The Stone and the Tree
THE GROUND, indeed, is not only sensitive but difficult and shifting as well. If the whirlpool turns up in the theory of the Cross, it is certainly without the consent of theologians. Yet the instances so far given are not isolated ones. It is necessary to deal with material which may appear suspicious to the trained historical reader, who is bound to be wary of omne ignotum pro magnifico. One should, therefore, preface this chapter with a small case history, which may show the infrangible tenacity of certain kinds of transmitted material, fragments of a sort official memory is prone to dismiss or neglect.
In the Gospel of Mark 111.17, the “twins” James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are given by Jesus the name of Boanerges, which the Evangelist explains as meaning “Sons of Thunder.” [n1 Kai epetheken autois onoma Boanerges, ho estin hyioi brontes]. This was long overlooked but eventually became the title of a work by a distinguished scholar, too soon forgotten, Rendel Harris. Here the Thunder Twins were shown to exist in cultures as different as Greece, Scandinavia and Peru. They call to mind the roles of Magni and Modi, not actually called twins, but successors of Thor, in Ragnarok. But to quote from Harris:
We have shown that it does not necessarily follow that when the parenthood of the Thunder is recognised, it necessarily extends to both of the twins. The Dioscuri may be called unitedly, Sons of Zeus; but a closer investigation shows conclusively that there was a tendency in the early Greek cults to regard one twin as of divine parentage, and the other of human. Thus Castor is credited to Tyndareus, Pollux to Zeus. . . The extra child made the trouble, and was credited to an outside source. Only later will the difficulty of discrimination lead to the recognition of both as Sky-boys or Thunder-boys. An instance from a remote civilization will show that this is the right view to take.
For example, Arriaga, in his “Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru” tells us that “when two children are produced at one birth, which they call Chuchos or Curi, and in el Cuzco Taqui Hua-hua, they hold it for an impious and abominable occurrence, and they say, that one of them is the child of the Lightning, and require a severe penance, as if they had committed a great sin.”
And it is interesting to note that when the Peruvians, of whom Arriaga speaks, became Christians, they replaced the name of Son of Thunder, given to one of the twins, by the name of Santiago, having learnt from their Spanish (missionary) teachers that St. James (Santiago) and St. John had been called Sons of Thunder by our Lord, a phrase which these Peruvian Indians seem to have understood, where the great commentators of the Christian Church had missed the meaning . . .
Another curious and somewhat similar transfer of the language of the Marean story in the folk-lore of a people, distant both in time and place. . . will be found, even at the present day, amongst the Danes . . . Besides the conventional flint axes and celts, which commonly pass as thunder-missiles all over the world, the Danes regard the fossil sea-urchin as a thunderstone, and give it a peculiar name. Such stones are named in Salling, sebedaei-stones or s’bedaei; in North Salling they are called sepadeje-stones. In Norbaek, in the district of Viborg, the peasantry called them Zebedee stones! At Jebjerg, in the parish of Cerum, district of Randers, they called them sebedei-stones . . . The name that is given to these thunderstones is, therefore, very well established, and it seems certain that it is derived from the reference to the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospel as sons of thunder. The Danish peasant, like the Peruvian savage, recognised at once what was meant by Boanerges, and called his thunderstone after its patron saint [n2 R. Harris, Boanerges (1913), pp. 9ff.].
This might have given pause to later hyperscholars like Bultmann, before they proceeded to “de-mythologize” the Bible. One never knows what one treads underfoot.
Conversely, it shows that some misunderstanding beyond the knowledge of the experts must be accounted for before one deals with the whole information. Thus, there is no intention to dismiss the abundant legends and runes dealing with the wood of the Cross. Lack of time, however, does not allow for a proper investigation [n3 For a rich collection of material see F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom Paradiese und vom Hotze des Kreuzes Christi (1897).], and permits only some remarks on Finnish and Russian notions about the “Great Oak,” which is the nearest “relative” of Sumerian trees. Says one of the Finnish runes: “Long oak, broad oak. What is the wood of its root? Gold is the wood of its root. The sky is the wood of the oak’s summit. An enclosure within the sky. A wether in the enclosure. A granary on the horn of the wether.” [n4 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen (1924), p. 192.]. The next version boldly puts “the granary upon the top of the cross.” According to a further version, in the crown of the oak is a cradle with a little boy, who has an axe upon his shoulder. More stunning notions occur in a Russian Apocryph where Satanael planted the tree in the paradise intending to get out of it a weapon against Christ: “The branches of the tree spread over the whole paradise, and it also covered the Sun. Its summit touched the sky, and from its roots sprang fountains of milk and honey.” [n5 Krohn, p. 197.]
This latter idea in its turn fits the medieval tradition according to which the rivers of Paradise gushed forth from under the Cross. There will be other bewildering “trees” in the chapter on Gilgamesh, but there also no attempt will be made to exhaust the huge and ambiguous evidence.
But with the caveats distilled from the Sons of Thunder, and similar instances, it is possible to deal with more outlandish data. First, there is in the Atharva Veda, a whole hymn dedicated to what may be called the world pillar (a highly multivalent pillar), called the skambha from which—see above, p. 111—the Finnish Sampo is derived. At this point only one verse will serve, in which the fiery monster of the deep is mentioned [n6 To prevent relentless experts from pointing to “fundamental” investigations which are, no doubt, unknown to us: the chapter on yaksa in Paschel and Geldner’s Vedische Studien is not unknown to us; there are several momentous reasons why we prefer to stick to the “obsolete” submarine “monster.”]:
AV 10.7.38. A great monster [yaksa] in the midst of the creation, strode in penance on the back of the sea—in it are set whatever gods there are, like the branches of a tree roundabout the trunk.
Or, to take a testimony from “late” astrological sources, these statements given by the Liber Hermetis Trismegisti which became so famous in the Middle Ages, to the degrees of Taurus (Gundel, pp. 54f., 217ff.):
oritur Navis et desuper Draco mortuus, vocatur Terra
rises the Ship, and on it the dead Dragon, called Earth
oritur qui detinet navem, Deus disponens universum mundum
rises he who keeps (or detains) the ship, the God that orders the whole universe. [Disponere corresponds to Greek kosmeo.]
Whatever it is that rules “below” seems, indeed, a truly omnipotent entity: There are, after all, very few, if any, characters who are simply said to “order the whole universe.”
This remarkable “kosmokrator” will be dealt with; the fiery creature deep down in the sea, however, has to be banished into an appendix. That it is relevant to the whole scheme can be seen from the fact that “Vainamoinen in the mouth of the whirlpool boils like fire in the water” [n7 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 196.] (appendix #19) .
The words of Hermes-Three-Times-Great, cryptic as they sound, are part of the highly organized technical language of astrologers; we mean not those who cast people’s fortunes for pay, but those who speculated on the traditional system of the world, and made use of whatever there was of astronomy, geography, mythology, holy texts of the laws of time and change, to build up an ambitious system. Abu Ma’shar and Michael Scotus were later dismissed as triflers, false prophets, and magicians, but Tycho and Kepler still held them in high esteem: they represented whatever there was of real science in the 13th century, and produced many daring thoughts. The ignotum may conceivably turn out to be magnificum.
The few disconnected sayings quoted may be called lacking in sense and method. They will be shored up with more material. Actually, we had to sentence this chapter—once “swelling” enough to burst every seam—to the most meager of diets until it shriveled to its present state of emaciation and apparent lack of coherence. But first, one should understand what the latent geometrical design can imply, as it broke through, time and again, in the past chapters.
The Frame of the Cosmos
IN GREEK MYTH, the basic frame of the world is described in the famous Vision of Er in the 10th Book of the Republic. In it we find Er the Armenian, who was resurrected from the funeral pyre just before it was kindled, and who describes his travel through the other world (10.615ff.). He and the group of souls bound for rebirth whom he accompanies travel through the other world. They come to “a straight shaft of light, like a pillar, stretching from above throughout heaven and earth-and there, at the middle of the light, they saw stretching from heaven the extremities of its chains; for this light binds the heavens, holding together all the revolving firmament like the undergirths of a ship of war. And from the extremities stretched the Spindle of Necessity, by means of which all the circles revolve.”
