The Sun and the Moon and the Way of the Dead
Some archaeological discoveries are heralded with much fanfare;
others, for various reasons, are not. Among this latter category
must be included the thick and extensive layer of sheet mica found
sandwiched between two of the upper levels of the Teotihuacan
Pyramid of the Sun when it was being probed for restoration in 1906.
The lack of interest which greeted this discovery, and the absence
of any follow-up studies to determine its possible function is quite
understandable because the mica, which had a considerable commercial
value, was removed and sold as soon as it had been excavated. The
culprit was apparently Leopoldo Bartres, who had been commissioned
to restore the time-worn pyramid by the Mexican government.1
There has also been a much more recent discovery of mica at Teotihuacan (in the ‘Mica Temple’) and this too has passed almost
without notice. Here the reason is harder to explain because there
has been no looting and the mica remains on site.2
One of a group of buildings, the Mica Temple is situated around a
patio about 1000 feet south of the west face of the Pyramid of the
Sun. Directly under a floor paved with heavy rock slabs,
archaeologists financed by the Viking Foundation excavated two
massive sheets of mica which had been carefully and purposively
installed at some extremely remote date by a people who must have
been skilled in cutting and handling this material. The sheets are
ninety feet square and form two layers, one laid directly on top of
Mica is not a uniform substance but contains trace elements of
different metals depending on the kind of rock formation in which it
is found. Typically these metals include potassium and aluminum and
also, in varying quantities, ferrous and ferric iron, magnesium,
lithium, manganese and titanium. The trace elements in Teotihuacan’s
Mica Temple indicate that the underfloor sheets belong to a type
which occurs only in Brazil, some 2000 miles away.4
therefore, the builders of the Temple must have had a specific need
for this particular kind of mica and were prepared to go to
considerable lengths to obtain it, otherwise they could have used
the locally available variety more cheaply and simply.
1 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 202.
2 Ibid. The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.
3 The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.
4 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8:90, and The Lost Realms, p. 53.
Mica does not leap to mind as an obvious general-purpose flooring
material. Its use to form layers underneath a floor, and thus
completely out of sight, seems especially bizarre when we remember
that no other ancient structure in the Americas, or anywhere else in
the world, has been found to contain a feature like this.5
It is frustrating that we will never be able to establish the exact
position, let alone the purpose, of the large sheet that Bartres
excavated and removed from the Pyramid of the Sun in 1906. The two
intact layers in the Mica Temple, on the other hand, resting as they
do in a place where they had no decorative function, look as though
they were designed to do a particular job.
Let us note in passing
that mica possesses characteristics which suit it especially well
for a range of technological applications. In modern industry, it is
used in the construction of capacitors and is valued as a thermal
and electric insulator. It is also opaque to fast neutrons and can
act as a moderator in nuclear reactions.
Erasing messages from the past
Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan
Having climbed more than 200 feet up a series of flights of stone
stairs I reached the summit and looked towards the zenith. It was
midday 19 May, and the sun was directly overhead, as it would be
again on 25 July. On these two dates, and not by accident, the west
face of the pyramid was oriented precisely to the position of the
A more curious but equally deliberate effect could be observed on
the equinoxes, 20 March and 22 September. Then the passage of the
sun’s rays from south to north resulted at noon in the progressive
obliteration of a perfectly straight shadow that ran along one of
the lower stages of the western façade. The whole process, from
complete shadow to complete illumination, took exactly 66.6 seconds.
It had done so without fail, year-in year-out, ever since the
pyramid had been built and would continue to do so until the giant
edifice crumbled into dust.7
5 The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.
6 Mexico: Rough Guide, p. 217.
7 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 252.
What this meant, of course, was that at least one of the many
functions of the pyramid had been to serve as a ‘perennial clock’,
precisely signalling the equinoxes and thus facilitating calendar
corrections as and when necessary for a people apparently obsessed,
like the Maya, with the elapse and measuring of time. Another
implication was that the master-builders of Teotihuacan must have
possessed an enormous body of astronomic and geodetic data and
referred to this data to set the Sun Pyramid at the precise
orientation necessary to achieve the desired equinoctial effects.
This was planning and architecture of a high order. It had survived
the passage of the millennia and it had survived the wholesale
remodelling of much of the pyramid’s outer shell conducted in the
first decade of the twentieth century by the self-styled restorer,
Leopoldo Bartres. In addition to plundering precious evidence that
might have helped us towards a better understanding of the purposes
for which the enigmatic structure had been built, this repulsive
lackey of Mexico’s corrupt dictator Porfirio Diaz had removed the
outer layer of stone, mortar and plaster to a depth of more than
twenty feet from the entire northern, eastern and southern faces.
The result was catastrophic: the underlying adobe surface began to
dissolve in heavy rains and to exhibit plastic flow which threatened
to destroy the whole edifice. Although the slippage was halted with
hasty remedial measures, nothing could change the fact that the Sun
Pyramid had been deprived of almost all its original surface
By modern archaeological standards this was, of course, an
unforgivable act of desecration. Because of it, we will never learn
the significance of the many sculptures, inscriptions, reliefs and
artifacts that had almost certainly been removed with those twenty
feet of the outer shell. Nor was this the only or even the most
regrettable consequence of Bartres’s grotesque vandalism. There was
startling evidence which suggested that the unknown architects of
the Pyramid of the Sun might have intentionally incorporated
scientific data into many of the key dimensions of the great
This evidence had been gathered and extrapolated from the
intact west face (which, not accidentally, was also the face where
the intended equinoctial effects could still be seen), but thanks to
Bartres, no similar information was likely to be forthcoming from
the other three faces because of the arbitrary alterations imposed
upon them. Indeed, by drastically distorting the original shape and
size of so much of the pyramid, the Mexican ‘restorer’ had possibly
deprived posterity of some of the most important lessons Teotihuacan
had to teach.
The transcendental number known as pi is fundamental to advanced
mathematics. With a value slightly in excess of 3.14 it is the ratio
of the diameter of a circle to its circumference. In other words if
the diameter of a circle is 12 inches, the circumference of that
circle will be 12 inches x
3.14 = 37.68 inches. Likewise, since the diameter of a circle is
exactly double the radius, we can use pi to calculate the
circumference of any circle from its radius. In this case, however,
the formula is the length of the radius multiplied by 2pi.
illustration let us take again a circle of 12 inches diameter. Its
radius will be 6 inches and its circumference can be obtained as
follows: 6 inches x 2 x 3.14 = 37.68 inches. Similarly a circle with
a radius of 10 inches will have a circumference of 67.8 inches (10
inches x 2 x 3.14) and a circle with a radius of 7 inches will have
a circumference of 43.96 inches (7 inches x 2 x 3.14).
These formulae using the value of pi for calculating circumference
from either diameter or radius apply to all circles, no matter how
large or how small, and also, of course, to all spheres and
hemispheres. They seem relatively simple—with hindsight. Yet their
discovery, which represented a revolutionary breakthrough in
mathematics, is thought to have been made late in human history. The
orthodox view is that Archimedes in the third century BC was the
first man to calculate pi correctly at 3.14.8
Scholars do not accept
that any of the mathematicians of the New World ever got anywhere
near pi before the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth
century. It is therefore disorienting to discover that
Pyramid at Giza (built more than 2000 years before the birth of
Archimedes) and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, which vastly
predates the conquest, both incorporate the value of pi. They do so,
moreover, in much the same way, and in a manner which leaves no
doubt that the ancient builders on both sides of the Atlantic were
thoroughly conversant with this transcendental number.
