Chapter 30 - The Cosmic Tree and the Mill of the Gods

In their brilliant and far-reaching study Hamlet’s Mill, Professors de Santillana and von Dechend present a formidable array of mythical and iconographic evidence to demonstrate the existence of a curious phenomenon. For some inexplicable reason, and at some unknown date, it seems that certain archaic myths from all over the world were ‘coopted’ (no other word will really do) to serve as vehicles for a body of complex technical data concerning the precession of the equinoxes.


The importance of this astonishing thesis, as one leading authority on ancient measurement has pointed out, is that it has fired the first salvo in what may prove to be ‘a Copernican revolution in current conceptions of the development of human culture.’1

Hamlet’s Mill was published in 1969, more than a quarter of a century ago, so the revolution has been a long time coming. During this period, however, the book has been neither widely distributed among the general public nor widely understood by scholars of the remote past.


This state of affairs has not come about because of any inherent problems or weaknesses in the work. Instead, in the words of Martin Bernal, professor of Government Studies at Cornell University, it has happened because ‘few archaeologists, Egyptologists and ancient historians have the combination of time, effort and skill necessary to take on the very technical arguments of de Santillana.’ 2


1 Livio Catullo Stecchini, ‘Notes on the Relation of Ancient Measures to the Great Pyramid’, in Secrets of the Great Pyramid, pp. 381-2.
2 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afro-asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vintage Books, London, 1991, p. 276.

What those arguments predominantly concern is the recurrent and persistent transmission of a ‘precessional message’ in a wide range of ancient myths. And, strangely enough, many of the key images and symbols that crop up in these myths—notably those that concern a ‘derangement of the heavens’—are also to be found embedded in the ancient traditions of worldwide cataclysm reviewed in Chapters Twenty-four and Twenty-five.

In Norse mythology for example, we saw how the wolf Fenrir, whom the gods had so carefully chained up, broke his bonds at last and escaped:

‘He shook himself and the world trembled.


The ash-tree Yggdrasil was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom ... The earth began to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift in the sky.’

In the opinion of de Santillana and von Dechend, this myth mixes the familiar theme of catastrophe with the quite separate theme of precession. On the one hand we have an earthly disaster on a scale that seems to dwarf even the flood of Noah.


On the other we hear that ominous changes are taking place in the heavens and that the stars, which have come adrift in the sky, are ‘dropping into the void.’ 3

Such celestial imagery, repeated again and again with only relatively minor variations in myths from many different parts of the world, belongs to a category earmarked in Hamlet’s Mill as ‘not mere storytelling of the kind that comes naturally’.4


Moreover the Norse traditions that speak of the monstrous wolf Fenrir, and of the shaking of Yggdrasil, go on to report the final apocalypse in which the forces of Valhalla issue forth on the side of ‘order’ to participate in the terrible last battle of the gods—a battle that will end in apocalyptic destruction:

500 doors and 40 there are I ween, in Valhalla’s walls; 800 fighters through each door fare, When to war with the Wolf they go.5

3 The reader will recall from Chapter Twenty-five how Yggdrasil, the world tree itself, was not destroyed and how the progenitors of future humanity managed to shelter within its trunk until a new earth emerged from the ruins of the old. How likely is it to be pure coincidence that exactly the same strategy was adopted by survivors of the universal deluge as described in certain Central American myths? Such links and crossovers in myth between the themes of precession and global catastrophe are extremely common.

4 Hamlet’s Mill, p. 7.

5 Grimnismol 23, the Poetic Edda, p. 93, cited in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 199; Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162; Elsa Brita Titchenell, The Masks of Odin, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1988, p. 168.


With a lightness of touch that is almost subliminal, this verse has encouraged us to count Valhalla’s fighters, thus momentarily obliging us to focus our attention on their total number (540 x 800 = 432,000). This total, as we shall see in Chapter Thirty-one is mathematically linked to the phenomenon of precession. It is, unlikely to have found its way into Norse mythology by accident, especially in a context that has previously specified a ‘derangement of the heavens’ severe enough to have caused the stars to come adrift from their stations in the sky.

To understand what is going on here it is essential to grasp the basic imagery of the ancient ‘message’ that Santillana and von Dechend claim to have stumbled upon. This imagery transforms the luminous dome of the celestial sphere into a vast and intricate piece of machinery. And, like a millwheel, like a churn, like a whirlpool, like a quern, this machine turns and turns and turns endlessly (its motions being calibrated all the time by the sun, which rises first in one constellation of the zodiac, then in another, and so on all the year round).

The four key points of the year are the spring and autumn equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices. At each point, naturally, the sun is seen to rise in a different constellation (thus if the sun rises in Pisces at the spring equinox, as it does at present, it must rise in Virgo at the autumn equinox, in Gemini at the winter solstice and in Sagittarius at the summer solstice).


On each of these four occasions for the last 2000 years or so, this is exactly what the sun has been doing. As we have seen, however, precession of the equinoxes means that the vernal point will change in the not so distant future from Pisces to Aquarius. When that happens, the three other constellations marking the three key points will change as well (from Virgo, Gemini and Sagittarius to Leo, Taurus and Scorpius)—almost as though the giant mechanism of heaven has ponderously switched gears ...

Like the axle of a mill, Santillana and von Dechend explain, Yggdrasil ‘represents the world axis’ in the archaic scientific language they have identified: an axis which extends outwards (for a viewer in the northern hemisphere) to the North Pole of the celestial sphere:

This instinctively suggests a straight, upright post ... but that would be an oversimplification. In the mythical context it is best not to think of the axis in analytical terms, one line at a time, but to consider it, and the frame to which it is connected, as a whole:... As radius automatically calls circle to mind so axis should invoke the two determining great circles on the surface of the sphere, the equinoctial and solstitial colures.6

These colures are the imaginary hoops, intersecting at the celestial North Pole, which connect the two equinoctial points on the earth’s path around the sun (i.e. where it stands on 20 March and 22 September) and the two solstitial points (where it stands on 21 June and 21 December). The implication, is that:

‘The rotation of the polar axis must not be disjointed from the great circles that shift along with it in heaven. The framework is thought of as all one with the axis.’7

6 - Hamlet’s Mill, p. 232-3.

7 Ibid., p. 231.

Santillana and von Dechend are certain that what confronts us here is not a belief but an allegory. They insist that the notion of a spherical frame composed of two intersecting hoops suspended from an axis is not under any circumstances to be understood as the way in which ancient science envisaged the cosmos. Instead it is to be seen as a ‘thought tool’ designed to focus the minds of people bright enough to crack the code upon the hard-to-detect astronomical fact of precession of the equinoxes.

