by David Talbott
VENUS IN MYTH AND SCIENCE
The planet Venus is Earth's closest planetary neighbor, moving on an
orbit 108 million kilometers (67 million miles) from the Sun.
Modern astronomers have always believed that Venus, evolving within
its own enclave in the solar system, has followed its present path
for countless millions of years. Working under this assumption most
planetary scientists believed until the 1960's that Venus might be
very much like the Earth, and many scientists speculated freely on
the possibilities of life on Venus.
But the space age brought more than a few surprises. Instead of an
earth-like environment, astronomers discovered an incredibly violent
planet, a seething, volcanic cauldron and a host of paradoxes yet to
The mythical Venus-image presents many paradoxes as well. In the
popular imagination, Venus means something like the love goddess,
and many authorities connect the very name of the planet-goddess
with feminine charm.
But peel away the more familiar layers of
symbolism, accented from the classical age onward, and you will find
an ancient goddess of a far more unpredictable character, a
celestial power raging against gods and heroes, a charmer who is the
acknowledged prototype of the world-threatening hag or witch.
From what reservoir of human experience did the curious but
immensely powerful Venus image arise? And how does one account for
many parallel symbols of Venus around the world?
In myths the world
over, Venus is the only planet consistently identified as a female
power, but there is no acceptable reason for this, and on such
issues historians and mythologists are prudently silent.
Immanuel Velikovsky unleashed an international controversy
with the publication of his book Worlds in Collision. Very quickly
the book became the nation's number one best seller, stirring at the
same time a vitriolic reaction by established science.
In a heavily documented presentation, Velikovsky argued that the
planet Venus, only a few thousand years ago, appeared as a
terrifying comet. More than once, Velikovsky claimed, the comet and
protoplanet Venus disturbed the Earth, devastating early
But Velikovsky did not draw significantly on modern data or
observations of Venus. His key sources were historical. In fact his
primary source was myth, and his work implied that the mythical
profile of Venus holds a more promising key to planetary history
than either astronomers or historians have ever imagined.
In 1972, Velikovsky's work became the exclusive subject of a journal
I had founded called Pense, and over the following three years
Pense's ten-issue series, Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered, helped
to bring considerable international attention to the Velikovsky
For myself, Velikovsky's thesis sparked a deeper personal interest
than any subject I had ever encountered. Suddenly a door opened to
incredible possibilities, though scarcely a handful of researchers
had yet ventured through that door. One could not enter the realm of
Velikovskian research without raising the most fundamental questions
about the history of the solar system and planet Earth.
It was interesting to learn that prior to the explosive controversy,
many scholars around the world held Velikovsky in high esteem. He
had been a colleague of Albert Einstein. He was a respected
psychoanalyst, and was the founder and editor of the scholarly
journal, Scriptas Universitatis, the physics section being edited by
But Velikovsky's academic accreditation would not redeem
him when it came to challenging the pillars of modern science.
WORLDS IN COLLISION
In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky drew on widespread myths and
images of the planet Venus, all suggesting that in earlier times
Venus was anything but a settled planet.
He claimed that Venus moved
on an elliptical orbit intersecting the orbit of the Earth. And it
acquired the form of a comet, with a luminous tail or train of gas,
dust, and stone.
On at least two occasions, the earth passed close enough to the
Venus comet to be disturbed in its motions, and a rain of celestial
debris descended on our planet. This celestial conflagration,
Velikovsky claimed, entered global mythology as the attack upon the
world by a cosmic serpent or dragon (and/or overwhelming wars of the
The Velikovsky controversy is important today for more than one
reason. To begin with, it offers an excellent study in scientific
intolerance. Even as Worlds in Collision topped the national
bestseller list, the scientific elite, led by the respected
astronomer Harlow Shapley, threatened a boycott of the publisher
Macmillan, and its collective voice was loud and fierce enough to
cause the publisher to drop the book, which was transferred to
Doubleday. Astronomers and other experts in the affected fields
issued sweeping pronouncements against Velikovsky's thesis most
without even reading the book. This included, for example, the
leading astronomers and textbook authors Donald Menzel, Fred
Whipple, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, whose refutations of
Velikovsky showed virtually no concern for facts.
In various more subtle ways this intolerance of Velikovsky and
everything Velikovskian has thrived over the past twenty years as
well, most commonly in the form of indifference and disdain, and an
unwillingness to consider highly significant revelations about the
In an article for a special issue of Analog devoted to the
Velikovsky controversy, Isaac Asimov coined the acronym CP crackpot
for those who, like Velikovsky, would question the suppositions of
modern science. One of those who has helped to set the tone of the
scientific establishment's response to Velikovsky is the popular
Cornell University astronomer, Carl Sagan.
Look up his books
published through the 70's and 80's and you will find in most of
them a section debunking Velikovsky.
In his television series
Cosmos, and in the book of the same name, Sagan treated Velikovsky
at length, dismissing the idea of a cometary Venus without regard to
the historical evidence. Sagan himself participated in a politically
organized and controlled confrontation with Velikovsky, intended to
debunk Worlds in Collision, at the 1974 annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Velikovsky affair has provided the twentieth century with one of
its most poignant demonstrations of the difficulties confronting
theorists with truly novel ideas. And I say this knowing full well
that the defenders of orthodoxy will raise a chorus insisting that
their more recent responses to Velikovsky have been a model of
propriety and open-mindedness.
Since it is not my purpose here to re-tell an oft-told story, I will
simply state my opinion that the scientific elite's response to
Velikovsky will, in the end, prove to be much more of an
embarrassment to science than ever it was to Velikovsky.
When all is
said and done, the Velikovskian inquiry into the past will change
the way we view the solar system, the history of planet Earth, and
the history of man.
VENUS THE PLANET
As if to symbolize an ancient tie to the Earth, Venus returns to its
same position in the sky every 584 days, called a synodical year.
Five Venus synodical years equal eight Earth-years. At its closest
approach to the Earth, it always shows the same hemisphere. Hence,
both its rotation and its revolution around the Sun present a
fascinating synchronous relationship with the movement of our
planet: a Venus day or full rotation turns out to be longer than its
sidereal year (revolution around the Sun) but is equal to the
interval between the planet's closest approaches to the Earth.
Though Venus is about the same size as Earth (Venus= 12,080
kilometers in diameter; Earth= 12,728 kilometers) and its orbit
quite close to that of the Earth, there is little else in common
between the two worlds.
For reasons not easily explained, Venus appears as a fish out of
water in our solar system, since astronomers consider both its
rotation rate and direction of rotation as bizarre. Whereas the
usual planetary pattern is rotation from west to east, Venus rotates
from east to west.
And while the enshrouded orb of Venus spins very,
very slowly, taking 243 Earth-days to complete one rotation, above
the surface the massive atmosphere races around the planet at twice
hurricane force, or almost 400 kilometers per hour, circling the
planet in just four days. No prior theory of planetary dynamics can
account for this seemingly impossible situation.
Astronomers, in drawing the new profile of Venus, often summon
medieval images of the fires of Hell. Venus, it turns out, is a
doomsday world looking for an explanation. Massive clouds of
sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide 20,000 meters high create an
atmospheric pressure at the surface some 90 times that of the Earth.
The temperature at the surface may be as high as 900° Fahrenheit,
vastly hotter than scientists expected 40 years ago.
For astronomers, the most dramatic new look at Venus came with the
Magellan probe, launched in 1989. When Magellan moved into orbit
around Venus on August 10, 1990, its detailed radar-portrait of our
closest neighbor displayed features as small as 100 meters across.
The result was the most sweeping change in theoretical perspective
since scientific study of Venus began.
Nothing is more striking about Venus, or indicative of unanticipated
planetary stresses than the dominating presence of volcanoes
covering virtually every square kilometer, this presence being
emphasized as well by broken volcanic rock strewn across the face of
the planet. A minimum of 100,000 volcanoes have been estimated,
causing one scientist to declare that the entire planet is one big
volcano! . But what was the source of the massive planetary stresses
In geological terms, much of the lava flow is incredibly recent,
covering vast portions of the surface, and throwing normal dating
systems into chaos. Astronomers have traditionally guessed at the
formative periods of a planet's or moon's surface by the number of
impact craters. The more craters, the older the surface.
But in the
case of Venus, much of the surface has been so recently covered
(eliminating all craters) that no reliable dating is possible. On
the geological time scale, for all we know, whole portions of the
surface were re-sculpted only yesterday.
The mystery was duly noted
by Science magazine.
The planetary geologists who are studying the radar images streaming
back from Magellan find that they have an enigma on their hands.
When they read the geologic clock that tells them how old the
Venusian surface is they find a planet on the brink of adolescence.
But when they look at the surface itself they see a newborn babe.
Indeed, a great deal of volcanic activity is apparently still going
on, certainly much more than any astronomer had expected.
Complementing the planet-wide lava flows are the many suggestions of
crustal movement, with continental scale stretching and folding,
together with stupendous rifts, creating zigzag lines or fractures
reaching across much of the planet's surface. Immense fractures in
spider-like patterns called Arachnoids having no terrestrial
counterpart stretch up to 250 kilometers across.
Even larger formations, likened to failed souffls (both in
appearance and in formative process), are the giant coronae great
volcanic domes hundreds of kilometers in breadth, rising under the
pressure of expanding lava, then collapsing as the lava oozed away.
That an Earth-sized planet, settled in its own quiet corner of the
solar system, would generate volcanic activity on such a scale is a
mystery not easily resolved by traditional theories of planet
Add one more piece to the Venusian puzzle: astronomers are now
musing over the paradox of water or one should say the absence of
water for there are indications that Venus once had water in
Now there is none.
On any scenario accounting for this
disappearance of water, there has been a massive escape of gas from
Venus, at the very least the hydrogen component, due to dissociation
of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere.
What does the astronomer's dilemma mean for the historian seeking to
account for ancient mythical images of Venus?
At the present time
the unveiling of Venus means nothing to the historian, because
neither the historian nor the astronomer acknowledges any connection
between the mythical history of Venus and the planet's actual
But it was this presumed chasm between myth and science that
Velikovsky challenged in Worlds in Collision, when he claimed that
the mythical record presents a coherent story of celestial disaster,
with Venus as provocateur.
I must emphasize at the outset that I do not know of a single
Velikovskian researcher who accepts Velikovsky's interpretation of
myth in detail. Later investigation has shown that major dimensions
of the mythical material must be re-interpreted. But to evaluate
Velikovsky's place in the history of science you have to focus on
It was at the most fundamental level that Velikovsky's
new perspective threatened modern theoretical frameworks, for he
Planets now moving on stable orbits many millions of miles from
Earth have not always moved on these paths.
The solar system has been unstable within human memory. That means
not millions or billions of years ago, but within the past few
More than once in recent history, errant planets menaced the Earth.
In myths and legends, man preserved a record of spectacular
celestial events. The primary powers in the myths are planets.
Hence, we cannot understand the myths by any reference to the way
things are today.
More specifically, Velikovsky offered a dramatic profile of the
planets, based on myth and symbol
The planet Venus once possessed a comet-like tail, and its orbit
brought the planet into confrontation with the Earth.
The planet Mars, the war-god of the ancient world, participated
directly in Earth-changing catastrophes and appeared to battle other
celestial bodies in the sky.
During an epoch remembered as the Golden Age, the planet Saturn once
shone as the dominant light in the sky when the Earth was possibly a
satellite of Saturn.
These principles are not just novel, but central to an entirely new
way of looking at man, the Earth, and its celestial habitat.
Now, more than forty years after publication of Worlds in Collision,
as astronomers wrestle with new images of Venus, it is only
appropriate that we ask for a reassessment of Velikovsky's place in
history, and pose the question once again: did Venus enter ancient
history as a comet?
It is time to raise the question because only Velikovsky's claims
anticipated the present glaring mysteries about Venus. What
extraordinary stresses on Venus occurred so recently that the most
candid of astronomers are unwilling to assign any geological age to
massive resurfacing of the planet?
If the emerging profile of Venus does indeed provoke astronomers and
historians to ask the forbidden question, there will be no stopping
the avalanche: to ask the question is to open the door to other
unasked questions, and ultimately to legitimize a field of research
with no prior legitimacy in the eyes of popular science.
will this lead? The astronomer Shapley's now-famous words have
become a two-edged sword: If Velikovsky is right, the rest of us are
The shifting perspective caused by the new Magellan data is barely a
hint of the upheaval to come, once the mere possibility of a comet
Venus is entertained. For Velikovsky's comet will, in fact, be found
on every page of ancient sources.
Grant an authentic celestial
reference for the global pictographs and accounts of Venus and your
perception of the past will be forever changed.
CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
According to Velikovsky, the planet Venus sprang originally from the
gas giant Jupiter, its elliptical orbit around the Sun intersecting
the orbit of the Earth.
Velikovsky called the protoplanet Venus a
comet because, as it circled the Sun, it carried with it a trail of
gas and debris. The largest portion of Velikovsky's Worlds in
Collision is devoted to aspects of his thesis concerning Venus, a
planet he says nearly collided with the Earth twice first around
1500 B.C. and then again some 52 years later.
The axis of the Earth
was disturbed, and fire, gas, dust and stone descended on the Earth,
accompanied by earthquakes and wind, decimating whole populations
around the world.
Was Venus a comet in early historic times? If so, a hundred
secondary issues debated by Velikovsky and his critics are virtually
irrelevant to Velikovsky's place in the history of science.
there hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus as Velikovsky had
suggested? Did vermin actually descend on the earth as a result of a
Venus encounter? Did a destructive encounter with the Earth really
occur around 1500 BC, followed 52 years later by another? Is it
physically possible that a planet-sized body could have been ejected
from the gas giant Jupiter?
It is certainly conceivable that
questions such as these, which have tended to draw much of the
attention over the 40-year Velikovsky debate, could all be answered
in the negative with Velikovsky still emerging victorious for having
brought to light the cometary Venus, the previously unrecognized
roles of planets in myth, and the more general catastrophic motifs.
If Venus did indeed enter history as a fear-inspiring comet, settle
into its present orbit only in geologically recent times, and emerge
as a primary subject of world mythology, then neither friend nor
critic could dispute Velikovsky's pioneering role in one of the
great intellectual revolutions of modern times.
VENUS AND THE PLANETARY GODS
In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky noted many tales of disaster and
upheaval in which the agent of destruction possesses cometary
attributes, even as it is identified with the planet Venus.
anomalous cometary traits of Venus in ancient myth and astronomy
became key pieces of the argument, and the strength of the argument
derived from the breadth of sources. Velikovsky did not rely on
traditions of one region only, but drew on key evidences from every
ancient civilization. He noted, for example, that in Mexican
records, Venus was the star that smoked, the very phrase natives
employed for a comet.
He found in both the Americas and the Near
East a recurring association of Venus with celestial hair and with a
celestial beard, two of the most common hieroglyphs for the comet in
the ancient world. But another popular glyph for the comet was the
serpent or dragon, a form taken by the planet Venus in virtually
The same planet, among the Babylonians and other races,
was called the flame, or torch of heaven, a widespread symbol of a
comet among ancient peoples.
According to Velikovsky the accounts and symbols of the comet Venus
speak for a memory of global upheaval: earthshaking battles in the
sky, decimation of ancient races on Earth, an extended period of
darkness, the end of one world age and the birth of another.
THE CRITIC BOB FORREST
When it comes to debunking Velikovsky's historical argument, no
critic has applied himself more energetically than Bob Forrest of
England. In a six volume work, Velikovsky's Sources, Forrest
undertook to analyze virtually every historical reference employed
by Velikovsky, concluding that, when taken in their actual contexts,
the data brought forth by Velikovsky simply do not support the
thesis of Worlds in Collision.
Forrest's work was later updated, corrected and summarized in a very
readable volume called A Guide to Velikovsky's Sources, which is the
source we will use in this overview.
Since publication of his comprehensive criticism, Forrest's work has
been frequently cited by scientific skeptics as a definitive blow to
Velikovsky, delivered on Velikovsky's own turf (ancient myth and
history). And whatever one's opinion on the merits of Forrest's
analysis, it is to his credit that, in the forty years since
publication of Worlds in Collision, Forrest's effort is the only
substantial critique of Velikovsky's use of myth.
Despite the scholarly appearance of Velikovsky's work, Forrest
writes, I think the theories put forward in Worlds in Collision are
wrong at an elementary and common sense level.
And what, at an elementary level, does Forrest object to? The gist
of the objection to it is that one will nowhere find anything like a
direct historical reference to catastrophic bombardments by the
planets Venus and Mars.
Having devoted more than twenty years to the exploration of myth, I
find the objection particularly interesting because my own
conclusion is quite the opposite.
The planetary subjects of Worlds
in Collision are Venus and Mars, and the catastrophic roles of these
planets in ancient times are not only evident, but provable through
normal rules of logic and demonstration. (For the sake of focus,
this article will consider only the cometary Venus.)