The principal factors involved in the geometry of any pyramid are
(1) the height of the summit above the ground, and (2) the perimeter
of the monument at ground level. Where the Great Pyramid is
concerned, the ratio between the original height (481.3949 feet9)
and the perimeter (3023.16 feet10) turns out to be the same as the
ratio between the radius and the circumference of a circle, i.e.
Thus, if we take the pyramid’s height and multiply it by 2pi
(as we would with a circle’s radius to calculate its circumference)
we get an accurate read-out of the monument’s perimeter (481.3949
feet 2 x 3.14 = 3023.16 feet). Alternatively, if we turn the
equation around and start with the circumference at ground level, we
get an equally accurate read-out of the height of the summit
(3023.16 feet divided by 2 divided by 3.14 = 481.3949 feet).
Since it is almost inconceivable that such a precise mathematical
correlation could have come about by chance, we are obliged to
conclude that the builders of the Great Pyramid were indeed
conversant with pi and that they deliberately incorporated its value
into the dimensions of their monument.
Now let us consider the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. The angle
of its sides is 43.5° 12 (as opposed to 52° in the case of the Great
The Mexican monument has the gentler slope because the perimeter of
its base, at 2932.8 feet,14 is not much smaller than that of its
Egyptian counterpart while its summit is considerably lower
(approximately 233.5 feet prior to Bartres’s, ‘restoration’15).
8 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9:415.
9 I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids
of Egypt, Penguin, London, 1949, p. 87.
11 Ibid., p. 219.
12 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 55.
13 The Pyramids of
Egypt, pp. 87, 219.
14 The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, p. 74.
15 Mexico, p. 201; The
Atlas of Mysterious Places, p. 156.
The 2pi formula that worked at the Great Pyramid does not work with
these measurements. A 4pi formula does. Thus if we take the height
of the Pyramid of the Sun (233.5 feet) and multiply it by 4pi we
once again obtain a very accurate read-out of the perimeter: 233.5
feet x 4 x 3.14 = 2932.76 feet (a discrepancy of less than half an
inch from the true figure of 2932.8 feet).
This, surely, can no more be a coincidence than the pi relationship
extrapolated from the dimensions of the Egyptian monument. Moreover,
the very fact that both structures incorporate pi relationships
(when none of the other pyramids on either side of the Atlantic
does) strongly suggests not only the existence of advanced
mathematical knowledge in antiquity but some sort of underlying
The height of the Pyramid of the Sun x 4pi = the perimeter of its
base. The height of the Great Pyramid at Giza x 2pi = the perimeter
of its base.
As we have seen the desired height/perimeter ratio of the Great
Pyramid (2pi) called for the specification of a tricky and
idiosyncratic angle of slope for its sides: 52°. Likewise, the
desired height/perimeter ratio of the Pyramid of the Sun (4pi)
called for the specification of an equally eccentric angle of slope:
If there had been no ulterior motive, it would surely have
been simpler for the Ancient Egyptian and Mexican architects to have
opted for 45° (which they could easily have obtained and checked by
bisecting a right angle).
What could have been the common purpose that led the pyramid
builders on both sides of the Atlantic to such lengths to structure
the value of pi so precisely into these two remarkable monuments?
Since there seems to have been no direct contact between the
civilizations of Mexico and Egypt in the periods when the pyramids
were built, is it not reasonable to deduce that both, at some remote
date, inherited certain ideas from a common source?
Is it possible that the shared idea expressed in the Great Pyramid
and the Pyramid of the Sun could have to do with spheres, since
these, like the pyramids, are three-dimensional objects (while
circles, for example, have only two dimensions)?
The desire to
symbolize spheres in three-dimensional monuments with flat surfaces
would explain why so much trouble was taken to ensure that both
incorporated unmistakable pi relationships. Furthermore it seems
likely that the intention of the builders of both of these monuments
was not to symbolize spheres in general but to focus attention on
one sphere in particular: the planet earth.
It will be a long while before orthodox archaeologists are prepared
to accept that some peoples of the ancient world were advanced
enough in science to have possessed good information about the shape
and size of the earth. However, according to the calculations of
Livio Catullo Stecchini, an American professor of the History of
Science and an acknowledged expert on ancient measurement, the
evidence for the existence of such anomalous knowledge in antiquity
Stecchini’s conclusions, which relate mainly to
Egypt, are particularly impressive because they are drawn from
mathematical and astronomical data which, by common consent, are
beyond serious dispute.17
The most accessible presentation of Stecchini’s work is in the
appendix he wrote for Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid,
17 See The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 95.
A fuller examination of these conclusions,
and of the nature of the data on which they rest, is presented in
Part VII. At this point, however, a few words from Stecchini may
shed further light on the mystery that confronts us:
The basic idea of the Great Pyramid was that it should be a
representation of the northern hemisphere of the earth, a hemisphere
projected on flat-surfaces as is done in map-making ... The Great
Pyramid was a projection on four triangular surfaces. The apex
represented the pole and the perimeter represented the equator. This
is the reason why the perimeter is in relation 2pi to the height.
Great Pyramid represents the northern hemisphere in a scale of
1:43,200.18 In Part VII we shall see why this scale was chosen.
Stecchini, in appendix to Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 378. The
perimeter of the Great Pyramid equals exactly one-half minute of
arc—see Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 279.
Rising up ahead of me as I walked towards the northern end of the
Street of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon, mercifully undamaged by
restorers, had kept its original form as a four-stage ziggurat. The
Pyramid of the Sun, too, had consisted of four stages but Bartres
had whimsically sculpted in a fifth stage between the original third
and fourth levels.
There was, however, one original feature of the Pyramid of the Sun
that Bartres had been unable to despoil: a subterranean passageway
leading from a natural cave under the west face. After its
accidental discovery in 1971 this passageway was thoroughly
explored. Seven feet high, it was found to run eastwards for more
than 300 feet until it reached a point close to the pyramid’s
Here it debouched into a second cave, of
spacious dimensions, which had been artificially enlarged into a
shape very similar to that of a four-leaf clover. The ‘leaves’ were
chambers, each about sixty feet in circumference, containing a
variety of artefacts such as beautifully engraved slate discs and
highly polished mirrors. There was also a complex drainage system of
interlocking segments of carved rock pipes.20
19 The Pyramids
of Teotihuacan, p. 20.
20 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, pp.
335-9. 21 Ibid.
This last feature was particularly puzzling because there was no
known source of water within the pyramid.21 The sluices, however,
left little doubt that water must have been present in antiquity,
most probably in large quantities. This brought to mind the evidence
for water having once run in the Street of the Dead, the sluices and
partition walls I had seen earlier to the north of the Citadel, and Schlemmer’s theory of reflecting pools and seismic forecasting.
Indeed, the more I thought about it the more it seemed that water
had been the dominant motif at Teotihuacan. Though I had hardly
registered it that morning, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl had been
decorated not only with effigies of the Plumed Serpent but with
unmistakable aquatic symbolism, notably an undulating design
suggestive of waves and large numbers of beautiful carvings of
With these images in my mind, I reached the wide plaza at
the base of the Pyramid of the Moon and imagined it filled with
water, as it might have been, to a depth of about ten feet. It would
have looked magnificent: majestic, powerful and
Akapana Pyramid in far-off Tiahuanaco had also been surrounded
by water, which had been the dominant motif there—just as I now
found it to be at Teotihuacan.
