CCNet DEBATE, 5 October 1998
SEARCHING FOR HISTORICAL IMPACTS: IS THERE A METHODOLOGY TO READING
From Bob Kobres <email@example.com>
With regard to gauging past human experience of impact phenomena there
are constraints that can be applied to handed down tales and preserved
artifacts which provide some degree of confidence that actual
observation was involved. The best filter to use is to look for cold
weather being associated with fire from the sky. This is a
counter-intuitive aspect of impact phenomena that is not likely to be
constructed from imagination for a story's sake. Another useful sieve
is to compare disparate peoples beliefs about certain markers in the
sky and the significance of those parts of their heaven-scape with
attention to time of year. The winner in this area is clearly the
Pleiades star cluster within the constellation of Taurus. There are
many intriguing stories related to this asterism.
I've compiled several snippets below from various articles on my web
site in the hope that seeing these likely observation inspired tales
strung together might inspire some additional searching through the
massive accumulation of information gathered from various cultures over
the years. Though this type of information cannot provide proof of
specific impact events it is very likely to prove to be of value in
helping to narrow down time periods (particularly in conjunction with
dendrochronology) and areas of the world to concentrate searches for
hard evidence. I think that cultural information is also helpful in
demonstrating the need to rapidly gain a better understanding of just
how many significant impacts have occurred over the past 12,000 or so
years and if there is a coherent pattern to these events. In other
words--Is our present risk greater due to the recent breakup of a large
short period comet as suggested by Clube and Napier?
Though this may seem a long post, it is but a small sample of what is
waiting in libraries and museums for proper attention in light of our
contemporary understanding of what can happen. At minimum this type of
information can more effectively convey, to otherwise indoctrinated
youth, that humans have been victims of natural events rather than,
angry-because-of-our-behavior, supernatural forces. The notion of a
pristine natural world is a religious one, which unfortunately
sometimes misdirects efforts to protect the biosphere. We are very
sophisticated animals, who have emerged from an ever changing living
environment, with an exceptional capacity to accumulate information and
use it to manipulate our surroundings to our perceived advantage. This
ability to correctly anticipate the future and make provisions for it
is essential to us successfully adapting to changing conditions.
Human-nature is not statically defined! It can, by encouraging
biologically sustainable social goals, become human-nature to protect
and enhance Life on Earth and future habitats--it is obviously in our
enlightened self-interest to do so. Ignorance and misinformation
combined with hubris, bravado and greed are our most persistent
stumbling-blocks--let's not blame our destructive missteps on our
knowledge of tools. To retard implementation or limit the potential
effectiveness of an Earth-defense-system for fear of misusing the
technology developed to alter the orbits of recognized PHOs is short
sighted. Particularly when the risk of misuse is weighed against
potential consequences of not being adequately prepared or the likely
benefits of developing these advanced capabilities so that we can move
presently biosphere damning activities, such as mining and material
processing plus their attendant energy requirements, into Space.
Though we do not fully understand Life, we can certainly recognize that
Life has endowed us with the capacity to develop a greater
understanding of its forever dynamic needs. It is to the long-term
survival advantage of Life to have smart manipulative agents that are
capable of mitigating assaults to its integrity as well as bringing
living organisms out of Earth's gravity-well. We need to foster a view
of ourselves as Hopeful-helpers of the living world; not
Hopeless-sinners messing up some powerful dude's creation!
A certainty is that things will not remain the same. The most
desirable natural-heritage to pass along is a world where life is
improving for all nonpathogenic members. Through ignorance and greed
we've done a great deal of damage to other creatures that add to the
robustness of this thin film of Life surrounding Earth; this makes the
dynamic stability of our biosphere more vulnerable to any major
perturbation. If we continue to press on without a social dynamic that
is heedful of our deep dependency on the health of other critters
within the biosphere it will not matter whether we can prevent future
cosmic impacts--our own myopic activities will likely suffice to bring
about a reshuffling of nature's 'deck,' with us not being dealt in.
The real value of recognizing the threat from cosmic collisions is that
this knowledge can help to focus the attention of our species on a
commendable common goal--protection of Life--while at the same time
disarming the still too widespread notion that it really doesn't matter
whether we take action or not because some celestially based
creator-of-everything will decide what is best for us. This heritage
of a judgmental God has natural roots, as I hope the following will
help to show.
Wish I had more time myself to hunt for this stuff.
It is useless to speculate on how the investigation of Earth's past
would have transpired had not the gradualist motif been adopted; what
is important is the recognition of false constructs based on this
premise. Darwin, who built his case upon Lyell's, felt that:
"Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary
acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation."
So Darwin's ideas provided investigators not only missing links to look
for in Lyell's missing chapters, researchers also had to be on the look
out for signs of missing 'marbles' in earlier or obviously still
'primitive' cultures. This premise of gradual mental evolution made it
far too easy to casually brush aside or reinterpret observations that
were either handed down through time or unearthed from an earlier era.
Such reassessments were particularly likely if the described phenomena
fell outside scientifically observed natural processes. In general the
ancients were viewed as poor observers prone to exaggeration. A
translator reading an archaic description of a Tunguska type event had
little trouble seeing such as a poetic description of a jolly good
storm. Contemporary investigators working with a different premise and
broader knowledge of natural phenomena can sometimes get around these
translation errors simply by comparing the results of earlier
researchers. An excellent example of ferreting such errors by this
method comes from a direct comparison of an 1899 (M.S. Terry) and 1918
(H.N. Bate) translation of The Sibylline Oracles. These lines come from
"And then incensed shall God the imperishable, who dwells on high, hurl
thunderbolts from heaven down on the head of him that is impure and IN
THE PLACE OF WINTER THERE SHALL BE IN THAT DAY SUMMER. And to mortal
men shall then be great woe; for the Thunderer shall utterly destroy
all shameless men and with his thunders and with lightning-flames and
blazing thunderbolts men of ill-will, and thus shall he destroy the
impious ones, so that there shall remain upon the earth dead bodies
more in number than the sand." (M.S. Terry 1899, 1973 ed.)
"And then in his anger the immortal God who dwells on high shall hurl
from the sky a fiery bolt on the head of the unholy and SUMMER SHALL
CHANGE TO WINTER IN THAT DAY. And then great woe shall befall mortal
men: for He that thunders from on high shall destroy all the shameless,
with thunderings and lightnings and burning thunderbolts upon his
enemies, and shall make an end of them for their ungodliness, so that
the corpses shall lie on the earth more countless than the sand." (H.N.
