Hamlet’s Mill: Part 6

CHAPTER 9
Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top

Tops of different sorts, and jointed dolls,
            and fair golden
apples from the clear-voiced Hesperides . . .

—Orpheus the Thracian

 

Though I am not by nature rash or splenetic
            Yet there is in me something dangerous
            Which let thy wisdom fear. . .

—Hamlet, Act V

A REASONABLE CASE has been made for the extreme antiquity and continuity of certain traditions concerning the heavens. Even if Amlodhi’s Quern, the Grotte and the Sampo as individual myths cannot be traced back beyond the Middle Ages, they are derived in different ways from that great and durable patrimony of astronomical tradition, the Middle East.

Now it is time to locate the origin of the image of the Mill, and further, what its alleged breakup and the coming into being of the Whirlpool can possibly mean.

The starting place is Greece. Cleomedes (c. A.D. 150), speaking of the northern latitudes, states (1.7): “The heavens there turn around in the way a millstone does.” Al-Farghani in the East takes up the same idea, and his colleagues will supply the details. They call the star Kochab, beta Ursae Minoris, “mill peg,” and the stars of the Little Bear, surrounding the North Pole, and Fas al-rahha (the hole of the mill peg) “because they represent, as it were, a hole (the axle ring) in which the mill axle turns, since the axle of the equator (the polar axis) is to be found in this region, fairly close to the star Al-jadi (he-goat, Polaris: alpha Ursae Minoris).” These are the words of the Arab cosmographer al-Kazvini. Ideler comments [n1 Ludwig Ideler: Untersuchung uber den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Stern­namen (1809), pp. 4, 17.]:

Koth, the common name of the Pole, means really the axle of the movable upper millstone which goes through the lower fixed one, what is called the “mill-iron.” On this ambiguity is founded the analogy mentioned by Kazvini. The sphere of heaven was imagined as a turning millstone, and the North Pole as the axle bearing in which the mill-iron turns. . . Fas is explained by Giggeo . . . as rima, scissura etc. . . . The Fas al-rahha of our text, which stands also in the Dresden globe beside the North Pole of the Equator, should therefore repre­sent the axle bearing.

Farther to the east, in India, the Bhagavata Purana tells us how the virtuous prince Dhruva was appointed as Pole star [n2 F. Normann, Mythen der Sterne (1925), p. 108. See now The Srimad-Bhaga­vatam of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa 5.3 (trans. J. N. Sanyal, vol. 2, pp. 248f.): “Just as oxen, fastened to a post fixed in the center of a threshing floor, leaving their own station, go round at shorter, middle or longer distances, similarly fixed on the inside and outside of the circle of time, stars and planets exist, supporting themselves on Dhruva; and propelled by the wind, they range in every direction till the end of a kalpa.”]. The particular “virtue” of the prince, which alarmed even the gods, is worth mentioning: he stood on one leg for more than a month, motionless. This is what was announced to him: “The stars, and their figures, and also the planets shall turn around you.” Accordingly, Dhruva ascends to the highest pole, “to the exalted seat of Vishnu, round which the starry spheres forever wander, like the upright axle of the corn mill circled without end by the labouring oxen.”

The simile of the oxen driven around is not alien to the West. It has remained in our languages thanks to the Latin Septemtriones, the seven threshing oxen of Ursa Major: “that we are used to calling the Seven Oxen,” according to Cicero’s translation of Aratus.

On a more familiar level there is a remark by Trimalchio in Petronius (Satyricon 39): “Thus the orb of heaven turns around like a millstone, and ever does something bad.”

It was not a foreign idea to the ancients that the mills of the gods grind slowly, and that the result is usually pain.

Thus the image travels far and wide by many channels, reaches the North by way of Celtic-Scandinavian transmission and appears in Snaebjorn’s account of his voyage of discovery in the Arctic. There should be added to those enigmatic lines of his what is known now of the background in Scandinavian lore. The nine grim goddesses who “once ground Amlodhi’s meal,” working now that “host-cruel skerry quern” beyond the edge of the world, are in their turn only the agents of a shadowy controlling power called Mundilfoeri, literally “the mover of the handle” (appendix #15).

The word mundil, says Rydberg, “is never used in the old Norse literature about any other object than the sweep or handle with which the movable millstone is turned,” [n3 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), pp. 581ff. Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2d ed., lists “mundle”: A stick for stirring. Obsolete except for dialectical use. (We are indebted for this reference to Mrs. Jean Whitnack.)] and he is backed by Vigfusson’s dictionary which says that “mundil” in “Mundilfoeri” clearly refers to “the veering round or revolution of the heavens.”

The case is then established. But there is an ambiguity here which discloses further depths in the idea. “‘Moendull’ comes from Sanskrit ‘Manthati,'” says Rydberg, “it means to swing, twist, bore (from the root manth-, whence later Latin mentula), which occurs in several passages in the Rigveda. Its direct application always refers to the production of fire by friction.” [n4 To term it “friction” is a nice way to shut out dangerous terms: actually, the Sanskrit radical math, manth means drilling in the strict sense, i.e., it involves alternate motion (see H. Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig-Veda [1955], pp. 976f.) as we have it in the famous Amritamanthana, the Churning of the Milky Ocean, and this very quality of India’s churn and fire drill has had far-reaching influence on cosmological conceptions.].

So it is, indeed. But Rydberg, after establishing the etymology, has not followed up the meaning. The locomotive engineers and airplane pilots of today who coined the term “joy stick” might have guessed. For the Sanskrit Pramantha is the male fire stick, or churn stick, which serves to make fire. And Pramantha has turned into the Greeks’ Prometheus, a personage to whom it will be necessary to come back frequently.

What seems to be deep confusion is in reality only two differing aspects of the same complex idea. The lighting of fire at the pole is part of that idea. But the reader is not the first to be perplexed by an imagery which allows for the presence of planets at the pole, even if it were only for the purpose of kindling the “fire” which was to last for a new age of the world, that world-age which the particular “Pramantha” was destined to rule. The handle, “moendull,” and the fire drill are complementary: both have had great developments which superimpose on each other and on a multitude of myths. The obstacles which imagination has to overcome are the associations which are connected spontaneously with “fire,” that is, the real burning fire in chimney or hearth, and the kind of “fire” associated with the mentioned “joy stick.” Both are irrelevant as far as cosmological terminology is concerned, but they lent the linguistic vehicle which was used to carry the ideas of astronomy and alchemy.

It should be stated right now that “fire” is actually a great circle reaching from the North Pole of the celestial sphere to its South Pole, whence such strange utterances as Rigveda 5.13.6: “Agni! How the felly [n5 The rim of the wheel in which the spokes fit.] the spokes, thus you surround the gods.” (Agni is the so-called “fire-god,” or the personified fire.) The Atharva Veda says, moreover, that the fire sticks belong to the skambha [n6 10.8.20 Cf. RV 10.24.4 and 10.184.3 with Geldner’s remark that in this stanza of the Atharva Veda the fire sticks are treated as a great secret and attributed to skambha.], the world’s axis, the very skambha from which the Sampo has been derived (see above, p. 111) .

