Category: Catastrophism (Page 2 of 3)

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

Mind Escape Podcast #139: Comets and Catastrophe in Norse Myth

In episode #139 of the Mind Escape podcast, we talk about how comets and cosmic catastrophe may have left its marks in the Norse myths

I have been invited to Mike and Maurice’s Mind Escape for a second time to have an interesting discussion about the Norse myths again. In the first episode, we talked about how the myths of the Norse  can be linked to an ancient astronomical tradition. This second time, we talked about the possible role of comets and cosmic catastrophe in the Norse mythological poems.

In this episode, I gave an introduction into the catastrophic periods that have happened on the human timescale. Cosmic impacts were not just a thing that the dinosaurs experienced – we have received a decent dose of cosmic catastrophe ourselves. I think that it’s likely that this has found its way into our myths as well, and it’s probably one of the crucial components in understanding myth and religion.

If this topic interests you, I’d say, jump right into the episode. If you have seen it already, or if you’d rather  read a bit about it first, then here you can find more about this subject.

Some interesting questions were asked to me during the interview, and here in this blog post, I have provided some additional answers to these questions, as well as other important questions to think about. I’ve also added some links to articles and websites on the subject for those who’d like to explore this further.

If I’ve left you still with some questions, I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing. I’m having a lot of questions myself about what the myths are about, and how comets and catastrophe may be involved in them. It’s these questions that are driving me to research these topics. Some of the answers I’ll leave for future blog posts, but I’ve provided some additional information on the topics discussed in this episode here below, summarizing some of the key points:

What evidence is there that the Norse gods are linked to comets?

At this point, my research into the links between Norse myths and comets, meteorites, and cosmic impacts is still in a beginning stage, although I have consumed much information about these topics in the past few years. Any links between the Nore gods and comets are still speculative, but I have amassed enough data to strongly suspect that there is a connection between the two. 

Ever since seeing Martin Sweatman’s conclusion that the gods are comet gods in his book Prehistory Decoded, I started paying more attention, and when I started looking at the myths more and more from this perspective, several puzzling things in the myths and in ancient artwork started to make more sense.

The winged disk symbolism for example, with its fan-like rays, may not resemble so much the disk of the sun, but rather a large comet for example, as Graham Philips shows in his book End of Eden.

The winged sun disk, the Faravahar of the Zoroastrian tradition
A zoroastrian winged disk symbol with what appears to be a deity or king on it source

Researching the myths is speculative by definition. By nature, myths lend themselves to multiple interpretations, and I don’t think that these have to be mutually exclusive. I think that multiple different avenues deserve to be explored in a search for answers.

Science has proven without doubt that catastrophic events did happen in the human timeline, more than one time. We also know that giant comets are a part of the human experience. Both the rarity and magnitude of these events would have contributed to the mark that they would have left on the human psyche, when such an event did occur. Yet at the same time, these cosmic events have happened in the human past more often than we have for a long time believed.

Here below, you can see a timeline I’ve made of several major cosmic impacts and cometary events 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.

The myths are also quite clear about the existence of these recurring cosmic events, sometimes explicitly mentioning falling stars and natural disasters, which we see in the Norse myth of Ragnarök and also in other Norse myths, such as Thor’s fishing trip. When Thor fished for the World Serpent, the line snaps, and the serpent is thrown back into the water, causing volcano eruptions, earthquakes and large waves.

I think that the ancients would have used symbols that were familiar to describe those things that words themselves could hardly describe. The snake as a symbol of a comet or meteorite would have been one of the most prominent symbols. This, we may see reflected in the giant serpent Jormungandr of Norse myth, whose battles with Thor have destructive consequences, or in the evil spirit Angra Mainyu from the Avesta, falling out of the sky like a snake, causing a terrible winter.

Not only giant monsters are probably linked to cosmic impacts, but the gods themselves as well. The Mayan Quetzalcoatl is known to be linked to comets, and around 1500 BC, when a giant comet visited the earth, we see the rise of monotheism and winged disk symbolism with deities in them, such as Ahura Mazda. With all these links between gods and comets in different traditions, it would be no surprise if the Norse gods too could be linked to such phenomena.

What makes it harder to find links between the Norse myths and comet phenomena, is that there is less of it left, due to the persecution of European paganism by Christianity. Also, the runic script was not suited for writing down large stories. Only when the latin alphabet came into use in Iceland, these myths could be finally written down, ironically enough, by Christian writers.

