The Wisdom of the Dead: A History of Comets and Catastrophe

Odin was on an urgent mission to gather as much knowledge as he could. The fate of the whole world was at stake. The Doom of the Gods was already woven into the tapestry of the Norns.

The Allfather, with his long cloak and broad-brimmed hat, travelled all the Nine Worlds on his steed, searching for knowledge in all directions. He hung himself for nine nights from the World Tree Yggdrasil to gain greater awareness. Then, he wounded himself with a spear, and deprived himself of food and drink.

Odin even sacrificed an eye to obtain a drink from the well of the wise Mimir, to gain knowledge of all the things that happen outside of ordinary reality. But dropping his eye into Mimir’s Well was still not enough to turn the wheels of fate.

The Völva

There was more wisdom to be gleaned. Not from the world of the living, but from the world of the dead. In the Völuspá, the first poem in the Poetic Edda, Odin summons a dead seeress from her grave to question her about Ragnarök, the Doom of the Gods.

The dead have witnessed events that we, the living, have long forgotten. Whatever the dead have experienced in their lives, and whatever wisdom and intellectual treasures they have amassed, they have taken it with them into the grave. It makes sense that in the Norse poems, Odin disturbs the slumber of a dead völva, a seeress of a past age, to question her about what is to come.

In Norse society, the völva was seen as an oracle, a seeress who could travel the webs of Fate and predict the future. In the Völuspá, the “Witch’s Prophesy”, Odin summons the old woman from her grave, and she gives him her prediction of the future.

The seeress says:

Hear my words, all the holy races,

All of Heimdall’s sons, both high and low;

You summoned me, Allfather,

To tell you what I remember,

Old tales of men long ago.

Völuspá, stanza 1[1]

Ragnarök and Cyclical Time

Predicting the future becomes a lot easier when you have knowledge of what happened before. Our future is written in the tales of men and women long ago.

In our modern era, we perceive time as something linear, a continuous progression from the Stone Age up to the technologically advanced age that we’re living in now. But if we look at the passing of the seasons, from winter to summer and back, we should know that time is also cyclical.

The seasons faithfully return each year, alternating in cycles of growth and decay, of death and rebirth. The years that we wander this earth can be counted in the number of winters or summers that we have experienced.

We see similar cycles repeated on different scales, on different levels of existence, and we can observe these cycles of death and rebirth on a larger, cosmic level as well. The Ragnarök myth, as it is presented in the Poetic Edda, is a cyclical event. It’s not a definite end to all life, as in some doomsday prophecies; it is the cyclical end and rebirth of our world.

Battle of the Doomed Gods by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1882) - Ragnarök
Battle of the Doomed Gods” by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1882) – source

Odin presses the völva to give him all the details of the disaster that awaits. She explains to him how the sun and the moon will be devoured by wolves. Snow will start falling in summer, and people will feel the bite of a terrible cold. The World Tree will shake in agony. 

There will be violence and moral decay. Brothers will fight brothers, while the gods are launched into a war with giants of frost, fire, and venom. Heaven and earth will be cloven. The Bridge to the Gods will burn, and the earth will sink beneath the sea…

Digging up the Records of the Past

Like Odin, we too are digging up the past. Archaeologists are excavating ancient sites, disturbing the remains of men, women, and animals of ages long ago. Tombs and their treasures tell the story of the past. Each new find is a new verse to be told.

The earth itself has kept a record of the past in layers of rock and ice, with ancient fossils and pockets of air trapped inside. Trees have kept a record of how well they liked each year in their rings.

By examining ancient records, scientists have found increasing evidence for several major tears in the fabric of the past. More than one major catastrophe has struck humans during their time here on earth. Many of these episodes of cosmic catastrophe have happened since the Last Ice Age, and many went before.

Excavation of the Oseberg Ship (1904-1905)
Excavation of the Oseberg Ship (1904-1905) – source
What secrets have ancient peoples taken with them into their graves?

We tend to think that major comet impacts only happened to the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago, but something nearly as catastrophic happened as recently as 12,800 years ago. Just when the earth was finally escaping the Last Ice Age and started to warm up, a bombardment from space sent the Northern Hemisphere back to a world of ice and snow for another 1000 years.

The Younger Dryas

This episode of global cooling is called the Younger Dryas, named after an alpine flower that grows in arctic conditions. Across multiple continents, scientists have found a black mat layer, dated to the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB). This black mat layer contains proxies that point to a cosmic impact, and the global wildfires that ensued, burning 10 percent of the planet’s biomass.

At the base of this layer, scientists have found nanodiamonds, microspherules, melt glass, platinum particles, and other indicators strongly suggest that there was a major bombardment, likely from multiple fragments of a large comet.