The identity of the Mill, in its many versions, with heaven is thus universally understood and accepted. But hitherto nobody seems to have wondered about the second part of the story, which also occurs in the many versions. How and why does it always happen that this Mill, the peg of which is Polaris, had to be wrecked or unhinged? Once the archaic mind had grasped the forever-enduring rotation, what caused it to think that the axle jumps out of the hole? What memory of catastrophic events has created this story of destruction? Why should Vainamoinen (and he is not the only one) state explicitly that another Mill has to be constructed (see p. 110)? Why had Dhruva to be appointed to play Pole star–and for a given cycle? [n­7 The Vishnu Purana 1.12 (d. 2.8, p. 187 of the Wilson translation) betrays the Indian predilection for huge and unrealistic numbers and periods: Dhruva is meant to last one kalpa–4,320,000 years.] For the story refers in no way to the creation of the world. One might even ask, as the alternative solution to Rydberg’s challenging “limb-grist,” whether Bergelmer was not heaved in the same manner “upon the millstone,” that is, appointed to play Pole star (see above, p. 92).

The simple answer lies in the facts of the case. The Pole star does get out of place, and every few thousand years another star has to be chosen which best approximates that position. It is well known that the Great Pyramid, so carefully sighted, is not oriented at our Pole Star but at alpha Draconis, which occupied the position at the pole 5,000 years ago. But, as has been mentioned above (Intermezzo, p. 66), it is the more difficult for moderns to imagine that in those far-off ages men could keep track of such imperceptible shifting, as many of them are not aware of the mere facts. As Dr. Alexander Pogo, the Palomar astronomer, has written in frustration: “I give up quoting further examples of the obstinate belief of our Egyptologists in the immobility of the heavenly pole.” [n8 “Zum Problem der Identifikation der nordlichen Sternbilder der alten Aegyp­ter,” ISIS 16 (1931), p. 103.]. Yet there is quite a collection of myths to show that once upon a time it was realized that the sphere of fixed stars is not meant to circle around the same peg forever and ever. Several myths tell how Polaris is shot down, or removed in some other way. That is reserved for an appendix (#15).

Most of these myths, however, come under a misleading name. They have been understood to deal with the end of the world. But there are extremely few “eschatological” myths entitled to this label. For example, the Twilight of the Gods is understood as the world’s end, yet there is unambiguous testimony to the contrary from the Voluspa and other chapters of the Edda. What actually comes to an and is a world, in the sense of a world-age. The catastrophe cleans out the past, which is replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth,” and ruled by a “new” Pole star. The biblical flood was also the end of a world, and Noah’s adventure is rehearsed in many traditions and many forms all over the planet. The Greeks knew of three successive destructions.

Coherence will be re-established in this welter of traditions if it is realized that what is referred to is that grandest of heavenly phenomena, the Precession of the Equinoxes. The phenomenon has been dealt with in the Intermezzo already, but it is essential enough to be taken up more than once. Being so slow, and in a man’s age so imperceptible, it has been taken for granted [n9 I.e., during the last hundred years, at least. In former times, when the Humanities had not yet been “infected” by the biological scheme of evolution, the scholars showed better confidence in the capacities of the creators of high civilization.] that no one; could have detected the Precession prior to Hipparchus’ alleged discovery of the phenomenon, in 127 B.C. Hipparchus discovered and proved that the Precession turns around the pole of the ecliptic [n10 See Ptolemy, Syntaxis 7.3 (Manitius trans., vol. 2, pp. 16f.). The magnitude calculated by Hipparchus and accepted by Ptolemy was I degree in 100 years.]. It is said that it must have taken an almost modern instrumentation to detect the motion over the brief space of a century, and this is certainly correct. Nobody claims, however, that the discovery, as deduced from observations during one century. And the shift of 1 degree in 72 years, piling up over centuries, will produce appreciable shifts in certain crucial positions, if the observers have enough intentness of mind and know how to keep records. The technique of observation was relatively simple. It was based on the heliacal rising of stars, which remained a fundamental feature in Babylonian astronomy. The telescope of early times, as Sir Norman Lockyer has said, was the line of the horizon. If you came to realize that a certain star, which was wont to rise just before the equinoctial sun, was no longer visible on that day, it was clear that the gears of heaven had shifted. If that star was the last one of a given zodiac figure, it meant that the equinox was moving into a new figure. For is there any doubt–as was already said–that far antiquity was already aware of the shifting of the Pole star.

But was it capable of connecting both motions? This is where modern specialists, operating each from his own special angle of vision, have long hesitated.

What is the Precession? Very few have troubled to learn about it, yet to any man of our time, who knows the earth to be spinning around on her axis, the example of a spinning top with its inclined axis slowly shifting around in a circle makes the knowledge intuitive. Anyone who has played with a gyroscope will know all about the Precession. As soon as its axis is deflected from the vertical, the gyroscope will start that slow and obstinate movement around the compass which changes its direction while keeping its inclination constant. The earth, a spinning top with an axis inclined with respect to the sun’s pull, behaves like a giant gyroscope, which performs a full revolution in 25,920 years.

Antiquity was not likely to grasp this, since dynamics came into this world only with Galileo. Hipparchus and Ptolemy could not understand the mechanism. They could only describe the motion. We must try to see through their eyes, and think only in terms of kinematics. Over a period of a thousand years ancient observers could discern in the secular shifting of the Great Gyroscope (it is here in fact that the word “secular” now used in mechanics originates) a motion through about ten degrees. Once attuned to the secular motion, they were able to detect, in the daily whirring of heaven around the pole, in its yearly turning in the round of the seasons, in the excruciatingly slow motion of the pole over the years, a point which seemed intrinsically more stable than the pole itself. It was the pole of the ecliptic [n11 See A. Bouche-Leclerq, L’Astrologie Grecque (1899), p. 122: “On sait que le pole par excellence etait pour les Chaldeens le pole de l’ecliptique, lequel est dans la constellation du Dragon.” Cf. also A. Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1653), vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 205: “Ponebant Aegyptii non Aequatorem, sed Zodiacum basis loco; ita ut centrum hemispherii utriusque non polum Mundi, sed polum Zodiaci referret.”], often referred to as the Open Hole in Heaven because in that region there is no star to mark it. The symmetries of the machine took shape in their minds. And truly it was the time machine, as Plato understands it, the “moving image of eternity.” The “mighty marching and the golden burning,” cycle upon cycle, even down to shifts barely perceptible over the centuries, were the Generations of Time itself, the cyclical symbol of everlastingness: for, as Aristotle says, what is eternal is circular, and what is circular is eternal.

Yet this uniformly working time machine could be marked with important stations. The gyroscopic tilt causes continual shifting of our celestial equator, which cuts the inclined circle of the ecliptic along a regular succession of points, moving uniformly from east to west. Now the points where the two circles cross are the equinoctial points. Hence the sun, moving on the ecliptic through the year, meets the equator on a point which shifts steadily with the years along the ring of zodiacal signs. This is what is meant by the Precession of the Equinoxes. They “precede” because they go against the order of the signs as the sun establishes this in its yearly march. The vernal equinox–we called it the “fiducial point” previously–which was traditionally the opening of spring and the beginning of the year, will take place in one sign after another. This gives great meaning to the change of signs in which the equinoctial sun happens to rise.