It is not only
possible to answer the question was Venus formerly a comet?
answer the question in overwhelming detail, with incontrovertible
data and an inescapable conclusion: Velikovsky's comet Venus lies
very close to the center of ancient religious, artistic and literary
VELIKOVSKIAN RESEARCH AND CATASTROPHISM
How can it be that two researchers, approaching the same field of
data, can draw such incompatible conclusions?
The heart of the
issue, I suggest, has to do with one's approach to the subject
matter. In penetrating to the core of ancient celestial imagery,
methodology is everything.
The gap separating the mainstream sciences and social sciences from
Velikovsky's revolutionary approach to myth needs to be appreciated:
the Velikovskian investigator has discovered that few if any of the
primary themes of myth answer to our familiar sky. Hence, to focus
on recurring themes is to focus on the recurring anomalies of myth.
But rather than confront the issue of recurring anomalies, Forrest
descends into a swamp of marginal details, picking at virtually
every paragraph of Worlds in Collision while rigorously avoiding
cross-referencing. As a result, the author consistently fails to see
past the veil in which modern perception has wrapped ancient myth.
It is as if general patterns and connections are of no interest.
every case of an anomaly noted by Velikovsky, Forrest's answer is
simply to cite someone else's guess at an explanation (and I do mean
guess) though many of the cited authorities offered their guesses
prior to Velikovsky's novel interpretation, and few if any of these
authorities seem aware of the larger patterns detected by
In this way, Forrest reverses Velikovsky's approach, for Velikovsky
connected anomalous Venus images of one land with corresponding
anomalies from other parts of the world. Recurring anomalies, as
correctly perceived by Velikovsky, are a key to discovery.
A useful example of the methodological issue is the recurring world
catastrophe myth. For the Velikovskian researcher, the question is
whether globally-experienced events will account for the repeated
theme of the world-destroying cataclysm. Or must all such themes be
explained by wholly separate, localized disasters?
If one resorts to
the latter explanation, then no underlying integrity of catastrophe
myths is even possible in significant detail. But the inescapable
counterpart of this observation is that, if the myths of widespread
cultures present the same improbable story in significant detail,
then it is the localized explanation that becomes impossible.
A reasonable methodology cannot ignore the convergence of recurring
themes on an underlying idea, even if that idea stands outside
modern theoretical frameworks.
In recognition of this principle, I have chosen in this series of
articles to draw periodically upon Bob Forrest's critique as a means
of clarifying the methodological issues.
I trust the reader will
take this use of Forrest's work in a constructive spirit and find in
our approach no attempt to discredit the researcher himself, since
Forrest is, after all, the best of Velikovsky's critics and deserves
much credit for having raised questions no Velikovskian researcher
can afford to ignore.
CHALLENGE OF COMMUNICATION
To set the context for our analysis of myth in this series of
articles, let me register a few preliminary observations.
It has been my own sense that the greatest difficulty for the
Velikovskian researcher is communication, a difficulty compounded,
paradoxically, by the success of the methodology.
certain common suppositions about the past, the methodology enables
one to penetrate to core ideas expressed in every ancient culture.
It permits this breakthrough by revealing underlying celestial forms
and episodes and showing that certain highly specific occurrences
are reflected in widely divergent symbols.
But historians and mythologists have virtually never considered the
possibility that extraordinary events may have occurred in the sky.
A communications problem arises, therefore, from the methodology's
success in exposing a unified substratum of ancient experience.
Since the underlying forms of myth will not be found in our sky
today but are almost always interpreted by the experts in relation
to our sky language itself becomes an obstacle to discovery.
issue, however, quickly becomes very large and cannot be adequately
resolved within the brief space of a single article, or even a
series of articles. Therefore, some compromise is necessary,
requiring us to set aside temporarily certain questions, even when
they seem to clamor for recognition.
I will give a simple example of the difficulty, based on the
overarching conclusion of my own investigation. In seeking out the
underlying patterns of myth, I found three key figures:
Creator-king. This figure stands at the head of the line of kings.
He may be translated as heaven, or as the sun-god (a stationary sun
ruling before the present epoch), or as the primeval Unity from
which arose all of the secondary powers in the age of the gods.
Mother-goddess. She is the mother, daughter or spouse of the
creator-king, standing in a very concrete relationship to him. At
root, the mother goddess is a radiant star shining as the great
god's central heart and soul, his glory and power departing from him
in a period of cosmic upheaval.
Warrior-hero. He is the most post popular figure of myth, presented
in so many guises that the elementary structure of his biography is
easily missed. In the most frequently-stated versions of the story,
he is the son of the mother goddess and prototype of the great
prince who defeats chaos monsters in primeval times. As such he is
the exemplary model in the sky of the terrestrial warrior-king.
Now here is the problem: I have never found a practical way to
undertake a discussion of the comet Venus, without confronting all
three mythical figures.
There are two reasons for this:
The planet Venus is inseparably
linked to the mother goddess
I make this observation in full recognition that many cultures did
not preserve an astronomy or empirical discipline necessary to
retain the identification. Fortunately, where astronomies did
preserve the connecting link with Venus, more than sufficient
evidence is available to decide the issue.
The mother goddess is
inseparably linked to both the creator-king and the
Because the goddess is the departing heart-soul of the creator-king
and also the mother or consort of the warrior-hero, it is virtually
impossible to explore the cometary symbols attached to Venus without
continually bumping into the two companion personalities.
But the fact of the matter is that the cometary images of Venus give
us more than enough material to work with, and to go beyond this
material would be to invite a communications breakdown.
have resorted to the briefest possible summary of the creator-king
and warrior-hero roles, without any attempt to clarify (much less
substantiate) the identifications I have elaborated in previous AEON
Our approach will be to acknowledge relationships only
where such an acknowledgment is unavoidable, and hope at the same
time that the many new readers of AEON will be able to look past
Our goal in this series of articles is to demonstrate that the
Velikovskian methodology works. We will begin, in the present
installment, by applying that methodology to Mesoamerican myths,
symbols and astronomical traditions of Venus.
That will be followed,
in subsequent articles, by summaries of the Venus-image among other
cultures, with sufficient cross-referencing to verify that the
primary themes occur on every continent and that all of the
acknowledged hieroglyphs for the comet are repeatedly and
inexplicably affixed to the planet Venus.
This was Velikovsky's
controversial message, now supported by much broader research.
In arguing for the cometary character of Venus, Velikovsky cited
Aztec records suggesting that the planet Venus shared the same title
given a comet.
The early traditions of the peoples of Mexico, written down in
pre-Columbian days, relate that Venus smoked. The star that smoked,
la estrella que humeava, was Sitlal Choloha, which the Spaniards
Now, I ask, says Alexander Humboldt, what optical illusion could
give Venus the appearance of a star throwing out smoke?
Sahagun, the sixteenth century Spanish authority on Mexico, wrote
that the Mexicans called a comet a star that smoked. It may thus be
concluded that since the Mexicans called Venus a star that smoked,
they considered it a comet.
In Bob Forrest's mind, the Aztec references could have nothing to do
with what may or may not have happened back in the mid second
millennium BC because the references to Venus smoking come from the
sixteenth century A.D.
In a number of instances Aztec records say that the earth shook and
the star sitlal choloha (Venus) smoked.
To account for the curiosity
Forrest simply accepts the guess of Alexander von Humboldt, who
suggested that the smoke' related to the volcano Orizaba, situated
to the east of the city Cholula, and whose glow, when seen in the
distance, resembled or was symbolically related to the rising
Forrest was apparently satisfied with the first guess he uncovered.
All we have are some sixteenth century records which say, every so
often, that the star smoked, but since the smoking seems frequently
to be intertwined with earthquake activity.
seems reasonable. With that stated, Forrest moved on, never
returning to the issue of the Aztec smoking star.
A quite different approach would have been to explore the
possibility of a broader Venus-comet association to see where the
available evidence leads. Guided by this intent, Forrest would have
quickly found, for example, that Aztec association of earthquake
activity with smoking stars belonged to the general mythology of the
comet among the Aztecs.
Thus, with respect to the comets portrayed
in the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, the respected
authority on Mexican astronomy, Anthony Aveni, writes:
Comets (citlalimpopoca, or the stars that smoke) are represented
frequently by the surviving historical documents, usually by a
stellar image on a blue background with emanating streams of
These usually signify that a person of nobility will die; for
example [one picture] tells of the death of the ruler of
Tenochtitlan following the apparition of a comet; later another
comet occurs, then an earthquake, all of nature's events being
connected in the Aztec cosmic view.
As I hope to demonstrate fully in this series of articles, the
connectedness of these images derives from a universal substratum of
Appearance of a comet, death of a great ruler, quaking earth
not in Mexico alone, but in one ancient culture after another, the skywatchers repeatedly placed these unusual themes in juxtaposition,
despite this crucial fact: no comet observed by science has ever
justified the symbolic connection.
But Forrest seems unaware that
the language employed in astrological texts and omens is drawn from
ancient mythical images. Following his methodological ground rules,
therefore, no records of portents in the sky recorded in the last
three millennia would be of any relevance to Velikovsky's argument,
even when repeatedly attaching explicit cometary images to Venus!
With respect to the image of the planet Venus as the smoking star in
the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Aveni offers his own attempt at an
explanation: Perhaps a cometary object appeared near the planet. Of
course, Forrest could just as easily have cited this guess, then
dropped the whole issue.
But is there something more worth
Throughout the Americas, including Mexico, natives called a comet
the star with hair, or a long-haired star, or a maned star, an
appellation that fits comfortably with the global language of the
comet. In fact, the long-haired star is the single most common
phrase for the comet around the world, and our own word for comet
comes from the Greek kometes, the long-haired star.
dictionaries give as a gloss for smoke star the manned comet.
curiously, the Aztecs used this very language for Venus. As noted by Velikovsky, they called the planet Tzonte-Mocque, meaning the
mane-star, or long-haired star. And not the Aztecs alone: for one
finds among the Maya the same enigmatic association of the planet
Venus with long flowing hair.
A commonly observed Maya hieroglyph is
the Caban-curl, a flowing tassel or lock of hair repeatedly attached
to acknowledged Venus symbols, including the glyph-name of Venus
itself. (See Figure 1)
To encounter the long flowing locks of Venus, one need only consult
Turn to the Incan language of Venus, for example.
I can remember, in the first few days of investigating images of
Venus, looking through a standard summary of Incan mythology and
encountering the name of Venus as Chasca, translated as the
long-haired star the precise phrase for the comet in the global
lexicon. It was instances such as this that continued to fuel my own
interests in learning more.
According to William Prescott, Venus was known to the Peruvians by
the name of Chasca, or the youth with the long and curling locks.
Burr Cartwright Brundage tells us that among the Inca, Venus was the
Radiant Star with the Flowing Hair. The morning star, Chasca (The
Disheveled One), dispensed stores of freshness and loveliness upon
flowers, princesses, and virgins below. She was the deity of the
rosy cloud rack of morning, and when she shook out her long hair she
scattered the dew upon the earth.
The point here is that Forrest's explanation of the Aztec
Venus/smoking star association fails to acknowledge converging lines
of evidence: Aztec comet as smoking star, Aztec Venus as smoking
star, Aztec and Mayan long-haired star as comet; Aztec Venus as
long-haired star, Mayan Venus with or as flowing lock or tassel,
Incan Venus as long-haired star.
Hence, the methodological issue is
placed in sharp relief.
Here is another way of looking at the issue logically: Around the
world there are only a small number of pre-astronomical hieroglyphs
for the comet.
You could, in fact, count the primary glyphs on the
fingers of one hand:
heart-soul of a deceased god-king or great leader rising in the sky
long-haired star (star with
flowing locks, mane, tresses, disheveled hair, beard, hairy
torch-star (ember, flame, smoke,
smoking star, train of fire, spark, or train of sparks)
celestial feather (winged star,
soul-bird, bright feathers, feathered headdress, shining
cosmic serpent, dragon, or similar monster
The remaining general hieroglyphs for the comet could be counted on
the fingers of your second hand!
They include: a sword, a bundle of
grass or straw (whisk, broom), or a spiraling rope (cord, tie, or
At what point, then, does a coincidence or seemingly irrational use
of language (comet-words or glyphs attached to Venus) become an
anomaly worth pursuing? Forrest not only sidesteps the implications
of parallel cometary images of Venus in other lands, he ignores the
convergence of such images in Mexico.
As a methodology, the approach
is disastrous, because there is much, much more.
In the popular Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl, the Venus-comet anomaly
grows by leaps and bounds. And in this case, the completeness of the
cometary motifs leaves no room for ad hoc explanations.
Whether remembered by the Aztecs as a former great king and founder
of the golden age, or a former sun god ruling a primordial epoch,
Quetzalcoatl was a cultural hero without equal in the Aztec
pantheon, his countenance adorning temple walls and the stucco bases
of pyramids, painted on countless frescoes and codices, and engraved
on sarcophagi and monoliths strewn across Mexico.
The climactic event in the Quetzalcoatl myth is the god's
catastrophic death and transformation in an overwhelming disaster an
event endlessly repeated in sacrificial rites and supplying the
cornerstone of Aztec calendar rituals and astronomical symbolism.
a pervasive version of the myth, at the death of Quetzalcoatl the
god's heart or soul rose in the sky as a great spark or ember,
trailing smoke and fire a star whose fiery train the Aztecs
portrayed as the streaming tail of a quetzal-bird. Was this flaming
star a comet?
One notes that the Quich Maya called a comet
ch'umil, tail of the star, and Aztec artists often drew comets as
stars with quetzal tails, the bright and luminous plumes of the
quetzal providing a particularly well-suited hieroglyph for a comet.
Former sun god Quetzalcoatl
The symbolism accords well with that of
The Pawnee gave to the comet the name pirikis kuhka, feathered headdress (an
appellation that proves telling; see later discussion of the plumed
headdress in our next installment). In Africa, the streaming comet's
tail was identified as the feathers of the nightjar, and the natives
say of a comet, it is wearing streaming feathers. Astronomer Carl
Sagan, in his review of worldwide comet motifs, notes that comets
are called tail stars and stars with long feathers.
called a comet the peacock's tail, while in China a comet was seen
as both a peacock's tail and a pheasant's tail.
Quetzal-bird, with bright streaming tail
That Quetzalcoatl's flaming or plumed heart-soul meant a comet-like
star is substantiated by converging lines of evidence.
character, for example, would agree with a general tradition among
the Aztecs that comets were the ascending souls of great chiefs.
That Quetzalcoatl was the model of the good king gives perfect sense
to the symbolic motif. But Quetzalcoatl was also the prototype of
the Aztec shaman (that is, he was the celestial figure whose
biography provided the general myth and symbolism of the shaman).
is thus worth noting that in South American lore, the soul of a
shaman was believed to depart in the form of a comet. Noteworthy as
well is the fact that a comet appearing some time prior to the
conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez was reckoned as a positive sign
that Quetzalcoatl would eventually return to Mexico.
To suggest that the heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl rose as a comet is
simply to place the Aztec symbolism alongside a universal tradition:
cultures around the world proclaim the comet to be the soul of a
Thus, we have listed this significant theme as number
one in our short list of comet symbols above.
Aztec comet with plumed tail
But there is a problem here.
While several variations on the story
of Quetzalcoatl's death have been preserved, one of the central
elements is the identification of the heart-soul as the planet
Burr Cartwright Brundage gives this summary: The god's heart,
like a great spark, flies up to become a new and splendid divinity,
the Morning Star.
Thus a native source declares,
Then the heart of
Quetzalcoatl rose into heaven and according to the elders, was
transformed into the Morning Starand Quetzalcoatl was called the
Lord of Dawn.
We shall have more to say about this transformation.
The fact at
hand is that in their myths and rites the Aztecs say the separated
heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl, following a period of darkened sky and
cosmic upheaval, rose as the planet Venus.
If the story has roots in
any celestial occurrence (as explicitly claimed in the myths), the
death of Quetzalcoatl must have involved a cosmic disaster of
unprecedented scale, for no mythical-historical event left a deeper
impression on Aztec thought and culture.
Upon this traumatic
episode, the Aztecs evolved their collective sense of cyclical time,
including a calendar of world ages: the death of Quetzalcoatl, the
onset of celestial confusion, and the transformation of his
heart-soul into the planet Venus meant nothing less than the end of
one world age and the beginning of another.
SOUL-BIRD, WINGED STAR
In connection with the departure of the god-king's heart-soul as a
plumed or burning star, one notes that Mesoamerican traditions
produced many variations on the underlying idea.
variant was the idea of the heart-soul sprouting wings and soaring
away. On the death of a great noble, his soul was thought of as
taking flight like a bird or a butterfly. At such a time he was
addressed by those attending:
Awaken, it has reddened, dawn has set in. Already, the flame-colored
cock has sung, the flame-colored swallow, already the flame-colored
The most popular form of the soul-bird appears to have been the
quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.