In late Scandinavian folklore, we find the belief that pieces of meteoritic rock are pieces of Thor’s hammer. His hammer Mjollnir was originally a grindstone or whetstone, which he hurled at giants. So, was Thor as a sky god hurling meteorites at giants? And if the Norse peoples would have seen comets as well, then which parts of the myths can be linked to these bright visitors?

A sky god hurling meteors is something that can also be found in Phoenician mythology, where the god Baetylus hurled down life-endowed meteorite stones from the sky. The evidence points to a similar meteorite link with the god Thor.

Mjollnir, Thor's hammer pendant from Skane, a meteorite?
Thor’s hammer was originally not a hammer, but a whetstone or grindstone, possibly meteoric in origin – source

Speaking of grindstones, what about the cosmic mill, which grinds out wealth in several myths, like a cornucopia? The Finnish version of the cosmic mill, the Sampo, is also called the “bright-lid”. This bright mill ultimately sank into the sea, like the bright Phaëton crashing his chariot in the river Eridanus.

The suspect list

In this podcast episode, I have presented a small suspect list, with symbols in Norse myth that I think could be linked to comets (among other things). This is only a small list, with four examples that I will explore further in future blog posts here at Secrets of the Norse. 

Surtr’s flaming sword

The first on the list is the fire giant Surtr, who splits the sky in two at Ragnarök, with a sword that is brighter than the sun. Comets were also envisioned as flaming swords. In 1910, when comet Halley visited the earth, the comet appeared to an observer in Accra, west Africa ‘like a flaming sword with jewelled hilt’.  Meteorites and comets have been proven to be blinding to the eye when they descend upon the earth, as was also observed when a meteorite hit the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013.

Notable comets from 1577-1652, like a flaming sword
Excerpt from “Notable comets of the period 1577-1652”. Notice how a comet might have been seen as a flaming sword? – source

Odin’s golden spear

Randall Carlson has written a great series about the Grail Legends, whose origins can largely be found in the period of the Dark Ages – a period, which I have shown in this interview to be a period of cosmic disaster. In his grail series, Randall explains how the four major grail symbols are possibly metaphors for cosmic impacts. The spear would have been one of the symbols used by ancient peoples to describe the long shape of a bright comet or meteorite’s tail. Is Odin’s golden spear Gungnir linked to comets and meteorites as well?

Comet symbols in Norse mythology, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
List of suspected comet symbols in Norse mythology – from the Mind Escape Podcast.

Freyja’s Necklace

The Norse goddess Freyja has a golden necklace, called Brisingamen. The name means something like “fiery or glowing necklace”. When Thor tells her that she is to be wed to a giant, she bursts into anger, and her fiery necklace drops. Then, the mansions of the gods tremble. In other words, a fiery, golden-hued object falls down, causing tremors large enough to shake the mansions of the gods. 

Here, we could see a more subtle reference to a cosmic impact. One of Freya’s names, Mardöll, has the linguistic element in it that refers to something shining or bright. Heimdall is also called the white god, or the shining god. Could this refer to more than simply the sun, moon and stars? Was Freyja also linked to a bright comet?

Sif’s golden hair

The word comet itself means “long-haired”, from Ancient Greek kometai, “letting the hair grow long”. Milton describes comets like this in Paradise Lost (1667):

Just as a comet in the burnished air

Is wont to burn with bloody, horrid locks,

And, wrecking realms, still new disasters bring —

An omen of ill-luck to crimson kings.

Milton, Paradise lost (1667)

In the Greek myth of Medusa, we find the monstrous gorgon women with their snake-hair, deadly gaze and roaring screams. Medusa was once, like the Norse Sif, a golden-haired maiden.

In Norse myth, Sif’s golden hair gets cut off by Loki. The dwarves then have to make a new set of golden hair, and Loki sets two groups of dwarf smiths up against each other to produce even more golden objects, including Odin’s spear. Freyja’s necklace too, was made by the gold from the dwarfs.

Like Sif’s hair, comets can grow and lose their “hair”, their coma. Could this be subtle symbolism for a comet phenomenon? Possibly. I’ve written an entire three-part series about this topic on my blog (part one, part two, part three). Since then, I found more links between hair symbolism in myths and comets and catastrophe.

