronomy became key pieces of the argument, and the strength of the argument derived from the breadth of sources. Velikovsky did not rely on traditions of one region only, but drew on key evidences from every ancient civilization. He noted, for example, that in Mexican records, Venus was the star that smoked, the very phrase natives employed for a comet.
He found in both the Americas and the Near East a recurring association of Venus with celestial hair and with a celestial beard, two of the most common hieroglyphs for the comet in the ancient world. But another popular glyph for the comet was the serpent or dragon, a form taken by the planet Venus in virtually every land.
The same planet, among the Babylonians and other races, was called the flame, or torch of heaven, a widespread symbol of a comet among ancient peoples.
According to Velikovsky the accounts and symbols of the comet Venus speak for a memory of global upheaval: earthshaking battles in the sky, decimation of ancient races on Earth, an extended period of darkness, the end of one world age and the birth of another.
THE CRITIC BOB FORREST
Forrest's work was later updated, corrected and summarized in a very readable volume called A Guide to Velikovsky's Sources, which is the source we will use in this overview.
Since publication of his comprehensive criticism, Forrest's work has been frequently cited by scientific skeptics as a definitive blow to Velikovsky, delivered on Velikovsky's own turf (ancient myth and history). And whatever one's opinion on the merits of Forrest's analysis, it is to his credit that, in the forty years since publication of Worlds in Collision, Forrest's effort is the only substantial critique of Velikovsky's use of myth.
Despite the scholarly appearance of Velikovsky's work, Forrest writes, I think the theories put forward in Worlds in Collision are wrong at an elementary and common sense level.
And what, at an elementary level, does Forrest object to? The gist of the objection to it is that one will nowhere find anything like a direct historical reference to catastrophic bombardments by the planets Venus and Mars.
Having devoted more than twenty years to the exploration of myth, I find the objection particularly interesting because my own conclusion is quite the opposite.
The planetary subjects of Worlds in Collision are Venus and Mars, and the catastrophic roles of these planets in ancient times are not only evident, but provable through normal rules of logic and demonstration. (For the sake of focus, this article will consider only the cometary Venus.)
It is not only possible to answer the question was Venus formerly a comet?
But to answer the question in overwhelming detail, with incontrovertible data and an inescapable conclusion: Velikovsky's comet Venus lies very close to the center of ancient religious, artistic and literary traditions.
VELIKOVSKIAN RESEARCH AND CATASTROPHISM
How can it be that two researchers, approaching the same field of data, can draw such incompatible conclusions?
The heart of the issue, I suggest, has to do with one's approach to the subject matter. In penetrating to the core of ancient celestial imagery, methodology is everything.
The gap separating the mainstream sciences and social sciences from Velikovsky's revolutionary approach to myth needs to be appreciated: the Velikovskian investigator has discovered that few if any of the primary themes of myth answer to our familiar sky. Hence, to focus on recurring themes is to focus on the recurring anomalies of myth.
But rather than confront the issue of recurring anomalies, Forrest descends into a swamp of marginal details, picking at virtually every paragraph of Worlds in Collision while rigorously avoiding cross-referencing. As a result, the author consistently fails to see past the veil in which modern perception has wrapped ancient myth.
It is as if general patterns and connections are of no interest.
In every case of an anomaly noted by Velikovsky, Forrest's answer is simply to cite someone else's guess at an explanation (and I do mean guess) though many of the cited authorities offered their guesses prior to Velikovsky's novel interpretation, and few if any of these authorities seem aware of the larger patterns detected by Velikovsky.
In this way, Forrest reverses Velikovsky's approach, for Velikovsky connected anomalous Venus images of one land with corresponding anomalies from other parts of the world. Recurring anomalies, as correctly perceived by Velikovsky, are a key to discovery.
A useful example of the methodological issue is the recurring world catastrophe myth. For the Velikovskian researcher, the question is whether globally-experienced events will account for the repeated theme of the world-destroying cataclysm. Or must all such themes be explained by wholly separate, localized disasters?
If one resorts to the latter explanation, then no underlying integrity of catastrophe myths is even possible in significant detail. But the inescapable counterpart of this observation is that, if the myths of widespread cultures present the same improbable story in significant detail, then it is the localized explanation that becomes impossible.
A reasonable methodology cannot ignore the convergence of recurring themes on an underlying idea, even if that idea stands outside modern theoretical frameworks.
In recognition of this principle, I have chosen in this series of articles to draw periodically upon Bob Forrest's critique as a means of clarifying the methodological issues.
I trust the reader will take this use of Forrest's work in a constructive spirit and find in our approach no attempt to discredit the researcher himself, since Forrest is, after all, the best of Velikovsky's critics and deserves much credit for having raised questions no Velikovskian researcher can afford to ignore.
CHALLENGE OF COMMUNICATION
To set the context for our analysis of myth in this series of articles, let me register a few preliminary observations.
It has been my own sense that the greatest difficulty for the Velikovskian researcher is communication, a difficulty compounded, paradoxically, by the success of the methodology.
By removing certain common suppositions about the past, the methodology enables one to penetrate to core ideas expressed in every ancient culture. It permits this breakthrough by revealing underlying celestial forms and episodes and showing that certain highly specific occurrences are reflected in widely divergent symbols.
But historians and mythologists have virtually never considered the possibility that extraordinary events may have occurred in the sky. A communications problem arises, therefore, from the methodology's success in exposing a unified substratum of ancient experience. Since the underlying forms of myth will not be found in our sky today but are almost always interpreted by the experts in relation to our sky language itself becomes an obstacle to discovery.
That issue, however, quickly becomes very large and cannot be adequately resolved within the brief space of a single article, or even a series of articles. Therefore, some compromise is necessary, requiring us to set aside temporarily certain questions, even when they seem to clamor for recognition.
I will give a simple example of the difficulty, based on the overarching conclusion of my own investigation. In seeking out the underlying patterns of myth, I found three key figures:
Now here is the problem: I have never found a practical way to undertake a discussion of the comet Venus, without confronting all three mythical figures.
There are two reasons for this:
But the fact of the matter is that the cometary images of Venus give us more than enough material to work with, and to go beyond this material would be to invite a communications breakdown.
Therefore I have resorted to the briefest possible summary of the creator-king and warrior-hero roles, without any attempt to clarify (much less substantiate) the identifications I have elaborated in previous AEON articles.
Our approach will be to acknowledge relationships only where such an acknowledgment is unavoidable, and hope at the same time that the many new readers of AEON will be able to look past this limitation.
Our goal in this series of articles is to demonstrate that the Velikovskian methodology works. We will begin, in the present installment, by applying that methodology to Mesoamerican myths, symbols and astronomical traditions of Venus.
That will be followed, in subsequent articles, by summaries of the Venus-image among other cultures, with sufficient cross-referencing to verify that the primary themes occur on every continent and that all of the acknowledged hieroglyphs for the comet are repeatedly and inexplicably affixed to the planet Venus.
This was Velikovsky's controversial message, now supported by much broader research.
The early traditions of the peoples of Mexico, written down in pre-Columbian days, relate that Venus smoked. The star that smoked, la estrella que humeava, was Sitlal Choloha, which the Spaniards called Venus.
Now, I ask, says Alexander Humboldt, what optical illusion could give Venus the appearance of a star throwing out smoke?
Sahagun, the sixteenth century Spanish authority on Mexico, wrote that the Mexicans called a comet a star that smoked. It may thus be concluded that since the Mexicans called Venus a star that smoked, they considered it a comet.
In Bob Forrest's mind, the Aztec references could have nothing to do with what may or may not have happened back in the mid second millennium BC because the references to Venus smoking come from the sixteenth century A.D.
In a number of instances Aztec records say that the earth shook and the star sitlal choloha (Venus) smoked.
To account for the curiosity Forrest simply accepts the guess of Alexander von Humboldt, who suggested that the smoke' related to the volcano Orizaba, situated to the east of the city Cholula, and whose glow, when seen in the distance, resembled or was symbolically related to the rising Morning Star.
Forrest was apparently satisfied with the first guess he uncovered. All we have are some sixteenth century records which say, every so often, that the star smoked, but since the smoking seems frequently to be intertwined with earthquake activity.
Humboldt's assumption seems reasonable. With that stated, Forrest moved on, never returning to the issue of the Aztec smoking star.
A quite different approach would have been to explore the possibility of a broader Venus-comet association to see where the available evidence leads. Guided by this intent, Forrest would have quickly found, for example, that Aztec association of earthquake activity with smoking stars belonged to the general mythology of the comet among the Aztecs.
Thus, with respect to the comets portrayed in the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, the respected authority on Mexican astronomy, Anthony Aveni, writes:
As I hope to demonstrate fully in this series of articles, the connectedness of these images derives from a universal substratum of myth.
Appearance of a comet, death of a great ruler, quaking earth not in Mexico alone, but in one ancient culture after another, the skywatchers repeatedly placed these unusual themes in juxtaposition, despite this crucial fact: no comet observed by science has ever justified the symbolic connection.
But Forrest seems unaware that the language employed in astrological texts and omens is drawn from ancient mythical images. Following his methodological ground rules, therefore, no records of portents in the sky recorded in the last three millennia would be of any relevance to Velikovsky's argument, even when repeatedly attaching explicit cometary images to Venus!
With respect to the image of the planet Venus as the smoking star in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Aveni offers his own attempt at an explanation: Perhaps a cometary object appeared near the planet. Of course, Forrest could just as easily have cited this guess, then dropped the whole issue.
But is there something more worth investigating here?
Throughout the Americas, including Mexico, natives called a comet the star with hair, or a long-haired star, or a maned star, an appellation that fits comfortably with the global language of the comet. In fact, the long-haired star is the single most common phrase for the comet around the world, and our own word for comet comes from the Greek kometes, the long-haired star.
Yucatec Maya dictionaries give as a gloss for smoke star the manned comet.
But curiously, the Aztecs used this very language for Venus. As noted by Velikovsky, they called the planet Tzonte-Mocque, meaning the mane-star, or long-haired star. And not the Aztecs alone: for one finds among the Maya the same enigmatic association of the planet Venus with long flowing hair.
A commonly observed Maya hieroglyph is the Caban-curl, a flowing tassel or lock of hair repeatedly attached to acknowledged Venus symbols, including the glyph-name of Venus itself. (See Figure 1)
To encounter the long flowing locks of Venus, one need only consult available sources.
Turn to the Incan language of Venus, for example. I can remember, in the first few days of investigating images of Venus, looking through a standard summary of Incan mythology and encountering the name of Venus as Chasca, translated as the long-haired star the precise phrase for the comet in the global lexicon. It was instances such as this that continued to fuel my own interests in learning more.
According to William Prescott, Venus was known to the Peruvians by the name of Chasca, or the youth with the long and curling locks.
Burr Cartwright Brundage tells us that among the Inca, Venus was the Radiant Star with the Flowing Hair. The morning star, Chasca (The Disheveled One), dispensed stores of freshness and loveliness upon flowers, princesses, and virgins below. She was the deity of the rosy cloud rack of morning, and when she shook out her long hair she scattered the dew upon the earth.
The point here is that Forrest's explanation of the Aztec Venus/smoking star association fails to acknowledge converging lines of evidence: Aztec comet as smoking star, Aztec Venus as smoking star, Aztec and Mayan long-haired star as comet; Aztec Venus as long-haired star, Mayan Venus with or as flowing lock or tassel, Incan Venus as long-haired star.
Hence, the methodological issue is placed in sharp relief.
Here is another way of looking at the issue logically: Around the world there are only a small number of pre-astronomical hieroglyphs for the comet.
You could, in fact, count the primary glyphs on the fingers of one hand:
The remaining general hieroglyphs for the comet could be counted on the fingers of your second hand!
They include: a sword, a bundle of grass or straw (whisk, broom), or a spiraling rope (cord, tie, or knot).
At what point, then, does a coincidence or seemingly irrational use of language (comet-words or glyphs attached to Venus) become an anomaly worth pursuing? Forrest not only sidesteps the implications of parallel cometary images of Venus in other lands, he ignores the convergence of such images in Mexico.
As a methodology, the approach is disastrous, because there is much, much more.