I began to climb the Pyramid of the Moon. It was smaller than the
Pyramid of the Sun, indeed less than half the size, and was
estimated to be made up of about one million tons of stone and
earth, as against two and a half million tons in the case of the
Pyramid of the Sun. The two monuments, in other words, had a
combined weight of three and a half million tons. It was thought
unlikely that this quantity of material could have been manipulated
by fewer than 15,000 men and it was calculated that such a workforce
would have taken at least thirty years to complete such an enormous
Sufficient labourers would certainly have been available in the
Teotihuacan Mapping Project had demonstrated that the
population of the city in its heyday could have been as large as
200,000, making it a bigger metropolis than Imperial Rome of the
Caesars. The Project had also established that the main monuments
visible today covered just a small part of the overall area of
At its peak the city had extended across more
than twelve square miles and had incorporated some 50,000 individual
dwellings in 2000 apartment compounds, 600 subsidiary pyramids and
temples, and 500 ‘factory’ areas specializing in ceramic, figurine,
lapidary, shell, basalt, slate and ground-stone work.23
22 The Riddle of the Pyramids, pp. 188-93.
The Prehistory of the Americas, p. 281. See also The Cities of
Ancient Mexico, p. 178 and Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, pp.
At the top level of the Pyramid of the Moon I paused and turned
slowly around. Across the valley floor, which sloped gently downhill
to the south, the whole of Teotihuacan now stretched before me—a
geometrical city, designed and built by unknown architects in the
time before history began. In the east, overlooking the
arrow-straight Street of the Dead, loomed the Pyramid of the Sun,
eternally ‘printing out’ the mathematical message it had been
programmed with long ages ago, a message which seemed to direct our
attention to the shape of the earth. It almost looked as though the
civilization that had built Teotihuacan had made a deliberate choice
to encode complex information in enduring monuments and to do it
using a mathematical language.
Why a mathematical language?
Perhaps because, no matter what extreme changes and transformations
human civilization might go through, the radius of a circle
multiplied by 2pi (or half the radius multiplied by 4pi) would
always give the correct figure for that circle’s circumference. In
other words, a mathematical language could have been chosen for
practical reasons: unlike any verbal tongue, such a code could
always be deciphered, even by people from
unrelated cultures living thousands of years in the future.
Not for the first time I felt myself confronted by the dizzying
possibility that an entire episode in the story of mankind might
have been forgotten. Indeed it seemed to me then, as I overlooked
the mathematical city of the gods from the summit of the Pyramid of
the Moon, that our species could have been afflicted with some
terrible amnesia and that the dark period so blithely and
dismissively referred to as ‘prehistory’ might turn out to conceal
unimagined truths about our own past.
What is prehistory, after all, if not a time forgotten—a time for
which we have no records? What is prehistory if not an epoch of
impenetrable obscurity through which our ancestors passed but about
which we have no conscious remembrance? It was out of this epoch of
obscurity, configured in mathematical code along astronomical and
geodetic lines, that Teotihuacan with all its riddles was sent down
And out of that same epoch came the great Olmec sculptures,
the inexplicably precise and accurate calendar the Mayans inherited
from their predecessors, the inscrutable
geoglyphs of Nazca, the
Andean city of Tiahuanaco ... and so many other marvels
of which we do not know the provenance.
It is almost as though we have awakened into the daylight of history
from a long and troubled sleep, and yet continue to be disturbed by
the faint but haunting echoes of our dreams ...
Back to Teotihuacan
The Mystery of the Myths
A Species with Amnesia
Chapter 24 -
Echoes of Our Dreams
In some of the most powerful and enduring myths that we have
inherited from ancient times, our species seems to have retained a
confused but resonant memory of a terrifying global catastrophe.
Where do these myths come from?
Why, though they derive from unrelated cultures, are their
storylines so similar?
Why are they laden with common symbolism?
Why do they so often share the same stock characters and plots?
they are indeed memories, why are there no historical records of the
planetary disaster they seem to refer to?
Could it be that the myths themselves are historical records?
it be that these cunning and immortal stories, composed by anonymous
geniuses, were the medium used to record such information and pass
it on in the time before history began?
And the ark went upon the face of the waters
There was a king, in
ancient Sumer, who sought eternal life. His
name was Gilgamesh. We know of his exploits because the myths and
traditions of Mesopotamia, inscribed in cuneiform script upon
tablets of baked clay, have survived. Many thousands of these
tablets, some dating back to the beginning of the third millennium
BC, have been excavated from the sands of modern Iraq.
a unique picture of a vanished culture and remind us that even in
those days of lofty antiquity human beings preserved memories of
times still more remote—times from which they were separated by the
interval of a great and terrible deluge:
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the
man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the
countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew
secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He
went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning
he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.1
1 The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics, London, 1988, p. 61.
The story that Gilgamesh brought back had been told to him by a
certain Utnapishtim, a king who had ruled thousands of years
earlier, who had survived the great flood, and who had been rewarded
with the gift of immortality because he had preserved the seeds of
humanity and of all living things.
It was long, long ago, said Utnapishtim, when the gods dwelt on
earth: Anu, lord of the firmament, Enlil, the enforcer of divine
goddess of war and sexual love and Ea, lord of the waters, man’s
natural friend and protector.
In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world
bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the
clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council,
‘The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer
possible by reason of the babel.’ So the gods agreed to exterminate
Ea, however, took pity on Utnapishtim. Speaking through the reed
wall of the king’s house he told him of the imminent catastrophe and
instructed him to build a boat in which he and his family could
Tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look
for life, despise wordly goods and save your soul ... Tear down your
house, I say, and build a boat with her dimensions in proportion—her
width and length in harmony. Put aboard the seed of all living
things, into the boat.3
In the nick of time Utnapishtim built the boat as ordered.
into her all that I had,’ he said, ‘loaded her with the seed of all
I put on board all my kith and kin, put on board cattle, wild beasts
from open country, all kinds of craftsmen ... The time was
fulfilled. When the first light of dawn appeared a black cloud came
up from the base of the sky; it thundered within where Adad, lord of
the storm was riding ... A stupor of despair went up to heaven when
the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed
the land like a cup ...
On the first day the tempest blew swiftly and brought the flood ...
No man could see his fellow. Nor could the people be distinguished
from the sky. Even the gods were afraid of the flood. They withdrew;
they went up to the heaven of Anu and crouched in the outskirts. The
gods cowered like curs while Ishtar cried, shrieking aloud, ‘Have I
given birth unto these mine own people only to glut with their
bodies the sea as though they were fish?’ 4
2 Ibid., p. 108.
3 Ibid., and Myths from Mesopotamia, p. 110.
4 Myths from Mesopotamia,
pp. 112-13; Gilgamesh, pp. 109-11; Edmund Sollberger, The
Babylonian Legend of the Flood, British Museum Publications, 1984,
Meanwhile, continued Utnapishtim:
For six days and nights the wind blew, torrent and tempest and flood
overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring
hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south
subsided, the sea grew calm, the flood was stilled. I looked at the
face of the world and there was silence. The surface of the sea
stretched as flat as a roof-top. All mankind had returned to clay
... I opened a hatch and light fell on my face.
