It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work Book Cover It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work
Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson,
Business & Economics
October 2, 2018

This is a quick, must read.

Chaos should not be the norm.

They run 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off projects. Sprints/release cycle for 6, 2 weeks to review and plan the next 6 weeks.

They don't use goals. They don't set targets for the sake of setting a target. They don't have a product road map. Promises lead to rushing. Promises pile up like debt and they accrue interest.

They opt for depth not breadth.




An unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost sets towering, unrealistic expectations that stress people out.

There’s not more work to be done all of a sudden. The problem is that there’s hardly any uninterrupted, dedicated time to do it. People are working more but getting less done. It doesn’t add up—until you account for the majority of time being wasted on things that don’t matter.

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer distractions, less always-on anxiety, and avoiding stress.

The modern workplace is sick. Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Sitting in meetings all day isn’t required for success. These are all perversions of work — side effects of broken models and follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices.

It begins with this idea: Your company is a product.

Like product development, progress is achieved through iteration.

But when you think of the company as a product, you ask different questions: Do people who work here know how to use the company? Is it simple? Complex? Is it obvious how it works? What’s fast about it? What’s slow about it? Are there bugs? What’s broken that we can fix quickly and what’s going to take a long time?

We work on projects for six weeks at a time, then we take two weeks off from scheduled work to roam and decompress.

Calm is a destination

What’s our market share? Don’t know, don’t care. It’s irrelevant. Do we have enough customers paying us enough money to cover our costs and generate a profit? Yes. Is that number increasing every year? Yes. That’s good enough for us. Doesn’t matter if we’re 2 percent of the market or 4 percent or 75 percent. What matters is that we have a healthy business with sound economics that work for us. Costs under control, profitable sales.

Mark Twain nailed it: “Comparison is the death of joy.”

we don’t do goals. At all. No customer-count goals, no sales goals, no retention goals, no revenue goals, no specific profitability goals (other than to be profitable). Seriously.

Do we want to make things better? All the time. But do we want to maximize “better” through constantly chasing goals? No thanks.

Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets. These made-up numbers then function as a source of unnecessary stress until they’re either achieved or abandoned. And when that happens, you’re supposed to pick new ones and start stressing again.

Short-term planning has gotten a bum rap, but we think it’s undeserved. Every six weeks or so, we decide what we’ll be working on next. And that’s the only plan we have. Anything further out is considered a “maybe, we’ll see.”

Seeing a bad idea through just because at one point it sounded like a good idea is a tragic waste of energy and talent.

Oftentimes it’s not breaking out, but diving in, digging deeper, staying in your rabbit hole that brings the biggest gains. Depth, not breadth, is where mastery is often found.

we don’t cram. We don’t rush. We don’t stuff. We work at a relaxed, sustainable pace. And what doesn’t get done in 40 hours by Friday at 5 picks up again Monday morning at 9.

If you can’t fit everything you want to do within 40 hours per week, you need to get better at picking what to do, not work longer hours. Most of what we think we have to do, we don’t have to do at all. It’s a choice, and often it’s a poor one.

We don’t have status meetings at Basecamp.

Eight people in a room for an hour doesn’t cost one hour, it costs eight hours.

And between all those context switches and attempts at multitasking, you have to add buffer time. Time for your head to leave the last thing and get into the next thing.

A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck. Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.

No one can see anyone else’s calendar at Basecamp.

We don’t require anyone to broadcast their whereabouts or availability at Basecamp. No butts-in-seats requirement for people at the office, no virtual-status indicator when they’re working remotely.

At Basecamp, we’ve tried to create a culture of eventual response rather than immediate response. One where everyone doesn’t lose their shit if the answer to a nonurgent question arrives three hours later.

People should be missing out! Most people should miss out on most things most of the time.

JOMO! The joy of missing out. It’s JOMO that lets you turn off the firehose of information and chatter and interruptions to actually get the right shit done.

One way we push back against this at Basecamp is by writing monthly “Heartbeats.” Summaries of the work and progress that’s been done and had by a team, written by the team lead, to the entire company. All the minutiae boiled down to the essential points others would care to know. Just enough to keep someone in the loop without having to internalize dozens of details that don’t matter.

The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. They’re there to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so that when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour, they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.

If the boss really wants to know what’s going on, the answer is embarrassingly obvious: They have to ask! Not vague, self-congratulatory bullshit questions like “What can we do even better?” but the hard ones like “What’s something nobody dares to talk about?” or “Are you afraid of anything at work?” or “Is there anything you worked on recently that you wish you could do over?” Or even more specific ones like “What do you think we could have done differently to help Jane succeed?” or “What advice would you give before we start on the big website redesign project?”

Posing real, pointed questions is the only way to convey that it’s safe to provide real answers. And even then it’s going to take a while. Maybe you get 20 percent of the story the first time you ask, then 50 percent after a while, and if you’ve really nailed it as a trustworthy boss, you may get to 80 percent. Forget about ever getting the whole story.

The further away you are from the fruit, the lower it looks. Once you get up close, you see it’s quite a bit higher than you thought. We assume that picking it will be easy only because we’ve never tried to do it before.

Declaring that an unfamiliar task will yield low-hanging fruit is almost always an admission that you have little insight about what you’re setting out to do.

And any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.

All-nighters are red flags, not green lights. If people are pulling them, pull back. Nearly everything can wait until morning.

It doesn’t matter how good you are at the job if you’re an ass. Nothing you can do for us would make up for that.

We don’t need 50 twentysomething clones in hoodies with all of the same cultural references. We do better work, broader work, and more considered work when the team reflects the diversity of our customer base. “Not exactly what we already have” is a quality in itself.

For example, when we’re choosing a new designer, we hire each of the finalists for a week, pay them $1,500 for that time, and ask them to do a sample project for us. Then we have something to evaluate that’s current, real, and completely theirs.

What we don’t do are riddles, blackboard problem solving, or fake “come up with the answer on the spot” scenarios. We don’t answer riddles all day, we do real work. So we give people real work to do and the appropriate time to do it in. It’s the same kind of work they’d be doing if they got the job.

They hire someone based on a list of previous qualifications, not on their current abilities.

Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured, the seeds for which are readily available all over the globe for companies willing to do the work.

We no longer negotiate salaries or raises at Basecamp. Everyone in the same role at the same level is paid the same. Equal work, equal pay.

We assess new hires on a scale that goes from junior programmer, to programmer, to senior programmer, to lead programmer, to principal programmer (or designer or customer support or ops or whatever role we’re hiring for). We use the same scale to assess when someone is in line for a promotion. Every employee, new or old, fits into a level on the scale, and there is a salary pegged to each level per role. Once every year we review market rates and issue raises automatically. Our target is to pay everyone at the company at the top 10 percent of the market regardless of their role. So

We encourage remote work and have many employees who’ve lived all over the world while continuing to work for Basecamp.

There’s a fountain of happiness and productivity in working with a stable crew. It’s absolutely key to how we’re able to do so much with so few at Basecamp. We’re baffled that such a competitive advantage isn’t more diligently sought.

Rather than thinking of it as an office, we think of it as a library. In fact, we call our guiding principle: Library Rules.

In our office, if someone’s at their desk, we assume they’re deep in thought and focused on their work. That means we don’t walk up to them and interrupt them. It also means conversations should be kept to a whisper so as not to disturb anyone who could possibly hear you. Quiet runs the show.

To account for the need for the occasional full-volume collaboration, we’ve designated a handful of small rooms in the center of the office where people can go to if they need to work on something together (or make a private call).

In our industry, it’s become common practice to offer “unlimited vacation days.” It sounds so appealing! But peel back the label and it’s a pretty rotten practice.

Unlimited vacation is a stressful benefit because it’s not truly unlimited.

“Basecamp offers three weeks of paid vacation, a few extra personal days to use at your discretion, and the standard national holidays every year. This is a guideline, so if you need a couple extra days, no problem. We don’t track your days off, we use the honor system. Just make sure to check with your team before taking any extended absence, so they’re not left in the lurch.”

If you don’t clearly communicate to everyone else why someone was let go, the people who remain at the company will come up with their own story to explain it. Those stories will almost certainly be worse than the real reason.

A dismissal opens a vacuum, and unless you fill that vacuum with facts, it’ll quickly fill with rumors, conjecture, anxiety, and fear. If you want to avoid that, you simply have to be honest and clear with everyone about what just happened. Even if it’s hard. That’s why whenever someone leaves Basecamp, an immediate goodbye announcement is sent out companywide.

When it comes to chat, we have two primary rules of thumb: “Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time” and “If it’s important, slow down.”

Important topics need time, traction, and separation from the rest of the chatter. If something is being discussed in a chat room and it’s clearly too important to process one line at a time, we ask people to “write it up” instead. This goes together with the rule “If everyone needs to see it, don’t chat about it.” Give the discussion a dedicated, permanent home that won’t scroll away in five minutes.

You can’t fix a deadline and then add more work to it. That’s not fair. Our projects can only get smaller over time, not larger. As we progress, we separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves and toss out the nonessentials.

And who makes the decision about what stays and what goes in a fixed period of time? The team that’s working on it. Not the CEO, not the CTO. The team that’s doing the work has control over the work. They wield the “scope hammer,” as we call it. They can crush the big must-haves into smaller pieces and then judge each piece individually and objectively. Then they can sort, sift, and decide what’s worth keeping and what can wait.

Here are some of the telltale signs that your deadline is really a dreadline: An unreasonably large amount of work that needs to be done in an unreasonably short amount of time. “This massive redesign and reorganization needs to happen in two weeks. Yeah, I know half the team is out on vacation next week, but that’s not my problem.” An unreasonable expectation of quality given the resources and time. “We can’t compromise on quality—every detail must be perfect by Friday. Whatever it takes.” An ever-expanding amount of work in the same time frame as originally promised. “The CEO just told me that we also need to launch this in Spanish and Italian, not just English.”

When we present work, it’s almost always written up first. A complete idea in the form of a carefully composed multipage document. Illustrated, whenever possible. And then it’s posted to Basecamp, which lets everyone involved know there’s a complete idea waiting to be considered.

We don’t want reactions. We don’t want first impressions. We don’t want knee-jerks. We want considered feedback. Read it over. Read it twice, three times even. Sleep on it. Take your time to gather and present your thoughts—just like the person who pitched the original idea took their time to gather and present theirs.

That’s how you go deep on an idea.

Friday is the worst day to release anything.

So instead of shipping big software updates on Fridays, we now wait until Monday the following week to do it. Yes, this introduced other risks—if we somehow make a big mistake, we’re introducing it on the busiest day of the week. But knowing that also helps us be better prepared for the release. When there’s more at stake, you tend to measure twice, cut once.

This encouraged us to take quality assurance more seriously, so we can catch more issues ahead of time.

We hire when it hurts. Slowly, and only after we clearly need someone. Not in anticipation of possibly maybe.

When calm starts early, calm becomes the habit. But if you start crazy, it’ll define you. You have to keep asking yourself if the way you’re working today is the way you’d want to work in 10, 20, or 30 years. If not, now is the time to make a change, not “later.”

Today we ship things when they’re ready rather than when they’re coordinated. If it’s ready for the web, ship it! iOS will catch up when they’re ready. Or if iOS is first, Android will get there when they’re ready. The same is true for the web. Customers get the value when it’s ready wherever, not when it’s ready everywhere.

So don’t tie more knots, cut more ties. The fewer bonds, the better.

We’ve been practicing disagree and commit since the beginning, but it took Bezos’s letter to name the practice. Now we even use that exact term in our discussions. “I disagree, but let’s commit” is something you’ll hear at Basecamp after heated debates about specific products or strategy decisions.

Companies waste an enormous amount of time and energy trying to convince everyone to agree before moving forward on something. What they’ll often get is reluctant acceptance that masks secret resentment.

Instead, they should allow everyone to be heard and then turn the decision over to one person to make the final call. It’s their job to listen, consider, contemplate, and decide.

Calm companies get this. Everyone’s invited to pitch their ideas, make their case, and have their say, but then the decision is left to someone else.

Knowing when to embrace Good Enough is what gives you the opportunity to be truly excellent when you need to be.

Change makes things worse all the time. It’s easier to fuck up something that’s working well than it is to genuinely improve it. But we commonly delude ourselves into thinking that more time, more investment, more attention is always going to win.

Calm requires getting comfortable with enough.

The only way to get more done is to have less to do.

It’s not time management, it’s obligation elimination. Everything else is snake oil.

Nearly all product work at Basecamp is done by teams of three people. It’s our magic number. A team of three is usually composed of two programmers and one designer. And if it’s not three, it’s one or two rather than four or five. We don’t throw more people at problems, we chop problems down until they can be carried across the finish line by teams of three.

We rarely have meetings at Basecamp, but when we do, you’ll hardly ever find more than three people around a table. Same with conference calls or video chats. Any conversation with more than three people is typically a conversation with too many people.

What if there are five departments involved in a project or a decision? There aren’t. We don’t work on projects like that—intentionally.

Three is a wedge, and that’s why it works. Three has a sharp point.

You can do big things with small teams, but it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to do small things with big teams.

If the boss is constantly pulling people off one project to chase another, nobody’s going to get anything done.

“Pull-offs” can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common one is that someone senior has a new idea that Just Can’t Wait.

We make every idea wait a while. Generally a few weeks, at least. That’s just enough time either to forget about it completely or to realize you can’t stop thinking about it.

What makes this pause possible is that our projects don’t go on forever. Six weeks max, and generally shorter.

That means we have natural opportunities to consider new ideas every few weeks. We don’t have to cut something short to start something new. First we finish what we started, then we consider what we want to tackle next. When the urgency of now goes away, so does the anxiety. This approach also prevents unfinished work from piling up.

Having a box full of stale work is no fun. Happiness is shipping: finishing good work, sending it off, and then moving on to the next idea.

Winter is when we buckle down and take on larger, more challenging projects. Summer, with its shorter 4-day weeks, is when we tackle simpler, lighter projects.

People grow dull and stiff if they stay in the same swing for too long.

We’ve also intentionally never gotten ahead of ourselves. We’ve always kept our costs in check and never made a move that would push us back from black to red. Why? Because crazy’s in the red. Calm’s in the black.

Revenue alone is no defense, either, because revenue without a profit margin isn’t going to save you. You can easily go broke generating revenue—many companies have. But you can’t go broke generating a profit.

The worst customer is the one you can’t afford to lose. The big whale that can crush your spirit and fray your nerves with just a hint of their dissatisfaction. These are the customers who keep you up at night.

We’ve rejected the per-seat business model from day one. It’s not because we don’t like money, but because we like our freedom more!

So we take the opposite approach. Buy Basecamp today and it’s just $99/month, flat and fixed. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 employees, 50, 500, or 5,000—it’s still just $99/month total. You can’t pay us more than that.

First, since no one customer can pay us an outsized amount, no one customer’s demands for features or fixes or exceptions will automatically rise to the top. This leaves us free to make software for ourselves and on behalf of a broad base of customers, not at the behest of any single one or a privileged few. It’s a lot easier to do the right thing for the many when you don’t fear displeasing a few super customers.

Third, we didn’t want to get sucked into the mechanics that chasing big contracts inevitably leads to. Key account managers. Sales meetings. Schmoozing. The enterprise sales playbook is well established and repulsive to us. But it’s also unavoidable once you open the door to the big bucks from the big shots. Again, no thank you.

Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for. It’s not that any particular choice is the right one, but not making one or dithering is definitely the wrong one.

At Basecamp we live this philosophy to the extreme. We don’t show any customers anything until every customer can see it. We don’t beta-test with customers. We don’t ask people what they’d pay for something. We don’t ask anyone what they think of something. We do the best job we know how to do and then we launch it into the market. The market will tell us the truth.

Putting everything we build in front of customers beforehand is slow, costly, and results in a mountain of prerelease feedback that has to be sifted through, considered, debated, discussed, and decided upon. And yet it’s still all just a guess! That’s a lot of energy to spend guessing.

Since the beginning of Basecamp, we’ve been loath to make promises about future product improvements. We’ve always wanted customers to judge the product they could buy and use today, not some imaginary version that might exist in the future.

It’s why we’ve never committed to a product road map. It’s not because we have a secret one in the back of some smoky room we don’t want to share, but because one doesn’t actually exist. We honestly don’t know what we’ll be working on in a year, so why act like we do?

Promises lead to—rushing, dropping, scrambling, and a tinge of regret at the earlier promise that was a bit too easy to make.

Promises pile up like debt, and they accrue interest, too. The longer you wait to fulfill them, the more they cost to pay off and the worse the regret. When it’s time to do the work, you realize just how expensive that yes really was.

And if the whole world’s singing your songs And all of your paintings have been hung Just remember what was yours Is everyone’s from now on And that’s not wrong or right But you can struggle with it all you like You’ll only get uptight —Wilco, “What Light”

What people don’t like is forced change—change they didn’t request on a timeline they didn’t choose. Your “new and improved” can easily become their “what the fuck?” when it is dumped on them as a surprise.

We still run three completely different versions of Basecamp: our original software that we sold from 2004 to 2012, our second version that we sold from 2012 to 2015, and our third version that launched in 2015. Every new version was “better,” but we never force anyone to upgrade to a new version. If you signed up for the original version back in 2007, you can keep using that forever.

Things get harder as you go, not easier. The easiest day is day one. That’s the dirty little secret of business.

If you understand what the future might look like, you can visualize it and be ready when the rain doesn’t let up. It’s all about setting expectations.

Startups are easy, stayups are hard.

Turning down growth, turning down revenue. Companies are culturally and structurally encouraged to get bigger and bigger.

Maintain a sustainable, manageable size. We’d still grow, but slowly and in control.

America Before

America Before Book Cover America Before
Graham Hancock
Body, Mind & Spirit
St. Martin's Press
April 23, 2019

Hancock challenges the archaeological orthodoxy's view that North and South America were the last places to be settled by humans.

Hancock posits a theory that an ancient globally distributed system of ASTRO-ARCHITECTURE that created monuments on the ground which mimic patterns of certain constellations in the sky. Since before he wrote Fingerprints of the Gods, Hancock has been searching for a lost ancient high civilization.

The design of the sacred architecture of the world is ruled by geometry. Hancock uses Richard Dawkins' term "meme" to describe this system of behavior being passed from one individual to the other.

Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Serpent Mound, Ohio - all are concerned with deliberate orientation to the sky - some honor the solstices. Architectural, astronomical, geometrical memes across different parts of the world AND across many different time periods.

A quote from the book:

"Contrary to the mainstream, my broad conclusion is that an advanced global seafaring civilization existed during the Ice Age, that it mapped the earth as it looked then with stunning accuracy, and that it had solved the problem of longitude, which our own civilization failed to do until the invention of Harrison’s marine chronometer in the late eighteenth century. As masters of celestial navigation, as explorers, as geographers, and as cartographers, therefore, this lost civilization of 12,800 years ago was not outstripped by Western science until less than 300 years ago at the peak of the Age of Discovery."

Plato, in the oldest-surviving written source of the Atlantis tradition, describes it as an island “larger than Libya and Asia put together” situated far to the west of Europe across the Atlantic Ocean.

ARCHAEOLOGY TEACHES US THAT THE vast, inviting, resource-rich continents of North and South America were among the very last places on earth to have been inhabited by human beings. Only a handful of remote islands were settled later. This is the orthodoxy, but it is crumbling under an onslaught of compelling new evidence revealed by new technologies, notably the effective sequencing of ancient DNA.

Far from being very recent, it is beginning to look as though the human presence in the Americas may be very old—perhaps more than 100,000 years older than has hitherto been believed.

Moreover, the New World was physically, genetically, and culturally separated from the Old around 12,000 years ago when rising sea levels submerged the land bridge that formerly connected Siberia to Alaska.

“Serpent Mound Cryptoexplosion Structure.” Only since the late 1990s has mounting evidence led to today’s widespread consensus that it was, as many had long suspected, formed by a hypervelocity cosmic impact. Dating back to the time of the impact, an intense magnetic anomaly centered on the site causes compasses to give wildly inaccurate readings. I’d go further. I’d say our Serpent is Gitché Manitou—the Great Spirit and ancestral guardian of the ancient people.”

At Serpent Mound, however, as Ross Hamilton points out, these so-called superstitious primitives were demonstrably the masters of some very exacting scientific techniques. He gives me a penetrating look. “Just consider the precision with which they found true north and balanced the whole effigy around that north–south line. It was a long while before modern surveyors could match it.

All these places are man-made sanctuaries that speak to the union of heaven and earth at key moments of the year. They might rightly be described as hierophanies because their fundamental purpose is to reveal and manifest the sacred connection between macrocosm and microcosm, sky and ground, “above” and “below.”

North America has its Great Serpent Mound, a natural ridge, modified and enhanced by humans to join heaven and earth at sunset on the summer solstice.

archaeoastronomer Anthony F. Aveni,

In the 1980s, as we’ll see in part 2, there was a general acceptance that humans might have first arrived in the Americas by 12,000 or even 13,000 years ago. But those earliest migrants were deemed by archaeologists to have been scattered hunter-gatherer groups, living from hand to mouth and lacking the vision, sophistication, and level of organization required to create a monument on the scale of Serpent Mound.

No carbon dating had been done,

The first carbon-dating of Serpent Mound and found it to be much younger than everyone had supposed—not 2,000 years old or more, but 1,000 years old or less.

Instead he focuses on the form of the serpent, which he perceives as a terrestrial image of the constellation Draco.

In my 1998 book Heaven’s Mirror, for example, I present evidence that this enormous constellation, widely depicted as a serpent by many ancient cultures, served as the celestial blueprint according to which the temples of Angkor in Cambodia were laid out on the ground—with each temple “below” matching a star “above.” The essence of my case is that the notion of “as above so below” expressed in the architecture of Angkor is part of an ancient globally distributed doctrine—or “system”—that set out quite deliberately to create monuments on the ground, all around the world, to mimic the patterns of certain significant constellations in the sky.

Thus around 3000 BC, just before the start of the Pyramid Age in Egypt, the pole star was Thuban (Alpha Draconis) in the constellation Draco. At the time of the Greeks it was Beta Ursae Minoris. In AD 14000 it will be Vega.