In the Finnish Kalevala for example, the divine singer Väinamöinen makes a musical instrument out of a lady’s seven locks. When he plays it, the hills and mountains shake, trees get uprooted, and boulders fall from the cliffs. Compare this to the story of Phaëton, the son of the sun, who crashes his father’s sun chariot with the seven rays of the solar crown on his head, possibly reflecting the multiple tails of a comet.

Phaëton by Gustave Moreau (1878)
Excerpt from “Phaëton” by Gustave Moreau (1878) – source. The artist depicts Phaëton with long, disheveled hair.

Cosmic Battles

Here we have a golden spear, a golden necklace, golden hair… in fact, there are many golden objects in possession of the gods that were important in their defence against the giants. Do we have here in the wars between gods and giants a symbolic struggle between the elements of the earth meeting those of the sky? Science has shown that cosmic impacts can profoundly alter the geography of the earth, causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and even causing volcanic activity.

Are the ancient Norse and their myths linked to Göbekli Tepe?

The Old Norse culture and that of Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey are far removed, both in place and in time. Yet both can be argued to have their myth and religion based upon an ancient astronomical system. David Mathisen has, to my mind, made a convincing case that the world’s myths are part of an ancient worldwide system.

The myth of Thor’s fishing trip is also found in Polynesian myth for example, in the story of Maui’s fishing trip. It is also reflected in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, in ancient Babylonian myth. All of these myths can be argued to be based upon the constellations. The world’s myths and ancient civilization itself can be traced back to Göbekli Tepe – the first sign of civilization since the last ice age, and a monument that incorporates both megalithic architecture and a link with an ancient form of the zodiac.

Martin Sweatman, in deciphering this ancient zodiac, has come to the conclusion that the monument is dated to the Younger Dryas Impact Event, and sees in it a monument to an ancient cataclysm. Later civilizations used the same symbols linked to the stars that were used in Göbekli Tepe, although these would have been somewhat altered over the course of thousands of years, and after several more cosmic interruptions.

It is likely, he thinks, that the gods in the world’s myths actually represent comet gods. In this blog post, Martin Sweatman has collected a number of ancient symbols from ancient artwork, which he suspects are linked to comets. It is these giant comets that he thinks inspired the construction of Göbekli Tepe, and thus also the first signs of organized religion.

In the screenshot of his website below, we see first several different illustrations of comet observations:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, collage of comet illustrations
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of comet illustrationssource

And below, we see a collage that Martin Sweatman has made of what he suspects is comet symbolism:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, comet symbolism
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of suspected comet symbolssource

Eventually, this ancient astronomical system would have also reached the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Eurasian steppes, who later conquered Europe, and from which ultimately the Norse myths of Scandinavia were derived. 

Andrew Collins thinks that the builders of Göbekli Tepe were denisovan hybrids, possibly the Swiderians. This hybrid offspring of humans and Denisovans would have come from an ancient Eurasian homeland. This takes us closer to the original homeland of the ancient Norse as well.

Denisovan DNA has even been found in modern Icelandic and Finnish people. So Iceland, the land where the Norse myths were ultimately written down, even has some genetic affinity with who Andrew Collins suspects were the builders of Göbekli Tepe.

But ultimately, this system with its astronomical tradition has dispersed around the world, and according to Laird Scranton, there were multiple key centres of learning. One of these would have been Skara Brea in the Orkney Islands around 3200 BC – again, close to Iceland, the later home of the Norse myths.

Are comets and catastrophes what the myths are all about?

I don’t deem it necessary at this point to settle for one explanation only of what the myths are about. What is sure though, is that catastrophe on an epic scale is found in myths worldwide, especially in myths dealing with the end of a world age. Martin Sweatman thinks that the experience of the Younger Dryas Impact Event was sufficient motivation for people to come together and establish the basis for an organized religious tradition, and the creation of myth.

But before the Younger Dryas, there were not only earlier episodes of cosmic catastrophe, but also long periods of relative peace and prosperity. In these periods with a more stable and favourable climate, the human spirit and civilization flourishes. It could be that in these more climatically favorable times, the horrors and the religious awe of cosmic encounters were largely forgotten, and the reverence for the sun and stars becomes more prominent. 

A giant comet, Graham Philips, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The author Graham Philips has pointed out that around 1500 BC, a giant 10-tailed comet visited the earth – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

Still, comets might have been on the radar even in less cataclysmic times, as they would still visit the earth century after century.