Obviously both of the highlighted lines cannot be correct. Terry's
version, based largely on the work of A. Rzarch (Vienna 1891) which
Terry acknowledges" . . . has not escaped criticism, especially on
account of its numerous conjectural emendations, . . .", is logically
consistent--If God throws down fire it should get hotter,
right?--within the context of these lines. Bate's version, which relies
heavily on the work of J. Geffcken (Leipzig 1902), is more in keeping
with the text as a whole for further into Book V these lines appear:
"And a wind of winter then shall blow upon the earth, and the plain be
filled with evil war again. For fire shall rain down from the heavenly
plains on mortals, and there with blood, water, flash of lightning,
murky darkness, night in heaven," (Terry)
"And then a wintry blast shall blow over the earth, and the plain shall
be filled once more with evil war. For fire shall rain down from the
floor of heaven upon men, and fire, water, thunderbolts, gloom, and
murk in the sky." (Bate)
The association of cold weather with fire from heaven does not, of
course, seem fantastic to a reader familiar with impact phenomena, but
could not the text be recalling a particularly destructive episode of
volcanism--Santorini perhaps? Fortunately the "Sibylline" is less
allegorical than many ancient works--referring to a comet as a hairy or
great star rather than only the divine name the comet had acquired. For
instance, earlier in Book V one can read:
"But when the fourth year a great star shall shine, which alone shall
the whole earth overpower because of honor, which was first assigned to
lord Poseidon; then a great star shall come from heaven into the
dreadful sea and burn the vastly deep, and Babylon itself, and the land
of Italy," (Terry)
"But when after the fourth year a great star shines, which shall of
itself destroy the whole earth . . . and from heaven a great star shall
fall on the dread ocean and burn up the deep sea, with Babylon itself
and the land of Italy," (Bate)
The mention of the fourth year could be significant in that objects,
such as comet Encke, with an orbital period of 3.3X years must come to
perihelion (where they would be most flamboyant) within the fourth year
counted from their last close approach to the Sun. In fact there may
have been an early Roman calendar which was based on these perihelion
passages. Both Censorinus and Macrobius claimed that the year of
Romulus (legendary founder of Rome) contained only 304 days which were
divided into 10 months. As Clube and Napier (1982) point out, 4 of
these years equal 1216 days or 3.33 solar years.
Also intriguing is the mention of Poseidon (generally depicted as the
younger brother of Zeus) in these lines. This adds a new twist to his
acknowledged attributes of earth shaker and stirrer of the deep.
Another strong indicator that the text is describing impact phenomena
comes from these lines, also in Book V:
"And sometime high in the broad heaven above like thunder-roaring shall
God's voice be heard. And the unwasting flames of the sun himself shall
be no more, nor shall the brilliant light of the moon again be in the
latest time, when God shall be the ruler. And dark gloom shall be o'er
all the earth, and blinded men and evil beasts and woe; that day shall
be a long time," (Terry)
"One day shall the voice of God be heard from above throughout the broad heaven as
a peal of thunder. The rays of the very sun shall fail, the moon shall not give her
bright light, in the time of the end, when God shall rule. There shall be thick
darkness over all the earth: men shall be blind, and evil beasts also (?), and
there shall be wailing, that day shall continue for a long time," (Bate)
It is very doubtful that any form of volcanic activity could cause wide-spread
flash-blindness. Violently vaporizing space debris is known to be capable of
producing this effect.
The Tunguska impact in 1908 ignited vegetation tens of kilometers away from the
center of the blast; fortunately there were no people within this area of intense
radiation. We can though, get an idea of the visual magnitude of this fall by way
of a statement made by S.B. Semenov who witnessed the event from a trading post
located about 100 km S.E. of the devastated area.
". . . I was sitting on my porch facing north when suddenly, to the northwest,
there appeared a great flash of light. There was so much heat that I was no longer
able to remain where I was--my shirt almost burned off my back. I saw a huge
fireball that covered an enormous part of the sky. I only had a moment to note the
size of it. Afterward it became dark and at the same time I felt an explosion that
threw me several feet from the porch. I lost consciousness for a few moments and
when I came to I heard a noise that shook the whole house and nearly moved it off
its foundation." (J. Baxter and T. Atkins, The Fire Came By 1976)
Most likely, Mr. Semenov's perception that "it became dark" was subjective. It
seemed dark to him as the blast wave hit because he had been watching the short
duration fireball. When he regained consciousness the sky probably was darkened by
debris reinforcing his impression, however prior to the atmospheric shock wave, Mr.
Semenov was located between the morning sun and all the impact phenomena except the
The Sibylline oracles are acknowledged to be of very ancient origin--they are
mentioned by early classical Greek writers (Plato, Plutarch). Heraclitus of
Ephesus, approximately 500 B.C., compares himself to a Sibyl--unfortunately the
earliest extant copies are of fairly recent vintage (1545 A.D.). Having been
through many hands they have, no doubt, been altered and embellished to suit the
purpose of earlier users; however, these oracles seem to have retained a nexus of
early observations (as do many so called apocalyptic works from various cultures)
that may prove to be verifiable. Certainly, in light of recently acquired
(reacquired?) knowledge, such literature should not be considered wholly fanciful
Evidence of impact induced cold is valuable in gauging how energetic a past fall
was. Based on nuclear winter studies, a cosmic collision would need to impart at
least the energy equivalent of a thousand megatons TNT into the environment to
produce such an effect.
A number of cultures retained stories of impact induced winter. Most telling of
such lore this author has read are these amazingly informative tales of the Yakuts:
[note that [CH] is actually 'c' with the diacritic 'v' bobk]
[CH]OLBON . . . is said to be "the daughter of the Devil and to have had a tail in
the early days". If it approaches the earth, it means destruction, storm and frost,
even in the summer; . . .
[CH]OLBON, the daughter of the Devil is a beautiful girl ... she is the bride and
the sweetheart of Satan's son URGEL (Pleiades). When these two stars come close to
one another, it is a bad omen; their eager quivering, their discontinuous panting
cause great disasters: storms, blizzards, gales. When they unite, fathom deep snow
will fall even in the summer, and all living beings, men, animals and trees will
perish . . .
Both folk memories were recorded by ethnographer V.L. Serosevsky, the first in
1877, the next in 1885. The Yakuts identified Venus as [ch]olbon; however, as a
later student of this culture, G.V. Ksenofontov, observed:
The Yakuts have two words for the "star": SULUS and [CH]OLBON. The first means
simply "star", the second refers to stars that change their place in the sky,
sometimes appearing and disappearing. Nowadays, however, it no longer--or very
seldom--refers to other planets than Venus and has almost become its name. Yet, as
we have seen, in legends also other [CH]OLBONS (i.e. planets) are mentioned.
What is remarkable about these particular tales is the conjunction of several
pieces of information. From these lines we gather that a comet ([CH]OLBON with a
tail) came close enough to influence weather on Earth--i.e. deadly storms, frost
and deep snow in summer. Also, we are told that this is most likely to occur if the
comet appears close to the Pleiades. In short, these legends accurately describe
what can now be inferred from astronomical data on comet Encke and the ring of
debris its progenitor strew about the Sun.