Then I bowed low, I
sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every
side was the waste of water ... Fourteen leagues distant there
appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge ... When
the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew
away, but finding no resting place she returned. Then I loosed a
swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting place she
returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated,
she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not
Utnapishtim knew that it was now safe to disembark:
I poured out a libation on the mountain top ... I heaped up wood and
cedar and myrtle ... When the gods smelled the sweet savour they
flies over the sacrifice ...’6
These texts are not by any means the only ones to come down to us
from the ancient land of Sumer. In other tablets—some almost 5000
years old, others less than 3000 years old—the ‘Noah figure’ of
Utnapishtim is known variously as Zisudra, Xisuthros or
Even so, he is always instantly recognizable as the same patriarchal
character, forewarned by the same merciful god, who rides out the
same universal flood in the same storm-tossed ark and whose
descendants repopulate the world.
There are many obvious resemblances between the Mesopotamian flood
myth and the famous biblical story of Noah and the deluge7 (see
note). Scholars argue endlessly about the nature of these
resemblances. What really matters, however, is that in each sphere
of influence the same solemn tradition has been preserved for
posterity—a tradition which tells, in graphic language, of a global
catastrophe and of the near-total annihilation of mankind.
5 Gilgamesh, p. 111.
7 Extracts from the Book of Genesis, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight:
God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that
every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil
continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the
earth, and it grieved him at his heart ... And God said, The end of
all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence
... And behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth
to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life from under
heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die.
Saving only Noah and his family (whom he instructed to build a great
survival ship 450 feet long x 75 feet wide x 45 feet high), and
ordering the Hebrew patriarch to gather together breeding pairs of
every living creature so that they too might be saved, the Lord then
sent the flood:
In the selfsame day entered Noah and Ham and Japheth, the sons of
Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the wives of his sons with them, into the
Ark—they and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after
their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth
after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every
sort. And they went in unto Noah into the Ark, two and two of all
flesh wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in
male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded, and the Lord
shut them in.
And the flood was upon the earth; and the waters increased and bare
up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters
prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark
went upon the face of the waters. And the high hills that were under
the whole heaven were covered ... And every man was destroyed, all
in whose nostrils was the breath of life, and Noah only remained
alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
In due course, ‘in the seventh month in the seventeenth day of the
month, the Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. And the
waters decreased continually until the tenth month’:
And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the
window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven,
which went forth to and fro until the waters were dried up from the
earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were
abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest
for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark,
for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.
And he stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the
dove out of the ark.
And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth
was an olive leaf plucked off; so Noah knew that the waters were
abated from off the earth ... And Noah went forth ... and builded an
altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And
the Lord smelled the sweet savour ...
The identical message was preserved in the Valley of Mexico, far
away across the world from Mounts Ararat and Nisir. There,
culturally and geographically isolated from Judaeo-Christian
influences, long ages before the arrival of the Spaniards, stories
were told of a great deluge.
As the reader will recall from Part
III, it was believed that this deluge had swept over the entire
earth at the end of the Fourth Sun:
‘Destruction came in the form of
torrential rain and floods. The mountains disappeared and men were
transformed into fish ...’8
According to Aztec mythology only two human beings survived: a man,
Coxcoxtli, and his wife, Xochiquetzal, who had been forewarned of
the cataclysm by a god. They escaped in a huge boat they had been
instructed to build and came to ground on the peak of a tall
mountain. There they descended and afterwards had many children who
were dumb until the time when a dove on top of a tree gave them the
gift of languages. These languages differed so much that the
children could not understand one another.9
8 Maya History and Religion,
Sir J. G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament: Studies in
Comparative Religion, Legend and Law (Abridged Edition), Macmillan,
London, 1923, p. 107.
A related Central American tradition, that of the Mechoacanesecs, is
in even more striking conformity with the story as we have it in
Genesis and in the Mesopotamian sources. According to this
tradition, the god Tezcatlipoca determined to destroy all mankind
with a flood, saving only a certain Tezpi who embarked in a spacious
vessel with his wife, his children and large numbers of animals and
birds, as well as supplies of grains and seeds, the preservation of
which were essential to the future subsistence of the human race.
The vessel came to rest on an exposed mountain top after Tezcatilpoca had decreed that the waters of the flood should retire.
Wishing to find out whether it was now safe for him to disembark,
Tezpi sent out a vulture which, feeding on the carcasses with which
the earth was now strewn, did not return. The man then sent out
other birds, of which only the hummingbird came back, with a leafy
branch in its beak. With this sign that the land had begun to renew
Tezpi and his family went forth from their ark, multiplied and
repopulated the earth. 10
Memories of a terrible flood resulting from divine displeasure are
also preserved in
the Popol Vuh. According to this archaic text, the
Great God decided to create humanity soon after the beginning of
time. It was an experiment and he began it with ‘figures made of
wood that looked like men and talked like men’. These creatures fell
out of favour because ‘they did not remember their Creator’:
And so a flood was brought about by the Heart of Heaven; a great
flood was formed which fell on the heads of the wooden creatures ...
A heavy resin fell from the sky ... the face of the earth was
darkened and a black rain began to fall by day and by night ... The
wooden figures were annihilated, destroyed, broken up and killed.’11
Not everyone perished, however. Like the Aztecs and the
Mechoacanesecs, the Maya of the Yucatan and Guatemala believed that
a Noah figure and his wife, ‘the Great Father and the Great Mother’,
had survived the flood to populate the land anew, thus becoming the
ancestors of all subsequent generations of humanity.12
10 Lenormant, writing in Contemporary Review, cited in Atlantis: The
11 Popol Vuh, p. 90.
12 Ibid., p. 93.
Moving to South America, we encounter the Chibcas of central
Colombia. According to their myths, they had originally lived as
savages, without laws, agriculture or religion. Then one day there
appeared among them an old man of a different race. He wore a thick
long beard and his name was Bochica. He taught the Chibcas how to
build huts and live together in society.
His wife, who was very beautiful and named Chia, appeared after him,
but she was wicked and enjoyed thwarting her husband’s altruistic
efforts. Since she could not overcome his power directly, she used
magical means to cause a great flood in which the majority of the
population died. Bochica was very angry and exiled Chia from the
earth to the sky, where she became the moon given the task of
lighting the nights.
He also caused the waters of the flood to
dissipate and brought down the few survivors from the mountains
where they had taken refuge. Thereafter he gave them laws, taught
them to cultivate the land and instituted the worship of the sun
with periodic festivals, sacrifices and pilgrimages. He then divided
the power to govern among two chiefs and spent the remainder of his
days on earth living in quiet contemplation as
an ascetic. When he ascended to heaven he became a god.13
Farther south still, the Canarians, an Indian tribe of Ecuador,
relate an ancient story of a flood from which two brothers escaped
by going to the top of a high mountain. As the water rose the
mountain grew higher, so that the two brothers survived the
When they were discovered, the Tupinamba Indians of Brazil venerated
a series of civilizing or creator heroes. The first of these heroes
was Monan (ancient, old) who was said to have been the creator of
mankind but who then destroyed the world with flood and fire ...15
Peru, as we saw in Part II, is particularly rich in flood legends. A
typical story tells of an Indian who was warned by a llama of a
deluge. Together man and llama fled to a high mountain called
When they reached the top of the mountain they saw that all kinds of
birds and animals had already taken refuge there. The sea began to
rise, and covered all the plains and mountains except the top of
Vilca-Coto; and even there the waves dashed up so high that the
animals were forced to crowd into a narrow area ... Five days later
the water ebbed, and the sea returned to its bed. But all human
beings except one were drowned, and from him are descended all the
nations on earth.16
The Araucnaians of pre-Colombian Chile preserved a tradition that
there was once a flood which very few Indians escaped. The survivors
took refuge on a high mountain called Thegtheg (‘the thundering’ or
‘the glittering’) which had three peaks and the ability to float on
In the far south of the continent a Yamana legend from Tierra del Fuego states:
‘The moon woman caused the flood. This was at the time
of the great upheaval ... Moon was filled with hatred towards human
beings ... At that time everybody drowned with the exception of
those few who were able to escape to the five mountain peaks that
the water did not cover.’18
Another Tierra del Fuegan tribe, the Pehuenche, associate the flood
with a prolonged period of darkness:
‘The sun and the moon fell from
the sky and the world stayed that way, without light, until finally
two giant condors carried both the sun and the moon back up to the
New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 440; Atlantis: the
Antediluvian World, p.
