Tag: Star Myths (Page 1 of 3)

Constellations and Psychedelics: Did Ancient Shamanic Techniques Enhance Stargazing?

How did the constellations come to be? At what point did ancient peoples decide to connect the dots and draw lines between the stars to form pictures and symbols?

The thought occurred to me that ancient shamans would have perhaps aided their stargazing experience with mind-altering herbs or mushrooms, and that this may have helped in the creation of constellations. We know that shamans and cultists worldwide have deployed a wide variety of shamanic techniques, with or without the use of psychedelics, to achieve altered states of awareness.

There is also evidence that the mythology of ancient cultures all over the world have linked their myths and beliefs to the constellations. Norse myth is no exception. Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey – the world’s oldest expression of religion to date – seems to be aligned to the stars; the animals on its pillars reflecting the constellations in the sky.

If both vision journeys and stargazing were an important part of ancient belief, then how did the two come together? How did they evolve or co-evolve? I wondered if the use of a particular psychedelic could even have the effect of making visible lines appear between stars, forming psychedelic-induced constellations. This was just an idea, but as it turns out, there seems to be a reality to it.

Since I have no direct experience of the effects of psychedelics myself, let alone in combination with stargazing, I would have to rely on the experiences of others. If I could find multiple independent reports of the effects I had in mind, then there could be something to this idea. So I did a search query on Google, and already on the first hit, I found exactly the thing I was looking for.

Stargazing at the Milky Way band
The combination of stargazing and LSD is apparently a famous one in the psychedelic community. Could psychedelics have helped in the creation of the first constellations? Photo of the Milky Way by the ESO (source)

Lines Connecting the Stars

Multiple threads popped up in my search engine about the experiences that people have had when they combined the effects of psychedelics with gazing at the stars. One of the effects mentioned, and confirmed by multiple others, is the sensation of lines forming between stars. Could this have played a part in the origin of our constellations?

I am not urging people here to try psychedelics for themselves, but I do think that they have their benefits when used in a responsible way. And likely, they have played an important part in the development of culture, religion, and science from the ancient world until now – an idea that is still not very popular with the establishment.

In finding out the origins of our traditions and beliefs, no stone can be left unturned. Let’s look at some of the experiences that people have had when combining stargazing with LSD. The first is from this Reddit thread:

“I live up in North Idaho, in a small community that has hardly any people. Light pollution is very low so the stars, in September, are extremely vibrant and you can see the “milky” appearance [of] our Milky Way galaxy. Anyway, several of my friends and I were up on a high mountain peak, each of us tripping off probably 350μg – 450μg of LSD and we all took several dabs.”

It’s true that in the mountains, and in regions with little to no light pollution, many more stars can be seen, and also the band of the Milky Way can become visible to the naked eye. After exiting the car, the user lay down on the cold gravel, together with friends, to look at the stars:

“I got this crazy feeling, that I could feel our planet moving through space as if I was on some amusement ride. The stars in the sky almost appeared a reddish color to me ( I’m very colorblind, not that I think it has anything really to do with it) and I could see the sky shifting […]

I started to really concentrate on the Big Dipper, at the star at the front of the ladle . I would try to stare at it and not look away at all for a minute or two at a time. What really hit me, was I saw whitish lines that were connecting all the stars. Sort of like a connect the dots game. The more I thought about it, the more I saw it. 

I had a trip on mushrooms, roughly 3 grams was consumed, where I had the same experience with the lines between the stars.”

Here we have the first mention of “whitish lines” appearing and forming connections between the stars. In the comments, another user confirmed the experience, but reported seeing “green lights” between the stars:

“I know nothing but the 3 times I tripped with my best friend we got on her roof and the stars connected themselves drawing their own green soaring lights between each star. It was fascinating.”

Lines forming constellations under influence of psychedelics
Lines forming spontaneously between the stars is an effect of psychedelics that multiple people have reported. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans. Stock image used: Dreamstime

Following the Thread

So far we have two reports describing a similar experience: that of stars starting to connect themselves while on a psychedelic journey. This experience has been observed under the influence of LSD, and also psychedelic mushrooms. Let’s look at an experience given in another Reddit thread:

“At some point, I looked up at the sky and couldn’t speak or close my mouth. I was experiencing pure awe. Every star was as clear as day, and I saw these vivid thread-like lines connecting them all, just like a map of the constellations. These lines seemed delicate, and made the sky look like it was decorated with these studded geometric shapes. Has anyone ever experienced this?