Of particular interest with regard to external perturbation of climate is an
artifact unearthed in 1934, the Ch'u Silk Manuscript . This document, which dates
from 500-400 B.C.E., is primarily astrological in nature. Because several of the
characters painted on this silk have no directly traceable descendants translation
is difficult, making it preferable to take into account more than a singular
attempt at extracting meaning from the text. Pertinent is Jao Tsung-yi's
interpretation of lines B. 1-1 to 2-30 which relate irregularities of a "Broom
Sometimes the sun and moon are not in their constant course. This is called Ying
(gaining) and Ch'u (retreating). Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter have . . . and
have their own regular way. When the order of the sun, the moon, and the heavenly
bodies is disturbed, gaining and retreating . . . and the plants would become
erratic . . . ominous happenings. Heaven and earth will cause disasters(?). The
T'ien-p'ou star [ ] will tremble and fall down in . . . direction. Then, the
mountains and hillocks . . . there will be streams and floods. Such (phenomena) are
(seen) in the Po-po [ ]. (Jao Tsung-yi, 1972, pp. 118-119)
A more raw rendering of these lines is provided by Noel Barnard:
. . . (particle) . . . . . . (= verb?) the sun, the moon thence will gain and
retreat, and will not obtain its . . . . Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter . . . .
(= not?) have . . . . (- their?) regularity. When the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and
the Constellations confuse and . . . . (= muddle?) their movements, the [process
of] gaining and retreating . . . . (= becomes muddled?) . . . . [thus] the grasses
and the trees will lack regularity [of growth?] . . . . ; . . . . [ . . . . ] . . .
. . . . . , Heaven and Earth will . . . . (- verb?). The T'ien-p'ou will be about
to move and to descend to its . . . . region. The Hills and the Plains - their . .
. . (- verb?) have depth (?) their (?) . . . .. ; this is known as . . . . . (N.
Barnard, 1973, Part 2, p. 207)
As the above example suggests, contemporary researchers need to be wary of assuming
our predecessors' folk memories of astral events relate to bodies familiar to our
time. There is considerable reason to suspect that the majority of the planets
namesakes were comets--probably of the Encke family.
A conventional view comes from W.M. O'Neil's TIME AND THE CALENDARS (1975):
The word planet comes from the Greek PLANETES, the wanderers; these seven celestial
bodies moved among the fixed stars. The Babylonians had a more picturesque name,
BIBBU, the wild sheep, as these bodies broke through the fixed formation in which
the tame sheep crossed the sky.
To call into question Greek continuity of planet identity I refer to Leonardo
Taran's work on the "Pseudo-Platonic" Epinomis (1975) where in commentary on lines
986 A 8-987 D 2 Taran states:
Having previously proved to his own satisfaction that all the heavenly bodies are
the greatest divine living beings and having pointed out that they are not yet
honored as gods, the author explains who these visible gods are and why they are
not honored in Greece. They are the eight interrelated sidereal revolutions and the
heavenly bodies which travel on them, for they are all gods of the same kind. And
the contemplation of this divine cosmic order is what will make a man happy both in
this life and in the next. But the lack of this wisdom in Greece is due to
ignorance of the true paths of the planets, a knowledge which comes from the Orient
and which must be incorporated into our laws. That the knowledge of the planets
comes from the Orient is to be seen in the very fact that the planets lack proper
names and are called after the (traditional) gods, for this kind of appellation is
due to the barbarians who first discovered the planets.
The Epinomis, which dates from around the 4th century BCE, is the earliest extant
record of Greek planet names; each is given as "the star of": Cronos, Zeus,
Aphrodite, etc. Clearly the planets did not inspire the earlier stories which
championed these gods. The mythology associated with these names certainly better
describes the break-up of a comet with an orbit that crossed Earth's path than the
monotonous behavior of planets.
As for the BIBBUS, as well as the Oriental influence alluded to above I call
attention to J.K. Bjorkman's article in METEORITICS (1973) which deals with much
We move now to a discussion of a word which probably refers to comets, BIBBU. . .
BIBBU has a variety of astromantic and non-astromantic meanings. There is a lengthy
omen text, the 56th tablet of Enuma Anu Enlil, which deals with various features of
the BIBBU, and some of these seem to describe comets. For example:
If a BIBBU continues one day, two days in the sky and does not disappear:
If three or four BIBBUS rise one after the other at sunrise
The latter text might refer to a comet which has broken up into three or four
comets . . . .
There are many more references to BIBBU, but in them the translations "unspecified
planet" or "meteor" could be proposed.
Confusion of planet terminology is also evident further to the east as can be
demonstrated by James Legge's translation of a passage concerning the emperor Kwei
in the ANNALS OF THE BAMBOO BOOKS:
In his 10th year, the five planets went out of their courses. In the night, stars
fell like rain. The earth shook. The E and Loh became dry.
With astronomical evidence in mind a simplified, but testable, hypothesis of Bronze
Age collapse would involve accepting the legend of Phaethon as an event inspired
myth, as Plato contended it was, and also giving credence to stories of protracted
winter in the aftermath of celestial "battles," such as the Ragnarok.
Important in understanding ancient oriental lore is learning that this motif [The
swastika, which I suggest was derived from a comet inspired, zygodactylous or
semizygodactylous (outer toe reversible), bird-foot-print in the sky association.
i.e. the foot-print of a cosmic owl, like Athena or as below.] was associated with
the pheasant (divine bird in China) which is frequently mentioned in the Chinese
classics. The link between the spinning cross and birds is evident on artifacts
from many cultures. Perhaps the association of the Sanskrit term "svastika" with
this symbol can be linked to the Astika Parva in the MAHABHARATA which relates the
birth of a cosmic bird par excellence--Garuda. This fabulous winged deity had a
radiance like the Sun, could change shapes at will, and destroyed other gods and
kings by casting down fire and stirring up storms of reddish dust which darkened
the Sun, Moon and stars. Clearly Garuda was symbolic of an Earth approaching comet.
The bird-comet connection is even more obvious in the Jamva-khanda Nirmana Parva of
the MAHABHARATA which describes a fierce fowl with but one wing, one eye, and one
leg, hovering in the night sky. As this bird "screams" and "vomits blood":
All the quarters of the earth, being overwhelmed by showers of dust, look
inauspicious. Fierce clouds, portentous of danger, drop bloody showers during the
night. Rahu of fierce deeds is also, O monarch, afflicting the constellation
Kirtika. Rough winds, portending fierce danger, are constantly blowing.