But when disaster strikes again, this may revive tales of gods, giants and monsters fighting each other in epic battles. When excessive rainfall due to global cooling plagues farmers, with floods swallowing their lands, a new water-based religion may ensue. This could explain the many archeological finds of sacrifices of weapons, utensils, and people into bogs and lakes.

When being confronted with the role of comets and catastrophe in the myths, one could get the idea that this is what it’s all about. The myths do take us from one conflict to another, because what’s a story without a conflict? But I think there’s much more to the myths than fire and brimstone. The myths to me, seem to reflect the entirety of the human experience, but played out in stories that centre around the world of the gods.

This would include knowledge of the stars, and quite probably, our experiences with entheogens. Forces that are larger than life were I think, personified in the form of gods, giants, elves and dwarves, so that we could relate to these phenomena on a personal and societal level. The result would have been the splendid poetry that continues to inspire and intrigue us.

David Mathisen has shown evidence that these poems are written in the stars.

How can the myths be about comets and about the stars and constellations at the same time?

Through the work of Star Myth researcher David Mathisen, I came to learn of the connections between the myths and the stars. Many scholars would admit that there is at least some presence of constellations in Norse myths and in archaeoastronomy, dealing with ancient sites. But David Mathisen has shown through numerous examples, how practically all of the world’s myths can be seen as written in the constellations.

He himself also readily admits though, that the stars were not the end-point. They were not the object of worship, but they were used as the closest metaphor for the divine realm, that part of us that is less concerned with material reality, and more concerned with spiritual matters. The Otherworld, A world outside of ordinary reality is also found in altered states, which can be accessed through entheogens and a wide variety of shamanic techniques.

The stars then, could have been used as a metaphor for explaining the world of consciousness and a connection to the larger cosmos, and how this is integral in living a fulfilled and complete life. The stars form the language in which these experiences were captured, personified in the tales of gods and other beings with humanoid qualities.

Another interesting question: could the use of psychedelics have somehow enhanced the stargazing experience? Could they have played a crucial role in the shaping of Star Myth poetry? This reddit thread contains anecdotal evidence, which shows multiple people experiencing the stars in a different state while under the influence of LSD.

But if the stars were used as a language, could they have been used as a metaphor for other experiences as well? If the stars and constellations can serve as a metaphor to explain realms outside our own, then could they also describe events that may be seen as forces of the divine or chtonic realm invading the ordinary world in world-changing or world-ending events? I would say yes.

The visitation of a giant and bright ten-tailed comet would have been like a psychedelic experience. A giant comet or cataclysm would be a paradigm-shifting experience of its own. One that I think was likely passed down in the form of Star Myths, connected to an ancient astronomical tradition.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten
Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the multi-rayed Aten, 18th Dynasty. Notice how they’re holding what seems like hallucinogenic blue lotus flowers? Perhaps they were tripping while basking in the light of a giant comet! – source

So, what came first? Star Myths, or tales of cosmic catastrophe? This seems to be a chicken or the egg question. Human beings have lived with both for a long time. The two have likely co-evolved, and since the stars are a more stable and more permanent feature in our lives, I think it’s likely that this is the reason that the stars were used as the basis for this ancient system of knowledge.

Civilizations come and go, but the stars are largely in the same place as they were tens of thousands of years ago. See also this blog post for more information on how comet symbolism may be linked to certain constellations (example: a snake deity can be linked to both the tail of a comet and to a snake-like constellation).

Comets and the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices
Depictions of comets compared with the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices. Experiences with large and bright comets were likely passed on in the form of Star Myths.

What good is knowledge of catastrophic events in my personal life?

Imagine a giant ten-tailed comet appearing in the sky, the size of four full moons. You could call it a giant piece of ice and dust lighting up in the sun’s heat, but when you as a human being are confronted with such an awe-inspiring sight, words would not suffice to describe it. To the ancients, it would have been like a god or a giant visiting the earth, or even plunging into it.

Giant comets really are a thing from the world of giants, who in Norse myth, are related to the gods themselves. In Norse myth, the realm of giants is called Jotunheim, a world on the periphery of Midgard, the world of humans. Per definition, giants and giant comets are not part of our everyday experience. Volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are the forces of giants as well, and luckily, we do not encounter these every day.