It is a thought tool that keeps on cropping up, in numerous disguises, all over the myths of the ancient world.


At the mill with slaves
One example, from Central America (which also provides a further illustration of the curious symbolic ‘cross-overs’ between myths of precession and myths of catastrophe), was summarized by Diego De Landa in the sixteenth century:

Among the multitude of gods worshipped by these people [the Maya] were four whom they called by the name Bacab. These were, they say, four brothers placed by God when he created the world at its four corners to sustain the heavens lest they fall. They also say that these Bacabs escaped when the world was destroyed by a deluge.8

It is the opinion of Santillana and von Dechend that the Mayan astronomer-priests did not subscribe for a moment to the simple-minded notion that the earth was flat with four corners. Instead, they say, the image of the four Bacabs is used as a technical allegory intended to shed light on the phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes.


The Bacabs stand, in short, for the system of coordinates of an astrological age. They represent the equinoctial and solstitial colures, binding together the four constellations in which the sun continues to rise at the spring and autumn equinoxes and at the winter and summer solstices for epochs of just under 2200 years.

Of course it is understood that when the gears of heaven change, the old age comes crashing down and a new age is born. All this, so far, is routine precessional imagery. What stands out, however, is the explicit linkage to an earthly disaster—in this case a flood—which the Bacabs survive. It may also be relevant that relief carvings at Chichen Itza unmistakably represent the Bacabs as being bearded and of European appearance.9

Be that as it may, the Bacab image (linked to a number of badly misunderstood references to ‘the four corners of heaven’, ‘the quadrangular earth’, and so on) is only one among many that seem to have been designed to serve as thought tools for precession. Archetypal among these is, of course, the ‘Mill’ of Santillana’s title—Hamlet’s Mill.

It turns out that the Shakespearean character, ‘whom the poet made one of us, the first unhappy intellectual’, conceals a past as a legendary being, his features predetermined, preshaped by longstanding myth.10 In all his many incarnations, this Hamlet remains strangely himself.


The original Amlodhi (or sometimes Amleth) as his name was in Icelandic legend,

‘shows the same characteristics of melancholy and high intellect. He, too, is a son dedicated to avenge his father, a speaker of cryptic but inescapable truths, an elusive carrier of Fate who must yield once his mission is accomplished ...’11

8 Yucatan before and after the Conquest, p. 82.
9 See, for example, The God-Kings and the Titans, p. 64. It may also be relevant that other versions of ‘the Bacabs’ myth tell us that ‘their slightest movement produces an earth tremor or even an earthquake’ (Maya History and Religion, p. 346).

10 Hamlet’s Mill, p. 2.

11 Ibid.

In the crude and vivid imagery of the Norse, Amlodhi was identified with the ownership of a fabled mill, or quern, which, in its time, ground out gold and peace and plenty. In many of the traditions, two giant maidens (Fenja and Menja) were indentured to turn this great contraption, which could not be budged by any human strength. Something went wrong, and the two giantesses were forced to work day and night with no rest:

Forth to the mill bench they were brought, To set the grey stone in motion; He gave them no rest nor peace, Attentive to the creak of the mill.

Their song was a howl, shattering silence; ‘Lower the bin and lighten the stones!’ Yet he would have them grind more.12

Rebellious and angry, Fenja and Menja waited until everyone was asleep and then began to turn the mill in a mad whirl until its great props, though cased in iron, burst asunder.13 Immediately afterwards, in a confusing episode, the mill was stolen by a sea king named Mysinger and loaded aboard his ship together with the giantesses.


Mysinger ordered the pair to grind again, but this time they ground out salt. At midnight they asked him whether he was not weary of salt; he bade them grind longer. They had ground but a little longer when down sank the ship:

The huge props flew off the bin,
The iron rivets burst,

The shaft tree shivered,

The bin shot down.14

When it reached the bottom of the sea, the mill continued to turn, but it ground out rock and sand, creating a vast whirlpool, the Maelstrom.15 Such images, Santillana and von Dechend assert, signify precession of the equinoxes.16 The axis and ‘iron props’ of the mill stand for: a system of coordinates in the celestial sphere and represent the frame of a world age.


Actually the frame defines a world age. Because the polar axis and the colures form an invisible whole, the entire frame is thrown out of kilter if one part is moved. When that happens a new Pole star with appropriate colures of its own must replace the obsolete apparatus.17

12 Grottasongr, ‘The Song of the Mill’, in The Masks of Odin, p. 198.

13 Ibid., p. 201.
14 Grottasongr, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 89-90.

15 Ibid., p. 2.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid., p. 232.


Furthermore, the engulfing whirlpool:

belongs to the stock-in-trade of ancient fable. It appears in the Odyssey as Charybdis in the Straits of Messina, and again in other cultures in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It is found there, too, curiously enough, with an overhanging fig-tree to whose boughs the hero can cling as the ship goes down, whether it be Satyavrata in India or Kae in Tonga ... The persistence of detail rules out free invention. Such stories have belonged to the cosmographical literature since antiquity.18

The appearance of the whirlpool in Homer’s Odyssey (which is a compilation of Greek myths more than 3000 years old), should not surprise us, because the great Mill of Icelandic legend appears there also (and does so, moreover, in familiar circumstances). It is the last night before the decisive confrontation.


Odysseus, bent on revenge, has landed in Ithaca and is hiding under the magic spell of the goddess Athena, which protects him from recognition. Odysseus prays to Zeus to send him an encouraging sign before the great ordeal:

Straightaway Zeus thundered from shining Olympus ... and goodly Odysseus was glad. Moreover, a woman, a grinder at the mill, uttered a voice of omen from within the house hard by, where stood the mills of the shepherd of the people. At these handmills twelve women in all plied their task, making meal of barley and of wheat the marrow of men.


Now all the others were asleep, for they had ground out their task of grain, but this one alone rested not yet, being the weakest of all. She now stayed her quern and spake the word ... ‘May the [enemies of Odysseus] on this day, for the last time make their sweet feasting in his halls. They that have loosened my knees with cruel toil to grind their barley meal, may they now sup their last!’19

Santillana and von Dechend argue that it is no accident that the allegory of the ‘orb of heaven that turns around like a millstone and ever does something bad’ 20 also makes an appearance in the biblical tradition of Samson, ‘eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves’.21


His merciless captors unbind him so that he can ‘make sport’ for them in their temple; instead, with his last strength, he takes hold of the middle pillars of that great structure and brings the whole edifice crashing down, killing everybody.22 Like Fenja and Menja, he gets his revenge.

18 Ibid., p. 204.
19 Odyssey (Rouse translation), 20:103-19.

20 Trimalcho in Petronius, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 137.

21 John Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1:41. 22 Judges, 16:25-30.
23 In Japanese myth the Samson character is named Susanowo. See Post Wheeler, The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese, New York, 1952, p. 44ff.