The mention of Rahu, the demon of eclipse, which originally had four arms and a
tail that was severed by Vishnu to become Ketu (comet) is interesting in that the
demon is here darkening Kirttika (the Pleiades) in the month of Karttika (latter
half of October, through mid November), for the tale goes on to relate that:
. . . in course of the same month both the Moon and the Sun have undergone
eclipses on the thirteenth days from the day of the first lunation. The Sun and the
Moon therefore, by undergoing eclipses on unusual days, will cause a great
slaughter of the creatures of the earth. Meteors, effulgent like Indra's
thunder-bolt, fall with loud hisses . . . People, for meeting together, coming out
of their houses with lighted brands, have still to encounter a thick gloom all
round . . . From the mountains of Kailasa and Mandara and Himavat thousands of
explosions are heard and thousands of summits are tumbling down . . . Fierce winds
charged with pointed pebbles are blowing, crushing mighty trees. In villages and
towns trees, ordinary and sacred, are falling down, crushed by mighty winds and
struck by lightning.
This is, without doubt, a mythological record of an intense meteor storm from the
still active Taurid stream which presently peaks around the first of November and
appears to radiate from near the Pleiades star cluster. The un-airworthy bird
associated with this meteor bombardment could have been comet Encke which until
recently was thought to be the sole source for the Taurid meteors. However, the
discovery of other large contributors which are now dark but were once active
comets rules out a positive identification.
Alfred Hillebrandt, Vedic Mythology (1981 English edition, vol 2 pp 259-60)
LC#: BL 1112.26.H5413 1980 v.2
The belief that the Manes shine as stars in the sky has likewise its adherents in
India.22 We find that several stars are associated with the changes in nature and
that the names of important Rsis occur again in those of celestial stars. "Whenever
Agastya rises," says Al-Beruni,23 "and the water increases in the rivers and
valleys during his time, you see the rivers offering to the moon all that is on the
surface of their water..." Agastya, who bears the epithet kumbhayoni in classical
Sanskrit,24 is already known from the Veda because of his relation to the Maruts.
If we seek to discover further traces of the Vedic star cult, we should refer above
all to the testimony of Hiranyakesin (HGS I. 22. 14 ff.) who enjoins the worship of
the Naksatras, moon, the seven Rsis with Arundhati, and the Pole Star during the
first installation of fire in the domestic hearth.25 The Pole Star bears the
designation naksatranam methi; it is addressed as brahman, dhruva, acyuta,
avyathamana, nabhya sarvasya; the first formula for him is followed by namo
brahmanah putraya prajapataye, brahmanah putrebhyo devebhyas trayastrimsebhro namo
brahmanah putrapautrebhyo 'ngirobhyah. Thus we find in the Grhya ritual a
glorification of the Pole Star and of the seven Rsis, i.e. the stars in the Great
Bear,26 and likewise occasionally in the Srauta ritual as well. One wishes that the
sacrifice and the sacrificer may reach "the world of the seven benevolent Rsis"27
and makes an offering for them in the north-east during the Agnihotra.28
[28. KSS IV.14.27. When a comet obscures them, it means danger, see Weber, Omina
und Portenta, p. 396.]
They are mentioned already in the oldest tradition. It was the "seven Rsis, our
fathers," who through sacrifice obtained Trasadasyu as son for the wife of
Purukutsa when she was in distress (RV IV. 42. 8). They settled down (in the
heavens) to practice tapas,29 with the five Adhvaryus they guard "THE HIDDEN FOOT
PRINT OF THE BIRD"30 [Recall my note above regarding the swastika. bobk] and are
obviously identical with the seven mythical Vipras, Rebhas, Karus, Hotrs who stand
next to the gods and ancestors,3l who have taken part in the recovery of the
cows,32 sacrificed at first along with Manu,33 and are to be regarded as the
archetypes for the seven terrestrial Hotrs who have their place at the seven
hearths in the sacrifice.34 The dhisnyas of the Hotr and his companions are
constructed with special mantras within the Vihara, each dhisnya being slightly
more to the north than the previous one. It would be worth investigating if these
dhisnyas also, like the other constituents of the sacrifice, have a symbolical
significance and correspond roughly to the abodes of "the Seven celestial Hotrs."35
In this context another point may be mentioned. In verse III.7 7 cited above "the
five Adhvaryus" are mentioned along with the seven Rsis; from this juxtaposition it
would seem that this designation too does not refer to the professional priests of
the sacrificial place but to certain models in the sky who move to and fro as the
Adhvaryus do.36 It seems to me that here we have an allusion to the five planets.
Otherwise we seek in vain for a mention of the planets in the hymns of the RV. In
view of the ritual origin of the Vedic hymns, this comparison is not unusual.
From these five we should distinguish the other five who "stand in the middle of
the sky" (I 105.10).37 The choice of the words indicates that here it is not the
planets which are meant but a never-setting, fixed, hence a circumpolar
Elsdon Best, The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical
[Dominion Museum Monograph No. 3, Wellington, New Zealand, 1922]
LC#: DU423.A85B47 1978 [reprint--first AMS edition] page-42
The old myth we are acquainted with tells us that the Pleiades are the seven
daughters of Pleione and Atlas, who, on being harassed, were turned into doves and
flew up to the heavens. One of them is invisible because she married a mortal. The
Maori tells us that Matariki, their name for the group, is a female. Our native
friends have a habit of so speaking of a constellation as though it were a single
star. An old star-gazing friend of the writer said that six stars are plainly seen
in Matariki, but that a seventh is faintly visible. Colenso writes: " I found that
the Maori could see more stars in the Pleiades with the unaided eye than I could,
for, while I could only see clearly six stars, they could see seven, and sometimes
eight." Pio, of Ngati-Awa, gave the names of the six prominent stars of the group
as Tupua-nuku, Tupua-rangi, Waiti, Waita, Waipuna-a-rangi, and Ururangi. He makes a
curious remark that may possibly mean that Matariki is the name of a single star of
the group, in which case we have the name of seven. He says: " I will now tell you
about another ancestor in the heavens, one Matariki, and her six children." He then
gives the six names as recorded above. Elsewhere in his voluminous manuscript he
remarks that the assembly of Matariki came down to earth, leaving Poutini, another
star, on high.
The Tuhoe folk say that if the stars of Matariki appear to stand wide apart, then a
warm and bountiful season follows but should they seem to be close together it
betokens a cold season marked by scarcity. Another version is that if the stars of
this group are indistinctly seen at the time of its heliacal rising and they seem
to quiver or move, then a cold season follows. If they are plainly seen at that
time--stand out distinctly--a warm, plentiful season ensues. Hence we hear the
saying, Nga kai a Matariki, nana i ao ake ki runga (The food-supplies of Matariki,
by her scooped up).