Cornford adds in a note: “It is disputed whether the bond holding the Universe together is simply the straight axial shaft or a circular band of light, suggested by the Milky Way [n1 Cf. O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte (1905), p. 1036, n.1: “probably the Milky Way.”], girdling the heaven of fixed stars.” [n2 Plato’s Republic (Cornford trans.), p. 353.] Eisler understood it as the zodiac, strange to say [n3 Eisler, Weltenmantel und Himmelszelt (1910), pp. 97ff.]. Since those “undergirths” of the trireme did not go around the ship horizontally, but were meant to secure the mast (the “tree” of the ship) which points upwards, we stand, on principle, for the Galaxy, which, however, had to be “replaced” by invisible colures in later times [n4 Cf. also the discussion in J. L. E. Dreyer, A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler (1953), pp. 56ff. Concerning the “chains,” which he translates “ligatures,” Dreyer states: “The ligatures (desmoi) of the heavens are the solstitial and equinoctial colures intersecting in the poles, which points therefore may be called their extremities (akra).”]. But Er also talks of the adventures of the souls between incarnations, and in this context we might rely on the Milky Way. Surely the “model” is far from clear, even, on Cornford’s concession, obviously intentionally so. And indeed, a few paragraphs later, there comes the complete planetarium with its “whorls,” the “Spindle of Necessity” held by the goddess, by which sit the Fates as they unwind the threads of men’s lives. The souls can listen to the Song of Lachesis, if they are still in the “meadow,” but the chains and shaft or band are no longer in the picture. Plato refuses to be a correct geometrician of the Other World, just as he would not be sensible about the hydraulics of it. But previously in the Phaedo, Socrates had been ironic about the “truths” of science, and insisted that the truths of myth are of another order, and rebellious to ordinary consistency. It is here as if Plato had juxtaposed a number of revered mythical traditions (including the planetary harmony) without pretending to fit them into a proper order. And so his image of the “framework” of the cosmos is left inconclusive. But somehow the axis and the band and the chains stand together, and this, one concludes, was the original idea. The rotation of the polar axis must not be disjointed from the great circles which shift along with it in heaven. The framework is thought of as all one with the axis. This leads back to a Pythagorean authority whom Plato was supposed to have followed (Timon even viciously said: plagiarized) and whom Socrates often quotes with unfeigned respect. It is Philolaos, surely a creative astronomer of high rank, from whom there are only a few surviving fragments, and the authenticity of these has been rashly challenged by many modern philologists [n5 G. de Santillana and W. Pitts, “Philolaos in Limbo,” ISIS 42 (1951), pp. 112-20; also in Reflections on Men and Ideas (1968), pp. 190-201.]. In fragment 12 of Philolaos, there is a brief definition of the cosmos, very much in the spirit of Plato’s “dodecahedron” quoted in chapter 12.
“In the sphere there are five elements, those inside the sphere, fire, and water and earth and air, and what is the hull of the sphere, the fifth.” [n6 See H. Diets, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (1951), vol. I, pp. 412f.]. Notwithstanding Philolaos’ graceless Doric, the statement is perfectly clear. The “hull,” (olkas) was the common name for freighters, built for bulk cargo, broad in the beam. It is really more adequate than Plato’s slim trireme; and it is closer in shape to what both men meant apparently: the dodecahedron, the “hull,” i.e., the sphere, the actual containing frame. It is clear from Plato that the “fifth” is the sphere that he calls ether which contains the four earthly elements but is wholly removed from them. Aristotle was to change it to the crystalline heavenly “matter” that he needed for his system, but it remained for him a “fifth essence.” There has thus been twice repeated the original “hull,” the frame that has been sought. What happened, and was noted in chapter 7, was that the etymology of Sampo was discovered to be in the Sanskrit skambha.
The abstract idea of a simple earth axis, so natural today, was by no means so logical to the ancients, who always thought of the whole machinery of heaven moving around the earth, stable at the center. One line always implied many others in a structure. So, apparently one must accept the idea of the world frame a an implex (as used here and later this word involves the necessary attributes that are associated with a concept: e.g., the center and circumference of a circle, the parallels and meridians implied by a sphere), of which Grotte and Sampo were the rude models with their ponderous moving parts.
Like the axle of the mill, the tree, the skambha, also represents the world axis. This instinctively suggests a straight, upright post, but the world axis is a simplification of the real concept. There is the invisible axis, of course, which is crowned by the North Nail, but this image needs to be enriched by two more dimensions. The term world axis is an abbreviation of language comparable to the visual abbreviation achieved by projecting the reaches of the Sky onto a flat star map. It is best not to think of the axis in straight analytical terms, one line at a time, but to consider it, and the frame to which it is connected, as one whole. This involves the use of multivalent terms and the recognition of a convergent involution of unusual meanings.
As radius automatically calls circle to mind, so axis must invoke the two determining great circles on the surface of the sphere, the equinoctial and solstitial colures. Pictured this way, the axis resembles a complete armillary sphere. It stands for the system of coordinates of the sphere and represents the frame of a world-age. Actually the frame defines a world-age. Because the polar axis and the colures form an indivisible whole, the entire frame is thrown out of kilter if one part is moved. When that happens, a new Pole star with appropriate colures of its own must replace the obsolete apparatus.
Thus the Sanskrit skambha, the world pillar, ancestor of the Finnish Sampo, is shown to be an integral element in the scheme of things. The hymn 10.7 of the Atharva Veda is dedicated to the skambha, and Whitney, its translator and commentator [n7 Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 8, p. 590.] sounds puzzled in his footnote to 10.7.2: “Skambha, lit. ‘prop, support, pillar,’ strangely used in this hymn as frame of the universe or held personified as its soul” Here are two verses of it:
- In whom earth, atmosphere, in whom sky is set, where fire, moon, sun, wind stand fixed, that Skambha tell. . .
- The Skambha sustains both heaven-and-earth here; the skambha sustains the wide atmosphere, the skambha sustains the six wide directions; into the skambha entered this whole existence.
The good old Sampo sounds less pretentious, but it does have its three “roots,” “one in heaven, one in the earth, one in the water-eddy.” [n8 K. Krohn, Kalevalastudien 4. Sampo (1927), p. 13.] To make a drawing of a pillarlike tree (let alone a mill), with its roots distributed in the manner indicated, would be quite a task. Notably it takes the “enormous bull of Pohja”—obviously a cosmic bull—to plow up these strange roots: the Finnish heroes by themselves had not been able to uproot the Sampo.
In the case of Yggdrasil, the World Ash, Rydberg tried his hardest to localize the three roots, to imagine and to draw them. Since he looked with Steadfast determination into the interior of our globe, the result was not overly convincing. One of the roots is said to belong to the Asa in heaven, and beneath it is the most sacred fountain of Urd. The second is to be found in the quarters of the frost-giants “where Ginnungagap formerly was,” and where the well of Mimir now is. The third root belongs to Niflheim, the realm of the dead, and under this root is Hvergelmer” the Whirlpool (Gylf. 15) [n9 We are aware that either Grotte “should” have three roots, or that Yggdrasil should be uprooted, and that the Finns do not tell how the maelstroem came into being. All of which can be explained; we wish, however, to avoid dragging more and more material into the case. Several ages of the world have passed away, and they do not perish all in the same manner; e.g., the Finns know of the destruction of Sampo and of the felling of the huge Oak.].
This precludes any terrestrial diagram. It looks as though the “axis,” implicating the equinoctial and solstitial colures, runs through the “three worlds” which are, to state it roughly and most inaccurately, the following:
- the ‘sky north of the Tropic of Cancer, i.e., the sky proper, domain of the gods
- the “inhabited world” of the zodiac between the tropics, the domain of the “living”
- the II sky south from the Tropic of Capricorn, alias: the Sweet-Water Ocean, the realm of the dead.
The demarcation plane between solid earth and sea is represented by the celestial equator; hence half of the zodiac is under “water,” the southern ecliptic, bordered by the equinoctial points. There are more refined subdivisions, to be sure, “zones” or “belts” or “climates” dividing the sphere from north to south and, most important, the “sky” as well as the waters of the south have a share in the “inhabited world” allotted to them [n10 To clear up the exact range of the three worlds, it would be necessary to work out the whole history of the Babylonian “Ways of Anu, Enlil, and Ea” (cf. pp. 431f.), and how these “Ways” were adapted, changed, and defined anew by the many heirs of ancient oriental astronomy. And then we would not yet be wise to the precise whereabouts of Air, Saltwater, and other ambiguous items.].
This summary is an almost frivolous simplification, but for the time being it may be sufficient. Meanwhile, it is necessary to explain again what this “earth” is that modern interpreters like to take for a pancake. The mythical earth is, in fact, a plane, but this plane is not our “earth” at all, neither our globe, nor a presupposed homocentrical earth. “Earth” is the implied plane through the four points of the year, marked by the equinoxes and solstices, in other words the ecliptic. And this is why this earth is very frequently said to be quadrangular. The four “corners,” that is, the zodiacal constellations rising heliacally at both the equinoxes and solstices, parts of the “frame” skambha, are the points which determine an “earth.” Every world-age has its own “earth.” It is for this very reason that “ends of the world” are said to take place. A new “earth” arises, when another set of zodiacal constellations brought in by the Precession determines the year points.
Once the reader has made the adjustment needed to think of the frame instead of the “pillar” he will understand easily many queer scenes which would be strictly against nature—ideas about planets performing feats at places which are out of their range, as both the poles are. He will understand why a force planning to uproot (or to chop down) a tree, or to unhinge a mill, or merely pull out a plug, or a pin, does not have to go “up”—or “down”—all the way to the pole to do it. The force causes the same effect when it pulls out the nearest available part of the “frame” within the inhabited world.
