2006 01 03
From: Top 10 TPOD Series | thunderbolts.info
“The Wild Hunt of Odin”, by P N Arbo, 1872.
After years of ignoring the most pervasive
fear in human history, it is time to examine its roots
dispassionately. For such a purpose, we need only call upon the
appropriate rules for evaluating historical evidence.
Let a comet appear in the sky. Let the “zeroes”
line up on a calendar. Let the weather turn stormy, or world events
grow unsettled. When such things occur they will invariably trigger
a cultural response—the “doomsday anxiety”, a fear of the end of the
Today little attention is given to the historic
origins of this cultural syndrome. However, only a few years ago it
reared its head at the turn of the millennium. And just two years
earlier we saw it with the dramatic appearance of the comet Hale
Bopp. Within various religious cults, preachers and gurus and wild
men have pointed to imminent apocalypse for as long as any of us can
Indeed, the phenomenon may seem too trivial to
merit concern. We easily dismiss it as a minor demonstration of the
irrational in our species. But the historic nature of the anxiety
does deserve attention, for no archaic culture was free from the
fear of Doomsday.
And most of the collective investment in ritual and magic bore a
direct connection to the mythology of overwhelming catastrophe.
Early mythic and religious
many fears, beliefs, and yearnings shared by all of the early
cultures. But while many of the motives are universal, the
experiences to which they refer are beyond the ability of accepted
science and theory to explain. Science today has no frame of
reference for dealing with the collective memories that drove the
At the end of a 52-year calendar cycle, Aztec
priests would anticipate a world-ending conflagration. On seeing
that the heavens remained as they were, the people would celebrate
the new lease on life. Moreover, the theme of cosmic upheaval
appears in New Year’s festivals around the world. Our own Halloween,
Christmas, New Year, and May Day celebrations have preserved many
fragments. The prototypes for these occasions lay in the remote
past, in such celebrations as the Egyptian Sed Festival and the
Babylonian Akitu festival, both harking back to events of cosmic
chaos and destruction.
It is no overstatement to say that ancient
nations the world over were obsessed with ideas of
world-ending disaster. But here is the heart of the matter, the one
fact that can explain the Doomsday anxiety both ancient and modern.
Humans everywhere on earth once remembered a
world-altering catastrophe, an event of such devastating intensity
that it hung like a cloud over every culture for thousands of years.
And what they remembered, they expected to happen once more.
As before, so again.
The world-ending catastrophe remembered by
Nordic cultures gave rise to the prophetic vision of Ragnarok, the
destruction of the world in a rain of fire and stone. In this vision
rises from the waters of the deep and attacks, spitting its fiery
venom upon the world. A battle ensues between gods and giants.
Odin’s dark angels, the Valkyries, ride their steeds across the sky,
their golden hair streaming behind them. The walls of the heavenly
city Asgard fall down, and the celestial bridge of Bifrost dissolves
A much earlier account of universal disaster,
preserved by the Greek poet Hesiod, described the “clash of the
Titans”. On one side, the leader of the Titans was the god Kronos,
original ruler of heaven; on the other, his own son, Zeus. Their war
in the sky brought the world to the edge of complete destruction.
“For a long time now, the Titan gods and those who were descended
from Kronos had fought each other, with heart-hurting struggles,
ranged in opposition all through the hard encounters,” wrote Hesiod.
The upheaval lasted for ten years, culminating in a
heaven-shattering conflagration, when the whole world shuddered
beneath the thunderbolts of the gods. The celestial combatants
“threw their re-echoing weapons and the noise of either side
outcrying went up to the starry heaven as with great war crying they
drove at each other.”
To witnesses of the events, “it absolutely would have seemed as if
Earth and the wide Heaven above her had collided, for such would
have been the crash arising as Earth wrecked and the sky came piling
down on top of her, so vast was the crash heard as the gods collided
in battle….” Huge boulders flew between the celestial combatants.
The roaring wind and quaking earth brought with them a great dust
storm “with thunder and with lightning, and the blazing thunderbolt,
weapons thrown by great Zeus.”
In such descriptions as these the gods do not just disturb the earth
they pound each other with them amid horrific sound,
earthquake, raging wind, and a devastating fall of rock.
The notion that archaic memories of universal
catastrophe were simply exaggerated accounts of local disasters is
an unsupportable oversight in specialized cultural study today.
Specialists have suggested that the world of the first storytellers
was so limited it was “only natural” that they would experience a
local flood or a particularly destructive volcanic eruption as a
world-ending conflagration. But this gratuitous supposition is
contradicted by a cross-cultural coherence.
To reconcile human memories and
scientific evidence, it is not sufficient to dismiss the ancient
witnesses when their testimony is incompatible with today’s
“scientific mythology.” The essential requirement is that
appropriate ground-rules be followed for assessing cross-cultural
evidence. Ancient testimony is both unreliable and useless when
individual stories are considered in isolation. No one will ever
penetrate to the original human experience by studying a local
legend in North America or the South Pacific. But human testimony
can be extraordinarily reliable in the hands of one attentive to the
points of agreement—particularly where extraordinary and unexpected
details are repeated around the world.
In its every nuance the Doomsday theme declares
that our theoretical assumptions are not correct. But ideology has
prevented accredited specialists from following the most obvious
question: Does the occurrence in every culture of the same themes
and details, which are unnatural in today’s world, indicate an
archaic experience of a world with a different nature? Certainly no
Egyptologist or Sumerologist could know, based on his specialized
learning, whether cosmic violence punctuated the recent history of
the solar system. But the supposition of a changeless solar system
has kept specialists from comparing data and asking the question.
Doomsday theme has no roots in familiar natural events. Therefore,
we cannot ignore the direct implication: the myths arose as
imaginative interpretations of extraordinary
occurrences. If mankind’s Doomsday anxiety was provoked by events no
longer occurring, the conventional historians’ dismissive approach
to the subject must be counted among the greatest theoretical
mistakes of modern times.
Article from: http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2006/arch06/060102doomsday.htm
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