14 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 104.
15 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 445.
16 Folklore in the Old
Testament, p. 105.
17 Ibid., p. 101.
John Bierhorst, The Mythology of South America, William Morrow &
Co., New York, 1988, p. 165.
19 Ibid., pp. 165-6.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the Americas, among the Inuit of
Alaska, there existed the tradition of a terrible flood, accompanied
by an earthquake, which swept so rapidly over the face of the earth
that only a few people managed to escape in their canoes or take
refuge on the tops of the highest mountains, petrified with
The Luiseno of lower California had a legend that a flood covered
the mountains and destroyed most of mankind. Only a few were saved
because they fled to the highest peaks which were spared when all
the rest of the world was inundated. The survivors remained there
until the flood ended.21
Farther north similar flood myths were
recorded amongst the Hurons.22 And a legend of the Montagnais,
belonging to the Algonquin family, related how Michabo, or the Great
Hare, re-established the world after the flood with the help of a
raven, an otter and a muskrat.23
Lynd’s History of the Dakotas, an authoritative work of the
nineteenth century which preserved many indigenous traditions that
would otherwise have been lost, reports an Iroquois myth that ‘the
sea and waters had at one time infringed upon the land, so that all
human life was destroyed’.
The Chickasaws asserted that the world
had been destroyed by water ‘but that one family was saved and two
animals of every kind’. The Sioux also spoke of a time when there
was no dry land and when all men disappeared from existence.24
20 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 426.
21 Folklore in
the Old Testament, pp. 111-12.
22 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of
Mythology, p. 431.
Ibid., pp. 428-9; Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 115. In this
version the character of Michabo is called Messou.
24 From Lynd’s
History of the Dakotas, cited in Atlantis: the Antediluvian World,
Water water everywhere
How far and how widely across the myth memories of mankind do the
ripples of the great flood spread?
Very widely indeed. More than 500 deluge legends are known around
the world and, in a survey of 86 of these (20 Asiatic, 3 European, 7
African, 46 American and 10 from Australia and the Pacific), the
specialist researcher Dr Richard Andree concluded that 62 were
entirely independent of the Mesopotamian and Hebrew accounts.25
Frederick A. Filby, The Flood Reconsidered: A Review of the
Evidences of Geology, Archaeology, Ancient Literature and the Bible,
Pickering and Inglis Ltd., London, 1970,
p. 58. Andree was an eminent German geographer and anthropologist.
His monograph on diluvial traditions is described by J. G. Frazer
(in Folklore in the Old Testament, pp. 46-7) as ‘a model of sound
learning and good sense set forth with the utmost clearness and
For example, early Jesuit scholars who were among the first
Europeans to visit China had the opportunity in the Imperial Library
to study a vast work, consisting of 4320 volumes, said to have been
handed down from ancient times and to contain ‘all knowledge’. This
great book included a number of traditions which told of the
consequences that followed ‘when mankind rebelled against the high
gods and the system of the universe fell into disorder’:
planets altered their courses. The sky sank lower towards the north.
The sun, moon and stars changed their motions. The earth fell to
pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and
overflowed the earth.’26
In the Malaysian tropical forest the Chewong people believe that
every so often their own world, which they call Earth Seven, turns
upside down so that everything is flooded and destroyed. However,
through the agency of the Creator God Tohan, the flat new surface of
what had previously been the underside of Earth Seven is moulded
into mountains, valleys and plains. New trees are planted, and new
A flood myth of Laos and northern Thailand has it that beings called
the Thens lived in the upper kingdom long ages ago, while the
masters of the lower world were three great men, Pu Leng Seung,
K’an and Khun K’et. One day the Thens announced that before eating
any meal people should give them a part of their food as a sign of
respect. The people refused and in a rage the Thens created a flood
which devastated the whole earth. The three great men built a raft,
on top of which they made a small house, and embarked with a number
of women and children. In this way they and their descendants
survived the deluge.28
In similar fashion the Karens of Burma have traditions of a global
deluge from which two brothers were saved on a raft.29 Such a deluge
is also part of the mythology of Viet Nam, where a brother and a
sister are said to have survived in a great wooden chest which also
contained two of every kind of animal.30
Several aboriginal Australian peoples, especially those whose
traditional homelands are along the tropical northern coast, ascribe
their origins to a great flood which swept away the previous
landscape and society. Meanwhile, in the origin myths of a number of
other tribes, the cosmic serpent Yurlunggur (associated with the
rainbow) is held responsible for the deluge.31
26 Reported in Charles Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah, W. H. Allen,
London, 1989, p. 126.
27 World Mythology, pp. 26-7.
28 Ibid., p.
29 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 81.
31 World Mythology, p. 280.
There are Japanese traditions according to which the Pacific islands
of Oceania were formed after the waters of a great deluge had
receded.32 In Oceania itself a myth of the native inhabitants of
Hawaii tells how the
world was destroyed by a flood and later recreated by a god named
Tangaloa. The Samoans believe that there was once an inundation that
wiped out almost all mankind. It was survived only by two human
beings who put to sea in a boat which eventually came to rest in the
32 E. Sykes, Dictionary Of Non-Classical
Mythology, London, 1961, p. 119.
33 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of
Mythology, pp. 460, 466.
Greece, India and Egypt
On the other side of the world, Greek mythology too is haunted by
memories of a deluge. Here, however (as in Central America) the
inundation is not viewed as an isolated event but as one of a series
of destructions and remakings of the world. The Aztecs and the Maya
spoke in terms of successive ‘Suns’ or epochs (of which our own was
thought to be the Fifth and last).
In similar fashion the oral
traditions of Ancient Greece, collected and set down in writing by
Hesiod in the eighth century BC, related that prior to the present
creation there had been four earlier races of men on earth. Each of
these was thought more advanced than the one that followed it. And
each, at the appointed hour, had been ‘swallowed up’ in a geological
The first and most ancient creation had been mankind’s ‘golden race’
‘lived like the gods, free from care, without trouble or woe
... With ageless limbs they revelled at their banquets ... When they
died it was as men overcome by sleep.’
With the passing of time, and
at the command of Zeus, this golden race eventually ‘sank into the
depths of the earth’. It was succeeded by the ‘silver race’ which
was supplanted by the ‘bronze race’, which was replaced by the race
of ‘heroes’, which was followed by the ‘iron’ race—our own—the fifth
and most recent creation.34
It is the fate of the bronze race that is of particular interest to
us here. Described in the myths as having ‘the strength of giants,
and mighty hands on their mighty limbs’,35 these formidable men were
exterminated by Zeus, king of the gods, as a punishment for the
misdeeds of Prometheus, the rebellious Titan who had presented
humanity with the gift of fire.36 The mechanism the vengeful deity
used to sweep the earth clean was an overwhelming flood.