Here are some examples of the manipulation of the frame, beginning with a most insignificant survival. Actually this is a useful approach, because the less meaningful the example, the more astonishing is the fact of its surviving. Turkmen tribes of southern Turkestan tell about a copper pillar marking the “navel of the earth,” and they state that “only the nine-year-old hero Kara Par is able to lift and to extract” it [n11 Radloff, quoted by W. E. Roescher, Der Omphalosgedanke (1918), pp. 1f.]. As goes without saying, nobody comments on the strange idea that someone should be eager to “extract the navel of the earth.” When Young Arthur does it with Excalibur, the events have already been fitted into a more familiar frame and they provoke no questions.
In its grandiose style, the Mahabharata presents a similar prodigy as follows:
It was Vishvamitra who in anger created a second world and numerous stars beginning with Sravana . . . He can burn the three worlds by his splendour, can, by stamping (his foot), cause the earth to quake. He can “sever the great Meru from the Earth” and hurl it to any distance, He can go round the 10 points of the Earth in a moment [n12 Mbh. 1.71, Roy trans., vol. 1, p. 171.].
Vishvamitra is one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper, this at least has been found out. But each planet is represented by a star of the Wain, and vice versa, so this case does not look particularly helpful [n13 The notion of “numerous [newly appointed] stars beginning with Sravana” should enlighten us. Sravana, “the Lame,” is, in the generally accepted order, the twenty-first lunar mansion, alpha beta gamma Aquilae, also called by the name Ashvatta, which stands for a sacred fig tree but which means literally “below which the horses stand” (Scherer, Gestirnnamen, p. 158), and which invites comparison with Old Norse Yggdrasil, meaning “the tree below which Odin’s horse grazes” (Reuter, Germanische Himmelskunde, p. 236). Actually, the solstitial colure ran through alpha beta gamma Aquilae around 300 B.C., and long after the time when it used to pass through one or the other of the stars of the Big Dipper; the equinoctial colure, however, comes down very near eta Ursae Majoris. Considering that eta maintains the most cordial relations with Mars in occidental astrology, Vishvamitra might be eta, and might represent Mars, and that would go well with the violent character of this Rishi. But even if we accept this for a working hypothesis, there remains the riddle of the “second world,” i.e., “second” with respect to which “first” world? Although we have a hunch, we are not going to try to solve it here and now. Two pieces of information should be mentioned, however: (1) Mbh. 14-44 (Roy trans., vol. 12, p. 83) states: “The constellations [= lunar mansions, nakshatras] have Sravana for their first”; (2) Sengupta (in Burgess’ trans. of Surya Siddhanta, p.xxxiv) claims that “the time of the present redaction of the Mahabbarata” was called “Sravanadi kala, i.e., the time when the winter solstitial colure passed through the nakshatra Sravana.”].
A cosmic event of the first order can be easily overlooked when it hides modestly in a fairy tale. The following, taken from the Indian “Ocean of Stories,” tells of Shiva: “When he drove his trident into the heart of Andhaka, the king of the Asuras, athough he was only one, the dart which that monarch had infixed into the heart of the three worlds was, strange to say, extracted.” [n14 N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story (1924), vol. 1, p. 3.].
A plot can also shrink to unrecognizable insignificance when it comes disguised as history, but this next story at least has been pinned down to the proper historical character, and even has been checked by a serious military historian like Arrianus, who tells us the following:
Alexander, then, reached Gordium, and was seized with an ardent desire to ascend to the acropolis, where was the palace of Gordius and his son Midas, and to look at Gordius’ wagon and the knot of that chariot’s yoke. There was a widespread tradition about this chariot around the countryside; Gordius, they said, was a poor man of the Phrygians of old, who tilled a scanty parcel of earth and had but two yoke of oxen: with one he ploughed, with the other he drove his wagon. Once, as he was ploughing, an eagle settled on the yoke and stayed, perched there, till it was time to loose the oxen; Gordius was astonished at the portent, and went off to consult the Telmissian prophets, who were skilled in the interpretation of prodigies, inheriting—women and children too—the prophetic gift. Approaching a Telmissian village, he met a girl drawing water and told her the story of the eagle: she, being also of the prophetic line, bade him return to the spot and sacrifice to Zeus the King. So then Gordius begged her to come along with him and assist in the sacrifice; and at the spot duly sacrificed as she directed, married the girl, and had a son called Midas.
Midas was already a grown man, handsome and noble, when the Phrygians were in trouble with civil war; they received an oracle that a chariot would bring them a king and he would stop the war. True enough, while they were discussing this, there arrived Midas, with his parents, and drove, chariot and all, into the assembly. The Phrygians, interpreting the oracle, decided that he was the man whom the gods had told them would come in a chariot; they thereupon made him king, and he put an end to the civil war. The chariot of his father he set up in the acropolis as a thank-offering to Zeus the king for sending the eagle.
Over and above this there was a story about the wagon, that anyone who should untie the knot of the yoke should be lord of Asia. This knot was of cornel bark, and you could see neither beginning nor end of it. Alexander, unable to find how to untie the knot, and not brooking to leave it tied, lest this might cause some disturbance in the vulgar, smote it with his sword, cut the knot, and exclaimed, “I have loosed it! “-so at least say some, but Aristobulus puts it that he took out the pole pin, a dowel driven right through the pole, holding the knot together, and so removed the yoke from the pole. I do not attempt to be precise how Alexander actually dealt with this knot. Anyway, he and his suite left the wagon with the impression that the oracle about the loosed knot had been duly fulfilled. It is certain that there were that night thunderings and lightenings, which indicated this; so Alexander in thanksgiving offered sacrifice next day to whatever gods had sent the signs and certified the undoing of the knot [n15 Anabasis of Alexander 2.3.1-8 (Robson trans., LCL).].
Without going now into the relevant comparative material it should be stressed that in those cases where “kings” are sitting in a wagon (Greek hamaxa), i.e., a four-wheeled truck, it is most of the time Charles’ Wain.
Alexander was a true myth builder, or rather, a true myth attracting magnet. He had a gift for attracting to his fabulous personality the manifold tradition that, once, had been coined for Gilgamesh.
But the time is not yet ripe either for Alexander or for Gilgamesh, nor for further statements about deities or heroes who could pull out pins, plugs and pillars. The next concern is with the decisive features of the mythical landscape and their possible localization, or their fixation in time. It is essential to know where and when the first whirlpool came into being once Grotte, Amlodhi’s Mill, had been destroyed. This is, however, a misleading expression because our terminology is still much too imprecise. It would be better to say the first exit from, or entrance to, the whirlpool. It appears advisable to recapitulate the bits of information that have been gathered on the whirlpool as a whole:
The maelstrom, result of a broken mill, a chopped down tree, and the like, “goes through the whole globe,” according to the Finns. So does Tartaros, according to Socrates. To repeat it in Guthrie’s words: “The earth in this myth of Socrates is spherical, and Tartaros, the bottomless pit, is represented in this mythical geography by a chasm which pierces the sphere right through from side to side.” [n16 Orpheus and Greek Religion (1952), p. 168.].
It is source and mouth of all waters.
It is the way, or one among others, to the realm of the dead.
Medieval geographers call it “Umbilicus Maris,” Navel of the Sea, or “Euripus.”
Antiochus the astrologer calls Eridanus proper, or some abstract topos not far from Sirius, “zalos,” i.e., whirlpool.
M. W. Makemson looks for the Polynesian whirlpool, said to be “at the end of the sky,” “at the edge of the Galaxy,” in Sagittarius.
A Dyak hero, climbing a tree in “Whirlpool-Island,” lands himself in the Pleiades.
But generally, one looks for “it” in the more or less northwest/north-northwest direction, a direction where, equally vaguely, Kronos-Saturn is supposed to sleep in his golden cave notwithstanding the blunt statements (by Homer) that Kronos was hurled down into deepest Tartaros.
And from those “infernal” quarters, particularly from the (Ogygian) Stygian landscape, “one”—who else but the souls?—sees the celestial South Pole, invisible to us.
The reader might agree that this summary shows clearly the insufficiency of the general terminology accepted by the majority. The verbal confusion provokes sympathy for Numenius (see above, p. 188), and the Third Vatican Mythographer who took the rivers for planets, their planetary orbs respectively. We think that the whirlpool stands for the “ecliptical world” marked by the whirling planets, embracing everything which circles obliquely with respect to the polar axis and the equator-oblique by 23½ degrees, more or less, each planet having its own obliquity with respect to the others and to the sun’s path, that is, the ecliptic proper. It has been mentioned earlier (p. 206, n. 5) that in the axis of the Roman circus was a Euripus, and altars of the three outer planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars), and the three inner planets (Venus, Mercury, Moon) on both sides of the pyramid of the sun, and that there were not more than seven circuits because the “planets are seven only.”
