Why Sixty Years?


The Sigui ceremony of the Dogon is celebrated every sixty years. What precedents for such a period of time, given religious importance, are to be found in the ancient world?

The Egyptians had such a period associated with Osiris.1 We also find the sixty-year period reduplicated by them in a manner familiar from the reduplications of the fifty-year period of Sirius B, and also in the Dogon custom of speaking of 'uniting two Sigui':

'The henti period consisted of two periods, each containing sixty years.'

And this period is described in a Hymn to Osiris:2

'. . . most terrible is his name of "Asar" (Osiris). The duration of his existence is an eternal henti period in his name of "Un-Nefer".'

The henti period may, by pun, have had some association with the phallus, henn. I only suggest this because of the connection of circumcision with the Sigui ceremonies of the Dogon. It is pure speculation. Henti is also a title of Osiris, presumably arising from the fact that the duration of Osiris's existence is said to be 'an eternal henti period'.

My own predilection, when considering the period of sixty years, is to think in terms of a synchronization of the orbital periods of the two planets Jupiter and Saturn, for these come together in nearly sixty years. The orbital period of Jupiter is approximately twelve years and that of Saturn approximately thirty years. Five times twelve is sixty and two times thirty is also sixty.


Sixty years is the great period which brings into synchronization the movements of the two great outer planets which can be seen by the eye. I have no doubt that this sixty-year period has been of considerable importance in ancient times, and the sharp-eyed Egyptians would have been well aware of it.

In speaking of the revolutions of Jupiter and Saturn, the Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus has written:3

'That of Jupiter ... is effected in twelve years. And . . . that of Saturn ... is completed in thirty years. The stars, therefore, are not conjoined with each other in their revolutions except rarely. Thus, for instance, the sphere of Saturn and the sphere of Jupiter are conjoined with each other in their revolutions, in sixty years.


For if the sphere of Jupiter comes from the same to the same in twelve years, but that of Saturn in thirty years, it is evident that when Jupiter has made five, Saturn will have made two revolutions: for twice thirty is sixty, and so likewise is twelve times five; so that their revolutions will be conjoined in sixty years. Souls, therefore, are punished for such like periods.'

These observations of Olympiodorus, from his Commentary on Plato's Gorgias in the form of scholia, are cited by Thomas Taylor as comment on a passage by Apuleius (best known as author of The Golden Ass) in one of his Platonic essays:4

'For in order that the measures and revolutions of times might be known, and that the convolutions of the world might be visible, the light of the sun was enkindled; and vice versa, the opacity of night was invented, in order that animals might obtain the rest which they naturally desire.


Month likewise was produced, when the moon, having completed the revolution of her orb, returns to the same place from whence she departed. And the spaces of the year were terminated when the sun had passed through the four vicissitudes of the seasons, and arrived at the same sign.


And the numerations of these circulations, returning into, and proceeding from, themselves, was discovered by the exercise of the reasoning power. Nevertheless, there are certain circuits of the stars, which perpetually observe a legitimate course, but which the sagacity of men can scarcely comprehend. . . . the supreme of all of them (is that of the fixed stars) . . . the second is given to Saturn, the third to Jupiter ...'

This esoteric cycle conjoining the motions of Saturn and Jupiter would have seemed of immense importance to all ancient astronomers who had a good grasp of their subject. A cycle of sixty years is so long that no single person can live long enough to verify its recurrence a second time. The knowledge of such a cycle required a continuing tradition of observation which implies a priesthood with astronomical inclinations.


The discovery and verification over more than one generation of an esoteric cycle joining the two great outer planets would appear as exciting to the ancient priests as discovering DNA has been to modern biochemists. To 'crack' the mysteries of the motions of the two outer planets is quite an achievement. No wonder, then, that the Dogon maintain that a priest who 'united two Sigui' is really rather special.


Apart from the fact that no one lives 120 years very easily, and thus 'uniting two Sigui' is accepted as having celebrated two Sigui ceremonies in a lifetime, the reduplication of the cycle may be taken to signify that only by checking to see if it happens a second time can the cycle be verified.


To unite two of the cycles is to achieve a henti, which we have just seen the Egyptians describe both as 120 years and as 'eternal'. How can 120 years be 'eternity'? This can be so when eternity is seen to consist of a cyclical construction. In other words, eternity is not a straight line to infinity but is rather an endless series of coils of the same size compressed into a great spring, known as time, and with the impetus of happening.

By chance, I found in an extremely obscure old book5 from early in the nineteenth century a reference to a sixty-year period in the ancient world. The book is primarily a meandering of speculations concerning Stonehenge and British stone circles. It points out that Stonehenge has sixty stones in its outer circle.