In the popular Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl, the Venus-comet anomaly grows by leaps and bounds. And in this case, the completeness of the cometary motifs leaves no room for ad hoc explanations.
Whether remembered by the Aztecs as a former great king and founder of the golden age, or a former sun god ruling a primordial epoch, Quetzalcoatl was a cultural hero without equal in the Aztec pantheon, his countenance adorning temple walls and the stucco bases of pyramids, painted on countless frescoes and codices, and engraved on sarcophagi and monoliths strewn across Mexico.
The climactic event in the Quetzalcoatl myth is the god's catastrophic death and transformation in an overwhelming disaster an event endlessly repeated in sacrificial rites and supplying the cornerstone of Aztec calendar rituals and astronomical symbolism.
In a pervasive version of the myth, at the death of Quetzalcoatl the god's heart or soul rose in the sky as a great spark or ember, trailing smoke and fire a star whose fiery train the Aztecs portrayed as the streaming tail of a quetzal-bird. Was this flaming star a comet?
One notes that the Quich Maya called a comet uje ch'umil, tail of the star, and Aztec artists often drew comets as stars with quetzal tails, the bright and luminous plumes of the quetzal providing a particularly well-suited hieroglyph for a comet. (Figure 3)
Former sun god Quetzalcoatl
The symbolism accords well with that of other peoples.
The Pawnee gave to the comet the name pirikis kuhka, feathered headdress (an appellation that proves telling; see later discussion of the plumed headdress in our next installment). In Africa, the streaming comet's tail was identified as the feathers of the nightjar, and the natives say of a comet, it is wearing streaming feathers. Astronomer Carl Sagan, in his review of worldwide comet motifs, notes that comets are called tail stars and stars with long feathers.
Germanic races called a comet the peacock's tail, while in China a comet was seen as both a peacock's tail and a pheasant's tail.
Quetzal-bird, with bright streaming tail
That Quetzalcoatl's flaming or plumed heart-soul meant a comet-like star is substantiated by converging lines of evidence.
Its cometary character, for example, would agree with a general tradition among the Aztecs that comets were the ascending souls of great chiefs. That Quetzalcoatl was the model of the good king gives perfect sense to the symbolic motif. But Quetzalcoatl was also the prototype of the Aztec shaman (that is, he was the celestial figure whose biography provided the general myth and symbolism of the shaman).
It is thus worth noting that in South American lore, the soul of a shaman was believed to depart in the form of a comet. Noteworthy as well is the fact that a comet appearing some time prior to the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez was reckoned as a positive sign that Quetzalcoatl would eventually return to Mexico.
To suggest that the heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl rose as a comet is simply to place the Aztec symbolism alongside a universal tradition: cultures around the world proclaim the comet to be the soul of a dying king.
Thus, we have listed this significant theme as number one in our short list of comet symbols above.
Aztec comet with plumed tail
But there is a problem here.
While several variations on the story of Quetzalcoatl's death have been preserved, one of the central elements is the identification of the heart-soul as the planet Venus.
Burr Cartwright Brundage gives this summary: The god's heart, like a great spark, flies up to become a new and splendid divinity, the Morning Star.
Thus a native source declares,
We shall have more to say about this transformation.
The fact at hand is that in their myths and rites the Aztecs say the separated heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl, following a period of darkened sky and cosmic upheaval, rose as the planet Venus.
If the story has roots in any celestial occurrence (as explicitly claimed in the myths), the death of Quetzalcoatl must have involved a cosmic disaster of unprecedented scale, for no mythical-historical event left a deeper impression on Aztec thought and culture.
Upon this traumatic episode, the Aztecs evolved their collective sense of cyclical time, including a calendar of world ages: the death of Quetzalcoatl, the onset of celestial confusion, and the transformation of his heart-soul into the planet Venus meant nothing less than the end of one world age and the beginning of another.
SOUL-BIRD, WINGED STAR
One influential variant was the idea of the heart-soul sprouting wings and soaring away. On the death of a great noble, his soul was thought of as taking flight like a bird or a butterfly. At such a time he was addressed by those attending:
The most popular form of the soul-bird appears to have been the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.
My friend Phil Peters, who lived for several years among the Quiche Maya of the Guatemala lowlands, recounts the story of the famous hero, Tecúm-Umám, who lived at the time of the Spanish invasion. On the plains of Xelaju, the story goes, Tecúm-Umám was killed by Pedro de Alverado, of Cortez' army. Then the quetzal bird that was in his headdress took flight, and since that tragic occasion, the quetzal no longer sings.
What is crucial in any study hoping to comprehend such ideas is the ability of the celestial reference the mythical archetype to give meaning to the symbol. In the Vienna Codex, or Vindobonensis, the planet Venus is depicted with wing-like appendages.
Can the wings of Venus said to represent Venus' radiance or greatest brilliancy be separated from the global myth of Venus as the soul-bird?
Though we cannot here stop and review the countless parallels in other lands, we would be remiss if we failed to observe that the avian flight of the heart-soul is a world-wide theme. The earliest instances will be found in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where the Venus goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Isis and Hathor (to name only the most prominent instances) all represent the soul in the form of a bird taking flight.
Thus, the great god-kings, whose heart-souls are the star Venus, customarily depart in the form of a dove, partridge, or swallow, virtually universal symbols of Venus, of transformation, and of the departing soul. (The reader will find many examples in the remaining installments.)
Are these widely dispersed recollections of Venus as soul-bird different from the universal myth declaring that the great king's or chief's soul appeared in the sky as a comet? Though the issue will not be resolved in a few paragraphs, cross referencing will suggest potentially fruitful lines of inquiry. It is certainly of interest, for example, that the Babylonians employed the phrase winged star for the comet.
Additionally, as we will see, it is when Venus as soul-bird spreads its wings that the cometary images are most emphatic.
Once the researcher has learned that Mesoamerican stargazers considered a comet to be the ascending heart-soul of a great chief, he can no longer ignore the full range of related symbols:
The name Quetzalcoatl itself is simply a combination of two Nahuatl terms that for the quetzal-bird, known for its long brilliant turquoise tail, and the serpent or coatl.
Thus two of our listed five most common comet glyphs are brought together in the name of the god. And the combined hieroglyphs clearly have a long history. The earliest known version of the plumed serpent pre-dates the Aztecs by many centuries, appearing on monuments of the Formative Olmecs. Conceptually, the avian serpent reached significantly beyond Aztec culture.
The Maya name for the same god, Kulkulkan, carries an equivalent meaning, as does the Quich figure, Gucumatz. The same figure appears to have entered Zuni ritual as the plumed serpent Kolowisi and Hopi ritual as the plumed serpent Palulukong.
Though the figure of Quetzalcoatl is complex and appears to combine originally distinct traditions, the identification of the spiraling serpent itself (the transformed heart-soul) with Venus has survived even into modern times. Some of the Tzotzil groups, for example, still describe Venus as the Big Serpent (Mukta Ch'on.)
Among the Chichimec tribes, Venus is still remembered as the Serpent Cloud.
Is it significant, then, that Aztec manuscripts depict a comet as a fiery serpent or dragon-like creature descending from the stars? (Figure 5)
The priest-astronomers knew the comet as the star serpent. In his exploration of comet symbolism, Peter Lancaster Brown observed that the natives of Mexico represented comets by the plumed serpent depicted in various forms. But what does this say about the acknowledged identification of the plumed serpent with the planet Venus, the ascending heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl?
It seems very likely that the white and bearded god who appeared in the east associated with the Quetzalcoatl (Serpent God) legends of pre-Columbian Middle America relates to the apparitions of spectacular comets in the morning sky and not to the planet Venus, Brown writes.
Here again we see an author attempting to rationalize a clearly stated Venus-comet connection, offering his own explanation. But in this instance the explanation involves nothing less than a rewriting of the Aztec religion: for the identity of the transformed heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl as the planet Venus was an unshakable tenet of the myths and rites.
With respect to the Mesoamerican celestial serpents and dragons, there is also the issue of attached streamers that often look more like long-flowing, spiraling locks of hair than like feathers. (Figure 6)
This unique feature is particularly significant since the disheveled mane of the celestial serpent-dragon is a worldwide motif. And yet, remembering that pre-Columbian astronomy depicted the comet as both a celestial serpent and a mane-star, should it surprise us that the serpentine form of Venus possesses streamers suggestive of the flowing hair of countless celestial serpents and dragons in other lands?
Since Venus was itself the mane or long-haired star, the underlying integrity is undeniable.
Feathers and mane appear to merge in the Mesoamerican serpent-dragon
In fact, no stretch at all is needed to establish the equation of flowing mane and serpent-dragon or chaos monster.
The Aztec Tzonte-Mocque, identified with the planet Venus, and whose name Brasseur translated as mane, was depicted as a dragon-like monster approaching the Earth in periods of eclipse or universal darkness. (As we will discover, every eclipse of the Sun and Moon became a symbol or reminder of the primeval cometary disaster and the arrival of the world-ending night).
A counterpart of this chaos- or eclipse-demon is the Aztec Tzitzimitl, with madly disheveled hair, descending upon a darkened world.
This is, of course, precisely the image of the raging comet in numerous other lands. A comet was supposed to be a tendril of the Great Mother's hair appearing in the sky as the world was slowly overshadowed by her twilight shadow of doomsday, writes the noted student of world mythology, Barbara Walker.
But the interconnected comet glyphs attached to the chaos monsters range far beyond these instances. A symbolic counterpart of this streaming hair is the enigmatic, but frequently depicted beard of the Mesoamerican serpent-dragon.
The Aztec Plumed Serpent, the Mayan Great Bearded Dragon and numerous counterparts of these celestial monsters are distinguished by flowing beards that are every bit as preposterous, on the face of it, as their streaming manes. (Figure 7)
The reader will recall the celestial beard or bearded star in our short list of comet symbols, as a logical extension of the long-haired star. (Thus the Greek pogonias, the beard-star, means comet.)
While a bearded serpent is a biological absurdity, the anomalous beard is immediately explained if the Venusian serpent is a long-haired star or comet. If the celestial beard did not mirror a comet-like form in the sky, then the bearded serpent is one more anomaly left unanswered, despite a consistent pattern that seems to cry out for recognition.
To keep all of this in perspective it needs to be remembered that Quetzalcoatl whose heart-soul became the plumed serpent was himself the white and bearded god, with many counterparts spread across pre-Columbian America one more anomaly to add to the equation.
Thus Frank Waters, surprised at the prevalence of this unusual figure among the dark-skinned natives of the New World (typified by Quetzalcoatl and the Incan Viracocha), assures us the myth was so common throughout all of pre-Columbian America that we can regard it as arising from a concept in the unconscious.
A relationship with the planet Venus is clear, though not without wide-ranging interpretations by the specialists.
According to Thompson, the Maya described Venus as being "very ugly with a heavy beard," and the Aztecs preserved a similar tradition:
Lastly, on the matter of the flowing hair, mane, or beard of the celestial serpent or dragon, I should like to register an opinion on one additional oddity that of the Mesoamerican feline dragon.
Here, too, we are dealing with an image begging for a comparative study, since the outlandish merging of cat, lion, jaguar, tiger, or lynx with a celestial serpent seems to have occurred in all major cultures. Since noticing the oddity in Mesoamerica, I have noted as well the general disinterest of the specialists in accounting for such an incongruous monster.
A cat and a serpent?
Here, nature itself provides not a clue as to how anyone (much less skywatchers around the world) could think of the one when confronted with the other. But an analysis of this mythic creature can be advanced dramatically by the Velikovskian methodology.
What one looks for is an underlying shared attribute (not of the terrestrial symbols, which offer no shared attribute, but of the celestial reference inspiring the symbols), and in this instance there can be no doubt that it is the mane of the celestial feline figure and the twisting body or tail of the celestial serpent.
While this is not the place to attempt a summary of evidence I shall present in future installments, I will simply mention the Egyptian instance of the goddess Tefnut, the Eye (= heart-soul) of the former sun god Ra.
The Eye of Ra, on its departure, becomes the raging Uraeus serpent. But in the account of the goddess Tefnut as departing Eye, the raging goddess (serpent) is also depicted as a lion head with flaming, smoking mane. Of course it is not one instance, but the repeated instances of such motifs that will make the case secure.
