"The Chinese Classics" (1960 ed.), translated by James Legge, are an excellent source of astro-myth, particularly volumes III and IV (The Shoo King and The She King). Though Legge's translation of these ancient texts is biased toward a gradualist interpretation, his notes are copious and the Chinese characters are printed. This researcher, with the aid of a native Chinese linguistics student, has found many phrases which, due to recent information, context, and often Legge's own notes, show need of reinterpretation. Confusion arises because customs and symbols often continue long after the conditions or phenomena which inspired them. The Pawnee sacrificed people (generally a young woman) to Venus into the 19th century. They also did this when a bright comet appeared. Venus's claim to fame seems to be that it visually mimics a perihelion pass of a comet--it fits tradition.
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 calenders. 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 or 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 Japan.
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 candle.
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 or Leader.
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, 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 season."
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 three days.
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 the aerial photograph of Tara shown. It is, of course, possible to suppose that other impetus lead to the myths, customs, and constructs mentioned above; many suppositions have been put forth. What distinguishes the speculation pursued in this discussion is its inherent predictive aspect.
If our ancestors experienced periods of heavy celestial bombardment, physical evidence of such activity should still exist. A thorough examination of cores taken from long standing ice packs seems the most expedient method of determining the veracity of this theory. Debris from the Tunguska impact (1908) has been found at both poles [this debris, reported by Ganapathy (1983), proved not to be of the Tunguska impact, in fact a definite widespread signature of the event is still lacking. bobk]; material from earlier events equal to or greater than the 1908 collision should (unless caused by objects comprised exclusively of very clean ice) also be recoverable.
[On Tunguska debris see R. Ganapathy, Science Vol. 220, 10 June 83, pp. 1158-1161.]
Discussion D | Home