What makes Draco particularly significant and remarkable was summed up in 1791 in two lines from a poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and natural philosopher Erasmus Darwin: With vast convolutions Draco holds Th’ ecliptic axis in his scaly folds. This “ecliptic axis”—astronomers today call it the “pole of the ecliptic”—is the still, fixed point in the celestial vault around which the vast circle of the north celestial pole makes its endlessly repeated 25,920-year journey. It is the one place in the sky that never moves or changes while everything else about it dances and shifts, and once you recognize it for what it is—nothing less than the very heart of heaven—it’s striking how the serpentine constellation of Draco seems to coil protectively around it.

I know what Ross is reminding me of here is a connection he’s written about between the geometry of Stonehenge and the geometry of Serpent Mound, which he regards as “two elements comprising a larger picture pointing to a highly evolved school of astro-architecture, the origin of which is not known.”9

My whole focus, since long before the publication of Fingerprints of the Gods in 1995, has been a quest for a high civilization of remote antiquity, a civilization that can rightly be described as “lost” because the very fact that it existed at all has been overlooked by archaeologists.

A site called Blackwater Draw near the town of Clovis, New Mexico, where bones of extinct Ice Age mammals were found in 1929 and assumed, rightly, to be very old.

Anthropologist Edgar B. Howard of the University of Pennsylvania disagreed.17 He began excavations at Blackwater Draw in 1933, concluded that it was possible that humans had been in North America for tens of thousands of years.

There are now two schools of thought around its proposed antiquity and duration. The so-called long interval school dates the first appearance of Clovis in North America to 13,400 years ago and its mysterious extinction and disappearance from the archaeological record to around 12,800 years ago—a period of 600 years. The “short interval” school also accepts 12,800 years ago for the end date of Clovis but sets the start date at 13,000 years ago—therefore allowing it an existence of just 200 years. Both schools agree that this unique and distinctive culture must have originated somewhere else because, from the first evidence for its presence, it is already sophisticated and fully formed, deploying advanced weapons and hunting tactics.

No traces of the early days of Clovis, of the previous evolution and development of its characteristic tools, weapons, and lifeways, have been found anywhere in Asia. All we can say for sure is that once it had made its presence felt in North America the Clovis culture spread very widely across a huge swath of the continent, with sites as far apart as Alaska, northern Mexico, New Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Washington state.28 Such an expansion would have been extremely rapid were it to have occurred in 600 years and seems almost miraculously fast if it was in fact accomplished in 200 years.29

A consensus soon began to emerge that no older cultures would ever be found—and what is now known as the “Clovis First” paradigm was conceived.

September 1964. That was when archaeologist C. Vance Haynes, today Regents Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and a senior member of the National Academy of Sciences, published a landmark paper in the journal Science. Snappily titled “Fluted Projectile Points: Their Age and Dispersion,”31

First, Haynes pointed out that, because of lowered sea level during the Ice Age, much of the area occupied today by the Bering Sea was above water, and where the Bering Strait now is, a tundra-covered landscape connected eastern Siberia and western Alaska.

Things changed around 14,100 years ago, Haynes claimed, when a generalized warming of global climate caused an ice-free corridor to open up between the Laurentide and the Cordilleran ice caps, allowing entry for the first time in many millennia to the rich, unglaciated plains, teeming with game, that lay to the south.34

Some 700 years later, around 13,400 years ago, the stratigraphic record of those plains starts to include Clovis artifacts. Their “abrupt appearance,” Haynes argued, supports the view “that Clovis progenitors passed through Canada” and that “from the seemingly rapid and wide dispersal of Clovis points … it appears these people may have brought the technique of fluting with them.”

If Clovis progenitors traversed a corridor through Canada … and dispersed through the United States south of the … ice border in the ensuing 700 years, then they were probably in Alaska some 500 years earlier…. The Alaskan fluted points … could represent this occupation and could, therefore, be ancestral to Clovis points and blades.”

TOM DILLEHAY, PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, began excavations at Monte Verde in southern Chile in 1977 and found evidence that humans had been present there as far back as 18,500 years ago.

He was attacked because there are no Clovis artifacts at Monte Verde, it is 5,000 years older than the oldest securely dated Clovis sites, and it is located more than 8,000 miles south of the Bering Strait.

Likewise, in the 1990s, Canadian archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars excavated Bluefish Caves in the Yukon and found evidence of human activity there dating back more than 24,000 years—older than Meadowcroft and much older than Clovis.

On April 27, 2017, Tom Deméré’s paper announcing the discovery of “a 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA,” appeared in Nature. That’s about ten times older than Clovis, eight times older than Meadowcroft, and more than five times as old as Bluefish Caves.

Like the mammoths, to which they were closely related, mastodons were swept from the face of the earth in the sudden and mysterious extinction of America’s Ice Age megafauna that took place around 12,800 years ago—the same epoch exactly that saw the equally abrupt and equally mysterious disappearance of the Clovis culture.

Deméré therefore sent several of the mastodon bones to the US Geological Survey in Colorado, where geologist Jim Paces, using the updated and refined technique, established beyond reasonable doubt that the bones were buried 130,000 years ago.19

At that point in 2017 it was still believed—though new evidence would soon substantially change the picture—that anatomically modern humans had not even left their African homeland 140,000 years ago.

“The way it was set into the ground so it would have stood upright. The other one lay in a natural horizontal position beside it but this one was found like you see it in the display. Vertical. And that, to us, immediately looked like an anomaly.” “Why?” “One suggestion is that it was perhaps left there as a marker to come back to the site on a floodplain where everything is low relief….

This looks like the result of human behavior? That it’s evidence of a deliberate, intelligent act?”

The anomalous tusk is just a small part of the story, he says. The stronger evidence comes from the mastodon’s fossilized bones, and from the rocks and stones of various sizes found distributed around the site.

“We suggest that this was a work station, that both femora were hammered and broken here on the anvil stone and that the heads were detached and just set off to the side. It feels purposeful, like the tusk. It feels like humans were breaking these bones and it’s not only what’s here that’s important but also what’s not here. I mean, originally the femora from which these heads came were three feet in length and massively thick, yet we have just a few pieces of them …”

So the fact that we have missing bits suggests to us that they were taken away, which fits this idea of human processing and transportation.”

“But if I’m correct, you’re arguing that can be explained—because what these ancient humans were doing was extracting the marrow from the bones. They were smashing up the bones. They didn’t particularly need fine tools for this.”

We’re saying that this was a carcass. It wasn’t killed by these humans. It wasn’t even butchered by these humans. Most likely it was a carcass at an advanced stage of decomposition but it still had potential for the extraction of marrow from the bones.”

The presence of spiral fractures among the bones of the Cerutti mastodon therefore leads to the inevitable conclusion that they must have been broken 130,000 years ago, when they were fresh.

Meanwhile, the presence of the hammer and anvil stones, and the evidence of how they were used to break the bones, makes it equally certain that humans were involved.

“Because,” I muse, “nothing else is going to smash up those bones and take out the marrow in that way.”

Open your mind to the possibility that instead of the peopling of the Americas being associated with the last deglaciation event [the so-called Bølling-Allerød interstadial, dated from around 14,700 years ago to around 12,800 years ago34] what we should actually be looking at is the deglaciation event before that—between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago. You get the same sort of scenario with a land bridge and ice sheets retreating and you get that same sweet spot between really low sea levels and a blockage by ice sheets, and ice sheets gone and the flooding of the land bridge.”

“As a paleontologist,” he muses, “I ask the question—why weren’t there humans here earlier? I mean, we have dispersal of Eurasian animal species into North America and dispersal of North American species into Eurasia at earlier times. So why shouldn’t humans have been here as well?”

“In other words, only humans could have done this.” “Right. Human beings who understood the properties of the stone and how to work it. If nature can’t break it, it can’t make it.”

Consider the most important pre-Clovis sites in North America in addition to Cerutti and Topper to include: Hueyatlaco, Mexico;19 Old Crow and Bluefish Caves, Canada; Calico Mountain, California; Pendejo Cave, New Mexico; Tula Springs, Nevada; Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pennsylvania; Cactus Hill, Virginia; Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, Oregon; Schaefer and Hebior Mammoth site, Wisconsin; Buttermilk Creek, Texas; and Saltville, Virginia.

They really matter in that they offer compelling proof of the enduring presence of humans of some kind in the Americas from perhaps as far back as 130,000 years ago until today.

That’s a very long time. It might even be long enough—speaking entirely hypothetically, of course—for something that we would recognize as an advanced civilization to have emerged in the Americas alongside the hunter-gatherers, foragers, and scavengers whose simple tools dominate the pre-Clovis horizons so far excavated.

American archaeology was so riddled with pre-formed opinions about how the past should look, and about the orderly, linear way in which civilizations should evolve, that it repeatedly missed, sidelined, and downright ignored evidence for any human presence at all prior to Clovis—until, at any rate, the mass of that evidence became so overwhelming that it took the existing paradigm by storm.

If we don’t ever look for a lost civilization—because of a preconception that none could have existed—then we won’t find one.

At some point in the remote past, in some unknown location or locations, the ancestors of Native Americans interbred with an archaic—and now extinct—human species. Only recently discovered, and closely related to the more famous Neanderthals who also produced offspring with our ancestors, geneticists have named this species “the Denisovans.”

It was the consensus view of archaeologists and anthropologists during the period of “Clovis First” dominance that the Americas were settled exclusively by the overland route from Siberia via “Beringia” and southward through the ice-free corridor. Despite the collapse of “Clovis First,” this remains the consensus view today;

Several subsequent studies have pointed out that for much of its duration long stretches of the supposed ice-free corridor would have been completely uninhabitable and thus most unpromising territory for a lengthy migration.

It is certain, however, that Denisova Cave has been used and occupied by various species of human for at least 280,000 years, making it an unrivaled archive—a sort of “hall of records”—of our largely unremembered ancestral story.

At certain times during the past 280,000 years, not continuously but at intervals, it had been occupied by Neanderthals—our extinct cousins with whom, as is now widely known, our ancestors interbred and from whom some extant modern human populations have inherited as much as 1–4 percent of their DNA. Neanderthals were probably still using the cave 50,000 years ago. It wasn’t until 2010, however, when proof emerged that a human species hitherto unrecognized by science had been present at Denisova—a species now also known to have interbred with our ancestors—that the true global significance of this very obscure and remote place could begin to be fully realized. The sensational news was broken first in the pages of Nature in December 2010 in a benchmark paper, “Genetic History of an Archaic Hominin Group from Denisova Cave in Siberia.”

The mass of archaeological evidence suggests is that for extraordinarily long periods of time it functioned as a “factory” or “workshop,” and that raw materials were brought here from far-off places to be worked and fashioned.

Unusual and beautiful pieces of jewelry including pendants featuring biconical drilled-out holes, cylindrical beads, a ring carved from marble, a ring carved from mammoth ivory, and bone tubes perhaps designed to hold bone needles so they could be carried safely.

The entrance zone of the East Gallery, specifically from Level 11.1,22 were two broken pieces of a dark green chloritolite bracelet.

“This artifact was manufactured with the help of various technical methods of stone working including those that are considered non-typical for the Paleolithic period…. The bracelet demonstrates a high level of technological skills.”

In particular, to “a hole drilled close to one of the edges” of the bracelet and report that “drilling was carried out with a stable drill over the course of at least three stages. Judging by traces on the surface, the speed of drill running was considerable. Vibrations of the rotation axis of the drill are minor, and the drill made multiple rotations around its axis.”

They therefore conclude that the bracelet “constitutes unique evidence of an unexpectedly early employment of two-sided fast stationary drilling during the Early Upper Paleolithic.” This is a big deal!

At least some of these skills and technologies, like “stationary drilling” with the use of a bow drill that does not leave signs of drill vibration, would not be seen again until the Neolithic many thousands of years later. The bracelet thus refutes what the authors describe as “a common assumption” held by archaeologists that “stone drilling originated during the Upper Paleolithic, but gained the features of a well-developed technology only during the Neolithic.”

So not only was this curious bracelet unequivocally the work of anatomically archaic human beings—the Denisovans—but also it testified to their mastery of advanced manufacturing techniques in the Upper Paleolithic, many millennia ahead of the earliest use of these techniques in the Neolithic by our own supposedly “advanced” species, Homo sapiens. Also made crystal clear was the realization that the Denisovans must have possessed the same kinds of artistic sensibility and self-awareness that we habitually associate only with our own kind—for there can be no doubt that very real, conscious, aware, and unmistakably human beings had interacted with this bracelet at every stage of its conception, design, and manufacture, all the way through to its end use.

Reconstruction: The bracelet formed a torque. “It brightly shimmers in broad daylight and reveals a rich play of hunter green shades in the light of a campfire. The bracelet was hardly an everyday item. Fragile and elegant, it was apparently worn on very special occasions.

THE LOWER PART OF LEVEL 11 dates back, as we’ve seen, to around 50,000 years ago, but the bracelet was found in the upper part, officially designated Level 11.1 and provisionally dated to the Upper Paleolithic about 30,000 years ago—making it, because of its “Neolithic” characteristics, roughly 20,000 years ahead of its time.

Gone with it was a second anomalous object, an exquisite bone needle 7.6 centimeters in length, with a near-microscopic eye less than 1 millimeter in diameter drilled out at the head.43

What put an end to such speculation was the discovery of the longer, even finer and more technically perfect needle in 2016 and its location not in the upper—younger—part of Level 11 near its contact with Level 10, but instead in the much older lower part near its contact with Level 12.

Level 11 had been reassessed and its various internal strata reexamined and re-dated. The result of these new investigations was that the bracelet was no longer thought to be 30,000 years old as had originally been supposed, but 50,000 years old! A year later the Siberian Times published speculation that it might be even older—perhaps as much as “65,000 to 70,000 years old.”

What now appears to be certain is that Neanderthals, Homo sapiens (as modern humans are classified taxonomically), and Denisovans all shared and descended from a common ancestor a million years or so ago. The divergence of the Neanderthal line from the modern human line began at least 430,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 765,000 years ago. The divergence of the Neanderthal line from the Denisovan line occurred between 381,000 and 473,000 years ago.Humans today are therefore, to a greater or lesser degree, hybrids who have inherited genes from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and archaic Homo sapiens.

1.  DNA is the genetic mechanism of inheritance, and the various types of DNA present in our cells have, as a result of scientific advances in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, been subject to close investigation by a range of highly sophisticated techniques. The results of these investigations have shed light on the degree of genetic relatedness that exists between individuals and, on a larger scale, between entire populations.

2.  Located in the fluid surrounding the nucleus of every cell in our bodies, mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) is inherited by both males and females but is passed on to offspring only by females.3 MtDNA can identify lines of descent from shared maternal, but not paternal, ancestors.4 What geneticists like about mtDNA is its abundance, being present in multiple copies per cell, giving plenty of material to work with.

3.  The same cannot be said of nuclear DNA, inherited equally from both parents, which has only two copies per cell but which encodes far more genetic information than mtDNA, allowing for far more robust and precise analyses of genetic relatedness.

4.  Within the cell nucleus are also located the chromosomes—segments of DNA that determine sex. If you have two X chromosomes you’re a female; if you have an X and a Y you’re male. Y-DNA is passed on only by males, thus facilitating the determination only of shared paternal ancestry, whereas X-DNA is inherited both through the maternal and paternal lines (since males and females both have X chromosomes) and can therefore be useful in isolating shared common ancestors along particular branches of inheritance.

In other words, genetics, unlike archaeology, is a hard science where the pronouncements of experts are based on facts, measurements, and replicable experimentation rather than inferences or preconceived opinions.

The Siberian site lies to the west of Lake Baikal near the village of Mal’ta on the banks of the Bolshaya Belaya River.

1,000 kilometers east of Denisova Cave.

For many years as the home of an Upper Paleolithic culture—archaeologists call it the Mal’ta-Buret culture—that left behind many beautiful and mysterious works of art thought to be more than 20,000 years old. Among them, done in bone and mammoth ivory, are carvings of elegant, long-necked water fowl and a collection of thirty human Venus figures that are “rare for Siberia but found at a number of Upper Paleolithic sites across western Eurasia.” The primary excavations at Mal’ta, which took place between 1928 and 1958, also uncovered two burials, both of young children interred with curious and beautiful grave goods including pendants, badges, and ornamental beads.11 One of these children, a boy aged 3–4 years and now known to archaeologists as MA-I, had been buried beneath a stone slab, there was a Venus figurine beside him,12 and he was “wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant.”

C-14 dating that showed them, give or take a few hundred years, to be 24,000 years old.

Successfully sequenced MA-1’s entire genome—making it, when a full account of the investigation was published in Nature in 2014, “the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date.”

Known to archaeologists as the Anzick-1 burial site and dated to 12,600 years ago (which makes it 11,400 years younger than MA-1), it is also a child’s grave—in this case a boy aged 1–2 years who was interred with more than 100 tools of stone and antler, all sprinkled with red ochre. One thing we see for sure in both these ancient burials, separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, is that the human capacity to love and cherish family members, and to regret and mourn those who pass prematurely, is not diminished by time; indeed, we instantly recognize and identify with it today because we share it.

All authorities agree that MA-1 and Anzick-1 are closely related, sharing large sequences of DNA.19 Anzick-1, however, “belonged to a population directly ancestral to many contemporary Native Americans” and thus, unsurprisingly—despite his proximity to MA-1—is “more closely related to all indigenous American populations than to any other group.”

The investigators discovered that MA-1 also stands “near the root of most Native American lineages,” and “14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population [the population from which MA-1 stemmed]. This is likely to have occurred after the divergence of Native American ancestors from east Asian ancestors, but before the diversification of Native American populations in the New World.”

“therefore suggests a connection between pre-agricultural Europe and Upper Paleolithic Siberia.”

SOMETHING I HAVEN’T MENTIONED YET—the ochre-dusted stone and antler tools found buried with Anzick-1 were unmistakably Clovis artifacts.

First, the Anzick-1 burial was originally dated to around 12,600 years ago—or, more exactly, within the limits of resolution of C-14, to between 12,707 and 12,556 years ago.31 This suggested that the grave was dug and the grave goods placed with the remains of the deceased infant a century or two after the abrupt and mysterious disappearance of the Clovis culture from the archaeological record around 12,800 years ago. That disappearance testifies to a sudden cessation of previously widespread cultural activities, suggestive of interruption by some far-reaching cataclysmic event. What it does not mean, however, is that every member of the Clovis population died out overnight.

One possibility that has been considered is that Anzick-1 himself may have belonged to just such a remnant group.

Anzick-1’s bones were initially dated between 12,707 and 12,556 years ago. The antler foreshafts among his grave goods are a century or two older than that—in the range of 12,800 to 13,000 years ago32—“a much more typical and acceptable age for Clovis,”

“the foreshafts were 100 to 200-year-old antique heirlooms interred with the infant by the very last Clovis folks in the region.”

Clovis did, at the limits of its range, extend into some northern areas of South America, its heartland was in North America. Intuitively, therefore, we would expect the Montana infant, a Clovis individual, to be much more closely related to Native North Americans than to Native South Americans. Further investigations, however, while reconfirming that Anzick-1’s genome had a greater affinity to all Native Americans than to any extant Eurasian population, revealed it to be much more closely related to native South Americans than to Native North Americans!

IN SUMMARY, ANZICK-1 IS A paradox clothed in a conundrum, wrapped up in a mystery—an individual in a North American Clovis culture grave who is closely related to Native South Americans, to the Siberian Mal’ta population, and to ancient western Europeans.

Some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans. This is suggesting a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas than previously accepted.

In the end “a statistically clear signal linking Native Americans in the Amazonian region of Brazil to present-day Australo-Melanesians and Andaman Islanders” was confirmed.

A second founding population of the Americas. It is very old, in their view, and almost all traces of it have been overwritten almost everywhere by later genetic “noise.”

The investigators have given their “putative ancient Native American lineage” a name: “Population Y” after Ypykuéra, which means “ancestor” in the Tupi language family.”

“A Population Y that had ancestry from a lineage more closely related to present-day Australasians than to present-day East Asians and Siberians likely contributed to the DNA of Native Americans from Amazonia and the Central Brazilian Plateau.”

Congregating in that original northeast Asian—that is, Siberian—melting pot we are now being asked to envisage not only people with European genes and people with east Asian genes, but also people with Australasian genes. Neanderthals were part of the mix, too, interbreeding vigorously with Homo sapiens, and there were people carrying Denisovan genes and of course the Denisovans themselves. We’re asked to see these groups as essentially divided and separate from one another—despite the obvious evidence of their liaisons—and we’re asked to accept that they remained divided and separate, already conveniently prearranging themselves into what would become the “NA” and “SA” lineages, as they trekked across the Bering land bridge.

What has been preserved in those isolated, unadulterated Amazonian genomes that speaks to an ancient connection with Australasia might not be the traces of a full-scale migration but something more like a one-off settlement by a relatively small group.

Raghavan and Willerslev—just like Skoglund and Reich—could not ignore the persistent “Australasian signal” that kept cropping up in the data: We found that some American populations—including the Aleutian Islanders, Surui, and Athabascans—are closer to Australo-Melanesians as compared with other Native Americans, such as North American Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin and the South American Purepecha, Arhuaco, and Wayuu. The Surui are, in fact, one of the closest Native American populations to East Asians and Australo-Melanesians, the latter including Papuans, non-Papuan Melanesians, Solomon Islanders, and South East Asian hunter-gatherers such as Aeta.6

For orthodox thinkers, it is literally inconceivable that prehistoric settlers from the general vicinity of Papua New Guinea could have crossed the entire width of the Pacific Ocean to South America, and thence made their way to the Amazon to leave evidence of their presence in the DNA of people still living there today.

Likewise, and significantly earlier, bones and artifacts of Homo erectus dated to 800,000 years before the present have been found on the Indonesian islands of Flores and Timor, again making open-water crossings by these supposed “subhumans” a certainty even during periods of lowered sea level.

What archaeology does not concede is that the human species could have developed and refined those early nautical skills to the extent of being able to cross a vast ocean like the Pacific or the Atlantic from one side to the other. In the case of the former, extensive transoceanic journeys are not believed to have been undertaken until about 3,500 years ago, during the so-called Polynesian expansion.