34 C. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, Thames & Hudson, London, 1974, pp.
36 World Mythology, pp. 130-1.
In the most widespread version of the story Prometheus impregnated a
human female. She bore him a son named Deucalion, who ruled over the
country of Phthia, in Thessaly, and took to wife Pyrrha, ‘the
red-blonde’, daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora. When
his fateful decision to destroy the bronze race, Deucalion,
forewarned by Prometheus, made a wooden box, stored in it ‘all that
and climbed into it with Pyrrha.
The king of the gods caused mighty
rains to pour from heaven, flooding the greater part of the earth.
All mankind perished in this deluge, save a few who had fled to the
‘It also happened at this time that the mountains
of Thessaly were split asunder, and the whole country as far as the
Isthmus and the Peloponnese became a single sheet of water.’
Deucalion and Pyrrha floated over this sea in their box for nine
days and nights, finally landing on Mount Parnassus. There, after
the rains had ceased, they disembarked and sacrificed to the gods.
In response Zeus sent Hermes to Deucalion with permission to ask for
whatever he wished. He wished for human beings. Zeus then bade him
take stones and throw them over his shoulder. The stones Deucalion
threw became men, and those that Pyrrha threw became women.37
As the Hebrews looked back on Noah, so the Greeks of ancient
historical times looked back upon Deucalion—as the ancestor of their
nation and as the founder of numerous towns and temples.38
A similar figure was revered in Vedic India more than 3000 years
ago. One day (the story goes) when a certain wise man named Manu was
making his ablutions, he found in the hollow of his hand a tiny
little fish which begged him to allow it to live. Taking pity on it
he put it in a jar. The next day, however, it had grown so much
bigger that he had to carry it to a lake. Soon the lake was too
‘Throw me into the sea,’ said the fish [which was in reality
a manifestation of the god Vishnu] ‘and I shall be more
Then he warned Manu of a coming deluge. He sent him a
large ship, with orders to load it with two of every living species
and the seeds of every plant, and then to go on board himself.’39
Manu had only just carried out these orders when the ocean rose and
submerged everything, and nothing was to be seen but Vishnu in his
fish form—now a huge, one-horned creature with golden scales. Manu
moored his ark to the horn of the fish and Vishnu towed it across
the brimming waters until it came to rest on the exposed peak of
‘the Mountain of the North’:40
The fish said, ‘I have saved thee; fasten the vessel to a tree, that
the water may not sweep it away while thou art on the mountain; and
in proportion as the waters decrease thou shalt descend.’
descended with the waters. The Deluge had carried away all creatures
and Manu remained alone.41
37 The Gods of the Greeks, pp. 226-9.
38 World Mythology, pp. 130-1.
39 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 362.
Ibid., Satapatha Brahmana, (trans. Max Muller), cited in Atlantis:
the Antediluvian World, p. 87.
41 Ibid. See also Folklore in the Old
Testament, pp. 78-9.
With him, and with the animals and plants he had saved from
destruction, began a new age of the world. After a year there
emerged from the waters a woman who announced herself as ‘the
daughter of Manu’. The couple married and produced children, thus
becoming the ancestors of
the present race of mankind.42
Last but by no means least, Ancient Egyptian traditions also refer
to a great flood. A funerary text discovered in the tomb of Pharaoh
Seti I, for example, tells of the destruction of sinful humanity by
a deluge.43 The reasons for this catastrophe are set out in Chapter CLXXV of the
Book of the Dead, which attributes the following speech
to the Moon God Thoth:
They have fought fights, they have upheld strifes, they have done
evil, they have created hostilities, they have made slaughter, they
have caused trouble and oppression ... [Therefore] I am going to
blot out everything which I have made. This earth shall enter into
the watery abyss by means of a raging flood, and will become even as
it was in primeval time.44
42 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 7:798. The Rig Veda, Penguin
Classics, London, 1981, pp. 100-1.
43 The Encyclopaedia of Ancient
Egypt, p. 48.
From the Theban Recension of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, quoted
in From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 198.
On the trail of a mystery
With the words of Thoth we have come full circle to the Sumerian and
biblical floods. ‘The earth was filled with violence’, says Genesis:
And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all
flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah,
‘The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled
with violence through them; and behold I will destroy them with the
45 Genesis, 6:11-13.
Like the flood of Deucalion, the flood of Manu, and the flood that
destroyed the Aztecs’ ‘Fourth Sun’, the biblical deluge was the end
of a world age. A new age succeeded it: our own, populated by the
descendants of Noah. From the very beginning, however, it was
understood that this age too would in due course come to a
catastrophic end. As the old song puts it, ‘God gave Noah the
rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time.’
The Scriptural source for this prophecy of world destruction is to
be found in 2 Peter 3:
We must be careful to remember that during
the last days there are bound to be people who will be scornful and
[who will say], ‘Everything goes on as it has since it began at the
They are choosing to forget that there were heavens at
the beginning, and that the earth was formed by the word of God out
of water and between the waters, so that the world of that time was
destroyed by being flooded by water.
But by the same word, the
present sky and earth are destined for fire, and are only being
reserved until Judgment Day so that all sinners may be destroyed
... The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and then
with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and
fall apart, and the earth
and all that it contains will be burnt up.46
The Bible, therefore, envisages two ages of the world, our own being
the second and last. Elsewhere, in other cultures, different numbers
of creations and destructions are recorded. In China, for instance,
the perished ages are called kis, ten of which are said to have
elapsed from the beginning of time until Confucius. At the end of
each kis, ‘in a general convulsion of nature, the sea is carried out
of its bed, mountains spring up out of the ground, rivers change
their course, human beings and everything are ruined, and the
ancient traces effaced ...’47
Buddhist scriptures speak of ‘Seven Suns’, each brought to an end by
water, fire or wind.48 At the end of the Seventh Sun, the current
‘world cycle’, it is expected that the ‘earth will break into
flames’.49 Aboriginal traditions of
Sarawak and Sabah recall that
the sky was once ‘low’ and tell us that ‘six Suns perished ... at
present the world is illuminated by the seventh Sun’.50
the Sibylline Books speak of nine Suns that are nine ages’ and
prophesy two ages yet to come—those of the eighth and the ninth
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean,
the Hopi Indians of Arizona
(who are distant relatives of the Aztecs52) record three previous
Suns, each culminating in a great annihilation followed by the
gradual reemergence of mankind. In Aztec cosmology, of course, there
were four Suns prior to our own. Such minor differences concerning
the precise number of destructions and creations envisaged in this
or that mythology should not distract us from the remarkable
convergence of ancient traditions evident here.
46 2 Peter 3:3-10.
See H. Murray, J. Crawford et al., An Historical and Descriptive
Account of China, 2nd edition, 1836, volume I, p. 40. See also G.
Schlegel, Uranographie chinoise, 1875, p.
48 Warren, Buddhism in Translations, p. 322.
50 Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, p. 178.
51 Worlds in Collision, p. 35.
52 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 6:53.
All over the world
these traditions appear to commemorate a widespread series of
catastrophes. In many cases the character of each successive
cataclysm is obscured by the use of poetic language and the piling
up of metaphor and symbols. Quite frequently, also, at least two
different kinds of disaster may be portrayed as having occurred
simultaneously (most frequently floods and earthquakes, but
sometimes fire and a terrifying darkness).
All this contributes to the creation of a confused and jumbled
picture. The myths of the Hopi, however, stand out for their
straightforwardness and simplicity.