The ecliptic as a whirl is only one aspect of the famous “implex.” It must be kept in mind that being the seat of all planetary powers, it represented, so to speak, the “Establishment” itself. There is no better symbol of the thinking of those planet-struck Mesopotamian civilizations than the arrogant plan of the royal cities themselves, as it has been patiently reconstructed by generations of Orientalists and archaeologists.
Nineveh proclaimed itself as the seat of stable order and power by its seven-times crenellated circle of walls, colored with the seven planetary colors, and so thick that chariots could run along the top. The planetary symbolism spread to India, as was seen in chapter 8, and culminated in that prodigious cosmological diagram that is the temple of Barabudur in Java [n17 P. Mus, Barabudur (1935).]. It is still evident in the innumerable stupas which dot the Indian countryside, whose superimposed crowns stand for the planetary heavens. And here we have the Establishment seen as a Way Up and Beyond, as Numenius would have seen immediately, the succession of spheres of transition for the soul, a. quiet. promise of transcendence which marks the Gnostic and Hinduistic scheme. The skeleton map will always lack one or the other dimension. The Whirl is then a way up or a way down? Heraclitus would say, both ways are one and the same. You cannot put into a scheme everything at once.
This general conception of the whirlpool as the “ecliptical world” does not, of course, help to understand any single detail. Starting from the idea of the whirlpool as a way to the other world, one must look at the situation through the eyes of a sou1 meaning to go there. It has to move from the interior outwards, to “ascend” from the geocentric earth through the planetary spheres “up” to the fixed sphere, that is, right through the whole whirlpool, the ecliptical world. But in order to leave the ecliptical frame, there must be a station for changing trains at the equator. One would expect this station to be at the crossroads of ecliptical and equatorial coordinates at the equinoxes. But evidently, this was not the arrangement. A far older route was followed. It is true that it sometimes looks as though the transfer point were at the equinoxes. The astrological tradition that followed Teukros [n18 F. Boll, Sphaera (1903), pp. 19,28,47,246-51. Antiochus does not mention any of these star groups.], for example provided a rich offering of celestial locations for Hades, the Acherusian lake, Charon the ferryman, etc., all of them under the chapter Libra. But this is a trap and one can only hope that many hapless souls have not been deceived. For these astrological texts mean the sign Libra, not the constellation.
All “change stations” are found invariably in two regions: one in the South between Scorpius and Sagittarius, the other in the North between Gemini and Taurus; and this is valid through time and space, from Babylon to Nicaragua [n19 The notion is not even foreign to the cheering adventures of Sun, the Chinese Monkey (Wou Tch’eng Ngen, French trans. by Louis Avenal ). One day, two “harponneurs des morts” get hold of him, claiming that he has arrived at the term of his destiny, and is ripe for the underworld. He escapes, of course. The translator remarks (vol. 1, p. iii) that it is the constellation Nan Teou, the Southern Dipper, that decides everybody’s death, and the orders are executed by these “harponneurs des morts.”
The Southern Dipper consists of the stars mu lambda phi sigma tau zeta Sagittarii (cf. G. Schlegel, L’Uranographie Chinoise , pp. 172ff.; L. de Saussure, Les Origines de l’Astronomie Chinoise , pp. 452f.).].
Why was it ever done in the first place? Because of the Galaxy, which has its crossroads with the ecliptic between Sagittarius and Scorpius in the South, and between Gemini and Taurus in the North.
MEN’s SPIRITS were thought to dwell in the Milky Way between incarnations. This conception has been handed down as an Orphic and Pythagorean tradition [n1 See F. Boll, Aus der Offenbarung Johannes (1914), pp. 32, 72 (the first accepted authority has been Herakleides of Pontos); W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias; A. Bouche-Leclerq, L’Astrologie Grecque (1899), pp. 22f.; F. Cumont, After Life in Roman Paganism (1959), pp. 94. 104. 152f.] fitting into the frame of the migration of the soul. Macrobius, who has provided the broadest report on the matter, has it that souls ascend by way of Capricorn, and then in order to be reborn, descend again through the “Gate of Cancer.” [n2 Commentary on the Dream of Scipio 1.12.1-8.]. Macrobius talks of signs; the constellations rising at the solstices in his time (and still in ours) were Gemini and Sagittarius: the “Gate of Cancer” means Gemini. In fact, he states explicitly (l.12.5) that this “Gate” is “where the Zodiac and the Milky Way intersect.” Far away, the Mangaians of old (Austral Islands, Polynesia), who kept the precessional clock running instead of switching over to “signs,” claim that only at the evening of the solstitial days can spirits enter heaven, the inhabitants of the northern parts of the island at one solstice, the dwellers in the south at the other [n3 W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs from the South Pacific (1876), pp. 1566ff., 185ff.]. This information, giving precisely fixed dates, is more valuable than general statements to the effect that the Polynesians regarded the Milky Way as “the road of souls as they pass to the spirit world.” [n4 E. Best, The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori (1955), p. 45.]. In Polynesian myth, too, souls are not permitted to stay unless they have reached a stage of unstained perfection, which is not likely to occur frequently. Polynesian souls have to return into bodies again, sooner or later [n5 Since so many earlier and recent “reporters at large” fail to inform us of traditions concerning reincarnation, we may mention that according to the Marquesans “all the souls of the dead, after having lived in one or the other place (i.e., Paradise or Hades) for a very long time, returned to animate other bodies” (R. W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia , vol. I, p. 208), which recalls the wording of the case as we know it from book X of Plato’s Republic.].
Two instances of relevant American Indian notions are worth mentioning without discussion. The important thing is that the tradition is there, more or less intact. Among the Sumo in Honduras and Nicaragua their “Mother Scorpion. . . is regarded as dwelling at the end of the Milky Way, where she receives the souls of the dead, and from her, represented as a mother with many breasts, at which children take suck, come the souls of the newborn.” [n6 H. B. Alexander, Latin American Mythology (1916), p. 185.]. Whereas the Pawnee and Cherokee say [n7 S. Hagar, “Cherokee Star-Lore,” in Festscbrift Boas (1906), p. 363; H. B. Alexander, North American Mythology, p. 117.]: “the souls of the dead are received by a star at the northern end of the Milky Way, where it bifurcates, and he directs the warriors upon the dim and difficult arm, women and those who die of old age upon the brighter and easier path. The souls then journey southwards. At the end of the celestial pathway they are received by the Spirit Star, and there they make their home.” One can quietly add “for a while,” or change it to “there they make their camping place.” Hagar takes the “Spirit Star” to be Antares (alpha Scorpii).
Whether or not it is precisely alpha, because the star marks the southern “end” of the Galaxy, the southern crossroads with the ecliptic, it is at any rate a star of Sagittarius. or Scorpius [8 This is no slip of the tongue; the zodiacal Sagittarius of Mesopotanian boundary stones had, indeed, the tail of a Scorpion: but we just must not be drowned in the abyss of details of comparative constellation lore, and least of all in those connected with Sagittarius, two-faced as he is, half royal, half dog.]. That fits “Mother Scorpion” of Nicaragua and the “Old goddess with the scorpion tail” of the Maya as it also fits the Scorpion-goddess Selket-Serqet of ancient Egypt and the Ishara tam.tim of the Babylonians. Ishara of the sea, goddess of the constellation Scorpius, was also called “Lady of the Rivers” (compare appendix #30).
Considering the fact that the crossroads of ecliptic and Galaxy are crisis-resistant, that is, not concerned with the Precession, the reader may want to know why the Mangaians thought they could go to heaven only on the two solstitial days. Because, in order to “change trains” comfortably, the constellations that serve as “gates” to the Mi1ky Way must “stand” upon the “earth,” meaning that they must rise heliacally either at the equinoxes or at the solstices. The Galaxy is a very broad highway, but even so there must have been some bitter millennia when neither gate was directly available any longer, the one hanging in midair, the other having turned into a submarine entrance.
Sagittarius and Gemini still mark the solstices in the closing years of the Age of Pisces. Next comes Aquarius. The ancients, no doubt, would have considered the troubles of these our times, like over population, the “working iniquity in secret,” as an inevitable prelude to a new tilting, a new world-age.
But the coming of Pisces was long looked forward to, heralded as a blessed age. It was introduced by the thrice-repeated Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces in the year 6 B.C., the star of Bethlehem. Virgil announced the return of the Golden Age under the rule of Saturn, in his famous Fourth Eclogue: “Now the Virgin retbrns, the reign of Saturn returns, now a new generation descends from heaven on high. Only do thou, pure Lucina, smile on the birth If the child, under whom the iron brood shall first cease, and a golden race spring up throughout the world!”
Although promoted to the rank of a “Christian honoris causa” on account of this poem, Virgil was no “prophet,” nor was he the only one who expected the return of Kronos-Saturn [n9 See, for example, A. A. Barb, “St. Zacharias the Prophet and Martyr,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 11 (1948), pp. 54f., and “Der Heilige und die Schlangen,” MAGW 82 (1953), p. 20.]. “lam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna.” What does it mean? Where has Virgo been, supposedly, so that one expected the constellation “back”?