Tradition runs particularly strong in regard to the Pleiades star cluster. This
misty smear on the celestial canopy appears to have served as a marker for the
earliest of calendars. Gertrude and James Jobes (1964) have provided researchers
with an extremely valuable tool for decoding astro-mythology. Their work, "Outer
Space", references the folklore and customs of cultures all over the world to
particular planets, stars, star clusters, constellations, etc. This method of
compilation makes it relatively easy to compare beliefs held by geographically far
separated peoples, concerning particular objects and regions of the heavens. The
beliefs and customs the Jobes record in association with the Pleiades are
revealing. From their work we read:
". . . the misty light of these stars has always been a bewitching one. History,
poetry, mythology, astronomy, all literature contains recurrent allusions to them.
Rites connected with them are of unknown origin, their worship predating history.
Far and wide, with their lunar rising in autumn, they were bringers of death, . . .
Midnight on about November 1, when the cluster reached its zenith, prayers for the
dead were recited; . . .
These observations passed from generation to generation; they were widely observed
in the southern hemisphere, in the Orient, in ancient Britain, and elsewhere.
Many primitive nations began the year with the Pleiad-month, November, when its
stars rose after the sun went down. .
Mexicans adjusted their calendars every fifty-two years. These people believed when
the end of the world would finally arrive it would come at the end of this
fifty-two year cycle in the month of November, when the Pleiades were the guiding
spirits. While humans were sacrificed, the entire population spent the night on its
knees awaiting the terrifying doom.
Egyptians observed three solemn days that ended when these stars culminated at
midnight. These days were associated with the tradition of a deluge or other
race-destroying disaster. The rites began on the 17th day of Ethyr (our November),
which agrees with the Mosaic Deluge account, namely the 17th day of the 2nd month
of the Jewish year.
At their midnight culmination, the Celtics, like those in many other parts of the
world, held weird observances that filled the air with a witch like mystery. Every
fire in the land was extinguished that the ghosts of those who had died during the
year might travel to their last resting place in the west. Once the stars had
passed the meridian, the Druids lighted new fires which were carried by fast
runners the length and breadth of the land, and in this way each village started
its fire with a sacred flame. This ceremony echoes in All Hallow's Eve, All Saint's
Day, and All Soul's Day.
Persians formerly called November, Mordad, Angel of Death. The festival of the dead
was celebrated at the midnight culmination of these stars on the 17th of Mordad, . .
In Hindu mythology, a son of Siva was born without a mother. His father gave him to
the care of six nurses, the Krittika (Pleiades), and he took their name,
Karttikeya, or son of the Krittika. The nurses also formed the 3rd nakshatra or
resting place of the Moon, over which Agni was the regent. To honor Agni, master of
fire, these stars were pictured as a flame. This illustration also may have alluded
to the great star-festival, or Feast of Lamps, held in the Pleiad month, Kartik,
our October-November. This rite became the famous Feast of Lanterns celebrated in
The Chinese and others of the East still ritualize a Feast of the Dead in November
by kindling bonfires along the rivers and sailing paper boats which carry a lighted
Hervey Tonga Islanders divided the year in two, the first Matariki, or Matarii nia
(Pleiades above), began when the stars appeared on the horizon in the evening and
continued while they remained above after dusk; the second Matariki, or Matarii i
raro (Pleiades below), began when they ceased to be visible after the sun set and
continued until they again appeared above the horizon in the evening. Before man
inhabited earth, the islanders believed, this group formed a single star, the most
brilliant in the sky. His light was as great as that of the quarter moon, and when
he appeared he danced on the sea and lifted darkness from the earth.
Native Australians hold a midnight New Year's corroboree in November to honor this
group, . . .These furious, noisy nocturnal dances and songs around a fire celebrate
tribal victories as well as pay homage to the dead. In a legend, the cluster
represents a queen and her six attendants.
The Blackfeet, Iroquois, and others regulated their most important feasts by these
stars. Seven Ma-tie warriors for the meeting of all the clans performed a dance
which personified the Pleiades. Each star originally was a bird, a Crow, Partridge,
Owl, Eagle, Crane, the Yellow or Golden Bird, called the Pokina, who was Chief Bird
According to the Onondagas, a long time ago a clan of Indians went through the
woods in search of a good hunting ground. When they found a place that abounded
with wild life they began to set up lodgings for the winter. While the adults were
occupied the children danced and sang. An old man in a white feather dress, with
hair that dazzled like polished silver, appeared among them and directed them to
stop dancing lest evil fall upon them. The children laughed at the old man, and
gradually they rose form the ground. Someone said, "Do not look back," but one
child disobeyed this warning also and became a falling star. The others reached
heaven safely and remain huddled together.
To the Cherokees they were Unadatsugi, The Group, or Antisutsa, The Boys. Seven
boys practiced shooting by firing at a bundle of corn cobs. Their mothers, annoyed,
told them to do their shooting elsewhere. They went over a hill and disappeared.
When they failed to return in a reasonable time their parents became worried and
organized a search party. Before long they perceived the boys in a circle engaged
in the feather-dance, accompanied by the sound of the shuli, an ancient drum. The
terrified parents noticed that as they danced they rose higher and higher. In alarm
they tried to pull them down with poles, but they were out of reach and continued
to dance until they became specks in the sky. They were seven stars for seven days
and then one, creating a fiery trail, fell to earth. Where it landed a palm tree
grew [Other cultures associate trees with impact--this might be akin to our notion
of a mushroom cloud. bobk], and the fallen star itself transformed into an old man,
who warned of coming floods. He remained on earth for seven years. Before he
disappeared he left his footprint on a rock. The stars, although they had become
six, were still called seven, and if not propitiated by the feather-dance caused
frost which injured the crops.
The fall of one star may be connected with a Deluge story; possibly the fall of a
Taurid meteor is echoed here. In any event, the Deluge in all legends of the world
has been ascribed to the Pleiades, whose autumn culmination coincides with a rainy
Quite likely the Pleiades were awarded their reputation due to their nebulous
appearance and location within the constellation of Taurus. The impetus for this
association was probably provided by the progenitor of comet Encke (in seven
pieces?) as it produced the still evident night-time Taurids. Striking evidence for
this contention comes from well-preserved Neolithic observatories in Ireland.
Martin Brennan (1983) who spent over a decade investigating these structures
published a wonderful documentation of their features. Though he assumes them to be
a product of solar worship, his research is thorough and includes mythological
references to these megalithic works--most intriguing from the standpoint of this
discussion is Tara. Brennan informs us that:
Tara lies 10 miles southwest of Newgrange and, like Newgrange, it is steeped in
ancient myth and tradition. It has always been associated with Samhain, the Celtic
observance of the year's turning in November, and this event is well documented.