The theme resurfaces in Japan,23 in Central America,24 among the Maoris of New Zealand,25 and in the myths of Finland. There the Hamlet/Samson figure is known as Kullervo and the mill has a peculiar name: the Sampo. Like Fenja and Menja’s mill it is ultimately stolen and loaded on board a ship. And like their mill, it ends up being broken in pieces.26

It turns out that the word ‘Sampo’ has its origins in the Sanskrit skambha, meaning ‘pillar or pole’.27 And in the Atharvaveda, one of the most ancient pieces of north Indian literature, we find an entire hymn dedicated to the Skambha:

In whom earth, atmosphere, in whom sky is set, where fire, moon, sun, wind stand fixed ... The Skambha sustains both heaven and earth; the Skambha sustains the wide atmosphere; the Skambha sustains the six wide directions; into the Skambha entered all existence.

Whitney, the translator (Atharvaveda 10:7) comments in some perplexity:

‘Skambha, lit, prop, support, pillar, strangely used in this hymn as frame of the universe’.28

Yet with an awareness of the complex of ideas linking cosmic mills, and whirlpools and world trees and so on, the archaic Vedic usage should not seem so strange.


What is being signaled here, as in all the other allegories, is the frame of a world age—that same heavenly mechanism that turns for more than 2000 years with the sun rising always in the same four cardinal points and then slowly shifts those celestial coordinates to four new constellations for the next couple of thousand years.


24 In slightly distorted form in the Popol Vuh’s account of the Twins and their 400 companions (see Chapter Nineteen). Zipcana, son of Vucub-Caquix sees the 400 youths dragging a huge log they want as a ridgepole for their house. Zipcana carries the tree without effort to the spot where a hole has been dug for the post to support the ridgepole. The youths try to kill Zipcana by crushing him in the hole, but he escapes and brings down the house on their heads, killing them all. Popol Vuh, pp. 99-101.

25 In Maori traditions the Samson character is known as Whakatu. See Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology, London, 1956 (1st ed. 1858), p. 97ff.

26 Cited in Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 104-8.

27 Ibid., p. 111.

28 Ibid., 233.

This is why the mill always breaks, why the huge props always fly off the bin in one way or another, why the iron rivets burst, why the shaft-tree shivers. Precession of the equinoxes merits such imagery because, at widely separated intervals of time it does indeed change, or break, the stabilizing coordinates of the entire celestial sphere.

Openers of the way
What is remarkable about all this is the way that the mill (which continues to serve as an allegory for cosmic processes) stubbornly keeps on resurfacing, all over the world, even where the context has been jumbled or lost. Indeed, in Santillana and von Dechend’s argument, it doesn’t really matter if the context is lost.

‘The particular merit of mythical terminology,’ they say, ‘is that it can be used as a vehicle for handing down solid knowledge independently from the degree of insight of the people who do the actual telling of stories, fables, etc.’ 29

29 Ibid., 312.

What matters, in other words, is that certain central imagery should survive and continue to be passed on in retellings, however far these may drift from the original storyline.

An example of such drift (coupled with the retention of essential imagery and information) is found among the Cherokees, whose name for the Milky Way (our own galaxy) is ‘Where the Dog Ran’. In ancient times, according to Cherokee tradition, the ‘people in the South had a corn mill’, from which meal was stolen again and again. In due course the owners discovered the thief, a dog, who,

‘ran off howling to his home in the North, with the meal dropping from his mouth as he ran, and leaving behind a white trail where now we see the Milky Way, which the Cherokee call to this day ... “Where the Dog Ran”.’ 30

In Central America, one of the many myths concerning Quetzalcoatl depicts him playing a key role in the regeneration of mankind after the all-destroying flood that ended the Fourth Sun. Together with his dog-headed companion Xolotl, he descends into the underworld to retrieve the skeletons of the people killed by the deluge.


This he succeeds in doing, after tricking Miclantechuhtli, the god of death, and the bones are brought to a place called Tamoanchan. There, like corn, they are milled into a fine meal on a grindstone. Upon this ground meal the gods then release blood, thus creating the flesh of the current age of men.31

Santillana and von Dechend do not think that the presence of a canine character in both the above variants of the myth of the cosmic mill is likely to be accidental. They point out that Kullervo, the Finnish Hamlet, is also accompanied by ‘the black dog Musti’.32 Likewise, after his return to his estates in Ithaca, Odysseus is first recognized by his faithful dog,33 and as anyone who has been to Sunday school will remember, Samson is associated with foxes (300 of them to be precise34), which are members of the dog family.


In the Danish version of the Amleth/Hamlet saga, ‘Amleth went on and a wolf crossed his path amid the thicket.’35 Last but not least an alternative recension of the Kullervo story from Finland has the hero (rather weirdly) being ‘sent to Esthonia to bark under the fence; he barked one year ...’36


30 James Mooney, ‘Myths of the Cherokee’, Washington, 1900, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 249, 389; Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson, They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1987, pp. 117-18.

31 The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, p. 70.

32 Cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 33.

33 Homer, The Odyssey, Book 17.

34 Judges, 15:4.

35 Saxo Grammaticus, in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 13.

36 Ibid., p. 31.

Santillana and von Dechend are confident that all this ‘doggishness’ is purposive: another piece of the ancient code, as yet unbroken, persistently tapping out its message from place to place. They list these and many other canine symbols among a series of ‘morphological markers’ which they have identified as likely to suggest the presence, in ancient myths, of scientific information concerning precession of the equinoxes.37


These markers may have had meanings of their own or been intended simply to alert the target audience that a piece of hard data was coming up in the story being told. Beguilingly, sometimes they may also have been designed to serve as ‘openers of the way’—conduits to enable initiates to follow the trail of scientific information from one myth to another.

Thus, even though none of the familiar mills and whirlpools is in sight, we should perhaps sit up and pay attention when we learn that Orion, the great hunter of Greek myth, was the owner of a dog. When Orion tried to ravish the virgin goddess Artemis she produced a scorpion from the earth which killed him and the dog. Orion was transported to the skies where he became the constellation that bears his name today; his dog was transformed into Sirius, the Dog Star.38

Precisely the same identification of Sirius was made by the ancient Egyptians,39 who linked the Orion constellation specifically to their god Osiris.40 It is in Ancient Egypt too that the character of the faithful celestial dog achieves its fullest and most explicit mythical elaboration in the form of Upuaut, a jackal-headed deity whose name means ‘Opener of the Ways’.41 If we follow this way opener to Egypt, turn our eyes to the constellation of Orion, and enter the potent myth of Osiris, we find ourselves enveloped in a net of familiar symbols.