Aratus, in his renowned astronomical poem (95-136), told how Themis-Virgo, who had lived among humans peacefully, retired at the end of the Golden Age to the “hills,” no longer mingling with the silver crowd that had started to populate the earth, and that she took up her heavenly abode near Bootes, when the Bronze Age began [n10 Cf. Al-Biruni, dealing with the Indian ages of the world, and quoting the above passages from Aratus with a scholion (Alberuni’s India, trans. E. C. Sachau , vol. 1, pp. 383-85).]. And there is Virgil announcing Virgo’s return. This makes it easy to guess time and “place” of the Golden Age. One need only turn back the clock for one quarter “hour” of the Precession (about 6,000 years from Virgil), to find Virgo standing firmly at the summer solstitial corner of the abstract plane “earth.” “Returning,” that is moving on, Virgo would indicate the autumnal equinox at the time when Pisces took over the celestial government of the vernal equinox, at the new crossroads.
Once the Precession had been discovered, the Milky Way took on a new and decisive significance. For it was not only the most spectacular band of heaven, it was also a reference point from which the Precession could be imagined to have taken its start. This would have been when the vernal equinoctial sun left its position in Gemini in the Milky Way. When it was realized the sun had been there once, the idea occurred that the Milky Way might mark the abandoned track of the sun-a burnt-out area, as it were, a scar in heaven. Decisive notions have to be styled more carefully, however: so let us say that the Milky Way was a reference “point” from which the Precession could be termed to have taken its start, and that the idea which occurred was not that the Milky Way might mark the abandoned track of the sun, but that the Milky Way was an image of an abandoned track, a formula that offered rich possibilities for “telling” complicated celestial changes.
With this image and some additional galactic lore, it is now possible to concentrate on the formula by which the Milky Way became the way of the spirits of the dead, a road abandoned by the living. The abandoned path is probably the original form of the notions insistently built around a projected Time Zero. If the Precession was seen as the great clock of the Universe, the sun, as it shifted at the equinox, remained the measure of all measures, the “golden cord,” as Socrates says in Plato’s Theaetetus (153C). In fact, apart from the harmonic intervals, the sun was the only absolute measure provided by nature. The sun must be understood to be conducting the planetary fugues at any given moment as Plato also showed in the Timaeus. Thus, when the sun at his counting station moved on toward the Milky Way, the planets, too, were termed to hunt and run this way.
This does not make very sound geometrical sense, but it shows how an image can dominate men’s minds and take on a life of its own. Yet, the technical character of these images should not be forgotten, and it is to prevent this that the verbs “to term” and “to spell out” are used so often instead of the customary expression “to believe.”
To the American Plains Indians, the Milky Way was the dusty track along which the Buffalo and the Horse once ran a race across the sky [11 J. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 19th ARBAE 1897-98 (1900), p.443.]. For the Fiote of the African Loango Coast the race was run by Sun and Moon [n12 E. Pechuel-Loesche, Volkskunde van Loango (1907), p. 135.]. The East African Turu took it for the “cattle track” of the brother of the creator [n13 S. Lagercrantz, “The Milky Way in Africa,” Ethnos (1952), p. 68.], which is very close to the Greek legend of Herakles moving the herd of Gerion [n14 See W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias.]. The convergence of so many animal tracks along this heavenly way is, once again, not a pointless conjunction of fancies. The Irawak of Guyana call the Galaxy “the Tapir’s way.”
This is confirmed in a tale of the Chiriguano and some groups of the Tupi-Guarani of South America. According to Lehman-Nitsche, these people speak of the Galaxy as “the way of the true father of the Tapir,” a Tapir -deity which is itself invisible [n15 O. Zerries, “Sternbilder als Ausdruck jagerischer Geiteshaltung in Sudamerika,” Paideuma 5 (1951), pp.220f.]. Now, if this hidden deity turns out to be Quetzalcouatl himself, ruler of the Golden Age town Tollan, no other than “Tixli cumatz,” the tapir-serpent dwelling in the “middle of the sea’s belly,” as the Maya tribes of Yucatan describe him [n16 E. Seler, Gesammelte Abbandlungen (1961), vol. 4, p. 56], the allusions begin to focus. Finally, the actual scheme is found in that Cuna tradition described earlier: the Tapir chopped down the “Saltwater Tree,” at the roots of which is God’s whirlpool, and when the tree fell, saltwater gushed out to form the oceans of the world.
Should the Tapir still seem to lack the appropriate dignity, some Asiatic testimonies should be added. The Persian Bundahishn calls the Galaxy the “Path of Kay-us,” after the grandfather and coregent of Kai Khusrau, the Iranian Hamlet [n17 Bdh. V B 22, B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Akasih. Iranian or Greater Bundahishn (1956), pp. 69, 71.]. Among the Altaic populations the Yakuts call the Milky Way the “tracks of God,” and they say that, while creating the world, God wandered over the sky; more general in use seems to have been the term “Ski-tracks of God’s son,” whereas the Voguls spelled it out “Ski-tracks of the forest-man.” And here the human tracks fade out, although the snowshoes remain. For the Tungus the Galaxy is “Snowshoe-tracks of the Bear.” But whether the figure is the son of God, the forest-man, or the Bear, he hunted a stag along the Milky Way, tore it up and scattered its limbs in the sky right and left of the white path, and so Orion and Ursa Major were separated [n18 U. Holmberg, Die religiosen Vorstellungen der altaischen Volker (1938), pp. 201f.]. The “Foot of the Stag” reminded Holmberg immediately of the “Bull’s Thigh” of ancient Egypt—Ursa Major.
With his penetrating insight he might easily have gone on to recognize, in that potent thigh, the isolated “one-leg” of Texcatlipoca, Ursa Major again, in Mexico-the day-sign “Crocodile” (Cipactli) had bitten it off-the great Hunrakan (= 1 leg) of the Maya Quiche [n19 Going further south, he would have found there again the lining up of Ursa and Orion and the violent tearing up of celestial figures. Says W. E. Roth (“An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-lore of the Guiana Indians,” 30th ARBAE 1908-09 , p. 262; cf. Zerries, pp. 220f.) of the Indians of Guiana: “All the legends relating to the constellations Taurus and Orion have something in common in the detail of an amputated arm or leg.” And that goes for parts of Indonesia too. But then, Ursa Major is the thigh of a Bull, and the zodiacal Taurus is so badly amputated, there is barely a half of him left. More peculiar still, in later Egyptian times it occurs, if rarely, that Ursa is made a ram’s thigh (see G. A. Wainwright, “A Pair of Constellations,” in Studies Presented to F. L. Griffith , p. 373); and on the round zodiac of Dendera (Roman period) we find a ram sitting on that celestial leg representing Ursa, and it even looks back, as befits the traditional zodiacal Aries. We must leave it at that.].
There is an insistent association here, right below the surface, which is still revealed by the old Dutch name for the Galaxy, “Brunelstraat.” Brunei, Bruns, Bruin (the Brown) is the familiar name of the bear in the romance of Renard the Fox, and is as ancient as anything that can be traced [n20 The notion of the Milky Way as “Brunelstraat” seems to be present in ancient India: the Atharva Veda 18.2.31 mentions a certain path or road called rikshaka. Riksha is the bear in both senses, i.e., the animal and Ursa Major (see H. Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig-Veda  s.v. Riksha). Whitney (in his translation of AV, p.840 ) suggested rikshaka as a road “infested by bears (?).” A. Weber, however, proposed to identify rikshaka with the Milky Way (“Miszellen aus dem
indogermanischen Familienleben,” in Festgruss Roth , p. 131). Since the whole hymn AV 18.2 contains “Funeral Verses,” and deals with the voyage of the soul, that context too would be fitting. (That the souls have to first cross a river “rich with horses” is another matter.)]. It is a strange lot of characters that were made responsible for the Milky Way: gods and animals leaving the path that had been used at “creation” time [n21 The shortest abbreviation: the Inca called Gemini “creation time” (Hagar, in 14th International Amerikanisten-Kongress , p. 599f.). But the very same notion is alluded to, when Castor and Pollux (alpha beta Geminorum) are made responsible for the first fire sticks, by the Aztecs (Sahagún) and, strange to say, by the Tasmanians. (See below, chapter 23, “Gilgamesh and Prometheus.”)]. But where did they go, the ones mentioned, and the many whom we have left out of consideration? It depends, so to speak, from where they took off. This is often hard to determine, but the subject of “tumbling down” will be dealt with next.
As for Virgo, who had left the “earth” at the end of the Golden Age, her whereabouts in the Silver Age could have been described as being “in mid-air.” Many iniquitous characters were banished to this topos; either they were thrown down, or they were sent up—Lilith dwelt there for a while, and King David [n22 See J. A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthem (1711), vol. I, p. 165; vol. 2, pp.417ff.], also Adonis [n23 “Es ton eera,” see F. K. Movers, Die Phonizier (1967), vol. I, p. 205.], even the Tower of Babel itself, and first of all the Wild Hunter (appendix #20).