What they tell us is this:
The first world was destroyed, as a punishment for human
misdemeanours, by an
all-consuming fire that came from above and below. The second world
when the terrestrial globe toppled from its axis and everything was
ice. The third world ended in a universal flood. The present world
is the fourth. Its fate will depend on whether or not its
inhabitants behave in accordance with the Creator’s plans.53
World Mythology, p. 26. Details of the Hopi world destruction myths
are in Frank Waters, The Book of the Hopi, Penguin, London, 1977.
We are on the trail of a mystery here. And while we may never hope
to fathom the plans of the Creator we should be able to reach a
judgment concerning the riddle of our converging myths of global
Through these myths the voices of the ancients speak to us directly.
What are they trying to say?
Chapter 25 -
The Many Masks of the Apocalypse
Like the Hopi Indians of North America, the Avestic Aryans of
pre-Islamic Iran believed that there were three epochs of creation
prior to our own. In the first epoch men were pure and sinless, tall
and long lived, but at its close the Evil One declared war against
Ahura Mazda, the holy god, and a tumultuous cataclysm ensued.
the second epoch the Evil One was unsuccessful. In the third good
and evil were exactly balanced. In the fourth epoch (the present age
of the world), evil triumphed at the outset and has maintained its
supremacy ever since.1
The end of the fourth epoch is predicted soon, but it is the
cataclysm at the end of the first epoch that interests us here. It
is not a flood, and yet it converges in so many ways with so many
global flood traditions that some connection is strongly suggested.
The Avestic scriptures take us back to a time of paradise on earth,
when the remote ancestors of the ancient Iranian people lived in the
fabled Airyana Vaejo, the first good and happy creation of Ahura
Mazda that flourished in the first age of the world: the mythical
birthplace and original home of the Aryan race.
In those days Airyana Vaejo enjoyed a mild and productive climate
with seven months of summer and five of winter. Rich in wildlife and
in crops, its meadows flowing with streams, this garden of delights
was converted into an uninhabitable wasteland of ten months’ winter
and only two months summer as a result of the onslaught of Angra
Mainyu, the Evil One:
The first of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda,
created was the Airyana Vaejo ... Then Angra Mainyu, who is full of
death, created an opposition to the same, a mighty serpent and snow.
Ten months of winter are there now, two months of summer, and these
are cold as to the water, cold as to the earth, cold as to the trees
... There all around falls deep snow; that is the direst of plagues
The reader will agree that a sudden and drastic change in the
climate of Airyana Vaejo is indicated. The Avestic scriptures leave
us in no doubt about this. Earlier they describe a meeting of the
celestial gods called by Ahura Mazda, and tell us that ‘the fair Yima, the good shepherd of high renown in the Airyana Vaejo’,
attended this meeting with all his excellent mortals.
The Bundahish Chapters I, XXXI, XXXIV, cited in William F. Warren,
Paradise Found: The Cradle of the Human Race at the North Pole,
Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston, 1885, p.
Vendidad, Fargard I, cited in Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The
Arctic Home in the Vedas, Tilak Publishers, Poona, 1956, pp. 340-1.
It is at this point that the strange parallels with the traditions
of the biblical flood begin to crop up, for Ahura Mazda takes
advantage of the meeting to warn Yima of what is about to happen as
a result of the powers of the Evil One:
And Ahura Mazda spake unto Yima saying:
‘Yima the fair ... Upon the
material world a fatal winter is about to descend, that shall bring
a vehement, destroying frost. Upon the corporeal world will the evil
of winter come, wherefore snow will fall in great abundance. ...
‘And all three sorts of beasts shall perish, those that live in the
wilderness, and those that live on the tops of the mountains, and
those that live in the depths of the valleys under the shelter of
‘Therefore make thee a var [a hypogeum or underground enclosure] the
length of a riding ground to all four corners. Thither bring thou
the representatives of every kind of beast, great and small, of the
cattle, of the beasts of burden, and of men, of dogs, of birds, and
of the red burning fires.3
‘There shalt thou make water flow. Thou shall put birds in the trees
along the water’s edge, in verdure which is everlasting. There put
specimens of all plants, the loveliest and most fragrant, and of all
fruits the most succulent. All these kinds of things and creatures
shall not perish as long as they are in the var. But put there no
deformed creature, nor impotent, nor mad, neither wicked, nor
deceitful, nor rancorous, nor jealous; nor a man with irregular
teeth, nor a leper ...’4
Apart from the scale of the enterprise there is only one real
difference between Yima’s divinely inspired var and Noah’s divinely
inspired ark: the ark is a means of surviving a terrible and
devastating flood which will destroy every living creature by
drowning the world in water; the var is a means of surviving a
terrible and devastating ‘winter’ which will destroy every living
creature by covering the earth with a freezing blanket of ice and
In the Bundahish, another of the Zoroastrian scriptures (believed to
incorporate ancient material from a lost part of the original
Avesta), more information is provided on the cataclysm of glaciation
that overwhelmed Airyana Vaejo. When Angra Mainyu sent the ‘vehement
destroying frost’, he also ‘assaulted and deranged the sky’.5
The Bundahish tells us that this assault enabled the Evil One to master
‘one third of the sky and overspread it with darkness’ as the
encroaching ice sheets tightened their grip.6
3 Vendidad, Fargard II, cited in The Arctic Home in the Vedas, pp.
4 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 320.
West, Pahlavi Texts Part I, p. 17, London, 1880.
6 Ibid.; Justi, Der
Bundahish, Leipzig, 1868, p. 5.
Indescribable cold, fire, earthquakes and derangement of the skies
The Avestic Aryans of Iran, who are known to have migrated to
western Asia from some other, distant homeland,7 are not the only
possessors of archaic traditions which echo the basic setting of the
great flood in ways unlikely to be coincidental.
these are most commonly associated with the deluge, the familiar
themes of the divine warning, and of the salvation of a remnant of
mankind from a universal disaster, are also found in many different
parts of the world in connection with the sudden onset of glacial
In South America, for example, Toba Indians of the Gran Chaco region
that sprawls across the modern borders of Paraguay, Argentina and
Chile, still repeat an ancient myth concerning the advent of what
they call ‘the Great Cold’.
Forewarning comes from a semi-divine
hero figure named Asin:
Asin told a man to gather as much wood as he could and to cover his
hut with a thick layer of thatch, because a time of great cold was
coming. As soon as the hut had been prepared Asin and the man shut
themselves inside and waited. When the great cold set in, shivering
people arrived to beg a firebrand from them. Asin was hard and gave
embers only to those who had been his friends.
The people were
freezing, and they cried the whole night. At midnight they were all
dead, young and old, men and women ... this period of ice and sleet
lasted for a long time and all the fires were put out. Frost was as
thick as leather.8
As in the Avestic traditions it seems that the great cold was
accompanied by great darkness. In the words of one Toba elder, these
afflictions were sent ‘because when the earth is full of people it
has to change. The population has to be thinned out to save the
world ... In the case of the long darkness the sun simply
disappeared and the people starved. As they ran out of food, they
began eating their children. Eventually they all died ...9
The Mayan Popol Vuh associates the flood, with ‘much hail, black
rain and mist, and indescribable cold’.10 It also says that this was
a period when ‘it was cloudy and twilight all over the world ... the
faces of the sun and the moon were covered.’11
Other Maya sources
confirm that these strange and terrible phenomena were experienced
‘in the time of the ancients. The earth darkened ... It
happened that the sun was still bright and clear. Then, at midday,
it got dark ...12 Sunlight did not return till the twenty-sixth year
after the flood.’13
7 The Arctic Home in the Vedas, p. 390ff.
8 The Mythology of South
America, pp. 143-4
9 Ibid., p. 144.
10 Popol Vuh, p. 178.
11 Ibid., p. 93.
12 The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, p. 41.
History and Religion, p. 333.