The reader will recall that the myth presents Osiris as the victim of a plot. The conspirators initially dispose of him by sealing him in a box and casting him adrift on the waters of the Nile. In this respect does he not resemble Utnapishtim, and Noah and Coxcoxtli and all the other deluge heroes in their arks (or boxes, or chests) riding out the waters of the flood?

Another familiar element is the classic precessional image of the world-tree and/or roof-pillar (in this case combined). The myth tells us how Osiris, still sealed inside his coffer, is carried out into the sea and washed up at Byblos. The waves lay him to rest among the branches of a tamarisk tree, which rapidly grows to a magnificent size, enclosing the coffer within its trunk.42

37 Ibid., pp. 7, 31.
38 World Mythology, p. 139. It should also be noted that, like Samson, Orion was blind— the only blind figure in constellation mythology. See Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 177-8.

39 Mercer, The Religion of Ancient Egypt, London, 1946, pp. 25, 112.
40 Ibid. Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 39: ‘the ancient Egyptians are known to have identified Orion with Osiris’.
41 Also rendered Wapwewet and Ap-uaut. See, for example, E. A. Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, Methuen and Co., London, 1904, vol. II, pp. 366-7.

42 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. L.

The king of the country, who much admires the tamarisk tree, cuts it down and fashions the part which contains Osiris into a roof pillar for his palace. Later Isis, the wife of Osiris, removes her husband’s body from the pillar and takes it back to Egypt to undergo rebirth.43

The Osiris myth also includes certain key numbers. Whether by accident or by design, these numbers give access to a ‘science’ of precession, as we shall see in the next chapter.

43 Ibid. Though a mill, as such, is nowhere to be seen, many Ancient Egyptian reliefs depict two of the principal characters in the Osiris myth (Horus and Seth) jointly operating a giant drill, again a classic symbol of precession. Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162: ‘This feature is continuously mislabelled the “uniting of the two countries” whether Horus and Seth serve the churn or, as is more often the case, the so-called Nile Gods.’

Back to Contents


Chapter 31 - The Osiris Numbers

Archaeo-astronomer Jane B. Sellers, who studied Egyptology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, spends her winters in Portland, Maine, and summers at Ripley Neck, a nineteenth-century enclave ‘downcast’ on Maine’s rocky coast.

‘There,’ she says, ‘the night skies can be as clear as the desert, and no one minds if you read the Pyramid Texts out loud to the seagulls ...1

One of the few serious scholars to have tested the theory advanced by Santillana and von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill, Sellers has been hailed for having drawn attention to the need to use astronomy, and more particularly precession, for the proper study of ancient Egypt and its religion.2 In her words:

‘Archaeologists by and large lack an understanding of precession, and this affects their conclusions concerning ancient myths, ancient gods and ancient temple alignments ... For astronomers precession is a well-established fact; those working in the field of ancient man have a responsibility to attain an understanding of it.’3

It is Sellers’s contention, eloquently expressed in her recent book, The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, that the Osiris myth may have been deliberately encoded with a group of key numbers that are ‘excess baggage’ as far as the narrative is concerned but that offer an eternal calculus by which surprisingly exact values can be derived for the following:

1 - The time required for the earth’s slow precessional wobble to cause the position of sunrise on the vernal equinox to complete a shift of one degree along the ecliptic (in relation to the stellar background);

2  -The time required for the sun to pass through one full zodiacal segment of thirty degrees;

3  -The time required for the sun to pass through two full zodiacal segments (totalling sixty degrees);
4  -The time required to bring about the ‘Great Return’4, i.e., for the sun to shift three hundred and sixty degrees along the ecliptic, thus fulfilling one complete precessional cycle or ‘Great Year’.

1 The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, author biography.

2 For example by Robert Bauval in The Orion Mystery, pp. 144-5.

3 The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 174.
4 This phrase was coined by Jane Sellers, whom also detected the precessional calculations embedded in the Osiris myth.


Computing the Great Return
The precessional numbers highlighted by Sellers in the Osiris myth are 360, 72, 30 and 12. Most of them are found in a section of the myth which provides us with biographical details of the various characters. These have been conveniently summarized by E. A. Wallis Budge, formerly keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum:

The goddess Nut, wife of the sun god Ra, was beloved by the god Geb. When Ra discovered the intrigue he cursed his wife and declared that she should not be delivered of a child in any month of any year. Then the god Thoth, who also loved Nut, played at tables with the moon and won from her five whole days. These he joined to the 360 days of which the year then consisted [emphasis added]. On the first of these five days Osiris was brought forth; and at the moment of his birth a voice was heard to proclaim that the lord of creation was born.5

Elsewhere the myth informs us that the 300-day year consists of ‘12 months of 30 days each’.6 And in general, as Sellers observes, ‘phrases are used which prompt simple mental calculations and an attention to numbers’.7


5 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, page XLIX.

6 Cited in The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 204.

7 Ibid.

Thus far we have been provided with three of Sellers’s precessional numbers: 360, 12 and 30. The fourth number, which occurs later in the text, is by far the most important. As we saw in Chapter Nine, the evil deity known as Set led a group of conspirators in a plot to kill Osiris. The number of these conspirators was 72.

With this last number in hand, suggests Sellers, we are now in a position to boot-up and set running an ancient computer programme:

  • 12 = the number of constellations in the zodiac

  • 30 = the number of degrees allocated along the ecliptic to each zodiacal constellation

  • 72 = the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of one degree along the ecliptic

  • 360 = the total number of degrees in the ecliptic

  • 72 x 30 = 2160 (the number of years required for the sun to complete a passage of 30 degrees along the ecliptic, i.e., to pass entirely through any one of the 12 zodiacal constellations)

  • 2160 x 12 (or 360 x 72) = 25,920 (the number of years in one complete precessional cycle or ‘Great Year’, and thus the total number of years required to bring about the ‘Great Return’)

Other figures and combinations of figures also emerge, for example:

  • 36, the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of half a degree along the ecliptic

  • 4320, the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of 60 degrees (i.e., two zodiacal constellations)

These, Sellers believes, constitute the basic ingredients of a precessional code which appears again and again, with eerie persistence, in ancient myths and sacred architecture. In common with much esoteric numerology, it is a code in which it is permissible to shift decimal points to left or right at will and to make use of almost any conceivable combinations, permutations, multiplications, divisions and fractions of the essential numbers (all of which relate precisely to the rate of precession of the equinoxes).

The pre-eminent number in the code is 72. To this is frequently added 36, making 108, and it is permissible to multiply 108 by 100 to get 10,800 or to divide it by 2 to get 54, which may then be multiplied by 10 and expressed as 540 (or as 54,000. or as 540,000, or as 5,400,000, and so on).