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

But when such an extraordinary thing does happen, it can challenge our entire worldview. It makes us realize that we humans are part of a much larger cosmic scheme. And once in a blue moon, these forces invade the human world. The sight of a giant comet alone would suffice to profoundly alter the course of human history, let alone any cosmic cataclysm it leaves in its wake.

I think it’s good to challenge once in a while the way we view the world, and not become too complacent with what we think is ordinary reality. A giant comet may challenge our worldview, just like a psychedelic experience would. Both may have found their way in myth, possibly represented by the gods themselves. 

Psychedelics may have even helped humans deal with the trauma caused by such events. And when the planet cools down due to cometary dust, and rain keeps on falling, wouldn’t that in some places have contributed to the growth of psychedelic mushrooms?

What both the science and the myths also teach us about catastrophic events, is that life goes in cycles, both on the cosmic scale and on the scale of the human experience. No matter how catastrophic and chaotic things get when the forces of chaos threaten the established order, life will triumph eventually. This, to me, is a hopeful message.

This chaos doesn’t have to be all bad either. It’s how we grow. The comet that killed the dinosaurs paved the way for us humans (and chickens). And sometimes, we look for chaos ourselves, when too much order and routine gets into the way of growth. This is also why some of us use mind-altering substances from time to time, to break free from old patterns (or something more mundane such as taking a vacation or watching a great movie would help as well).

Ragnarök, falling stars, a screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The Ragnarök myth explicitly mentions the falling of stars from heaven – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

What’s driving me to research comets and catastrophe in myth?

The subject that we talk about in this episode is not the only way in which I view the myths, but it is a subject that fascinates me, and might be crucial in understanding what the myths are about. The cryptic language of symbolism that we finds in the myths triggers curiosity. It’s curiosity which makes us human, and not programmed automatons that are satisfied with one single script.

It’s this curiosity that is driving me to research the myths. So far, it has taken me to distant lands and distant times, to the stars, and to falling stars, and from the fruit of knowledge to the plant of immortality.

Cosmic catastrophe, and the appearance of exceptionally large comets is one of these many subjects that I find utterly fascinating, and in continuing blog posts, I will continue to research this subject further, as well as its place in an ancient astronomical tradition based upon the stars and constellations.

The Seven Locks of the Sun and the Disheveled Hair of a Comet

We have explored the symbolism around long hair in the previous two blog posts, with the myth of Loki and Sif. We have also seen how long hair can symbolize the long “hairy” tail of a comet. In the Norse myth, Sif’s long, golden hair gets cut off, and likewise, a comet can grow and lose its “hair” as it interacts with the sun. 

In the previous parts of this series, I have shown, building on the work of David Mathisen’s Star Myth research, how the myths and even the possible celestial events – including comets –  can be linked to the constellations. The myths are written in the language of the constellations, so treating the myths as Star Myths is the ultimate key to understanding them.

We can’t be sure exactly what the Norse myth of Sif represents, although it is highly likely that it is written in the constellations. it is interesting to see how nature mirrors myth in many ways, and looking into the symbolism of this myth has sparked an investigation into diverse forms of hair symbolism in myth and religion.

If we want to fully understand the ancient myths, we have to take many different possibilities into account that could explain their origins, and the visible or invisible phenomena that they describe.

The symbol of long hair is also connected to solar symbolism. Solar deities are often said to have long, golden hair, like the rays of the sun. Let’s explore the connections between the symbolic powers of long hair in myth, and how this may also be linked to the sun.

Solar Apollo with the seven rays solar halo of Helios
Solar Apollo with the radiant halo of Helios, with seven rays emerging from his headsource

The Long Locks of the Sun

Sun gods are often depicted with seven rays of light, or having long and golden locks. Other solar symbolism which has been linked to golden hair include the golden stalks of wheat in the fields, and the golden manes of lions. Sif’s hair has also been linked to the golden color of wheat in the philosophy of nature myth. The hair of the goddess Freyja has been described as “flaxen” in color. Freyja doesn’t have lions in her retinue, but she does have a chariot that is drawn by cats.

There are a few references to solar deities in Norse myth, but they seem to be less pronounced than the solar figures in other mythologies. In the north, where the sun is milder, and often obscured by clouds, and held firmly in the grip of winter, it was mainly the stormy Thor and the gloomy figure of Odin who held prominent places in the Norse imagination.