My friend Phil Peters, who
lived for several years among the Quiche Maya of the Guatemala
lowlands, recounts the story of the famous hero, Tecúm-Umám, who
lived at the time of the Spanish invasion. On the plains of Xelaju,
the story goes, Tecúm-Umám was killed by Pedro de Alverado, of
Cortez' army. Then the quetzal bird that was in his headdress took
flight, and since that tragic occasion, the quetzal no longer sings.
What is crucial in any study hoping to comprehend such ideas is the
ability of the celestial reference the mythical archetype to give
meaning to the symbol. In the Vienna Codex, or Vindobonensis, the
planet Venus is depicted with wing-like appendages.
Can the wings of
Venus said to represent Venus' radiance or greatest brilliancy be
separated from the global myth of Venus as the soul-bird?
Though we cannot here stop and review the countless parallels in
other lands, we would be remiss if we failed to observe that the
avian flight of the heart-soul is a world-wide theme. The earliest
instances will be found in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where the Venus
goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Isis and Hathor (to name only the most
prominent instances) all represent the soul in the form of a bird
Thus, the great god-kings, whose heart-souls are the
star Venus, customarily depart in the form of a dove, partridge, or
swallow, virtually universal symbols of Venus, of transformation,
and of the departing soul. (The reader will find many examples in
the remaining installments.)
Are these widely dispersed
recollections of Venus as soul-bird different from the universal
myth declaring that the great king's or chief's soul appeared in the
sky as a comet? Though the issue will not be resolved in a few
paragraphs, cross referencing will suggest potentially fruitful
lines of inquiry. It is certainly of interest, for example, that the
Babylonians employed the phrase winged star for the comet.
Additionally, as we will see, it is when Venus as soul-bird spreads
its wings that the cometary images are most emphatic.
In our brief list of comet glyphs cited earlier we have also listed
the cosmic serpent or dragon, and in Mexico this fascinating theme
proves to be crucial.
Once the researcher has learned that
Mesoamerican stargazers considered a comet to be the ascending
heart-soul of a great chief, he can no longer ignore the full range
of related symbols:
the planet Venus, the rising heart-soul of
Quetzalcoatl, is not just portrayed as an ember-like star (= comet),
not just depicted as a star with quetzal-tail ( = comet), but is
said to have taken the form of a great cosmic serpent (= comet both
in Mexico and in the universal language of comets).
The name Quetzalcoatl itself is simply a combination of two Nahuatl
terms that for the quetzal-bird, known for its long brilliant
turquoise tail, and the serpent or coatl.
Thus two of our listed
five most common comet glyphs are brought together in the name of
the god. And the combined hieroglyphs clearly have a long history.
The earliest known version of the plumed serpent pre-dates the
Aztecs by many centuries, appearing on monuments of the Formative Olmecs. Conceptually, the avian serpent reached significantly beyond
The Maya name for the same god, Kulkulkan, carries an
equivalent meaning, as does the Quich figure, Gucumatz. The same
figure appears to have entered Zuni ritual as the plumed serpent
Kolowisi and Hopi ritual as the plumed serpent Palulukong.
Though the figure of Quetzalcoatl is complex and appears to combine
originally distinct traditions, the identification of the spiraling
serpent itself (the transformed heart-soul) with Venus has survived
even into modern times. Some of the Tzotzil groups, for example,
still describe Venus as the Big Serpent (Mukta Ch'on.)
Chichimec tribes, Venus is still remembered as the Serpent Cloud.
Is it significant, then, that Aztec manuscripts depict a comet as a
fiery serpent or dragon-like creature descending from the stars?
The priest-astronomers knew the comet as the star
serpent. In his exploration of comet symbolism, Peter Lancaster
Brown observed that the natives of Mexico represented comets by the
plumed serpent depicted in various forms. But what does this say
about the acknowledged identification of the plumed serpent with the
planet Venus, the ascending heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl?
very likely that the white and bearded god who appeared in the east
associated with the Quetzalcoatl (Serpent God) legends of
pre-Columbian Middle America relates to the apparitions of
spectacular comets in the morning sky and not to the planet Venus,
Here again we see an author attempting to rationalize
a clearly stated Venus-comet connection, offering his own
explanation. But in this instance the explanation involves nothing
less than a rewriting of the Aztec religion: for the identity of the
transformed heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl as the planet Venus was an
unshakable tenet of the myths and rites.
With respect to the Mesoamerican celestial serpents and dragons,
there is also the issue of attached streamers that often look more
like long-flowing, spiraling locks of hair than like feathers.
This unique feature is particularly significant since the
disheveled mane of the celestial serpent-dragon is a worldwide
motif. And yet, remembering that pre-Columbian astronomy depicted
the comet as both a celestial serpent and a mane-star, should it
surprise us that the serpentine form of Venus possesses streamers
suggestive of the flowing hair of countless celestial serpents and
dragons in other lands?
Since Venus was itself the mane or
long-haired star, the underlying integrity is undeniable.
Feathers and mane appear to merge
in the Mesoamerican serpent-dragon
In fact, no stretch at all is needed to establish the equation of
flowing mane and serpent-dragon or chaos monster.
The Aztec Tzonte-Mocque, identified with the planet Venus, and whose name
Brasseur translated as mane, was depicted as a dragon-like monster
approaching the Earth in periods of eclipse or universal darkness.
(As we will discover, every eclipse of the Sun and Moon became a
symbol or reminder of the primeval cometary disaster and the arrival
of the world-ending night).
A counterpart of this chaos- or
eclipse-demon is the Aztec Tzitzimitl, with madly disheveled hair,
descending upon a darkened world.
This is, of course, precisely the image of the raging comet in
numerous other lands. A comet was supposed to be a tendril of the
Great Mother's hair appearing in the sky as the world was slowly
overshadowed by her twilight shadow of doomsday, writes the noted
student of world mythology, Barbara Walker.
But the interconnected comet glyphs attached to the chaos monsters
range far beyond these instances. A symbolic counterpart of this
streaming hair is the enigmatic, but frequently depicted beard of
the Mesoamerican serpent-dragon.
The Aztec Plumed Serpent, the Mayan
Great Bearded Dragon and numerous counterparts of these celestial
monsters are distinguished by flowing beards that are every bit as
preposterous, on the face of it, as their streaming manes. (Figure
The reader will recall the celestial beard or bearded star in our
short list of comet symbols, as a logical extension of the
long-haired star. (Thus the Greek pogonias, the beard-star, means
While a bearded serpent is a biological absurdity, the
anomalous beard is immediately explained if the Venusian serpent is
a long-haired star or comet. If the celestial beard did not mirror a
comet-like form in the sky, then the bearded serpent is one more
anomaly left unanswered, despite a consistent pattern that seems to
cry out for recognition.
To keep all of this in perspective it needs to be remembered that
Quetzalcoatl whose heart-soul became the plumed serpent was himself
the white and bearded god, with many counterparts spread across
pre-Columbian America one more anomaly to add to the equation.
Frank Waters, surprised at the prevalence of this unusual figure
among the dark-skinned natives of the New World (typified by
Quetzalcoatl and the Incan Viracocha), assures us the myth was so
common throughout all of pre-Columbian America that we can regard it
as arising from a concept in the unconscious.
A relationship with the planet Venus is clear, though not without
wide-ranging interpretations by the specialists.
Thompson, the Maya described Venus as being "very ugly with a heavy
beard," and the Aztecs preserved a similar tradition:
whom most authorities identify with Venus, it was said that his
beard was exceedingly long.
Lastly, on the matter of the flowing hair, mane, or beard of the
celestial serpent or dragon, I should like to register an opinion on
one additional oddity that of the Mesoamerican feline dragon.
too, we are dealing with an image begging for a comparative study,
since the outlandish merging of cat, lion, jaguar, tiger, or lynx
with a celestial serpent seems to have occurred in all major
cultures. Since noticing the oddity in Mesoamerica, I have noted as
well the general disinterest of the specialists in accounting for
such an incongruous monster.
A cat and a serpent?
itself provides not a clue as to how anyone (much less skywatchers
around the world) could think of the one when confronted with the
other. But an analysis of this mythic creature can be advanced
dramatically by the Velikovskian methodology.
What one looks for is
an underlying shared attribute (not of the terrestrial symbols,
which offer no shared attribute, but of the celestial reference
inspiring the symbols), and in this instance there can be no doubt
that it is the mane of the celestial feline figure and the twisting
body or tail of the celestial serpent.
While this is not the place to attempt a summary of evidence I shall
present in future installments, I will simply mention the Egyptian
instance of the goddess Tefnut, the Eye (= heart-soul) of the former
sun god Ra.
The Eye of Ra, on its departure, becomes the raging Uraeus serpent. But in the account of the goddess Tefnut as
departing Eye, the raging goddess (serpent) is also depicted as a
lion head with flaming, smoking mane. Of course it is not one
instance, but the repeated instances of such motifs that will make
the case secure.
I register the supposition now to prepare the way
for a comparative test, beginning with our next installment.
Throughout Mesoamerica one will find numerous variations on the
theme of the celestial serpent and just as many connections with the
A particularly fascinating instance is the so-called
Fire Dragon Xiuhcoatl, whose name, translated literally, means
Significantly, Xiuhcoatl was described as a heavenly torch. In
mythology he becomes the fiery weapon hurled by the victorious sun
at his enemies, the stars, writes Brundage.
Perhaps there is more
here than the reader will immediately recognize. A torch or flame in
the sky, only a minor variation on the smoking star, belongs to the
universal comet myth item three in our list of the five most common
comet glyphs. Moreover, as I intend to demonstrate, one of the
repeated themes in the myth of the prototypical comet is that it
appears as a divine weapon hurled against rebelling powers.
the lines of Shakespeare, in Henry VI I.I.1:
Comets, importing change of times and states
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars.
That have consented unto Henry's death.
The motifs are: death of the king, celestial rebellion, and
appearance of the comet as both a sign of world change (passing of
world ages) and a weapon launched against the rebels.
Aztec dragon Xiuhcoatl, the flaming serpent, appears as the fire
stick wielded by the celestial hero Huitzilopochtli when the heavens
were overrun by the demons of darkness.
Was the comet-like Turquoise Dragon, then, linked to the planet
Venus? In Teotihuacan the dragon is plainly portrayed as an
overarching sky motif, a path for stellar objects, writes Brundage.
He is a plumed rattlesnake [i.e., a counterpart of the plumed
serpent of the Quetzalcoatl myth]
He can be identified, from the
quincunx (the five points that together form the emblem of the
morning star) that adorns him, as the planet Venus.
The Cometary Dragon Xiuhcoatl
THE GREAT COMET
In seeking out the general patterns of the Mesoamerican Venus as
serpent-dragon, we cannot fail to observe that our listed cometary
symbols are not just present, but prominent, that they are
enigmatically but self-evidently connected, that they do not direct
us to any present forms either in the sky or in the natural world
today (rather, they contradict all natural forms at every level),
and that they remain unexplained, despite decades of microscopic
examination by the best experts.
One conclusion is inescapable, even if interpretations will differ:
the Mesoamerican symbolism of the planet Venus in that planet's
guise as serpent-dragon or chaos-monster is a compendium of
globally-recognized comet symbols, representing in one mythical form
all five of the most frequently employed cometary glyphs!
more than forty years since Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision, no
mainstream scholar has even acknowledged this stunning fact.
Of course, no comet admitted by modern science has ever justified
the lines of Shakespeare cited above, or the Aztec image of a
comet-like weapon in the form of a fiery dragon.
appreciation for the symbolism changes dramatically once we
entertain a new possibility that in earlier times mankind
experienced a far more spectacular and devastating comet than ever
experienced in more recent times, a cometary archetype that could
fully account for the later symbols. It was said of the great fire
serpent Xiuhcoatl that it spewed forth comets.
That is exactly the
language we should expect if Xiuhcoatl was not just a comet, but the
parent of comets, the concrete source of a mythical archetype, from
which arose the entire reservoir of comet images.
apparition, taking its symbolism from the cosmic original, would
then be considered a child of the primeval, flaming serpent or
dragon remembered in the myths.
EVIDENCE AND LOGIC
In all of this there is a fundamental issue of logic. How does one
properly weigh the lines of evidence, the repeated convergence of
comet words and symbols upon Venus?
Having had many opportunities to
muse over the way the experts skirt the issue, I am convinced the
real question never enters their minds. Until one asks the question
did Venus formerly present itself as a spectacular comet? even the
most obvious evidences will be seen as something else, as
confirmation of the recklessness and confusion of myth, another
reason not to take myth seriously.
The question is not asked because
the Velikovskian field of study lacks all credibility in the eyes of
Thus the Mayan scholar Peter Joralemon explained the highly
unnatural convergence of symbols on the celestial dragon
The primary concern of Olmec art is the representation of creatures
that are biologically impossible. Such mythological beings exist in
the mind of man, not in the world of nature.
It's easy to see how one might draw this conclusion. But if the
symbolism lacks any roots in the world of nature and is simply the
result of chaotic imagination, then an even greater issue arises:
Why do the same symbols continually occur in juxtaposition? Once the
critic resorts to unbridled imagination as an explanation of highly
specific forms, he is left with nothing but coincidence to account
for the convergence.
But when it comes to the convergence of all
five of the world's most common cometary symbols on one celestial
creature, is it reasonable to expect sheer imagination and
coincidence to account for the situation?
In truth, virtually all of the respected authorities continually
look for natural references, because no one could seriously believe
that such dramatic images as the plumed serpent could dominate an
entire civilization without a link to natural experience.
rarest of specialists would suggest that the primitive mind conjured
its primary mythical forms out of a wholesale denial of the world.
In truth, if they can find even the most remote natural explanation,
the experts will use it. Miguel Le n-Portilla, for example, offers a
picturesque explanation of the Venus-Quetzalcoatl relationship
The association of Venus and Quetzalcoatl can probably be attributed
to the fact that when this planet sets upon the moving waters of the
Pacific, its reflection seems not unlike a serpent with brilliant
scales and plumes.
Here is a natural explanation that would fit easily into Bob
Forrest's analysis, as if there is nothing in the plumed serpent
crying out for a comparison with the highly improbable yet similar
images of other peoples and as if the combined cometary associations
attract no attention.
How, then, does one break through the vicious circle? Go back to the
list of the five most frequently-employed comet images, each of them
occurring not only in Mexico but in the global symbolism of the
comet. How does one weigh the fact that all five comet glyphs are
attached to the Mexican Venus? Indeed not only the general motifs
but virtually all of the listed variations are attached to Venus.
sheer coincidence even possible in such an extreme case as this?
For starters, it needs to be understood that we are not dealing with
a multiple choice situation with respect to possible
interpretations: If one is permitted to include in the lexicon of
comets the shooting star, whose mythical image is drawn from the
same reservoir, then the only known and provable celestial
phenomenon called a long-haired star is a comet; the only celestial
phenomenon known to have been called a torch star or a flaming star
is a comet; the only celestial phenomenon known to have been
represented as a star with streaming tail feathers is a comet.
only celestial phenomenon known to have been represented as a star
with a serpentine tail is a comet. That these very glyphs are
consistently attached to Venus cannot be explained away by ad hoc
Now add the mythical role of the comet as the ascending soul of a
former great king, and the explicit role of Venus as the ascending
soul of the prototypical king Quetzalcoatl, and you will begin to
see what is at issue here. If nothing else the stunning convergence
of cometary images should make clear that Humboldt's guess about the
smoking star Venus and a local volcano is not a sufficient answer!
The juxtaposition of cometarymotifs with the now-peaceful planet a
planet whose appearance today could not begin to explain these
associations forces us to confront the logical alternative:
did appear as a comet, the entire assembly of improbable
THE MYTH OF THE COMET VENUS
To establish the co-incidence of cometary themes relating to Venus
is not to end the subject, but simply to open the door to a new
vantage point, one in which the researcher enjoys the freedom to
consider unusual possibilities.
Do the Aztec and Mayan codices, the
inscriptions on stone, the oral histories and the towering monuments
speak for events no longer occurring in the skies?
The unexpected symbolic parallels give the researcher a new way of
perceiving his subject. Grant the possibility of a world-threatening
comet Venus frightening enough and destructive enough to
substantiate man's deepest fears and the culture will no longer look
Re-envisioning the ancient world in this way will not
remove the role of magic and superstition in the myths; nor will it
soften the profoundly barbaric components of native rituals; nor
will it give to the myths and rites that loftier wisdom we so often
seek in ancient words. What it will do is lend the missing
perspective, providing new frameworks for understanding the
experiential roots of the culture.
The candid researcher must first admit that even the most capable
authorities, when considering the core of pre-Columbian thought and
culture, find that convincing explanations elude them. Can modern
scholars, for example, really claim to understand the cloud of
anxiety that hung over Mexican cultures an anxiety only heightened
by the arrival of the Spaniards?
Nothing in that civilization's
monumental splendor could hide this apprehension. But to expose its
roots the researcher must be willing to follow the clues, rather
than dismiss them just because they seem so out of touch with the
world we know. These clues will lead inescapably past the cover of
cultural anxiety to its roots in celestial terror.