I register the supposition now to prepare the way for a comparative test, beginning with our next installment.
Throughout Mesoamerica one will find numerous variations on the theme of the celestial serpent and just as many connections with the planet Venus.
A particularly fascinating instance is the so-called Fire Dragon Xiuhcoatl, whose name, translated literally, means Turquoise Dragon.
Significantly, Xiuhcoatl was described as a heavenly torch. In mythology he becomes the fiery weapon hurled by the victorious sun at his enemies, the stars, writes Brundage.
Perhaps there is more here than the reader will immediately recognize. A torch or flame in the sky, only a minor variation on the smoking star, belongs to the universal comet myth item three in our list of the five most common comet glyphs. Moreover, as I intend to demonstrate, one of the repeated themes in the myth of the prototypical comet is that it appears as a divine weapon hurled against rebelling powers.
Consider the lines of Shakespeare, in Henry VI I.I.1:
The motifs are: death of the king, celestial rebellion, and appearance of the comet as both a sign of world change (passing of world ages) and a weapon launched against the rebels.
Similarly, the Aztec dragon Xiuhcoatl, the flaming serpent, appears as the fire stick wielded by the celestial hero Huitzilopochtli when the heavens were overrun by the demons of darkness.
Was the comet-like Turquoise Dragon, then, linked to the planet Venus? In Teotihuacan the dragon is plainly portrayed as an overarching sky motif, a path for stellar objects, writes Brundage. He is a plumed rattlesnake [i.e., a counterpart of the plumed serpent of the Quetzalcoatl myth]
He can be identified, from the quincunx (the five points that together form the emblem of the morning star) that adorns him, as the planet Venus.
The Cometary Dragon Xiuhcoatl
THE GREAT COMET
One conclusion is inescapable, even if interpretations will differ: the Mesoamerican symbolism of the planet Venus in that planet's guise as serpent-dragon or chaos-monster is a compendium of globally-recognized comet symbols, representing in one mythical form all five of the most frequently employed cometary glyphs!
Yet in more than forty years since Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision, no mainstream scholar has even acknowledged this stunning fact.
Of course, no comet admitted by modern science has ever justified the lines of Shakespeare cited above, or the Aztec image of a comet-like weapon in the form of a fiery dragon.
But our appreciation for the symbolism changes dramatically once we entertain a new possibility that in earlier times mankind experienced a far more spectacular and devastating comet than ever experienced in more recent times, a cometary archetype that could fully account for the later symbols. It was said of the great fire serpent Xiuhcoatl that it spewed forth comets.
That is exactly the language we should expect if Xiuhcoatl was not just a comet, but the parent of comets, the concrete source of a mythical archetype, from which arose the entire reservoir of comet images.
Every cometary apparition, taking its symbolism from the cosmic original, would then be considered a child of the primeval, flaming serpent or dragon remembered in the myths.
Having had many opportunities to muse over the way the experts skirt the issue, I am convinced the real question never enters their minds. Until one asks the question did Venus formerly present itself as a spectacular comet? even the most obvious evidences will be seen as something else, as confirmation of the recklessness and confusion of myth, another reason not to take myth seriously.
The question is not asked because the Velikovskian field of study lacks all credibility in the eyes of mainstream authorities.
Thus the Mayan scholar Peter Joralemon explained the highly unnatural convergence of symbols on the celestial dragon
The primary concern of Olmec art is the representation of creatures that are biologically impossible. Such mythological beings exist in the mind of man, not in the world of nature.
It's easy to see how one might draw this conclusion. But if the symbolism lacks any roots in the world of nature and is simply the result of chaotic imagination, then an even greater issue arises: Why do the same symbols continually occur in juxtaposition? Once the critic resorts to unbridled imagination as an explanation of highly specific forms, he is left with nothing but coincidence to account for the convergence.
But when it comes to the convergence of all five of the world's most common cometary symbols on one celestial creature, is it reasonable to expect sheer imagination and coincidence to account for the situation?
In truth, virtually all of the respected authorities continually look for natural references, because no one could seriously believe that such dramatic images as the plumed serpent could dominate an entire civilization without a link to natural experience.
Only the rarest of specialists would suggest that the primitive mind conjured its primary mythical forms out of a wholesale denial of the world. In truth, if they can find even the most remote natural explanation, the experts will use it. Miguel Le n-Portilla, for example, offers a picturesque explanation of the Venus-Quetzalcoatl relationship
The association of Venus and Quetzalcoatl can probably be attributed to the fact that when this planet sets upon the moving waters of the Pacific, its reflection seems not unlike a serpent with brilliant scales and plumes.
Here is a natural explanation that would fit easily into Bob Forrest's analysis, as if there is nothing in the plumed serpent crying out for a comparison with the highly improbable yet similar images of other peoples and as if the combined cometary associations attract no attention.
How, then, does one break through the vicious circle? Go back to the list of the five most frequently-employed comet images, each of them occurring not only in Mexico but in the global symbolism of the comet. How does one weigh the fact that all five comet glyphs are attached to the Mexican Venus? Indeed not only the general motifs but virtually all of the listed variations are attached to Venus.
Is sheer coincidence even possible in such an extreme case as this?
For starters, it needs to be understood that we are not dealing with a multiple choice situation with respect to possible interpretations: If one is permitted to include in the lexicon of comets the shooting star, whose mythical image is drawn from the same reservoir, then the only known and provable celestial phenomenon called a long-haired star is a comet; the only celestial phenomenon known to have been called a torch star or a flaming star is a comet; the only celestial phenomenon known to have been represented as a star with streaming tail feathers is a comet.
The only celestial phenomenon known to have been represented as a star with a serpentine tail is a comet. That these very glyphs are consistently attached to Venus cannot be explained away by ad hoc reasoning.
Now add the mythical role of the comet as the ascending soul of a former great king, and the explicit role of Venus as the ascending soul of the prototypical king Quetzalcoatl, and you will begin to see what is at issue here. If nothing else the stunning convergence of cometary images should make clear that Humboldt's guess about the smoking star Venus and a local volcano is not a sufficient answer!
The juxtaposition of cometarymotifs with the now-peaceful planet a planet whose appearance today could not begin to explain these associations forces us to confront the logical alternative:
THE MYTH OF THE COMET VENUS
Do the Aztec and Mayan codices, the inscriptions on stone, the oral histories and the towering monuments speak for events no longer occurring in the skies?
The unexpected symbolic parallels give the researcher a new way of perceiving his subject. Grant the possibility of a world-threatening comet Venus frightening enough and destructive enough to substantiate man's deepest fears and the culture will no longer look the same.
Re-envisioning the ancient world in this way will not remove the role of magic and superstition in the myths; nor will it soften the profoundly barbaric components of native rituals; nor will it give to the myths and rites that loftier wisdom we so often seek in ancient words. What it will do is lend the missing perspective, providing new frameworks for understanding the experiential roots of the culture.
The candid researcher must first admit that even the most capable authorities, when considering the core of pre-Columbian thought and culture, find that convincing explanations elude them. Can modern scholars, for example, really claim to understand the cloud of anxiety that hung over Mexican cultures an anxiety only heightened by the arrival of the Spaniards?
Nothing in that civilization's monumental splendor could hide this apprehension. But to expose its roots the researcher must be willing to follow the clues, rather than dismiss them just because they seem so out of touch with the world we know. These clues will lead inescapably past the cover of cultural anxiety to its roots in celestial terror.
The sensitive chronicler, Fray Diego Duran, writing just a generation after Columbus, recounted a story about the great emperor Moctezuma, concerning an experience prior to arrival of the conquistadors. It happened that Moctezuma had received word of a comet hanging over Mexico at sunrise.
Though the report did not come from his personal astrologers, he was so filled with fear that he thought his death would arrive within the hour. Moctezuma then asked the king of neighboring Texcoco to tell him what the comet meant.
The answer was as Moctezuma must have feared
On hearing this news, Moctezuma wept bitterly, saying,
It would be senseless to attempt to isolate or explain Moctezuma's fears outside a cultural tradition far more telling than the individual biographies of kings.
No king in earlier times could free himself from the mythical and ritual contexts of kingship. And in the overarching symbols of the power and fate of kings one encounters invariably the archaic language of the comet.
Of the comet in Moctezuma's day, Duran's modern translators write: it is curious to note that the Aztecs looked upon comets as ill omens, just as the contemporary Europeans regarded them as signs of war, famine and pestilence. Among the Aztecs, Comets and earthquakes, which were always carefully marked down each year in the hieroglyphic manuscripts, were always considered omens of misfortune, notes Jacques Soustell.
In our investigation we have grouped comet and meteor symbolism together because mythically the two are synonymous.
Comets are referred to in Quich [highlands Maya] as uje ch'umil, tail of the star,' and are considered omens of massive pestilence, observes Barbara Tedlock. Throughout the Mayan area, meteors are thought to be evil omens forecasting sickness, war, and death.
The Mesoamerican theme resonates with a global fear that no comparative study can ignore: around the world, the comet signaled the approach of doomsday. And it mattered not how quietly and unobtrusively the visitor made its appearance, because the archetypal image did not originate in the little wisps of gas that periodically adorn our sky.
With the rarest of exceptions, the cometary omen was ominous (the two English words being derived from the same Latin root). For the ancient stargazers, the comet was the fear-inspiring portent of disaster, the ill-omened star.
And thus does our word dis-aster (evil star) echo the ancient fear of a star (comet) presiding over universal catastrophe (another word reflecting the evil aster or star, the comet of world mythology). But this brief note on language of the evil star does not even scratch the surface when it comes to the depth of man's memory of a world-ending cometary disaster.
METHODOLOGY AND OUTCOME
A useful methodology will not dismiss a widespread theme just because it appears highly irrational or incapable of explanation. In Bob Forrest's critique he acknowledges such comet themes as the death of a king or great leader at the appearance of a comet, good wine in the year of a comet, and the comet signaling outbreaks of war. As to the roots of such odd ideas, heaven only knows, he exclaims.
So why should we accept only those comet ideas that support Velikovsky's thesis?
Here Forrest missed each and every opportunity to account for what he assumed could never be explained. If worldwide comet symbolism originated in the experience of a truly terrifying intruder, it is simply impossible to know which portions of comet lore are relevant prior to reconstructing the story from the global evidence.
And in truth, ALL of the comet themes cited by Forrest are illuminated by the biography of the Great Comet, as I intend to demonstrate with more than sufficient evidence in this series.
First there is the matter of pervasive fear for when it comes to irrational terror carried as luggage from the past, little else compares to the universal fear of THE COMET.
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, in their book Comet, find the fear to be virtually universal:
Most of us are, in fact, so accustomed to the common expressions of this fear that we fall into a trap of illogic:
It sounds as if (of course) the overwhelming fear is completely natural and needs no explanation because it is so universal.
The trap also caught author David Ritchie: For thousands of years comets have been associated with all manners of disasters and misfortune. This association is easy to understand. But logic does not permit us to assume that the pervasiveness of an irrational fear is an explanation.
I find it of interest that Fred Whipple, one of the deans of modern astronomy, did not find an easy explanation for the hysteria Why should comets those graceful, sometimes majestic, creatures of the sky frighten people? They move very slowly, without startling changes in shape or aspect. They make no sounds and emit no dazzling flashes of light. In short, they do nothing that seems to me to be threatening.
Yet comets have terrified people as long as there have been people to terrify.
The ancient and poorly understood fear aroused by the appearance of a comet continued through the Middle Ages and even (in a more tempered expression) into the twentieth century, with the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1910. We may all die laughing when the comet [Halley] comes, the French astronomer Camille Flammarion was quoted as saying, with language that fed a widespread pre-existing apprehension of the fin du monde, the end of the world.
In earlier times the extent of comet fear was deadly. On the arrival of the comet of 1528, the famous French surgeon Ambroise Par described the public reaction: This comet was so horrible and so frightful and it produced such great terror in the vulgar that some died of fear and others fell sick.
The range of comet fears is impressive. According to Aristotle, the comet brings wind and drought. Among both the Greeks and Romans, The comet was inevitably the presage of some cataclysmic event, states A. Barret.