 […] 

My friend sees the lines connecting the stars too. We’re both pointing to stars and seeing the same ‘constellations.’ I am no astronomer by any means, and I never really studied much on the constellations, so I have no idea whether or not we were seeing an accurate map. All I know is that it was probably the most incredible thing I’ve experienced while tripping.”

Here we have a third person experiencing the same sensation. Whether there is any consistency in the shapes of the “constellations” in different trips is unknown, but it does seem as if the creation of constellations comes even more naturally when in an altered state.

Magic mushrooms - linked to the stars?
Magic mushrooms were one of the methods that were naturally available for ancient peoples to reach altered states of awareness. Photo by John Shortland (source)

Touching the Stars

A variety of other effects have been reported, dealing with rotation and movement of the earth and/or the stars. In this comment on the above post, the user describes the stars appearing to come closer:

… “I was sitting on the ground showing my friend how to juggle (one of my strange hobbies) and we both started to look up at the sky. I’ll never forget the prominence of the stars, but what stood out to me was how it looked like the sky was falling. The harder I concentrated, the closer the stars appeared — it was the strangest feeling ever, but awesome at the same time.”

The original writer of the post confirms this, saying:

“Yes, that’s a great detail that I left out. My entire field of vision was enveloped by the night sky, and it started to appear like a huge dome, similar to a massive planetarium. It definitely all started to seem like it was close enough to touch

I remember mentioning how I wanted to reach out and pluck the threads connecting the stars, and then desperately tried (and failed) to articulate what I thought that might sound like.”

The details that are mentioned here are very interesting. The user describes the lines connecting the stars as “threads”. This reminds me of the practice of seidr magic in the Norse world, which is related to the weaving and spinning of threads. The three Norns for example weave the threads of Fate, but this is a topic for another time.

Another interesting detail mentioned above is the attempt to articulate what it might sound like to “pluck the threads”, as if the strings which make up the constellations can produce musical notes. Certainly, synesthesia is a phenomenon that can be induced with chemical agents

Again, the experience of lines connecting the stars is confirmed by users in the comments: “I had the same experience deep in the mountains of Colorado this summer. Every single star was connected. One of the greatest nights of my life.”

Long exposure cameras make the Milky Way better visible
A long exposure camera has the same effect as the dilation of the pupils at night: it makes you see more stars. Photo by Jordan Cordon (source)

All the Stars in the Sky

Some have reported seeing more stars while using LSD or mushrooms. Here’s another one from the same thread:

“I have always wondered how it works, stargazing on both of them [LSD and mushrooms] makes the night sky so busy… So many stars, patterns, so much beauty. I’ve wondered if you truly are seeing more stars and nightly activity, or if it is more a trick of vision. Either way, it is absolutely stunning.”

An amateur astronomer confirms:

“You definitely can see more stars while tripping! I’m an amateur Astronomer who lives in a rural area in Texas (not a complete dark sky site but the views are pretty good). I hang outside all the time when I’m on acid and can verify you can see a lot more stars and points of light.”

At night, especially when there is little light pollution, your pupils dilate naturally, making you able to see more stars. There is of course a limit to how far your pupils can dilate. But is it possible to see more stars in altered states of awareness? Is the brain able to generate more visual detail, which would otherwise have been filtered out? Perhaps.

So that was the popular forum Reddit so far. My search results also brought up experiences from forums dedicated to the use of psychedelics. Let’s see what more we can find…

The post on this forum describes the experience of a friend called Bob while at a music festival:

“When looking up at the night sky, Bob was able to see so much more than he had ever seen. all the stars were connected, as if all the constellations had become completely vivid. He could see geometric lines connecting hundreds of stars.. 

But Bob wasn’t sure if this was just a mental hallucination, or if the acid was just showing him more of what was literally there in the universe. Was what he saw accurate? How exactly does this work? What are other people’s experiences stargazing with acid? Bob found this incredibly fascinating and beautiful, and wants to know more..”

This experience describes the same arrangement of effects that we have seen mentioned before: seeing more stars, with lines connecting them in different colors, and the mention of geometric shapes or lines. Apparently, LSD and stargazing is a famous combination, as one commenter mentions.

Another user in the thread saw red lines connecting the stars, instead of white or green ones, and various other effects related to motion. It is known that visual shapes and visual distortions appear while under the influence of psychedelics. Perhaps these added shapes can combine with the stars to create these lines?

Psychedelic webs of light in the stars
Users of mushrooms and LSD have reported seeing interconnected threads of light between the stars. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans. Stock image: (stars and web)

Webs of Light

Another user describes the experience as follows, also bringing up the connection with shamanism:

“Personally, I wasn’t quite seeing the lines as physical things, but I was so aware of them that I may as well have. They appeared as triangles and even prisms in some places. Since I was not hallucinating the stars themselves, I have to think the lines were real, and that LSD supercharged my ability to see the connections. It’s all about seeing patterns and connections.

