from GalacticAlignment2012 Website
Some books are ahead of their time. Some
books convey a message which threatens prevailing notions, and are
therefore brushed away. Some books are mixtures of profound insights
and garbled speculations. Hamletís Mill, An Essay on Myth and the
Frame of Time (1969) partakes to varying degrees in all of the
above. Hamletís Mill began a revolution in understanding the
profound sources of ancient mythology. Although it tottered
on the edge of oblivion for years, it has reemerged as the
fundamental inspiration for many progressive researchers who find
the precession of the equinoxes lurking within ancient
creation myths around the world.
There are problems with Hamletís Mill, but they are more in terms of the bookís organization rather than a faulty reasoning. However, some citations, especially those of Mesoamerican myth, are somewhat off the mark. In this case, the reason may have more to do with the embryonic state of Mesoamerican studies in the 1960s. As for other glitches, these hurried flaws can be explained when we consider the context in which the book was written. Giorgio de Santillana published a book of his own the previous year and was still lecturing at M.I.T., so his work load during the late 1960s must have been intense. In fact, he was ill at the time. As William Irwin Thompson writes:
This may explain the variations in the narrative, the ebb and flow of the sequence in which the book was ordered, and the generally chaotic character of the bookís organization. Nevertheless, the bulk of the text conveys ruthless interpretation and careful documentation of international scholarship in linguistics, archaeology, comparative mythology, and astronomy. In addition, an informal and usually engaging, if somewhat loquacious, prose style prevails throughout. Hertha von Dechend, long-time German historian and mythologist, seems to be the director behind the scenes:
Major mythic images describe celestial features or processes. Von Dechend was saying the same thing about Old World and Polynesian mythology decades earlier. Now that scholars have caught up with and recognized the importance of the perspective pioneered by von Dechend and de Santillana, we can look at Hamletís Mill with new appreciation. Unfortunately, it is a difficult book. As one writer put it,
Notice that the various commentators on Hamletís Mill acknowledge the value of it while noting its problems; this isnít a question of naÔve or blind acceptance of something appealingly fantastical. Neither can it be accused of New Age sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and in 1969 the age of rampant spiritual materialism was still off in the future. Moreover, the Castaneda-style of scholarship, unprecedented in its originality and audacity, had yet to be identified. Hamletís Mill was a straightforward and honest attempt to elucidate a valuable aspect of ancient science and myth previously overlooked. So, in this appendix, I will sort out the wheat from the chaff, and offer a summation of the essential message of Hamletís Mill.
What I have felt since my first reading is that this book is groundbreaking, the beginning of a new way of understanding the origins of civilization. In the intervening twenty-five years since it was first published (it is presently still in print with David R. Godine, Publisher), other disciplines have supported its tenets in various ways. For example, the work of Marija Gimbutas, James Mellart and Riane Eisler demonstrate that there was a stylistically unified Old Europe civilization in place before the advent of "civilization as we know it" in ancient Sumer. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of this in some depth, describing the 18,000-year old Magdalenian culture as "a peaceful Golden Age."
Despite this new information, scholars are generally cautious on new turf. Many people who have read Hamletís Mill are initially impressed, but soon encounter the politically dangerous nature of "speculating." Observe the words of the Finnish-born poet Anselm Hollo:
This kind of treatment has no doubt had the effect of dampening the enthusiasm of many students. Whether it be politics or academics, some areas are simply "sacred ground," not to be trampled. Usually this indicates exactly where progress can be made. The quote above mentions the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, and the Sampo, a cosmological artifact of Central Asian shamanism (see Ervast , 1998; Jenkins 1995e; Jenkins 1998a). Speaking of Ivory Towerism, Edmund Leach, a scholar of the old school, provided a rather indignant review of Hamletís Mill:
In fact, de Santillana and von Dechend do refer to contemporary literature, but point out that much "modern" scholarship is biased, built upon sand castles of past assumptions. In the 1960s, and to a large degree still today, the prevailing notion among historians of science was that "civilization" progressed in a Darwinian model of advance, from lesser to greater sophistication. It then follows that no "primitive" culture could know things that "modern" man does not. Observe Leachís use of the terms "civilized" and "proto-civilized"; this implicit bias precludes the possibility of socially or perceptually refined people living in the Neolithic. The well-known historian Will Durant entertains other possibilities:
This is not to say that Hamletís Mill
presents some kind of Atlantis theory to explain the
preponderance of similar cosmological myths around the globe.
Instead, cosmological myths are understood to be stories that come
from the sky, encoded maps about the arrangement of celestial
features and the movement of planets and stars during the year. The
universal storyboard of the night sky is viewed around the globe
and, in this way, similar cosmologies and metaphors arise to explain
the great questions: human origins, the mystery of life, time, and
death, and the exploits of deities (who are really stars and
planets). Echoes of a unified Neolithic world religion? Even in
Greco-Roman myth it is obvious that Saturn, Jupiter
and other mytho-cosmic deities refer to planets.