Josephus reports in his History of the Jews that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies, a comet shaped like a sword hung over the city for an entire year. (While Carl Sagan hastens to point out the impossibility of the literal occurrence, it effectively mirrors the mythical role of the comet.) According to Servius, the ancient and infamous comet Typhon produced terrible famine.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded firedrakes fiery dragons seen flying in the air at the time of a great famine in 779, observing as well that a great comet appeared at the time of famine in 975. And so too does a comet bring great famine in the traditions of the Masai of East Africa.
In Byrhtferth's Manual, published in the year 1011, occurs this description of a comet:
Even the historian Isidor Bishop of Seville (602-636), a well known skeptic when it came to astrology, could not set aside the belief that the comet presaged revolutions, wars, and pestilence.
Gregory of Tours (c. 541-594), writing in De Cursu Stellarum, tells us that when a comet spreads its hair abroad darkly, it announces rain to the country. Nor is it surprising to find the rumor that the Great Plague of London was due to the appearance of a comet; or that a comet is also said to have accompanied the great earthquake at Lima, Peru, in 1746.
While the association of the comet and wide-ranging disaster is worldwide, the pattern may initially seem diffuse, with insufficient coherence to support any unified theory of comet fears. Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedia, for example, included the following description under the heading comet:
Not only in antiquity, but through the centuries among all peoples, comets have aroused in man a feeling of terror and foreboding. These mysterious visitors in the heavens have been thought to be connected with war, famine, the plague, the downfall of kings and monarchs, the end of the world, universal suffering, ill-luck, and sickness.
How, then, did this curious profile of the comet arise? The darkly pessimistic ideas about comets inspired Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan to muse
There is an overwhelming sadness to the literature of comets. With melancholy consistency we discover that disaster has always been a commonplace; that any comet at any time viewed from anywhere on Earth is assured of some tragedy for which it can be held accountable.
Such is the logic of efforts to explain mythical ideas through experiences familiar to our own day: when a comet appeared the undisciplined primitive mind must have freely associated it with one or another disaster occurring around the same time.
But this suggested habit, which is verifiable, will not explain why, when a disaster occurred, the first instinct of stargazers was to look for a comet to explain it (or to provide the mythically-required divine signal of impending catastrophe).
Nor will the ease with which the stargazers found a catastrophe to associate with a comet's arrival explain the deeper theme of the world ending apocalypse. If one looks at comet lore more closely, it will be realized that what the stargazers feared most was no local disaster. Ancient Chinese comet astrology held that Comets are vile stars.
Every time they appear in the south, something happens to wipe out the old and establish the new. In the language of myth that means the end of the world.
Both the Sibylline Oracles and a Dead Sea Scroll (War of the Sons of Light and Darkness) present the comet as a sign of the Last Days all of which sounds very much like the Aztec's comet-like plumed serpent presiding over the end of one world age and beginning of another.
Consider, for example, why it is that the comet soars into prominence as the calendar approaches a critical moment, such as the end of a millennium. (Yes, it seems that round numbers and critical moments go hand in hand, fed by the sense of cyclical time and the global myth of a world age ending in sweeping catastrophe.)
Mary Proctor tells us that as the year 1000 approached even the most simple phenomena assumed terrible proportions. And this included, not surprisingly, reports of earth-quakes, and a comet visible for nine days. (Here again is the earthquake-comet association despite the failure of any known comet to redeem the association.)
The role of the mythical comet in reports of ostensibly historical comets will be clearly seen in the following chronicle of the year 1000, cited by Proctor
The heavens having opened, a kind of burning torch fell upon the earth, leaving behind a long train of light similar to a flash of lightningas this opening in the heavens closed, imperceptibly there became visible the figure of a dragon, whose feet were blue, and whose head seemed continually to increase.
Even the world-famous dragon finds its way into the story, when the calendar calls for it! But a fundamental distinction is necessary, between the symbol and the thing symbolized.
Every break in the natural order was a reminder (symbol) of what world mythology presents as a universal disaster; in this sense, the local pestilence needed a comet to find its place in the scheme of things, particularly at the end of the millennium!
In the same way, even today the apocalyptic fear expresses itself with every local catastrophe, offering a sign of the anticipated end of the world just as, for century after century, virtually every wisp of a comet played its required part in the psychic drama. How the underlying story and its symbols originated is an entirely different matter, involving patterns that could never be explained by any local disaster.
That many of the most significant patterns are poorly recognized is due to the common methodology of the investigators, and the accompanying suppositions. The result is a heap of evidential fragments more than sufficient to illustrate the global fear of comets, but without an adequate sense of the ancient experience from which the patterns emerged.
The portentous news brought by the comet can be summarized as follows:
In a later installment in this series, These Things a Comet Brings, I shall seek to document the full accord of these cross-cultural themes with the collective memory of the Great Comet Venus.
For the present discussion, I shall simply cite enough instances to illustrate the key ideas.
While comets observed in our time only accent the irrationality of ancient fears, the worldwide portent symbolism of the comet answers so completely to the archetypal Great Comet (Venus) as to logically preclude the customary explanations of these fears.
THE GREAT COMET AND THE DEATH OF KINGS
We began this section with a note on the Aztec emperor Moctezuma's terror on the arrival of a comet.
The focus of this fear is significant because it was shared by emperors and kings and tribal chiefs the world over. The comet means the death of great leaders.
The idea appears to be as old as Babylonian astronomy, which associates a comet with the death of kings. The Roman poet Lucan offers a vivid description of cometary disaster, when the skies, blazing fire, bring forth the hair of the baleful star the comet which portends changes to monarchs. So too did the Greek mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy connect the comet with the death of kings.
The profound fears of royalty at the appearance of the comet continued well into the present era. The third century Christian theologian Origen cites the comet as heralding a change in dynasties. It was a common belief that the comet of AD 336 had announced the death of the great emperor Constantine.
In connection with the assassination of Julius Caesar, it was said, a comet had appeared in the sky. On learning of a comet Nero was seized with fear, and chroniclers assure us that a comet preceded the death of the Emperor Macrinus in A.D. 218, and of Attila in A.D. 451.
According to Synesius, writing in the fourth century A.D., a comet means great disaster: And whenever these comets appear, they are an evil portent, which the diviners and soothsayers appease. They assuredly foretell public disasters, enslavements of nations, desolations of cities, deaths of kings.
The Frankish bishop and historian Gregory of Tours, writing in the sixth century, reports that the flaming diadem of a comet portends the death of kings. Geoffrey of Monmouth connected the death of Aurelius Ambrosius with the appearance of a spectacular comet whose political symbolism was said to have been explained by Merlin.
Even the brilliant astronomer Tycho Brahe, several centuries later, was unable to free himself from the idea that the comet brought overwhelming pestilence, war, and the death of kings.
When Halley's Comet appeared in April 1066, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gave this report:
A drawing of a comet in the Chinese cometary atlas from the tomb at Mawangdui is accompanied by the simple statement: There will be deaths of kings.
The Chinese Record of the World Changes, by Li Ch'un Feng, (602-667 AD) warns of dire consequences: When a comet travels into the Constellation Taurus within three years the emperor dies and the country is in chaos. So, too, do the Luba of Africa say that comet means the death of a leader. And in the same way, natives of the Polynesian Islands, claimed that a comet signified the death of a chief.
Here, then, is the universal mythical context in which we must understand Moctezuma's fears. In the global tradition it is as if the comet bore particularly ominous news for heads of state, and the Aztec world view was no exception.
Aveni, noting the intense interest in cometary phenomena among Mesoamerican peoples, tells us that illustrations of comets are frequently accompanied by interpretations of these portents: These usually signify that a person of nobility will die.
The paradox is accented in Shakespeare's famous lines,
Of course kings knew very well the special perils of comets.
When a comet in 837 drew the attention of King Louis the Pious of France, The king went into a veritable orgy of prayers and devotions, ordering churches and shrines built to appease the imagined wrath of God. The Carthaginian general Hannibal in 184 B.C. was warned that a recently-discovered comet meant he would die soon. He answered the comet by committing suicide.
Is there something to be explained in the comets threat to kings? When Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan encountered the death of kings idea, they offered the usual explanation, calling such ideas the triumph of superstition and assuming the fear arose from the random coincidence of certain kings dying at the time comets appeared.
Velikovsky's critic Bob Forrest was even less impressed with the strange idea. While noting that the death of kings is perhaps the commonest theme of all, he adds
Certainly I see no pressing need to postulate cometary collisions on the basis of the evil reputation of comets any more than I need to invoke cometary/planetary exhalations to explain good wine years.
But again the critic has drawn his conclusion prematurely, and we are left only with what amounts to a guess as to whether there is a connection with planetary upheaval. What happens, on the other hand, if instead of setting the fragments aside once gathered, we look for connecting links? In summarizing the curious theme of the comet and the death of kings, Mary Proctor adds a telling observation.
The comet of A.D. 451 or A.D. 453 announced the death of Attila, and the comet of A.D. 455 that of the Emperor Valentinian.
So widely spread was the belief in the connection between the death of the great and those menacing signs in the heavens that the chroniclers of old appear to have recorded comets which were never seen, such as the comet of A.D. 814, which was supposed to have presaged the death of Charlemagne.
The note concerning the death of Charlemagne is significant. Can one really believe that localized, random, and disconnected events caused the same theme to arise on every continent and with such oppressive influence that a comet would be invented when the expected visitor failed to materialize at the death of a powerful ruler?
According to Peter Lancaster Brown, Every bright comet which appeared during the medieval period, the Middle Ages, and even the Renaissance had itself affixed to the death or misfortune of a prominent historical figure.
These beliefs were so widespread that (according to Pingre) the chronicles recorded in good faith comets which were never actually seen. This suggests that the death of kings motif, rather than reflecting random local events, conditioned man's perception of local events for century upon century. For those familiar with the way core mythical ideas work their way down through history, this is a key indicator of a very ancient and well-rooted idea.
The chroniclers would happily re-write history to bring it into accord with the great mythical traditions of kingship and the gods.
To the modern reader it may appear as if the ideas dropped randomly out of the sky, but a closer look will eliminate that impression completely. The patterns are the key. One fascinating idea about comets, for example, provides a unifying thread, while directing our attention to earlier mythical sources. A comet was frequently claimed to be the soul of a great ruler rising in the sky (certainly a good reason for loyalists to find a comet on the death of a ruler, even if the sky is not cooperating). Consider the famous case of Julius Caesar.
On the death of that ruler, according to the Latin poet Ovid and others, a great cometary spectacle occurred in the sky, as Caesar's soul itself rose as a comet. And from Ovid's reverent description it seems that it could not have been otherwise for a leader of such stature.
Clearly, the mythically-rooted story celebrating the cometary soul of a great leader preceded Ovid's poetic license!
Aristotle, not given to celebrate the mythical tradition, tells us that the Greek philosopher Democritus held that comets were the souls of men of renown. Among the Polynesian Islanders, according to Williams, a comet did not just signify the death of a king, a comet meant the flight of the soul.
Similarly, the eminent student of comparative myth and religion, James Frazer, produced extensive proof that a widespread superstition associates meteors or falling stars with the souls of the dead. Often they are believed to be the spirits of the departed on their way to the other world.
With respect to the departing cometary soul of Caesar, which I shall take up in a summary of the Greek and Roman material, I cannot resist passing on to the reader one fascinating detail. When Robert Schilling, perhaps the world's leading authority on the Latin goddess Venus, gathered the references to Caesar's apotheosis, he noticed a curious blend of two ideas: one that the soul rose as a comet, the other that the soul rose as the planet Venus.
And the two ideas were actually joined as one, for the poet Ovid describes the soul as a flaming comet carried aloft by Venus. In more than one instance the soul itself is celebrated as Venus. A curiosity indeed. What general conspiracy, Schilling asks, seems to have tacitly excluded the comet to the profit of the star [Venus]?
That the specialist did not discern the connection to a larger pattern (Venus = comet in a global tradition) is why the comparative study is so crucial.
SOUL OF THE CREATOR-KING
One explanation for his fear of the comet asks unidentified local experiences to account for it and asks coincidence to account for parallel comet fears around the world. But another explanation is possible, in terms of an ancient story known to every native of Mexico and reflected in the most powerful cosmic images of Aztec culture.