Some additional words of guidance may be called for here, where “signs” are mentioned–those “in” which the sun rises. For roughly two thousand years official terminology has used only zodiacal “signs,” each of which occupies 30 degrees of the 360 degrees of the whole circle. These signs have the names of the zodiacal constellations, but constellations and signs are not congruent, the equinoctial sign (= 0° – 30°) being called Aries regardless of the constellation that actually rises before the equinoctial sun. In our time, the constellation rising heliacally on March 21 is Pisces, but the “sign” preserves the name Aries, and will continue to do so when in the future Aquarius rules the vernal equinox. So much for sign versus constellation [n12 Here, we leave out of consideration the much discussed question of exactly when signs. of equal length were first introduced; allegedly it was very late (see below, p. 431, n. 1). The actual constellations differ widely in length–the huge Scorpion, e.g., covers many more degrees than 30, whereas the Ram is of modest dimensions. One would think that this lack of uniformity would have so hampered the ancient astronomers in making their calculations that they would have worked out a more convenient frame of coordinates in sheer self-defense.

As concerns the second ambiguous expression, namely, the sun’s rising “in” a constellation (or a sign)–this means that the sun rises together with this constellation, making it invisible. There are several reasons for assuming that a constellation (and a planet which happened to be there), “in” which the equinoctial sun rose, was termed to be “sacrificed,” “bound to the sacrificial post,” and the like; and this might explain eventually why Christ, who opened the world-age in which Pisces rose heliacally in the spring, was understood as the sacrificed lamb. When Pisces is the last constellation visible in the east before sunrise, the sun rises together, i.e., “in,” the constellation following next, the Ram.

Since the beginning of history, the vernal equinox has moved through Taurus, Aries, and Pisces. This is all that historic experience has shown mankind: a section of about one-quarter of the whole main circle of the machine. That it would come back full circle was at best an inference. It might also, for all men knew, have been part of an oscillation, back and forth, and in fact there were two schools of thought about it, and the oscillation theory seems to have exercised a greater attraction upon the mythographers of old.

For us, the Copernican system has stripped the Precession of its awesomeness, making it a purely earthly affair, the wobbles of an average planet’s individual course. But if, as it appeared once, it was the mysteriously ordained behavior of the heavenly sphere, or the cosmos as a whole, then who could escape astrological emotion? For the Precession took on an overpowering significance. It became the vast impenetrable pattern of fate itself, with one world-age succeeding another, as the invisible pointer of the equinox slid along the signs, each age bringing with it the rise and downfall of astral configurations and rulerships, with their earthly consequences. Tales had to be told for the people about how successions of ruler­ships arose from an origin, and about the actual creation of the world, but for those in the know the origin was only a point in the precessional circle, like the 0 = 24 of our dials. Our clocks today show two pointers only; but the tale-tellers of those bygone days, facing the immense and slow-moving machine of eternity, had to keep track of seven planetary pointers beside the daily revolution of the fixed sphere and of its secular motion in the opposite direc­tion. All these motions meant parts of time and fate.

That things are not as they used to be, that the world is obviously going from bad to worse, seems to have been an established idea through the ages. The unhinging of the Mill is caused by the shifting of the world axis. Motion is the medium by which the wrecking is brought about. The Mill is “transported,” be it Grotte or Sampo. The Grotte Song says explicitly that the giantesses first ground forth enemy action whereby the Mill was carried, away and then, shortly afterwards, ground salt and wrecked the machine. It was the end of “Frodhi’s peace”–the Golden Age. Even in Snaebjorn’s famous lines, the grim goddesses “out at the edge of the world” are those “who ground Amlodhi’s meal in ages past.” They can hardly be doing it now, because the wrecked millstone is at the bottom of the sea, with its hole become the funnel of the whirlpool. So that Mill has been transferred to the waters, and it is now the sea itself which has become “Amlodhi’s churn.” The heavenly Mill has been readjusted, it goes on working in a new age. It churned once gold, then salt, and today sand and stones. But one cannot, expect the rough Norse mythography to follow it in these legends, which are centered upon storm and wreck, the end of that first age.

Even Hesiod is far from clear about the early struggles and cataclysms; it is enough that in his Works and Days he marks a succession of five ages. A more coherent picture can only be built out of the convergence of several traditions, and this shall be the task of further chapters. But right now, there is at least one age designated as the first, when the Mill ground out peace and plenty. It is the Golden Age, in Latin tradition, Saturnia regna, the reign, of Saturn; in Greek, Kronos. In this dim perplexing figure there is an extraordinary concordance throughout world myths. In India it as Yama; in the Old Persian Avesta it was Yima xsaeta [n13 See H. Collitz, “Konig Yima und Saturn,” Festschrift Pavry (1933) pp. 86-108. See also A. Scherer, Gestirnnamen hei den indogermanischen Volkern (1953), p.87.], a name which became in New Persian Jamshyd; in Latin Saeturnus, then Saturn’s.

Saturn or Kronos in many names had been known as the Ruler of the Golden Age, of that time when men knew no war and bloody sacrifices, not the inequality of classes–Lord of Justice and Measures, as Enki since Sumerian days, the Yellow Emperor and legislator in China.

If one wants to find the traces of his sunken Mill in classical mythology, they are not lacking [n14 Although the Telchines are entitled to be investigated thoroughly, we can only mention them here: this strange family of “submarine magic spirits” and “demons of the depth of the sea”–they are followers of Poseidon in Rhodes–have invented the mill; i.e., their leader did so–Mylas, “the miller.” Knowing beforehand, it was said, of the predestined flood which was to destroy Rhodes, these former inhabitants left for Lycia, Cyprus and Crete, the more so, as they also knew that Helios was going to take over the island after the flood. On the other hand, these envious creatures–they have the “evil eye,” too-are accused of having ruined the whole vegetation of Rhodes by sprinkling it with Styx-water. As will come out later (see “Of Time and the Rivers,” p. 200), the waters of Styx are not so easily to be had; that the Telchines, the “mill gods” (theoi mylantioi) had access to Styx proves beyond doubt that these earliest defoliators had turned, indeed, into citizens of the deep sea. See Griechische Mythologie, Preller-Robert (1964), vol. I, pp. 650ff.; M. Mayer, Giganten und Titanen in der antiken Sage und Kunst (1887), pp. 45, 98, 101; H. Usener, Gotternamen (1948), pp. I 98f.]. The oldest is to be found where one would not expect it, in the Great Magical Papyrus of Paris, which is dated about the first half of the fourth century A.D. [n15 K. Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae (1928), vol. I, p. 64.]. In its recipes is the “much demanded Oracle of Kronos, the so-called Little Mill”:

Take two measures of sea salt and grind it with a handmill, repeating all the while the prayer that I give you, until the God appears. If you hear while praying the heavy tread of a man and the clanking of irons, this is the god that comes with his chains, carrying a sickle. Do not be afraid, for you are covered by the protection that I give you. Be wrapped in white linen such as the priests of Isis wear [here follow a number of magic rites]. The prayer to be said while grinding is as follows: I call upon thee, great and holy One, founder of the whole world we live in, who sufferest wrong at the hands of thy own son, thee whom Helios bound with iron chains, so that All should not come to confusion. Man-Woman, father of thunder and lightning, thou who rulest also those below the earth. [There follow more rites of protection, then the formula of dismissal]: Go, Lord of the World, First Father, return to your own place, so that the All remain well guarded. Be merciful, O Lord [n16 4.308ff., Preisendanz, vol. I, p. 173.].