In a clear summary of the likely impact of Hamletís Mill, Phoebe Adams wrote,
De Santillana raided his own field (the history and philosophy of science), draws from others, and, furthermore, advises his colleagues (especially mythographers) to educate themselves in basic astronomy. Another reviewer emphasized the challenge that Hamletís Mill posed thinkers unaccustomed to new ideas:
It is amazing to think, and it is a
testimony to the painstakingly cautious "advance of science,"
that not too long ago Greece was considered to be the "unique
cradle of Western science." Today we know that Pythagoras,
Plato and other influential Greek thinkers took initiation
from dying Egyptian mystery schools, whose accrued knowledge
went back millennia. The cosmological and philosophical insights
which those Egyptian schools afforded inspired the scientific
brilliance of Greece, Byzantium and Islam as well.
And this is where I pick up the lead. A
clear analysis will first unbend the key. I will not only be
commenting on Hamletís Mill, but will also be interpreting
it, based upon new information, and will finally tie its essential
meaning to recent discoveries half-way around the globe, in the
ancient calendric cosmology of the Maya. What emerges is not
only an essay about a unified mythic astronomy from the archaic past
but, according to this long lost perspective, an impending doorway
through an uncertain collective future.
In de Santillanaís preface to Reflections on Men and Ideas (1968), he mentions the new project underway, what would become Hamletís Mill, and writes,
These words were written in November of 1967; since Hamletís Mill was published in 1969, his work on it indeed must have been somewhat frenzied. With some amount of foresight he continues:
Besides this initial working title for
the "essay" that became Hamletís Mill, another title was
considered: "The Art of the Fugue," emphasizing the image of time
running through epicycles of change-a harmonic number progression-as
found in Pythagorean thought. Mathematics, it is proposed, is
important for the thesis-specific numbers crop up repeatedly in
ancient cosmologies from India to Viking Iceland, and describe the
vast periods of World Ages.
At times de Santillanaís writing
breaks into admirable prose; other times it is just wordy. The
"spirit of protest" directed against his colleagues is refreshing;
there will be no Ivory Towerism here. De Santillanaís stance
does not seem to be motivated by animosity, rather, he just seems
impatient with the ploddingly cautious progress of scholarship. At
the late stage of his life during which Hamletís Mill was
written, one can understand his desire to short-circuit conventional
caution and cut to the chase.
Her assumptions changed when she began to study Polynesian myth, some ten thousand pages of it. She realized that "no single sentence could be understood" and admitted that the Polynesians, with their perplexing navigational skills on the open Pacific, must have known something of astronomy. Finally, the pieces of evidence were assembled and the message was clear:
Once she had found the key, she quickly realized that the same insight-that astronomy was the source of myth-could be applied to the shrouded meaning of other cosmological myths. Based upon this position, the importance of measure and counting was brought to the fore.
Both de Santillana and von Dechend believe that measuring preceded even the development of writing:
Cave art in southern France from 18,000
years ago contains a figure marked with twenty-eight lines, the moon
cycle. This kind of counting and measuring may indeed be the
precursor to more stylized glyphic writing. With these new ideas at
the ready, the "essay" to become Hamletís Mill demanded to be
The statement "current notions about
cultural evolution" refers to a type of social Darwinism in
which human society today is supposed to be hierarchically more
refined and advanced in every essential way than our
grunting, dirty, cave dwelling, "primitive" ancestors of the
Neolithic. This view is naÔve; compare life in a typical
Third World urban slum of today with the cosmopolitan city dwellers
of Alexandria 2,000 years ago. Technology and science is not the
barometer of cultural sophistication. Social Darwinism has
entered the realm of clichť, although still to a surprising
degree it holds currency in the underlying assumptions of many
people, including scholars.
This points us to the central idea without precisely defining it. The authors trace mythic metaphors of cosmological processes around the globe and in so doing, must compare different metaphors and identify similar motifs. One can then deduce that a story describing a heroís journey into the belly of a giant to retrieve magical knowledge, is the same cosmological event as a shamanic journey up the sacred tree to the North Star. Mythic cosmography speaks in mixed metaphors. De Santillana and von Dechend interpret widely scattered myths with the assumption, which many now feel is essentially correct, that cosmological mythic narratives unfold, like given stories, from events observed in night sky. The most ancient myths, though cloaked in culture-specific garb or expressed via different creative metaphors, describe an identical underlying celestial map:
The eleven-page introduction, written by de Santillana, provides an excellent orientation to the authorsí thoughts, motivations, goals, and conclusions. Shakespeareís Hamlet is traced back to the story of Amlohdi and from there to the Viking tale of Grotteís Mill. The popular Norwegian fairy tale called "why the sea is salt," recorded in the early nineteenth century, descends directly from the myth of Grotteís Mill. The Hamletís Mill "essay" then moves farther afield, drawing in a huge amount of related cosmogonic imagery. We first move to Finland, where the incredible Sampo story -its forging and theft - provides detailed imagery describing a World Age shifting of the celestial "frame of time."