The sensitive chronicler, Fray Diego Duran, writing just a
generation after Columbus, recounted a story about the great emperor
Moctezuma, concerning an experience prior to arrival of the
conquistadors. It happened that Moctezuma had received word of a
comet hanging over Mexico at sunrise.
Though the report did not come
from his personal astrologers, he was so filled with fear that he
thought his death would arrive within the hour. Moctezuma then asked
the king of neighboring Texcoco to tell him what the comet meant.
The answer was as Moctezuma must have feared
It is an ill-omen for our kingdoms; terrible, frightful things will
come upon them. In all our lands and provinces there will be great
calamities and misfortunes, not a thing will be left standing. Death
will dominate the land! All our dominion will be lost
On hearing this news, Moctezuma
wept bitterly, saying,
O Lord of All Created Things! O mighty gods
who gives life or death! Why have you decreed that many kings shall
have reigned proudly but that my fate is to witness the unhappy
destruction of Mexico?
It would be senseless to attempt to isolate or explain Moctezuma's
fears outside a cultural tradition far more telling than the
individual biographies of kings.
No king in earlier times could free
himself from the mythical and ritual contexts of kingship. And in
the overarching symbols of the power and fate of kings one
encounters invariably the archaic language of the comet.
comet in Moctezuma's day, Duran's modern translators write: it is
curious to note that the Aztecs looked upon comets as ill omens,
just as the contemporary Europeans regarded them as signs of war,
famine and pestilence. Among the Aztecs, Comets and earthquakes,
which were always carefully marked down each year in the
hieroglyphic manuscripts, were always considered omens of
misfortune, notes Jacques Soustell.
In our investigation we have grouped comet and meteor symbolism
together because mythically the two are synonymous.
referred to in Quich [highlands Maya] as uje ch'umil, tail of the
star,' and are considered omens of massive pestilence, observes
Barbara Tedlock. Throughout the Mayan area, meteors are thought to
be evil omens forecasting sickness, war, and death.
The Mesoamerican theme resonates with a global fear that no
comparative study can ignore: around the world, the comet signaled
the approach of doomsday. And it mattered not how quietly and
unobtrusively the visitor made its appearance, because the
archetypal image did not originate in the little wisps of gas that
periodically adorn our sky.
With the rarest of exceptions, the cometary omen was ominous (the two English words being derived from
the same Latin root). For the ancient stargazers, the comet was the
fear-inspiring portent of disaster, the ill-omened star.
does our word dis-aster (evil star) echo the ancient fear of a star
(comet) presiding over universal catastrophe (another word
reflecting the evil aster or star, the comet of world mythology).
But this brief note on language of the evil star does not even
scratch the surface when it comes to the depth of man's memory of a
world-ending cometary disaster.
METHODOLOGY AND OUTCOME
We have previously observed that, in seeking out Velikovsky's comet,
methodology is everything.
A useful methodology will not dismiss a
widespread theme just because it appears highly irrational or
incapable of explanation. In Bob Forrest's critique he acknowledges
such comet themes as the death of a king or great leader at the
appearance of a comet, good wine in the year of a comet, and the
comet signaling outbreaks of war. As to the roots of such odd ideas,
heaven only knows, he exclaims.
So why should we accept only those
comet ideas that support Velikovsky's thesis?
Here Forrest missed each and every opportunity to account for what
he assumed could never be explained. If worldwide comet symbolism
originated in the experience of a truly terrifying intruder, it is
simply impossible to know which portions of comet lore are relevant
prior to reconstructing the story from the global evidence.
truth, ALL of the comet themes cited by Forrest are illuminated by
the biography of the Great Comet, as I intend to demonstrate with
more than sufficient evidence in this series.
First there is the matter of pervasive fear for when it comes to
irrational terror carried as luggage from the past, little else
compares to the universal fear of THE COMET.
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, in their book Comet, find the fear to be virtually
Rarely have so many diverse cultures, all over the planet, agreed so
well. In the history of the world, more societies have advocated
incest or infanticide than have taught that comets were benign, or
even neutral. Everywhere on Earth, with only a few exceptions,
comets were harbingers of change, ill fortune, evil. It was common
Most of us are, in fact, so accustomed to the common expressions of
this fear that we fall into a trap of illogic:
Comets, of course,
were always regarded in antiquity as omens of disaster, wrote the
esteemed authority on comparative religion, Theodore Gaster.
sounds as if (of course) the overwhelming fear is completely natural
and needs no explanation because it is so universal.
The trap also caught author David Ritchie: For thousands of years
comets have been associated with all manners of disasters and
misfortune. This association is easy to understand. But logic does
not permit us to assume that the pervasiveness of an irrational fear
is an explanation.
I find it of interest that Fred Whipple, one of the deans of modern
astronomy, did not find an easy explanation for the hysteria Why
should comets those graceful, sometimes majestic, creatures of the
sky frighten people? They move very slowly, without startling
changes in shape or aspect. They make no sounds and emit no dazzling
flashes of light. In short, they do nothing that seems to me to be
Yet comets have terrified people as long as there have
been people to terrify.
The ancient and poorly understood fear aroused by the appearance of
a comet continued through the Middle Ages and even (in a more
tempered expression) into the twentieth century, with the arrival of
Halley's Comet in 1910. We may all die laughing when the comet
[Halley] comes, the French astronomer Camille Flammarion was quoted
as saying, with language that fed a widespread pre-existing
apprehension of the fin du monde, the end of the world.
In earlier times the extent of comet fear was deadly. On the arrival
of the comet of 1528, the famous French surgeon Ambroise Par
described the public reaction: This comet was so horrible and so
frightful and it produced such great terror in the vulgar that some
died of fear and others fell sick.
The range of comet fears is impressive. According to Aristotle, the
comet brings wind and drought. Among both the Greeks and Romans, The
comet was inevitably the presage of some cataclysmic event, states
Josephus reports in his History of the Jews that prior to
the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies, a comet shaped like a
sword hung over the city for an entire year. (While Carl Sagan
hastens to point out the impossibility of the literal occurrence, it
effectively mirrors the mythical role of the comet.) According to Servius, the ancient and infamous comet Typhon produced terrible
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded firedrakes fiery dragons
seen flying in the air at the time of a great famine in 779,
observing as well that a great comet appeared at the time of famine
in 975. And so too does a comet bring great famine in the traditions
of the Masai of East Africa.
In Byrhtferth's Manual, published in the year 1011, occurs this
description of a comet:
There is a star called a comet. When it
appears it betokens famine or pestilence or war or the destruction
of the earth or fearful storms. Similarly the Eghap of Nigeria say
that pestilence is the regular companion of the feared comet.
Even the historian Isidor Bishop of Seville (602-636), a well known
skeptic when it came to astrology, could not set aside the belief
that the comet presaged revolutions, wars, and pestilence.
of Tours (c. 541-594), writing in De Cursu Stellarum, tells us that
when a comet spreads its hair abroad darkly, it announces rain to
the country. Nor is it surprising to find the rumor that the Great
Plague of London was due to the appearance of a comet; or that a
comet is also said to have accompanied the great earthquake at Lima,
Peru, in 1746.
While the association of the comet and wide-ranging disaster is
worldwide, the pattern may initially seem diffuse, with insufficient
coherence to support any unified theory of comet fears. Funk and
Wagnall's encyclopedia, for example, included the following
description under the heading comet:
Not only in antiquity, but through the centuries among all peoples,
comets have aroused in man a feeling of terror and foreboding. These
mysterious visitors in the heavens have been thought to be connected
with war, famine, the plague, the downfall of kings and monarchs,
the end of the world, universal suffering, ill-luck, and sickness.
How, then, did this curious profile of the comet arise? The darkly
pessimistic ideas about comets inspired Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan to
There is an overwhelming sadness to the literature of comets. With
melancholy consistency we discover that disaster has always been a
commonplace; that any comet at any time viewed from anywhere on
Earth is assured of some tragedy for which it can be held
Such is the logic of efforts to explain mythical ideas through
experiences familiar to our own day: when a comet appeared the
undisciplined primitive mind must have freely associated it with one
or another disaster occurring around the same time.
suggested habit, which is verifiable, will not explain why, when a
disaster occurred, the first instinct of stargazers was to look for
a comet to explain it (or to provide the mythically-required divine
signal of impending catastrophe).
Nor will the ease with which the stargazers found a catastrophe to
associate with a comet's arrival explain the deeper theme of the
world ending apocalypse. If one looks at comet lore more closely, it
will be realized that what the stargazers feared most was no local
disaster. Ancient Chinese comet astrology held that Comets are vile
Every time they appear in the south, something happens to
wipe out the old and establish the new. In the language of myth that
means the end of the world.
Both the Sibylline Oracles and a Dead
Sea Scroll (War of the Sons of Light and Darkness) present the comet
as a sign of the Last Days all of which sounds very much like the
Aztec's comet-like plumed serpent presiding over the end of one
world age and beginning of another.
Consider, for example, why it is that the comet soars into
prominence as the calendar approaches a critical moment, such as the
end of a millennium. (Yes, it seems that round numbers and critical
moments go hand in hand, fed by the sense of cyclical time and the
global myth of a world age ending in sweeping catastrophe.)
Mary Proctor tells us that as the year 1000 approached even the most
simple phenomena assumed terrible proportions. And this included,
not surprisingly, reports of earth-quakes, and a comet visible for
nine days. (Here again is the earthquake-comet association despite
the failure of any known comet to redeem the association.)
of the mythical comet in reports of ostensibly historical comets
will be clearly seen in the following chronicle of the year 1000,
cited by Proctor
The heavens having opened, a kind of burning torch fell upon the
earth, leaving behind a long train of light similar to a flash of
lightningas this opening in the heavens closed, imperceptibly there
became visible the figure of a dragon, whose feet were blue, and
whose head seemed continually to increase.
Even the world-famous dragon finds its way into the story, when the
calendar calls for it! But a fundamental distinction is necessary,
between the symbol and the thing symbolized.
Every break in the
natural order was a reminder (symbol) of what world mythology
presents as a universal disaster; in this sense, the local
pestilence needed a comet to find its place in the scheme of things,
particularly at the end of the millennium!
In the same way, even
today the apocalyptic fear expresses itself with every local
catastrophe, offering a sign of the anticipated end of the world
just as, for century after century, virtually every wisp of a comet
played its required part in the psychic drama. How the underlying
story and its symbols originated is an entirely different matter,
involving patterns that could never be explained by any local
That many of the most significant patterns are poorly recognized is
due to the common methodology of the investigators, and the
accompanying suppositions. The result is a heap of evidential
fragments more than sufficient to illustrate the global fear of
comets, but without an adequate sense of the ancient experience from
which the patterns emerged.
The portentous news brought by the comet can be summarized as
the comet foretells the fall of the kingdom;
the comet predicts the arrival of plague, famine, earthquake,
the comet means the end of a world age, the arrival of universal
darkness or night, the occlusion of the sun by chaos monsters, a
victory (though temporary) of rebelling powers. (We have here only a
minor variation on end of the kingdom, since the kingdom and the
world were originally synonymous in the language of myth; that which
lay outside the kingdom belonged to chaos, darkness, rebellion);
the comet forecasts the death of kings or great rulers;
the comet heralds cataclysmic wars. (Among other things, it provides
the warrior-king or chief with a divine signal: now is the
propitious moment to attack barbarian nations outside the realm.)
In a later installment in this series,
These Things a Comet Brings,
I shall seek to document the full accord of these cross-cultural
themes with the collective memory of the Great Comet Venus.
present discussion, I shall simply cite enough instances to
illustrate the key ideas.
While comets observed in our time only
accent the irrationality of ancient fears, the worldwide portent
symbolism of the comet answers so completely to the archetypal Great
Comet (Venus) as to logically preclude the customary explanations of
THE GREAT COMET AND THE DEATH OF KINGS
We began this section with a note on the Aztec emperor Moctezuma's
terror on the arrival of a comet.
The focus of this fear is
significant because it was shared by emperors and kings and tribal
chiefs the world over. The comet means the death of great leaders.
The idea appears to be as old as Babylonian astronomy, which
associates a comet with the death of kings. The Roman poet Lucan
offers a vivid description of cometary disaster, when the skies,
blazing fire, bring forth the hair of the baleful star the comet
which portends changes to monarchs. So too did the Greek
mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy connect the comet with the
death of kings.
The profound fears of royalty at the appearance of the comet
continued well into the present era. The third century Christian
theologian Origen cites the comet as heralding a change in
dynasties. It was a common belief that the comet of AD 336 had
announced the death of the great emperor Constantine.
with the assassination of Julius Caesar, it was said, a comet had
appeared in the sky. On learning of a comet Nero was seized with
fear, and chroniclers assure us that a comet preceded the death of
the Emperor Macrinus in A.D. 218, and of Attila in A.D. 451.
According to Synesius, writing in the fourth century A.D., a comet
means great disaster: And whenever these comets appear, they are an
evil portent, which the diviners and soothsayers appease. They
assuredly foretell public disasters, enslavements of nations,
desolations of cities, deaths of kings.
The Frankish bishop and historian Gregory of Tours, writing in the
sixth century, reports that the flaming diadem of a comet portends
the death of kings. Geoffrey of Monmouth connected the death of
Aurelius Ambrosius with the appearance of a spectacular comet whose
political symbolism was said to have been explained by Merlin.
Even the brilliant astronomer Tycho Brahe, several centuries later,
was unable to free himself from the idea that the comet brought
overwhelming pestilence, war, and the death of kings.
When Halley's Comet appeared in April 1066, the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle gave this report:
In this year King Harald came from York to Westminster at Easter,
which was after the mid winter in which the king (Edward the
Confessor) died. Then was seen over all England such a sign in the
heaven as no man ever before saw; some say it was the star Cometa.
Among the ancient Germanic peoples, according to Grimm, the belief
persisted that a comet's appearance betokens events fraught with
peril, especially the death of a king.
The memory of the comet is well preserved in the song of German
schoolchildren in the time of Martin Luther
[These] things a comet brings
Storm, plague, famine,
death of kings,
War, earthquake, flood, and upheaval.
A drawing of a comet in the Chinese cometary atlas from the tomb at
Mawangdui is accompanied by the simple statement: There will be
deaths of kings.
The Chinese Record of the World Changes, by
Li Ch'un Feng, (602-667 AD) warns of dire consequences: When a comet
travels into the Constellation Taurus within three years the emperor
dies and the country is in chaos. So, too, do the Luba of Africa say
that comet means the death of a leader. And in the same way, natives
of the Polynesian Islands, claimed that a comet signified the death
of a chief.
Here, then, is the universal mythical context in which we must
understand Moctezuma's fears. In the global tradition it is as if
the comet bore particularly ominous news for heads of state, and the
Aztec world view was no exception.
Aveni, noting the intense
interest in cometary phenomena among Mesoamerican peoples, tells us
that illustrations of comets are frequently accompanied by
interpretations of these portents: These usually signify that a
person of nobility will die.
The paradox is accented in Shakespeare's famous lines,
When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
Of course kings knew very well the special perils of comets.
comet in 837 drew the attention of King Louis the Pious of France,
The king went into a veritable orgy of prayers and devotions,
ordering churches and shrines built to appease the imagined wrath of
God. The Carthaginian general Hannibal in 184 B.C. was warned that a
recently-discovered comet meant he would die soon. He answered the
comet by committing suicide.
Is there something to be explained in the comets threat to kings?
When Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan encountered the death of kings idea,
they offered the usual explanation, calling such ideas the triumph
of superstition and assuming the fear arose from the random
coincidence of certain kings dying at the time comets appeared.
Velikovsky's critic Bob Forrest was even less impressed with the
strange idea. While noting that the death of kings is perhaps the
commonest theme of all, he adds
Certainly I see no pressing need to postulate cometary collisions on
the basis of the evil reputation of comets any more than I need to
invoke cometary/planetary exhalations to explain good wine years.
But again the critic has drawn his conclusion prematurely, and we
are left only with what amounts to a guess as to whether there is a
connection with planetary upheaval. What happens, on the other hand,
if instead of setting the fragments aside once gathered, we look for
connecting links? In summarizing the curious theme of the comet and
the death of kings, Mary Proctor adds a telling observation.
The comet of A.D. 451 or A.D. 453 announced the death of Attila, and
the comet of A.D. 455 that of the Emperor Valentinian.
spread was the belief in the connection between the death of the
great and those menacing signs in the heavens that the chroniclers
of old appear to have recorded comets which were never seen, such as
the comet of A.D. 814, which was supposed to have presaged the death
The note concerning the death of Charlemagne is significant. Can one
really believe that localized, random, and disconnected events
caused the same theme to arise on every continent and with such
oppressive influence that a comet would be invented when the
expected visitor failed to materialize at the death of a powerful
According to Peter Lancaster Brown, Every bright comet which
appeared during the medieval period, the Middle Ages, and even the
Renaissance had itself affixed to the death or misfortune of a
prominent historical figure.