One of the famoes Joe Rogan interviews with Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson about the onslaught of the Younger Dryas Impact Event.

Several large fragments likely hit the North American ice sheet, which was two miles thick at the time, launching football-stadium-sized chunks of ice across the continent.

As pieces of space rock hit the ice sheet, some of them might not have left a crater, as they ploughed through two miles of ice, or exploded in the air. But two large craters have been found under the ice of Greenland, and the preliminary dating of one of them is close to the Younger Dryas Boundary.

Impacts in the ice would have caused enormous, catastrophic meltwater floods, scarring the landscape, and leaving behind giant erratic boulders.

According to catastrophist geologist Randall Carlson, the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington are the physical evidence of a single catastrophic meltwater flood.   Left: A topographic map of the Scablands (source). – Right: A view in the “Channeled Scablands” of eastern Washington. Washington, Wenatchee, by Harley D. Nygren, 1948 (source).

Tales of catastrophic floods that cover the tops of mountains are found in myths worldwide. We find it in the story of Noah’s Ark, and flood myths are also found all across the American continent. Often, they describe the sun growing dark, black rain and hail, indescribable cold, and fire or snakes falling from the sky.

Now, with all the research that has been done on the YDI event and other episodes of cosmic upheaval, we know that humans have actually witnessed events on the scale that is described in these myths and legends.

Not only was the onset of the Younger Dryas catastrophic, this thousand year period came to an equally abrupt end around 11,600 years ago. The climate suddenly took a turn for the better, and a large pulse of meltwater from melting glaciers set the tone for the large rise in sea levels that was to follow.

Interestingly, 9600 BC is also exactly the date that Plato gives for the sinking of Atlantis. Many ancient continents, like the former Indonesian continent called Sundaland, and the landmass of Doggerland in Northern Europe were submerged beneath the waves as the sea level rose with about 150 meters since the end of the Ice Age.

comet impact into the North American ice sheet at the Younger Dryas
Several large fragments of a comet likely hit the North American ice cap at the YDB. Stock image by Max Haase (2010) – source. Edited by the author.

The events of the Younger Dryas Boundary would have been catastrophic for human populations living at the time. Clovis arrowheads were not found above the black mat layer, indicating that an entire North American culture had been wiped out. In Europe, it was the Federmesser culture that was erased from existence.

The majority of the different species of megafauna, including various species of bison, horses, and mammoths, were exterminated during this cataclysm.

A Timeline of Catastrophe

Between the end of the Ice Age and the present day, many other periods of cosmic bombardment followed. There were also the so-called kiloyear events, which were episodes of change in global climate, causing droughts in some regions, and excessive rainfall and floods in other regions. These kiloyear events too, were likely caused by fragments of comets falling down to earth, causing major disruptions in ancient cultures and civilizations.

In the timeline below, you can see several of the larger episodes of cataclysm and global climate change of the last 15,000 years:

A timeline of cosmic catastrophe and comets (Arthur Koopmans)
A timeline of catastrophic and cometary events that have shaped human history since the past 15,000 years. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans.

Most of these impact events would have been caused by comets and meteors from the Taurid Meteor Stream, which the earth passes twice each year. Every 3000 years or so, the earth passes through the densest part of the stream. It is this heavier part of the stream that contains some real monsters, that are bound to descend upon our planet at some future date.

The last time that the earth crossed the most dangerous part of the Taurid Stream was at the time of the Dark Ages. There are many accounts from that time, speaking of fire and brimstone, poisonous dragons, falling stars, and the desolation of the Wasteland left in the wake of disaster.

Another such episode was the Late Bronze Age collapse, which was also a time of increased migration from the frozen north, along with volcanism and global cooling, resulting in the collapse of almost every major civilization of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Comet Gods

A close encounter with a large and bright comet can have profound effects for life on earth. Dust from the comet’s tail can fill the inner solar system with particles that block the light of the sun, causing a drop in temperatures here on earth. The gravitational effects or the shock of an impact of a comet might even disturb the earth’s crust, possibly triggering more than one volcano to erupt.

Great Comet of 1861 by E. Weiss
The “Great Comet of 1861”, drawing by E. Weiss – Source

The sight of an especially large and bright comet alone could have had profound effects on the human psyche. Encounters with large comets may have been encoded in myths, and in symbols found at ancient sites. Martin Sweatman, by decoding the imagery on the pillars of Göbekli Tepe and other ancient sites, reconstructed an ancient zodiac.

Animals linked to this zodiac depicted at Göbekli Tepe seem to describe the path of the nucleus of the Taurid Meteor Stream around the time of the Younger Dryas.