Sorcerers and conjurors are the most conservative, people on earth. Theirs is not to reason why; they call upon the Power in terms they no longer understand, but they have to give an exact list of the archaic attributes of the fallen god, and even grind out sea salt from the Little Mill, the model of the whirlpool that marked his downfall. What had once been science has become with them pure technology, bent on preservation. A. Barb once coined a simile­–he had revealed religion in mind, however, not science; dealing with the relation between magic practices and religion, he pointed to Matt. xxiv.28, Luke xvii.37: “Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” and “Too many critical scholars have been ready to assume that the carcase is therefore a creation of the eagles. But eagles do not create; they disfigure, destroy and dispense what life has left, and we must not mistake the colourful display of decay for the blossoms and fruit of life.” [n17 “Sr. Zacharias,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 11 (1948), p. 95. It has not escaped his attention, by the way, that it should be vultures.]. Poignant as this image is, namely, in establishing the proper consecutio temporum, it leaves out of consideration the preserving function of magic and superstition: where would the historian of culture be left without those “eagles”?

For all the titles and attributes here listed, there is justification in archaic myth. Right here, only one point is of importance. The Lord of the Mill is declared to be Saturn/Kronos, he whom his son Zeus dethroned by throwing him off his chariot and banished in “chains” to a blissful island, where he dwells in sleep, for being immortal he cannot die, but is thought to live a life-in-death, wrapped in funerary linen, until his time, say some, shall come to awaken again, and he will be reborn to us as a child.


CHAPTER 10
The Twilight of the Gods

THERE WAS ONCE, then, a Golden Age. Why, how, did it come to an end? This has been a deep concern of mankind over time, refracted in a hundred myths, explained in so many ways which always expressed sorrow, nostalgia, despondency. Why did man lose the Garden of Eden? The answer has always been, because of some original sin. But the idea that man alone was able to commit sin, that Adam and Eve are the guilty ones, is not very old. The authors of the Old Testament had developed a certain conceit. Christianity then had to come to rescue and restore cosmic proportions, by insisting that God alone could offer himself in atonement.

In archaic times, this had seemed to be self-evident. The gods alone could run or wreck the universe. It is there that we should search for the origin of evil. For evil remains a mystery. It is not in nature. The faultless and all-powerful machine of the heavens should have yielded only harmony and perfection, the reign of justice and innocence, rivers flowing with milk and honey. It did, but that time did not last. Why did history begin to happen? History is always terrible. Philosophers from Plato to Hegel have offered their own lofty answer: pure Being was confronted of a necessity with Non-Being, and the result was Becoming, which is an uninsurable business. This was substantially the original answer of archaic times, but because of the lack of abstractions, it had to be derived in terms of heavenly motions.

Aristotle, the Master of Those Who Know, has cleared up this matter in a most important, yet little noted passage of Book Lambda of Metaphysics (I074b) where he talks about Kronos, Zeus, Aphrodite, etc.:

Our forefathers in the most remote ages [archaioi kai panpalaioi] have handed down to their posterity a tradition, in; the form [schema] of a myth, that these bodies are gods and that the divine encloses the whole of nature. The rest of the tradition has been added later in mythical form. . . ; they say that these gods are in the form of men or like some of the other animals. . . But if one were to separate the first point from these additions and take it alone–that they thought the first substances to be gods, one must regard this as an inspired utterance, and reflect that, while probably each art and each science has often been developed as far as possible and has again perished, these opinions, with others, have been preserved until the present like relics [leipsana] of the ancient treasure.

Aristotle, being a true Greek, cannot conceive of progress in our sense. Time proceeds for him in cycles of flowering and decay. But this absence of modern preconceptions had left his mind open to an ancient certainty. This certainty is what shines through the mist of ages and through a language dimly understood. It was attention to the events of heaven which shaped men’s minds before recorded history; but since there was as yet no writing, the thoughts have receded, as astrophysicists would say, over the “event horizon.” They can survive only through fragments of tale and myth because these made up the only technical language of those times.

Yet an enormous intellectual achievement is presupposed in this organization of heaven, in naming the constellations and in tracing the paths of the planets. Lofty and intricate theories grew to account for the motions of the cosmos. One would wonder about this obsessive concern with the stars and their motion, were it not the case that those early thinkers thought they had located the gods which rule the universe and with it also the destiny of the soul down here and after death.

In modern language, they had found the essential invariants where Being is. In paying respect to those forefathers, Aristotle shows himself clearly aware that his philosophical quest started with them.

One should pay attention to the cosmological information contained in ancient myth, information of chaos, struggle and violence.

They are not mere projections of a troubled consciousness: They are attempts to portray the forces which seem to have taken part in the shaping of the cosmos. Monsters, Titans, giants locked in battle with the gods and trying to scale Olympus are functions and components of the order that is finally established.

A distinction is immediately clear. The fixed stars are the essence of Being, their assembly stands for the hidden counsels and the unspoken laws that rule the Whole. The planets, seen as gods, represent the Forces and the Will: all the forces there are, each of them seen as one aspect of heavenly power, each of them one aspect of the ruthless necessity and precision expressed by heaven. One might also say that while the fixed stars represent the kingly power, silent and unmoving, the planets are the executive power.

Are they in total harmony? This is the dream that the contemplative mind has expressed again and again, that Kepler tried to fix by writing down the notes of his “Harmony of the Spheres,” and that was consecrated in the “turning over” of the sky. This is the faith expressed by ancient thinkers in a Great Year, in which all the motions brought back all the planets to the same original configuration. But the computations created doubt very early and with it anxiety. Only rarely is there an explicit technical statement of those views. Here is one from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Osiris speaking:

“Hail, Thot! What is it that hath happened to the divine children of Nut? They have done battle, they have upheld strife, they have made slaughter, they have caused trouble: in truth, in all their doing the mighty have worked against the weak. Grant, O might of Thot, that that which the God Atum hath decreed (may be accomplished)! And thou regardest not evil nor art thou provoked to anger when they bring their years to confusion and throng in and push to disturb their months; for in all that they have done unto thee, they have worked iniquity in secret!” [n1 Chapter 175, 1-8, W. Budge trans. The italics are ours.].

Thot is the god of science and wisdom; as for Atum, he precedes, so to speak, the divine hierarchy. Described only in metaphysical terms, he is the mysterious entity from which the All sprang: his name might be Beginning-and-End. He is thus the Presence and the secret Counsel whom one feels tempted to equate with the starry sky itself. His decree must be of immutable perfection. But here it appears that there are forces which have worked iniquity in secret. They appear everywhere, these forces, and regularly they are denounced as “overbearing,” or “iniquitous,” or both. But these “forces” are not iniquitous right from the beginning: they turn out to be, they become overbearing in the course of time. Time alone turns the Titans, who once ruled the Golden Age, into “workers of iniquity” (compare appendix #12 ).