Also highly significant is 2160 (the number of years required for the equinoctial point to transit one zodiacal constellation), which is sometimes multiplied by 10 and by factors often (to give 216,000, 2,160,000, and so on) and sometimes by 2 to give 4320, or 43,200, or 432,000, or 4,320,000, ad infinitum.

Better than Hipparchus
If Sellers is correct in her hypothesis that the calculus needed to produce these numbers was deliberately encoded into the Osiris myth to convey precessional information to initiates, we are confronted by an intriguing anomaly. If they are indeed about precession, the numbers are out of place in time. The science they contain is too advanced for them to have been calculated by any known civilization of antiquity.

Let us not forget that they occur in a myth which is present at the very dawn of writing in Egypt (indeed elements of the Osiris story are to be found in the Pyramid Texts dating back to around 2450 BC, in a context which suggests that they were exceedingly old even then8). Hipparchus, the so-called discoverer of precession lived in the second century BC. He proposed a value of 45 or 46 seconds of arc for one year of precessional motion.

8 Ibid., pp. 125-6ff; see also The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.

These figures yield a one-degree shift along the ecliptic in 80 years (at 45 arc seconds per annum), and in 78.26 years (at 46 arc seconds per annum). The true figure, as calculated by twentieth century science, is 71.6 years.9 If Sellers’s theory is correct, therefore, the ‘Osiris numbers’, which give a value of 72 years, are significantly more accurate than those of Hipparchus.


Indeed, within the obvious confines imposed by narrative structure, it is difficult to see how the number 72 could have been improved upon, even if the more precise figure had been known to the ancient myth-makers. One can hardly insert 71.6 conspirators into a story, but 72 will fit comfortably.

Working from this rounded-up figure, the Osiris myth is capable of yielding a value of 2160 years for a precessional shift through one complete house of the zodiac. The correct figure, according to today’s calculations, is 2148 years.10 The Hipparchus figures are 2400 years and 2347.8 years respectively. Finally, Osiris enables us to calculate 25,920 as the number of years required for the fulfillment of a complete precessional cycle through 12 houses of the zodiac. Hipparchus gives us either 28,800 or 28,173.6 years.


The correct figure, by today’s estimates, is 25,776 years.11 The Hipparchus calculations for the Great Return are therefore around 3000 years out of kilter. The Osiris calculations miss the true figure by only 144 years, and may well do so because the narrative context forced a rounding-up of the base number from the correct value of 71.6 to a more workable figure of 72.


9 Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 205.

10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.

All this, however, assumes that Sellers is right to suppose that the numbers 360, 72, 30 and 12 did not find their way into the Osiris myth by chance but were placed there deliberately by people who understood— and had accurately measured—precession.

Is Sellers right?

Times of decay
The Osiris myth is not the only one to incorporate the calculus for precession. The relevant numbers keep surfacing in various forms, multiples and combinations, all over the ancient world.

An example was given in Chapter Thirty-three—the Norse myth of the 432,000 fighters who sallied forth from Valhalla to do battle with ‘the Wolf’. A glance back at that myth shows that it contains several permutations of ‘precessional numbers’.

Likewise, as we saw in Chapter Twenty-four, ancient Chinese traditions referring to a universal cataclysm were said to have been written down in a great text consisting of precisely 4320 volumes.

Thousands of miles away, is it a coincidence that the Babylonian historian Berossus (third century BC) ascribed a total reign of 432,000 years to the mythical kings who ruled the land of Sumer before the flood? And is it likewise a coincidence that this same Berossus ascribed 2,160,000 years to the period ‘between creation and universal catastrophe’?12

Do the myths of ancient Amerindian peoples like the Maya also contain or enable us to compute numbers such as 72, 2160, 4320, etc. We shall probably never know, thanks to the conquistadores and zealous friars who destroyed the traditional heritage of Central America and left us so little to work with. What we can say, however, is that the relevant numbers do turn up, in relative profusion, in the Mayan Long Count calendar.


Details of that calendar were given in Chapter Twenty-one. The numerals necessary for calculating precession are found there in these formulae:

  • 1 Katun = 7200 days

  • 1 Tun = 360 days

  • 2 Tuns = 720 days

  • 5 Baktuns = 720,000 days

  • 5 Katuns = 36,000 days

  • 6 Katuns = 43,200 days

  • 6 Tuns = 2160 days

  • 15 Katuns = 2,160,000 days 13

Nor does it seem that Sellers’s ‘code’ is confined to mythology. In the jungles of Kampuchea the temple complex of Angkor looks as though it could have been purpose-built as a precessional metaphor. It has, for example, five gates to each of which leads a road bridging the crocodile-infested moat that surrounds the whole site. Each of these roads is bordered by a row of gigantic stone figures, 108 per avenue, 54 on each side (540 statues in all) and each row carries a huge Naga serpent.


Furthermore, as Santillana and von Dechend point out in Hamlet’s Mill, the figures do not ‘carry’ the serpent but are shown to ‘pull’ it, which indicates that these 540 statues are ‘churning the Milky Ocean’. The whole of Angkor ‘thus turns out to be a colossal model set up with true Hindu fantasy and incongruousness’ to express the idea of precession.14

12 Ibid., p. 196.
13 Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, p. 143.

14 Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 162-3; see also Atlas of Mysterious Places, pp. 168-70.

Churning the Milky Ocean, one of the several ‘thought tools’ for precession encountered in ancient myths.

The same may be true of Java’s famous temple of Borobudur, with its 72 bell-shaped stupas, and perhaps also of the megaliths of Baalbeck in the Lebanon—which are thought to be the world’s biggest blocks of cut stone. Long predating Roman and Greek structures on the site, the three that make up the so-called ‘Trilithion’ are as tall as five-storey buildings and weigh over 600 tons each.


A fourth megalith is almost 80 feet in length and weighs 1100 tons. Amazingly these giant blocks were cut, perfectly-shaped and somehow transported to Baalbeck from a quarry several miles away. In addition they were skillfully incorporated, at a considerable height above ground-level into the retaining walls of a magnificent temple. This temple was surrounded by 54 columns of immense size and height.15

15 See, for example, Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, Time-Life Books, 1990, p. 65.

In the subcontinent of India (where the Orion constellation is known as Kal-Purush, meaning Time-Man16), we find that Sellers’s Osiris numbers are transmitted through a wide range of media in ways increasingly difficult to ascribe to chance. There are, for instance, 10,800 bricks in the Agnicayana, the Indian fire altar. There are 10,800 stanzas in the Rigveda, the most ancient of the Vedic texts and a rich repository of Indian mythology.