This assembly of figures “in mid-air” helps to give meaning to an otherwise pointless tale, a veritable fossil found in Westphalian folklore: “The Giants called to Hackelberg [= Odin as the Wild Hunter] for help. He raised a storm and removed a mill into the Milky Way, which after this is called the Mill Way.” [n24 J. Grimm, TM, pp. 1587f.]. There are other fossils, too, the wildest perhaps being that of the Cherokee who called the Galaxy “Where the dog ran.” A very unusual dog it must have been, being in the habit of stealing meal from a corn mill owned by “people in the South” and running with it to the North; the dog dropped meal as he ran and that is the Milky Way [n25 Mooney, pp. 253, 443.]. It is difficult here to recognize Isis scattering ears of wheat in her flight from Typhon [n26 See R. H. Allen, Star Names (1963), p. 481; W. T. Olcott, Star Lore of All Ages (1911), p. 393.]. And yet, the preference of the very many mythical dogs, foxes, coyotes—and even of the “way-opening” Fenek in West Sudan—for meal and all sorts of grain—more correctly “the eight kinds of grain” –a trait which is hardly learned by eavesdropping on Mother Nature, could have warned the experts to beware of these doggish characters. They are not to be taken at their pseudo-zoological face value.
Thus, everybody and everything has left the course, Wild Hunter, dog and mill—at least its upper half, since through the hole in the lower millstone the whirlpool is seething up and down.
The Fall of Phaethon
THE GREAT AND OFFICIAL myth concerning the Galaxy is Phaethon’s transgression and the searing of the sky in his mad course. Manilius tells it in his astrological Poem [n1 1.730-49. Anonymous translation (T.C.) London, 1697; reprinted 1953 by National Astrological Library, Washington, D.C., p, 44.]:
…this was once the path
Where Phoebus drove; and that in length of Years
The heated track took Fire and burnt the Stars.
The Colour changed, the Ashes strewed the Way
And still preserve the marks of the Decay:
Besides, Fame tells, by Age Fame reverend grown
That Phoebus gave his Chariot to his Son,
And whilst the Youngster from the Path declines
Admiring the strange Beauty of the Signs,
Proud of his Charge, He drove the fiery horse,
And would outdo his Father in his Course.
The North grew warm, and the unusual Fire
Dissolv’d its Snow, and made the Bears retire;
Nor was the Earth secure, each Contrey mourn’d
The Common Fate, and in its City’s burn’d.
Then from the scatter’d Chariot Lightning came,
And the whole Skies were one continued Flame.
The World took Fire, and in new kindled Stars
The bright remembrance of its Fate it bears.
The myth of Phaethon has been told broadly and with magnificent fantasy by Ovid (Met. 1.747-2.400) and by Nonnos (Dionysiaka Book 38). Gibbon in his old age, commemorating his own adolescence, speaks of his rapt discovery of the beauty of Latin poetry as he read Ovid’s description of the tragic: venture of Phaethon. The story goes on that Helios, taking his oath by the waters of Styx, promised to fulfill any wish of his rash young son Phaethon, who was visiting him for the first time. The boy had only one desire, to drive the Sun’s chariot once, and the most desperate requests of his father could not move him to change his mind. Although knowing well that nothing could prevent the fatal ending of this adventure, Helios did his best to teach Phaethon all the dangers lurking at every step of the way—a welcome occasion for both poets to elaborate the paternal admonitions into some kind of “introduction to astronomy.” As the father feared, Phaethon was incapable of managing the horses and came off the proper path; Ovid has it that the boy dropped the reins at the sight of Scorpius. Unbelievable confusion results; no constellation remains in its place, and the Earth is terribly scorched. In despair “she” cries aloud to Jupiter to make him act immediately: “Look how your heavens blaze from pole to pole—if fire consumes them the very universe will fall to dust. In pain, in worry, Atlas almost fails to balance the world’s hot axis on his shoulders.”2 And Nonnos states (38.350ff.):
“There was tumult in the sky shaking the joints of the immovable universe; the very axle bent which runs through the rniddle of the revolving heavens. Libyan Atlas could hardly support the self-rolling firmament of stars, as he rested on his knees with bowed back under this greater burden.”
Zeus has to intervene and hurls his thunderbolt at the boy. Phaethon falls into the river Eridanus where, according to Apollonios Rhodios, the stench of his half-burned corpse made the Argonauts sick for several days when they came upon it in their travels (4.619-23).
2 Met. 2.194-97: circumspice utrumque:/ fumat uterque polus quos si vitiaverit ignis/atria vestra ruent Atlas en ipse laborat/ vixque suis umeris candentem sustinet axem.
The Phaethon story has often been understood to commemorate some great flashing event in the skies, whether comet or meteor. Everyone rushes by instinct—more accurately, habit—for a so-called natural explanation. But on examination, the case turns out not to be so easy. The narrating of the cataclysm may be fanciful and impressionistic, as if the poets enjoyed an emotional release from the regularity of celestial orbs, but their account also makes technical sense, as anyone would suspect who has read Stegemann’s [n3 Astrologie und Universalgeschichte (1930).] solid inquiry into Nonnos as the heir to Dorotheos of Sidon’s tight-knit astrology. As for Ovid, his standing as a scholar, by now unchallenged and, in fact, he hints at rigid cosmological formulae with surprising authority. In his description of the “hidden mountains” emerging from the waves, when the seas shrank into sand (2.260ff.), they rise as “new islands.” How much better does this image of “mountain peaks” and “islands” illustrate the stars of a constellation rising, one after the other (at vernal equinox), than, for instance, the Icelandic wording of the emerging of “a new earth”!
In any case, an independent confirmation emerges in Plato’s version of the crisis, as he gives it in Timaeus 22CE. The Egyptian priest talking with Solon states that the legend of Phaethon “has the air of a fable; but the truth behind it is a deviation [parallaxis] of the bodies that revolve in heaven round the earth, and a destruction, occurring at long intervals, of things on earth by a great conflagration.” This is a clear statement, and one in accordance with Ovid and with Nonnos, as it should be, since it has to do with a Pythagorean tradition: Aristotle tells us so [n4 Meteorologica 1.8.345A: “The so-called Pythagoreans give two explanations. Some say that the Milky Way is the path taken by one of the stars at the time of the legendary fall of Phaethon; others say that it is the circle in which the sun once moved. And the region is supposed to have been scorched or affected in some other such way as a result of the passage of these bodies.” See also H. Diels, Doxographi, pp. 364f. = Aetius III.I. (In former times when classical authors were not yet eagerly prefixed with as many “pseudos” as possible, this was Plutarch, De placitis 3.I.)].
The Pythagoreans were neither idle storytellers, nor were they even mildly interested in unusual sensational “catastrophes” caused by meteors, and the like. Actually, the Egyptian priest said to Solon, concerning the legend of Phaethon, “the. story current also in your part of the world.” Where, then, is the story in Egypt? Since the Egyptian cosmological language was more technical, in the old sense, than that of the Greeks, it will take some time to find out the exact parallel. Anyhow, in Egypt the down-hurled Phaethon would have been termed “the lost eye,” or rather one; among the “lost eyes.” The eye was “lost” in the so-called “mythical source of the Nile,” the source of all waters. So it is surprising that Ovid knew (Met. 2.254ff.) that because of Phaethon’s fall, “Nile ran in terror to the end of the earth to hide its head which now is still unseen.” [n5 Nilus in extremum fugit perterritus orbem/ occuluitque caput, quod adhuc latet.]. Leaving the Egyptian case for the time being, it is appropriate here to cite two widely separated survivals concerned with the Phaethon theme. They are useful because they come from points far removed from the Greek landscape and consequently cannot be connected with any local catastrophes which are supposed to have made such a tremendous impression on the Greek mind. The Fiote of the African Loango Coast, already mentioned, say: “The Star Way [Galaxy] is the road for a funeral procession of a huge star which, once, shone brighter from the sky than the Sun.” [n6 E. Pechuel- Loesche, Volksunde von Loango (1907), p. 135.]. Conveniently short, and no technicalities. The Northwest American version is broader. Because of the absence of chariots in pre-Columbian America [n7 See H. S. Gladwin, Men out of Asia (1947), pp. 356-59, for this “feature.”], the Phaethon figure of the Bella Coola Indians, who had come to visit his father Sun by means of an arrow-chain, wants to carry Sun’s torches in his stead. Helios agrees, but he warns his son not to make mischief and burn people. “In the morning,” he says, “I light one torch, slowly increasing their number until high-noon. In the afternoon I put them out again little by little.” The next morning, “Phaethon,” climbing the path of the Sun, not only kindled all the torches he had, he did so much too early, so that the earth became red hot: the woods began to burn, the rocks split, many animals jumped into the waters, but the waters began to boil, too. “Young woman,” the mother of the Bella Coola Phaethon, covered men with her coat and succeeded in saving them, But Father Sun hurled his offspring down to earth, telling him: “From now on you shall be the Mink!” 8 [n8 W. Krickeberg, Indianermarchen aus Nordamerika (1924), pp. 224f., 396. cf. E. Seier, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, vol. 5, p. 19. A mere mink might appear to us, today, as insignificant, like the tapir, or as the “Mouse-Apollo”—we fall for mere “words” and “names” only too easily. This particular Mink introduces the tides, steals the fire, fights with the “winds,” playing Adapa, Prometheus, Phaethon all at the same time.].