The notion that long transoceanic voyages were a technological impossibility during the Stone Age remains one of the central structural elements of the dominant reference frame of archaeology—

Since that reference frame rules out, a priori, the option of a direct ocean crossing between Australasia and South America during the Paleolithic and instead is adamant that all settlement came via northeast Asia, geneticists tend to approach the data from that perspective.

The widely scattered and differential affinity of Native Americans to the Australo-Melanesians, ranging from a strong signal in the Surui to a much weaker signal in northern Amerindians such as Ojibwa, points to this gene flow occurring after the initial peopling by Native American ancestors.

In summary, therefore, taking into account all of the above, the situation seems to be that the Denisovan signal remains at a constant and fairly low level throughout present-day indigenous populations so far sequenced in both North and South America. The Australasian signal, by contrast, is definitely and notably much stronger among populations in the Amazon, such as the Surui, and much weaker among other Native Americans such as the Arhuaco (of non-Amazonian northern Colombia), the Wayuu (of non-Amazonian northern Venezuela), the Purepecha (of Mexico), and the Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin of north and northeast North America. While never reaching the high levels found among Amazonian populations, the signal among Aleutian Islanders and Athabascans is relatively stronger than in other Native North American groups and relatively stronger in Aleutian Islanders than it is in Athabascans—though Raghavan and Willerslev warn in their Science paper that the Aleutian Islander data must be interpreted with some caution since it “is heavily masked owing to recent admixture with Europeans.”

We know from the evidence of Denisova Cave itself that their technology—while undoubtedly “Stone Age”—was far ahead of its time and in some ways much more akin to the Neolithic than to the Upper Paleolithic. We know that they could make sea crossings and that they ranged over a vast area, at least from the Altai Mountains in the west to Australo-Melanesia in the east. Last but not least, we know that their DNA survives most strongly today in people of Australo-Melanesian descent, and there’s informed speculation that Australo-Melanesia may have been their original homeland.

However many times by however many hands they have been copied and recopied down the ages, it is my contention that these anomalous maps can be traced back to lost source documents that could only have originated with a civilization at least advanced enough to have explored the world, and to have mapped and measured it, when it was still in the grip of the Ice Age. A civilization capable of such feats must, at the very least, have had its own adepts in the techniques of boat-building, sailing, navigating, cartography, and geometry—none of these being among the skills that archaeologists are normally willing to attribute to Ice Age hunter-gatherers.

The reason Carvajal’s account was disbelieved for most of the twentieth century by almost everyone who reviewed it is therefore plain to see. The picture he painted of the pre-contact state of the peoples and cultures of the Amazon flew in the face of a dominant (and domineering) scholarly theory.

As Wilkinson goes on to note in his study of Amazonian civilization: Towards the end of the 20th century, the archaeological pendulum began to swing back toward crediting the early explorers’ accounts. Even Meggers [in Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise] had passed on without comment a report [dated approximately 1662] by Mauricio de Heriarte that the capital of the Tapajós (at today’s Santarem) could field 60,000 warriors. Any such number of militia would by … comparative-civilizational standards have implied an urban population of 300,000 to 360,000!

Wilkinson cites an important study by anthropologist Thomas P. Myers that documents “more than 30 epidemics—smallpox, measles, and other outbreaks—some ‘on a massive scale’—in 16th–18th century South America.” Myers finds evidence of “very substantial depopulation between the Orellana and Teixeira expeditions” and estimates that in many areas it ran as high 99 percent.62 This, he further suggests, “may have been the reason why the missionaries later transmitted the idea of a relatively uninhabited Amazon region. The people they found were the survivors of the diseases and epidemics.”

Once left deserted, the great cities and monuments and other public works of any hypothetical Amazonian civilization would quickly have been encroached upon and soon completely hidden by the jungle while, at the same time, cultural memory banks would have been wiped almost clean and vast resources of skills, knowledge, and potential would have been lost forever.

THE DNA EVIDENCE PRESENTED IN part 3 reveals an astonishing anomaly. At some point during the Ice Age, perhaps as early as 13,000 years ago, a group of people carrying Australo-Melanesian genes settled in what is now the Amazon jungle.

When, I wonder, will archaeologists take to heart the old dictum that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence, and learn the lessons that their own profession has repeatedly taught—namely that the next turn of the excavator’s spade can change everything?

Niède Guidon has spent 40 years excavating hundreds—literally hundreds!—of richly painted prehistoric rock shelters in Serra da Capivara National Park in the Brazilian state of Piauí. While everyone else is playing catch-up, she has long been confident that humans arrived in South America much earlier than 20,000 years ago. In 1986–3 years before Dillehay first began to offer his own cautious dissent from the Clovis First paradigm—she published a paper in Nature boldly titled “Carbon-14 Dates Point to Man in the Americas 32,000 Years Ago.”

Documenting continuous human occupation over the entire period from 6,160 years ago to 32,160 years ago.

But this was just the beginning, and in 2003 Guidon and other researchers completed a further study. The results pushed back the date of the human presence at Pedra Furada to 48,500 years ago, and of the paintings themselves, to at least 36,000 years ago.

Huge swaths of the Amazon, encompassing millions of square kilometers, have never been subject to any kind of archaeological investigation at all.

This is a wider problem than the Amazon. For example, sea level rose 120 meters when the Ice Age came to an end with the result that 27 million square kilometers of land that was above water at the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago is under water today. These submerged continental shelves were prime seafront real estate during the Ice Age, yet only a few tiny slivers of them have ever been subject to any kind of marine archaeological investigation.

I’ll say nothing about Antarctica, with its 14 million square kilometers entirely virgin to the archaeologist’s spade.

We do know that the Sahara desert, presently occupying an area of about 9 million square kilometers, had a very different climate during the Ice Age, and in the early millennia of the Holocene, than it experiences today and that there were long periods when it was well watered and fertile, with extensive lakes and grasslands and abundant wildlife.

Part of our predicament, therefore, as a species with amnesia, is that huge areas of the planet that we know for sure were used by and lived upon by our ancestors—the submerged continental shelves, the Sahara desert, the Amazon rainforest—have, for a variety of practical and ideological reasons, been badly served by archaeology.

Was some advanced but unseen presence capable of spanning the globe at work behind the scenes of prehistory that might help to explain how Australasian genes reached the Amazon during the Ice Age?

But Wilkinson is not speaking of the base soils. His “exemplary agronomy,” as we shall see, refers to an artificial, man-made soil that first suddenly and inexplicably appeared in the Amazon many thousands of years ago but that has such miraculous properties of self-regeneration that it is still in use for agriculture and still incredibly productive today. It is called Terra preta.

Terra preta feels like the work of scientists, but if there was a civilization in the Amazon, then why should we be surprised to find scientific achievements to its credit?

THE EXISTENCE OF TERRA PRETA was first reported by Europeans in colonial-period Brazil who called it terra preta de Índio (Indian Black Earth),

“Black Earth,” “Amazonian Anthropogenic Dark Earths,”or simply as “Amazonian Dark Earths”—ADEs for short.

Across the rainforest there are many thousands of expanses of terra preta on a similar range of scales, covering a total area that is in all honesty unknown but that various authorities have guesstimated at 6,000 km2, 18,000 km2, 154,063 km2, and “an area the size of France” (i.e., around 640,000 km2).

Almost without exception the riverine people of the Xingu today “inhabit and plant in dark earths,” and make use of resources, such as “Brazil nuts, babassu palm, dark earths and vine forests” that are “indicators or products of this earlier occupation.”

Nobody doubts that they are “anthropogenic”—man-made in some way—and everyone agrees that they’re an amazing success story. So fecund is terra preta, even after thousands of years of use, that it can still regenerate barren soils it is added to, and has been described as “miracle earth.”

Most researchers believe that terra preta soils formed as composted material accumulated via incidental human activity (often in debris piles referred to as middens). University of São Paulo archaeologist Eduardo Neves reportedly favors a scenario in which successive generations could have swept food refuse—especially fish and animal bones—from their dwellings and then added human and animal excrement.

Their argument depicts the ancient Amazonians as living amid a shitscape (euphemistically referred to as a “middenscape”), dumping their excretions, rubbish, broken crockery, and fish bones into the middens and—most importantly—burning wet vegetation on top of the middens, and always conscientiously making sure, without any long-term planning or purpose in mind, to keep the fires damped down under a blanket of dirt and straw.

I think the evidence supports another possibility—that this remarkable soil was invented, making excellent use of freely available local resources, as an ingenious, low-tech, and environmentally friendly way to increase agricultural yield in areas that would otherwise not have been able to sustain agriculture, and thus large populations, even for a few decades, let alone for several thousands of years—as the Amazonian Dark Earths have consistently demonstrated a “miraculous” ability to do.

In summary, concedes Professor WinklerPrins, the microbial complexes associated with ADEs are “poorly understood” and “quite mysterious actually.” Likewise, even the authors of the shitscape/middenscape theory of ADE formation admit that “despite the importance of research on terra preta, we still lack a firm understanding of the specific formation processes that led to the diversity inherent in these anthrosols.”

It turns out that while “Amazonian forests in different regions differ significantly from one another in topography, climate, geology, hydrology, structure, seasonality, and history,” they nonetheless “often resemble each other” in showing a “pattern of unexpected dominance and density of a small group of plant species.

The best current estimate is that the Amazon is presently home to about 16,000 woody tree species. Out of this total, however, “only 227 hyperdominant species dominate Amazonian forests.”3 These so-called oligarchs (from the Greek for “rule by a few”) “make up only 1.4% of all the Amazon forest species but almost half of the trees in any given forest.”

In almost every case where clusters of hyperdominants were inventoried, ancient archaeological sites were found among them6—a correlation so frequent and reliable that the presence and concentration of oligarchs could, in theory, be used to “predict the occurrence of archaeological sites in Amazonian forests.”

The team’s detailed analysis, published in Science, therefore concludes that “modern tree communities in Amazonia are structured to an important extent by a long history of plant domestication by Amazonian peoples…. Detecting the widespread effect of ancient societies in modern forests … strongly refutes ideas of Amazonian forests being untouched by man. Domestication shapes Amazonian forests.”

What I have in mind is the possibility that a deep knowledge of plants and of their nutritional and other properties might have preceeded the first domestication activities that we have evidence for. Surely it is only on the basis of such foreknowledge that crops like groundnuts and manioc could be selected, domesticated, planned, and planted to complement each other’s nutritional contribution to human welfare?

The whole mystery of the Amazonian plant medicines, notably the vision-inducing brew ayahuasca (which itself is a mixture of several plants that are most unlikely to have been fortuitously brought together) is explored in depth in my 2005 book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. In these medicines, as in curare, as in terra preta, and as in the incredible burst of domestication of plants and trees in the Amazon that followed the end of the Ice Age, could we be looking at the cultural DNA not only of a civilization but of a sophisticated civilization that had developed sciences of its own that it began to share with other people—very much including the peoples of the Amazon basin—around the time that the last Ice Age came cataclysmically to its end?

Scientists at the beginning of the twenty-first century were nonetheless taken aback to be presented with overwhelming evidence of an ancient practice of geometry in the rainforest—there is compelling evidence—mysterious in itself—that “the conceptual principles of geometry are inherent in the human mind.”

Mundurukú children and adults spontaneously made use of … the core concepts of topology (e.g., connectedness), Euclidean geometry (e.g., line, point, parallelism, and right angle), and basic geometrical figures (e.g., square, triangle, and circle) … and they used distance, angle, and sense relationships in geometrical maps to locate hidden objects.

In summary, therefore, isolated peoples in remote parts of the Amazon today, whose contact with technological civilization is extremely limited, possess innate geometrical knowledge and are able to deploy it “independently of instruction, experience with maps, or measurement devices.”

From England’s Stonehenge, to the Great Pyramid of Egypt, to India’s Madurai Meenakshi Temple, to Borobudur in Indonesia, to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, to Tikal in Guatemala, to Tiahuanaco in Bolivia—and to countless other sites too numerous to mention—the design of the sacred architecture of the world is entirely governed by geometry.

I suggest that the similarities and differences between certain ancient monumental structures, created around the world at different times by different cultures, are best explained by a remote common ancestor civilization that left a legacy of ideas and knowledge in which they all shared, which their priests, shamans, and sages sought to preserve, and which they in due course deployed in their own different ways.

In summary, therefore, just 3 years of research between 2009 and 2012 witnessed a profound change in archaeological understanding of the geoglyphs of the southwestern Amazon. Previously they’d been thought to be just 750 years old; now, without any real attention being drawn to the implications, they’d become 2,000 years old.

The two other dates from Severino Calazans. Again, there are margins of error, but these dates were, respectively, 1211 BC (from Unit 5) and 2577 BC (from Unit 3)48—the latter suggesting that this geoglyph might not only have the same footprint as the Great Pyramid of Egypt but might also be about the same age.

IT’S A CURIOSITY—I CLAIM nothing more at this point—that the square enclosure ditch at Severino Calazans shares the ground plan, base dimensions, and cardinality of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, as well as a carbon date from the epoch of the Great Pyramid. That epoch, moreover, around 2500 BC, coincides and overlaps with the megalithic epoch in Europe, so another curiosity is the way that the circular geoglyphs of Amazonia resemble “henges”—the circular embankments with deep internal ditches that surround the great stone circles of the British Isles.

It is NOT my purpose here to insinuate that the Amazonian geoglyphs were in any way inspired by Britain’s stone circles, or by the Great Pyramid of Egypt or by other known Old World monuments—or, for that matter, vice versa. Where there are similarities, my suggestion is that it might be more fruitful to look for their origins in a remote ancestral civilization that passed down a common inheritance all around the globe—an inheritance of knowledge, an inheritance of science, an inheritance of “earth-measuring” that was then put into practice in many different environments by the many different cultures receiving it.

More research was done and out of roughly 200 prehistoric sites identified across the state of Amapá it was found that 30 had megalithic monuments of one kind or another.

Rego Grande. There, the principal stone circle, which has a diameter of 30 meters, consists of 127 upright megaliths. Brought from a quarry 3 kilometers away, the megaliths weigh up to 4 tons each and stand between 2.5 meters (just over 8 feet) and 4 meters (just over 13 feet) tall.6 Areas within the circle were used for elaborate human burials involving funerary urns and vases in a known pottery style of the region.

I’m concerned here, rather, with the manifestation of a legacy of ideas that may be of Ice Age antiquity—ideas involving geometry and ideas also very much involving astronomy. It’s the ideas that matter, whether we encounter them in the Amazon, or at Serpent Mound in Ohio, or at Angkor in Cambodia, or at Stonehenge in the British Isles, or among the monuments of Egypt’s Giza plateau. If mechanisms to carry, preserve, and transmit them down the generations have been introgressed into the local cultural DNA, then I see no reason why they should not manifest, and reveal their fundamental similarities, wherever and whenever conducive circumstances arise.

Coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene,10 the word “meme” refers to “An element of a culture or system of behavior passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.”

In the case of Stonehenge, Serpent Mound, and Rego Grande, the meme concerns the orientation of the sites—which in all three cases honors the sun on the June and December solstices.

The total number of geometric ditched enclosures discovered in the southwestern Amazon survey area had increased from “over 210,” the figure on record in 2009, to “over 450” by 2017.

Then in 2018 a further study by Denise Schaan and colleagues reported an extension of the survey area across much of the southern rim of the Amazon basin: The results show that an 1800 km stretch of southern Amazonia was occupied by earth-building cultures.34 In one area alone, the Upper Tapajos Basin, 81 previously unknown pre-Columbian sites were discovered, with a total of 104 earthworks. Among them were many complex enclosures including one, 390 meters in diameter, featuring 11 mounds circularly arranged at the center of the enclosure. The researchers suggest that at least 1,300 further sites remain hidden within the jungles of the Amazon’s southern rim—a number, they add, that is “likely to be an underestimation”37 while “huge swaths of the rainforest are still unexplored.”

Given that such civilizations existed in ancient Amazonia, and clearly had the capacity to manifest their ideas in great public projects, it is intriguing that the end result was the vigorous, flamboyant, and extensive expression of the very same architectural, astronomical, and geometrical “memes” that characterize sacred architecture in many other parts of the world, and at many different periods.

Nonetheless, what Labre tells us feels significant. He didn’t see the geoglyphs, which were then entirely overgrown by jungle, but he was in the midst of them on August 17, 1887, when he stayed overnight at an Aroana village called Mamuceyada. He describes there being, as well as plantations, “about 200 inhabitants … a form of government, temples and a form of worship”—from which, together with “knowing the name of the idols,” women were excluded. Of particular importance and relevance here is Labre’s report: The idols are not of human form, but are geometrical figures made of wood and polished. The father of the gods is called Epymara, his image has an elliptical form, and is about 16 inches high…. Although they have “medicine-men” charged with religious duties and remaining celibates, the chief is nevertheless pontifex of the church.

Here in a landscape mysteriously inscribed in antiquity with vast geometrical earthworks, at a time when the earthworks themselves had long since been swallowed by jungle, we find a Native American tribe whose gods take the form of polished wooden “geometrical figures.” The tribal chief is the religious leader but there are also “medicine-men” who likewise have religious duties. It already sounds exactly like the sort of institution for the replication and transmission of geometric memes that I proposed as a hypothesis earlier, but it gets even more interesting when the shamans involved, and often the population, are drinking ayahuasca.

It is a phenomenon in itself that the same memes appear again and again among seemingly unrelated cultures of both the Old World and the New World, separated sometimes not only by thousands of miles but by thousands of years.

What would help would be a much more thorough and detailed archaeoastronomical survey of Rego Grande, and of other stone circles in its vicinity, than has already been undertaken.

All four of these squares—the two at Fazenda Parana, the one at Severino Calazans, and of course the Great Pyramid itself, are cardinally oriented, that is, their sides face true north, south, east, and west. The most basic and obvious of the cosmic alignments shared across these sites are therefore to the celestial north and south poles (the points on the celestial sphere directly above the earth’s geographic north and south poles, around which the stars and planets appear to rotate during the course of the night1), and to the points of sunrise and sunset on the spring and autumn equinoxes (when the sun rises perfectly due east and sets perfectly due west).

We’ve also seen that other great earthworks of the Amazon feature strong northwest-to-southeast orientations. This would put the investigation of possible solstitial alignments and also of “lunar standstill alignments” (of which more in part 5) at the top of the list of priorities if any proper archao-astronomical survey should ever be undertaken.

That it should then have later iterations in different media, such as the stone circle at Rego Grande and the great cosmically aligned geoglyphs at Severino Calazans and Fazenda Parana, should not surprise us.

We are dealing, I believe, with deliberately created memes here—memes that have a deeply mysterious purpose and that function in ineffable ways. They are transmitted by repetition and replication, which explains their similarities. But cultures, once separated, tend to evolve and develop in their own distinctive and quirky fashion. We can therefore expect that not only the media and materials through which the memes are made manifest, but also their local interpretation, will vary greatly through time and between one part of the world and another while nonetheless retaining a constant core of unvarying central ideas.

Not only was there no evidence of warfare, but actually very little at all in the way of archaeological materials—pottery, figurines, refuse, et cetera—that would help to decipher the use, meaning, and purpose of the glyphs. The consensus now, therefore, is that they were created for “ritual,” “spiritual,” “religious,” and “ceremonial” purposes.

“Shamans.” This word is NOT derived from, or used, in any Amazonian language. It comes, instead, from the Tungus-Mongol noun saman, meaning, broadly, “one who knows.”

The Tungus word entered Western languages through their enthusiastic written reports and has subsequently continued to be applied in all parts of the world where systems very similar to Tungus shamanism have been found.

It is the shaman—usually a man but sometimes a woman—who stands at the heart of these systems. And what all shamans have in common, regardless of which culture they come from or what they call themselves, is an ability to enter and control altered states of consciousness. Often, but not always, psychedelic plants or fungi are consumed to attain the necessary trance state. Shamanism, therefore, is not primarily a set of beliefs, nor the result of purposive study. It is, first and foremost, mastery of the techniques needed to attain trance and thus to occasion particular kinds of experiences—shamans call them “visions,” Western psychiatrists call them “hallucinations”—that are then in turn used to interpret events and guide behavior:

The true shaman must attain his knowledge and position through trance, vision and soul-journey to the Otherworld. All these states of enlightenment are reached … during a shamanic state of consciousness, and not by purposive study and application of a corpus of systematic knowledge.

Underlying the whole notion of soul-journeys to the otherworld is a model of reality that is diametrically opposed in every way to the model presently favored by Western science. This remotely ancient shamanistic model holds our material world to be much more complicated than it seems to be. Behind it, beneath it, above it, interpenetrating it, all around it—sometimes symbolized as being “underground” or sometimes “in the sky”—is an otherworld, perhaps multiple otherworlds (spirit worlds, underworlds, netherworlds, etc.) inhabited by supernatural beings.

Meanwhile, the key point, standing right at the heart of the matter and nonsensical to “rational” Western minds, is the notion that the human condition requires interaction with powerful nonphysical beings. Across much of the Amazon the nexus that facilitates such interaction is the extraordinary visionary brew ayahuasca, a plant medicine that has been in use among the indigenous peoples of this vast region for unknown thousands of years. Its active ingredient, derived from the leaves of the chacruna shrub (botanical name Psychotria viridis) is dimethyltryptamine—DMT—an immensely potent hallucinogen. It is from the other ingredient, however, derived from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, that the brew gets its name.

It is, in my view, a remarkable scientific feat that such a highly effective combination of just 2 out of the estimated 150,000 different species of plants, trees, and vines in the Amazon was discovered by mere trial and error.

Ayahuasca itself is said to be a “doctor,” possessing a strong spirit, and is considered to be “an intelligent being with which it is possible to establish rapport, and from which it is possible to acquire knowledge and power.”11

In a follow-up paper, published in American Anthropologist in August 2017, Saunaluoma and Virtanen take their analysis much further, proposing that the geoglyphs “were systematically constructed as spaces especially laden with visible and invisible entities.” Their argument is that, regardless of scale or medium, the whole process of materializing visionary iconography, in particular geometric patterns, is “related to the fluid forms inhabiting the Amazonian relational world. Different designs ‘bring’ the presence of nonhumans to the visible world of humans for a number of Amazonian Indigenous peoples, while perceiving geometric designs in Amerindian art as paths from one dimension to another allows a viewer to shift between different worlds, from the visible to the invisible.”