Then we read:

'. . . (this) outer circle is the oriental cycle of Vrihaspati, 6o'.6

The author later adds:7

'The great temple of Rolrich, in Oxfordshire,8 is surrounded with 60 upright stones; the cycle of Vrihaspati, an example not far distant from the others.'

Later the author adds:

'the number 60 is the base of the famous cycle called the Saros of 3,600 years of the Chaldees or Culdees of Babylon . . .' and he mentions also that it is the decimal part of the 600-year cycle of the Neros period from the ancient Near East. But as for the 'famous Indian cycle of Vrihaspati', he seems upset that Indian brahmans explained it 'by saying that it arose from 5 revolutions of the planet Jupiter . . ,'"

Passing beyond our quaint old source book, we may investigate this rumored Indian cycle of Vrihaspati. We soon discover that it does indeed exist in Indian tradition, where it is more properly known as that of Brihaspati. The name Brihaspati (or Vrihaspati) is the name of the planet Jupiter in Sanskrit, and the cycle which takes its name from this planet is a 6o-year cycle.

Looking further into the matter of Brihaspati, I discovered that a Brihaspaticakra has two specific meanings: the Hindu cycle of sixty years, and also 'a particular astrological diagram'. I have not been able to locate a design of this diagram. But the fact that such a diagram exists indicates to me even further that the coincidence of five orbits of Jupiter with two of Saturn may be intended here.


For it is by means of a particular astrological diagram that one traditionally computes the relative positions of Saturn and Jupiter. I reproduce two such diagrams in Figures 41 and 42. These diagrams were prepared by Johannes Kepler, discoverer of our three laws of Planetary Motion, and whom I discussed slightly in Appendix I.10

In reference to these very diagrams, Santillana and von Dechend tell us in Hamlet's Mill,11

'A "mighty conjunction" thus corresponds to the revolution of one angle or corner of the trigon of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions - built up in sixty years (more correctly: 59.6 years) - through the whole zodiac . . .'

And further:

'. . . (in) Greece, where we have - besides the wrestling of Kronos and Saturn at Olympia also the Daidalia, held in the interval of sixty years sixty-year cycles in India, or in the West Sudan, are not likely to be understood, if the scholars prefer to inhibit the trigon of the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction . . .'

And this trigon must be diagrammatically presented.

We thus see that Santillana and von Dechend specifically identify sixty-year cycles of the West Sudan, where the Dogon live, with the Jupiter-Saturn synchronism over sixty years. This was not known to me when I assumed the same thing: the reader will appreciate that such a concurrence of opinion urged me to think this idea correct.

The Dogon associate a 60-year period with the creation of the world by Amma.12 In the light of this, it is interesting that in the Western astrological tradition, Saturn 'gives the measures of creation' to Jupiter specifically through the interconnection of their orbits in the way which we have been describing. Santillana and von Dechend explain this quite well13 and Johannes Kepler's works De Stella Nova and De Vero Anno are relevant to the subject.14


See also Figures 41 and 42 for the diagrams by which Saturn gives the (temporal) measures of creation to Jupiter. There is a Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn every twenty years, as the diagrams show. The Dogon seem to be aware of the 20-year subdivision of the 60-year period too. If the reader turns back to the Griaule and Dieterlen article which follows Chapter One of this book, and studies Figure ii accompanying that article, as well as the text referring to it, he will see that the Sigui 60-year computation is broken down into 20-year segments.

The act of circumcision, to the Dogon, symbolizes the orbit of Sirius B around Sirius A. It may well be, then, that such a tendency to use genital symbolism in connection with heavenly motions explains the 'castration' of Saturn by Jupiter in Greek mythology.


Figure xii of the Griaule and Dieterlen article in this book records the 'mutilating domination of Sirius over the femininity of Yasigui'.

In Le Renard Pale one reads a great deal about genital mutilation, castration, circumcisions, female circumcisions, and so on. These strange conceptions of genital violence associated symbolically to heavenly movements obviously came to the Dogon along with the rest of their ancient traditions, and survive as well in the Mediterranean region indigenously.


The mutilation of Saturn by Jupiter, and the various creations which sprang from the resulting blood and seed, are of the same current of tradition as all the elements of a similar kind to be found among the Dogon, and which are related to these comparative orbitings of Saturn and Jupiter, as well as other heavenly bodies.


The placenta comes back into the picture too. We have seen in the main text of the book that the placenta is the symbol; for the Dogon, of a planetary system, and the system of our sun and its planets is a placenta. It is therefore interesting that the Dogon say that 60 is the count of the cosmic placenta.15


For this specifically identifies the 60 years as a count defining our planetary system, define our cosmic placenta, our solar system, for them.