It is necessary to revive some other very ancient idea. lost to our time. That Eridanus was the river Po in northern Italy was a common and simple notion in the Greece of Euripides. In one of his great tragedies (Hippolytus), the Chorus yearns for a flight away from the world of guilt, to mountains and clouds, to lands far off:
Where the waters of Eridanus are clear
And Phaethon’s sad sisters by his grave
Weep into the water, and each tear
Gleams, a drop of amber, in the waves.
Any hearer would have understood that Phaethon’s sad sisters were the poplars lining the banks of the river, and that the “drop of amber” was an allusion to the riches of the “amber route” which led from the Baltic Sea to the familiar reaches of the Adriatic. So far so good. But what can be made of Strabo, a still later author (5.215) who called Eridanus “nowhere on earth existing ” and thus referred clearly to the constellation Eridanus in heaven, and what does Aratus (360) mean when he talks of “those poor remains of Eridanus” because the river was “burnt up through Phaethon’s fall.” Is this the very same river, ample and lined with poplars, which runs into the delta of the Po?
Apollonios of Rhodes, in recounting the heroic travels of the Argonauts, carefully preserved the double level of meaning, for the adventures are set in an earthly context, yet they make, geographically speaking, no sense at all.
The explorers do sail up the Po, where they are confronted, as was said, with the stench of Phaethon’s remains—but those might be located higher up in a waterfall in the Alps, near the Dammastock, as one distinguished scholar would like to suggest. For the Argo moves from the Po into Lake Geneva and the Rhone, goes down it to the sea again and sails out following the same longitude; then, by a considerable feat of portage crosses the Sahara all the way to the coast of West Africa, and reaches Fernando Po. This is at least how those who understand the text as geography read it without blinking. Surely, it is closer to common sense to treat Eridanus as a feature of the skies, where it is already clearly marked together with Argo; and to treat the other features accordingly will give at least a significant story, although it will not dispel the mystery of the Argonauts.
Thus tradition holds that after the dreadful fall of Phaethon, and when order was re-established, Jupiter “catasterized” Phaethon, that is, placed him among the stars, as Auriga (Greek Heniochos and Erichthonios); and at the same time Eridanus was catasterized. Manilius hinted at this event only with the lines “The world took fire, and in new kindled stars / the bright remembrance of its fate it bears.” Nonnos gave a more detailed report (38.424-J I) [n9 See also F. X. Kugler, Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon (1927), PP. 44, 49.]:
But father Zeus fixed Phaethon in Olympus, like a charioteer, and bearing that name. As he holds in the radiant Chariot of the heavens with shining arm, he has the shape of a Charioteer starting upon his course, as if even among the stars he longed again for his father’s car. The fire-scorched river also came up to the vault of the stars with consent of Zeus, and in the starry circle rolls the meandering stream of burning Eridanus.
Now, in times when myth was still a serious form of thought, objects were not identified in heaven which did not belong there in the first place. The problem which arose later is the one raised by Richard H. Allen, who remarks that “the Milky Way was long known as Eridanus, the Stream of Ocean,” [n10 Star Names (1963), p. 474] and by the translator of Nonnos, W. H. D. Rouse, who shortly annotated Eridanus as “the Milky Way.”
It takes some nerve to say of the Galaxy that it meanders—actually the Greek text, has it that it moves like a helix (helissetai). But apart from this incongruent image of the “helixing” Milky Way, the myth of Phaethon was meant by the Pythagoreans to tell of the departure of the Sun and planets from their former path, and the enthroning of Eridanus, which together with Auriga was to take over the function of the Milky Way: that is why they were “catasterized” together. Admittedly, one faces a frightening confusion between the rivers in heaven and those on earth, and the names which were given to both kinds of streams, but with patience the threads can be disentangled.
Taking the rivers of our globe first, it was not only the Po that received the name of Eridanus, but the Rhone [n11 For Po and Rhone and the joining of their waters, see A. Dieterich, Nekyia (1893), p. 271 quoting Pliny and Pausanias.], and the Nile and the Ganges. Finally in Higgins’ Anacalypsis there is a quote, without the ancient source but reasonably reliable: “Ganges which also is called Po.” [n12 (1927 repr.), p. 357: Ganges qui et Padus dicitur. As concerns the general idea of Eridanus being in India, see O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie (1906), p. 394, referring to Ktesias.]. Thus it is not surprising that much later, in medieval times, several redactions of the Alexander Romance show different opinions about the river used by the king to travel to paradise in order to win immortality. In a French prose novel of the 14th century Alexander sails the Nile upstream, whereas in a Latin version of the 12th century, he uses the Ganges: as the Indians had told him, the Ganges had its source in paradise [n13 F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom Paradiese (1897), pp. 72f.]. So have, indeed, all great rivers of myth.
In the sky, the number of candidates for election is three. Besides the Milky Way, Eratosthenes’ authoritative Catasterisms called the constellation Eridanus Nile or Ocean [n14 No. 37 (Robert ed. , pp. 176f.).]. But the astrologers Teukros and Valens listed Eridanus among the paranatellonta of Aquarius. Paranatellonta are the constellations that “rise at the same time” as a given one, i.e., in this instance, as Aquarius. That is, they called the gush from the jug of Aquarius Eridanus.
More awkward still, this gush from Aquarius’ jar was meant to join our constellation Eridanus below Piscis Austrinus [n15 F. Boll, Sphaera (1903), pp. 135-38.]. Says Manilius (1.438ff.):
Next swims the Southern Fish, which bears a Name
From the South-Wind, and spreads a feeble Flame.
To him the Flouds in spacious windings turn
One fountain flows from cold Aquarius’ Urn;
And meets the other where they joyn their Streams
One Chanel keep, and mix the starry Beams.
Eratosthenes’ Catasterisms bring one more complication into the picture, but it is one which leads, finally, to the decisive insight. Differing from those of Aratus (360f.) and from Ptolemy, it counts Canopus in the constellation Eridanus, instead of Argo, and thus gives the river a different direction [n16 See L. Ideler, Sternnamen (1809), p. 231; see also E. Maass, Commentariorum in Aratum Reliquiae (1898), p. 259.]. The whole “Gordian knot” of misapprehensions hinges upon the name Eridanus, and one can do nothing better than to follow the good example set by Alexander and “pull out the pole pin.” Eridanus, lacking a decent Greek etymology, finds a reasonable derivation from Eridu) as was proposed by Kugler, Eridu being the seat of Enki-Ea, Sumerian mulNUNki = Canopus (alpha Carinae) [n17 B. L. van der Waerden, JNES 8 (1949), p. 13; see also P. F. Gossmann, Planetarium Babylonicum (1950), 306; J. Schaumberger, 3. Erg. (1935), pp. 334f.]. Eridu marked, and meant, the “confluence of the rivers,” a topos of highest importance, to which, beginning with Gilgamesh, the great “heroes” go on a pilgrimage trying in vain to gain immortality—including Moses according to the 18th Sura of the Koran. Instead of this unobtainable boon, they gain “the measures,” as will be seen. “Eridu” being known as the “confluence of the rivers,” Eridanus had to join, by definition so to speak, some “river” somewhere in the South, or it had to flow straightaway into Eridu-Canopus, as the Catasterisms claimed. There have been more drastic “solutions” still.
The first is given by Servius (to Aeneid 6.659) who pretends Eridanus and Phaethon were one and the same [n18 Fabula namque haec est: Eridanus Solis filius fuit. hic a patre inpetrato curru agitare non potuit, et cum eius errore mundus arderet, fulminatus in Italiae fluvium cecidit: et tunc a luce ardoris sui Phaethon appellatus est, et pristinum nomen fluvio dedit: unde mixta haec duo nomina inter Solis filium et fluvium invenimus.]. The second, presented by Michael Scotus [n19 cf. appendix #10, Vainamoinen’s Kantele.],
, Vainamoinen’s Kantele.], agrees with Servius concerning the entity of Phaethon and Eridanus, but does much more. He places into the “sign” Eridanus the “Figura sonantis Canoni”—consisting of seventeen stars—which he calls Canopus and claims that Canopus touches Argo. And about this enigmatic personage Scotus says that he “hindered the work of the Sun by the tone of his lute, because the horses listened to it, and enraged Jupiter pierced him with the lightning.” [n20 See Boll, pp. 273-75, 540-42: Alii dicunt quodcum impediret opis solis sono canoni, quia equi attendebant dulcedini sonorum, iratus Jupiter eum percussit fulmine.].