Still, the sun may be linked to a wide variety of Norse deities.

The Norse personification of the Sun was not a male god, but the goddess Sól, who traversed the sky in her sun chariot. Máni the moon man followed in his own lunar chariot. The Norse god Dagr (“Day”) was the personification of daylight, and he too rode a heavenly chariot.

Solar deities are often depicted with a number of seven rays above their head. David Mathisen points out on his blog how the sun god Helios, also identified with Apollo, has a total of seven rays emerging from his head. Seven is also the number of locks on the head of Samson, the long-haired warrior from the biblical Book of Judges.

Mathisen noted in his Star Math analysis that it is hard to tie Samson to one particular constellation, since there are references to many different constellations in Samson’s adventures. Samson’s adventures rather reflect the sun’s travel through the zodiac with the passing of the months in the solar year, making Samson’s seven locks the rays of the sun.

The cutting of Samson’s locks by his treacherous lover Delilah would then symbolize the waning power of the sun as it makes its descent into the lower and darker part of the year.

Samson and Delilah by Solomon Joseph (1887)
“Samson and Delilah” by Solomon Joseph Solomon (1887) – source

The true message according to David Mathisen is the symbolic meaning that this myth carries. The sun’s descent into the Underworld, or the loss of the seven locks, can be seen as the severing of our connection with the divine, with the spiritual nature within ourselves. 

When the sun makes its way through the darkness of the night, or the darkness of winter, it also gathers new strength, and new wisdom. When the sun returns triumphant over the darkness, it symbolizes enlightenment, and the attainment of new wisdom. Likewise, when the locks of the blinded Samson start growing again, his heroic power too began to increase anew.

Seven Golden Rays like Strings

The link between the rays of the sun and locks of hair is enforced in the following example that Mathisen quotes from the Dionysiaca, written by the poet Nonnus in late antiquity. In this passage it is described how the sun god Helios prepares his sun chariot for the young Phaeton:

After this speech, he [Helios] placed the golden helmet on Phaethon’s head and crowned him with his own fire, winding the seven rays like strings upon his hair, and put the white kilt girdlewise round him over his loins; he clothed him in his own fiery robe and laced his foot into the purple boot, and gave his chariot to his son. 291 – 297; page 113 in the Rouse translation linked above.

Dionysiaca, Nonnus, c. 5th century AD

This passage suggests that the “seven rays like strings” were originally the attribute of the sun god Helios, before he placed them onto the head of his sun Phaeton (in late antiquity at least).

Phaëton by Gustave Moreau (1878)
Excerpt from “Phaëton” by Gustave Moreau (1878) – source.
The artist depicts Phaëton with long, disheveled hair.

The Phaëton myth has been seen by many as an eyewitness account of a comet impact. The Ancient Egyptians took this myth seriously. They knew it as a Greek memory of a time when cosmic disaster befell the earth, setting all the hills and mountains ablaze and drying up the seas.

Plato explains in the Timaeus how an Egyptian priest told his ancestor Solon that the Greeks were but children, and that they had no memory of how the world had been destroyed by multiple floods and conflagrations.

But even the Greeks had a memory of one such event, preserved in the myth of Phaëton. In the words of the Egyptian priest himself:

“There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. 

There is a story that even you [Greeks] have preserved, that once upon a time, Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. 

Now, this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals.”

Timaeus, Plato, c. 360 BC

There are only a few heavenly bodies that produce such a conflagration as described in the Phaëton myth. The image of the chariot of the sun gone awry evokes most of all the event of a comet coming from the direction of the sun. Flying very low, it touched the earth’s atmosphere, then plunged into a body of water described in the myth as the River Eridanus.

Like the Samson story, this myth too makes references to certain constellations. Possibly, the path of a comet through certain constellations is described, whereas the Samson myth may be more descriptive of the path of the sun.

The Tails of a Comet

Returning to the seven locks, what does it mean when these seven rays upon the hair of Helios were handed over to his son Phaëton?

If Phaëton is indeed the personification of a comet coming from the direction of the sun, then what are these seven rays that the daring youth gets crowned with? Quite possibly, these seven rays can be seen as the multiple tails (or locks) of a comet. As the comet’s volatile gasses ignite under the influence of the sun, these gasses can fan out in different directions. There is a serious possibility that what is described here, is a comet with multiple tails.