I also have to wonder if the people who originally saw the constellations were in a shamanic state of mind similar to what we’d regard as a psychedelic state…”

Someone on another psychedelics forum reports not being able to see constellations under normal circumstances (and without proper training), but being able to see lines when using mushrooms: “I can see the constellations plain as day with the lines connecting them.”

This description is even more visual: “… I remember on the first mushroom trip I ever had, I swear I saw incredibly fine spider-silk like, rainbow/electric filaments connecting the stars— it was incredible…”

It can certainly be argued that when we look up at the night sky, the pattern recognition apparatus in our brain automatically starts seeing shapes in the stars. While it can be difficult to find the larger constellations as they have been constructed for us, it is quite easy to see simpeler geometric shapes without too much effort.

The simpler shapes such as lines, triangles and squares (e.g. the Great Square in the constellation Pegasus)  are experienced with ease, although I personally don’t see the actual lines appearing when envisioning the constellations with the same clarity with which I can see the stars. Seeing the stars with the aid of psychedelics is something else apparently, as is also pointed out by this user:

“The odd thing is, they only connect the constellations … it’s like people didn’t invent them – they discovered them

The user clarifies this further by saying that the stars within the constellations appeared to be connected, but the constellations themselves appeared separate from each other.

Another user reported seeing the lines shift between different sets of stars, and also wondering whether these are actual constellations or something close to it. The idea of “webs of light” has been mentioned, one user even speaking of an “interconnected 3-dimensional spider web”, with all stars connecting, complemented with interesting patterns and sacred geometry.

Neurogenesis

The idea of a web forming between the stars brings to my mind the idea of neurogenesis. In this Joe Rogan episode, mycologist Paul Stamets explains how (psychedelic) mushrooms can rewire our brains, reconnecting the neurons in our brain in new ways. When our brain gets stale and becomes trapped in the same routines, neurogenesis could be seen as a process that provides new growth, new connections, and increased creativity.

Paul Stamets thinks that we all have a form of dementia to a certain degree, and he thinks that mushrooms of various sorts could help us to keep our brains younger and less rigid.

Joe Rogan#1035 – Paul Stamets. Mycologist Paul Stamets explains to Joe how mushrooms can rejuvenate the brain throught the process of neurogenesis (link)

Our Ancient Connection with the Stars

As mentioned by another user, looking at the stars is a wonderful experience under any state of mind. Looking at the stars without the aid of psychedelics can already feel like a mind-altering experience. And it is certainly possible, with some effort, to become familiar with the constellations, and to learn how to recognize them in the sky at different parts of the year without the use of psychedelics.

Knowledge of the constellations would have been a very practical thing for our ancestors. They can tell us which season we are in, or which month of the year. The stars can even help us to find our place in the greater cycle of the precession of the equinox. For sailors, they can also help to find out where the north is, and which latitude they are on.

Having knowledge of the stars can be both a practical thing (especially in earlier times, or without access to technology), but also a profoundly spiritual thing. In the constellations of the night sky, ancient cultures could see the gods and their myths played out. Can we perhaps find another clue in the fact that many ancient Mystery cults held their celebrations at night?

It certainly is possible that the ancients imagined these constellations without the help of psychedelics or any other kinds of shamanic techniques. But with so many people reporting the spontaneous generation of threads between the stars, and even the sensation of separate “constellations”, one has to wonder whether or not psychedelics played any part in the birth of the first constellations many, many aeons ago.

Once again, I’d like to point out that I’m not calling on people to try this out for themselves. The use of psychedelics is not something that should be taken too lightly. In ancient societies, the use of psychedelics was to a large extent ritualized, and performed under the guidance of experienced elders.

But if you happen to know of experiences like the ones mentioned in this investigation, especially if these contain additional insights, feel free to share them!


Forum Threads

Reddit (thread 1) and (thread 2)

Stargazing on Mushrooms – The Psychedelic Experience

Acid and Stargazing

Shamanism

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964) by Mircea Eliade

Synesthesia

The induction of synaesthesia with chemical agents: a systematic review

Joe Rogan

#1035 – Paul Stamets

#1543 – Brian Muraresku & Graham Hancock

Ancient Psychedelics

The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name  (2020) by Brian C. Muraresku

Star Myths

Odin’s Sacrifice: A Myth Written in the Stars

Starmythworld.com

Buddha, Odin, Mushrooms

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.

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