“The lines embody a package of ways in which beings move, travel, communicate between themselves, and transmit knowledge, objects, and powers. These paths exist everywhere, from macro to micro scales. Geometric designs are thus about certain ways of thinking, perceiving, and indicating invisible aspects so they can be seen.”27

Saunaluoma and Virtanen further establish that, to the Shipibo-Conibo, the geometric lines open “a window to the macrocosmos” and allow “macro-cosmic order” to be “iconically sketched in the microcosmos here, in landscape designs.” As above, so below.

Once again I suggest we are looking at the remnants of an advanced system that propagates itself through time and across cultures with powerful memes among which geometry and cosmic alignments take a large share. We do not know where or when this system originated. In the ancient Amazon, however, to a greater degree than anywhere else, its dissemination became integrated with the use of vision-inducing plants—and there, up to the present day, the secrets of how to use these plants have been preserved and passed down within indigenous shamanic traditions.

First, what’s being described is dressed up in the language and imagery of myth and may of course be “just a myth.” What it sounds like, however, is a mythologized account of a settlement mission in the Amazon in which a group of migrants were accompanied by a number of more sophisticated people considered to be “supernatural” or “superhuman.”

Second, the Tukano origin myth makes it completely clear that the “supernaturals” departed after they had completed their work of preparing the Amazon for settlement by the migrants in the serpent canoe. Third, we are led to understand that direct contact between humanity and the spirit world would thereafter be broken. However a portal—ayahuasca—through which humans could still travel to the spirit world, and benefit from its teachings, would be left open.

Alignments are not the only ones to have propagated from a so far unidentified common source. Intimately connected to them are other ideas that went “viral” in both the Old World and the New, and that therefore somehow transcended the Ice Age separation of peoples.

Considered as a pyramid—and it is indeed a form of step pyramid—it comes third in the Americas after the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl at Cholula and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, both of which are stone-reinforced monuments and significantly taller.

Considered an earthwork, and echoing that early explorer’s report, Monks Mound has been described as “stupendous in many ways. It is the tallest mound, covers the most area and contains the most volume of any prehistoric earthen monument in the Americas.” It is, moreover, part of a giant complex with multiple different elements including more than 100 subsidiary earthen mounds, the archaeological traces of what was once a spectacular circle of huge wooden posts (known as Cahokia’s “Woodhenge”), a spacious central plaza, and an 18-meter-wide, 800-meter-long earthwork causeway running arrow-straight between raised embankments.

Enigmatically, but quite deliberately set to an azimuth of 005 degrees—that is, 5 degrees east of true north—it is this causeway, referred to by archaeologists as the “Rattlesnake Causeway,” that defines Cahokia’s principal axis,14 giving the site a certain ambiguity and adding to its air of mystery. Every mound and earthwork is set out upon the ground in strict relation to it, with clusters of structures, dominated by Monks Mound itself, running south to north and other clusters running west to east.

William Romain, whose work at Serpent Mound we encountered in part 1, considers Monks Mound to have been conceived by its designers as a true “axis mundi”—intended to serve as a junction point between heaven and earth. He reminds us of the traditional shamanistic spiritual system of the Native American peoples of the Eastern Woodlands—the region of Cahokia. According to this system, the universe is comprised “of an Above World, This World, and Below World…. Connecting these realms is a vertical vector … the axis mundi that enables shamans to move between cosmic realms…. The axis mundi can be symbolically represented by any number of vertical elements such as a pole, tree, column of smoke, mountain, pyramid, or mound.”

Subsequent excavations revealed that no fewer than five woodhenges had been built on the same site over a period of a couple of centuries in order to accommodate increases in the size and shape of the Mound itself, which affected crucial solar sight lines.

The objective of every realignment and rededication was that an observer at the center of the post circle, looking due east across the “front sight” of a specially placed equinox marker post, should see the sun’s disk appear above the slope of the southern terrace of Monks Mound—an arrangement, says Romain, that establishes an east–west solar-oriented line across the entire Cahokia complex: Equinox sunrise above the slope of the southern terrace of Monks Mound. PHOTOGRAPHED FROM WOODHENGE BY WILLIAM ROMAIN. The result is that Monks Mound is visually connected to the Above World vis á vis the rising sun and its location on the east–west sightline that intersects the major site axis. In this way, Monks Mound is positioned at a center place.19 That assertion and manifestation of centrality is reconfirmed by two other posts at Woodhenge that serve as front sights targeting the horizon azimuths of the summer and winter solstice sunrises.2

Unexplained so far, however, is why Cahokia’s designers made a deliberate choice not to align the main axis of their premier site to the cardinal directions of earth and sky but instead chose to offset it by 5 degrees east of true north?

William Romain offers an intriguing answer. The builders of Cahokia, he argues, were geometricians who made use of a special rectangle, known as a “root-2 rectangle,” in planning the layout of the city.

If you take such a rectangle, orient it to true north (0 degrees azimuth), and then rotate it eastward by 5 degrees to match the azimuth of Cahokia’s principal axis, its diagonals turn out to align closely with important solar and lunar events as viewed from Monks Mound—specifically, the summer solstice sunrise at azimuth 59.7 degrees, the winter solstice sunset at azimuth 239.3 degrees, the moon’s maximum southern rising position at azimuth 130.1 degrees, and the moon’s maximum northern setting position at azimuth 307.1 degrees.

built in the Mississippi River basin incorporating complex geometries based almost exclusively on lunar alignments. Two of the most significant such sites to have survived, at least in part, into the twenty-first century are the High Bank Works and Newark Earthworks, both in Ohio. High Bank Works is located near the town of Chillicothe, about 40 miles northeast of Serpent Mound, and Newark Earthworks stands about 60 miles farther to the northeast near the town of Newark.

NEWARK AND HIGH BANK HAVE an almost technological feel to them, resembling gigantic printed circuit boards or wiring diagrams from the innards of some immense and ineffable instrument.

William Romain is more specific. In his view the creators of this extraordinary and in some ways rather otherworldly site “were intrigued by the variety of possible relationships between a circle and a square…. The idea that seems to be expressed is that, for every circular enclosure, a corresponding square … can be related to the circle by geometric means.”25 “Squaring the circle”—constructing a square with the same area as a given circle—was of course a geometrical exercise of great interest to the master mathematicians of ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Greece.26

Astronomer Ray Hively and philosopher Robert Horn of Indiana’s Earlham College, whose comprehensive work at Newark and High Bank in the 1980s provided the foundation for all subsequent studies, realized that the same length of 321.3 meters had also been used by the builders to lay out the Octagon

The conclusion suggested by the geometry of the Observatory Circle–Octagon combination is that both figures have been carefully and skilfully constructed from the same fundamental length.28

This unit of measure, now known by the unfortunate yet strangely appropriate acronym OCD (for Observatory Circle Diameter), was also deployed at High Bank, which, as Hively and Horn remind us, is “the only other circle-octagon combination known to have been constructed by the Hopewell.”29 It cannot be a coincidence, then, that High Bank turns out to conform to a geometric pattern based on a fundamental length of 0.998 OCD.30

Perhaps most striking of all is the fact, noted by archaeologist Bradley Lepper, that “the main axis of High Bank Works—that is, a line projected through the center of the Circle and the Octagon—bears a direct relationship to the axis of Newark’s Observatory Circle and Octagon. Although built more than 60 miles apart, the axis of High Bank Works is oriented at precisely 90 degrees to that of Newark earthworks. This suggests a deliberate attempt to link these sites through geometry and astronomy.”31

Lepper himself makes a strong case that this connection might have been more than symbolic when he presents evidence for the former existence of a causewayed road with some stretches of its parallel walls still in place as late as the mid-nineteenth century. He calls it “the Great Hopewell Road” and speculates that it was perhaps a pilgrim route that once ran between Newark and High Bank.

As a motive for the memorialization of solstitial and equinoctial alignments, however, the arguments in favor of a practical immediate agricultural payoff don’t adequately account for the enormous effort involved in the construction of many of the sites. After all, the same calendrical functions could have been realized almost as effectively and much less expensively with pairs of aligned poles.

The notion that a reliable agricultural calendar was the primary motive for skywatching also fails to explain why we find the same focus on the rising and setting sun on the solstices and the equinoxes in distinctly pre-agricultural sites such as Painel do Pilão in the Amazon, dating back more than 13,000 years.

Likewise, though they can only have been the product of detailed observations of the heavens and would have required meticulous record-keeping over many generations, the lunar alignments manifested in the great earthworks at Newark and High Bank have no obvious practical function in terms of harvests—or, indeed, of any other utilitarian pursuit. Once again, though, what they do require of those who seek deeper knowledge of them is a study of the heavens.

If we make use of such software to observe the behavior of the moon over, say, a period of a century, we will quickly notice that its rising and setting points along the eastern and western horizons are locked to a cycle shifting from farthest north to farthest south and back to farthest north again every month. As more time passes, however, we will also observe that these monthly “boundaries” on the moon’s rising and setting points aren’t fixed from year to year but instead widen and narrow over an 18.6-year cycle. If they are at their widest (“Maximum Extreme”) today, then they will be at their narrowest (“Minimum Extreme) in 9.3 years and at their widest again 9.3 years after that. Eight prominent directions are therefore implicated in these celestial events. Four target the maximum and minimum monthly boundaries north of east and the maximum and minimum monthly boundaries south of east between which the moon can rise during its 18.6-year cycle. The other four do the same for moonset on the western horizon. On each occasion as it reaches one of its extremes the moon’s constant motion stops—literally comes to a standstill—before it reverses the direction of its oscillation for the next 9.3 years. The geometry of the Newark Earthworks—and of High Bank, too—turns out to be very closely fitted to these obscure celestial events, known to astronomers as “lunar standstills,” knowledge of which would appear to have no practical contribution to make to the necessities of everyday life.

THE GREAT CONTRIBUTION OF HIVELY and Horn’s 1982 paper in Archaeoastronomy was that it demonstrated how precisely, and how cleverly, Newark celebrates and embraces the lunar standstills.

And just as at Newark, where deliberate asymmetries were introduced into the side lengths and angles of the Octagon to achieve more perfect lunar alignments, so, too, we find that one of the eight walls of High Bank’s octagon is 16 percent longer than it “should” be to preserve perfect geometrical symmetry.

Recent research by Hively and Horn has raised the intriguing possibility that the very reason Newark’s earthworks are where they are is that four prominent “high-elevation overlooks” in the surrounding landscape serve as natural front and back sights targeting sunrise and sunset on the winter and summer solstices.54 It’s unlikely to be an accident that the point of intersection of these natural alignments “lies in the central region of the earthworks and is equidistant (within 2 percent) from the centers of the Observatory Circle and the Great Circle.”55

The choice of Newark’s natural setting feels designed and deliberate.

A number of different “mound-building cultures” have been identified by archaeologists, who have assembled them into categories based on period, location, types of pottery, types of tools, arts and crafts, and other criteria.

you will not go far in learning about the mound-builders without encountering references to the Woodland Period, which is in turn divided into Early Woodland (1000 BC to 200 BC), Middle Woodland (200 BC to AD 600–800) and Late Woodland (AD 400 to AD 900–1000).

Adena culture built its mounds and earthworks during the Early Woodland period. The Hopewell culture built its mounds and earthworks during the Middle Woodland period. The Coles Creek culture was prominent during the Late Woodland period. The Late Woodland period in turn overlaps with the Early Mississippian period.

But these are no more than artificial constructs that help tidy-minded archaeologists preserve a sense of order and control over otherwise dangerously unruly data—and, besides, we must question how much the types of utensils and tools used by a culture actually tell us anything of value.

Pink highlight | Location: 4,258
Undoubtedly many different Native American cultures, speaking many different languages, were involved in the construction of the mounds. Undoubtedly their arts and crafts and tools and pottery differed. Undoubtedly they expressed themselves in many different ways. Yet when it came to their earthworks, for some mysterious reason, they all did the same things, in the same ways, repeatedly reiterating the same memes linking great geometrical complexes on the ground to events in the sky.

Poverty Point, a very mysterious archaeological site in northeast Louisiana, climbing the second biggest earthwork mound in North America. Built around 1430 BC,14 a century before the pharaoh Tutankhamun took the throne in ancient Egypt, it’s often referred to as “Bird Mound,”

All archaeologists now agree that the half dozen mounds and other earthworks at Poverty Point are man-made.

Astronomer Kenneth Brecher in 1980 to coauthor a paper in the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society titled “The Poverty Point Octagon: World’s Largest Prehistoric Solstice Marker.”

The western half is intact and well-defined. It is intersected in four places by broad avenues, radiating out from a common center…. The west-northwest and west-southwest avenues have astronomical azimuths of approximately 299o and 241o respectively, accurately pointing to the summer and winter solstice sunset directions at the latitude of the site (32o37’ N).

Completed in 2011, the survey revealed the traces of no fewer than thirty great circles of wooden posts that had once stood in the plaza east of the geometric ridges, “some built only inches away from the previous ones, as if the posts were erected, removed sometime later, moved a slight distance, then rebuilt.”

One possibility, surely worthy of further investigation, is that what the survey found were the archaeological fingerprints of a series of “woodhenges” at Poverty Point. Very much like the Woodhenge at Cahokia—also constantly moved and adjusted, as we saw in chapter 18—they were perhaps used in conjunction with other features to create sight lines that would manifest sky-ground hierophanies at the solstices and equinoxes.

Poverty Point is “a center place,” Romain and Davis assert, “and also a place of balance in the sense that, in addition to the sunset alignments … conceptually opposite sunrise alignments are also found.”

The overall achievement—the “seamless integration of site orientation, celestial alignments, bilateral symmetry of design points, internal geometry [and] regularities in mensuration”—leads Romain and Davis to conclude that “Poverty Point was built according to a preconceived master plan … or design template … that integrated astronomical alignments, geometric shapes and local topography.”

Known as Lower Jackson Mound, excavations by archaeologists Joe Saunders and Thurman Allen have established that it is in fact extremely ancient—not from the Poverty Point era around 1700 BC at all, but from fully 3,000 years earlier, specifically between 3955 and 3655 BC.

“That Poverty Point builders were aware of ancient mounds is beyond doubt,” comments John Clark, professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University:

There must have been “an enduring traditional, if not direct ancestral, connection between the Old People and later groups.” This connection, he argues, is “demonstrated by the incorporation of the Middle Archaic Lower Jackson Mound into the principal earthwork axis at Poverty Point. Actually, Lower Jackson Mound was not merely incorporated—it furnished the alpha datum, the anchor, a vivid case of material or implicit memory.”

The suggestion, therefore, is that below the radar of archaeology more than 2 millennia of continuously transmitted knowledge connected the Coles Creek culture to the Poverty Point culture.

The Judaic faith, for example, carries down a body of traditions and beliefs that are at least 3,000 years old. Hinduism has roots going back to the Indus Valley civilization more than 5,000 years ago. Both religions also create architecture, the design of which is directly influenced by their beliefs and traditions.

There’s no reason in principle why the same sort of thing should not have happened in North America.

But there’s a problem. In the cases of Hinduism and Judaism we have unimpeachable evidence of continuity. Through sacred texts, through teachings passed from one generation to the next, and through cherished and vibrant traditions, there are no broken links in the chain of transmission. Neither Hinduism nor Judaism have ever abruptly vanished from the face of the earth, left zero traces of their presence for millennia, and then equally abruptly reappeared in full flower.

As we’ll see, however, this appears to be exactly what happened in North America.

THE REMOTE EPOCH BETWEEN 6,000 AND 5,000 years ago out of which Lower Jackson Mound emerges is an important one in the story of civilization. It was toward the end of this same millennium that the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt took their first confident steps on the stage of history. They, too, built mounds—for example, Egypt’s predynastic mastabas or the tells of Uruk-period Mesopotamia. They, too, deployed geometry and astronomical alignments in the project of sacralizing architectural spaces. And they, too, participated in an extraordinary and seemingly coordinated burst of early construction—for just like the mounds of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia, Lower Jackson Mound is not an isolated case but part of what may once have been a very numerous and widespread group of monuments.

Very few of these sites have yet been subject to radiometric dating, but of the 16 that have, with a combined total of 53 mounds and 13 causeways, all are more than 4,700 years old2—and many are much older than that.

As a result, says Joe Saunders, a leading specialist in this field, “the existence of Middle Archaic mound-building is no longer questioned.”

Not a single item has been excavated at Watson Brake that in any way suggests the presence of an advanced material culture.

They were hunter-gatherers, not agriculturalists, and although they did gather plants that would later be domesticated, they did not domesticate these plants themselves. In other words, they lived simply, close to the earth, and were in every way a normal and representative population for this part of North America 5,000 or 6,000 years ago.13 In every way, that is, except one. They built mounds.

Joe Saunders writes: The earliest … earthworks in the Lower Mississippi Valley appear to have been made by autonomous societies.

But there must have been some communion among the autonomous societies because there are too many shared traits that cross the vast expanses of the Lower Mississippi Valley, and there is no evidence of other monuments being made elsewhere.

It was his paper, “A Mound Complex in Louisiana at 5400–5000 Years Before the Present,” published in Science on September 19, 1997, that effectively put Watson Brake on the map,

“I know it sounds pretty Zenlike,” Saunders speculated when he was asked this question in 1997, “but maybe the answer is that building them was the purpose.”

MAYBE. BUT I’M TRYING TO envisage how the community leaders or influencers would have sold that to the population. Somehow, “We want you to build these mounds because building them will be a good thing for you to do” doesn’t sound like a winning line to me.

After years of field research, excavations, and on-site measurements, Kenneth Sassman of the Laboratory of Southeastern Archaeology, and Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida are convinced that at least three of these sites—Watson Brake, Caney Mounds, and Frenchman’s Bend—share the same basic design: The plan we infer from the spatial arrangement of Archaic mounds consists of a series of proportional and geometric regularities, including (1) a “terrace” line of three or more earthen mounds oriented along an alluvial terrace escarpment; (2) placement of the largest mound of each complex in the terrace-edge group, typically in a central position; (3) placement of the second-largest mound at a distance roughly 1.4 times that between members of the terrace-edge group; (4) a line connecting the largest and second-largest … mound (herein referred to as the “baseline”) set at an angle that deviates roughly 10 degrees from a line orthogonal to [i.e., at right angles to] the terrace line; and (5) an equilateral triangle oriented to the baseline that intercepts other mounds of the complex and appears to have formed a basic unit of proportionality.

It is probably not a coincidence that at Watson Brake the distance along the horizon from where the sun rises (or sets) on the winter solstice to where it rises (or sets) on the summer solstice defines an arc of 59 degrees…. Their triangle was probably derived from [this].

AS AT SERPENT MOUND, AS at Cahokia, as at Newark, as at High Bank, and as at Poverty Point, the primary concern of the designers of Watson Brake seems to have been to manifest, memorialize, and consummate the marriage of heaven and earth at key moments of the year.

“Even if the alignments were not to the sun,” Davis writes, “the ability to establish five perfectly parallel, nearly equidistant sightlines across several hundred meters would be remarkable. The sightlines had to have preceded construction. Their pattern suggests a master site plan, with construction to the plan taking years, or perhaps centuries, to complete.”

Impressively, the alignments target the sun not exactly where it rises and sets today but rather precisely where it would have risen and where it would have set in the epoch of 3400 BC—which, at the latitude of Watson Brake, was at azimuth 119 degrees for the winter solstice sunrise and at azimuth 299 degrees for the summer solstice sunset.

Watson Brake appears to be the earliest-known celestially-aligned mound complex in North America. That’s a big deal.

The mystery, although the sites so far investigated “show no evidence for the development of astronomical knowledge over time,” is that “the people who directed the construction of Watson Brake … had an advanced knowledge of the solar and probably lunar cycles, and they used this knowledge to design and engineer their sites. Who were these directors, and how did they get others to build the sites one container of earth at a time?”

How were these “directors” able to manifest geometrical and astronomical knowledge, and advanced combinations of the two, more than 5,000 years ago when no prior evidence of the existence of such abilities has been found in North America at such an early date?

One minute they’re not there. The next, almost magically, they are. And then, at once, the Middle Archaic mound-building phenomenon bursts into full bloom.

Until sometime around 2700 BC. That was when, for some unexplained reason, the ancient sites were all abandoned and the whole mound-building enterprise came to an abrupt and complete halt.

The abandonment of an ideology or change in ethos can occur simultaneously within a diverse range of environments. Also the absence of environmental change would be consistent with the documented continuity in economy from Early to Late Archaic periods—before, during, and after mound building.”

For the next thousand years not a single mound was built and not a single earthwork was raised. There’s not a hint of geometry or of monumental architecture. The only reasonable conclusion is that those skills had been utterly lost.

But then, as suddenly and mysteriously as the “mound-building movement” had vanished, it appeared again, at around 1700 BC, in the spectacular and sophisticated form of Poverty Point. All the old geometrical and astronomical skills were redeployed there—and by practiced hands—as though they’d been in regular use all along.

Despite the fact that different cultures were involved at different periods, every resurgence of mound-building was linked to the reiteration and reimagination of the same geometrical and astronomical memes. This was not “chance” or “coincidence.” Witness, for example, the way that Lower Jackson Mound was used as the base datum from which the entire geometry of Poverty Point was calculated.

Or, at a more human level, consider the case of the highly polished hematite plummet—a valuable item—that was made at Poverty Point at around 1500 BC but that some pilgrim carefully carried to the by then long-abandoned and deserted site of Watson Brake and deliberately buried half a meter deep near the top of Mound E.63 This kind of behavior—the incorporation of ancient sites into younger ones, pilgrimage, an offering—has the feel of a religion about it. Religious institutions have proved themselves throughout history to be extremely efficient vehicles for the preservation and transmission of memes across periods of thousands of years. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose that some kind of cosmic “sky-ground” religion lay behind the alignments to the solstices and the equinoxes at Watson Brake and at the other early sites—a religion sufficiently robust to ensure the continuous successful transmission of a system of geometry, astronomy, and architecture over thousands of years.