Exactly such a comet with multiple tails is described in Graham Philip’s End of Eden: The Comet that Changed Civilization. Philips theorizes that the solar disk that was at one point worshipped in Egypt in the time of Pharaoh Akhenaten, was actually a comet with multiple tails. The Aten, as this celestial disk was called, was according to him not related to the sun at the time when it was observed and described by the earlier Pharaoh Thutmose III. 

There are many Egyptian reliefs that show the Aten as a disk with multiple rays emanating from it, but what he noticed is, that these rays are not uniformly distributed around the edge of the disk, as you would expect from a depiction of the sun. Instead, the rays are all clustered in only one direction of the disk. To Philips, this rather resembled a comet with multiple tails.

If the Aten was the same comet as the one observed by the Chinese around the year 1500, then the Aten may have been a ten-tailed comet that visited the earth around that time.

In the image below, you can see the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti basking in the light of the Aten:

Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten
Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the multi-rayed Aten, 18th Dynasty – source

The Aten story is one that I would like to get back to at a later time, since it portrays an intriguing image of the way that comets were described in ancient times, and how they might have affected human behavior and climatic conditions on earth. But for now, let’s investigate the symbolism of long hair and its links with the sun and with comets a bit further.

The Seven Colors of the Rainbow

In Vedic mythology, the chariot of the sun god Surya is driven by seven horses, and is said to depict the seven days of the week. Through the dispersion of the rays of Surya is also created the rainbow, with its seven different colors.

Could there also be a link between the seven locks of the Israelite Samson, the seven rays in the hair of Helios, and the seven different hues that can be perceived in a rainbow? In Vedic India at least, they made this connection between the sun’s rays and seven different colors.

I’m not sure if this seven-fold spectrum this is the main reason for the seven locks or seven rays, but the rainbow is definitely a product of the rays of the sun. Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th Century understood that when light gets refracted through a prism, this white light splits up in seven different hues.

Both the Australian Aboriginals and the Maya of Central America have a “Rainbow Serpent” in their mythology. The aboriginals saw this multi-colored serpent as a creative force and a giver of life through its association with water, but it could also be a destructive force when angry – associated by some Aboriginal tribes with a fallen star.

Do we have here another instance of comet symbolism, this time linked to a cosmic snake? That there is a link between comets and snakes is little doubted. We’ll see plenty of examples later on of the destructive powers of snakes in Norse myth.

A rainbow with seven colors - seven locks of the sun god
A great rainbow across the landscape. Photo by Binyamin Mellish source

Mourning and Cosmic Battles in Egypt

There is one final example that I would like to bring up that can tell us more about the symbolism of hair in relation to the cosmic environment. For this, we return once more to ancient Egypt. It involves a symbolic ritual that unites long and disheveled hair, the cutting of the locks, the god of the sun, and his battles with a terrible snake that makes a formidable foe.

In the Egyptian language, the word samt can mean “sadness” or “lament”, but also a “lock of hair”. More accurately, it might be translated as the “lock of hair of a professional mourner”. In the mourning rite, a part of the lock of the professional mourner was cut. Queen Berenice in the Egyptian legend was full of grief when her lock of hair was stolen, and the Norse Sif too is depicted by artists as full of grief at the loss of her hair.

Another Egyptian word for a lock of hair, and especially a plaited one, is nebed. Dr. Rosa Valdesogo Martín, writer of the blog Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt, notes how the word nebed is very similar to nebedj, which can be translated as “the bad”, or “the enemy”.

The proper noun Nebedj was a way of naming Seth, the enemy of Osiris, and also Apophis, the enemy of Re, the Egyptian sun god. Osiris too was linked to the sun, and its travels through the darkness of the Duat, the Underworld. 

Purifying and Mourning the Dead in ancient Egypt
Purifying and Mourning the Dead in ancient Egypt – source

Somehow, the cutting of the lock in Egyptian mourning rituals, was connected to the cosmic struggle between a solar god and his enemy. Apophis is the Greek name for Apep, a personification of the forces of chaos, who appears in art as a giant snake. It is interesting that once again, our research into the symbolism surrounding long hair leads us to snakes.

The Coffin Texts imply that Apep used his magical gaze to overcome the sun god Ra and his entourage. 

The Coffin texts were recorded a century or so before 2000 BC, not too long before the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and the start of Egypt’s First Intermediate Period. This was indeed one of the more chaotic episodes in Egyptian history.