The reader may recall that many deluge and catastrophe myths contain
references not only to the onset of a great darkness but to other
changes in the appearance of the heavens. In Tierra del Fuego, for
instance, it was said that the sun and the moon ‘fell from the
sky’14 and in China that ‘the planets altered their courses. The
sun, moon and stars changed their motions.’15
The Incas believed
that ‘in ancient times the Andes were split apart when the sky made
war on the earth.’16 The Tarahumara of northern Mexico have
preserved world destruction legends based on a change in the sun’s
path.17 An African myth from the lower Congo states that ‘long ago
the sun met the moon and threw mud at it, which made it less bright.
When this meeting happened there was a great flood ...’18
Indians of California say simply that ‘the sky fell’.19 And ancient Graeco-Roman myths tell that the flood of Deucalion was immediately
preceded by awesome celestial events.20 These events are graphically
symbolized in the story of how Phaeton, child of the sun, harnessed
his father’s chariot but was unable to guide it along his father’s
Soon the fiery horses felt how their reins were in an
hand. Rearing and swerving aside, they left their wonted way; then
all the earth was amazed to see that the glorious Sun, instead of
holding his stately, beneficent course across the sky, seemed to
speed crookedly overhead and to rush down in wrath like a meteor.’21
This is not the place to speculate on what may have caused the
alarming disturbances in the patterns of the heavens that are linked
with cataclysm legends from all over the world. For our purposes at
present, it is sufficient to note that such traditions seem to refer
to the same ‘derangement of the sky’ that accompanied the fatal
winter and spreading ice sheets described in the Iranian Avesta.22
Other linkages occur. Fire, for example, often follows or precedes
the flood. In the case of Phaeton’s adventure with the Sun,
grass withered; the crops were scorched; the woods went up in fire
and smoke; then beneath them the bare earth cracked and crumbled and
the blackened rocks burst asunder under the heat.’23
14 See Chapter Twenty-four.
16 National Geographic Magazine, June 1962, p. 87.
17 The Mythology
of Mexico and Central America, p. 79.
18 New Larousse Encyclopaedia
of Mythology, p. 481.
19 The Mythology of all Races, Cooper Square
Publishers Inc., New York, 1964, volume X,
See particularly the writings of Hyginus, cited in Paradise Found,
p. 195. See also The Gods of the Greeks, p. 195.
21 The Illustrated
Guide to Classical Mythology, p. 15-17.
The Iranian Bundahish tells us that the planets ran against the sky
and created confusion in the entire cosmos.
23 The Illustrated Guide
to Classical Mythology, p. 17.
Volcanism and earthquakes are also mentioned frequently in
association with the flood, particularly in the Americas. The
of Chile say quite explicitly that ‘the flood was the result of
volcanic eruptions accompanied by violent earthquakes.’24 The
Maya of Santiago Chimaltenango in the western highlands of Guatemala
retain memories of ‘a flood of burning pitch’ which, they say, was
one of the instruments of world destruction.25
And in the Gran Chaco
of Argentina, the Mataco Indians tell of ‘a black cloud that came
from the south at the time of the flood and covered the whole sky.
Lightning struck and thunder was heard. Yet the drops that fell were
not like rain. They were like fire ...’26
24 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 101.
25 Maya History and
Religion, p. 336.
26 The Mythology of South America, pp. 140-2.
A monster chased the sun
There is one ancient culture that perhaps preserves more vivid
memories in its myths than any other; that of the so-called Teutonic
tribes of Germany and Scandinavia, a culture best remembered through
the songs of the Norse scalds and sages. The stories those songs
retell have their roots in a past which may be much older than
scholars imagine and which combine familiar images with strange
symbolic devices and allegorical language to recall a cataclysm of
In a distant forest in the east an aged giantess brought into the
world a whole brood of young wolves whose father was Fenrir. One of
these monsters chased the sun to take possession of it. The chase
was for long in vain, but each season the wolf grew in strength, and
at last he reached the sun. Its bright rays were one by one
extinguished. It took on a blood red hue, then entirely disappeared.
Thereafter the world was enveloped in hideous winter. Snow-storms
descended from all points of the horizon. War broke out all over the
earth. Brother slew brother, children no longer respected the ties
of blood. It was a time when men were no better than wolves, eager
to destroy each other. Soon the world was going to sink into the
abyss of nothingness.
Meanwhile the wolf Fenrir, whom the gods had long ago so carefully
chained up, broke his bonds at last and escaped. He shook himself
and the world trembled. The ash tree Yggdrasil [envisaged as the
axis of the earth] was shaken from its roots to its topmost
branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom, and the
dwarfs who had their subterranean dwellings in them sought
desperately and in vain for entrances so long familiar but now
Abandoned by the gods, men were driven from their hearths and the
human race was swept from the surface of the earth. The earth itself
was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming
adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void. They were like
swallows, weary from too long a voyage, who drop and sink into the
The giant Surt set the entire earth on fire; the universe was no
longer more than
an immense furnace. Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks;
everywhere there was the hissing of steam. All living things, all
plant life, were blotted out. Only the naked soil remained, but like
the sky itself the earth was no more than cracks and crevasses.
And now all the rivers, all the seas, rose and overflowed. From
every side waves lashed against waves. They swelled and boiled
slowly over all things. The earth sank beneath the sea ...
Yet not all men perished in the great catastrophe. Enclosed in the
wood itself of the ash tree Yggdrasil—which the devouring flames of
the universal conflagration had been unable to consume—the ancestors
of a future race of men had escaped death. In this asylum they had
found that their only nourishment had been the morning dew.
Thus it was that from the wreckage of the ancient world a new world
was born. Slowly the earth emerged from the waves. Mountains rose
again and from them streamed cataracts of singing waters.27
The new world this Teutonic myth announces is our own. Needless to
say, like the Fifth Sun of the Aztecs and the Maya, it was created
long ago and is new no longer. Can it be a coincidence that one of
the many Central American flood myths about the fourth epoch, 4 Atl
(‘water’), does not install the Noah couple in an ark but places
them instead in a great tree just like Yggdrasil? ‘4 Atl was ended
The mountains disappeared ... Two persons survived
because they were ordered by one of the gods to bore a hole in the
trunk of a very large tree and to crawl inside when the skies fell.
The pair entered and survived. Their offspring repopulated the
27 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, pp. 275-7.
History and Religion, p. 332.
Isn’t it odd that the same symbolic language keeps cropping up in
ancient traditions from so many widely scattered regions of the
How can this be explained?
Are we talking about some vast,
subconscious wave of intercultural telepathy, or could elements of
these remarkable universal myths have been engineered, long ages
ago, by clever and purposeful people?
Which of these improbable
propositions is the more likely to be true?
Or are there other
possible explanations for the enigma of the myths?
We shall return to these questions in due course. Meanwhile, what
are we to conclude about the apocalyptic visions of fire and ice,
floods, volcanism and earthquakes, which the myths contain? They
have about them a haunting and familiar realism. Could this be
because they speak to us of a past we suspect to be our own but can
neither remember clearly nor forget completely?
Continue to Chapter 26