I refer to the myth of Quetzalcoatl, whose soul rose as the comet-like Venus. If Quetzalcoatl's departing heart-soul provided a prototype of the comet myth, we do not need to look further for an explanation of the comet's relation to the death of kings .
In this case, the relationship is self-evident: the comet means the death of the king because it is the king's soul leaving him in a cosmic disaster. And the comet brings the end of the world because, in the death of the god-king and the departure of his heart-soul as a comet, a former world age ended catastrophically.
Having raised the question rhetorically, I do not expect the critic to accept the suggested explanation of comet symbolism apart from the complete presentation of evidence in this series. Nevertheless, for the sake of saving time, it may be helpful to give the gist of the idea I intend to develop and substantiate with each future installment
Within human memory extraordinary changes have occurred in the solar system.
Planets now remote from the Earth once moved in much, much closer proximity to our planet, appearing as gigantic powers looming over man. Hence, we cannot understand the mythical age of the gods without confronting the gods as visible forms in the sky, forms that are no longer present. In all mythical systems the gods rule for a time, then depart amid celestial upheaval.
Mythically, there was once a founding king, a celestial model of the good king. But neither this charismatic figure, nor his celestial progeny will answer to familiar references in a now-settled sky. Nor will the mythical powers of darkness, in their monstrous dress, find any explanation in our experienced world.
Inherent in the myths of the gods is the collective human experience of extraordinary trauma. An idyllic world, a paradisal condition, a Golden Age ruled by the former great king (mythically, the creator-king), came crashing down in a world-ending disaster: wars of the gods, earthquake, famine, wind and flood, the arrival of universal night.
Of this universal catastrophe the Great Comet Venus, the departing heart-soul of the creator-king was remembered as both symbol and agent.
QUETZALCOATL AND THE FEARS OF KINGS
The apprehension of Moctezuma cannot be separated from a sweeping mythical tradition, personified in Mexico by the life and death of Quetzalcoatl, the cultural hero.
From him it began, from Quetzalcoatl it flowed out, all art and knowledge, the Aztecs sang.
Quetzalcoatl was called the sun, but the mythical and ritual sources remind us that this does not mean the light we call Sun today. The most revered figure of Mexican myth, Quetzalcoatl ruled for a time, then disembarked for other realms.
As the great teacher, the exemplary ruler, his life and death defined the duties, expectations and fears of kings. Which is to say, Moctezuma's fear, the fear of the neighboring king of Texcoco, and the fear of every emperor before him must be understood in terms of a cosmic crisis at the center of the myth. When Quetzalcoatl died or departed, a world cycle ended catastrophically.
But of course it was not just the myth of Quetzalcoatl that reminded rulers of their tenuous hold on the kingdom and on life itself. Such is the message of universal myth, for two principles emerge from a comparative study
As above, so below. The theme couldn't be more clearly stated throughout Mesoamerica: the terrestrial king lives in the shadow of the celestial king, the Great Example for later kings. But if the references of kingship are originally celestial, that does not mean they will be found in the present sky.
Thus the unsettling implication for the specialists:
As before, so again.
This is the key to all mythically-rooted fear. What happened before will happen in the future. Countless variations on the underlying themes cannot obscure the expectation of the eternal return. Quite apart from their interesting mathematics, for example, the mythical context of the Mesoamerican calendar system was the periodic cataclysm.
But that deeply-imbedded fear reached far beyond the calendar and into every expression of culture: The collective goal was to reckon with divine caprice, to employ every device available to bargain for a new lease on life, to avoid the recurring disaster.
Though Velikovsky did not give substantial attention to the myth of Quetzalcoatl, he did observe the relationship to Venus, and the catastrophic nature of the god's death and transformation. To which Bob Forrest replied with considerable skepticism, claiming that in the life and death of Quetzalcoatl there is certainly no reference to the planets in a Velikovskian sense.
True, Quetzalcoatlwas symbolically related to the Morning Star, but this is a far cry from being told that the planet Venus brought about the End of the World with a cosmic hurricane! Quetzalcoatl is here a Great Teacher, rather than a rampant super-comet.
Notice the critic's reasoning: if Quetzalcoatl was a great teacher, his story could not involve an account of Velikovsky's comet. It seems that Forrest could not imagine a celestial form filling the role of exemplary model in the myths, nor could he imagine the death of this charismatic personality in terms of a sweeping natural catastrophe.
But this is precisely where comparative study becomes so essential. Had he known that virtually all of the founding kings of myth suffer some variation on the fate of Quetzalcoatl, he might have noticed as well a recurring corollary: the god-king's heart-soul the planet Venus departs to join in a celestial conflagration.
And where astronomical data is available, the skywatchers insist with stunning unanimity that the majestic heart-soul emerged as the planet Venus. (On such a sweeping claim as this, I can only ask the reader's indulgence as the evidence unfolds in this series.)
Forrest's concluding exclamation mark only emphasizes the gap that separates conventional students of myth from the world of the earliest skywatchers.
Coherent motives disappear, and the primary cultural symbols dissolve into sand under the specialist's microscope. Then it becomes possible to believe that a host of different and unrelated experiences came together as the doomsday fear, or that the pervasive role of sacrifice arose from a different experience than the meticulous observations of Venus, or that the memory of great wars in the sky was at best a rationalization for the relentless Mesoamerican wars of conquest.
This is where Velikovsky's comet Venus will help to rescue ancient myth and ritual from a theoretical vacuum. It will do so by providing a coherent reference, sufficient to substantiate an entirely new approach to the subject matter. The comet Venus enters ancient myth as the celestial agent of disaster, and its emergence is synonymous with the death of the creator-king.
The great god's heart-soul departs from him (or is removed violently, or is flung into the ensuing holocaust) to become a comet-like flaming star, then presides over the re-establishment of celestial order, the dawn of a new world age.
To see Velikovsky's comet in its globally-defined and catastrophic role is to realize something overlooked by the specialists: that a planetary history we have forgotten will do more to explain the pervasive fears of ancient cultures than all of the more fashionable speculations combined.
How are we to understand the unending ritual wars and sacrifices in which rulers remembered, honored and satisfied the gods, hoping to hold the heavens together? How do we interpret the complex calendars of world ages, anticipating a recurring doomsday with every turn of the wheel? Or the endless preoccupation with catastrophic omens and portents? For centuries the priest- astronomers reacted with terror to any natural phenomenon that might suggest the return to world chaos. In what experience did this fear arise?
Surely one way of illuminating the symbols of celestial terror is to consider the possibility of terrifying events.
To make this point completely clear it will be useful to look at a few of the Mesoamerican symbols of the doomsday fear, asking the reader at each stage whether we are considering separate symbols, or the expressions of a more coherent, highly traumatic experience.
No celestial body loomed more centrally in their meticulous observations of the sky. To emphasize the point Velikovsky noted the Augustinian friar Ram n Y Zamora's report that the Mexican tribes held the Morning Star in great veneration and kept a precise record of its appearance. So exact was the book-record of the day when it appeared and when it concealed itself, that they never made mistakes, stated Zamora.
In Velikovsky's interpretation, the carefully recorded observations of Venus by the Mexicans, Babylonians, Chinese and other cultures was a very old custom originating in a past when Venus moved on an elongated orbit.
And for many centuries after the cometary disaster, the astronomers perceived closer approaches of Venus as a grave potential threat. Out of this preoccupation also evolved ritual calendar systems based on the movements of Venus. It was not the remote and peaceful star we see today that provoked this new science, but the celestial agent of disaster as it gradually settled into a circularized orbit.
In response to an unpredictable celestial power, the observational science strove to bring the movements into a system of comprehension, enabling the priest astronomers to evolve forecasts as part of a collective endeavor to reckon with the gods.
The special place of astronomy in Mesoamerican myths and rites is acknowledged by the best authorities, though the origins of this culture-wide theme appear lost in a gray past. It has been clear to all serious students of Mesoamerican culture, writes David Kelley, that there was an intimate relationship between astronomical knowledge, the calendar, and religious beliefs and rituals. Or, as Aveni puts it, Quite unlike our modern astronomy, the raison d'tre of Mesoamerican, particularly Mayan astronomy, was ritualistic and divinatory in nature.
But what were the roots of the religious motive, placing such an emphasis on astronomy?
The recurring role of the planet Venus through all of the interacting levels is noted by Burr Cartwright Brundage
The true role of the planet Venus in the development of the Mesoamerican cultures is not understood. It might not be far wrong to look upon the Mesoamerican's great skill in numeration as a child of that planet and to state that their intellectual life pulsed to its periods.
Certainly a significant portion of their mythology involved that planet, and their concepts of family legitimacy and challenge were colored by the bonds that united the planet to the sun, the fount of all authority.
To observers approaching the Mesoamerican cultures from an interdisciplinary vantage point, the cultural preoccupation with Venus immediately stands out. E. C. Krupp, a popularizer of modern archaeoastronomy, was impressed with the Venus profile in Mesoamerica, noting that the priest-astronomers computed portentous moments based upon their calendar and the behavior of Venus.
They installed their kings, sacrificed prisoners and went to war by these omens.
But why? Must we assume unhesitatingly that the anxiety over Venus' movements arose under a tranquil sky?
VENUS AND COSMIC UPHEAVAL
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 both the general and specific levels. 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 forSignificantly, 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 the critical calendar moment, both the end and the beginning of the time-reckoning system, 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?
The further one descends into the various cultural levels at which the fear was expressed, the more clear becomes the equation:
VENUS AND THE END OF THE WORLD
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:
In the chronicles of the Mexican kingdom it is said:
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 G mara, 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 G mara 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 man 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.
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:
But these are not the values in the Mayan 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:
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!
Let us not forget Velikovsky's admonition as to the significance of the recurring anomaly. The anomalous movement 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
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 Quich 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 categorically 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 now see.
Across Mesoamerica, the combination of two calendars, the solar or seasonal calendar and the 260-day ritual calendar, produced an extended sequence of sacred time, in which the two calendars concluded on the same day only once every 52 solar years a cosmic cycle of extreme import.
This 52-year cycle the Maya called the Calendar Round and the Aztecs a bundle of years or Perfect Circle of years. Interestingly, the Maya never indicated dates in hieroglyphic texts or historical documents by the solar year designation alone. Most often the date was specified by its designation in the Calendar Round.
Among the Aztecs this extended cycle was intimately tied to the myth of Quetzalcoatl, who was born on the day ce acatl (One Reed) and departed on the day ce acatl 52 years later. He will return, the Aztecs claimed, on a future day ce acatl. It is only reasonable to assume, therefore, a close relationship between the symbolism of the Calendar Round and the symbolism of the founding god-king.
Mesoamerican timekeepers show an extreme ambivalence about this extended calendar period. Its conclusion was both a renewal the end of the old cycle and the beginning of a new cycle and a potential moment of disaster, since the Aztecs believed that the entire world order was then in jeopardy. At that critical moment the astronomer priests anticipated world destruction by fire, wind, or water, repeating the great cataclysm that ended the Golden Age of Quetzalcoatl.
The synchronous Earth-Venus movements appear to have figured prominently in the calendar, enabling priest astronomers to draw on the mathematics of Venus cycles to anticipate the recurrence of doomsday. For example, 65 Venus cycles were equivalent to 104 solar years, or two 52-year cycles, which the Aztecs called huehueliztli, an old age or long-period.
To Velikovsky, this role of Venus in calculations of world ages was, at the very least, evidence to be considered in assessing Venus' catastrophic role in the past.
The works of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the early Mexican scholar (circa 1568-1648) who was able to read old Mexican texts, preserve the ancient tradition according to which the multiple of fifty-two-year periods played an important role in the recurrence of world catastrophes.
He asserts also that only fifty-two years elapsed between two great catastrophes, each of which terminated a world age.
Now there exists a remarkable fact: the natives of pre-Columbian Mexico expected a new catastrophe at the end of every period of fifty-two years and congregated to await the event. When the night of this ceremony arrived, all the people were seized with fear and waited in anxiety for what might take place. They were afraid that it would be the end of the human race and that the darkness of the night may become permanent: the sun may not rise anymore.