An enigma that I explore in all those books, but in the greatest detail in Heaven’s Mirror, is that traces of the same spiritual concepts and symbolism that enlighten the Egyptian texts are found all around the world among cultures that we can be certain were never in direct contact. Straightforward diffusion from one to the other is therefore not the answer, and “coincidence” doesn’t even begin to account for the level of detail in the similarities. The best explanation, in my view, is that we’re looking at a legacy, shared worldwide, passed down from a single, remotely ancient source.

There are many aspects to this legacy, but I believe its hallmark, as the reader knows by now, is a system of ideas in which geometry, astronomy, and the fate of the soul are all strangely entangled.

Seemingly with the intention of preparing its initiates for this afterlife journey, as Robert Bauval and I showed in our coauthored book Message of the Sphinx, the funerary texts also called for the construction of large-scale geometrical and astronomically aligned structures that were to “copy” or imitate on the ground a region of the sky known as the Duat—the ancient Egyptian name, often translated as “Netherworld,” for the realm of the dead.

The ruler of this Duat realm was the god Osiris, Lord of the Dead, whose figure in the sky was the majestic constellation that the ancient Egyptians called Sahu, and that we know as Orion.2 It is therefore not surprising, as a manifestation of this “as above so below” cosmology, that the three great pyramids of Egypt’s Giza necropolis are laid out on the ground in the form of the three stars of the belt of Orion.

Moundville in Alabama.

An excellent example of a powerful religious image was the hand and eye motif. Moundville’s “Rattlesnake Disk,” pictured on this noticeboard, offers us the best-known version, although numerous variations occur in pottery, copper, stone and shell artifacts. Stories passed down among various tribes tell of the dead entering the afterlife through an opening marked by a great warrior’s hand in the sky. One account describes that hand as the constellation we know as Orion with Orion’s belt as the wrist, its fingers pointing downwards. A faint cluster of stars in the center of the palm is a portal to the path of souls or path to the land of the dead. Researchers speculate that the hand and eye represent this constellation.8

The connection of the constellation of Orion to the land of the dead was a fundamental aspect of the ancient Egyptian religion and it felt weirdly like coming home—that comfortable intimacy of familiar territory—to find it here in a Native North American religion.

As a group the knotted serpents and the hand and eye are believed to be a representation of the night sky. The serpents are the ropes that join the earth and sky. In the palm of the hand is the portal or doorway through which the spirits of the dead can ascend the path of souls … a road or ribbon of light, the Milky Way, stretching out before the traveling souls. This river of light … deposits the souls, after a series of trials, into the realm of the dead.

Thus over time Moundville became, in the minds of its people, not only the symbolic gateway to the realm of the dead but also the materialized image of that sacred domain on earth.

There is a unifying metaphor which argues for a common core of belief across the Eastern Woodlands and Plains, and probably far beyond that area. That unifying notion is an understanding of the Milky Way as the path on which the souls of the deceased must walk.

Elsewhere Lankford reiterates that this belief system was by no means confined to the Plains, the Eastern Woodlands, and the Mississippi Valley. It is better understood, he argues, as part of “a widespread religious pattern” found right across North America and “more powerful than the tendency towards cultural diversity.”9 Indeed, what the evidence suggests is the former existence of “an ancient North American international religion … a common ethnoastronomy … and a common mythology.

Ancient Egyptian notions of the soul can seem extremely complex at first glance. Indeed, according to the great authority on the subject, Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, formerly Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, it’s not just a matter of one soul but of multiple souls—all of them separate from but in some way connected to the khat, or physical body—“that which is liable to decay.”

In Budge’s summary, these separate, nonphysical “souls”—perhaps “aspects of the soul” would be a better description—include notably:   The Ka, or “double,” that stays earthbound after death in the immediate vicinity of the corpse and the tomb.   The Ba, depicted as a bird or human-headed bird that can fly freely “between tomb and underworld.”   The Khaibit, or shadow.   The Khu, or “spiritual soul.”   The Sekhem, or “power.”   The Ren, or “name.”   The Sahu, or “spiritual body,” which formed the habitation of the soul.   The Ab, or heart, “regarded as the center of the spiritual and thinking life…. It typifies everything which the word ‘conscience’ signifies to us.” The heart, and what its owner has imprinted upon it by his or her choices during life, is the specific object of judgment in the Netherworld.

Here, too, we find at first a bewildering multiplicity.

The Quileute people of the US northwest coast believe that within every living human body there reside several souls that “look exactly like the living being and may be taken off or put on in exactly the manner as a snake sheds its skin.”18 These souls are an inner soul, called the “main, strong soul,” an outer soul, called the “outside shadow,” a life-soul, referred to as “the being whereby one lives,” and the “ghost” of the living person, “the thing whereby one grows.”19 Let’s note in passing that the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead declares in chapter 164: I have made for thee a skin, namely a divine soul.

As an exception to the general rule among Native American peoples, the Cherokee do not describe the Milky Way as the “Path of Souls” but refer to it, rather, as “Where the Dog Ran.”

Let’s note in passing that the High Priest of Heliopolis bore the title “Chief of the Astronomers” and is represented in tomb paintings and statuary wearing a mantle adorned with stars. It is therefore of interest, when ethnographers recorded the customs and beliefs of the Skidi Pawnee of Oklahoma in the nineteenth century, that they were reported to have shamans, raised to the rank of chiefs, who specialized in astronomy. In the archives of the Smithsonian Institution there is a photograph of one of these individuals, named His Chiefly Sun, and notably he is shown wearing a mantle adorned with stars.

Certainly the idea of architectural structures being used to create entrances to the otherworld was known throughout North America. The circular hole in the top of the Ojibway shaking tent, for example, was specifically meant to allow for “soul-flight travel to the Hole in the Sky and across the barrier to the spirit realm.”

Though different in degree in terms of the engineering required, there is no difference in kind between the hole in the Ojibwa tent and the star-shaft in the Great Pyramid—which likewise appears to have been intended to facilitate soul-travel to the sky across the barrier to the spirit realm. Similarly, although there is again a marked difference of degree, there is no difference in kind between the geometric, astronomically aligned structures of the Giza plateau and the geometric, astronomically aligned structures of the Mississippi Valley. All of them seem bound together by the single purpose of the triumph of the soul over death and by the means deployed to achieve that purpose.

I’M NOT SUGGESTING THAT THE religion of ancient Egypt was brought from there to ancient North America and I’m not suggesting that the religion of ancient North America was brought to ancient Egypt. I accept the scientific consensus that the Old World and the New World have been isolated from one another, with no significant genetic or cultural contacts, for more than 12,000 years.

In both cases we have a journey of the soul to a staging ground in the west, a “leap” to a portal in the constellation Orion, transition through that portal to the Milky Way, a journey along the Milky Way during which challenges and ordeals are faced, and a judgment at which the soul’s destiny is decided.

The similarities are too many and too obvious to be dismissed as mere “coincidences.”

In the realm of archaeology, E. A. Wallis Budge faced a comparable problem with similarities he had identified between the Mesopotamian deity Sin, a moon god, and the ancient Egyptian deity Thoth, also associated with the moon. The resemblances, in Budge’s view, are “too close to be accidental. It would be wrong to say that the Egyptians borrowed from the Sumerians or the Sumerians from the Egyptians, but it may be submitted that the literati of both peoples borrowed their theological systems from some common but exceedingly ancient source.”

Walter Emery, late Edwards Professor of Egyptology at the University of London, also looked into similarities between ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. He found it impossible to explain them as the result of the direct influence of one culture upon the other and concluded: The impression we get is of an indirect connection, and perhaps the existence of a third party, whose influence spread to both the Euphrates and the Nile….

From the end of the Ice Age until the time of Columbus, the remote common ancestor of the religions that would later blossom in the Nile and Mississippi River valleys must therefore be more than 12,000 years old. I suggest that this ancestral religion—perhaps system would be a better word—used astronomical and geometrical memes expressed in architectural projects as carriers through which it reproduced itself across cultures and down through the ages, and that it was a characteristic of the system that it could lie dormant for millennia and then mysteriously reappear in full flower.

Though it is not my purpose to argue this case here, the possibility that the system still hibernates in some form or another in the twenty-first century cannot be ruled out, nor the possibility that it might at some point be awakened again in a garb suited to its time. Indeed, might we not already be seeing the first intimations of this with the explosion of interest all around the world in ayahuasca as a teacher plant, and in the parallel growth in public exposure to the initiating geometries of ayahuasca-inspired art?

BECAUSE OF THE BURNING OF the library of Alexandria and the frenzied despoiling of the temples by fanatical Christian mobs in the fifth and sixth centuries, much of the legacy of wisdom that made ancient Egypt the “light of the world” has been lost.

The immense destruction, genocide, and near-total obliteration of indigenous cultures unleashed in North America during the European conquest was a matter of an entirely different order—a full-blown, fast-moving cultural cataclysm, as a result of which we’re left often with no record at all or with huge gaps in the record.

Central to the ancient Egyptian judgment scene described in the previous chapter, the concept of Maat enshrines notions of cosmic justice, harmony, and balance. Its association with the moon is appropriate since the moon indeed plays a key “balancing” or “stabilising” role for the earth.

The sun is also often figured as being carried aboard a boat and also features prominently in the Duat, blazing an indomitable path through its terrors each night, a symbol of hope and resurrection in whose company, if they are fortunate, the souls of some of the deceased might be permitted to ride.

THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS SAW THEIR lives as their opportunity to prepare for the trials of the journey through the Duat that they would have to confront as souls after death. The stakes were high, with both eternal annihilation and immortality being possible outcomes of that journey. There was undoubtedly an ethical aspect to the Judgment, as we’ve seen, but something else was also required, some gnosis, some deep understanding, and very strangely it turns out to be the case that those who truly sought the prize of immortality—“the life of millions of years”—were called upon first to build on the ground perfect copies “of the hidden circle of the Duat in the body of Nut [the sky].”

Egyptologists already accept that the Milky Way and the constellation Orion on its west bank are key markers in the celestial geography of the Duat, and in 1996 Robert Bauval and I made the case in our book The Message of the Sphinx that the constellation Leo was very much part of the Duat as well. To cut a long story short, our argument, which we stand by today, is that the ideas expressed in the funerary texts were indeed manifested in architecture in Egypt in the form of the Great Pyramid, the leonine Sphinx, and the underground corridors and chambers beneath these monuments.

The complex was constructed, we believe, as a three-dimensional replica, model, or simulation of the intensely geometrical Fifth Division of the Duat, also known as the “Kingdom of Sokar” and always regarded as an especially hidden and secret place.46 Moreover, we suggest that what motivated the population to support this gigantic project was precisely the promise of thus obtaining that “magical protection,” that power to become “a spirit equipped for journeying,” that would ensure a successful afterlife passage through the Duat.

The sky is gigantic and the purpose of the architecture is to honor, connect with, and above all “resemble the sky.”

Orion that hosts the portal through which the soul must pass to reach the “Winding Waterway” that in turn leads the soul onward on its journey through the Land of the Dead.

geometry is a foundational characteristic of the Land of the Dead and the rectangular, square, circular, and elliptical enclosures are the typical forms of celestial “districts” through which the soul must pass on its afterlife journey.

Causeways and mounds are prominent features of the celestial Land of the Dead that it is the purpose of the architecture to replicate on earth.

The belief that if the sky, or some “hidden” or “secret” aspect of it, were NOT copied on the ground (and in some way explored, navigated, and known prior to death), then those souls who had failed to do this necessary work, and thus were not equipped with knowledge of “the secret representations,” would be “condemned to destruction.”

WHEN IT COMES TO MOTIVATIONAL techniques, as the Roman Catholic Church demonstrated throughout the Middle Ages, the prospect of eternal damnation can be very effective. I suggest that in ancient Egypt it was the equivalent prospect of “destruction” or “annihilation” of the soul, and the possibility of avoiding such a fate—as spelled out in the funerary texts—that motivated the construction of the sky-ground temples and pyramids of the Nile Valley. They were all, in a sense, gigantic books of the dead in stone and some–the Giza complex in particular—were undoubtedly seen as “actual gateways, or doorways, to the otherworld.”

Although widely separated in time and space, the ancient inhabitants of these two regions seem to have shared a core set of ideas about the afterlife destiny of the soul and seem, moreover, to have been largely in agreement not only that those ideas should be manifested in architecture, but also on many of the specific characteristics of that architecture, and on the purpose that the architecture was intended to serve.

Thus, while one reproduced Orion’s belt and the constellation of Leo and the other orchestrated complex architectural dances aligned to lunar and solar standstills, the fundamental objective of both was to open portals between sky and ground through which the souls of the dead could pass.

William Romain’s detailed studies of the Hopewell lead him to conclude that, in the minds of those who made them: the Newark Earthworks were a portal to the Otherworld that allowed for interdimensional movement of the soul during certain solar, lunar and stellar configurations.

He also argues that the “Great Hopewell Road,” an ancient causeway that once ran straight for more than 60 miles between Newark and High Bank (see chapter 20), “was the terrestrial equivalent of, or metaphor for the Milky Way Path of Souls providing a directional component for soul travel to the Realm of the Dead.”

Further, Romain joins George Lankford in linking Serpent Mound to Scorpius and in concluding that “Serpent Mound was a cognate for the Great Lowerworld Serpent which guarded the Realm of the Dead.”

Thus, while the Great Sphinx may be the terrestrial counterpart of the constellation Leo, its gaze also sacralizes the union of heaven and earth at sunrise on the equinoxes. And while Serpent Mound may indeed be the earthly twin of the constellation Scorpius, its open jaws and the oval earthwork between them also serve to unite ground and sky at sunset on the summer solstice.

Great Jeweled Serpent, Lankford concludes, represented as an adversary on the Path of Souls, that is depicted very frequently in Moundville designs where it is directly linked to other imagery associated with the afterlife journey. He also makes a strong case that Serpent Mound is a three-dimensional representation of the same supernatural entity and draws an interesting comparison with myths of the Cherokees describing the Uktena, “a great snake, as large around as a tree-trunk,” with: a bright blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire.54 The same myths also tell us that the gaze of this serpent had the power to “daze” people so that they were stopped in their tracks and could not escape from it,55 and again there is a notable parallel here with the great serpent of the Book of the Dead whose gaze plunges even the Sun into a “mighty sleep.”

The earliest mound sites we know of in North America may possibly date back as far as 8,000 years. After that the trail goes cold. But then why should we be surprised? The trail goes cold for a full 1,000 years between the end of the Watson Brake epoch and the beginning of Poverty Point, and it goes cold again several times thereafter, only to reappear reborn and renewed on the far side of each lacuna. The same stop-start process, however, also means that we can’t date the inception of the tradition to its oldest manifestations so far found.

The late John Anthony West used to put it about the civilization of ancient Egypt, “a legacy not a development.”

THIS TIME IT’S NOT THE funerary texts I’m referring to, but the Edfu Building Texts, so called because they are inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Upper Egypt. These texts take us back to a very remote period called the “Early Primeval Age of the Gods”—and these gods, it transpires, were not originally Egyptian, but lived on a sacred island, the “Homeland of the Primeval Ones,” in the midst of a great ocean. Then, at some unspecified time in the past, an immense cataclysm shook the earth and a flood poured over this island, where “the earliest mansions of the gods” had been founded, destroying it utterly, submerging all its holy places, and killing most of its divine inhabitants. Some survived, however, and we are told that this remnant set sail in their ships (for the texts leave us in no doubt that these “gods” of the early primeval age were navigators) to “wander” the world. Their purpose in doing so was nothing less than to re-create and revive the essence of their lost homeland, to bring about, in short: The resurrection of the former world of the gods … The re-creation of a destroyed world.

The takeaway is that the texts invite us to consider the possibility that the survivors of a lost civilization, thought of as “gods” but manifestly human, set about “wandering” the world in the aftermath of an extinction-level global cataclysm.

The Tukano origin myth, given in chapter 18. It tells of how “Helmsman” and “Daughter of the Sun” brought the gifts of fire, horticulture, pottery-making, and other skills to the first humans to enter the Amazon while other “supernaturals” traveled over all the rivers, explored the remote hill ranges, identified the best places for settlement, and “prepared the land so that mortal human creatures might live on it.”

Returning to ancient Egypt and to the Edfu texts, we’re told that the survivors of the Island of the Primeval Ones: journeyed through the … lands of the primeval age…. In any place in which they settled they founded new sacred domains.

The Specifications of the Mounds of the Early Primeval Age, that literally “specified” the locations in the Nile Valley upon which every mound was to be situated, the character and appearance of each mound, and the understanding that those first, foundational mounds were to serve as the sites for all the temples and pyramids that would be built in Egypt in the future. Little wonder then that included among the company of the “gods” of Edfu were the Shebtiw, a group of deities charged with a specific responsibility for “creation,” the “Builder Gods” who accomplished “the actual work of building,” and the “Seven Sages” who, in addition to dispensing wisdom, as their name suggests, were much involved in the setting out of structures and in laying foundations.

My argument has long been that the Edfu Building Texts reflect real events surrounding a real cataclysm that unfolded between 12,800 and 11,600 years ago, a period known to paleoclimatologists as the Younger Dryas and that the Texts call the “Early Primeval Age.”

North America—“Turtle Island” in Native American tradition—is always, almost automatically, assumed to be a place to which culture was brought from elsewhere, but let’s shift the reference frame. What if North America itself was the Homeland of the Primeval Ones? What if the distinctive system of ideas involving the afterlife journey of the soul and the building of very specific types of structures thought to facilitate that journey weren’t brought to North America but originated there?

The extinction-level cataclysm that the earth experienced 12,800 years ago. Although the entire globe was affected, all the evidence indicates that the epicenter was in North America. It’s giant ice cap, 2 kilometers deep and extending in that epoch as far south as Minnesota, was massively destabilized, and the destruction that followed was near total across an immense area where the archaeological record was effectively swept clean.

The Younger Dryas, the interlude of cataclysmic global climate change coinciding with the Late Pleistocene Extinction Event in which thirty-five genera of North American megafauna (with each genus consisting of several species) were wiped out around 12,800 years ago. Sharing their fate were the Clovis people and their distinctive culture with its characteristic “fluted-point” weaponry.

As the discoverer and principal excavator of Murray Springs, however, Haynes deserves credit for drawing attention to a very curious aspect of the site—a distinct dark layer of soil draped “like shrink-wrap,” as Allen West puts it, over the top of the Clovis remains and of the extinct megafauna—including Eloise. Haynes has identified this “black mat” (his term) not only at Murray Springs but at dozens of other sites across North America,1 and was the first to acknowledge its clear and obvious association with the Late Pleistocene Extinction Event.

Haynes notes also that “The basal black mat contact marks a major climate change from the warm dry climate of the terminal Allerød to the glacially cold Younger Dryas.”

This deep freeze—the mysterious epoch now known as the Younger Dryas—lasted for approximately 1,200 years until 11,600 years ago, at which point the climate flipped again, global temperatures shot up rapidly, the remnant ice sheets melted and collapsed into the oceans, and the world became as warm as it is today.

The “Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis,” that had received its first formal airing—also in PNAS—in October 2007. The paper was coauthored by Allen West, Richard Firestone, James Kennett, and more than twenty other scientists and presents evidence that multiple fragments of a giant comet—a swarm of fragments—struck the earth with disastrous consequences around 12,800 years ago. The effects were global but the epicenter of the cataclysm was over the North American ice cap, which the impacts destabilized, triggering the Younger Dryas deep freeze and the megafaunal extinctions.

Scientists have therefore developed other measures, more subtle than looking for craters, to detect cosmic impacts in the geological record. Nanodiamonds, for example, are microscopic diamonds that form under rare conditions of great shock, pressure, and heat, and are recognized as being among the characteristic fingerprints—“proxies” in scientific language—of powerful impacts by comets or asteroids.9 Other proxies include meltglass (resembling trinitite), tiny carbon spherules that form when molten droplets cool rapidly in air, magnetic microspherules, charcoal, soot, platinum, carbon molecules containing the rare isotope helium-3, and magnetic grains with iridium.

I have a question for Allen. “Since the black mat was found draped directly on top of Eloise—like ‘shrink-wrap,’ you said—then presumably it must have begun to form very shortly after she was killed and butchered with most of her remains left lying on the spot?”

“What we see is that at the bottom of that black-mat layer, literally the first thing touching those bones, are spherules, iridium, platinum, and small pieces of melt-glass from the event. So it doesn’t mean the animal was alive when the event happened, but she had to have been alive very, very shortly, at most a few weeks, before it.”

That’s based on modern data from elephant kills in Africa. The scavengers come in quickly and disarticulate the skeleton, and that didn’t happen with Eloise.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s pure speculation, obviously, because we’ll never know for sure the exact sequence of events here 12,800 years ago, but based on the evidence it’s not unreasonable to envisage the hunters sitting around, cooking mammoth haunch over their campfire when all of a sudden the sky explodes …”

“But what we can be certain of was that this moment marked the end of their story, and the end of an epoch, really. There’s not a single Clovis point found anywhere in North America that’s above that black mat. They’re all in it or below it. And there’s not a single mammoth skeleton anywhere in North America that’s above it. A huge part of the die-off could have been as a direct result of the impacts themselves, but impacts and airbursts south of the ice cap, particularly as far south as New Mexico, would also have set off wildfires.

The evidence points to is not days or weeks but a 21-year period of utter devastation, horror, and cataclysm unfolding between 12,836 years ago and 12,815 years ago, with a peak around 12,822 years ago.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August 2013, the self-explanatory title of the paper is “Large Pt Anomaly in the Greenland Ice Core Points to a Cataclysm at the Onset of Younger Dryas.” Platinum is, of course, an element found on earth, but analysis of the platinum in the ice core by Petaev and his colleagues reveals a composition quite unlike terrestrial platinum and leads the scientists to conclude that “an extraterrestrial source,” perhaps “a metal impactor with an unusual composition,” is the most likely explanation.15 They note also that during the 21-year interval—between 12,836 and 12,815 years ago, as indicated by Allen:

the “impactor” was in fact multiple impactors, all of them fragments of a comet that had wandered in from the outer solar system and taken up a potentially deadly earth-crossing orbit.