Was Göbekli Tepe, possibly the oldest megalithic site to date, a memorial to the Younger Dryas Impact Event? The animal reliefs, symbolizing the constellations, seem to function as a cosmic clock that is frozen in time, forever pointing at the sunset of the summer solstice of 12,800 years ago.

The site itself has been radiocarbon-dated to about 9600 BC, right at the end of the Younger Dryas. But what has been uncovered so far is only 10 percent of the entire site. What more secrets are buried beneath all these layers of soil? The oldest layers could be as much as 20,000 years old…

Researchers like Martin Sweatman and Mike Bailie think that the gods in the world’s myths are comet gods. Once you see the myths from this perspective, and you let this idea sink in for a while, it starts to make an increasing amount of sense.

Shining gods with flashing swords and burning spears, evoking equal amounts of beauty and terror, winged serpents and dragons – these could all be descriptive of encounters with fiery comets and meteorites.

Myth and Memory in the Stars

Seeing the gods as comet gods seems to be close to the truth, but there is another major aspect to the gods and their myths. Star Myth researcher David Mathisen has amassed a huge amount of evidence over the past 10 years that shows how the myths are based on the stars and constellations.

Many scholars would admit that there is probably some element of astronomy in the myths, but most of them are unaware it seems, of the idea that entire myths can be linked to the stars, word for word.

constellation Ophiuchus and the god-self icon of Richard Cassaro
The gods and their myths can be linked to an ancient worldwide system based on astronomy.

If we see the stars as a repository for all kinds of knowledge and past experiences, then we can understand how entire myths could have been written in the stars. Even encounters with comets could have been preserved in the form of Star Myths.

The Norse myth of Ragnarök too can be linked to the stars, as David Mathisen has demonstrated in his book Star Myths of the World Volume 4 (Norse Mythology). In future blog posts, we will look at the Ragnarök myth in detail, and we’ll see what more ancient memories and age-old wisdom we can dig up out of this celestial memory system.

And if we see the stars as the book of myths, or even as the nightly Otherworld itself as described in the Egyptian Book of what is in the Duat, then we can find Odin and the völva too up in the stars on a clear night.

Preventing the Next Ragnarök

The myths mostly speak in metaphors, but sometimes there is little room for ambiguity as to what message they are trying to convey. In this stanza of the Völuspá, the myth clearly speaks of a cosmic bombardment:

The sun turns black, earth sinks into the sea,

The hot stars are whirled down from heaven;

Fierce grows the steam, and the life-feeding flame,

Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.

Völuspá, stanza 59[2]

Odin tried to do everything in his power to prevent the inevitable, but by doing so, it seemed that he only hastened the demise of the gods, by creating some powerful enemies. The ancient Norse strongly believed that Fate was set for everyone. It can’t be changed, so it’s best to make the best out of this live. Are we, like Odin and the gods of Asgard, in for another Ragnarök?

Modern science shows that an event on the scale as described in the Ragnarök myth has happened at least once in the human timeline, as recently as 12,800 years ago. Science also shows that the next Ragnarök, or some smaller version of it, is bound to happen, as long as there are still threats lurking in the cosmic ocean. 

In about 1000 years, the earth will again pass the densest part of the Taurid Meteor Stream. But even in the parts of the meteor stream that contain less rocky material, there area few really big objects, each with the power to destroy our world as we know it.

Even the smaller fragments can pose a threat to millions of people. A chunk of rock the size of the one that caused the Tunguska airburst could level a city the size of London. The next Ragnarök doesn’t have to be inevitable though, as long as we don’t wipe ourselves out. 

While modern technology on its own could probably cause another doomsday, it could also achieve that which Odin could not do: preventing the next Ragnarök – either by altering an object’s orbit, or by destroying the sources of the threat altogether.

Whatever solution for this cosmic threat we’ll come up with, we may still have a thousand years or so to prevent the next end of the world from happening…


Notes

[1] my adaptation of the Saemund Edda translation

[2] Olive Bray translation of the Poetic Edda

The Völuspá

OIive Bray translation

Benjamin Thorpe translation

The Cosmic Tusk

Younger Dryas Impact Evidence

Martin Sweatman

Prehistory Decoded

Mike Bailie

Exodus to Arthur

David Mathisen’s Blog

Star Myths of the World

Joe Rogan Interview

#872 – Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson

2 Comments

  1. Rick

    Great post, very insightful! I have been thinking about time myself recently. I believe it is the philosophy eternalism which suggests that everything that has ever happened and that ever will happen is all happening simulataneously, we can only perceive it linearly, as you say.

    • Arthur Koopmans

      Thank you! I think that it also connects with Mircea Eliade’s idea of the eternal return, Spengler’s cycles of civilization, and Strauss and Howe’s theory of generation cycles.

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