It happened that the end of a cycle occurred in mid-November, 1507, and available records give us a good sense of the collective fears embedded in the symbolic rites of renewal. It is said that five priests moved in procession with a captive warrior out of the city of Tenochtitlan to the great ceremonial center on the Hill of the Star.
The occasion was proceeded by ritual extinction of fires across Mexico, the casting of statues and hearthstones into the water, and rites of sweeping all of these gestures bearing a significant symbolic tie to an ancient cultural memory of catastrophic transition.
We are also told that on this frightening occasion women were locked in granaries to avoid being turned into man-eating monsters, pregnant women donned masks of maguey leaves, and children were kept awake to keep them from turning into mice while asleep. (That these fears trace to the cosmic night and the associated chaos hordes should become clear in the course of this series.)
For on this one night in the calendar round of 18,980 nights the Aztec fire priests celebrated when the night was divided in half: the New Fire Ceremony that ensured the rebirth of the sun and the movement of the cosmos for another fifty-two years. This rebirth was achieved symbolically through the heart sacrifice of a brave, captured warrior specifically chosen by the king. We are told that when the procession arrived in the deep night at the Hill of the Star the populace climbed onto their roofs. With unwavering attention and necks craned toward the hill they became filled with dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.
When the priest astronomers did confirm that the heavens were still in order, the country broke into celebration, the Sacred Fire was rekindled, houses, roads and walkways were swept clean and normal life resumed, the gods having granted man another 52-year cycle.
As in the case of disaster portents, the fears implicit in the calendar symbolism flowed from a core idea of recurrence. In the same way that the appearance of a comet, the rising of Venus, an earthquake, or eclipse recalled the world-ending catastrophe, so did the calendar system, undeniably related to observed Venus cycles, rest on a memory of former upheaval, when heaven fell into confusion.
Could the terrestrial king, whose life but mirrored that of the founding god-king, escape the fate of the great predecessor, whose death ended a cosmic cycle? Would the world itself survive a full turn of time's wheel?
It's too easy for archaeoastronomers, when chronicling the calendar symbolism, to slip into a state of enchantment over the system's mathematical symmetry, forgetting that there is a far more vital question: what were the experiential origins of the collective fear of a world going out of control?
And why did the planet Venus figure so prominently in the calculations of world ages?
Mexican Calendar Stone
Perhaps the answer lies in the famous Calendar Stone, on which the time-keeping hieroglyphs are recorded (Figure 9).
Enclosing the stone, and thus encompassing the entire cycle or world age is the two-fold form of the great serpent Xiuhcoatl, the mythical parent of comets, the great celestial torch launched against the rebel powers when the world was overrun by demons of chaos.
That the archetypal comet should define the great cycle of time does not surprise us, since ending one world age and inaugurating another is, in the universal tradition, the comet's most distinctive role.
Due to fragmentation of the subject, the experts have missed the most significant fact of all: Mesoamerican cultures as a whole expressed their greatest fear in recurring patterns (noted in the sections to follow):
Together with the available information on disaster portents, these mythically-rooted themes provide a great reservoir of evidence as to the character of the remembered catastrophe.
The repeated patterns speak of a world falling into darkness; the death of the creator-king, whose heart-soul was torn from him; the end of the kingdom (world); a sky filled with celestial dust and (comet-like) debris or overrun by chaos-hordes; the gathering of great armies in the heavens to wage celestial combat; and overwhelming commotion:
It is not just a darkened sky that the fears reflect back to us, but the letting loose of the (cometary) chaos-hordes, represented ritualistically by crowds of warriors and other participants adding through their dress and gestures the elements of commotion, disarray and mock combat these celebrants being as much a part of the commemorative occasion as the officiating priests or sacrificial victims.
Do these images tell us something about an event far more terrifying than historians have dared imagine?
The overlapping components of the darkness theme in rites re-enacting celestial death and disaster are significant throngs of people shouting in confusion, running about with feathered ornaments, paper streamers waving in the wind, a pervasive fear that their children will be turned into mice, the fear that monsters with disheveled hair will rise out of the darkness to devour them do in fact constitute a tapestry of cometary myths and symbols.
And the repeated fears and gestures are not fixed to one rite or to one symbolic occasion, but to every level at which the darkness theme plays its part.
In a significant mythical and symbolic sense, every day contained an aspect of the former disaster, the end of the world in microcosm. When dusk arrived it came as a minor echo or reminder of the deep night the twilight of the gods. Natives of pre-Columbian Mexico retired to their own dwellings and covered themselves as night descended.
At night the chaos-demons were out, and children could be turned into mice. And while the people slept, it was the priest astronomer's duty to monitor the heavens at dusk, midnight and dawn, to divine the course of events. Then, in the morning the obligatory sweeping of patios and walkways occurred symbolically, the sweeping away of the night.
Not just the darkness, but the gathered dust and clutter filled a symbolic role in Mesoamerican daily life and ritual, together with the symbolism of the female head of the house as sweeper, a role defined by the mother goddess Toci herself, whose broom is a prominent feature in the commemorative rites (see discussion of Toci and sweeping rites below).
No doubt the symbolism at the daily, microcosmic level was diluted over time and progressively gave way to the growing complexities of culture and practical necessity, but the residue of an ancient and unrecognized experience was still there at the time of the Conquest.
The recollection of the cosmic night becomes more dramatic when an unusual occurrence of darkness breaks the normal pattern. Consider Sahagun's description of the people's response to an eclipse
Then there were a tumult and disorder.
All were disquieted, unnerved, frightened. Then there was weeping. The common folk raised a cup, lifting their voices, making a great din, calling out, shrieking. There was shouting everywhere. People of light complexion were slain [as sacrifices]; captives were killed. All offered their blood, they drew straws through the lobes of their ears, which had been pierced.
And in all the temples there was the singing of fitting chants, there was an uproar, there were war cries. It was thus said: If the eclipse of the sun is complete, it will be dark forever!
The demons of darkness will come down, they will eat men!
In these fleeting moments of the eclipse, the people relived the unforgettable night, repeating the great din of the world-ending catastrophe and venting their fears of the all-devouring chaos hordes. Were these fears, in origin, different from the (tempered) fear of dusk, or different from the terror aroused by the conclusion of the 52-year cycle?
The same mythically-rooted fears will be seen in relation to the eclipse of the moon.
When the moon was eclipsed, his face grew dark and sooty, blackness and darkness spread. When this came to pass, women with child feared evil; they thought it portentous; they were terrified [lest], perchance, their [unborn] children might be changed into mice; each of their children might turn into a mouse.
There was, in other words, an archetypal darkness, with deeper and broader meaning than could be extracted from any single occasion (natural event or commemorative rite). Alone, the symbols can only point ambiguously backwards to unrecognized trauma. But in combination the symbols will provide a rich profile of the world-ending catastrophe, accessible to any research willing to break free from a methodology that sees only fragments and looks to the fragments to provide their own meaning.
The planet Venus would seem an unlikely candidate for sky-darkening powers (or for sky-clearing sweeping, for that matter). And yet the remarkable Mesoamerican association of Venus with the eclipse has been documented by the vigorous research of Ev Cochrane. Like most ancient peoples, the Maya considered eclipses of the sun to be a time of dire peril, Cochrane writes.
It was commonly believed, in fact, that the world might end during a solar eclipse. In the eclipse tables contained within the Dresden Codex, an eclipse is symbolized by the figure of a dragon descending from the glyph of the sun.
On the relationship of the eclipse-dragon to Venus, Cochrane gives us the verdict of the eminent Mayan scholar, Sir Eric Thompson:
The head of the monster is hidden by a large glyph of the planet Venus. One is instantly reminded of the Aztec belief that during eclipses the monsters called Tzitzimime or Tzontemoc (head down) plunged earthwards from the sky. These monsters include Tlauizcalpanteculti, the god of Venus as morning star. It is therefore highly probable that the picture represents a Tzitzimitl plunging head down toward earth during the darkness of an eclipse.
A glyph immediately above the picture appears to confirm this identification, for it shows the glyph of Venus with a prefix which is a picture of a person placed upside down.
A remote star could darken the entire sky? Here we see, in a clear profile, the dilemma for conventional study.
Under the standard approach to this subject, the images are far too incredible to have any foundation in natural experience. Hence, they must be entirely fanciful. Hence, any attempt to see natural experience in these hieroglyphs would be preposterous.
That is the fundamental circular reasoning on which modern understanding of myth and symbol has been constructed. As a result, the patterns suggesting deeper levels of coherence are not even noticed. What could never be is of no interest.
So we do not realize that the fears of the darkness speak with one voice for a collective memory, that the later symbols of this fear were but shadows cast by a far greater terror, when the whole sky became the theater for the twilight of the gods.
RITES OF SACRIFICE
Both the Aztecs and Maya are known to have practiced sacrifice on a horrendous scale, in intimate correspondence with the gods.
To honor the gods and heroes of former times, the priests performed rites ordained by these divine ancestors, with a meticulous reverence for the way things happened in ancestral times (the age of the gods). Critical events in the gods' own lives provided the ritual drama, and in these biographical rituals, sacrifice was usually the central episode.
In the Mesoamerican world view, it was a sacrifice of cosmic proportions that preceded the dawning of the present world age. As noted by Carrasco, the role of cosmic sacrifice in regenerating the world was at the basis of the extraordinary practice of bloodletting and sacrifice throughout Mesoamerica.
The present age was created out of the sacrifice of a large number of deities in Teotihuacan, or elsewhere, depending on the tradition. It was believed that this age would end in earthquakes and famine. What is clear is that cosmic order is achieved in the Aztec universe out of conflict, sacrifice, and the death of humans and gods.
In addition to the calendrically ordained sacrifices, there were many other occasions on which the gods themselves seemed to call for sacrifice.
For minor challenges in the course of daily life, offerings of food or ornaments might be sufficient, but in times of greater common need, particularly when the kingdom was beset by drought, or hurricanes, or plagues of locusts, the gods called for human victims.
It is through sacrifice that two realms of time, the time of the gods and the time of humans, are linked together and renewed, states Carrasco. But why did sacrifice fulfill the divine requirement at strategic calendar moments, or on occasions of distress? Again, it is imperative that one distinguish between archetype and symbol.
The contexts of the ritual response suggest that a drought was not seen as a thing in itself but a symbol of the greater drought of the cosmic night. In the same way, every hurricane became a symbol of the irresistible cosmic wind that once overcame the world; or a plague of locusts referred back to the devastating chaos hordes.
A symbol is a reflection of some aspect of a prior experience.
As such it does not, on its own, disclose the full character of that experience. Thus the researcher, to gain any sense of the true reference, must draw upon patterns revealed through the conjunction of symbols. Under the conventional analysis, however, the regional drought or the regional hurricane is the worst thing the analyst can imagine, so there is no prior reference for the symbol, only the symbol itself.
Students of the culture are left, therefore, with a madhouse of symbols and meaningless, unexplained, barbaric practices and superstitions. Here, the ritual sacrifice does not mean anything because it has no discernible relationship to the events calling for it.
And yet, the mythical context of sacrifice leaves no question as to a connection. When the creator-king Quetzalcoatl died, his heart was removed from him. The primeval sacrifice, in the various traditions, occurred at a time of cosmic upheaval, of great wind and drought, of darkness, earthquake and flood, with the god's own heart the smoking star presiding over the regeneration of the world.
Mythically speaking, the rites of sacrifice came into being through the critical events in the life, the death and the transformation of the god-king.
Why, then, did a drought or plague call forth a sacrifice?
Because the sacrificial rites replayed, on a microcosmic scale, the overarching celestial drama, honoring the gods through remembrance, and repeating the events of a divine ordeal and resolution.
Removal of the heart in sacrifice
The followers of Quetzalcoatl, as noted by Carrasco, insisted that all ceremonies and rites, building temples and altars imitated the ways of that holy man.
That is what the Aztecs meant by the repeated statement that Quetzalcoatl was the exemplary king, the model upon which kingship arose. And more than one sacrificial rite served to mirror essential episodes in the god's life and death. Citing a native informant, Duran summarizes a commemorative ritual involving a mock king, a captured enemy warrior chosen for his beauty and physical perfection and dressed in the attire of the founding king himself.