There’s something else, too, from new research we’ve been working on. In the ice core, at the exact same moment we see this big onset of platinum at the beginning of the 21 years, we also see a sudden rise in dust.”

“Which tells us that along with everything else that was going on at the time there were also very high winds blowing. There are certain proxies of that windiness that end up in the ice sheet. When it’s windier the winds will pick up continental dust, and, number one, it’s colder so there’s less plant cover, so when it gets windier and there are less plants to hold the sediment down, you get huge dust storms. We can see that buildup in the Greenland ice sheet. We see magnesium and calcium, a huge increase in them, and those are indicative of terrigenous dust, continental dust, and we see an increase in sodium and chlorine which are from sea salt—so the winds are so strong they pick up more sea salt and deposit it in Greenland.

So we know that a cold-water flood poured into the Atlantic ocean around 12,800 years ago on a scale sufficient to stop the Gulf Stream in its tracks; we know that glacial lake Agassiz has been implicated in it; and we know that this “great gush of cold freshwater” has been connected to the plunge in global temperature—the “deep freeze”—that defines the Younger Dryas cold event.

Is why such a flood would have occurred at the onset of the Younger Dryas “deep freeze” around 12,800 years ago rather than, say, 800 or 1,000 years earlier at the height of the warm phase—known as the Bølling—Allerød interstadial—that immediately preceded the Younger Dryas.

The point is understated, but this is a very big deal. Two to 4 meters of global sea-level rise within “a few decades or less” of the onset of the Younger Dryas is an IMMENSE amount of water, a cataclysmic world flood by any standard.

The evidence from Wolbach’s study that in the exact same period the planet suffered a spectacular episode of biomass burning and an associated “impact winter” that “caused warm interglacial temperatures to abruptly fall to cold, near-glacial levels within less than a year, possibly in as little as 3 months.”

What we are looking for, therefore, is an agent capable—simultaneously and almost instantaneously—of bringing about all of the following:   a global flood   wildfires across an area of 10 million km2   6 months of icy darkness followed by more than 1,000 years of glacially cold weather a stratum of soil across more than 50 million km2 dated to the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) and infused with a cocktail of nanodiamonds, high-temperature iron-rich spherules, glassy silica-rich spherules, meltglass, platinum, iridium, osmium, and other exotic materials   a mass extinction of megafauna

Wolbach and her coauthors are forthright in their conclusion: Multiple lines of ice-core evidence appear synchronous, and this synchroneity of multiple events makes the YD interval one of the most unusual climate episodes in the entire Quaternary record…. A cosmic impact is the only known event capable of simultaneously producing the collective evidence.

In other words, the long-established and widely accepted evidence linking the onset of the Younger Dryas cold interval to a freshwater flood off the North American ice cap and consequent changes in oceanic circulation is fully accepted by Wolbach. What she and her coauthors add, however, is: an additional key element … suggesting that these climate-changing mechanisms did not occur randomly but rather were triggered by the YDB impact event. After shutdown of the ocean conveyor, the YD episode persisted … not because of continued airburst/impacts but because, once circulation stopped, feedback loops and inertia within the ocean system maintained the changed state of circulation until it reverted to its previous state.56

The Younger Dryas Heinrich Event was not triggered by normal climatic changes but by the impacts of comet fragments on the North American ice cap.

IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE GOOD, honest, hardworking, inquisitive scientists live in fear of ruining their careers, perhaps even of losing their jobs and incomes, if they investigate certain subjects that have been judged by a dominant elite to be “taboo.”

Science in the twenty-first century does NOT encourage scientists to take risks in their pursuit of “the facts”—particularly when those facts call into question long-established notions about the human past.

Around 500,000 peculiar elliptical ponds, depressions, and lakes with raised rims pock much of the US Atlantic seaboard from Delaware to Florida. Since it was in the Carolinas that scientists first noticed them in the late nineteenth century, they became known as Carolina Bays and from quite early on there were theories that they had been created by an immense swarm of meteorites striking the earth.7 Several CRG members have explored the possibility that the Younger Dryas impacts might be connected to the mystery,8 but the majority of the group have since distanced themselves from such notions.

Published as a conference paper, their proposal is that a cosmic impact during the Ice Age in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay (which was then solid land covered by deep glacial ice) would have produced ejecta and secondary impacts in a “butterfly-wing” pattern precisely over the Nebraska Rainwater Basins, where they would be oriented northeast to southwest, and the Carolina Bays, where they would be oriented northwest to southeast.15

Richard Firestone, and other CRG scientists who suspect that there may have been a total of eight impacts on the North American ice cap,

The great surface density of the bays indicates that they were created by a catastrophic saturation bombing with impacts of 13 KT to 3 MT that would have caused a mass extinction in an area with a radius of 1500 km from the extraterrestrial impact in Michigan. This paper has considered mainly the ice boulders ejected by an extraterrestrial impact on the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Pleistocene, but the impact would also have ejected water and produced steam. Taking into consideration the thermodynamic properties of water, any liquid water ejected above the atmosphere would have transformed into a fog of ice crystals that would have blocked the light of the sun. Thus, the time of formation of the Carolina Bays and Nebraska Rainwater Basins must coincide with an extinction event in the eastern half of the United States and the onset of a period of global cooling. This combination of conditions is best met by the disappearance of the North American megafauna, the end of the Clovis culture and the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling event at 12,800 cal. BP. The report of a platinum anomaly typical of extraterrestrial impacts at the Younger Dryas Boundary supports this scenario.

AS WE’VE SEEN, ALLEN WEST and Richard Firestone propose that there may have been as many as eight significant impacts on the North American ice cap during the 21 years of the peak Younger Dryas bombardments.29

The truth of the matter is that there remains great uncertainty and confusion around exactly what happened in North America—and across the whole world—at the onset of the Younger Dryas. While that uncertainty persists, alleged “certainties” of almost any kind are inappropriate and it is wise to keep an open mind to all possibilities.

But at a deeper level what this whole exchange revealed to me was something disturbing about the way science works. I hadn’t quite grasped the role of fear before. But I could see it in action everywhere here: fear of being “noticed and monitored by colleagues,” fear of unwanted negative celebrity, fear of indignity, fear of loss of reputation, fear of loss of career—and not for committing some terrible crime but simply for exploring unorthodox possibilities and undertaking “somewhat controversial research” into what everyone agrees were extraordinary events 12,800 years ago.

Contrary to the mainstream, my broad conclusion is that an advanced global seafaring civilization existed during the Ice Age, that it mapped the earth as it looked then with stunning accuracy, and that it had solved the problem of longitude, which our own civilization failed to do until the invention of Harrison’s marine chronometer in the late eighteenth century. As masters of celestial navigation, as explorers, as geographers, and as cartographers, therefore, this lost civilization of 12,800 years ago was not outstripped by Western science until less than 300 years ago at the peak of the Age of Discovery.

Moreover, the Clovis phenomenon is, itself, an intriguing mystery. We’ve already seen that no archaeological background has ever been found to the beautiful and sophisticated fluted points used by these remarkably successful hunter-gatherers to spear mammoths like Eloise at Murray Springs. From the moment we meet them around 13,400 years ago to the moment of their disappearance from the record about 12,800 years ago, they’re equipped with their extremely effective signature “toolkit” of which the points are part. These Clovis tools and weapons appear suddenly and fully formed in archaeological deposits across huge expanses of North America with no evidence, anywhere, of experiments, developments, prototypes, or, indeed, of any intermediate stages in their evolution.

My guess is there’s a connection between Clovis and the lost civilization, not least because studies of ancient DNA show the Clovis genome to be much more closely related to Native South Americans than to Native North Americans (see part 3). Indeed, there’s a parallel between the rather sudden and inexplicable way that Australasian genes turn up in the Amazon basin and the equally sudden and inexplicable way that Clovis fluted-point technology turns up in North America.

Could both have the same cause?

If Clovis benefited from contact with a more advanced civilization, then we should find the skeletal remains of those more advanced people intermingled with the Clovis remains, and we do not—therefore, there was no advanced civilization. Similarly, if Clovis benefited from contact with the people of a more advanced civilization, then we should find at least some traces of their higher tech among the Clovis assemblages, and we do not—therefore, there was no advanced civilization.

I was therefore surprised to learn during the research for this book that apart from the incomplete skeleton of a single individual—the Anzick-1 child excavated in Montana and discussed in chapter 9—there are no human remains at all from the Clovis period.

more than 1,500 Clovis sites have been found. These sites have yielded more than 10,000 Clovis points12 and tens of thousands of other artifacts from the Clovis toolkit (40,000 at Topper alone, as we saw in chapter 6). Yet among all these archaeological riches, it bears repeating that the sum total of Clovis human remains found in 85 years of excavations is limited to the Anzick-1 partial skeleton.13

The only viable explanation is a remote common source behind them all—a lost civilization, in my view.

We have considered the question of huge volumes of meltwater released into the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from the destabilized ice sheet and looked at the effects on global climate. But keep in mind that those enormous floods also devastated the rich North American mainland to the south, perhaps the best and most bounteous real estate then available anywhere.

This immense and extraordinary deluge, “possibly the largest flood in the history of the world,” swept away and utterly demolished everything that lay in its path. Jostling with icebergs, choked by whole forests ripped up by their roots, turbulent with mud and boulders swirling in the depths of the current, what the deluge left behind can still be seen in something of its raw form in the Channeled Scablands of the state of Washington today—a devastated blank slate (described at length in Magicians of the Gods) littered with 10,000-ton “glacial erratics,” immense fossilized waterfalls, and “current ripples” hundreds of feet long and dozens of feet high.3 If there were cities there, before the deluge, they would be gone.

New York State has its Finger Lakes. These latter were long thought to have been carved by glaciers, but their geomorphology closely parallels that of the coulees of the channeled scablands, and some researchers now believe they were cut by glacial meltwater at extreme pressures—a process linked by sediment evidence to “the collapse of continental ice sheets.”

All in all, if North America is where a lost civilization of prehistoric antiquity vanished, then by far the most significant problem we face in investigating it is the way that the “crime scene” was systematically “wiped down” by the cataclysmic events at the onset of the Younger Dryas.

I drew attention in Heaven’s Mirror to a discovery by archaeologists Jose Fernandez and Robert Cormack establishing that the settlement core of the Maya city of Utatlan was designed “according to a celestial scheme reflected by the shape of the constellation of Orion.”

Fernandez was also able to prove that all of Utatlan’s major temples “were oriented to the heliacal setting points of stars in Orion,” and noted that the Milky Way, alongside which Orion stands, “was thought of as a celestial path connecting the firmament’s navel with the centre of the underworld.”11

THE EXTIRPATION OF VITAL EVIDENCE concerning the past of our species across huge swaths of the Americas was by no means limited to the effects of the Younger Dryas cataclysm, or to the subsequent much later cataclysms of militant Christianity and smallpox.

What’s tantalizing, however, is that the influence of the lost civilization declares itself repeatedly in the commonalities shared by supposedly unconnected cultures all around the ancient world. The deeper you dig, the more obvious it becomes that they did not get these shared features from one another but from a remote common ancestor of them all.

We’ve seen that the Americas were isolated during much of the Ice Age—a geological epoch that lasted, let us not forget, from around 2.6 million years ago until around 12,000 years ago.1 In this long geological epoch, however, there were several periods of temporary climate warming when the macro-continent of North, Central, and South America would have become accessible. Two of these periods of enhanced accessibility occurred within the known time frame of past human migrations and it is the most recent (the so-called Bølling-Allerød interstadial, dated from around 14,700 years ago to around 12,800 years ago2) that archaeologists focused their attention on for far too long in their attempts to reconstruct the true story of the peopling of the Americas.

what we should actually be looking at is the deglaciation event before that—between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago.

Deméré’s suggestion still remains unpalatable to some archaeologists, yet it satisfactorily explains the growing mass of evidence that the Americas were peopled many tens of millennia before the Bølling-Allerød interstadial (see chapters 4, 5, and 6). More than that, this hitherto unimagined possibility of a very old (rather than very young) human presence in the New World helps make sense of the complex genetic heritage of Native Americans—explored in chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. Embedded in this evidence is the mind-dilating mystery of the strong Australasian DNA signal present among certain isolated tribes of the Amazon rainforest.

Evidence that human settlement in the Amazon is extremely ancient, that great cities and large populations once flourished there, that ancient scientific knowledge of the properties of plants persists among Amazonian peoples to this day, that there was very early domestication of useful agricultural species, that the rainforest itself is an anthropocentric, cultivated, ordered “garden,” and that a “miraculous” man-made soil—terra preta—was developed in the Amazon in deep antiquity, bringing fertility to otherwise agriculturally unproductive lands and imbued with astonishing powers of self-renewal that modern scientists marvel at and do not yet fully understand.

Discovery, is the presence of gigantic geometrical earthworks and astronomically aligned stone circles in the Amazon.

The words of ayahuasca shamans, who see geometric patterns as portals to other realms of existence—specifically to the afterlife realm or land of the dead. Indeed, the very name ayahuasca means “Vine of the Dead” or “Vine of Souls.”

The real importance of the Cerutti Mastodon Site is that it provides the first solid evidence—solid enough to make it into the pages of Nature—of a truly ancient human occupation of the New World. If humans were in North America 130,000 years ago (more than twice as long as the span of the known human presence in Europe), that gives them 117,000 years to have evolved a high civilization before the Younger Dryas cataclysm struck.

Thereafter, until the next episode of deglaciation (the Bølling-Allerød interstadial) in the 2,000 years immediately preceding the Younger Dryas, all scholars agree that the vast landmass of the Americas, straddling half the globe, was cut off from the rest of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and by mountains of ice. Migrants from Asia, even when Beringia was accessible, could not get in. But for those humans who were already south of the ice cap 120,000 years ago, the Americas must have been a paradise, safe from incursions by any other peoples and blessed with an astonishing abundance and variety of natural resources.

Thus far (extrapolating from the belief systems of its descendants) I’ve suggested that its spirituality must have involved profound explorations of the mystery of death. I’ve suggested that accurate ancient maps depicting the earth as it looked during the Ice Age imply that it had developed a level of maritime technology at least as advanced as that possessed by European seafarers in the late eighteenth century. I’ve suggested that it had mastered sophisticated geometry and astronomy. I’ve also suggested that such a “lost” civilization, maturing in isolation for tens of thousands of years in North America, might have taken a very different path from our own and might have developed technologies that archaeologists would be unable to recognize because they operated on principles or manipulated forces unknown to modern science.

At the Great Pyramid, at Baalbek, and at Sacsayhuamán, as well as at numerous other mysterious sites (such as the almost unbelievable Kailasa Temple, hewn out of solid basalt at Ellora in the Indian state of Maharashtra), intriguing ancient traditions persist. These traditions speak of meditating sages, the use of certain plants, the focused attention of initiates, miraculously speedy workmanship, and special kinds of chanting or tones played on musical instruments in connection with the lifting, placing, softening, and moulding of megaliths. My guess, confronted by the global distribution of such narratives and by the stark reality of the sites themselves, is that we’re dealing with the reverberations of an ancient technology we don’t understand, operating on principles that are utterly unknown to us.

The science of the lost civilization was primarily focused upon what we now call psi capacities that deployed the enhanced and focused power of human consciousness to channel energies and to manipulate matter.

quantum entanglement

the advanced civilization I see evolving in North America during the Ice Age had transcended leverage and mechanical advantage and learned to manipulate matter and energy by deploying powers of consciousness that we have not yet begun to tap.

It is further evidence of a remote common source behind some widespread religious motifs that one of the most famous myths of the ancient Greeks—the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice—was also present, long before European contact, in the ancient pre-Columbian cultures of North America. Some details vary, as of course do the names of the central characters and the general setting, but the underlying structure remains the same13—(1) a wife or sweetheart (Eurydice) dies prematurely; (2) her husband or lover (Orpheus) follows her soul to the Underworld and persuades its ruler to let her return with him to the land of the living; (3) Eurydice’s release is agreed on condition that she walk behind Orpheus as they make the return journey from the Underworld and that under no circumstances should he set eyes on her until they reach the land of the living; (4) at the last moment, overcome with love, Orpheus cannot resist glancing over his shoulder at his wife and in that instant she is cast back into the Underworld that she can henceforth never leave.

So compellingly similar are the Native American and Greek versions that leading scholar of religions Ake Hultkrantz dedicated an immense monograph to the mystery, published in Stockholm in 1957, titled The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition. Meanwhile his contemporary, Canadian ethnographer Charles Marius Barbeau, proposed that the Greek and Native American stories must both be offshoots of some much older core narrative and concluded, “The worldwide diffusion from an unknown source of a tale so typically classical as Orpheus and Eurydice must have required millenniums.”

What I find equally interesting is that the foundations of the narrative clearly lie in the concepts of the afterlife journey of the soul and the duality of spirit and matter so central to the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt and the ancient Mississippi Valley.

In Tibetan Buddhism the afterlife realm is known as the Bardo—literally “the Between.” Just like the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Mississippian oral and iconographic traditions, the purpose of the Tibetan Book of the Dead is to serve as a guidebook and instruction manual for the soul on its postmortem journey through this strange parallel dimension.

My sense is that the lost civilization, as might be expected with its proposed shamanic origins, was not much interested in material things. Like many other Native American cultures, its primary goals were not to do with the acquisition of status or wealth but instead were focused, through vision quests and right living, on the perfection of the soul.

In order to prepare its initiates thoroughly so that they might be “well equipped” for the ultimate journey of death—surely a matter of far greater significance than any material concerns—the direct exploration of parallel dimensions would, as noted earlier, almost certainly have been undertaken. Had this investigation been allowed to proceed uninterrupted it might by now have transcended space, time, and matter entirely, but 12,800 years ago a deadly mass of matter in the form of the Younger Dryas comet was flung at it and brought a pause to the great prehistoric quest.

A pause but not a halt—for if I’m right there were survivors who attempted, with varying degrees of success, to repromulgate the lost teachings, planting “sleeper cells” far and wide in hunter-gatherer cultures in the form of institutions and memes that could store and transmit knowledge and, when the time was right, activate a program of public works, rapid agricultural development, and enhanced spiritual inquiry.

THERE ARE LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF myths from every inhabited continent that speak of the existence of an advanced civilization in remote prehistory, of the lost golden age in which it flourished, and of the cataclysm that brought it to an end. A feature shared by many of them—the story of Atlantis, for example, or of Noah’s flood—is the notion that human beings, by their own arrogance, cruelty, and disrespect for the earth, had somehow brought the disaster down upon their own heads and accordingly were obliged by the gods to go back to basics and learn humility again.

An Ojibwa tradition seems relevant. It speaks of a comet that “burned up the earth” in the remote past and that is destined to return: The star with the long, wide tail is going to destroy the world some day when it comes low again. That’s the comet called Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star. It came down here once, thousands of years ago. Just like the sun. It had radiation and burning heat in its tail …

There is a prophecy that the comet will destroy the earth again. But it’s a restoration. The greatest blessing this island [Turtle Island] will ever have. People don’t listen to their spiritual guidance today. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars when that comet comes down again.19

Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Book Cover The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell
New World Library

I don't know why it took me so long to read this book. It is excellent. All the myths, all the legends, all the....stories follow a basic formula. Campbell shares the format and shows the connections between them all. Buddha, Jesus, Odinson....all the same format. All the same "Hero's Journey".

The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

1 Myth and Dream

It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation

In the field of folk psychology, has been seeking to establish the psychological bases of language, myth, religion, art development, and moral codes.

The bold and truly epoch-making writings of the psychoanalysts are indispensable to the student of mythology; for, whatever may be thought of the detailed and sometimes contradictory interpretations of specific cases and problems, Freud, Jung, and their followers have demonstrated irrefutably that the logic, the heroes, and the deeds of myth survive into modern times

That of the tragicomic triangle of the nursery—the son against the father for the love of the mother. Apparently the most permanent of the dispositions of the human psyche are those that derive from the fact that, of all animals, we remain the longest at the mother breast. Human beings are born too soon; they are unfinished, unready as yet to meet the world. Consequently their whole defense from a universe of dangers is the mother, under whose protection the intra-uterine period is prolon

The unfortunate father is the first radical intrusion of another order of reality into the beatitude of this earthly restatement of the excellence of the situation within the womb; he, therefore, is experienced primarily as an enemy

The doctor is the modern master of the mythological realm, the knower of all the secret ways and words of potency. His role is precisely that of the Wise Old Man of the myths and fairy tales whose words assist the hero through the trials and terrors of the weird adventure.

The so-called rites of passage, which occupy such a prominent place in the life of a primitive society (ceremonials of birth, naming, puberty, marriage, burial, etc.), are distinguished by formal, and usually very severe, exercises of severance, whereby the mind is radically cut away from the attitudes, attachments, and life patterns of the stage being left behin

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.

The psychoanalyst has to come along, at last, to assert again the tried wisdom of the older, forwardlooking teachings of the masked medicine dancers and the witch-doctor-circumcisers; whereupon we find, as in the dream of the serpent bite, that the ageless initiation symbolism is produced spontaneously by the patient himself at the moment of the release

The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of “my and mine.” The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain.

The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper.

The hero is the man of self-achieved submission.

As Professor Arnold J. Toynbee indicates in his six-volume study of the laws of the rise and disintegration of civilizations,17 schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be—if we are to experience long survival—a continuous “recurrence of birth” (palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death there is nothing we can do, except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.

Theseus, the hero-slayer of the Minotaur, entered Crete from without, as the symbol and arm of the rising civilization of the Greeks. That was the new and living thing.

Note 16: T.S. Eliot The Waste Land

Note 17: Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History

Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche

The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms.

His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.

Note 20: It must be noted against Professor Toynbee, however, that he seriously misrepresents the mythological scene when he advertisises Christianity as the only religion teaching this second task. ALL religions teach it, as do ALL mythologies and folk traditions EVERYWHERE. Toynbee arrives at his misconstruction by way of a trite and incorrect interpretation of the Oriental ideas of Nirvana, Buddha and Bodhisattval then contrasting these ideals, as he misinterprets them, with a very sophisticated rereading of the Christian idea of the City of God.

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.”