Mythologically, the mound also has associations with the Tuatha De Danann, or the
'Lords of Light.' They arrive from the air and cast a darkness over the sun for
This neolithic observatory is aligned, according to Brennan, to cross-quarter days
November 8 and February 4. The carved stone within this megalithic structure
depicts concentric circles similar to the earth works evident in an aerial
photograph of Tara.
From: The Lenape and their Legends by Daniel G. Brinton (1884)
The myths embodied in the earlier portion of the WALAM OLUM are perfectly familiar
to one acquainted with Algonkin mythology. They are not of foreign origin, but are
wholly within the cycle of the most ancient legends of that stock. Although they
are not found elsewhere in the precise form here presented, all the figures and all
the leading incidents recur in the native tales picked up by the Jesuit
missionaries in the seventeenth century, and by Schoolcraft, McKinney, Tanner and
others in later days.
In an earlier chapter I have collected the imperfect fragments of these which we
hear of among the Delawares, and these are sufficient to show that they had
substantially the same mythology as their western relatives.
The cosmogony describes the formation of the world by the Great Manito, and its
subsequent despoliation by the spirit of the waters, under the form of a serpent.
The happy days are depicted, when men lived without wars or sickness, and food was
at all times abundant. Evil beings, of mysterious power, introduced cold and war
and sickness and premature death. Then began strife and long wanderings.
However similar this general outline may be to European and Oriental myths, it is
neither derived originally from them, nor was it acquired later by missionary
influence. This similarity is due wholly to the identity of psychological action,
the same ideas and fancies arising from similar impressions in New as well as Old
World tribes. No sound ethnologist, no thorough student in comparative mythology,
would seek to maintain a genealogical relation of cultures on the strength of such
identities. They are proofs of the oneness of the human mind and nothing more
As to the historical portion of the document, it must be judged by such
corroborative evidence as we can glean from other sources. I have quoted, in an
earlier chapter, sufficient testimony to show that the Lenape had traditions
similar to these, extending , back for centuries, or at least believed by their
narrators to reach that far. What trust can be reposed in them is for the
archaeologist to judge.
Synopsis of the separate parts.
The formation of the universe by the Great Manito is described. In the primal fog
and watery waste he formed land and sky, and the heavens cleared. He then created
men and animals. These lived in peace and joy until a certain evil Manito came, and
sowed discord and misery. This canto is a version of the Delaware tradition
mentioned in the Heckewelder MSS. which I have given previously, p. 135. The notion
of the earth rising from the primal waters is strictly a part of the earliest
Algonkin mythology, as I have amply shown in previous discussions of the subject.
See my Myths of the New World, p. 213, and American Hero Myths, Chap. II.
The Evil Manito, who now appears under the guise of a gigantic serpent, determines
to destroy the human race, and for that purpose brings upon them a flood of water.
Many perish, but a certain number escape to the turtle, that is, to solid land, and
are there protected by Nanabush (Manibozho or Michabo). They pray to him for
assistance, and he caused he water to disappear, and the great serpent to depart.
This canto is a brief reference to the conflict between the Algonkin hero god and
the serpent of the waters, originally, doubtless, a meteorological myth. It is an
ancient and authentic aboriginal legend, shared both by Iroquois and Algonkins,
under slightly different forms. In one aspect, it is the Flood or Deluge Myth. For
the general form of this myth. see my Myths of the New World, pp. 119, 143, 182,
and American Hero Myths, p. 50, and authorities there quoted also, E. G. Squier, "
Manabozho and the Great Serpent; an Algonquin Tradition," in the American Review,
Vol. II, Oct., 1848.
The waters having disappeared, the home of the tribe is described as in a cold
northern clime. This they concluded to leave in search of warmer lands. Having
divided their people into a warrior and a peaceful class, they journeyed southward,
toward what is called the "Snake land." They approached this land in winter, over a
frozen river. Their number was large, but all had not joined in the expedition with
equal willingness, their members at the west preferring their ancient seats in the
north to the uncertainty of southern conquests. They, however, finally united with
the other bands, and they all moved south to the land of spruce pines [which are
burnt and broken. bobk].
This observation, taken from the writings of G.J.N. Wilson (The Early History of
Jackson County Georgia, 1914, pp. 188-193, W.E. White editor) though it does not
relate an impact, it gives a remarkable account of a Native American
Stonehenge-like construction as well as a description of the type conditions (which
were not unlike what might result from a small impact) that prompted a gathering.
About seventy-five yards from the west end of the natural rock dam they discovered
a curious upright statue a little over four feet high. It was made of a soft
talcose rock, 13 inches square at the bottom; but the top, from the shoulders up
was a fair representation of the human figure. The shoulders were rudimentary, but
the head was well formed. The neck was unduly long and slender. The chin and
forehead were retreating. The eyes were finely executed, and looked anxiously to
the east. It stood at the center of an earth mound (17) seventeen feet in
circumference and six feet high. Around it were many other mysteries which will
never be fully explained. Only a few of them may be mentioned now.
Four paths, doubtless the ones the Choctaws mentioned, led, with mathematical
precision, from the base of the mound to the cardinal points of the compass. Though
it seemed that no other part of the forest had been trodden by human feet, these
paths were as smooth and clean as a parlor floor. The scrubby cane, which seemed to
have been planted by design along their margins, was as neatly trimmed as if the
work had been done by a professional gardener. And here, amid those gloomy
solitudes the natives believed that our God, their Great Spirit, had walked as a
man walks along his homeward pathway.
The statue was found to be the center of an exact circle about one hundred and
fifty yards in diameter. Its boundary was plainly marked by holes in the ground
three feet apart. The holes to which the paths ran in a straight line from the
center were much larger than the intervening ones; and before them, inside the
circle, were what seemed to be stone altars of varying dimensions. At the end of
the path running to the north was a single triangular stone; at the east were five
square stones and four steps; at the west, four stones and three steps; at the
south, three stones and two steps. Upon the upper surface of all the stones except
that at the north the effect of fire was plainly visible and doubtless had been
used for sacrificial purposes.
All the paths terminated at the altars except the one running to the east. At this
the trail parted, and, uniting beyond it, continued a short distance and then, much
like an ascending column of smoke, disappeared, gradually. The account given by the
Choctaws was verified. On the smooth surfaces of the stones were deeply cut both
three and five-pointed half moons, whose horns turned in different ways.
A good representation of the rising sun and other curious characters were deeply
cut on the eastern altar.
Outside the circle were many ash heaps, beaten hard by the heavy hand of time, and
over some of them were growing gigantic oaks and towering pines, as if to mark the
grave of the dead past.
The following year, 1785, was a memorable one. In May there same a cold wave which
killed many large trees. The bird family was almost exterminated, and a large
eagle, accidentally feeling the warmth of the cabin, became domesticated and
remained a pet for several months, when it left wearing a bell which John Harris
had fastened around its neck with his name and date engraved upon it. In 1790 this
romantic bird was killed in the vicinity of Augusta. Even so large and hardy
animals as wolves and panthers were found dead in the forest, and many fish were
frozen in solid ice.