Each stanza is made up of 40 syllables with the result that the entire composition consists of 432,000 syllables ... no more, and no less.17 And in Rigveda 1:164 (a typical stanza) we read of ‘the 12 spoked wheel in which 720 sons of Agni are established’.18

In the Hebrew Cabala there are 72 angels through whom the Sephiroth (divine powers) may be approached, or invoked, by those who know their names and numbers.19 Rosicrucian tradition speaks of cycles of 108 years (72 plus 36) according to which the secret brotherhood makes its influence felt.20


Similarly the number 72 and its permutations and subdivisions are of great significance to the Chinese secret societies known as Triads. An ancient ritual requires that each candidate for initiation pay a fee including ‘360 cash for “making clothes”, 108 cash “for the purse”, 72 cash for instruction, and 36 cash for decapitating the “traitorous subject”.’21


The ‘cash’ (the old universal brass coin of China with a square hole in the centre) is of course no longer in circulation but the numbers passed down in the ritual since times immemorial have survived. Thus in modern Singapore, candidates for Triad membership pay an entrance fee which is calculated according to their financial circumstances but which must always consist of multiples of $1.80, $3.60, $7.20, $10.80 (and thus, $18, $36, $72, $108.00, or $360, $720, $1,080, and so on.22


16 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists, George G. Harrap and Company, London, 1913, p. 384.

17 Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162.

18 Rig Veda, 1:164, cited in The Arctic Home in the Vedas, p. 168.
19 Frances A. Yates, Girodano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, the University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 93.

20 Personal communication from AMORC, San Jose, California, November 1994.
21 Leon Comber, The Traditional Mysteries of the Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya, Eastern Universities Press, Singapore, 1961, p. 52.

22 Ibid., p. 53.
23 Gustav Schlegel, The Hung League, Tynron Press, Scotland, 1991 (first published 1866), Introduction, p. XXXVII.

Of all the secret societies, the most mysterious and archaic by far is undoubtedly the Hung League, which scholars believe to be ‘the depository of the old religion of the Chinese’.23 In one Hung initiation ritual the neophyte is put through a question and answer session that goes:

Q. What did you see on your walk?
A. I saw two pots with red bamboo.

Q. Do you know how many plants there were?
A. In one pot were 36 and in the other 72 plants, together 108.

Q. Did you take home some of them for your use?
A. Yes, I took home 108 plants ...

Q. How can you prove that?
A. I can prove it by a verse.

Q. How does this verse run?
A. The red bamboo from Canton is rare in the world. In the groves are 36 and 72. Who in the world knows the meaning of this? When we have set to work we will know the secret.

The atmosphere of intrigue that such passages generate is accentuated by the reticent behaviour of the Hung League itself, an organization resembling the medieval European Order of the Knights Templar (and the higher degrees of modern Freemasonry) in many ways that are beyond the remit of this book to describe.24 It is intriguing, too, that the Chinese character Hung, composed of water and many, signifies inundation, i.e. the Flood.

Finally, returning to India, let us note the content of the sacred scriptures known as the Puranas. These speak of four ‘ages of the earth’, called Yugas, which together are said to extend to 12,000 ‘divine years’. The respective durations of these epochs, in ‘divine years’, are,

  • Krita Yuga = 4800

  • Treta Yuga = 3600

  • Davpara Yuga = 2400

  • Kali Yuga = 1200 25

The Puranas also tell us that ‘one year of the mortals is equal to one day of the gods’.26 Furthermore, and exactly as in the Osiris myth, we discover that the number of days in the years of both gods and mortals has been artificially set at 360, so one year of the gods is equivalent to 360 mortal years.27

24 For fuller details see The Hung League and J. S. M. Ward, The Hung Society, Baskerville Press, London, 1925 (in three volumes).
25 W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Puranic, Heritage Publishers, New Delhi, 1991, p. 353.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

The Kali Yuga, therefore, at 1200 years of the gods, turns out to have a duration of 432,000 mortal years.28 One Mahayuga, or Great Age (made up of the 12,000 divine years contained in the four lesser Yugas) is equivalent to 4,320,000 years of mortals. A thousand such Mahayugas (which constitute a Kalpa, or Day of Brahma) extend over 4,320,000,000 ordinary years,29 again supplying the digits for basic precessional calculations.


Separately there are Manvantaras (periods of Manu) of which we are told in the scriptures that ‘about 71 systems of four Yugas elapse during each Manvantara.’30 The reader will recall that one degree of precessional motion along the ecliptic requires 71.6 years to complete, a number that can be rounded down to ‘about 71’ in India just as easily as it was rounded up to 72 in Ancient Egypt.

The Kali Yuga, with a duration of 432,000 mortal years, is, by the way, our own. ‘In the Kali Age,’ the scriptures say, ‘shall decay flourish, until the human race approaches annihilation.’31

29 Ibid., pp. 353-4.

30 Ibid., p. 354.

31 Ibid., p. 247.

Dogs, uncles and revenge
It was a dog that brought us to these decaying times.

We came here by way of Sirius, the Dog Star, who stands at the heel of the giant constellation of Orion where it towers in the sky above Egypt. In that land, as we have seen, Orion is Osiris, the god of death and resurrection, whose numbers—perhaps by chance—are 12, 30, 72, and 360. But can chance account for the fact that these and other prime integers of precession keep cropping up in supposedly unrelated mythologies from all over the world, and in such stolid but enduring vehicles as calendar systems and works of architecture?

Santillana and von Dechend, Jane Sellers and a growing body of other scholars rule out chance, arguing that the persistence of detail is indicative of a guiding hand.

If they are wrong, we need to find some other explanation for how such specific and inter-related numbers (the only obvious function of which is to calculate precession) could by accident have got themselves so widely imprinted on human culture.

But suppose they are not wrong? Suppose that a guiding hand really was at work behind the scenes?

Sometimes, when you slip into Santillana’s and von Dechend’s world of myth and mystery, you can almost feel the influence of that hand ... Take the business of the dog ... or jackal, or wolf, or fox. The subtle way this shadowy canine slinks from myth to myth is peculiar—stimulating, then baffling you, always luring you onwards.

Indeed, it was this lure we followed from the Mill of Amlodhi to the myth of Osiris in Egypt. Along the way, according to the design of the ancient sages (if Sellers, Santillana and von Dechend are right) we were first encouraged to build a clear mental picture of the celestial sphere. Second, we were provided with a mechanistic model so that we could visualize the great changes precession of the equinoxes periodically effects in all the coordinates of the sphere. Finally, after allowing the dog Sirius to open the way for us, we were given the figures to calculate precession more or less exactly.