From there to Iran, India,
Polynesia, back to Greece, Egypt, Babylonia
and China; even New World mythology fits the criteria. The
entire discussion indicates that ancient people around the globe
observed the slow shifting of the celestial framework, what we call
the precession of the equinoxes. Among academics and without good
reason, the suggestion of this knowledge in ancient times has been
dismissed out of hand, and this is exactly the problem. It is
considered to be so patently impossible that no rational examination
of the mythic forms describing precession has ever
taken place. Hamletís Mill is the first study to seriously
address this question.
This is why its true nature eluded
scholars up until just recently. Furthermore, the numbers associated
with astrological ages and estimates of precession appear much
earlier than Greece-back to Egypt and even in the earliest
mathematical formulations of Sumer. In fact, the key
numbers of Babylonian-Sumerian mathematics (including the
sixty-based system still being used) were derived from astronomical
observations, and point us to the traditional estimate of
precession: 108 x 4 x 60 = 25,920 years. These numbers also
appear in the Hindu Ages of Kali. In comparison, Hipparchus
estimated the complete precessional cycle to be 36,000 years.
Clearly, precessional knowledge and the attendant World Age doctrine
are much older than Greek astronomy and Mithraism.
Time and time again we must remind ourselves of how little we know of ancient human society, and how much we assume. Can we really conceive of what life and thought were like 7,000 years ago? The material data collected from archaeological digs paint a pretty shabby picture of Neolithic life - an assertion that any gaudy museum diarama will attest to. How can we reconstruct the perceptions, myths, and intellectual life of these far off people of the dim past?
Knowing that human beings have,
basically, remained unchanged for at least 40,000 years, how can
we say that our remote ancestors could not observe the subtle
celestial shifting of precession? Our concept of how difficult this
might be is tempered by the problems of our own age, when the skies
are obscured by smog and light pollution, when basic math skills are
the property of the few, and no one has the time or inclination to
read and explore the obscure depths of human history. If we can
admit that our remote ancestors were intelligent enough to conceive
of this majestic and complex doctrine of World Ages, we might
allow ourselves to be smart enough to let go of destructive
tendencies and move into a healthier new era.
Major contributions to this perspective
are implicit in the work of Linda Schele and David Freidel.
In their books Forest of Kings (1990) and Maya Cosmos
(1993), their methods of studying Maya writing, mythological
symbolism and cosmology had to evolve to meet the challenge;
confronted with a level of sophistication barely allowed for in
former approaches to the subject, they adapted new strategies and
new perspectives to help them understand the genius of the Maya. The
greatest fruit of this change in methodology includes acknowledging
that myth describes the sky. With such an understanding, a term like
"archaic mono-myth" simply means that one myth or "model" may have
prevailed around the globe in ancient times simply because everyone
everywhere got their knowledge from the starry sky.
What they describe here, and elsewhere more precisely, is a specific era some 6,500 years ago when the position of the equinoctial sun was aligned with the band of the Milky Way. This provided an obvious celestial alignment, occurring twice a year on the equinoxes, when the sun would conjunct the Milky Way-the Bridge Out of Time-opening the way out of the plane of the living (the zodiac) and up to the cosmic center and source in heaven. A "breaking asunder" occurred when this great cosmogonic picture began to precess out of alignment. Presumably, when the "untuning of the sky" occurred, increasing social tension followed, leading to greater collective confusion and our descent into history. This simple summary is intriguing in itself, and is supported by evidence presented in Hamletís Mill at every step of the way. Some of the problems and questions this scenario evokes will be addressed as we proceed. For example, Hamletís Mill asserts that as a result of precession the zodiac was tilted up with respect to the celestial equator, "and the cycles of change came into being."
However, I am not convinced that, in the minds of the ancient skywatchers, time "came into being" because of this particular event. It certainly could have led to a destabilization of the core institutions then in place, for example, the concept of the Earth-Mother-Goddess as the highest life principle. But I do not see it as a reason for the origin of time itself. It probably led to a belief that traditions formerly held to be "graven in stone" are indeed changeable. It could also have been seen as a great apocalyptic crisis-the destabilization of the corner pillars of the sky in respect to the center-such that one could only set sights on some far future time when the sky would realign itself and a new Golden Age could begin.
These ideas certainly remind us of the
Flood, Greek thought, World Age destruction in Siberian shamanism,
the adventures of Gilgamesh, the descent of Innana, and thus
these cosmological ideas are not isolated or unfounded
constructs. Nevertheless, the "untuning of the sky" was an actual
astronomical occurrence. The whole goal of Hamletís Mill was
to collect and interpret the worldís most ancient myths in light of
the fact of this astronomical event in the Neolithic, and the
assumption that human beings back then were sophisticated enough to
Now, scholars are finally beginning to
honor the contribution of de Santillana and von Dechend.
A progressive and profound interpretation of ancient science and
mythology was put forward in Hamletís Mill. The next great
alignment in this cosmological scheme which I call the archaic
mono-myth is not only right around the corner, but was
anticipated by the ancient Maya, as evidenced by
the Maya calendar end-date,
December 21, 2012 A.D.