These beliefs were so widespread that
(according to Pingre) the chronicles recorded in good faith comets
which were never actually seen. This suggests that the death of
kings motif, rather than reflecting random local events, conditioned
man's perception of local events for century upon century. For those
familiar with the way core mythical ideas work their way down
through history, this is a key indicator of a very ancient and
The chroniclers would happily re-write history to
bring it into accord with the great mythical traditions of kingship
and the gods.
To the modern reader it may appear as if the ideas dropped randomly
out of the sky, but a closer look will eliminate that impression
completely. The patterns are the key. One fascinating idea about
comets, for example, provides a unifying thread, while directing our
attention to earlier mythical sources. A comet was frequently
claimed to be the soul of a great ruler rising in the sky (certainly
a good reason for loyalists to find a comet on the death of a ruler,
even if the sky is not cooperating). Consider the famous case of
On the death of that ruler, according to the Latin
poet Ovid and others, a great cometary spectacle occurred in the
sky, as Caesar's soul itself rose as a comet. And from Ovid's
reverent description it seems that it could not have been otherwise
for a leader of such stature.
Clearly, the mythically-rooted story
celebrating the cometary soul of a great leader preceded Ovid's
Aristotle, not given to celebrate the mythical tradition, tells us
that the Greek philosopher Democritus held that comets were the
souls of men of renown. Among the Polynesian Islanders, according to
Williams, a comet did not just signify the death of a king, a comet
meant the flight of the soul.
Similarly, the eminent student of
comparative myth and religion, James Frazer, produced extensive
proof that a widespread superstition associates meteors or falling
stars with the souls of the dead. Often they are believed to be the
spirits of the departed on their way to the other world.
With respect to the departing cometary soul of Caesar, which I shall
take up in a summary of the Greek and Roman material, I cannot
resist passing on to the reader one fascinating detail. When Robert
Schilling, perhaps the world's leading authority on the Latin
goddess Venus, gathered the references to Caesar's apotheosis, he
noticed a curious blend of two ideas: one that the soul rose as a
comet, the other that the soul rose as the planet Venus.
And the two
ideas were actually joined as one, for the poet Ovid describes the
soul as a flaming comet carried aloft by Venus. In more than one
instance the soul itself is celebrated as Venus. A curiosity indeed.
What general conspiracy, Schilling asks, seems to have tacitly
excluded the comet to the profit of the star [Venus]?
specialist did not discern the connection to a larger pattern (Venus
= comet in a global tradition) is why the comparative study is so
SOUL OF THE CREATOR-KING
We are thus brought back to Moctezuma's terror.
One explanation for
his fear of the comet asks unidentified local experiences to account
for it and asks coincidence to account for parallel comet fears
around the world. But another explanation is possible, in terms of
an ancient story known to every native of Mexico and reflected in
the most powerful cosmic images of Aztec culture.
I refer to the
myth of Quetzalcoatl, whose soul rose as the comet-like Venus. If
Quetzalcoatl's departing heart-soul provided a prototype of the
comet myth, we do not need to look further for an explanation of the
comet's relation to the death of kings .
In this case, the
relationship is self-evident: the comet means the death of the king
because it is the king's soul leaving him in a cosmic disaster. And
the comet brings the end of the world because, in the death of the
god-king and the departure of his heart-soul as a comet, a former
world age ended catastrophically.
Having raised the question rhetorically, I do not expect the critic
to accept the suggested explanation of comet symbolism apart from
the complete presentation of evidence in this series. Nevertheless,
for the sake of saving time, it may be helpful to give the gist of
the idea I intend to develop and substantiate with each future
Within human memory extraordinary changes have occurred in the solar
Planets now remote from the Earth once moved in much, much
closer proximity to our planet, appearing as gigantic powers looming
over man. Hence, we cannot understand the mythical age of the gods
without confronting the gods as visible forms in the sky, forms that
are no longer present. In all mythical systems the gods rule for a
time, then depart amid celestial upheaval.
Mythically, there was once a founding king, a celestial model of the
good king. But neither this charismatic figure, nor his celestial
progeny will answer to familiar references in a now-settled sky. Nor
will the mythical powers of darkness, in their monstrous dress, find
any explanation in our experienced world.
Inherent in the myths of the gods is the collective human experience
of extraordinary trauma. An idyllic world, a paradisal condition, a
Golden Age ruled by the former great king (mythically, the
creator-king), came crashing down in a world-ending disaster: wars
of the gods, earthquake, famine, wind and flood, the arrival of
Of this universal catastrophe the Great Comet Venus, the departing
heart-soul of the creator-king was remembered as both symbol and
QUETZALCOATL AND THE FEARS OF KINGS
The apprehension of Moctezuma cannot be separated from a sweeping
mythical tradition, personified in Mexico by the life and death of
Quetzalcoatl, the cultural hero.
From him it began, from
Quetzalcoatl it flowed out, all art and knowledge, the Aztecs sang.
Quetzalcoatl was called the sun, but the mythical and ritual sources
remind us that this does not mean the light we call Sun today. The
most revered figure of Mexican myth, Quetzalcoatl ruled for a time,
then disembarked for other realms.
As the great teacher, the exemplary ruler, his life and death
defined the duties, expectations and fears of kings. Which is to
say, Moctezuma's fear, the fear of the neighboring king of Texcoco,
and the fear of every emperor before him must be understood in terms
of a cosmic crisis at the center of the myth. When Quetzalcoatl died
or departed, a world cycle ended catastrophically.
But of course it was not just the myth of Quetzalcoatl that reminded
rulers of their tenuous hold on the kingdom and on life itself. Such
is the message of universal myth, for two principles emerge from a
As above, so below. The theme couldn't be more clearly stated
throughout Mesoamerica: the terrestrial king lives in the shadow of
the celestial king, the Great Example for later kings. But if the
references of kingship are originally celestial, that does not mean
they will be found in the present sky.
Thus the unsettling
implication for the specialists:
if the forms and episodes of myth
relate to spectacular former occurrences, then no mainstream
approach will ever reach the central motives of myth.
As before, so again.
This is the key to all mythically-rooted fear.
What happened before will happen in the future. Countless variations
on the underlying themes cannot obscure the expectation of the
eternal return. Quite apart from their interesting mathematics, for
example, the mythical context of the Mesoamerican calendar system
was the periodic cataclysm.
But that deeply-imbedded fear reached
far beyond the calendar and into every expression of culture: The
collective goal was to reckon with divine caprice, to employ every
device available to bargain for a new lease on life, to avoid the
Though Velikovsky did not give substantial attention to the myth of
Quetzalcoatl, he did observe the relationship to Venus, and the
catastrophic nature of the god's death and transformation. To which
Bob Forrest replied with considerable skepticism, claiming that in
the life and death of Quetzalcoatl there is
certainly no reference to the planets in a Velikovskian sense.
True, Quetzalcoatlwas symbolically related to the Morning Star, but this
is a far cry from being told that the planet Venus brought about the
End of the World with a cosmic hurricane! Quetzalcoatl is here a
Great Teacher, rather than a rampant super-comet.
Notice the critic's reasoning: if Quetzalcoatl was a great teacher,
his story could not involve an account of Velikovsky's comet. It
seems that Forrest could not imagine a celestial form filling the
role of exemplary model in the myths, nor could he imagine the death
of this charismatic personality in terms of a sweeping natural
But this is precisely where comparative study becomes
so essential. Had he known that virtually all of the founding kings
of myth suffer some variation on the fate of Quetzalcoatl, he might
have noticed as well a recurring corollary: the god-king's
heart-soul the planet Venus departs to join in a celestial
And where astronomical data is available, the skywatchers insist with stunning unanimity that the majestic
heart-soul emerged as the planet Venus. (On such a sweeping claim as
this, I can only ask the reader's indulgence as the evidence unfolds
in this series.)
Forrest's concluding exclamation mark only emphasizes the gap that
separates conventional students of myth from the world of the
Coherent motives disappear, and the primary
cultural symbols dissolve into sand under the specialist's
microscope. Then it becomes possible to believe that a host of
different and unrelated experiences came together as the doomsday
fear, or that the pervasive role of sacrifice arose from a different
experience than the meticulous observations of Venus, or that the
memory of great wars in the sky was at best a rationalization for
the relentless Mesoamerican wars of conquest.
This is where Velikovsky's comet Venus will help to rescue ancient
myth and ritual from a theoretical vacuum. It will do so by
providing a coherent reference, sufficient to substantiate an
entirely new approach to the subject matter. The comet Venus enters
ancient myth as the celestial agent of disaster, and its emergence
is synonymous with the death of the creator-king.
The great god's
heart-soul departs from him (or is removed violently, or is flung
into the ensuing holocaust) to become a comet-like flaming star,
then presides over the re-establishment of celestial order, the dawn
of a new world age.
To see Velikovsky's comet in its globally-defined and catastrophic
role is to realize something overlooked by the specialists: that a
planetary history we have forgotten will do more to explain the
pervasive fears of ancient cultures than all of the more fashionable
How are we to understand the unending ritual
wars and sacrifices in which rulers remembered, honored and
satisfied the gods, hoping to hold the heavens together? How do we
interpret the complex calendars of world ages, anticipating a
recurring doomsday with every turn of the wheel? Or the endless
preoccupation with catastrophic omens and portents? For centuries
the priest- astronomers reacted with terror to any natural
phenomenon that might suggest the return to world chaos. In what
experience did this fear arise?
Surely one way of illuminating the
symbols of celestial terror is to consider the possibility of
To make this point completely clear it will be useful to look at a
few of the Mesoamerican symbols of the doomsday fear, asking the
reader at each stage whether we are considering separate symbols, or
the expressions of a more coherent, highly traumatic experience.
Velikovsky reminded us that to the natives of Mexico the planet
Venus bore a very special significance.
No celestial body loomed
more centrally in their meticulous observations of the sky. To
emphasize the point Velikovsky noted the Augustinian friar Ram n Y
Zamora's report that the Mexican tribes held the Morning Star in
great veneration and kept a precise record of its appearance. So
exact was the book-record of the day when it appeared and when it
concealed itself, that they never made mistakes, stated Zamora.
In Velikovsky's interpretation, the carefully recorded observations
of Venus by the Mexicans, Babylonians, Chinese and other cultures
was a very old custom originating in a past when Venus moved on an
And for many centuries after the cometary disaster,
the astronomers perceived closer approaches of Venus as a grave
potential threat. Out of this preoccupation also evolved ritual
calendar systems based on the movements of Venus. It was not the
remote and peaceful star we see today that provoked this new
science, but the celestial agent of disaster as it gradually settled
into a circularized orbit.
In response to an unpredictable celestial
power, the observational science strove to bring the movements into
a system of comprehension, enabling the priest astronomers to evolve
forecasts as part of a collective endeavor to reckon with the gods.
The special place of astronomy in Mesoamerican myths and rites is
acknowledged by the best authorities, though the origins of this
culture-wide theme appear lost in a gray past. It has been clear to
all serious students of Mesoamerican culture, writes David Kelley,
that there was an intimate relationship between astronomical
knowledge, the calendar, and religious beliefs and rituals. Or, as
Aveni puts it, Quite unlike our modern astronomy, the raison d'tre
of Mesoamerican, particularly Mayan astronomy, was ritualistic and
divinatory in nature.
But what were the roots of the religious
motive, placing such an emphasis on astronomy?
The recurring role of the planet Venus through all of the
interacting levels is noted by Burr Cartwright Brundage
The true role of the planet Venus in the development of the
Mesoamerican cultures is not understood. It might not be far wrong
to look upon the Mesoamerican's great skill in numeration as a child
of that planet and to state that their intellectual life pulsed to
Certainly a significant portion of their mythology
involved that planet, and their concepts of family legitimacy and
challenge were colored by the bonds that united the planet to the
sun, the fount of all authority.
To observers approaching the Mesoamerican cultures from an
interdisciplinary vantage point, the cultural preoccupation with
Venus immediately stands out. E. C. Krupp, a popularizer of modern
archaeoastronomy, was impressed with the Venus profile in
Mesoamerica, noting that the priest-astronomers computed portentous
moments based upon their calendar and the behavior of Venus.
installed their kings, sacrificed prisoners and went to war by these
But why? Must we assume unhesitatingly that the anxiety over
Venus' movements arose under a tranquil sky?
VENUS AND COSMIC UPHEAVAL
Across Mesoamerica Venus was celebrated as the radiant heart-soul of
the great cultural hero whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl. Yet
enigmatically, the appearances of the star after periods of absence
stirred extraordinary fear.
Evidently, the reappearance of Venus in different quarters after a
prolonged absence carried various evil connotations for the people
of Yucatan.Obviously, they were deeply concerned about where and
when Venus might appear to reverse their fortunes.
Expressions of this fear will be found at both the general and
specific levels. There is the general association with death, as
noted by Thompson and others, but also the more specific association
with the death of kings. Thus the Mayan date name of Venus, Hun Ahau
was a day of death and darkness. But more specifically, the same day
among the Aztecs signified the death of Quetzalcoatl and the
transformation of his heart-soul into Venus.
There seems to be no doubt that unlucky days were associated with
the heliacal rise of Venus (its first appearance as morning star,
after a period of absence), each to be regarded with appropriate
ritual, Aveni writes.
The fear engendered by the heliacal rising of Venus was noted
centuries ago by one of the earliest European chroniclers, Sahagun:
And when it (Venus) newly emerged, much fear came over them; all
were frightened. Everywhere the outlets and openings of [houses]
were closed up. It was said that perchance [the light] might bring a
cause of sickness, something evil when it came to emerge.
In response to the new and bright appearance of Venus, kings called
for sacrifices of captives to please the gods, for it seems that the
planet's appearance could invite great calamities from the outbreak
of war to famine and flood. Could this be a key to understanding the
mysteries of Venus-portents? As will become clear, the perils of
Venus are the perils of the comet in the global lexicon.
We have already noted that, throughout the ancient world, the comet
portended the death of great kings. But interestingly, the heliacal
rising of Venus conveyed the same celestial message, as reported by
It is curious that the Mesoamerican peoples thought of the morning
star so consistently as malign. He was to them, whether they were
Aztec or Mayan, the very father of calamity. The dates of his
heliacal rising were forecast so that the dooms ahead could be
adequately read and prepared forSignificantly, his malice could also
be directed at rulers, for if he arose on the trecana opened by
one-reed, then great lords sickened and died.
Thus, the Anales de Quahtitlan, a chronicle from the Mexican
highlands (colonial times), describes the perils of the piercing
rays of Venus. On the day One Reed, (the day of Quetzalcoatl's
birth, and the day of the same god-king's death), the rising of
Venus is deadly: It shoots the kings, the texts say. Notice here
that an underlying logic is at work, running from the specific to
the general, from the archetype to the symbol.
Quetzalcoatl died at
the critical calendar moment, both the end and the beginning of the
time-reckoning system, mythically the end of one world age and the
beginning of another. In the calendar system and in the sacred
rites, the cyclical principle established by the life and death of
Quetzalcoatl is both repeated and generalized: as above, so below;
as before, so again.
Hence, kings will die on the day One Reed, the
day that Quetzalcoatl's heart-soul departed to become the planet
What, then, is the significance of the fact that the symbolism of
Venus replicates so precisely the global symbolism of the comet? The
new appearance of Venus as morning star, is a moment of great peril
for the kingdom (the world), as is the appearance of the comet. It
harkens back to the death of the god-king, as does the comet. It is
the heart-soul of the god-king rising in the sky, as is the comet.
Is this, then, just another coincidence to add to all of the others?
The further one descends into the various cultural levels at which
the fear was expressed, the more clear becomes the equation:
fear of Venus' rising was, in every way, identical to the fear
instilled by the arrival of a COMET.
VENUS AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Immanuel Velikovsky, in developing the theme of cometary disaster,
noticed that one ancient culture after another spoke of former
catastrophes so devastating that the world came to an end.
collective memory, in turn, seems to have given rise to the general
notion of recurring cycles, or world ages.
While Velikovsky noticed
surprising parallels among far-flung nations, including the
Babylonians, Greeks, Hebrews, Chinese, and Polynesians, he was
particularly fascinated with the Mexican ideas:
An old tradition, and a very persistent one, of world ages that went
down in cosmic catastrophes was found in the Americas among the
Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas. A major part of stone inscriptions
found in Yucatan refer to world catastrophes.
The most ancient of
these fragments [katuns, or calendar stones of Yucatan] refer, in
general, to great catastrophes which, at intervals and repeatedly,
convulsed the American continent, and of which all nations of this
continent have preserved a more or less distinct memory.
Mexico and Indian authors who composed the annals of their past give
a prominent place to the tradition of world catastrophes that
decimated humankind and changed the face of the earth.
In the chronicles of the Mexican kingdom it is said:
knew that before the present sky and earth were formed, man was
already created and life had manifested itself four times.