Nor is Sirius, in his eternal station at Orion’s heel, the only doggish character around Osiris. We saw in Chapter Eleven how Isis (who was both the wife and sister of Osiris32) searched for her dead husband’s body after he had been murdered by Set (who, incidentally, was also her brother, and the brother of Osiris). In this search, according to ancient tradition, she was assisted by dogs (jackals in some versions).33


Likewise, mythological and religious texts from all periods of Egyptian history assert that the jackal-god Anubis ministered to the spirit of Osiris after his death and acted as his guide through the underworld.34 (Surviving vignettes depict Anubis as virtually identical in appearance to Upuaut, the Opener of the Ways.)

Last but not least, Osiris himself was believed to have taken the form of a wolf when he returned from the underworld to assist his son Horus in the final battle against Set.35

Investigating this kind of material, one sometimes has the spooky sense of being manipulated by an ancient intelligence which has found a way to reach out to us across vast epochs of time, and for some reason has set us a puzzle to solve in the language of myth.

If it were just dogs that kept cropping up again and again, it would be easy to brush off such weird intuitions. The dog phenomenon seems more likely to be coincidence than anything else. But it isn’t just dogs.

The ways between the two very different myths of Osiris and Amlodhi’s Mill (which nonetheless both seem to contain accurate scientific data about precession of the equinoxes) are kept open by another strange common factor. Family relationships are involved. Amlodhi/Amleth/Hamlet is always a son who revenges the murder of his father by entrapping and killing the murderer. The murderer, furthermore, is always the father’s own brother, i.e., Hamlet’s uncle.36

This is precisely the scenario of the Osiris myth. Osiris and Seth are brothers.37 Seth murders Osiris. Horus, the son of Osiris, then takes revenge upon his uncle.38

32 For details of these complicated family relationships, see Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLVIIIff.

33 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 366.

34 The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 71.

35 Gods of the Egyptians, II, p. 367.

36 Hamlet’s Mill, p. 2.

37 Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLIX-LI.

38 Ibid.

Another twist is that the Hamlet character often has some sort of incestuous relationship with his sister.39 In the case of Kullervo, the Finnish Hamlet, there is a poignant scene in which the hero, returning home after a long absence, meets a maiden in the woods, gathering berries. They lie together. Only later do they discover that they are brother and sister. The maiden drowns herself at once. Later, with ‘the black dog Musti’ padding along at his heels, Kullervo wanders into the forest and throws himself upon his sword.40


39 Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 32-4.

40 Ibid., p. 33.

There are no suicides in the Egyptian myth of Osiris, but there is the incest of Osiris and his sister Isis. Out of their union is born Horus the avenger.

So once again it seems reasonable to ask:

  • What is going on?

  • Why are there all these apparent links and connections?

  • Why do we have these ‘strings’ of myths, ostensibly about different subjects, all of which prove capable in their own ways of shedding light on the phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes?

  • And why do all these myths have dogs running through them, and characters who seem unusually inclined to incest, fratricide and revenge?

It surely drives skepticism beyond its limits to suggest that so many identical literary devices could keep on turning up purely by chance in so many different contexts.

If not by chance, however, then,

  • Who exactly was responsible for creating this intricate and clever connecting pattern?

  • Who were the authors and designers of the puzzle and what motives might they have had?

Scientists with something to say
Whoever it was, they must have been smart—smart enough to have observed the infinitesimal creep of precessional motion along the ecliptic and to have calculated its rate at a value uncannily close to that obtained by today’s advanced technology.

It therefore follows that we are talking about highly civilized people. Indeed, we are talking about people who deserve to be called scientists. They must, moreover, have lived in extremely remote antiquity because we can be certain that the creation and dissemination of the common heritage of precessional myths on both sides of the Atlantic did not take place in historic times. On the contrary the evidence suggests that all these myths were ‘tottering with age’ when what we call history began about 5000 years ago.41


41 Ibid., p. 119.

The great strength of the ancient stories was this: as well as being for ever available for use and adaptation free of copyright, like intellectual chameleons, subtle and ambiguous, they had the capacity to change their colour according to their surroundings. At different times, in different continents, the ancient tales could be retold in a variety of ways, but would always retain their essential symbolism and always continue to transmit the coded precessional data they had been programmed with at the outset.

But to what end?

As we see in the next chapter, the long slow cycles of precession are not limited in their consequences to a changing view of the sky. This celestial phenomenon, born of the earth’s axial wobble, has direct effects on the earth itself. In fact, it appears to be one of the principal correlates of the sudden onset of ice ages and their equally sudden and catastrophic decay.

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Chapter 32 - Speaking to the Unborn

It is understandable that a huge range of myths from all over the ancient world should describe geological catastrophes in graphic detail. Mankind survived the horror of the last Ice Age, and the most plausible source for our enduring traditions of flooding and freezing, massive volcanism and devastating earthquakes is in the tumultuous upheavals unleashed during the great meltdown of 15,000 to 8000 BC.


The final retreat of the ice sheets, and the consequent 300-400 foot rise in global sea levels, took place only a few thousand years before the beginning of the historical period. It is therefore not surprising that all our early civilizations should have retained vivid memories of the vast cataclysms that had terrified their forefathers.

Much harder to explain is the peculiar but distinctive way the myths of cataclysm seem to bear the intelligent imprint of a guiding hand.1 Indeed the degree of convergence between such ancient stories is frequently remarkable enough to raise the suspicion that they must all have been ‘written’ by the same ‘author’.

Could that author have had anything to do with the wondrous deity, or superhuman, spoken of in so many of the myths we have reviewed, who appears immediately after the world has been shattered by a horrifying geological catastrophe and brings comfort and the gifts of civilization to the shocked and demoralized survivors?

White and bearded, Osiris is the Egyptian manifestation of this universal figure, and it may not be an accident that one of the first acts he is remembered for in myth is the abolition of cannibalism among the primitive inhabitants of the Nile Valley.2


Viracocha, in South America, was said to have begun his civilizing mission immediately after a great flood; Quetzalcoatl, the discoverer of maize, brought the benefits of crops, mathematics, astronomy and a refined culture to Mexico after the Fourth Sun had been overwhelmed by a destroying deluge.

1 See Chapter Twenty-four for details of flood myths. The same kind of convergence among supposedly unconnected myths also occurs with regard to precession of the equinoxes. The mills, the characters who work and own and eventually break them, the brothers and nephews and uncles, the theme of revenge, the theme of incest, the dogs that flit silently from story to story, and the exact numbers needed to calculate precessional motion—all crop up everywhere, from culture to culture and from age to age, propagating themselves effortlessly along the jet-stream of time.
2 Diodorus Siculus, Book I, 14:1-15, translated by C. H. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1989, pp. 47-9.