The idea of measure stated or implied will show the basic crime of these “sinners”: it is the over­reaching, overstepping of the ordained degree, and this is meant literally [n2 It is only the careless manner in which we usually deal with precise terms that blocks the understanding: e.g., Greek moira, also written moros, is translated as “fate,” “destiny,” sometimes as “doom”; moira is one degree of the 360° of the circle; when we keep this in mind we understand better such lines as Od. I.34-35, where Aegisthus is accused twice of having done deeds “hyper moron,” beyond degree. How could one overstep one’s destiny? How could one be overmeasured against fate? This would invalidate the very concept of “destiny.”]. Says the Mahabharata about the Indian Titans, the Asura: “assuredly were the Asura originally just, good and charitable, knew the Dharma and sacrificed, and were possessed of many other virtues. . . But afterwards as they multiplied in number, they became proud, vain, quarrelsome. . . they made confusion in everything. Thereupon in the course of time. . .” they were doomed [n3 V. Fausboll, Indian Mythology according to the Mahabharata (1902), pp. 40f.].

Thus severe consequences must be expected when Gen. vi. I commences with the formula, “when men began to multiply on the face of the earth. . .” And sure enough, ten verses later, Gen. vi. 11, the time for grave decisions has come: “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh!’ ” More outspoken is the 18th chapter of the Book of Enoch, where an Angel acts as Enoch’s guide through the celestial landscape. In showing him the quarters destined for iniquitous personalities, the Angel tells Enoch: “These stars which roll around over the fire are those who, at rising time, overstepped the orders of God: they did not rise at their appointed time.

And He was wroth with them, and He bound them for 10,000 years until the time when their sin shall be fulfilled.” [n4 E. Kautzsch, ed., Die Apokryphen una Pseudoepigraphen des Alten Testaments (1900), vol. 2, pp. 249f.]

Yet one must beware of simplifications. The wording, “assuredly were the Asura originally just, good and charitable,” goes for the Titans, too, the forces of the first age of the world. But seen through the “eyeglasses” of the preceding state of things, Titans, Asura and their like had committed atrocities first. And so did Saturn, the “originator of times,” and in the drastic measure he took to accomplish the “separation of the parents of the world,” which stands for the falling apart of the axes of equator and ecliptic. Before this separation time did not exist. These “united parents”–heartlessly called “chaos” by Macrobius–resented the breaking up of the original eternity by the forces which worked iniquity in secret [n5 There is no complete unanimity among mythographers, though; in Hesiod’s Theogony, Gaia “rejoiced greatly in spirit” (173) when Kronos promised to do away with Father Ouranos according to Gaia’s very own plan and advice.]. These forces as they appear in the Enuma elish, the so-called Babylonian Creation Epic, are the children of Apsu and Tiamat and they crowded in between their parents. “They disturbed Tiamat as they surged back and forth; yea, they troubled the mood of Tiamat. Apsu could not lessen their clamor . . . Unsavory were their ways, they were overbearing.” [n6 EE Tabl. 1.22-28 (E. Speiser trans.), ANET, p. 61.].

Not having “multiplied” yet, this first generation of the world established the Golden Age under the rule of Him of many names–Enki, Yima, Freyr and many more. “But these sons whom he begot himself, great Heaven [megas Ouranos] used to call Titans [Strainers] in reproach, for he said that they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, and that vengeance for it would come afterwards,” as Hesiod has it (Theogony 207-10) [n7 This translation by H. G. Evelyn-White (LCL) pays no tregard to a “pun,” a rather essential one, indeed. Hesiod makes use, side by side in these few lines, of both radicals from which “Titan” was supposed to have been derived: titaino, “to strain,” and tisis, “vengeance.”].

And so it would, after their “multiplication,” when they overstrained the measure. And it was bound to happen again when future generations would construct “forbidden ways to the sky [n8 Claudianus 26.69-71, speaking of the Aloads, who piled Ossa upon Olympus.], or build a tower which happened to be too high. The one secure measure, the “golden rope” of the solar year [n9 See e.g., RV 5.85.5: “This great feat of the famous Asurian Varuna I shall proclaim who, standing in the air, using the Sun as an inch scale, measured the earth.”], is stretched beyond repair. The equinoctial sun had been gradually pushed out of its Golden Age “sign,” it had started on the way to new conditions, new configurations. This is the frightful event, the unexpiable crime that was ascribed to the Children of Heaven. They had nudged the sun out of place, and now it was on the move, the universe was out of kilter and nothing, nothing–days, months or years, the rising or setting of stars–was going to fall into its rightful place any more. The equinoctial point had nudged and nuzzled its way forward, in the very same way as a car with automatic gearshift will nuzzle its way forward unless we put it in neutral-and there was no way of putting the equinox in neutral. The infernal pushing and squeezing of the Children of Heaven had separated the parents, and now the time machine had been set rolling forever, bringing forth at every new age “a new heaven and a new earth,” in the words of Scripture. As Hesiod says, the world had entered now the second stage, that of the giants., who were to wage a decisive battle with the restraining forces before their downfall.

The vision of a whole world-age with its downfall is given by the Edda. It comes in the very first poem, the Song of the Sibyl, the Voluspa, in which the prophetess Vala embraces past and future in adequately strange and obscure language. At the beginning of the Age of the Aesir, the gods gather in council, and give; names to sun and mon, days and nights and seasons. They order the years and assign to the stars their places. On Idavollr (the “whiirl-field”; ida = eddy), they establish their seat “in the Golden Age ” and play checkers with golden pieces, and all is happiness until “the three awful maidens” come (this is another mystery) [n10 The three maidens from Jotunheimr are not the Norns, this much can be safely said, but should be Gulveig the “thrice born,” whom the Aesir killed, “thrice, and still she is Jiving” (Voluspa 8): one more “iniquity” asking for vengeance,].

But once before, it is hinted, there has been a “world war” between Aesir and Vanir, which was terminated by a sharing of power. In a vision in which past and future blend in a flash, Vala sees the outcome and announces it to the “high and low children of Heimdal,” that is, to all men. She asks them to open their eyes, to understand what the gods had to know: the breaking of the peace, the murder of Thjassi, Odin himself abetting the crime and nailing Thjassi’s eyes to heaven. With this a curtain is lifted briefly over a phase of the past. For Thjassi belongs to the powers that preceded the Aesir. In Greek terms, the Titans came before the gods. The main Vana or Titanic powers (in Rydberg’s thoughtful reconstruction) are the three brothers, Thjassi/Volund, Orvandil/Eigil, and Slagfin: the Maker, the Archer, and the Musician. This finally locates Orvandil the Archer, the father of Amlethus. He is one of the three “sons of Ivalde,” just as their counterparts in the Finnish epic are the “sons of Kaleva.” [n11 Strange to say, the three brothers, Volund, Eigil and Slagfin, are called “synir Finnakonungs,” i.e., “sons of a Finnish king” (J. Grimm, TM, p. 380)], And Ivalde, like Kaleva, is barely mentioned, never described, at least not under the name Ivalde: there is a glimpse at him under his other name, Wate. Like Kaleva, he is a meaningful void. But all this is of the past. The Sibyl’s vision is projected toward the onrushing end. True, Loke has been chained in Hell since he brought about the death of Balder, the great Fenrir wolf is still fettered with chains, once cunningly devised by Loke himself, and they are made up of such unsubstantial things as the footfall of a cat, the roots of a rock, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird [n12 Again, strange to say, this very kind of “un-substance”–including the milk of Mother Eagle, and the tears of the fledglings–had to be provided for by Tibetan Bogda Gesser Khan, who also snared the sun.].