For 40 days this human symbol of Quetzalcoatl was honored in feasts and celebration. This living man was bought to represent the god for forty days, and he was served and revered as such, Duran writes. At the conclusion of his reign, and with great ceremony, the assistants to the officiating priest laid the mock king on the sacrificial stone.
Then the priest, with a crude stone knife, tore his heart from his body.
Removal of the heart was, in fact, the most common form of human sacrifice throughout Mesoamerica, a recurring pattern recalling a celestial power's own sacrifice in the age of the gods. Interestingly, the officiating priests at the Templo Mayor bore the name quequetzalcoa, after Quetzalcoatl himself suggesting that priest and sacrificial victim were, in their respective capacities, representing one and the same cosmic power.
In the common pattern of the sacrifice, when the priest tore the heart from the victim, he raised it, still steaming, before the sun the sacred steam of the removed heart offering a poignant reminder of the smoking heart of the great god himself.
The high priest then opened the chest and with amazing swiftness tore out the heart, ripping it out with his own hands. Thus steaming, the heart was lifted toward the sun, and the fumes were offered up to the sun.
Or again, they opened his chest and took out the heart, and holding it up, they presented it to the Sun until its steam had cooled. Then, as if to re-play the mythic flight of the heart-soul, the priest turned and flung the heart toward the image of the god.
Aztec sacrifice as removal of the heart,
with emerging plumes
The steam of the removed heart thus stood in symbolic correspondence with the plumes of the transformed heart-soul as plumed star, and with the smoke of the heart-soul as smoking star.
In Figure 10 we see the Aztec priest raising the removed heart of the victim, with the steam rising before the sun.
In figure 11 it is rather the plumes that rise from the heart. But other contexts involve a smoking heart. In a widespread ritual counterpart to human sacrifice, the celebrants formed a model of the heart from copal or pom, a resin derived from the copal tree, and set it burning as incense.
The dark smoke rising from the ritual heart thus provided a vivid reminder of Quetzalcoatl's burning heart-soul, the smoking star Venus. A conjunction of three symbols steaming heart, plumed heart and smoking heart meaningless in themselves, derives a self-evident and spectacular significance when referred to the celestial prototype, the ascending, comet-like heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl.
The relentless practice of human sacrifice in every well-documented Mesoamerican culture, a source of horror to the conquering Spaniards, can produce great ambivalence in the treatments by historians, archaeologists and ethnologists. But what is really missing is the sense of context. How did such a widespread practice come to rule an entire civilization?
Seeing the role of collective apprehension will bring the dark and fearful motives into the light of day, for the ceaseless acts of remembering and bargaining with the gods do become intelligible when referred to a world-shattering catastrophe.
In sacrifice the practitioners remembered and nourished the gods, and the two aspects of the practice seemed to go hand in hand, fueled by the memory of the all-devouring, smoking star. Why were the Aztecs so deeply concerned about where and when Venus might appear to reverse their fortunes (Aveni's words)? Why was sacrifice so frequently regulated by the rising of Venus?
Sahagun tells us that Captives were slain when it emerged that it might be nourished. They sprinkled blood toward it, flipping the middle finger from the thumb, they cast the blood as an offering.
Seen from one vantage point, there is only meaninglessness in these rampant practices, by which whole nations responded to uncertainties large and small.
Seen from another, there is the long shadow of celestial terror, when planets did move out of control and affect the fate of mankind.
Around the world, comets were seen as harbingers of devastating invasion, war, and conquest. A comet, according to the Chinese, could mean that there are uprisings and war continues for several years. When a comet travels into the Constellation Taurus, in the middle of the double month, blood is shed [and] dead bodies lie on the ground. Within three years the emperor dies and the country is in chaos.
The Roman poet Tibullus cites the comet as the evil sign of war. Pliny, treating comets in his Natural History, tells us they bring war and commotion, while the Greek mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy associates them with foreign invasion. The third century Christian writer Origen saw the comet as heralding war and the collapse of dynasties.
Centuries later (1011), Byrhtferth's Manual lists war as one of the disastrous effects of a comet's appearance.
The extraordinary power of the mythic tradition will explain why many of early history's most brutal wars had affixed to them the appearance of a comet, even in cases in which the actual arrival of a comet may be in doubt.
A comet and shooting stars are said to have appeared before the battle of Pharsalus in central Greece, heralding Caesar's defeat of Pompey. Josephus mentions in his History of the Jews that a comet in the form of a sword hung over Jerusalem for a whole year, foretelling the destruction of the city in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.
The belief persisted into medieval and later ages, writes Theodor Gaster. A comet heralded the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066. Disasters suffered by the Christians at the hands of the Turks in 1456 were popularly attributed to the appearance of a comet.
In 1456 a comet described as having a fan-shaped tail like that of a peacock is said to have stretched across half the sky. With the Turkish army at the gates of Belgrade, Pope Calixtus III feared a domino effect from a Mohammedan victory. Thus a Vatican historian wrote:
A hairy and fiery starmade [an] appearance for several days, [and] mathematicians declared that there would follow great calamity. Calixtus [ordered] prayers, beseeching God that if this meant impending evils for mankind, God would turn them all upon the Turks, the enemies of Christendom.
The Zulu of South Africa also say that a comet brings war.
The same portentous significance of the comet seems to have prevailed in the Americas. In 1835, the warrior-chief Osecola, leader of the Seminole tribe in Florida, saw an appearance of Halley's Comet as an omen, and called on his people to launch a war against white settlers. The Seminoles overwhelmed the army garrison at Fort King and killed every last soldier. Osecola personally scalped the fort's commander, General Wiley Thompson.
In the light of the general tradition, the retrospective accounts of Mesoamerican chroniclers, remembering that a comet preceded the Spanish invasion, take on greater meaning for us.
The motif is strikingly familiar in an Aztec poem:
One of the principles I intend to establish in this series of articles is that, in the earlier expressions of comet imagery, the fiery star did not just herald war; it was itself an active agent of celestial upheaval.
Originally, the flaming sphere of the comet is hurled into the midst of a great conflagration in the sky. Of course the peaceful celestial visitors of a later age could never achieve the violent role of the prototype, and over time this would only accentuate the distance between archetype and symbol.
Originally, the comet shook heaven and earth, summoning celestial armies and inspiring a clash of opposing forces in the sky. Latin poets seemed to have remembered the tradition well when, on the death of Caesar, they sought to portray a recurrence of the world-threatening tempest. When Caesar died, Virgil recounted, the sun veiled his shining face and an evil age dreaded eternal night.
Then Germany heard the clash of armor fill the sky; the Alps quaked with unwonted shocks. Moreover a voice was heard of many among silent groves, crying aloud, and phantoms pallid in wonderful wise were seen when night was dim Never elsewhere did more lightnings fall from clear skies, or ghastly comets so often blaze.
The poet is here asking history to accommodate a more ancient tradition, in which the clash of armor, the cries of heaven, the appearance of phantoms (as in the Mexican counterpart), and the bursts of lightning all accompanied the appearance of the Great Comet and its retinue, the chaos hordes.
Of an ancient tradition that Athens was decimated by a comet, the poet Manilius recorded
When, in their wars with barbarous Germany, the enemy made away with the Roman commander Varus, the poet was quick to assert the comet's presence; for it is the archetype (Great Comet) that grants meaning to the symbol (devastating war).
Then did menacing lights burn in every quarter of the skies; nature herself waged war with fire marshaling her forces against us and threatening our destruction.
That the great wars of early civilizations had a ritual character and purpose is often stated, though the connection with remembered tumult in the sky is rarely confronted. One of the underlying attributes of ritual is its commemorative function repeating exemplary actions originally performed by gods and celestial heroes, and cataclysmic moments in the biographies of the gods.
The motive was announced repeatedly by the warrior kings, who saw themselves as extending the glory of the ancestral gods.
The gods desired that their deeds be remembered. Remembering through re-enactment was thus the essential nature of ritual combat. It is significant, therefore, that the great wars of early nations, in their ritualistic aspect, involved a deliberate repetition of great noise and havoc, endlessly blended with the motives of sacrifice, since in the general mythic tradition sacrifice and war belong to one and the same cosmic sequence.
In Olmec times, according to Carrasco, war was the place where the jaguars roar,
The original reference is not to a terrestrial engagement but to the contest of the gods, in which jaguar warriors (including Quetzalcoatl's jaguar form) engaged each other on the celestial battlefield.
The great havoc of that conflagration meant nothing other than the frightful sights and sounds of the cosmic night, the occasion of the god king's own sacrifice and the letting loose of the chaos-powers.
The model for both the ritual war and the closely related sacrificial rites was the life of the great initiate Quetzalcoatl, as duly noted by Carrasco.
Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was born into a world of war. According to many primary sources the gods were periodically at war with one another during the mythic erasIn the vivid creation story of the Historia de los Mexicanos por Sus Pinturas, the gods created the Chichimec people in order to gain sacrificial blood through human warfare and the ritual sacrifice of captive warriors. Remembrance through repetition thus honored and satisfied the gods, because it acknowledged and glorified the ordeals of the gods.
There is an interesting battlefield account by the Spanish soldier Bernal D'az del Castillo, depicting a scene in the wake of a Spanish retreat near the Great Temple. A number of Spanish soldiers had been captured alive during the engagement, and the chronicler gazed back at the ensuing spectacle.
There was sounded the dismal drum of Huichilobos and many other shells and horns and things like trumpets and the sound of them was terrifying, and we all looked toward the lofty Pyramid where they were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured when they defeated Corts were being carried by force up the steps, and they were taking them to be sacrificed.
Sacrifice and war here merge as overlapping symbols, together with the terrifying sounds of a more ancient holocaust. Through sacrifice and war the divine ordeals were re-lived and the nation brought into more intimate correspondence with the gods, thus animating the gods themselves.
According to Duran, the Aztec priests periodically approached the rulers, telling them that the gods were famished and wished to be remembered. The rulers then consulted among themselves regarding the hunger of the gods, and told their neighbors, the Tlaxcalans, to prepare for war clearly a ritual occasion with agreed groundrules and calendar.
When the men were placed in formation and the troops set in order, the squadrons departed toward the plains of Tepepulco, where the armies met. The whole contest, the entire battle, was a struggle whose aim it was to capture prisoners for sacrifice.
At the risk of redundancy, we must emphasize again the necessary distinction between archetype and symbol. The challenge to the investigator is this: the gods demanded sacrifice and remembrance, but the prevailing theoretical framework does not provide a prior event to give sense to the idea. What had occurred, in the age of the gods, that the gods asked mankind not to forget?
According to Floyd Lounsbury, one of the most respected authorities on Mayan religion, the warrior kings synchronized their wars to the movements of Venus.
The point is stated more than once by Linda Schele:
Thus the Maya kings believed that Venus played a tremendous role in war, and it appears that they invoked its assistance, looking for the day augured by Venus as appropriate for battle.
But is this not the very role of the comet in the universal lexicon?
Archaeoastronomers have come to call the bloody wars sanctioned by Venus the Star War events, a fitting title, since the Venus-dragon was the great weapon by which the chaos powers were defeated. Citing studies by leading Mayan experts, Carlson notes that the Maya conducted certain battles, raids or martial contests timed for significant stations in the Venus cycle, such as first appearances as Morning Star and Evening Star.
Thus the Star War events were Venus regulated.
What is there about the speck of light we call Venus that could account for this power over war and warriors? And is it only a coincidence again that Venus, as herald of war, stands in complete alignment with the comet as herald of war?
My intent in this series of articles will be not just to demonstrate the full convergence of cometary symbols on Venus, but to unveil that planet's original character as the Great Comet, when it was nothing less than the celestial tempest itself.
Without that relationship in view, the symbol can only appear random and absurd.
A recurring symbol among the Aztecs is that of the broom, seemingly an emblem so far removed from our subject as to have no place in this analysis. Yet since the symbol does recur in ritual contexts of darkness and upheaval, it begs for an interpretation.
The broom plays a part, for example, in defining the character of Cihuacoatl, or Woman Snake, the chief advisor to the Aztec ruler, a figure standing in close but enigmatic association with both the horrifying serpentine goddess Coatlicue and the broadly revered mother goddess Toci.