Dante’s “dark wood, midway in the journey of our life,” and the sorrows of the pits of hell: Through me is the way into the woeful city, Through me is the way into eternal woe, Through me is the way among the Lost People

…variety of Pandora’s box—that divine gift of the gods to beautiful woman, filled with the seeds of all the troubles and blessings of existence, but also provided with the sustaining virtue, hope.

Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us courage to face the Minotaur, and the means then to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?

2. Tragedy and Comedy

Modern romance, like Greek tragedy, celebrates the mystery of dismemberment, which is life in time. The happy ending is justly scorned as a misrepresentation; for the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved.

Poetics of Aristotle, tragic katharsis (i.e., the “purification” or “purgation” of the emotions of the spectator of tragedy through his experience of pity and terror) corresponds to an earlier ritual katharsis (“a purification of the community from the taints and poisons of the past year, the old contagion of sin and death”), which was the function of the festival and mystery play of the dismembered bull-god, Dionysos

…the fairy tale of happiness ever after cannot be taken seriously; it belongs to the never-never land of childhood, which is protected from the realities that will become terribly known soon enough

The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man.

Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachment to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible. Thus the two are the terms of a single mythological theme and experience which includes them both and which they bound: the down-going and the up-coming (kathodos and anodos), which together constitute the totality of the revelation that is life, and which the individual must know and love if he is to be purged (katharsis=purgatorio) of the contagion of sin (disobedience to the divine will) and death (identification with the mortal form).

It is the business of mythology proper, and of the fairy tale, to reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy. Hence the incidents are fantastic and “unreal”: they represent psychological, not physical, triumphs.

…the point is that, before such-and-such could be done on earth, this other, more important, primary thing had to be brought to pass within the labyrinth that we all know and visit in our dreams.

3 The Hero and the God

THE standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation—initiation—return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

A majestic representation of the difficulties of the hero-task, and of its sublime import when it is profoundly conceived and solemnly undertaken, is presented in the traditional legend of the Great Struggle of the Buddha

The Old Testament records a comparable deed in its legend of Moses,

The Lord gave to him the Tables of the Law and commanded Moses to return with these to Israel, the people of the Lord.

Note 37: This is the most important single moment in Oriental mythology, a counterpart of the Crucifixion of the West. The Buddha beneath the Tree of Enlightenment (the Bo Tree) and Christ on the Holy Rood (the Tree of Redemption) are analogous figures, incorporating an archetypal World Savior, World Tree motif, which is of immemorial antiquity. Many other variants of the theme will be found among the episodes to come. The Immovable Spot and Mount Cavalry are images of the World Navel, or World Axis.

Note 28: The point is that Buddahood, Enlightenment, cannot be communicated, but only the WAY to Enlightenment.

As we soon shall see, whether presented in the vast, almost oceanic images of the Orient, in the vigorous narratives of the Greeks, or in the majestic legends of the Bible, the adventure of the hero normally follows the pattern of the nuclear unit above described: a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return. The whole of the Orient has been blessed by the boon brought back by Gautama Buddha—his wonderful teaching of the Good Law—just as the Occident has been by the Decalogue of Moses. The Greeks referred fire, the first support of all human culture, to the world-transcending deed of their Prometheus, and the Romans the founding of their world-supporting city to Aeneas, following his departure from fallen Troy and his visit to the eerie underworld of the dead. Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens in the interval of the hero’s nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power, mankind is also unanimous in declaring.

The first great stage, that of the separation or departure, will be shown in Part I, Chapter I, in five subsections: (1) “The Call to Adventure,” or the signs of the vocation of the hero; (2) “Refusal of the Call,” or the folly of the flight from the god; (3) “Supernatural Aid,” the unsuspected assistance that comes to one who has undertaken his proper adventure; (4) “The Crossing of the First Threshold;” and (5) “The Belly of the Whale,” or the passage into the realm of night. The stage of the trials and victories of initiation will appear in Chapter II in six subsections: (1) “The Road of Trials,” or the dangerous aspect of the gods; (2) “The Meeting with the Goddess” (Magna Mater), or the bliss of infancy regained; (3) “Woman as the Temptress,” the realization and agony of Oedipus; (4) “Atonement with the Father;” (5) “Apotheosis;” and (6) “The Ultimate Boon.”

The third of the following chapters will conclude the discussion of these prospects under six subheadings: (1) “Refusal of the Return,” or the world denied; (2) “The Magic Flight,” or the escape of Prometheus; (3) “Rescue from Without;” (4) “The Crossing of the Return Threshold,” or the return to the world of common day; (5) “Master of the Two Worlds;” and (6) “Freedom to Live,” the nature and function of the ultimate boon.

Tribal or local heroes, such as the emperor Huang Ti, Moses, or the Aztec Tezcatlipoca, commit their boons to a single folk; universal heroes—Mohammed, Jesus, Gautama Buddha-bring a message for the entire world.

Part II, “The Cosmogonie Cycle,” unrolls the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero. Chapter I, Emanations, treats of the coming of the forms of the universe out of the void. Chapter II, The Virgin Birth, is a review of the creative and redemptive roles of the female power, first on a cosmic scale as the Mother of the Universe, then again on the human plane as the Mother of the Hero. Chapter III, Transformations of the Hero, traces the course of the legendary history of the human race through its typical stages, the hero appearing on the scene in various forms according to the changing needs of the race. And Chapter IV, Dissolutions, tells of the foretold end, first of the hero, then of the manifested world.

The cosmogonie cycle is presented with astonishing consistency in the sacred writings of all the continents,43 and it gives to the adventure of the hero a new and interesting turn; for now it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.

The two—the hero and his ultimate god, the seeker and the found—are thus understood as the outside and inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known.

1 The World Navel

THE effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world. The miracle of this flow may be represented in physical terms as a circulation of food substance, dynamically as a streaming of energy, or spiritually as a manifestation of grace. Such varieties of image alternate easily, representing three degrees of condensation of the one life force. An abundant harvest is the sign of God’s grace; God’s grace is the food of the soul; the lightning bolt is the harbinger of fertilizing rain, and at the same time the manifestation of the released energy of God. Grace, food substance, energy: these pour into the living world, and wherever they fail, life decomposes into death.

The torrent pours from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot of the Buddha legend,46 around which the world may be said to revolve. Beneath this spot is the earth-supporting head of the cosmic serpent, the dragon, symbolical of the waters of the abyss, which are the divine life-creative energy and substance of the demiurge, the world-generative aspect of immortal being.47 The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point. It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird perches on its peak; a spring, the inexhaustible well, bubbles at its foot.

Thus the World Navel is the symbol of the continuous creation

The dome of heaven rests on the quarters of the earth, sometimes supported by Jour çaryatidal kings, dwarfs, giants, elephants, or turtles.

The hearth in the home, the altar in the temple, is the hub of the wheel of the earth, the womb of the Universal Mother whose fire is the fire of life.

The solar ray igniting the hearth symbolizes the communication of divine energy to the womb of the world—and is again the axis uniting and turning the two wheels.

Wherever a hero has been born, has wrought, or has passed back into the void, the place is marked and sanctified. A temple is erected there to signify and inspire the miracle of perfect centeredness; for this is the place of the breakthrough into abundance. Someone at this point discovered eternity. The site can serve, therefore, as a support for fruitful meditation. Such temples are designed, as a rule, to simulate the four directions of the world horizon, the shrine or altar at the center being symbolical of the Inexhaustible Point. The one who enters the temple compound and proceeds to sanctuary is imitating the deed of the original hero. His aim is to rehearse the universal pattern as a means of evoking within himself the recollection of the life-centering, life-renewing form.

Because, finally, the All is everywhere, and anywhere may become the seat of power.

The World Navel, then, is ubiquitous. And since it is the source of all existence, it yields the world’s plenitude of both good and evil. Ugliness and beauty, sin and virtue, pleasure and pain, are equally its production.

Chapter 1. Departure

  1. The Call to Adventure

This is an example of one of the ways in which the adventure can begin. A blunder apparently the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown,2 blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts.

…it marks what has been termed “the awakening of the self.”

Typical of the circumstances of the call are the dark forest, the great tree, the babbling spring, and the loathly, underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of destiny. We recognize in the scene the symbols of the World Navel.

Freud has suggested that all moments of anxiety reproduce the painful feelings of the first separation from the mother—the tightening of the breath, congestion of the blood, etc., of the crisis of birth.4 Conversely, all moments of separation and new birth produce anxiety.

The disgusting and rejected frog or dragon of the fairy tale brings up the sun ball in its mouth; for the frog, the serpent, the rejected one, is the representative of that unconscious deep (“so deep that the bottom cannot be seen”) wherein are hoarded all of the rejected, unadmitted, unrecognized, unknown, or undeveloped factors, laws, and elements of existence.

The herald or announcer of the adventure, therefore, is often dark, loathly, or terrifying, judged evil by the world; yet if one could follow the way would be opened through the walls of day into the dark where the jewels glow. Or the herald is a beast (as in the fairy tale), representative of the repressed instinctual fecundity within ourselves, or again a veiled mysterious figure—the unknown.

Whether dream or myth, in these adventures there is an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the figure that appears suddenly as guide, marking a new period, a new stage, in the biography. That which has to be faced, and is somehow profoundly familiar to the unconscious—though unknown, surprising, and even frightening to the conscious personality—makes itself known; and what formerly was meaningful may become strangely emptied of value: like the world of the king’s child, with the sudden disappearance into the well of the golden ball. Thereafter, even though the hero returns for a while to his familiar occupations, they may be found unfruitful

This first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the “call to adventure”—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.

This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight. The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father’s city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent, as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder, as did that of the princess of the fairy tale; or still again, one may be only casually strolling, when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man. Examples might be multiplied, ad infinitum, from every corner of the world.

2. Refusal of the Call

Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.

Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.

The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest.

One is harassed, both day and night, by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilate at last, in God.

What they represent is an impotence to put off the infantile ego, with its sphere of emotional relationships and ideals. One is bound in by the walls of childhood; the father and mother stand as threshold guardians, and the timorous soul, fearful of some punishment, fails to make the passage through the door and come to birth in the world without.

Sometimes the predicament following an obstinate refusal of the call proves to be the occasion of a providential revelation of some unsuspected principle of release.

3. Supernatural Aid

FOR those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.

The helpful crone and fairy godmother is a familiar feature of European fairy lore; in Christian saints’ legends the role is commonly played by the Virgin. The Virgin by her intercession can win the mercy of the Father. Spider Woman with her web can control the movements of the Sun. The hero who has come under the protection of the Cosmic Mother cannot be harmed. The thread of Ariadne brought Theseus safely through the adventure of the labyrinth.

What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—a promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side.

Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in form. In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require. The higher mythologies develop the role in the great figure of the guide, the teacher, the ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld.

Goethe presents the masculine guide in Faust as Mephi-stopheles—and not infrequently the dangerous aspect of the “mercurial” figure is stressed; for he is the lurer of the innocent soul into realms of trial.

Protective and dangerous, motherly and fatherly at the same time, this supernatural principle of guardianship and direction unites in itself all the ambiguities of the unconscious—thus signifying the support of our conscious personality by that other, larger system, but also the inscrutability of the guide that we are following, to the peril of all our rational ends.

The call, in fact, was the first announcement of the approach of this initiatory priest.

Note 33: The well is symbolical of the unconscious. Compare that of the fairy story of the Frog King.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

WITH the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions—also up and down—standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe.

The folk mythologies populate with deceitful and dangerous presences every desert place outside the normal traffic of the village.

The regions of the unknown (desert, jungle, deep sea, alien land, etc.) are free fields for the projection of unconscious content. Incestuous libido and patricidal destrudo are thence reflected back against the individual and his society in forms suggesting threats of violence and fancied dangerous delight—not only as ogres but also as sirens of mysteriously seductive, nostalgic beauty.

The Arcadian god Pan is the best known Classical example of this dangerous presence dwelling just beyond the protected zone of the village boundary.

This is a dream that brings out the sense of the first, or protective, aspect of the threshold guardian. One had better not challenge the watcher of the established bounds. And yet—it is only by advancing beyond those bounds, provoking the destructive other aspect of the same power, that the individual passes, either alive or in death, into a new zone of experience

The “Wall of Paradise,” which conceals God from human sight, is described by Nicholas of Cusa as constituted of the “coincidence of opposites,” its gate being guarded by “the highest spirit of reason, who bars the way until he has been overcome.”53 The pairs of opposites (being and not being, life and death, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and all the other polarities that bind the faculties to hope and fear, and link the organs of action to deeds of defense and acquisition) are the clashing rocks (Symplegades) that crush the traveler, but between which the heroes always pass. This is a motif known throughout the world.

5. The Belly of the Whale

THE idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.

The little German girl, Red Ridinghood, was swallowed by a wolf. The Polynesian favorite, Maui, was swallowed by his great-great-grandmother, Hine-nui-te-po. And the whole Greek pantheon, with the sole exception of Zeus, was swallowed by its father, Kronos.

This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form oE self-annihilation. Its resemblance to the adventure of the Symplegades is obvious. But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshiper into a temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same. That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. They are preliminary embodiments of the dangerous aspect of the presence, corresponding to the mythological ogres that bound the conventional world, or to the two rows of teeth of the whale. They illustrate the fact that the devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. His secular character remains without; he sheds it, as a snake its slough. Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. The mere fact that anyone can physically walk past the temple guardians does not invalidate their significance; for if the intruder is incapable of encompassing the sanctuary, then he has effectually remained without. Anyone unable to understand a god sees it as a devil and is thus defended from the approach. Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting, in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.

The hero whose attachment to ego is already annihilate passes back and forth across the horizons of the world, in and out of the
dragon, as readily as a king through all the rooms of his house. And therein lies his power to save; for his passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomenality the Un-create-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear. And so it is that, throughout the world, men whose function it has been to make visible on earth the life-fructifying mystery of the slaying of the dragon have enacted upon their own bodies the great symbolic act, scattering their flesh, like the body of Osiris, for the renovation of the world.


1 The Road of Trials

ONCE having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.

The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.

…the “difficult tasks” motif is that of Psyche’s quest for her lost lover, Cupid.1 Here all the principal roles are reversed: instead of the lover trying to win his bride, it is the bride trying to win her lover; and instead of a cruel father withholding his daughter from the lover, it is the jealous mother, Venus, hiding her son, Cupid, from his bride.

Psyche’s voyage to the underworld is but one of innumerable such adventures undertaken by the heroes of fairy tale and myth. Among the most perilous are those of the shamans of the peoples of the farthest north (the Lapps, Siberians, Eskimo, and certain American Indian tribes), when they go to seek out and recover the lost or abducted souls of the sick.

In every primitive tribe,” writes Dr. Géza Róheim, “we find the medicine man in the center of society and it is easy to show that the medicine man is either a neurotic or a psychotic or at least that his art is based on the same mechanisms as a neurosis or a psychosis. Human groups are actuated by their group ideals, and these are always based on the infantile situation.” “The infancy situation is modified or inverted by the process of maturation, again modified by the necessary adjustment to reality, yet it is there and supplies those unseen libidinal ties without which no human groups could exist.”6 The medicine men, therefore, are simply making both visible and public the systems of symbolic fantasy that are present in the psyche of every adult member of their society. “They are the leaders in this infantile game and the lightning conductors of common anxiety. They fight the demons so that others can hunt the prey and in general fight reality.”

And so it happens that if anyone—in whatever society—undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him) which is no less marvelous than the wild Siberian world of the pudak and sacred mountains. In the vocabulary of the mystics, this is the second stage of the Way, that of the “purification of the self,” when the senses are “cleansed and humbled,” and the energies and interests “concentrated upon transcendental things;”8 or in a vocabulary of more modern turn: this is the process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past.

There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence.

To hear and profit, however, one may have to submit somehow to purgation and surrender. And that is part of our problem: just how to do that.

The oldest recorded account of the passage through the gates of metamorphosis is the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna’s descent to the nether world.

From the “great above” she set her mind toward
the “great below,”
The goddess, from the “great above” she set her
mind toward the “great below,”
Inanna, from the “great above” she set her mind
toward the “great below.”
My lady abandoned heaven, abandoned earth,
To the nether world she descended,
Inanna abandoned heaven, abandoned earth,
To the nether world she descended,
Abandoned lordship, abandoned ladyship,
To the nether world she descended.

Inanna and Ereshkigal, the two sisters, light and dark respectively, together represent, according to the antique manner of symbolization, the one goddess in two aspects; and their confrontation epitomizes the whole sense of the difficult road of trials. The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman, the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty, and life, and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.

Can the ego put itself to death? For many-headed is this surrounding Hydra; one head cut off, two more appear—unless the right caustic is applied to the mutilated stump.

2. The Meeting with the Goddess

THE ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.

The Lady of the House of Sleep is a familiar figure in fairy tale and myth. We have already spoken of her, under the forms of Brynhild and little Briar-rose. She is the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest. She is mother, sister, mistress, bride. Whatever in the world has lured, whatever has seemed to promise joy, has been premonitory of her existence—in the deep of sleep, if not in the cities and forests of the world. For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again: the comforting, the nourishing, the “good” mother—young and beautiful—who was known to us, and even tasted, in the remotest past. Time sealed her away, yet she is dwelling still, like one who sleeps in timelessness, at the bottom of the timeless sea.

The remembered image is not only benign, however; for the “bad” mother too—(1) the absent, unattainable mother, against whom aggressive fantasies are directed, and from whom a counter-aggression is feared; (2) the hampering, forbidding, punishing mother; (3) the mother who would hold to herself the growing child trying to push away; and finally (4) the desired but forbidden mother (Oedipus complex) whose presence is a lure to dangerous desire (castration complex)—persists in the hidden land of the adult’s infant recollection and is sometimes even the greater force. She is at the root of such unattainable great goddess figures as that of the chaste and terrible Diana—whose absolute ruin of the young sportsman Actaeon illustrates what a blast of fear is contained in such symbols of the mind’s and body’s blocked desire.

The mythological figure of the Universal Mother imputes to the cosmos the feminine attributes of the first, nourishing and protecting presence. The fantasy is primarily spontaneous; for there exists a close and obvious correspondence between the attitude of the young child toward its mother and that of the adult toward the surrounding material world.

For she is the world creatrix, ever mother, ever virgin. She encompasses the encompassing, nourishes the nourishing, and is the life of everything that lives.

She is also the death of everything that dies. The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway, from birth, through adolescence, maturity, and senescence, to the grave. She is the womb and the tomb: the sow that eats her farrow. Thus she unites the “good” and the “bad,” exhibiting the two modes of the remembered mother, not as personal only, but as universal. The devotee is expected to contemplate the two with equal equanimity. Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile, inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists, not primarily as “good” and “bad” with respect to his childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as the law and image of the nature of being.

Her name is Kali, the Black One; her title: The Ferry across the Ocean of Existence.

Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know.

The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amorfati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity.

And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed—whether she will or no. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace.

The Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches celebrate the same mystery in the Feast of the Assumption: “The Virgin Mary is taken up into the bridal chamber of heaven, where the King of Kings sits on his starry throne.” “O Virgin most prudent, whither goest thou, bright as the morn? all beautiful and sweet art thou, O daughter of Zion, fair as the moon, elect as the sun.”

3. Woman as the Temptress

THE mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master. And the testings of the hero, which were preliminary to his ultimate experience and deed, were symbolical of those crises of realization by means of which his consciousness came to be amplified and made capable of enduring the full possession of the mother-destroyer, his inevitable bride. With that he knows that he and the father are one: he is in the father’s place.

The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who and where are his ogres? Those are the reflections of the unsolved enigmas of his own humanity. What are his ideals? Those are the symptoms of his grasp of life.

The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.

4. Atonement with the Father

…the ogre aspect of the father.

In most mythologies, the images of mercy and grace are rendered as vividly as those of justice and wrath, so that a balance is maintained, and the heart is buoyed rather than scourged along its way. “Fear not!” says the hand gesture of the god Shiva, as he dances before his devotee the dance of the universal destruction.

For the ogre aspect of the father is a reflex of the victim’s own ego—derived from the sensational nursery scene that has been left behind, but projected before; and the fixating idolatry of that pedagogical nonthing is itself the fault that keeps one steeped in a sense of sin, sealing the potentially adult spirit from a better balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world. Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god’s tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve.

It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from íhe helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same.

The need for great care on the part of the father, admitting to his house only those who have been thoroughly tested, is illustrated by the unhappy exploit of the lad Phaëthon, described in a famous tale of the Greeks. Born of a virgin in Ethiopia and taunted by his playmates to search the question of his father, he set off across Persia and India to find the palace of the Sun—for his mother had told him that his father was Phoebus, the god who drove the solar chariot.

This tale of indulgent parenthood illustrates the antique idea that when the roles of life aie assumed by the improperly initiated, chaos supervenes. When the child outgrows the popular idyl of the mother breast and turns to face the world of specialized adult action, it passes, spiritually, into the sphere of the father—who becomes, for his son, the sign of the future task, and for his daughter, of the future husband. Whether he knows it or not, and no matter what his position in society, the father is the initiating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world. And just as, formerly, the mother represented the “good” and “evil,” so now does he, but with this complication—that there is a new element of rivalry in the picture: the son against the father for the mastery of the universe, and the daughter against the mother to be the mastered world.

The traditional idea of initiation combines an introduction of the candidate into the techniques, duties, and prerogatives of his vocation with a radical readjustment of his emotional relationship to the parental images. The mystagogue (father or father-substitute) is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathexes—for whom the just, impersonal exercise of the powers will not be rendered impossible by unconscious (or perhaps even conscious and rationalized) motives of self aggrandizement, personal preference, or resentment. Ideally, the invested one has been divested of his mere humanity and is representative of an impersonal cosmic force. He is the twice-born: he has become himself the father. And he is competent, consequently, now to enact himself the role of the initiator, the guide, the sun door, through whom one may pass from the infantile illusions of “good” and “evil” to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law, purged of hope and fear, and at peace in the understanding of the revelation of being.