But the most remarkable phenomenon of that, or perhaps of any other year since the
crufixion of the Son of God was the Dark Day on November 24th. It has never been
explained, and the splendid illumination of the 20th century casts no light upon
the cause of the darkness. Though the sun was visible all day long, and appeared to
be much larger than usual, it omitted no light except such as may be seen while
passing through a dense fog at night. The whole of animated nature on the Western
Hemisphere was astonished on that day, and all who had ever heard of the final
judgment listened in anxious expectation of hearing the long-drawn blasts of
Gabriel's trumpet to wake the sleeping dead.
But only that which took place at Yamacutah concerns us now, and the tenth of that
can not be told here. Even such strong and heroic men as Clark, Bankston and Harris
were anxious, talked in whispers, and sat by their cabin all day. Various animals
passed by in utter confusion, and several opossums and raccoons crouched near them,
and though they sat with rifles across their knees, not a gun was fired the whole
During the day many Indians came, and seating themselves around the mystic circle,
gazed steadfastly towards the central figure. This they continued all day, and
perhaps all night; for when next morning they saw the sun rise bright and golden as
ever, they arose as one man, went inside the circle, and solemnly walking along the
path to a step as regular as the beating of a healthy heart, they disappeared
beyond the eastern altar as already indicated.
This was the last time this curious performance ever took place at the Tumbling
Shoals, or anywhere else so far as I ever heard. What did it mean? Was there any
more in it than a mere heathen ceremony ?
Clearly, in the light of contemporary knowledge, it is not outrageous to suppose
that humanity learned to dread comets as a consequence of direct experience with
destructive phenomena engendered by actual encounters with the immediate
environment of these flamboyant cosmic interlopers (see V. Clube and B. Napier,
1990). Indeed, early attempts to predict this infrequent but periodically recurring
phenomenon were quite likely the impetus which led to the widespread and ultimately
formalized belief that star positions could directly influence events on Earth.
Observed comet phenomena such as fragmentation, where a comet appears to produce
one or more offspring, can explain the origin of odd notions like Athena being born
fully formed from the head of Zeus. That these objects were feared and worshiped as
omnipotent, judgmental gods of the sky is understandable and seems attested to in
several ancient texts. For instance in Ezekiel 1:27-28 it is stated that:
. . . upon the throne, a form in human likeness. I saw what might have been brass
glowing like fire in a furnace from the waist upwards; and from the waist downwards
I saw what looked like fire with encircling radiance. Like a rainbow in the clouds
on a rainy day was the sight of that encircling radiance; it was like the
appearance of the glory of the Lord. When I saw this I threw myself on my face, . .
(New English Bible)
A similar description of celestial war-lord can be found in the Drona Parva of the
Many are the blazing and terrible forms of this God that men speak of and worship
in the world. Many also are the names, of truthful import, of this Deity in all the
worlds. Those names are founded upon his supremacy, his omnipotence, and his acts .
. . [several names and attributes are given]. . . Downwards fiery, and half the
body that is auspiciousness is the moon. His auspiciousness is the moon. So also
half his soul is fire and half the moon. (P.C. Roy 1973 ed., Vol. 6, pp. 486- 487)
That these stories are rooted in comet lore is suggested by content; for example,
in the above-mentioned Parva it is said of the preceptor that:
. . . When Drona, of sure aim, thus proceeded, the earth trembled violently. Fierce
winds began to blow, inspiring the (hostile) ranks with fear. Large meteors fell,
seemingly issuing out of the sun, blazing fiercely as they fell and foreboding great
terrors. (ibid. p. 452)
Drona's offspring was also quite formidable:
. . . the preceptor's son, that slayer of hostile heroes, inspired with mantras a
blazing shaft possessed of the effulgence of a smokeless fire, and let it off on
all sides, filled with rage. Dense showers of arrows then issued from it in the
welkin. Endued with fiery flames, those arrows encompassed Partha on all sides.
Meteors flashed down from the firmament. A thick gloom suddenly shrouded the
(Pandava) host. All the points of the compass also were enveloped by that darkness
. . . Inauspicious winds began to blow. The sun himself no longer gave any heat . .
. Clouds roared in the welkin, showering blood . . . The very elements seemed to be
perturbed. The sun seemed to turn. The universe, scorched with heat, seemed to be
in a fever. The elephants and other creatures of the land, scorched by the energy
of that weapon, ran in fright, breathing heavily and desirous of protection against
that terrible force. The very waters heated, the creatures residing in that
element, O Bharata, became exceedingly uneasy and seemed to burn. (ibid. p. 481)
The form perceived by Ezekiel, as well, seems capable of wreaking havoc on a grand
. . . says the Lord God, my wrath will boil over. In my jealousy and in the heat of
my anger I swear that on that day there shall be a great earthquake throughout the
land of Israel. The fish in the sea and the birds in the air, the wild animals and
all reptiles that move on the ground, all mankind on the face of the earth, all
shall be shaken before me. Mountains shall be torn up, the terraced hills collapse,
and every wall crash to the ground. I will summon universal terror against Gog,
says the Lord God, and his men shall turn their swords against one another. I will
bring him to judgement with pestilence and bloodshed; I will pour down teeming
rain, hailstones hard as rock, and fire and brimstone, upon him, upon his
squadrons, upon the whole concourse of peoples with him. Thus will I prove myself
great and holy and make myself known to many nations; they shall know that I am the
Lord. (New English Bible, Ezekiel 38:19-23)
Chauncey J. Blair, Heat in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda (American Oriental Series,
vol. 45) LC#: BL 1112.57.B55 1961, page-142
3. The fourth occurrence of himena is at RV. VIII, 32, 26 in which Hillebrandt, for
entirely different reasons, translates himena as " in winter."
(a) ahan vrtram rcisama
(b) aurnavabham ahqsuvam
(c) himenavidhyad arbudam
Hillebrandt 26 says that this is reminiscent of an old legend in which
the ice-demon and thereby makes the waters flow. Ludwig's translation of (c) ". . .
mit Winterkalte verwundete er den Arbuda," may be taken as typical of other
interpretations. Of it Hillebrandt says: " Ludwig ubersetzt ' mit Winterkaelte '
und findet es mit Recht auffaellig (V, 155), dass die Winterkaelte Indra's Waffe
Therefore himena is definitely open to another interpretation than "by means of
cold." It is interesting to note that Hopkins 27 cites the Atri story as evidence
that himena signifies " by means of cold " and as evidence that cold is a weapon of
Indra's. He says: "Hillebrandt's interpretation 'in winter' is a desperate attempt
to annul the absurdity of a sun-god killing with cold weather. But the use of
himena elsewhere shows that it is not winter but coldness. The Asvins regularly
employ this means to alleviate the extreme heat, gharma, with which Atri was
encompassed (e.g., RV. VIII, 73, 3)."