To Velikovsky, this language sounded remarkably close to that of the
Greeks and other ancient peoples, who similarly recounted the
passing of former ages and destruction by water, fire, wind or
For some nations, he said, the transition from one age to
another meant a new sun in the sky.
An oft-repeated occurrence in the traditions of the world ages is
the advent of a new sun in the sky at the beginnings of every age.
The word sun is substituted for the word age in the cosmogonic
traditions of many peoples all over the world.
The Mayas counted their ages by the names of their consecutive suns.
These were called Water Sun, Earthquake Sun, Hurricane Sun, Fire
Sun. These suns mark the epochs to which are attributed the various
catastrophes the world has suffered.
The nations of Culhua or Mexico, Humboldt quoted G mara, the Spanish
writer of the sixteenth century, believe according to their
hieroglyphic paintings, that, previous to the sun which now
enlightens them, four had already been successively extinguished.
These four suns are as many ages, in which our species has been
annihilated by inundations, by earthquakes, by a general
conflagration, and by the effect of destroying tempests. Symbols of
the successive suns are painted on the pre-Columbian literary
documents of Mexico.
Cinco soles que son edades, or five suns that are epochs, wrote G
mara in his description of the conquest of Mexico.
To Velikovsky, the idea of former world ages or suns belonged to a
collective memory of upheaval and world-changing shifts in the order
of the solar system. The earth was disturbed in its rotation, its
axis tilted, the path of its revolution around the sun changed, and
vast nations were devastated. Then, from the ensuing chaos, the
world was born anew under an altered celestial order.
Sacred astronomy throughout Mesoamerica was particularly conscious
of the heliacal rising of Venus, the planet's first annual pre-dawn
appearance (beginning its phase of greatest brilliance due to its
proximity to the Earth).
According to Aveni, this first appearance
as Morning Star was probably the most important single event in Maya
One of the extraordinary coincidences of Venus' present behavior is
the resonance of its observed cycle with our year of 365 1/4 days.
Like clockwork, due to the synchronous movements of Venus and Earth
we noted earlier, Venus first appears as morning star on the same
calendar day every eight years, and during that span of time it
rises heliacally a total of five times.
This synchronous relationship of Earth and Venus is reflected in the
Mesoamerican calendar rites. Many centuries ago, a sacred calendar
system was perfected within a cultural environment that is not yet
clear to archaeoastronomers. The original system is unknown.
do know is that at the time of the Spanish invasion, all of the
primary Mesoamerican cultures shared a common calendar structure, an
outgrowth of the unidentified original system, in which the
Venus-cycle played a crucial role, but not one that appears fully
comprehensible to the scholars seeking to understand it.
The calendar combined two time-keeping systems: one based on the
familiar solar year, which was divided into 18 months of 20 days, to
which five unlucky days were added at the end of the year, rounding
out a 365-day year. In their veintena festivals, the Aztecs
celebrated the end of each 20-day cycle of the solar year, making
sacrifices and offerings to the gods in the hope that the sun and
stars would continue their orderly movement across the heavens.
The other calendar was based on a 260-day cycle whose original
meaning is still being debated. Enigmatically, this ritual calendar
appears to have no self-evident logic in terms of the natural cycles
one would expect to find reflected in calendar phases. And yet, for
ritual reasons, the sacred 260-day calendar dominated the solar
This, Robert and Peter Markman tell us, was a sacred
calendar tied directly to no single cycle observable in the world of
Rather, it embodied and celebrated the essence of cyclicity
abstracted from its occurrence in natural phenomena. This was the
calendar used for prophecy and divination since in its workings it
allowed man his closest approach to the world of spirit. How, then,
did it connect man with the world of the gods?
The 260-day ritual calendar combined two different sequences, one a
series of 20 days-signs, the other a sequence of 13 day-numbers, so
that there were a total of 260 combinations of the two sequences to
complete a sacred calendrical period. Since each day and each number
had its own gods and associations, every day in the 260-day cycle
had a different ritual significance.
Understanding calendrical lore allowed a special group of priests to
understand the implications of the signs of the calendar and to
divine the future These periods could determine the augury of each
of the days, since the essence of the day (kin among the Maya) was
itself the prophecy (also kin).
Possibly, the authors say, there was a connection of the 260-day
cycle with Venus: The interval between the appearance of Venus as
morning and evening star is close to 260 days.
The mystery is heightened by another fact that rarely receives
attention: in the Maya calendrical ritual the listed movements of
Venus do not accord with the planet's observed movements today.
The synodical revolution of Venus divides into four periods:
after inferior conjunction Venus
appears as Morning Star for an average of 263 days
during superior conjunction the
planet disappears for an average of 50 days
the planet reappears as Evening
Star for an average of 263 days
Venus then disappears again for 8 days during inferior
conjunction; after which it reappears as Morning Star, to complete
the synodical period
But these are not the values in the Mayan Venus cycles, which seem
to follow an unfamiliar logic of their own. The considerable
discrepancy is emphasized by Aveni
They assigned an eight day period to the disappearance at inferior
conjunction, which is close to that observed today. But, peculiarly,
their manuscripts recorded a disappearance interval of 90 days at
superior conjunction, nearly double the true value.
they assigned unequal values to the intervals as morning and evening
250 and 236 days, respectively.
In fact, the true intervals
are equivalent at approximately 263 days. Since we know that the
Maya were careful and exacting timekeepers, there may have been
ritualistic reasons for these changes which overrode the
It seems as if another anomaly rears its head: the ancient
Mesoamerican astronomers, so admired for their accurate record
keeping of Venus' motions, do not have Venus moving on its present
course. Yet Aveni assures us that the Maya developed the
observational precision and reasoning power to predict eclipses and
to determine the length of the Venus year and the lunar month to
accuracies of less than a day in several centuries. Thus, the
calendar discrepancy, to say the least, should draw one's attention!
Let us not forget Velikovsky's admonition as to the significance of
the recurring anomaly. The anomalous movement of Venus in the ritual
calendar, a calendar originating in an undefined period preceding
any of the known cultural variants, has a significant and more
ancient Near Eastern parallel.
As Velikovksy himself observed almost
45 years ago, the Babylonian astronomers, in the famous Venus
tablets of Ammizaduga, recorded extensive observations of Venus'
movements. Like their Mesoamerican counterparts, these founders of
astronomy were revered for their observational skills and
Nevertheless, the Ammizaduga records of
Venus' appearances and disappearances are filled with errors
suggesting that (in the minds of the stargazers, at least) Venus did
not move on its present visual path.
And speaking of recurring anomalies, the seemingly preposterous
90-day disappearance of Venus at superior conjunction may prove to
be more of a headache for orthodox archaeoastronomers than they have
bargained for. In the erroneous Babylonian records of Venus, one
encounters a 90-day disappearance as well
It is curious that the Babylonians also counted a three-month
disappearance interval, indicating that the planet would move
approximately one-fourth of the way around its cycle in the tropical
While an anomalous variance in the movement of Venus may frustrate
mainstream investigators, for anyone believing that Velikovsky's
comet participated in Earth-disturbing events as recently as a few
thousand years ago, the troublesome records of Venus' motions are
more likely to bring a bemused smile.
Following the great cometary
catastrophe recorded in the myths, nothing would seem more
reasonable to the Velikovskian researcher than a transitional period
perhaps millennia in which Venus did not move on its present path as
seen from the earth.
The larger issue, of course, is that posed by the very existence of
the sacred 260-day calendar. How could it be that a calendar with no
firm basis in an observed natural cycle could have had such a broad
cultural influence? Even as late as 1940, the ethnologist J.S.
Lincoln was able to confirm that the Ixil peoples of northwest
Guatemala continued to use this calendar.
Remington, living among the Quich and Cakchiquel peoples of the
Guatemala highlands, found that the 260-day cycle was still
practiced for purposes of forecasting, with this unnatural calendar
still dominating the time-keeping rituals.
When it comes to ancient calendars, one of the possibilities that
should be considered but never is considered is that of a shifting
length of the year. Velikovsky argued, for example, that in former
times a calendar of 360 days prevailed throughout much of the
ancient world, and that the five added days (called nothing days by
the Aztecs) came only after a disruption of the earth's motions.
Though I have some doubt about this, there is no reason in the world
to categorically exclude such possibilities in advance of serious
But whether or not calendar changes are indicated, one can be
certain that the 260-day ritual calendar bore an extremely
significant relationship to the myth of collapsing world ages, as we
shall now see.
52-YEAR CALENDAR ROUND
Across Mesoamerica, the combination of two calendars, the solar or
seasonal calendar and the 260-day ritual calendar, produced an
extended sequence of sacred time, in which the two calendars
concluded on the same day only once every 52 solar years a cosmic
cycle of extreme import.
This 52-year cycle the Maya called the Calendar Round and the Aztecs
a bundle of years or Perfect Circle of years. Interestingly, the
Maya never indicated dates in hieroglyphic texts or historical
documents by the solar year designation alone. Most often the date
was specified by its designation in the Calendar Round.
Among the Aztecs this extended cycle was intimately tied to the myth
of Quetzalcoatl, who was born on the day ce acatl (One Reed) and
departed on the day ce acatl 52 years later. He will return, the
Aztecs claimed, on a future day ce acatl. It is only reasonable to
assume, therefore, a close relationship between the symbolism of the
Calendar Round and the symbolism of the founding god-king.
Mesoamerican timekeepers show an extreme ambivalence about this
extended calendar period. Its conclusion was both a renewal the end
of the old cycle and the beginning of a new cycle and a potential
moment of disaster, since the Aztecs believed that the entire world
order was then in jeopardy. At that critical moment the astronomer
priests anticipated world destruction by fire, wind, or water,
repeating the great cataclysm that ended the Golden Age of
The synchronous Earth-Venus movements appear to have figured
prominently in the calendar, enabling priest astronomers to draw on
the mathematics of Venus cycles to anticipate the recurrence of
doomsday. For example, 65 Venus cycles were equivalent to 104 solar
years, or two 52-year cycles, which the Aztecs called huehueliztli,
an old age or long-period.
To Velikovsky, this role of Venus in calculations of world ages was,
at the very least, evidence to be considered in assessing Venus'
catastrophic role in the past.
The works of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the early Mexican
scholar (circa 1568-1648) who was able to read old Mexican texts,
preserve the ancient tradition according to which the multiple of
fifty-two-year periods played an important role in the recurrence of
He asserts also that only fifty-two years
elapsed between two great catastrophes, each of which terminated a
Now there exists a remarkable fact: the natives of pre-Columbian
Mexico expected a new catastrophe at the end of every period of
fifty-two years and congregated to await the event. When the night
of this ceremony arrived, all the people were seized with fear and
waited in anxiety for what might take place. They were afraid that
it would be the end of the human race and that the darkness of the
night may become permanent: the sun may not rise anymore.
It happened that the end of a cycle occurred in mid-November, 1507,
and available records give us a good sense of the collective fears
embedded in the symbolic rites of renewal. It is said that five
priests moved in procession with a captive warrior out of the city
of Tenochtitlan to the great ceremonial center on the Hill of the
The occasion was proceeded by ritual extinction of fires
across Mexico, the casting of statues and hearthstones into the
water, and rites of sweeping all of these gestures bearing a
significant symbolic tie to an ancient cultural memory of
We are also told that on this frightening
occasion women were locked in granaries to avoid being turned into
man-eating monsters, pregnant women donned masks of maguey leaves,
and children were kept awake to keep them from turning into mice
while asleep. (That these fears trace to the cosmic night and the
associated chaos hordes should become clear in the course of this
For on this one night in the calendar round of 18,980 nights the
Aztec fire priests celebrated when the night was divided in half:
the New Fire Ceremony that ensured the rebirth of the sun and the
movement of the cosmos for another fifty-two years. This rebirth was
achieved symbolically through the heart sacrifice of a brave,
captured warrior specifically chosen by the king. We are told that
when the procession arrived in the deep night at the Hill of the
Star the populace climbed onto their roofs. With unwavering
attention and necks craned toward the hill they became filled with
dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.
When the priest astronomers did confirm that the heavens were still
in order, the country broke into celebration, the Sacred Fire was
rekindled, houses, roads and walkways were swept clean and normal
life resumed, the gods having granted man another 52-year cycle.
As in the case of disaster portents, the fears implicit in the
calendar symbolism flowed from a core idea of recurrence. In the
same way that the appearance of a comet, the rising of Venus, an
earthquake, or eclipse recalled the world-ending catastrophe, so did
the calendar system, undeniably related to observed Venus cycles,
rest on a memory of former upheaval, when heaven fell into
Could the terrestrial king, whose life but mirrored that
of the founding god-king, escape the fate of the great predecessor,
whose death ended a cosmic cycle? Would the world itself survive a
full turn of time's wheel?
It's too easy for archaeoastronomers, when chronicling the calendar
symbolism, to slip into a state of enchantment over the system's
mathematical symmetry, forgetting that there is a far more vital
question: what were the experiential origins of the collective fear
of a world going out of control?
And why did the planet Venus figure
so prominently in the calculations of world ages?
Mexican Calendar Stone
Perhaps the answer lies in the famous Calendar Stone, on which the
time-keeping hieroglyphs are recorded (Figure 9).
stone, and thus encompassing the entire cycle or world age is the
two-fold form of the great serpent Xiuhcoatl, the mythical parent of
comets, the great celestial torch launched against the rebel powers
when the world was overrun by demons of chaos.
That the archetypal
comet should define the great cycle of time does not surprise us,
since ending one world age and inaugurating another is, in the
universal tradition, the comet's most distinctive role.
ONE FEAR, MANY EXPRESSIONS
Due to fragmentation of the subject, the experts have missed the
most significant fact of all: Mesoamerican cultures as a whole
expressed their greatest fear in recurring patterns (noted in the
sections to follow):
the rites of sweeping practiced in every sacred
the great festivals reckoning with critical moments in the
calendar and repeating memorable episodes in the age of the gods
the virtually endless rites of sacrifice, by which tens of thousands
died in a culture-wide bargaining with celestial powers
the ritually-ordained wars by
which the city's bravest and strongest achieved a glory like
unto that won by the heroic ancestor-god, whose own deeds,
during the catastrophic interlude between two world ages,
had served as a model for the battlefield contest of
strength and will
Together with the available information on disaster portents, these
mythically-rooted themes provide a great reservoir of evidence as to
the character of the remembered catastrophe.
The repeated patterns
speak of a world falling into darkness; the death of the
creator-king, whose heart-soul was torn from him; the end of the
kingdom (world); a sky filled with celestial dust and (comet-like)
debris or overrun by chaos-hordes; the gathering of great armies in
the heavens to wage celestial combat; and overwhelming commotion:
reverberating shouts and cries, the earthshaking moans of the great
goddess, the shrieks of whistles, trumpets blaring, the beating of
drums, and in the very midst of this world-ending havoc a smoking
star (archetypal comet, planet Venus) announcing the disaster in the
most literal, causative sense and presiding over the recovery of
order, as if sweeping clear the darkened and cluttered heavens.
DEMONS OF DARKNESS
Let us consider the role of darkness, since the coming of cosmic
night was re-enacted at many different levels, from macrocosm to
microcosm, from the deep night into which the world momentarily or
symbolically sank at the end of the 52-year cycle, to the settling
of darkness over the household every evening.
It is not just a darkened sky that the fears reflect back to us, but
the letting loose of the (cometary) chaos-hordes, represented
ritualistically by crowds of warriors and other participants adding
through their dress and gestures the elements of commotion, disarray
and mock combat these celebrants being as much a part of the
commemorative occasion as the officiating priests or sacrificial
Do these images tell us something about an event far more
terrifying than historians have dared imagine?
components of the darkness theme in rites re-enacting celestial
death and disaster are significant throngs of people shouting in
confusion, running about with feathered ornaments, paper streamers
waving in the wind, a pervasive fear that their children will be
turned into mice, the fear that monsters with disheveled hair will
rise out of the darkness to devour them do in fact constitute a
tapestry of cometary myths and symbols.
And the repeated fears and
gestures are not fixed to one rite or to one symbolic occasion, but
to every level at which the darkness theme plays its part.
In a significant mythical and symbolic sense, every day contained an
aspect of the former disaster, the end of the world in microcosm.
When dusk arrived it came as a minor echo or reminder of the deep
night the twilight of the gods. Natives of pre-Columbian Mexico
retired to their own dwellings and covered themselves as night
At night the chaos-demons were out, and children could be
turned into mice. And while the people slept, it was the priest
astronomer's duty to monitor the heavens at dusk, midnight and dawn,
to divine the course of events. Then, in the morning the obligatory
sweeping of patios and walkways occurred symbolically, the sweeping
away of the night.
Not just the darkness, but the gathered dust and
clutter filled a symbolic role in Mesoamerican daily life and
ritual, together with the symbolism of the female head of the house
as sweeper, a role defined by the mother goddess Toci herself, whose
broom is a prominent feature in the commemorative rites (see
discussion of Toci and sweeping rites below).