Strangely, Cihuacoatl's relationships and symbols suggest two extremes, with no intelligible bridge between them. In her most familiar role, she offers a reminder of domestic responsibilities (she holds a broom and was remembered in the daily sweeping of the household shrine); but she was equally at home as the goddess of Terrible Aspect, the man-eating mistress of chaos.
We must remember what Mircea Eliade and other perceptive students of comparative religion have taught us about the motives of myth and ritual. Inherent in the idea of correspondence with the gods was the idea of sacred moments, sacred domains, and sacred gestures, distinguished from the insignificant and profane by their connection with the great events and deeds of the gods.
And the principle applied at all levels of activity, not just the publicly visible centers of collective ritual. Every household had its sacred aspect, as did the kingdom.
Women had care of the household shrines, and the presentation of the little broom at birth signaled their sacred responsibility to keep the home zone well swept, and so free from potentially dangerous contamination, writes Inga Clendinnen. In this single statement lies the key the relationship of macrocosm and microcosm.
Dangerous contamination operates at all levels and draws its meaning from the epoch of gods and heroes.
It may be hard for many of us today to fully appreciate that the morning sweeping of the household shrine was a commemorative occasion, the sweeping away of the darkness. The disorder, the gathered dust and debris, received its ritual significance from the cosmic night. And this elementary symbolic relationship is the missing bridge between the domestic goddess and the all-devouring, raging hag with disheveled hair, rushing across the sky with broom in hand, pursuing the chaos hordes, sweeping away the celestial debris of the world-ending cataclysm.
Every household was an extension of the sacred order defined in ancestral times. In each household was thus kept the sacred fire, symbol of the animating light of heaven, ritualistically extinguished at the end of every 52-year world cycle, then re-ignited with the dawn of the new cycle. Every 52 years, the household re-lived a cosmic disaster.
Then, each subsequent morning, as a symbol of the same events, the ritually-ordained sweeping occurred, to the sounds of a beating drum this drumbeat signifying the voice of Ehecatl, the Dawn Bringer, avatar of Quetzalcoatl. In the words, of Jacques Soustelle, The morning star shines with the brilliance of a gem and to greet it the wooden gongs beat on the temple-tops and the conchs wail.
Every dawn was thus an echo of the cosmic morning when the world was set in order after the great cataclysm.
In ritual symbolism, matters of degree and scale cannot change original meanings. Goddess, broom, sweeping, drumbeat the clearing of the cosmic night was remembered with each dawn of day. The holder of the household broom, therefore, fills the symbolic role of the goddess. And though broom and celestial conflagration may not seem compatible, the mythical memory does place them side by side.
A hymn to the broom-goddess celebrates Cihuacoatl plumed with eagle feathers, with the crest of eagles, painted with serpents blood with a broom in her hands goddess of drum beating. She is our mother, a goddess of war, our mother a goddess of war, an example and a companion from the home of our ancestors She comes forth, she appears when war is waged, she protects us in war that we shall not be destroyed She comes adorned in the ancient manner with the eagle crest.
The hymn makes our point for us. The goddess is the example the exemplary figure to which the sweeping rites refer us. The symbols of disaster, of war and of drum beating combine with those of the broom and of protection.
A goddess who appears when war is waged has a now-familiar sound. That is precisely the mythical role of the comet, and precisely the role of Venus in Mesoamerican astrology. It seems as if the commentators have failed to notice that a broom or whisk, be it constituted from straw or feathers, is a cometary symbol. (See our brief list supplementing the five major comet symbols.)
A bundle of straw is an old European symbol of the comet.
As we will discover also in our discussion of the world-destroying hag, the famous flying broom of the European witch stands beside the witch's disheveled, flaming hair and her serpent-dragon apotheosis as a cometary image.
And most interestingly, in China comets were above all else remembered as brooms sweeping away one kingdom (world age) and introducing a new order the very function of the broom in the ritual re-enactments of the cosmic night in Mesoamerica.
In fact, the broom plays a symbolically crucial role in more than one Aztec rite. A major celebration of the mother goddess Toci fell on the sixteenth of September, which was also a special day in the calendar of world ages. The name of the feast was Ochpaniztli, which means Sweeping of the Roads. The chronicler Duran calls it the Feast of Sweeping.
The feast, as reported by Duran, was marked by human sacrifice, terrible commotion and feigned skirmishes in which the goddess Toci herself symbolically participated. In the ritual celebration, the goddess was personified by a warrior who, donning the skin of a sacrificed female victim and armed with a broom, pursued a chaotic mob of warriors.
At her descent (i.e., the descent of the impersonator), and in response to the moans of Toci, the earth moved and quaked at that moment. (Remember the moans in the air when Caesar died, his soul to rise as a comet above the quaking earth.)
Hearing this report Duran was highly incredulous. I tried to investigate this and attempted to laugh off and mock this absurd belief. But I was assured that this part, this area of the temple, trembled and shook at that moment. Imagination may have served them well in this case, and the devil, always present, undoubtedly aided the imagination.
Such is the power of archetypes. The commotion in the sky, moaning heavens, quaking earth, goddess with a broom pursuing the hordes of darkness.
In these rites, the sky-darkening hordes themselves were personified by warriors armed with brooms and appareled with colored streamers and plumed ornaments. A bloody fray then took place among them. With sticks and stones countless men came to the combat and fight, something awesome to see In such manner was the havoc of the cosmic night re-enacted every year.
The harsh sounds, the great din of clashing arms, the comet-like brooms and streamers of the unleashed mobs themselves a dramatic personification of the ancient rebel powers all accented by hurled stones and debris.
Could one concoct a more vivid portrait of the remembered cosmic upheaval terminating a former world age? A cometary disaster, involving vast armies of swarming debris in the vicinity of earth, pitted against the parent of comets, the dragon-like Venus sweeping away the cosmic night, would provide us with a Velikovskian scenario par excellence.
Inga Clendinnen, in her book Aztecs, has given us an intensely dramatic account of the sweeping festival and its key ritual components, noting again and again the role of darkness and terror, and emphasizing the paradox of the domestic goddess hurled into a fray with the best warriors of the city.
These men, who scorned to turn their back in battle, fled through the dark streets as Toci and her followers pursued them with brooms, the' domestic' female symbol par excellence, speaking of the tireless cleansing of the human zone, but now sodden with human blood. It was Toci herself, in her paper regalia and her great bannered headdress and her symbolic broom, who inaugurated the ritual slaying of captives.
Then she confronted the warrior-mob again, driving them ahead of her with war cries and her broom, the hordes scattering as she chased them, until Toci was alone and victorious, having swept away the warriors of darkness triumphant as the pitiless mistress of war, insatiable eater of men.
The great sweeping festival, says Clendinnen, was a brilliantly constructed horror event, in its abrupt changes of pace and its teasing of the imagination through the exploitation of darkness.
Here we see the image of the women's broom dipped into human blood and so become a weapon of terror, before which warriors famed for their courage were driven like leaves. A paradox indeed! The broom wielded as a weapon of terror. But let us be clear on this: as a broom, it instills no fear, but as an acknowledged hieroglyph for the comet, the terrifying weapon hurled against the rebels of the cosmic night, the paradox dissolves before our eyes.
Duran tells us that on the day of the feast to Toci, the people swept their houses and pathways, guided by some ancient belief he is unable to illuminate. Significantly, community roads and highways were also swept on this day, according to Duran, particularly the road passing by the shrine to the goddess Toci.
The feast itself, as we have noted, was called The Sweeping of the Roads, and this too is a key, for it enables us to complete the circle with respect to the sweeping rites. In Evon Vogt's book Zinacantan, the author gives a poetic tale from the Highlands of Chiapas concerning the planet Venus.
It seems that the people remember Venus as a girl with a broom, for the folk tale describes the Morning Star (Venus), who is believed to have been a Chamula girl transformed into a Sweeper of the Path' for the Sun. It is the astronomical association, then the connection with celestial sweeping, the clearing of the way for the new sun or world age that finds the planet Venus in the very guise we should expect.
Even in the wake of vast cultural evolution and fragmentation, the nations of Mesoamerica kept alive the ancient link of Great Comet and planet Venus, in the symbolic character of the girl and her broom.
We find that, to a stunning extent, the acknowledged symbols or hieroglyphs for the comet stand in an unexplained conjunction with the planet Venus in Mesoamerica. Not only the five most frequently-occurring hieroglyphs for the comet, but virtually all of the variations on these symbols are attached to each other and to the planet Venus.
Additionally we find that the deepest fears of Mesoamerican culture turn out to be the fears which ancient astronomies consistently associated with the arrival of the comet: the end of the world, death of kings, overwhelming wars, plague, pestilence, drought. What explains these fears is the myth of the ancient god-king the founder of the kingship rites whose death brought a former world age to a catastrophic close, and whose soul took flight as a comet-like star, identified enigmatically with the planet Venus.
And thus did the stargazers, in their most visible expressions of the culture-wide fear their calendars of world ages, their responses to unexpected disruptions of natural cycles (eclipses, etc.), their ritual sacrifices, their relentless holy wars, and their commemorative festivals and rites, look to Venus as the cause or sign of the very disorder that world myth ascribes to the Great Comet of primeval times.
In the course of this review, I have suggested more than once that an entirely new approach to ancient myth and religion is warranted.
Early man's preoccupation with the mythical age of the gods reflects an ancient, celestial source for the collective anxiety. But if this is true, then nothing could do more to obstruct meaningful insight than the modern belief that the great civilizations of the past oriented themselves to a sky almost exactly like our sky today.
The evidence on behalf of an unfamiliar sky is both massive and compelling. But to appreciate even the first levels of that evidence one must break free from the trance of prior teaching and beliefs Only then will evidence be seen as such, rather than as a witness to the absurdity and contradictions of the first star worshippers.
Our proposed Great Comet Venus takes us beyond generally-acknowledged comet symbolism. It says that, by virtue of its history (Venus eventually shed its cometary tail and settled into a peaceful orbit), the symbolism of the Great Comet fragmented into two primary streams: one relating to the periodic cometary visitor, the other relating to the planet Venus.
Hence, wherever systematic, empirical astronomy kept alive the Great Comet's connection with Venus, the cometary symbols should pervade the culture's images of the planet. If the thesis is correct, it could not have been otherwise. So we are not surprised to find in Mexico the five universal glyphs of the comet attached to Venus.
It should not surprise us either that the planet Venus was, in a hundred different ways, the regulator of the fate of kings and kingdoms in Mexico.
The Great Comet did determine the fate of the king's celestial prototype, the god-king remembered by every ancient civilization as the first in the line of kings. A compelling logic will thus be seen in the role of Venus in regulating the cosmic cycles, ordaining great festivals commemorating the age of the gods, sending the kingdom's strongest men to war, and sending the victims of war to the sacrificial stone.
And even in the tempered rituals of daily life, the keeping of the sacred fire, the morning sweeping of the shrine (and other rites too numerous to mention here), one discerns the ever-present memory of a world falling into confusion, but rising again to the drumbeat of the Dawn Bringer.
When Bob Forrest said that he could find no direct historical reference to the Venus-comet, I believe he spoke from conviction. But since the language of myth was the language of the first civilizations, every civilization fails Forrest's test. There are no direct historical references to the age of the gods, because that age precedes historical chronicles.
Did the events suggested by consistent mythical expression and ritual acts of remembering actually occur?
Given the nature of the language involved, the sheer scale of evidence is stunning; and one wonders how the Mexican star worshippers were supposed to have told us something more about the catastrophes, without a crash course in the King's English, or astronomy lessons from Carl Sagan.
Thus the imperative need for cross-referencing when taking up such issues. No approach that isolates each evidential fragment, explaining away that fragment without explaining parallels and converging cometary images, can remove the Venus-comet issue, and in this sense Forrest's analysis breaks down completely with the very first instance cited.
My intent in this series is to demonstrate with more than sufficient evidence that the comet Venus is a global myth, and the one credible explanation of the myth is that Venus did look like a comet that it did participate in literally earthshaking events, not all that long ago.
One only has to follow the evidence to know that this is so.
We will then begin an excursion into ancient Mesopotamian myth and religion, finding a symbolic resonance with the dominant religious motifs of Mesoamerica.
And here, where was born the world's first astronomy, we will encounter once more the planet Venus, wearing the full dress of the Great Comet.