Now the powers of the Abyss are beginning to rise, the world is coming apart. At this point Heimdal comes to the fore. He is the Warner of Asgard, the guardian of the Bridge between heaven and earth, the “Whitest of the Aesir,” but his role, his freedom of action, is severely limited. He has many gifts–he can hear grass grow, he can see a hundred miles away-but these powers seem to remain ineffectual. He owns the Gjallarhorn, the great battle horn of the gods; he is the only one able to sound it, but he’ll blow it only once, when he summons the gods and heroes to Asgard to their last fight.

Nordic speculation down to Richard Wagner has dwelt with gloomy satisfaction on Ragnarok [n13 For the etymology of ragnarok, see Cleasby- Vigfusson, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, in which regin(whence ragna) is defined as “the gods as the makers and rulers of the universe”; rok as “reason, ground, origin” or “a wonder, sign, marvel”; and ragna rok as “the history of the gods and the world, but especially with reference to the last act, the last judgment.” The word rokr, a possible alternate to rok, is defined as “the twilight. . . seldom of the morning twilight,” and “the mythological phrase, ragna rokr, the twilight of gods, which occurs in the prose Edda (by Snorri), and has since been received into modern works, is no doubt merely a corruption from rok, a word quite different from rokr.” Taking into consideration that the whole war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, as told in the Mahabharata, takes place in the “twilght” between Dvapara and Kali Yuga, there is no cogent reason to dismiss Snorri’s ragna rokr as a “corruption.” But then, the experts also condemned Snorri’s comparison between Ragnarok and the Fall of Troy: the logical outcome of their conviction that “poetry” is some kind of creatio ex nihilo, whence the one question never raised is whether the poets might not be dealing with hard scientific facts.], the Twilight of the Gods, which will destroy the world. There is the prediction in the Song of the Sibyl, and also in Snorri’s Gylfaginning: when the great dog Garm barks in front of the Gnipa cave, when the Fenrir wolf breaks his fetters and comes from “the mouth of the river,” [n14 Lokasenna 41; see also V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), p. 563.] his jaws snatching from heaven to earth, and is joined by the Midgard Serpent, then Heimdal will blow the Gjallarhorn, the sound of which reaches through all the worlds: the battle is on. But it is written that the forces of order will go down fighting to atone for the initial wrong done by the gods. The world will be lost, good and bad together. Naglfar, the ship of the dead, built with the nail parings of the living, will sail through the dark waters and bring the enemy to the fray. Then, adds Snorri:

The heavens are suddenly rent in twain, and. out ride in shining squadrons Muspel’s sons, and Surt with his flaming sword, at the head of the fylkings [15 Gylf. 51.].

All-engulfing flames come out with Surt “the Black,” who kills Freyr, the Lord of the Mill. Snorri makes Surt “Lord of Gimle” and likewise the king of eternal bliss “at the southern end of the sky.” [n16 Gylf. 17; cf.. R. B. Anderson, The Younger Edda. (1880), p. 249. That Surt is Lord of Gimle is a particularly important statement; it will not be found in the current translations of Snorri, but only in the Uppsala Code: “there are many good abodes and many bad; best it is to be in Gimle with Surt” (Rydberg, p. 651).]. He must be some timeless force which brings destructive fire to the world; but of this later.

Hitherto all has been luridly and catastrophically and murkily confused as it should be. But the character of Heimdal raises a number of sharp questions. He has appeared upon the scene as “the son of nine mothers”; to be the son of several mothers is a rare distinction even in mythology, and one which Heimdal shares only with Agni in the Rigveda [n17 RV 10.45.2 points to nine births, or mothers; 1.141.2 tells of the seven mothers of Agni’s second birth. Most frequently, however, Agni has three “mothers,” corresponding to his three birthplaces: in the sky, on the earth, in the waters.] and with Agni’s son Skanda in the Mahabharata. Skanda (literally “the jumping one” or “the hopping one”) is the planet Mars, also called Kartikeya, inasmuch as he was borne by the Krittika, the Pleiades. The Mahabharata [n18 Mbh. 9-44-46 (Roy trans. vol. 7, pp. 130-43). It should be emphasized, aloud and strongly, that in Babylonian astronomy Mars is the only planetary representative of the Pleiades. See P. F. Gassmann, Planetarium Babylonicum (1950), p. 279: “In der Planetenvertretung kommt fur die Plejaden nur Mars in Frage.”] insists on six as the number of the Pleiades as well as of the mothers of Skanda and gives a very broad and wild description of the birth and the installation of Kartikeya “by the assembled gods. . . as their generalissimo,” which is shattering, somehow, driving home how little one understands as yet [n19 The least which can be said, assuredly: Mars was “installed” during a more or less close conjunction of all planets; in Mbh. 945 (p. 133) it is stressed that the powerful gods assembled “all poured water upon Skanda, even as the gods had poured water on the head of Varuna, the lord of waters, for investing him with dominion.” And this “investiture” took place at the beginning of the Krita Yuga. the Golden Age.].