  • Could these strange myths contain a record of encounters between scattered palaeolithic tribes which survived the last Ice Age and an as yet unidentified high civilization which passed through the same epoch?

  • And could the myths be attempts to communicate?

A message in the bottle of time
‘Of all the other stupendous inventions,’ Galileo once remarked, what sublimity of mind must have been his who conceived how to communicate his most secret thoughts to any other person, though very distant either in time or place, speaking with those who are in the Indies, speaking to those who are not yet born, nor shall be this thousand or ten thousand years? And with no greater difficulty than the various arrangements of two dozen little signs on paper? Let this be the seal of all the admirable inventions of men.3


3 Galileo, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 10.

If the ‘precessional message’ identified by scholars like Santillana, von Dechend and Jane Sellers is indeed a deliberate attempt at communication by some lost civilization of antiquity, how come it wasn’t just written down and left for us to find? Wouldn’t that have been easier than encoding it in myths? Perhaps.

Nevertheless, suppose that whatever the message was written on got destroyed or worn away after many thousands of years? Or suppose that the language in which it was inscribed was later forgotten utterly (like the enigmatic Indus Valley script, which has been studied closely for more than half a century but has so far resisted all attempts at decoding)? It must be obvious that in such circumstances a written legacy to the future would be of no value at all, because nobody would be able to make sense of it.

What one would look for, therefore, would be a universal language, the kind of language that would be comprehensible to any technologically advanced society in any epoch, even a thousand or ten thousand years into the future. Such languages are few and far between, but mathematics is one of them—and the city of Teotihuacán may be the calling-card of a lost civilization written in the eternal language of mathematics.

Geodetic data, related to the exact positioning of fixed geographical points and to the shape and size of the earth, would also remain valid and recognizable for tens of thousands of years, and might be most conveniently expressed by means of cartography (or in the construction of giant geodetic monuments like the Great Pyramid of Egypt, as we shall see).

Another ‘constant’ in our solar system is the language of time: the great but regular intervals of time calibrated by the inch-worm creep of precessional motion. Now, or ten thousand years in the future, a message that prints out numbers like 72 or 2160 or 4320 or 25,920 should be instantly intelligible to any civilization that has evolved a modest talent for mathematics and the ability to detect and measure the almost imperceptible reverse motion that the sun appears to make along the ecliptic against the background of the fixed stars (one degree in 71.6 years, 30 degrees in 2148 years, and so on).

The sense that a correlation exists is strengthened by something else. It is neither as firm nor as definite as the number of syllables in the Rigveda; nevertheless, it feels relevant. Through powerful stylistic links and shared symbolism, myths to do with global cataclysms and with precession of the equinoxes quite frequently intermesh.


A detailed interconnectedness exists between these two categories of tradition, both of which additionally bear what appear to be the recognizable fingerprints of a conscious design. Quite naturally, therefore, one is prompted to discover whether there might not be an important connection between precession of the equinoxes and global catastrophes.

Mill of pain
Although several different mechanisms of an astronomical and geological nature seem to be involved, and although not all of these are fully understood, the fact is that the cycle of precession does correlate very strongly with the onset and demise of ice ages.

Several trigger factors must coincide, which is why not every shift from one astronomical age to another is implicated. Nevertheless, it is accepted that precession does have an impact on both glaciation and deglaciation, at widely separated intervals. The knowledge that it does so has only been established by our own science since the late 1970s.4 Yet the evidence of the myths suggests that the same level of knowledge might have been possessed by an as yet unidentified civilization in the depths of the last Ice Age.


The clear suggestion we may be meant to grasp is that the terrible cataclysms of flood and fire and ice which the myths describe were in some way causally connected to the ponderous movements of the celestial coordinates through the great cycle of the zodiac. In the words of Santillana and von Dechend,

‘It was not a foreign idea to the ancients that the mills of the gods grind slowly and that the result is usually pain.’5

4 Ice Ages; John Imbrie et al., ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’ in Science, volume 194, No. 4270, 10 December 1976.

5 - Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 138-9.

Three principal factors, all of which we have met before, are now known to be deeply implicated in the onset and the retreat of ice ages (together, of course, with the diverse cataclysms that ensue from sudden freezes and thaws). These factors all have to do with variations in the earth’s orbital geometry.


They are:

1 - The obliquity of the ecliptic (i.e., the angle of tilt of the planet’s axis of rotation, which is also the angle between the celestial equator and the ecliptic). This, as we have seen, varies over immensely long periods of time between 22.1 degrees (the closest point that the axis reaches to vertical) and 24.5 degrees (the furthest it falls away from the vertical)

2 - The eccentricity of the orbit (i.e., whether the earth’s elliptical path around the sun is more or less elongated in any given epoch)

3 - Axial precession, which causes the four cardinal points on the earth’s orbit (the two equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices) to creep backwards very, very slowly around the orbital path

We are dipping our toes into the waters of a technical and specialized scientific discipline here—one largely outside the scope of this book. Readers seeking detailed information are referred to the multidisciplinary work of the US National Science Foundation’s CLIMAP Project, and to a keynote paper by Professors J. D. Hays and John Imbrie entitled ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’ (see Note 4).

Briefly, what Hays, Imbrie and others have proved is that the onset of ice ages can be predicted when the following evil and inauspicious conjunctions of celestial cycles occur:

(a) maximum eccentricity, which takes the earth millions of miles further away from the sun at ‘aphelion’ (the extremity of its orbit) than is normal

(b) minimum obliquity, which means that the earth’s axis, and consequently the North and South poles, stand much closer to the vertical than is normal

(c) precession of the equinoxes which, as the great cycle continues, eventually causes winter in one hemisphere or the other to set in when the earth is at ‘perihelion’ (its closest point to the sun); this in turn means that summer occurs at aphelion and is thus relatively cold, so that ice laid down in winter fails to melt during the following summer and a remorseless buildup of glacial conditions occurs 6

6 ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’.


Levered by the changing geometry of the orbit, ‘global insolation’—the differing amounts and intensity of sunlight received at various latitudes in any given epoch—can thus be an important trigger factor for ice ages.

Is it possible that the ancient myth-makers were trying to warn us of great danger when they so intricately linked the pain of global cataclysms to the slow grinding of the mill of heaven?

This is a question we will return to in due course, but meanwhile it is enough to observe that by identifying the significant effects of orbital geometry on the planet’s climate and wellbeing, and by combining this information with precise measurements of the rate of precessional motion, the unknown scientists of an unrecognized civilization seem to have found a way to catch our attention, to bridge the chasm of the ages, and to communicate with us directly.

Whether or not we listen to what they have to say is, of course, entirely up to us.


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