These cuneiform tablets which Kugler so diligently studied may yet be our clearest
window to an obscure past. They are unearthed documents--not handed down tales.
Bjorkman's article is illustrative of the potential for research in this area. It
also shows well causes for difficulty in understanding these texts. Bjorkman
herself states in preface that " . . .without having read parts of Middlehurst and
Kuiper (1963) [The Moon, Meteorites and Comets], I would not have adequately
understood the ancient description of a comet as a star with a tail and a beak."
Some enticing lines given by her are:
If a fireball (coming from) a planet is seen:
If a fireball (coming from) Mars is seen:
If a fireball (coming from) the Old-Man star is seen:
If a fireball moves across the Wagon-Star and stands
(if Venus) rises very high and constantly has a red glow,
(explanation) constantly (SAG.US = kunnu) a red fireball moves across,
variant: at its zenith(?) it is altogether red-hued
Sallummu is a key word in these lines. Bjorkman believes fireball or meteor is
indicated by this term. Mishu or meshu is another astronomical word which Bjorkman
renders as meteor and/or train of such. It seems likely to this investigator that
the term could also be applied to a bright comet tail. The word has also been
rendered as aufleuchten (flash or flaring) and as glow. Comments from later scribes
often appear within copies of older texts--ostensibly for clarification. The
following lines used by Bjorkman to illustrate the use of mishu contain
considerable commentary--perhaps this scribe was having trouble interpreting the
older text being copied. The reader should note how easily premise alters meaning
when interpreting ancient works. Were these lines inspired by meteors or comets?
TEXT: [If] in the sky a meteor (mishu) which (is) like a . . .rises heliacally(?),
(and) its train (mishu) appears in the east: famine will be in the land;
COM: its copy: . . . = husu, it twinkles like husu.
TEXT: If in the sky a meteor (train) from a planet (Mustabarrumutanu) appears:
destruction of cattle will occur in the land.
COM: sallummu = mesih of a star, the same is the zimu of a star. A planet
(Mustabarrumutanu) is shining brightly.
TEXT: [If] in the sky a meteor train which is like the meteor train from the
Nasru-star, = from the KUR.MUSEN-star, appears from east to west: famine will be in
COM: This means: the Nasru-star produced (a meteor train) from the top; these look
alike to him.
TEXT: If in the sky a meteor train occurs from east to west (and) north to south
(and) stands out (?) like a cross: the king of that land will die, and famine will
COM: (This means) two stars flashed.
In terms of the present discussion, the last line of text is most interesting.
Could it not be read: If in the sky a comet tail appears from east to west and
north to south and stands out like a cross? We know from modern observation that
comets can produce jets of gas which radiate outward. We have learned from a 2,500
year old Chinese comet atlas that records of a comet appearing as a cross on more
than one occasion were in existence. Furthermore, sky borne crosses begin to appear
in the art of a variety of cultures (including the one which produced the above
text) all over the world at least 5000 years ago. And lastly, the lines quoted
above are taken from an omen text devoted to Ishtar (generally labeled as Venus)
which has for one of its symbols a four pointed cross within a circle.
The cross, however, is only one aspect of a rotating, jetting comet. Such an object
can appear to be quite a different animal when viewed from another angle. To
appear as a cross the comet's rotational axis must be closely aligned with the
observers line of sight. The Sun's "wind" will also play a part, making the cross
less or more symmetrical depending upon how closely Earth, Sun and comet are
aligned with one another. Naturally, a short period comet will be observed more
often away from such optimum conditions. It is in these aspects that we may find
the origin of the many bazaar creatures and things our ancestors depicted as gods.
Viewed perpendicular to spin, a jetting comet could appear as a bird, a fly, a
four-legged animal, a horned animal's head, a fish, etc. What came to the viewer's
mind would depend largely on how the object was oriented with respect to the
horizon. If we add to this the likelihood that the main comet had a host of lesser
offspring clustered about, the variations of form become almost endless. Also, a
comet is not obligated to produce a certain number of jets; though shape of nucleus
may predispose it to a certain number of flares, the number of appendages could
vary from none to too many to discern.
Plato's Timeaus 21e--23b
[If you seek a direct statement from an ostensibly knowledgeable person who might
have had information lost to us now, one can't hope to find anything more succinct
than Plato's words below. I wonder what that "USUAL INTERVAL OF YEARS" was? bobk]
[22c] And this is the cause thereof: There have been and there will be many and
divers destructions of mankind, of which the greatest are by fire and water, and
lesser ones by countless other means. For in truth the story that is told in your
country as well as ours, how once upon a time Phaethon, son of Helios, yoked his
father's chariot, and, because he was unable to drive it along the course taken by
his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth and himself perished by a
thunderbolt,--THAT STORY, AS IT IS TOLD, HAS THE FASHION OF A LEGEND,
BUT THE TRUTH OF IT LIES IN [22d] THE OCCURRENCE OF A SHIFTING OF
THE BODIES IN THE HEAVENS WHICH MOVE ROUND THE EARTH, AND A
DESTRUCTION OF THE THINGS ON THE EARTH BY FIERCE FIRE, WHICH
RECURS AT LONG INTERVALS. At such times all they that dwell on the mountains
and in high and dry places suffer destruction more than those who dwell near to
rivers or the sea; and in our case the Nile, our Saviour in other ways, saves us
also at such times from this calamity by rising high. And when, on the other hand,
the Gods purge the earth with a flood of waters, all the herdsmen and shepherds
that are in the mountains are saved, [22e] but those in the cities of your land are
swept into the sea by the streams; whereas In our country neither then nor at any
other time does the water pour down over our fields from above, on the contrary it
all tends naturally to well up from below. Hence it is, for these reasons, that
what is here preserved is reckoned to be most ancient; the truth being that in
every place where there is no excessive heat or cold to prevent it there always
exists some human stock, now more, now less in number. [23a] And if any event has
occurred that is noble or great or in any way conspicuous, whether it be in your
country or in ours or in some other place of which we know by report, all such
events are recorded from of old and preserved here in our temples; whereas your
people and the others are but newly equipped, every time, with letters and all such
arts as civilized States require and when, AFTER THE USUAL INTERVAL OF YEARS,
LIKE A PLAGUE, THE FLOOD FROM HEAVEN COMES SWEEPING DOWN AFRESH
UPON YOUR PEOPLE, [23b] it leaves none of you but the unlettered and uncultured, so
that you become young as ever, with no knowledge of all that happened in old times
in this land or in your own.
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
CCCMENU CCC for 1998