No doubt the symbolism at the daily, microcosmic level was diluted
over time and progressively gave way to the growing complexities of
culture and practical necessity, but the residue of an ancient and
unrecognized experience was still there at the time of the Conquest.
The recollection of the cosmic night becomes more dramatic when an
unusual occurrence of darkness breaks the normal pattern. Consider
Sahagun's description of the people's response to an eclipse
Then there were a tumult and disorder.
All were disquieted,
unnerved, frightened. Then there was weeping. The common folk raised
a cup, lifting their voices, making a great din, calling out,
shrieking. There was shouting everywhere. People of light complexion
were slain [as sacrifices]; captives were killed. All offered their
blood, they drew straws through the lobes of their ears, which had
And in all the temples there was the singing of
fitting chants, there was an uproar, there were war cries. It was
thus said: If the eclipse of the sun is complete, it will be dark
The demons of darkness will come down, they will eat men!
In these fleeting moments of the eclipse, the people relived the
unforgettable night, repeating the great din of the world-ending
catastrophe and venting their fears of the all-devouring chaos
hordes. Were these fears, in origin, different from the (tempered)
fear of dusk, or different from the terror aroused by the conclusion
of the 52-year cycle?
The same mythically-rooted fears will be seen in relation to the
eclipse of the moon.
When the moon was eclipsed, his face grew dark and sooty, blackness
and darkness spread. When this came to pass, women with child feared
evil; they thought it portentous; they were terrified [lest],
perchance, their [unborn] children might be changed into mice; each
of their children might turn into a mouse.
There was, in other words, an archetypal darkness, with deeper and
broader meaning than could be extracted from any single occasion
(natural event or commemorative rite). Alone, the symbols can only
point ambiguously backwards to unrecognized trauma. But in
combination the symbols will provide a rich profile of the
world-ending catastrophe, accessible to any research willing to
break free from a methodology that sees only fragments and looks to
the fragments to provide their own meaning.
The planet Venus would seem an unlikely candidate for sky-darkening
powers (or for sky-clearing sweeping, for that matter). And yet the
remarkable Mesoamerican association of Venus with the eclipse has
been documented by the vigorous research of Ev Cochrane. Like most
ancient peoples, the Maya considered eclipses of the sun to be a
time of dire peril, Cochrane writes.
It was commonly believed, in
fact, that the world might end during a solar eclipse. In the
eclipse tables contained within the Dresden Codex, an eclipse is
symbolized by the figure of a dragon descending from the glyph of
On the relationship of the eclipse-dragon to Venus, Cochrane gives
us the verdict of the eminent Mayan scholar, Sir Eric Thompson:
The head of the monster is hidden by a large glyph of the planet
Venus. One is instantly reminded of the Aztec belief that during
eclipses the monsters called Tzitzimime or Tzontemoc (head down)
plunged earthwards from the sky. These monsters include
Tlauizcalpanteculti, the god of Venus as morning star. It is
therefore highly probable that the picture represents a Tzitzimitl
plunging head down toward earth during the darkness of an eclipse.
glyph immediately above the picture appears to confirm this
identification, for it shows the glyph of Venus with a prefix which
is a picture of a person placed upside down.
A remote star could darken the entire sky? Here we see, in a clear
profile, the dilemma for conventional study.
Under the standard
approach to this subject, the images are far too incredible to have
any foundation in natural experience. Hence, they must be entirely
fanciful. Hence, any attempt to see natural experience in these
hieroglyphs would be preposterous.
That is the fundamental circular reasoning on which modern
understanding of myth and symbol has been constructed. As a result,
the patterns suggesting deeper levels of coherence are not even
noticed. What could never be is of no interest.
So we do not realize
that the fears of the darkness speak with one voice for a collective
memory, that the later symbols of this fear were but shadows cast by
a far greater terror, when the whole sky became the theater for the
twilight of the gods.
RITES OF SACRIFICE
Both the Aztecs and Maya are known to have practiced sacrifice on a
horrendous scale, in intimate correspondence with the gods.
the gods and heroes of former times, the priests performed rites
ordained by these divine ancestors, with a meticulous reverence for
the way things happened in ancestral times (the age of the gods).
Critical events in the gods' own lives provided the ritual drama,
and in these biographical rituals, sacrifice was usually the central
In the Mesoamerican world view, it was a sacrifice of cosmic
proportions that preceded the dawning of the present world age. As
noted by Carrasco, the role of cosmic sacrifice in regenerating the
world was at the basis of the extraordinary practice of bloodletting
and sacrifice throughout Mesoamerica.
The present age was created out of the sacrifice of a large number
of deities in Teotihuacan, or elsewhere, depending on the tradition.
It was believed that this age would end in earthquakes and famine.
What is clear is that cosmic order is achieved in the Aztec universe
out of conflict, sacrifice, and the death of humans and gods.
In addition to the calendrically ordained sacrifices, there were
many other occasions on which the gods themselves seemed to call for
For minor challenges in the course of daily life,
offerings of food or ornaments might be sufficient, but in times of
greater common need, particularly when the kingdom was beset by
drought, or hurricanes, or plagues of locusts, the gods called for
It is through sacrifice that two realms of time, the time of the
gods and the time of humans, are linked together and renewed, states
Carrasco. But why did sacrifice fulfill the divine requirement at
strategic calendar moments, or on occasions of distress? Again, it
is imperative that one distinguish between archetype and symbol.
contexts of the ritual response suggest that a drought was not seen
as a thing in itself but a symbol of the greater drought of the
cosmic night. In the same way, every hurricane became a symbol of
the irresistible cosmic wind that once overcame the world; or a
plague of locusts referred back to the devastating chaos hordes.
A symbol is a reflection of some aspect of a prior experience.
such it does not, on its own, disclose the full character of that
experience. Thus the researcher, to gain any sense of the true
reference, must draw upon patterns revealed through the conjunction
of symbols. Under the conventional analysis, however, the regional
drought or the regional hurricane is the worst thing the analyst can
imagine, so there is no prior reference for the symbol, only the
Students of the culture are left, therefore, with a
madhouse of symbols and meaningless, unexplained, barbaric practices
and superstitions. Here, the ritual sacrifice does not mean anything
because it has no discernible relationship to the events calling for
And yet, the mythical context of sacrifice leaves no question as to
a connection. When the creator-king Quetzalcoatl died, his heart was
removed from him. The primeval sacrifice, in the various traditions,
occurred at a time of cosmic upheaval, of great wind and drought, of
darkness, earthquake and flood, with the god's own heart the smoking
star presiding over the regeneration of the world.
speaking, the rites of sacrifice came into being through the
critical events in the life, the death and the transformation of the
Why, then, did a drought or plague call forth a sacrifice?
the sacrificial rites replayed, on a microcosmic scale, the
overarching celestial drama, honoring the gods through remembrance,
and repeating the events of a divine ordeal and resolution.
Removal of the heart in sacrifice
The followers of Quetzalcoatl, as noted by Carrasco, insisted that
all ceremonies and rites, building temples and altars imitated the
ways of that holy man.
That is what the Aztecs meant by the repeated
statement that Quetzalcoatl was the exemplary king, the model upon
which kingship arose. And more than one sacrificial rite served to
mirror essential episodes in the god's life and death. Citing a
native informant, Duran summarizes a commemorative ritual involving
a mock king, a captured enemy warrior chosen for his beauty and
physical perfection and dressed in the attire of the founding king
For 40 days this human symbol of Quetzalcoatl was honored
in feasts and celebration. This living man was bought to represent
the god for forty days, and he was served and revered as such, Duran
writes. At the conclusion of his reign, and with great ceremony, the
assistants to the officiating priest laid the mock king on the
Then the priest, with a crude stone knife, tore
his heart from his body.
Removal of the heart was, in fact, the most common form of human
sacrifice throughout Mesoamerica, a recurring pattern recalling a
celestial power's own sacrifice in the age of the gods.
Interestingly, the officiating priests at the Templo Mayor bore the
name quequetzalcoa, after Quetzalcoatl himself suggesting that
priest and sacrificial victim were, in their respective capacities,
representing one and the same cosmic power.
In the common pattern of the sacrifice, when the priest tore the
heart from the victim, he raised it, still steaming, before the sun
the sacred steam of the removed heart offering a poignant reminder
of the smoking heart of the great god himself.
The high priest then
opened the chest and with amazing swiftness tore out the heart,
ripping it out with his own hands. Thus steaming, the heart was
lifted toward the sun, and the fumes were offered up to the sun.
Or again, they opened his chest and took out the heart, and holding
it up, they presented it to the Sun until its steam had cooled.
Then, as if to re-play the mythic flight of the heart-soul, the
priest turned and flung the heart toward the image of the god.
Aztec sacrifice as removal of the heart,
with emerging plumes
The steam of the removed heart thus stood in symbolic correspondence
with the plumes of the transformed heart-soul as plumed star, and
with the smoke of the heart-soul as smoking star.
In Figure 10 we
see the Aztec priest raising the removed heart of the victim, with
the steam rising before the sun.
In figure 11 it is rather the
plumes that rise from the heart. But other contexts involve a
smoking heart. In a widespread ritual counterpart to human
sacrifice, the celebrants formed a model of the heart from copal or pom, a resin derived from the copal tree, and set it burning as
The dark smoke rising from the ritual heart thus provided a
vivid reminder of Quetzalcoatl's burning heart-soul, the smoking
star Venus. A conjunction of three symbols steaming heart, plumed
heart and smoking heart meaningless in themselves, derives a
self-evident and spectacular significance when referred to the
celestial prototype, the ascending, comet-like heart-soul of
The relentless practice of human sacrifice in every well-documented
Mesoamerican culture, a source of horror to the conquering
Spaniards, can produce great ambivalence in the treatments by
historians, archaeologists and ethnologists. But what is really
missing is the sense of context. How did such a widespread practice
come to rule an entire civilization?
Seeing the role of collective
apprehension will bring the dark and fearful motives into the light
of day, for the ceaseless acts of remembering and bargaining with
the gods do become intelligible when referred to a world-shattering
In sacrifice the practitioners remembered and nourished the gods,
and the two aspects of the practice seemed to go hand in hand,
fueled by the memory of the all-devouring, smoking star. Why were
the Aztecs so deeply concerned about where and when Venus might
appear to reverse their fortunes (Aveni's words)? Why was sacrifice
so frequently regulated by the rising of Venus?
Sahagun tells us
that Captives were slain when it emerged that it might be nourished.
They sprinkled blood toward it, flipping the middle finger from the
thumb, they cast the blood as an offering.
Seen from one vantage point, there is only meaninglessness in these
rampant practices, by which whole nations responded to uncertainties
large and small.
Seen from another, there is the long shadow of
celestial terror, when planets did move out of control and affect
the fate of mankind.
VENUS AND HOLY WAR
A powerful conjunction of Venus symbolism and comet symbolism will
be seen in the vast tribal wars and conquests that fed the growth of
empires in Mesoamerica a conjunction that will only grow in
significance as we find the same nexus of symbols in other major
cultures as well.
Around the world, comets were seen as harbingers of devastating
invasion, war, and conquest. A comet, according to the Chinese,
could mean that there are uprisings and war continues for several
years. When a comet travels into the Constellation Taurus, in the
middle of the double month, blood is shed [and] dead bodies lie on
the ground. Within three years the emperor dies and the country is
The Roman poet Tibullus cites the comet as the evil sign of war.
Pliny, treating comets in his Natural History, tells us they bring
war and commotion, while the Greek mathematician and astronomer
Ptolemy associates them with foreign invasion. The third century
Christian writer Origen saw the comet as heralding war and the
collapse of dynasties.
Centuries later (1011), Byrhtferth's Manual
lists war as one of the disastrous effects of a comet's appearance.
The extraordinary power of the mythic tradition will explain why
many of early history's most brutal wars had affixed to them the
appearance of a comet, even in cases in which the actual arrival of
a comet may be in doubt.
A comet and shooting stars are said to have
appeared before the battle of Pharsalus in central Greece, heralding
Caesar's defeat of Pompey. Josephus mentions in his History of the
Jews that a comet in the form of a sword hung over Jerusalem for a
whole year, foretelling the destruction of the city in the reign of
the Emperor Vespasian.
The belief persisted into medieval and later ages, writes Theodor Gaster. A comet heralded the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066.
Disasters suffered by the Christians at the hands of the Turks in
1456 were popularly attributed to the appearance of a comet.
In 1456 a comet described as having a fan-shaped tail like that of a
peacock is said to have stretched across half the sky. With the
Turkish army at the gates of Belgrade, Pope Calixtus III feared a
domino effect from a Mohammedan victory. Thus a Vatican historian
A hairy and fiery starmade [an] appearance for several days, [and]
mathematicians declared that there would follow great calamity.
Calixtus [ordered] prayers, beseeching God that if this meant
impending evils for mankind, God would turn them all upon the Turks,
the enemies of Christendom.
The Zulu of South Africa also say that a comet brings war.
The same portentous significance of the comet seems to have
prevailed in the Americas. In 1835, the warrior-chief Osecola,
leader of the Seminole tribe in Florida, saw an appearance of
Halley's Comet as an omen, and called on his people to launch a war
against white settlers. The Seminoles overwhelmed the army garrison
at Fort King and killed every last soldier. Osecola personally
scalped the fort's commander, General Wiley Thompson.
In the light of the general tradition, the retrospective accounts of
Mesoamerican chroniclers, remembering that a comet preceded the
Spanish invasion, take on greater meaning for us.
The motif is
strikingly familiar in an Aztec poem:
I foresaw, being a Mexican, that our rule began to be destroyed,
I went forth weeping that it was to bow down and be destroyed.
Let me not be angry that the grandeur of Mexico is to be destroyed.
The smoking stars gather together against it.
One of the principles I intend to establish in this series of
articles is that, in the earlier expressions of comet imagery, the
fiery star did not just herald war; it was itself an active agent of
Originally, the flaming sphere of the comet is
hurled into the midst of a great conflagration in the sky. Of course
the peaceful celestial visitors of a later age could never achieve
the violent role of the prototype, and over time this would only
accentuate the distance between archetype and symbol.
Originally, the comet shook heaven and earth, summoning celestial
armies and inspiring a clash of opposing forces in the sky. Latin
poets seemed to have remembered the tradition well when, on the
death of Caesar, they sought to portray a recurrence of the
world-threatening tempest. When Caesar died, Virgil recounted, the
sun veiled his shining face and an evil age dreaded eternal night.
Then Germany heard the clash of armor fill the sky; the Alps quaked
with unwonted shocks. Moreover a voice was heard of many among
silent groves, crying aloud, and phantoms pallid in wonderful wise
were seen when night was dim Never elsewhere did more lightnings
fall from clear skies, or ghastly comets so often blaze.
The poet is
here asking history to accommodate a more ancient tradition, in
which the clash of armor, the cries of heaven, the appearance of
phantoms (as in the Mexican counterpart), and the bursts of
lightning all accompanied the appearance of the Great Comet and its
retinue, the chaos hordes.
Of an ancient tradition that Athens was decimated by a comet, the
poet Manilius recorded
Such are the disasters which the glowing comets oft proclaim. Death
comes with these celestial torches, which threaten earth with the
blaze of pyres unceasing, since heaven and nature's self are
stricken and seem doomed to share men's tomb. Wars, too, the fires
portend, and sudden insurrection, and arms uplifted in stealthy
When, in their wars with barbarous Germany, the enemy made away with
the Roman commander Varus, the poet was quick to assert the comet's
presence; for it is the archetype (Great Comet) that grants meaning
to the symbol (devastating war).
Then did menacing lights burn in
every quarter of the skies; nature herself waged war with fire
marshaling her forces against us and threatening our destruction.
That the great wars of early civilizations had a ritual character
and purpose is often stated, though the connection with remembered
tumult in the sky is rarely confronted. One of the underlying
attributes of ritual is its commemorative function repeating
exemplary actions originally performed by gods and celestial heroes,
and cataclysmic moments in the biographies of the gods.
was announced repeatedly by the warrior kings, who saw themselves as
extending the glory of the ancestral gods.
The gods desired that
their deeds be remembered. Remembering through re-enactment was thus
the essential nature of ritual combat. It is significant, therefore,
that the great wars of early nations, in their ritualistic aspect,
involved a deliberate repetition of great noise and havoc, endlessly
blended with the motives of sacrifice, since in the general mythic
tradition sacrifice and war belong to one and the same cosmic
In Olmec times, according to Carrasco, war was the place where the
'where feathered war bonnets heave about like foam in
The original reference is not to a terrestrial
engagement but to the contest of the gods, in which jaguar warriors
(including Quetzalcoatl's jaguar form) engaged each other on the
The great havoc of that conflagration meant
nothing other than the frightful sights and sounds of the cosmic
night, the occasion of the god king's own sacrifice and the letting
loose of the chaos-powers.
The model for both the ritual war and the closely related
sacrificial rites was the life of the great initiate Quetzalcoatl,
as duly noted by Carrasco.
Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was born into a
world of war. According to many primary sources the gods were
periodically at war with one another during the mythic erasIn the
vivid creation story of the Historia de los Mexicanos por Sus
Pinturas, the gods created the Chichimec people in order to gain
sacrificial blood through human warfare and the ritual sacrifice of
captive warriors. Remembrance through repetition thus honored and
satisfied the gods, because it acknowledged and glorified the
ordeals of the gods.
There is an interesting battlefield account by the Spanish soldier
Bernal D'az del Castillo, depicting a scene in the wake of a Spanish
retreat near the Great Temple. A number of Spanish soldiers had been
captured alive during the engagement, and the chronicler gazed back
at the ensuing spectacle.
There was sounded the dismal drum of Huichilobos and many other
shells and horns and things like trumpets and the sound of them was
terrifying, and we all looked toward the lofty Pyramid where they
were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured
when they defeated Corts were being carried by force up the steps,
and they were taking them to be sacrificed.
Sacrifice and war here merge as overlapping symbols, together with
the terrifying sounds of a more ancient holocaust. Through sacrifice
and war the divine ordeals were re-lived and the nation brought into
more intimate correspondence with the gods, thus animating the gods
According to Duran, the Aztec priests periodically
approached the rulers, telling them that the gods were famished and
wished to be remembered. The rulers then consulted among themselves
regarding the hunger of the gods, and told their neighbors, the Tlaxcalans, to prepare for war clearly a ritual occasion with agreed
groundrules and calendar.
When the men were placed in formation and
the troops set in order, the squadrons departed toward the plains of Tepepulco, where the armies met. The whole contest, the entire
battle, was a struggle whose aim it was to capture prisoners for
At the risk of redundancy, we must emphasize again the necessary
distinction between archetype and symbol. The challenge to the
investigator is this: the gods demanded sacrifice and remembrance,
but the prevailing theoretical framework does not provide a prior
event to give sense to the idea. What had occurred, in the age of
the gods, that the gods asked mankind not to forget?
According to Floyd Lounsbury, one of the most respected authorities
on Mayan religion, the warrior kings synchronized their wars to the
movements of Venus.
The point is stated more than once by Linda Schele:
the appearance of Venus after superior conjunction, when
Venus passes behind the sun and disappears from view, was often the
occasion of war between Maya cites.
Thus the Maya kings believed that Venus played a tremendous role in
war, and it appears that they invoked its assistance, looking for
the day augured by Venus as appropriate for battle.
But is this not
the very role of the comet in the universal lexicon?
Archaeoastronomers have come to call the bloody wars sanctioned by
Venus the Star War events, a fitting title, since the Venus-dragon
was the great weapon by which the chaos powers were defeated. Citing
studies by leading Mayan experts, Carlson notes that the Maya
conducted certain battles, raids or martial contests timed for
significant stations in the Venus cycle, such as first appearances
as Morning Star and Evening Star.
Thus the Star War events were
What is there about the speck of light we call Venus that could
account for this power over war and warriors? And is it only a
coincidence again that Venus, as herald of war, stands in complete
alignment with the comet as herald of war?
My intent in this series
of articles will be not just to demonstrate the full convergence of cometary symbols on Venus, but to unveil that planet's original
character as the Great Comet, when it was nothing less than the
celestial tempest itself.
SWEEPING AWAY THE NIGHT
Discerning the relationship of archetype and symbol is particularly
crucial when the symbol, in its familiar associations in daily life,
does not convey the extraordinary power of the archetype, the
original experience from which the symbol takes its meaning.
that relationship in view, the symbol can only appear random and
A recurring symbol among the Aztecs is that of the broom, seemingly
an emblem so far removed from our subject as to have no place in
this analysis. Yet since the symbol does recur in ritual contexts of
darkness and upheaval, it begs for an interpretation.
The broom plays a part, for example, in defining the character of
Cihuacoatl, or Woman Snake, the chief advisor to the Aztec ruler, a
figure standing in close but enigmatic association with both the
horrifying serpentine goddess Coatlicue and the broadly revered
mother goddess Toci.
Strangely, Cihuacoatl's relationships and
symbols suggest two extremes, with no intelligible bridge between
them. In her most familiar role, she offers a reminder of domestic
responsibilities (she holds a broom and was remembered in the daily
sweeping of the household shrine); but she was equally at home as
the goddess of Terrible Aspect, the man-eating mistress of chaos.
We must remember what Mircea Eliade and other perceptive students of
comparative religion have taught us about the motives of myth and
ritual. Inherent in the idea of correspondence with the gods was the
idea of sacred moments, sacred domains, and sacred gestures,
distinguished from the insignificant and profane by their connection
with the great events and deeds of the gods.
And the principle
applied at all levels of activity, not just the publicly visible
centers of collective ritual. Every household had its sacred aspect,
as did the kingdom.
Women had care of the household shrines, and the presentation of the
little broom at birth signaled their sacred responsibility to keep
the home zone well swept, and so free from potentially dangerous
contamination, writes Inga Clendinnen. In this single statement lies
the key the relationship of macrocosm and microcosm.
contamination operates at all levels and draws its meaning from the
epoch of gods and heroes.
It may be hard for many of us today to fully appreciate that the
morning sweeping of the household shrine was a commemorative
occasion, the sweeping away of the darkness. The disorder, the
gathered dust and debris, received its ritual significance from the
cosmic night. And this elementary symbolic relationship is the
missing bridge between the domestic goddess and the all-devouring,
raging hag with disheveled hair, rushing across the sky with broom
in hand, pursuing the chaos hordes, sweeping away the celestial
debris of the world-ending cataclysm.
Every household was an
extension of the sacred order defined in ancestral times. In each
household was thus kept the sacred fire, symbol of the animating
light of heaven, ritualistically extinguished at the end of every
52-year world cycle, then re-ignited with the dawn of the new cycle.
Every 52 years, the household re-lived a cosmic disaster.
subsequent morning, as a symbol of the same events, the
ritually-ordained sweeping occurred, to the sounds of a beating drum
this drumbeat signifying the voice of Ehecatl, the Dawn Bringer,
avatar of Quetzalcoatl. In the words, of Jacques Soustelle, The
morning star shines with the brilliance of a gem and to greet it the
wooden gongs beat on the temple-tops and the conchs wail.
was thus an echo of the cosmic morning when the world was set in
order after the great cataclysm.
In ritual symbolism, matters of degree and scale cannot change
original meanings. Goddess, broom, sweeping, drumbeat the clearing
of the cosmic night was remembered with each dawn of day. The holder
of the household broom, therefore, fills the symbolic role of the
goddess. And though broom and celestial conflagration may not seem
compatible, the mythical memory does place them side by side.
to the broom-goddess celebrates Cihuacoatl
plumed with eagle feathers, with the crest of eagles, painted with
serpents blood with a broom in her hands goddess of drum beating. She
is our mother, a goddess of war, our mother a goddess of war, an
example and a companion from the home of our ancestors She comes
forth, she appears when war is waged, she protects us in war that we
shall not be destroyed She comes adorned in the ancient manner with
the eagle crest.
The hymn makes our point for us. The goddess is the example the
exemplary figure to which the sweeping rites refer us. The symbols
of disaster, of war and of drum beating combine with those of the
broom and of protection.
A goddess who appears when war is waged has a now-familiar sound.
That is precisely the mythical role of the comet, and precisely the
role of Venus in Mesoamerican astrology. It seems as if the
commentators have failed to notice that a broom or whisk, be it
constituted from straw or feathers, is a cometary symbol. (See our
brief list supplementing the five major comet symbols.)
A bundle of
straw is an old European symbol of the comet.
As we will discover
also in our discussion of the world-destroying hag, the famous
flying broom of the European witch stands beside the witch's
disheveled, flaming hair and her serpent-dragon apotheosis as a cometary image.
And most interestingly, in China comets were above
all else remembered as brooms sweeping away one kingdom (world age)
and introducing a new order the very function of the broom in the
ritual re-enactments of the cosmic night in Mesoamerica.
In fact, the broom plays a symbolically crucial role in more than
one Aztec rite. A major celebration of the mother goddess Toci fell
on the sixteenth of September, which was also a special day in the
calendar of world ages. The name of the feast was Ochpaniztli, which
means Sweeping of the Roads. The chronicler Duran calls it the Feast
The feast, as reported by Duran, was marked by human
sacrifice, terrible commotion and feigned skirmishes in which the
goddess Toci herself symbolically participated. In the ritual
celebration, the goddess was personified by a warrior who, donning
the skin of a sacrificed female victim and armed with a broom,
pursued a chaotic mob of warriors.
At her descent (i.e., the descent
of the impersonator), and in response to the moans of Toci, the
earth moved and quaked at that moment. (Remember the moans in the
air when Caesar died, his soul to rise as a comet above the quaking
Hearing this report Duran was highly incredulous.
I tried to investigate this and attempted to laugh off and mock this
absurd belief. But I was assured that this part, this area of the
temple, trembled and shook at that moment. Imagination may have
served them well in this case, and the devil, always present,
undoubtedly aided the imagination.
Such is the power of archetypes. The commotion in the sky, moaning
heavens, quaking earth, goddess with a broom pursuing the hordes of
In these rites, the sky-darkening hordes themselves were personified
by warriors armed with brooms and appareled with colored streamers
and plumed ornaments. A bloody fray then took place among them. With
sticks and stones countless men came to the combat and fight,
something awesome to see In such manner was the havoc of the cosmic
night re-enacted every year.
The harsh sounds, the great din of
clashing arms, the comet-like brooms and streamers of the unleashed
mobs themselves a dramatic personification of the ancient rebel
powers all accented by hurled stones and debris.
Could one concoct a
more vivid portrait of the remembered cosmic upheaval terminating a
former world age? A cometary disaster, involving vast armies of
swarming debris in the vicinity of earth, pitted against the parent
of comets, the dragon-like Venus sweeping away the cosmic night,
would provide us with a Velikovskian scenario par excellence.
Inga Clendinnen, in her book Aztecs, has given us an intensely
dramatic account of the sweeping festival and its key ritual
components, noting again and again the role of darkness and terror,
and emphasizing the paradox of the domestic goddess hurled into a
fray with the best warriors of the city.
These men, who scorned to
turn their back in battle, fled through the dark streets as Toci and
her followers pursued them with brooms, the' domestic' female symbol
par excellence, speaking of the tireless cleansing of the human
zone, but now sodden with human blood. It was Toci herself, in her
paper regalia and her great bannered headdress and her symbolic
broom, who inaugurated the ritual slaying of captives.
confronted the warrior-mob again, driving them ahead of her with war
cries and her broom, the hordes scattering as she chased them, until Toci was alone and victorious, having swept away the warriors of
darkness triumphant as the pitiless mistress of war, insatiable
eater of men.
The great sweeping festival, says Clendinnen, was a brilliantly
constructed horror event, in its abrupt changes of pace and its
teasing of the imagination through the exploitation of darkness.
Here we see the image of the women's broom dipped into human blood
and so become a weapon of terror, before which warriors famed for
their courage were driven like leaves. A paradox indeed! The broom
wielded as a weapon of terror. But let us be clear on this: as a
broom, it instills no fear, but as an acknowledged hieroglyph for
the comet, the terrifying weapon hurled against the rebels of the
cosmic night, the paradox dissolves before our eyes.
Duran tells us that on the day of the feast to Toci, the people
swept their houses and pathways, guided by some ancient belief he is
unable to illuminate. Significantly, community roads and highways
were also swept on this day, according to Duran, particularly the
road passing by the shrine to the goddess Toci.
The feast itself, as
we have noted, was called The Sweeping of the Roads, and this too is
a key, for it enables us to complete the circle with respect to the
sweeping rites. In Evon Vogt's book Zinacantan, the author gives a
poetic tale from the Highlands of Chiapas concerning the planet
It seems that the people remember Venus as a girl with a
broom, for the folk tale describes the Morning Star (Venus), who is
believed to have been a Chamula girl transformed into a Sweeper of
the Path' for the Sun. It is the astronomical association, then the
connection with celestial sweeping, the clearing of the way for the
new sun or world age that finds the planet Venus in the very guise
we should expect.
Even in the wake of vast cultural evolution and
fragmentation, the nations of Mesoamerica kept alive the ancient
link of Great Comet and planet Venus, in the symbolic character of
the girl and her broom.
CONCLUSION, PART I
In this first installment of an extended series, we have asked
whether Immanuel Velikovsky's comet Venus is supported by
Mesoamerican evidence, cross-referenced with more general traditions
about comets in other cultures.
We find that, to a stunning extent,
the acknowledged symbols or hieroglyphs for the comet stand in an
unexplained conjunction with the planet Venus in Mesoamerica. Not
only the five most frequently-occurring hieroglyphs for the comet,
but virtually all of the variations on these symbols are attached to
each other and to the planet Venus.
Additionally we find that the deepest fears of Mesoamerican culture
turn out to be the fears which ancient astronomies consistently
associated with the arrival of the comet: the end of the world,
death of kings, overwhelming wars, plague, pestilence, drought. What
explains these fears is the myth of the ancient god-king the founder
of the kingship rites whose death brought a former world age to a
catastrophic close, and whose soul took flight as a comet-like star,
identified enigmatically with the planet Venus.
And thus did the
stargazers, in their most visible expressions of the culture-wide
fear their calendars of world ages, their responses to unexpected
disruptions of natural cycles (eclipses, etc.), their ritual
sacrifices, their relentless holy wars, and their commemorative
festivals and rites, look to Venus as the cause or sign of the very
disorder that world myth ascribes to the Great Comet of primeval
In the course of this review, I have suggested more than once that
an entirely new approach to ancient myth and religion is warranted.
Early man's preoccupation with the mythical age of the gods reflects
an ancient, celestial source for the collective anxiety. But if this
is true, then nothing could do more to obstruct meaningful insight
than the modern belief that the great civilizations of the past
oriented themselves to a sky almost exactly like our sky today.
evidence on behalf of an unfamiliar sky is both massive and
compelling. But to appreciate even the first levels of that evidence
one must break free from the trance of prior teaching and beliefs
Only then will evidence be seen as such, rather than as a witness to
the absurdity and contradictions of the first star worshippers.
Our proposed Great Comet Venus takes us beyond
generally-acknowledged comet symbolism. It says that, by virtue of
its history (Venus eventually shed its cometary tail and settled
into a peaceful orbit), the symbolism of the Great Comet fragmented
into two primary streams: one relating to the periodic cometary
visitor, the other relating to the planet Venus.
systematic, empirical astronomy kept alive the Great Comet's
connection with Venus, the cometary symbols should pervade the
culture's images of the planet. If the thesis is correct, it could
not have been otherwise. So we are not surprised to find in Mexico
the five universal glyphs of the comet attached to Venus.
It should not surprise us either that the planet Venus was, in a
hundred different ways, the regulator of the fate of kings and
kingdoms in Mexico.
The Great Comet did determine the fate of the
king's celestial prototype, the god-king remembered by every ancient
civilization as the first in the line of kings. A compelling logic
will thus be seen in the role of Venus in regulating the cosmic
cycles, ordaining great festivals commemorating the age of the gods,
sending the kingdom's strongest men to war, and sending the victims
of war to the sacrificial stone.
And even in the tempered rituals of
daily life, the keeping of the sacred fire, the morning sweeping of
the shrine (and other rites too numerous to mention here), one
discerns the ever-present memory of a world falling into confusion,
but rising again to the drumbeat of the Dawn Bringer.
When Bob Forrest said that he could find no direct historical
reference to the Venus-comet, I believe he spoke from conviction.
But since the language of myth was the language of the first
civilizations, every civilization fails Forrest's test. There are no
direct historical references to the age of the gods, because that
age precedes historical chronicles.
Did the events suggested by
consistent mythical expression and ritual acts of remembering
Given the nature of the language involved, the sheer
scale of evidence is stunning; and one wonders how the Mexican star
worshippers were supposed to have told us something more about the
catastrophes, without a crash course in the King's English, or
astronomy lessons from
Thus the imperative need for cross-referencing when taking up such
issues. No approach that isolates each evidential fragment,
explaining away that fragment without explaining parallels and
converging cometary images, can remove the Venus-comet issue, and in
this sense Forrest's analysis breaks down completely with the very
first instance cited.
My intent in this series is to demonstrate
with more than sufficient evidence that the comet Venus is a global
myth, and the one credible explanation of the myth is that Venus did
look like a comet that it did participate in literally earthshaking
events, not all that long ago.
One only has to follow the evidence
to know that this is so.
It will be useful in our next installment to look at a few
additional Mesoamerican symbols linked to the planet Venus symbols
that are not generally connected to comets, but which can be brought
to light through a cometary interpretation.
We will then begin an
excursion into ancient Mesopotamian myth and religion, finding a
symbolic resonance with the dominant religious motifs of
And here, where was born the world's first astronomy,
we will encounter once more the planet Venus, wearing the full dress
of the Great Comet.