A mere two centuries before the start of this period, we find in the climatic record the 4.2 Kiloyear Event. This cosmic calamity caused a sudden and severe aridification of the environment in Egypt and many other regions, including Central Europe. While Egypt was plagued by drought and dust-storms, parts of Northern Europe experienced wetter conditions, paired with flooding.

The increasing geological evidence shows that these so-called “kiloyear events” – and other such events that involve a sudden and dramatic upheaval of the global climate – are often connected to periods of cosmic bombardment. The symbol of a giant snake hints at the possible involvement of a comet.

What about the snake’s magical gaze, this “evil eye” which overwhelms the sun god? Both snakes and the evil eye, or a flaming or burning eye are symbols that are present in many mythologies, including that of the Norse.

Were the Egyptian mourning rituals involving the cutting of locks and the swaying of disheveled hair reenactments of a larger cosmic drama, following periods of darkness and chaos, and the subsequent renewal of the world?

According to Dr. Martín, the cutting of the lock could reflect the end of the chaos and darkness which dominated the universe before the creation.

Purification and Rebirth

The story about the links between the hair of a solar deity, the wild hair of a comet’s tail, snakes and comets gets complicated quickly. There are a lot of overlapping symbols that keep recurring.

I have provided several possibilities for explaining the links between locks of hair and diverse celestial phenomena, while trying not to make too much of a tangled mess out of it.

When we look at rituals concerning hair from all over the world, one thing is ubiquitous, and that is that the cutting of hair is related to a new phase in the life of a person, the life-cycle of a comet, the cyclical journey of the sun, or in the larger cosmic cycles that affect life on earth.

The cutting of hair was often seen as a ritual of purification, which is why the cutting of the lock is also linked to rituals of initiation, and the transition from youth to adulthood. In the mourning rites of the Egyptians, it signified the passage from death to rebirth in the afterlife.

Not only was the cutting of someone’s hair a symbol of purification, it could also mean the loss of one’s strength. In the Germanic world too, long hair was treasured and held as sacred. Laws forbade the cutting of someone’s hair against the person’s will.

Long hair was often regarded as a treasure, and was seen as the extension of the self in ancient cultures. Many Germanic warriors only cut their hair after the killing of their first foe in battle, as a sacrifice to the god of war.

In the Eddic poem Lokasenna, the mischievous Loki is hurling insults at the gods, and he accused Sif of having slept with another man. Loki himself may have been this man with whom Sif shared her bed. Cutting off Sif’s hair might have been Loki’s way of punishing her for an act that he himself was involved in. It seems like Thor received little notion of this, as his main concern was to make sure that Loki found a way to retrieve Sif’s hair.

While this insight may help us understand the motif of Loki cutting off Sif’s hair, I can’t help but wonder whether this myth was inspired by some memory of a celestial event witnessed by the ancient peoples of the North, or by whoever first dreamt up this story. 

Judging by the evidence that we have seen from other myths and legends – from Queen Berenice to Samson, and from Helios and Phaëton to the gods and monsters of Egypt – the symbol of hair repeatedly turns up in relation to heavenly phenomena and cosmic catastrophes of several kinds. Ultimately, these events would have been written in the constellations, as we have seen in the previous part.

Every aspect of our lives, from the hair on our head to the sun in the sky, comes with an incredible amount of ritual, history and myth, and also an ever-growing scientific understanding. Even today, we treat our hair sometimes with a sacred reverence, and our psyche and personal story is reflected in a myriad of different hair-styles.


Source Texts

Dionysiaca by Nonnus

Skáldskaparmál (The Poesy of Skalds) by Snorri

Timaeus by Plato

David Mathisen’s Blog

Star Myths of the World

Samson and the Seven Locks of his Head

Articles

The Comet that Changed Civilization – And May Do Again

Egyptian Words for “Lock of Hair” related to the Mourning Rite.

Books

End of Eden: The Comet that Changed Civilization

Star Myths of the World, and How to Interpret Them: Volume Two: Greek Mythology (David Mathisen 2018)

Star Myths of the World, and How to Interpret Them: Volume Four: Norse Mythology (David Mathisen 2018)

The Stars: A New Way to See Them (H.A. Rey 1976)

Featured image: “The Chariot of the Sun” by Collingwood (1908) – source

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2020 Secrets of the Norse

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