The Dogon even break 60 down themselves into '5 series of 12'16 and twice thirty, which seems a fairly specific indication that our hypothesis has a sound basis. For the last point, the drawing above the door of the Dogon sanctuary of Binou17 reinforces these ideas. This drawing is used for the computation of the Sigui. Accompanying this drawing is a drawing of the Nommo which is broken down into two major portions: his right 'leg' marks the first thirty years and his left 'leg the second thirty years.


The legs are joined to represent that only taken together do these two thirty-year periods have significance. And, as we know, Nommo did not actually have legs. He had a fish-tail extremity.


The fact that each 'leg' represents a period of years is made quite clear by the information given that,

'the left leg is made a little longer every year in such a way that it is the same length as the other (leg) by the time of the Sigui.'

This process recalls Plutarch's remark, noted much earlier in the book, that Zeus (Jupiter) had his legs joined together. In short, Jupiter's legs were joined together because each of his 'legs' represented one of the thirty-year orbital periods of his father Saturn, and it was on his father that he stood. For Saturn upheld Jupiter's creation by providing him with the temporal measures, as Santillana and von Dechend explain.18


And the Dogon are the people who preserve this intricate tradition most fully, which should not surprise us. They say that 60 is the 'number of the placenta', and indeed it is. Without 60 we could not define our solar system according to the traditional view of it - and this traditional view is the one resting on the capabilities of observation, which is sensible.


For us to define our system today by saying it is bounded by the motions of a tiny body called Pluto doesn't mean anything to anybody. For us to ground ourselves in the weighty and ponderous motions of those two observable planets Saturn and Jupiter, and define our solar system - perhaps 'poetically' - by their motions as extremities, we would be striking a deep chord in that music of the spheres of which we have all heard fanciful tales, but of which today we know nothing.


But music which cannot be heard is not necessarily lost to the inner ear. Music, after all, is not necessarily audible sound. Harmony transcends the sensibly perceptive. The observance of a celestial harmony in the ancient cultures helped keep a sane perspective. To acknowledge the deep resounding bass of the 60-year cycle was the ultimate poetic myth of the solar system, expressed in that vast mythological fabric woven around all the heavenly bodies, a whole cloth binding together both man and planets in a cosmic unity which gave man dignity and meaning in a world whose periods and cycles he had defined and celebrated in his religious festivals.


Even today we do this, but have lost consciousness of it; Easter is defined by the moon. But who notices that? The cosmic bodies make their silent music but we have stopped our ears. We do not wish to be integrally related to our cosmic environment by observances of the great motions above us.


All the reader need do is to take the cotton wool out of his ears and listen. He will hear silence. And the cycles and periods of that silence are the beautiful music of the cosmos.


But as long as we keep our ears stopped, we will be deafened by our inner noise and will have those tortured 'modern' looks on our faces.


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  1. Wallis Budge. Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 67.

  2. Ibid.

  3. From his Scholia Commentary to Plato's Gorgias, translated by Thomas Taylor, and given by Taylor in a footnote to Apuleius's essay on the Doctrines of Plato, 'On Natural Philosophy',

  4. p. 333 in the book cited in next note.

  5. Apuleius. The Metamorphosis or Golden Ass and Philosophical Works, trans, by Thomas Taylor, London, 1822. This book contains four of Apuleius's essays of which three arc otherwise unobtainable in English translation; one is on 'The God of Socrates' and three are on the philosophy of Plato; the first of these three is relevant here; p.333 4. (The one on Socrates was also translated for Holm's library.)

  6. Higgins, Godfrey. The Celtic Druids, London, 1827.

  7. Ibid., p. 240.

  8. Ibid., p. 241.

  9. The monument which Higgins calls Rolrich is now known as Rollright. It is privately owned. Anyone wishing to view it closely should contact the owner: Pauline Flick, 1 Sparke's Cottages, Graham Terrace, London S.W.I, England. The monument is Rollright Stones, at Little Rollright, Oxfordshire, England.

  10. Higgins, op. cit., p. 244.

  11. These figures come from Santillana and von Dechend, Hamlet's Mill, op. cit., and are found there opposite page 134 and opposite page 268.

  12. Ibid., Appendix 23.

  13. Griaule and Dieterlen, Le Renard Pale, op. cit., pp. 83-4.

  14. See Note 11.

  15. Ibid. These works of Kepler's are discussed by Santillana and von Dechend.

  16. Le Renard Pale, p. 177.

  17. Ibid., p. 185.

  18. See 'A Sudanese Sirius System' in this book.

  19. See Note 11.