Eridanus was understood by the astrologers to be the whirlpool (zalos), as has been seen, flowing through the underworld with its many realms, including those from which one sees the celestial
South Pole. Virgil wrote in the Georgics (1.242f.): “One pole is ever high above us, while beneath our feet is seen the other, of black Styx and the shades infernal.” But why was Auriga catasterized at the same time as Eridanus, and what is the “function” which these two constellations had to take over from the Milky Way? The Galaxy was and remains the belt connecting North and South, above and below. But in the Golden Age, when the vernal equinox was in Gemini, the autumnal equinox in Sagittarius, the Milky Way had represented a visible equinoctial colure; a rather blurred one, to be true, but the celestial North and South were connected by this uninterrupted broad arch which intersected the ecliptic at its crossroads with the equator. The three great axes were united, the galactic avenue embracing the “three worlds” of the gods, the living and the dead. This “golden” situation was gone, and to Eridanus was bequeathed the galactical function of linking up the “inhabited world” with the abode of the dead in the (partly) invisible South.
Auriga had to take over the northern obligations of the Galaxy, connecting the inhabited world with the region of the gods as well as possible. There was no longer a visible continuous bond fettering together immortals, living and dead: Kronos alone had lived among men in glorious peace.
And here there is a proposition to be made. In order to evaluate it, one has to consider the fact that alpha Aurigae is Capella, the Goat. This remarkable figure was the nurse of infant Zeus in the Dictaean Cave, and out of her skin Hephaistos was later to make the Aegis:
Amaltheia. Capella-Amaltheia’s Horn was the Horn of Plenty for the immortals, and the source of Nectar and Ambrosia. Mortals called it “second table,” dessert so to speak [n21 See Athenaeus, Deipnosophistai 643a; also 783C, 542a]. But there are two shreds of Orphic tradition which seem to be revealing, both handed down to us by Proclus. The first says that Demeter separated the food of the gods, splitting it up, as it were, into a liquid and a solid “part,” that is, into Ambrosia and Nectar [n22 Orphicorum Fragmenta, ed. O. Kern (1963), frg. 189, p. 116 (Proclus in Cratylus 404b, p. 92, 14 Pasqu.); cf. G. Dumézil, Le Festin d’Immortalité (1924), p. 104. See also Roscher, in Roscher s.v. Ambrosia: sitos kai methy, sithos kai oinos, etc.]. The second declares that Rhea became Demeter after she had borne Zeus [n23 Orphicorum Fragmenta, frg. 145, p. 188.]. And Eleusis, for us a mere “place name,” was understood by the Greeks as “Advent”—the New Testament uses the word for the Advent of Christ. Demeter, formerly Rhea, wife of Kronos, when she “arrived,” split up the two kinds of divine food having its source in alpha Aurigae. In other words, it is possible that these traditions about Demeter refer to the decisive shifting of the equinoctial colure to alpha Aurigae.
But one should also look at some other traditions. Turning to India, which is often helpful in its abundance, it was the Ganges that stood for the Galaxy, almost as a matter of course [24 The same goes for the Jaxartes and Ardvi Sura Anahita of Iranian tradition; see H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des Alten Iran (1966), pp. 260f.], but the Mahabharata and the Puranas tell at least how the link was conceived: Ganga was born of the Milky Way. Says the Vishnu Purana [n25 2.8 (Wilson trans., p. 188).
Having the source in the nail of the great toe of Vishnu’s left foot, Dhruva (Polaris) receives her, and sustains her day and night devoutly on his head; and thence the seven Rishis practise the exercise of austerity in her waters, wreathing their braided locks with her waves. The orb of the moon, encompassed by her accumulated current, derives augmented lustre from this contact. Falling from on high, as she issues from the moon, she alights on the summit of Meru (the World Mountain in the North), and thence flows to the four quarters of the earth, for its purification… The place whence the river proceeds, for the purification of the three worlds, is the third division of the celestial regions, the seat of Vishnu.
It was, in fact, a colossal event to have “the stream Air-Ganges fall down from Heaven,” and its violence was only restrained by Shiva’s receiving it in the curls of his hair. One might add that he bore it there “for more than 100 years, to prevent it from falling too suddenly upon the mountain.” The Indian imagination is free-wheeling, and cares little for time sequence, but it is clear that the flow is perpetual. Were it not for Shiva’s hair acting as a catchment, the earth would have been flooded by the Waters Above. They come, as was just quoted, from the third region of the sky, the “path of Vishnu” between Ursa Major and the Pole Star. Wilson stated in 1840: “The situation of the sources of the Ganges in heaven identifies it with the Milky Way.” [n26 The Chinese report as given by Gustave Schlegel (L’Uranographie Chinoise [1875; repr. 1967], p. 20) is shorter but it points to the same fanciful conception. “La fleuve céleste se divise en deux bras pres du pole Nord et va de là jusqu’au pole Sud. Un de ses bras passe par l’astérisme Nan-teou (lambda Sagittarii), et l’autre par l’astérisme Toung-tsing (Gemeaux). Le fleuve est l’eau céleste, coulant á travers les cieux et se précipitant sous la terre.” Nan-teou is the “Southern Bushel”: mu lambda phi sigma tau zeta Sagittarii; the Northern Bushel = the Big Dipper. Although we agree with Phyllis Ackerman’s view (in Forgotten Religions , p. 6): “The Nile, however, (like many, if not all sacred rivers Originally-compare the Ganges) is. the earthly continuation of the Milky Way,” we maintain that the mere recognition does not help to restore sense and meaning to the myth.].
But if the flow is perpetual, it still had a point of “beginning” and this is found in the Bhagavata Purana (Wilson, p. 138, n. 11): “The river flowed over the great toe of Vishnu’s left foot, which had previously, as he lifted it up, made a fissure in the shell of the mundane egg, and thus gave entrance to the heavenly stream.” How can the Milky Way pour its waters over Polaris?
And how can it flow to the four quarters of the earth? Indian diagrams remained fanciful, in the same way as Western medieval ones. It takes some time for one who looks at the great tympanon at Vézelay to realize that here is a space-time diagram, as it were, of world history centered on the figure of Christ. The effect is all the greater for the transpositions. It was not wholly absurd, either, for archaic cosmology to have double locations, one, for instance, on the ecliptic and one circumpolar. If Tezcatlipoca drilled fire at the pole to “kindle new stars,” if the Chinese Saturn had his seat there too, so could Vishnu’s toe have bilocation: one “above” in the third region, the other in beta Orionis-Rigel (the Arabian word for “foot”), the “source” of Eridanus. (And might not Rigel-the-source stand also for Oervandil’s Toe, catasterized by Thor?) For Rigel marked the way to Hades in the tradition of the Maori of New Zealand as well as in the Book of Hermes Trismegistos.
Fanciful, assuredly, but neither the real Milky Way nor the terrestrial Ganges offered any basis for the imagery of a river flowing to the four quarters of the earth “for the purification of the three worlds.” One cannot get away from the “implex” and it is now necessary to consider the tale of a new skeleton map, alias skambha: the equinoctial colure had shifted to a position where it ran through stars of Auriga and through Rigel. Skambha, as we have said, was the World Tree consisting mostly of celestial coordinates, a kind of wildly imaginative armillary sphere. It all had to shift when one coordinate shifted.
There are stylistic means other than “catasterizations,” that is, being promoted to heaven among the constellations, to describe changed circumstances in the sky. Thus, a Babylonian cuneiform tablet states: “The Goat-Star is also called the witch-star; the divine function of Tiamat it holds in its hands.” The Goat-Star (mulUZA = enzu), apart from representing Venus, “rises together with Scorpius” and has been identified with Vega [n27 Gossmann, 145; van der Waerden, JNES 8, p. 20.]. If one can rely on this identification, it seems to describe the situation as seen from across the sky: the shifting from Sagittarius to Scorpius, and Vega taking over the northern part of the “function” of the Galaxy.
That Tiamat is the Milky Way, and no “Great Mother” in the Freudian sense, any more than Ganga, Anahita and others, seems by now obvious. And the same is true of Egyptian Nut [n28 The Arabian name of the Galaxy is sufficiently tale-telling: Mother of the Sky” (um as-sama), and in northern Ethiopia it is called “Em-hola,” i.e., “Mother of the Bend [Mutter der Kruemmung].” See E. Littmann, “Sternenagen und Astrologisches aus Nordabessinien,” ARW II (1908), p.307; Ideler, p.78], but the story has different terms there: Mother Nut is changed into a cow and ordered to “carry Ra.” (It is, by the way, a “new” Ra: the older Ra made it quite clear that he wanted to retire for good, going somewhere “where nobody could reach” him) (appendix #21).