The nine mothers of Heimdal bring to mind inevitably the nine goddesses who turn the mill. The suspicion is not unfounded. Two of these “mothers,” Gjalp and Greip, seem to appear with changed names or generations as Fenja and Menja [n20 For the names of these mothers, see Hyndluljod 38; for Gjalp and Greip, daughters of the giant Geirroed, see Snorri’s Skaldskaparmal 2, and Thorsdrapa, broadly discussed by Rydberg (pp. 932-52), who established Greip as the mother of the “Sons of Ivalde.” R. Much claims the identity of Geirroed with Surt (“Der germanische Himmelsgott,” in Ablandlungen zur germanische Philologie [1898], p. 221). The turning up of a plurality of mothers in the ancient North, and in India (see also J. Pokorny, “Ein neun-monatiges Jahr im Keltischen,” OLZ 21 [1918], pp. 130-33) might induce the experts eventually to reopen the trial of those perfectly nonsensical seven or nine, even fourteen, “motherwombs” which haunt the Babylonian account of the creation of man. (Cf. E. Ebeling, Tod und Leben [1931], pp. ] 72-77; E. A. Speiser (trans.), “Akkadian Myths and Epics,” ANET, pp. 99f.; W. von Soden, Or. 26, pp. 309ff.)]. Rydberg claims Heimdal to be the son of Mundilfoeri. The story is then astronomical. Where does it lead? Thanks to the clues provided by Jacob Grimm, Rydberg and O. S. Reuter, and thanks to many hints hidden in the Rigveda, Atharva Veda and at other unexpected places, one can offer a probable conclusion: Heimdal stands for the world axis, the skambha. His head is the “measurer” (mjotudr) of the same measures that the Sibyl claims to understand: “Nine worlds I know, nine spaces of the measure-tree which is beyond (fyr) the earth.” “Measure.-tree” is the translation of mjotvidr [n21 O. S. Reuter, Germanische Himmelskunde (1934), pp. 236, 319. As concerns mjotudr (measurer) and its connection with Sanskrit matar and with meter, mensar, etc., see Grimm, TM, pp. 22, 1290. Reuter (p. 236) quotes Lex. Poet. Boreale 408, where mjotudr = fate.] which so-called poetic versions usually render as “world tree.” The word fyr appears here again; it connotes priority; in this verse 2 of Voluspa it is translated as “below” in most of the cases. The question “who measures what?” would require an extensive analysis; here, with no need for so many details, it is important only to learn that Heimdal is honored by a second name, Hallinskidi (appenpix #16). This name is said to mean a bent, bowed or slanted stake or post. To be bent or inclined befits the world axis and all that belongs to it, with the one exception of the observer who stands exactly at the terrestrial North Pole. Why not call it “oblique” or slanting right away [n22 We have more of this mythological species of oblique posts or trees—e.g., the Rigvedic “sacrificial post”—and even Bears are not afraid to inhabit the one or the other. See F. G. Speck and J. Moses, The Celestial Bear Comes Down to Earth: The Bear Sacrifice Ceremony of the Munsee-Mohican in Canada (1945).]?

Whether bent or oblique, Grimm rightly says that it is “worthy of remark that Hallinskidi and Heimdal are quoted among the names for the ram [n23 TM, p. 234. Rydberg (p. 593) spells it: “In the old Norse Poetry Vedr (wether, ram) Heimdal and the Heimdal epithet hallinskidi, are synonymous.”]. Heimdal is the “watcher” of the much-trodden Bridge of the gods which finally breaks down at Ragnarok; his “head” measures the crossroads of ecliptic and equator at the vernal equinox in Aries [n24 A. Ohlmarks, Heimdalls Horn und Odins Auge (1937), p. 144, makes the god a he-goat. That would not be bad, either, if he is right, since Capella, alpha Aurigae, “capricious” all over, whether male or female, has the name “asar bar­dagi = Fight of the Aesir” (Reuter, p. 279). Of Auriga-Erichthonios we shall hear more in the future.], a constellation which is called “head” also by Cleomedes [n25 Instead of “head” (kephalos), Nonnos calls Aries mesomphalos, “midnavel,” of Olympus.], and countless astromedical illustrations show the Ram ruling the head (Pisces the feet). Accordingly, one might say that the Sibyl addresses herself to “the high and low children of Aries.”

Recalling Rigvedic Agni, son of seven to nine mothers like Heimdal, and remembering what has been said of “fire” that it means more understandable. Heimdal stands for the equinoctial colure which “accompanies” the slowly turning, wholly abstract and invisible axis along the surface of the sphere. It will emerge presently that “axis” always means the whole “frame” of a world-age, given by the equinoctial and solstitial colures [n26 It should be remarked, that Snorri’s identification (Gylf. 13) of the bridge Bifroest with the rainbow made scholars rush to rescue a definitely regular phenomenon from the hazardous existence which is allotted to a rainbow; they voted for the Milky Way instead. With this we are not likely to agree. See A. Ohlmarks, “Stellt die mythische Bifroest den Regenbogen oder die Milchstrasse dar?” Medd. Lunds Astron. Observ. (1941), ser. II, no. 110, and Reuter, p. 284, quoting additional literature.]. More understandable also becomes another epithet of Heimdal, namely, Vindler, of which Rydberg states (p. 595): “The name is a subform of vindill and comes from vinda, to twist or turn, wind, to turn anything around rapidly. As the epithet ‘the turner’ is given to that god who brought friction-fire (bore-fire) to man, and who is himself the personification of this fire, then it must be synonymous with ‘the borer.'”

The Sibyl’s prophecy does not end with the catastrophes, but it moves from the tragic to the lydic mode, to sing of the dawning of the new age:

Now do I see
the Earth anew
Rise all green
from the waves again. . .
Then fields unsowed
bear ripened fruit
All ills grow better.

Even if that generation of gods has perished, the younger ones remain: Balder and Hoder, also the two sons of Thor, and Vidar the son of Odin. The House of the Wise Vanir is not affected as a whole, even if Freyr fell in battle. As the Vanir belong to a past age, this crisis apparently does not concern them. There is in fact a certain perversely nightmarish or neurotic unreality about the tragedy as a whole. The Wolf’s fetters were made of nothing but he was able to snap them only when the time came, when Odin and the Sun had to be devoured. The next instant, young Vidar kills the monster simply by thrusting his shoe down his throat (he has one shoe only, just like Jason). It is guilt and the ensuing chaos, more than actual forces, which dragged down the Establishment once the appointed time came, as decreed by fate and sounded on the Gjallarhorn.

What happens after (or happened, or will happen sometime, for this myth is written in the future tense), is told in the Voluspa, but it is also amplified in Snorri’s Gylfaginning (53), a tale of a strange encounter of King Gylfi with the Aesir themselves disguised as men, who do not reveal their identity but are willing to answer questions: “What happens when the whole world has burned up, the gods are dead, and all of mankind is gone? You have said earlier, that each human being would go on living in this or that world.” So it is, goes the answer, there are several worlds for the good and the bad. Then Gylfi asks: “Shall any gods be alive, and shall there be something of earth and heaven?” And the answer is::

“The earth rises up from the sea again, and is green and beautiful and things grow without sowing. Vidar and Vali are alive, for neither the sea nor the flames of Surt have hurt them and they dwell on the Eddyfield, where once stood Asgard. There come also the sons of Thor, Modi and Magni, and bring along his hammer. There come also Balder and Hoder from the other world. All sit down and converse together. They rehearse their runes and talk of events of old days. Then they find in the grass the golden tablets that the Aesir once played with. Two children of men will also be found safe from the great flames of Surt. Their names, Lif and Lifthrasr, and they feed on the morning dew and from this human pair will come a great population which will fill the earth. And strange to say, the sun, before being devoured by Fenrir, will have borne a daughter, no less beautiful and going the same ways as her mother.”

Then, all at once, concludes Snorri’s tale wryly, a thunderous cracking was heard from all sides, and when the King looked again, he found himself on the open plain and the great hall had vanished.

The times and tenses are deliberately scrambled, but the statements, even if elliptical, are pregnant with ancient meaning. The rediscovery of the pieces of the game lying around in the grass, already told in the Voluspa, becomes clearer if one thinks of the Rigveda, where the gods themselves are said to go around like ayas, that is, casts of dice [27 RV 10.116.9; in 10,34.8, the dice are called vrata, i.e., an organized “gang” under a king; the king is Rudra.]. It becomes more understandable still when one considers that the name of the Indian world-ages (Yuga) has been taken from the idiom of dicing [n28 Krita, Treta, Dvapara, Kali, this last one being the worst cast (which the Greeks termed “dog”). See H. Luders, Das Wurfelspiel im alten Indien (1907), pp. 41, 63f.]. But both data could be dismissed as unrevealing were it forgotten that in several kinds of “proto-chess” –to use an expression of J. Needham—board games and dicing were combined: the number of eyes thrown by the dice determined the figure which was to be moved [n29 H. Luders, p. 69; see also S. Culin, Chess and Playing Cards (1898), p. 857.]. That this very rule was also valid for all the board games mentioned in the Voluspa, has been shown by A. G. van Hamel [n30 “The Game of the Gods,” Arkiv fur Nordisk Filologi 50 _1934), p. 230.]. Thus, the dice forced the hands of the chess player—a 30 “The Game of the Gods,” Arkiv fur Nordisk Filologi 50 _1934), p. 230.]. A game called “planetary battles” by the Indians, and in 16th-century Europe still termed “Celestial War, or Astrologer’s Game,” [n31 A. Bernhardi, “Vier Konige,” BA 19 (1936), pp. 17If. See J. Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol. 4, Pt. I: Physics (1962), p. 325, about a book on chess published in 1571 under the title Uranomachia seu Astrologorum Ludus.] whereas the Chinese chessboard shows the Milky Way dividing the two camps. Which goes to show that the Icelanders knew what they were talking about.

Finally, there is one remarkable and disturbing coincidence from the same direction. It is known that in the final battle of the gods, the massed legions on the side of “order” are the dead warriors, the “Einherier” who once fell in combat on earth and who have been transferred by the Valkyries to reside with Odin in Valhalla—a theme much rehearsed in heroic poetry. On the last day they issue forth to battle in martial array. Says the Grimnismal (23): “Five hundred gates and forty more are in the mighty building of Walhalla—eight hundred ‘Einherier’ come out of each one gate—on the time they go out on defence against the Wolf.”

That makes 432,000 in all, a number of significance from of old. This number must have had a very ancient meaning, for it is also the number of syllables in the Rigveda. But it goes back to the basic figure 10,800, the number of stanzas in the Rigveda (40 syllables to a stanza) which, together with 108, occurs insistently in Indian tradition. 10,800 is also the number which has been given by Heraclitus for the duration of the Aion, according to Censorius (De die natali 18), whereas Berossos made. the Babylonian Great Year to last 432,000 years. Again, 10,800 is the number of bricks of the Indian fire-altar (Agnicayana) [n32 See J. Filliozat, “L’Inde et les echanges scientifiques dans l’antiqite,” Cahiers d’histoire mondiale 1 (1953), pp. 358f.].

“To quibble away such a coincidence,” remarks Schroder, “or to ascribe it to chance, is in my opinion to drive skepticism beyond its limits.” [n33 F. R. Schroder, Altgermanische Kulturprobleme (1929), pp. 80f.]. Shall one add Angkor to the list? It has five gates, and to each of them leads a road, bridging over that water ditch which surrounds the whole place. Each of these roads is bordered by a row of huge stone figures, 108 per avenue, 54 on each side,: altogether 540 statues of Deva and Asura, and each row carries a huge Naga serpent with nine heads. Only, they do not “carry” that serpent, they are shown to “pull” it, which indicates that these 540 statues are churning the Milky Ocean, represented (poorly, indeed) by the water ditch [n34 R. von Heine-Geldern, “Weltbild und Bauform in Siidostasien,” in Wiener Beitriige zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschicte 4 (1930), pp. 41f.], using Mount Mandara as a churning staff, and Vasuki, the prince of the Nagas, as their drilling rope. (Just to prevent misunderstanding: Vasuki had been asked before, and had agreeably consented, and so had Vishnu’s tortoise avatar, who “was going to serve as the fixed base for that “incomparably mighty churn,” and even the Milky Ocean itself had made it clear that it was willing to be churned.) The whole of Angkor thus turns out to be a colossal model set up for “alternative motion” with true Hindu fantasy and incongruousness to counter the idea of a continuous one-way Precession from west to east.

Now there is a last paragraph in the Gylfaginning, which is usually considered an afterword, and its authorship is in doubt, for it is supposed that Snorri’s Edda was completed by Olaf Hvitaskald (d. 1259), Snorri’s nephew. In any case, this addition is somewhat out of the previous context, but it reinforces it:

The Aesir now sat down to talk, and held their counsel, and remembered all the tales that were told to Gylfi. They gave the very same names that had been named before to the men and places that were there. This they did for the reason that, when a long time had elapsed, men should not doubt that those to whom the same names were given, were all identical. There was one who is called Thor, and he is Asa-Thor, the old. He is Oeku-Thor (Chariot-Thor) and to him are ascribed the great deeds by Hektor in Troy.

As for the rebirth of the world, another “Twilight” comes to mind. It is in the Kumulipo, a Polynesian cosmogonic myth from Hawaii. “Although we have the source of all things from chaos, it is a chaos which is simply the wreck and ruin of an earlier world.” [n35 R. B. Dixon, Oceanic Mythology (1910), p. 15.].

Now turns the swinging of time over on the burnt-out world
Back goes the great turning of things upwards again
As yet sunless the time of shrouded light;
Unsteady, as in dim moon-shimmer,
From out Makalii’s night-dark veil of cloud
Thrills, shadow-like, the prefiguration of the world to be.

[n36 A. Bastian, Die Heilige Sage der Polynesier (1881), pp. 69-121. Along with Roland B. Dixon, who translated the last three lines above, we have relied on the German of Bastian, who was an outstanding authority on Polynesian culture and language. Modern experts have their own way. M. Beckwith (Hawaiian Mythology [1940], p. 58) translates these lines thus: “At the time when the earth became hot/ At the time when the heavens turned about/At the time when the earth was darkened/To cause the moon to shine/The time of the rise of the Pleiades.” As concerns Makalii (Maori: Matariki; Micronesian and Melaesian dialects spell it Makarika, and the like), it is the name for the Pleiades, although more often we come across the phrase “the net of Makalii” (the correct fom: Huihui-o­Matariki, i.e., the cluster of M.). The “person” Makalii, to whom, this net belongs, as well as a second one (see p. 175) which we have reason to take for the Hyades, remains in the dark. See E. Tregear, The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891) s.v. Matariki; N. B. Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawaii (1909), p. 17; M. W. Makemson, The Morning Star Rises: An Account of Polynesian Astronomy (1941), nos. 327, 380; Beckwith, p. 368; K. P. Emory, Tuamotuan Religious Structures and Ceremonies (1947), p. 61. For the Hyades and Pleiades as “celestial hunting nets” of the Chinese sphere, see G. Schlegel, L’Uranographie Chinoise (1875; repro 1967), pp. 365-70.]

So sang an Oceanian Empedocles long ago. The poem was drawn from very old royal tradition, just as Virgil had drawn his from the story of the Gens Julia, for the true original line of Hawaiian kings was supposed to come from Kane, the Demiurge God of the Pacific.


Continue to Hamlet’s Mill: Part 7

Return to Hamlet’s Mill Table of Contents

Advertisements