…through the Christian church (in the mythology of the Fall and Redemption, Crucifixion and Resurrection, the “second birth” of baptism, the initiatory blow on the cheek at confirmation, the symbolical eating of the Flesh and drinking of the Blood) solemnly, and sometimes effectively, we are united to those immortal images of initiatory might, through the sacramental operation of which, man, since the beginning of his day on earth, has dispelled the terrors of his phenomenality and won through to the all-transfiguring vision of immortal being. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

But the most extraordinary and profoundly moving of the traits of Viracocha, this nobly conceived Peruvian rendition of the universal god, is the detail that is peculiarly his own, namely that of the tears. The living waters are the tears of God. Herewith the world-discrediting insight of the monk, “All life is sorrowful,” is combined with the world-begetting affirmative of the father: “Life must bei” In full awareness of the life anguish of the creatures of his hand, in full consciousness of the roaring wilderness of pains, the brain-splitting fires of the deluded, self-ravaging, lustful, angry universe of his creation, this divinity acquiesces in the deed of supplying life to life. To withhold the seminal waters would be to annihilate; yet to give them forth is to create this world that we know. For the essence of time is flux, dissolution of the momentarily existent; and the essence of life is time. In his mercy, in his love for the forms of time, this demiurgic man of men yields countenance to the sea of pangs; but in his full awareness of what he is doing, the seminal waters of the life that he gives are the tears of his eyes.

The paradox of creation, the coming of the forms of time out of eternity, is the germinal secret of the father. It can never be quite explained. Therefore, in every system of theology there is an umbilical point, an Achilles tendon which the finger of mother life has touched, and where the possibility of perfect knowledge has been impaired. The problem of the hero is to pierce himself (and therewith his world) precisely through that point; to shatter and annihilate that key knot of his limited existence.

The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.

5. Apotheosis

When the envelopment of consciousness has been annihilated, then he becomes free of all fear, beyond the reach of change.”84 This is the release potential within us all, and which anyone can attain—through herohood; for, as we read: “All things are Buddha-things;”85 or again (and this is the other way of making the same statement): “All beings are without self.”

Time and eternity are two aspects of the same experience-whole, two planes of the same nondual ineffable; i.e., the jewel of eternity is in the lotus of birth and death: om mani padme hum. The first wonder to be noted here is the androgynous character of the Bodhisattva: masculine Avalokiteshvara, feminine Kwan Yin. Male-female gods are not uncommon in the world of myth. They emerge always with a certain mystery; for they conduct the mind beyond objective experience into a symbolic realm where duality is left behind.

And among the Greeks, not only Hermaphrodite (the child of Hermes and Aphrodite),88 but Eros too, the divinity of love (the first of the gods, according to Plato),89 were in sex both female and male.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”90 The question may arise in the mind as to the nature of the image of God; but the answer is already given in the text, and is clear enough. “When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the first man, He created him androgynous.”91 The removal of the feminine into another form symbolizes the beginning of the fall from perfection into duality; and it was naturally followed by the discovery of the duality of good and evil, exile from the garden where God walks on earth, and thereupon the building of the wall of Paradise, constituted of the “coincidence of opposites,”92 by which Man (now man and woman) is cut off from not only the vision but even the recollection of the image of God.

This is the Biblical version of a myth known to many lands. It represents one of the basic ways of symbolizing the mystery of creation: the devolvement of eternity into time, the breaking of the one into the two and then the many, as well as the generation of new life through the reconjunction of the two. This image stands at the beginning of the cosmogonie cycle,93 and with equal propriety at the conclusion of the hero-task, at the moment when the wall of Paradise is dissolved, the divine form found and recollected, and wisdom regained.

The call of the Great Father Snake was alarming to the child; the mother was protection. But the father came. He was the guide and initiator into the mysteries of the unknown. As the original intruder into the paradise of the infant with its mother, the father is the archetypal enemy; hence, throughout life all enemies are symbolical (to the unconscious) of the father.

…the irresistible compulsion to make war: the impulse to destroy the father is continually transforming itself into public violence. The old men of the immediate community or race protect themselves from their growing sons by the psychological magic of their totem ceremonials. They enact the ogre father, and then reveal themselves to be the feeding mother too. A new and larger paradise is thus established. But this paradise does not include the traditional enemy tribes, or races, against whom aggression is still systematically projected.

The rest of the world meanwhile (that is to say, by far the greater portion of mankind) is left outside the sphere of his sympathy and protection because outside the sphere of the protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. The laws of the City of God are applied only to his in-group (tribe, church, nation, class, or what not) while the fire of a perpetual holy war is hurled (with good conscience, and indeed a sense of pious service) against whatever uncircumcised, barbarian, heathen, “native,” or alien people happens to occupy the position of neighbor.

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense.

The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.

The understanding of the final—and critical—implications of the world-redemptive words and symbols of the tradition of Christendom has been so disarranged, during the tumultuous centuries that have elapsed since St. Augustine’s declaration of the holy war of the Civitas Dei against the Civitas Diaboli, that the modern thinker wishing to know the meaning of a world religion (i.e., of a doctrine of universal love) must turn his mind to the other great (and much older) universal communion: that of the Buddha, where the primary word still is peace—peace to all beings.

If ye realize the Emptiness of All Things, Compassion
will arise within your hearts;
If ye lose all differentiation between yourselves and others, fit
to serve others ye will be;
And when in serving others ye shall win success, then shall ye
meet with me;
And finding me, ye shall attain to Buddhahood.

Peace is at the heart of all because Avalokiteshvara-Kwannon, the mighty Bodhisattva, Boundless Love, includes, regards, and dwells within (without exception) every sentient being.

The Lord Who is Seen Within.” We are all reflexes of the image of the Bodhisattva. The sufferer within us is that divine being. We and that protecting father are one. This is the redeeming insight. That protecting father is every man we meet. And so it must be known that, though this ignorant, limited, self-defending, suffering body may regard itself as threatened by some other the enemy—that one too is the God. The ogre breaks us, but the hero, the fit candidate, undergoes the initiation “like a man;” and behold, it was the father: we in Him and He in us. The dear, protecting mother of our body could not defend us from the Great Father Serpent; the mortal, tangible body that she gave us was delivered into his frightening power. But death was not the end. New life, new birth, new knowledge of existence (so that we live not in this physique only, but in all bodies, all physiques of the world, as the Bodhisattva) was given us. That father was himself the womb, the mother, of a second birth.

The childhood parent images and ideas of “good” and “evil” have been surpassed. We no longer desire and fear; we are what was desired and feared. All the gods, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas have been subsumed in us, as in the halo of the mighty holder of the lotus of the world.

The method of the celebrated Buddhist Eightfold Path:
Right Belief, Right Intentions,
Right Speech, Right Actions,
Right Livelihood, Right Endeavoring,
Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

And the Christian reading of the meaning also is the same: Et Verbum caro factum est, i.e., “The Jewel is in the Lotus”: Om mani padme Aum.

Note 134: “And the Word was made flesh”; verse of the Angelus, celebrating the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

6. The Ultimate Boon

The motif (derived from an infantile fantasy) of the inexhaustible dish, symbolizing the perpetual life-giving, form-building powers of the universal source, is a fairy-tale counterpart of the mythological image of the cornucopian banquet of the gods.

The profession, for example, of the medicine man, this nucleus of all primitive societies, “originates … on the basis of the infantile body-destruction fantasies, by means of a series of defence mechanisms.”139 In Australia a basic conception is that the spirits have removed the intestines of the medicine man and substituted pebbles, quartz crystals, a quantity of rope, and sometimes also a little snake endowed with power.140 “The first formula is abreaction in fantasy (my inside has already been destroyed) followed by reaction-formation (my inside is not something corruptible and full of faeces, but incorruptible, full of quartz crystals.

The supreme boon desired for the Indestructible Body is uninterrupted residence in the Paradise of the Milk that Never Fails

Soul and body food, heart’s ease, is the gift of “All Heal,” the nipple inexhaustible. Mt. Olympus rises to the heavens; gods and heroes banquet there on ambrosia (α, not, mortal). In Wotan’s mountain hall, four hundred and thirty-two thousand heroes consume the undiminished flesh of Sachrimnir, the Cosmic Boar, washing it down with a milk that runs from the udders of the she-goat Heidrun: she feeds on the leaves of Yggdrasil, the World Ash. Within the fairy hills of Erin, the deathless Tuatha De Danaan consume the self-renewing pigs of Manannan, drinking copiously of Guibne’s ale. In Persia, the gods in the mountain garden on Mt. Hara Berezaiti drink immortal haoma, distilled from the Gaokerena Tree, the tree of life. The Japanese gods drink sake, the Polynesian ave, the Aztec gods drink the blood of men and maids. And the redeemed of Yahweh, in their roof garden, are served the inexhaustible, delicious flesh of the monsters Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz, while drinking the liquors of the four sweet rivers of paradise.

Humor is the touchstone of the truly mythological as distinct from the more literal-minded and sentimental theological mood. The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them, into the yonder void; from which perspective the more heavily freighted theological dogmas then appear to have been only pedagogical lures: their function, to cart the unadroit intellect away from its concrete clutter of facts and events to a comparatively rarefied zone, where, as a final boon, all existence—whether heavenly, earthly, or infernal—may at last be seen transmuted into the semblance of a lightly passing, recurrent, mere childhood dream of bliss and fright.”

The gods and goddesses then are to be understood as embodiments and custodians of the elixir of Imperishable Being but not themselves the Ultimate in its primary state. What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance. This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable; the names and forms of the deities who everywhere embody, dispense, and represent it come and go. This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration,157 and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven.

The greatest tale of the elixir quest in the Mesopotamian, pre-Biblical tradition is that of Gilgamesh, a legendary king of the Sumerian city of Erech, who set forth to attain the watercress of immortality, the plant “Never Grow Old.

Now the far land that they were approaching was the residence of Utnapishtim, the hero of the primordial deluge, Gilgamesh, on landing, had to listen to the patriarch’s long recitation of the story of the deluge.

The plant was growing at the bottom of the cosmic sea.

Gilgamesh bathed in a cool water-hole and lay down to rest. But while he slept, a serpent smelled the wonderful perfume of the plant, darted forth, and carried it away. Eating it, the snake immediately gained the power of sloughing its skin, and so renewed its youth. But Gilgamesh, when he awoke, sat down and wept, “and the tears ran down the wall of his nose.”

The research for physical immortality proceeds from a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. Immortality is then experienced as a present fact: “It is here! It is here!”

“All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, but only to return to the root. Returning to the root is like seeking tranquility. Seeking tranquility is like moving toward destiny. To move toward destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment, and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil.

The Japanese have a proverb: “The gods only laugh when men pray to them for wealth.” The boon bestowed on the worshiper is always scaled to his stature and to the nature of his dominant desire: the boon is simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case. The irony, of course, lies in the fact that, whereas the hero who has won the favor of the god may beg for the boon of perfect illumination, what he generally seeks are longer years to live, weapons with which to slay his neighbor, or the health of his child.

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form—all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.

This is the highest and ultimate crucifixion, not only of the hero, but of his god as well. Here the Son and the Father alike are annihilated—as personality-masks over the unnamed.

…the universal force of a single inscrutable mystery: the power that constructs the atom and controls the orbits of the stars.

That font of life is the core of the individual, and within himself he will find it—if he can tear the coverings away. The pagan Germanic divinity Othin (Wotan) gave an eye to split the veil of light into the knowledge of this infinite dark, and then underwent for it the passion of a crucifixion:

I ween that I hung on the windy tree,
Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was
To Othin, myself to myself,
On the tree that none may ever know
What root beneath it runs.

The Buddha’s victory beneath the Bo Tree is the classic Oriental example of this deed. With the sword of his mind he pierced the bubble of the universe—and it shattered into nought. The whole world of natural experience, as well as the continents, heavens, and hells of traditional religious belief, exploded—together with their gods and demons. But the miracle of miracles was that though all exploded, all was nevertheless thereby renewed, revivified, and made glorious with the effulgence of true being. Indeed, the gods of the redeemed heavens raised their voices in harmonious acclaim of the man-hero who had penetrated beyond them to the void that was their life and source.


1 Refusal of the Return

WHEN the hero—quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.

But the responsibility has been frequently refused. Even the Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of realization could be communicated, and saints are reported to have passed away while in the supernal ecstasy.

2. The Magic Flight

IF THE hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron. On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero’s wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becames a lively, often comical, pursuit.This flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and evasion.

The flight is a favorite episode of the folk tale, where it is developed under many lively forms.

A popular variety of the magic flight is that in which objects are left behind to speak for the fugitive and thus delay pursuit.

Another well-known variety of the magic flight is one in which a number of delaying obstacles are tossed behind by the wildly fleeing hero.

One of the most shocking of the obstacle flights is that of the Greek hero, Jason. He had set forth to win the Golden Fleece. Putting to sea in the magnificent Argo with a great company of warriors, he had sailed in the direction of the Black Sea, and, though delayed by many fabulous dangers, arrived, at last, miles beyond the Bosporus, at the city and palace of King Aeëtes. Behind the palace was the grove and tree of the dragon-guarded prize.

Now the daughter of the king, Medea, conceived an overpowering passion for the illustrious foreign visitor and, when her father imposed an impossible task as the price of the Golden Fleece, compounded charms that enabled him to succeed.

Then Jason snatched the prize, Medea ran with him, and the Argo put to sea. But the king was soon in swift pursuit. And when Medea perceived that his sails were cutting down their lead, she persuaded Jason to kill Apsyrtos, her younger brother whom she had carried off, and toss the pieces of the dismembered body into the sea. This forced King Aeëtes, her father, to put about, rescue the fragments, and go ashore to give them decent burial. Meanwhile the Argo ran with the wind and passed from his ken.

It is always some little fault, some slight yet critical symptom of human frailty, that makes impossible the open interrelationship between the worlds; so that one is tempted to believe, almost, that if the small, marring accident could be avoided, all would be well.

The myths of failure touch us with the tragedy of life, but those of success only with their own incredibility. And yet, if the mono-myth is to fulfill its promise, not human failure or superhuman success but human success is what we shall have to be shown. That is the problem of the crisis of the threshold of the return. We shall first consider it in the superhuman symbols and then seek the practical teaching for historic man.

3. Rescue from Without

THE hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him.

And yet, in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door. If the hero—like Muchukunda—is unwilling, the disturber suffers an ugly shock; but on the other hand, if the summoned one is only delayed—sealed in by the beatitude of the state of perfect being (which resembles death)—an apparent rescue is effected, and the adventurer returns.

The mirror, the sword, and the tree, we recognize. The mirror, reflecting the goddess and drawing her forth from the august repose of her divine non-manifestation, is symbolic of the world, the field of the reflected image. Therein divinity is pleased to regard its own glory, and this pleasure is itself inducement to the act of manifestation or “creation.” The sword is the counterpart of the thunderbolt. The tree is the World Axis in its wish-fulfilling, fruitful aspect—the same as that displayed in Christian homes at the season of the winter solstice, which is the moment of the rebirth or return of the sun, a joyous custom inherited from the Germanic paganism that has given to the modern German language its feminine Sonne. The dance of Uzume and the uproar of the gods belong to carnival: the world left topsy-turvy by the withdrawal of the supreme divinity, but joyous for the coming renewal. And the shimenawa, the august rope of straw that was stretched behind the goddess when she reappeared, symbolizes the graciousness of the miracle of the light’s return. This shimenawa is one of the most conspicuous, important, and silently eloquent, of the traditional symbols of the folk religion of Japan. Hung above the entrances of the temples, festooned along the streets at the New Year festival, it denotes the renovation of the world at the threshold of the return. If the Christian cross is the most telling symbol of the mythological passage into the abyss of death, the shimenawa is the simplest sign of the resurrection. The two represent the mystery of the boundary between the worlds—the existent nonexistent line.

Amaterasu is an Oriental sister of the great Inanna, the supreme goddess of the ancient Sumerian cuneiform temple-tablets, whose descent we have already followed into the lower world. Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite, Venus: those were the names she bore in the successive culture periods of the Occidental development—associated, not with the sun, but with the planet that carries her name, and at the same time with the moon, the heavens, and the fruitful earth. In Egypt she became the goddess of the Dog Star, Sirius, whose annual reappearance in the sky announced the earth-fructifying flood season of the river Nile.

…the rescue from without. They show in the final stages of the adventure the continued operation of the supernatural assisting force that has been attending the elect through the whole course of his ordeal. His consciousness having succumbed, the unconscious nevertheless supplies its own balances, and he is born back into the world from which he came. Instead of holding to and saving his ego, as in the pattern of the magic flight, he loses it, and yet, through grace, it is returned.

This brings us to the final crisis of the round, to which the whole miraculous excursion has been but a prelude—that, namely, of the paradoxical, supremely difficult threshold-crossing of the hero’s return from the mystic realm into the land of common day. Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend.

4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

THE two worlds, the divine and the human, can be pictured only as distinct from each other—different as life and death, as day and night. The hero adventures out of the land we know into darkness; there he accomplishes his adventure, or again is simply lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger; and his return is described as a coming back out of that yonder zone. Nevertheless—and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the hero.

But the hero-soul goes boldly in—and discovers the hags converted into goddesses and the dragons into the watchdogs of the gods.

The boon brought from the transcendent deep becomes quickly rationalized into nonentity, and the need becomes great for another hero to refresh the word.

How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand thousand times, throughout the millenniums of mankind’s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task.

The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life.

The story of Rip van Winkle is an example of the delicate case of the eturning hero.

In deep sleep, declare the Hindus, the self is unified and blissful; therefore deep sleepis called the cognitional state.

The equating of a single year in Paradise to one hundred of earthly existence is a motif well known to myth. The full round of one hundred signifies totality. Similarly, the three hundred and sixty degrees of the circle signify totality; accordingly the Hindu Puranas represent one year of the gods as equal to three hundred and sixty of men.

Sir James George Frazer explains in the following graphic way the fact that over the whole earth the divine personage may not touch the ground with his foot. “Apparently holiness, magical virtue, taboo, or whatever we may call that mysterious quality which is supposed to pervade sacred or tabooed persons, is conceived by the primitive philosopher as a physical substance or fluid, with which the sacred man is charged just as a Leyden jar is charged with electricity; and exactly as the electricity in the jar can be discharged by contact with a good conductor, so the holiness or magical virtue in the man can be discharged and drained away by contact with the earth, which on this theory serves as an excellent conductor for the magical fluid. Hence in order to preserve the charge from running to waste, the sacred or tabooed personage must be carefully prevented from touching the ground; in electrical language he must be insulated,

The wife is insulated, more or less, by her ring.

And the myths—for example, the myths assembled by Ovid in his great compendium, the Metamorphoses—recount again and again the shocking transformations that take place when the
insulation between a highly concentrated power center and the lower power field of the surrounding world is, without proper precautions, suddenly taken away. According to the fairy lore of the Celts and Germans, a gnome or elf caught abroad by the sunrise is turned immediately into a stick or a stone.

The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world. Rip van Winkle never knew what he had experienced; his return was a joke

The encounter and separation, for all its wildness, is typical of the sufferings of love. For when a heart insists on its destiny, resisting the general blandishment, then the agony is great; so too the danger. Forces, however, will have been set in motion beyond the reckoning of the senses. Sequences of events from the corners of the world will draw gradually together, and miracles of coincidence bring the inevitable to pass.

Not everyone has a destiny: only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again—with a ring.

5. Master of the Two Worlds

Here is the whole myth in a moment: Jesus the guide, the way, the vision, and the companion of the return. The disciples are his initiates, not themselves masters of the mystery, yet introduced to the full experience of the paradox of the two worlds in one. Peter was so frightened he babbled.28 Flesh had dissolved before their eyes to reveal the Word. They fell upon their faces, and when they arose the door again had closed.

We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al-Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived. Their stories are what concern us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world—attached to various heroes in various lands—that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment. The stressing of this historical element will lead to confusion; it will simply obfuscate the picture message.

What, then, is the tenor of the image of the transfiguration? That is the question we have to ask. But in order that it may be confronted on universal grounds, rather than sectarian, we had better review one further example, equally celebrated, of the archetypal event.

The disciple has been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human destiny, and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos. Not his personal fate, but the fate of mankind, of life as a whole, the atom and all the solar systems, has been opened to him; and this in terms befitting his human understanding, that is to say, in terms of an anthropomorphic vision: the Cosmic Man. An identical initiation might have been effected by means of the equally valid image of the Cosmic Horse, the Cosmic Eagle, the Cosmic Tree, or the Cosmic Praying-Mantis.

The Cosmic Man whom he beheld was an aristocrat, like himself, and a Hindu. Correspondingly, in Palestine the Cosmic Man appeared as a Jew, in ancient Germany as a German; among the Basuto he is a Negro, in Japan Japanese.

Note 31: Om. The Cosmic Tree is a well known mythological figure (viz., Yggdrasil, the World Ash, of the Eddas). The Mantis plays a major role in the mythology of the Bushmen of South Africa.

Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference. No matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they remain but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding.

The problem of the theologian is to keep his symbol translucent, so that it may not block out the very light it is supposed to convey. “For then alone do we know God truly,” writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, “when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think of God.”

The next thing to observe is that the transfiguration of Jesus was witnessed by devotees who had extinguished their personal wills, men who had long since liquidated “life,” “personal fate,” “destiny,” by complete self-abnegation in the Master. “Neither by the Vedas, nor by penances, nor by alms-giving, nor yet by sacrifice, am I to be seen in the form in which you have just now beheld Me,” Krishna declared, after he had resumed his familiar shape; “but only by devotion to Me may I be known in this form, realized truly, and entered into. He who does My work and regards Me as the Supreme Goal, who is devoted to Me and without hatred for any creature—he comes to Me.”35 A corresponding formulation by Jesus makes the point more succinctly: “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent.

6. Freedom to Live

The battlefield is symbolic of the field of life, where every creature lives on the death of another. A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that, like Hamlet or like Arjuna, one may refuse to go on with it. On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because one represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos. The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will.

Man in the world of action loses his centering in the principle of eternity if he is anxious for the outcome of his deeds, but resting them and their fruits on the knees of the Living God he is released by them, as by a sacrifice, from the bondages of the sea of death.


Campbell’s diagram of the Hero’s Journey

Here is a link to an excellent website that has alternate examples of the diagram:

More detailed diagram from the above mentioned site.

The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again—if the powers have remained unfriendly to him—his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).

The archetype of the hero in the belly of the whale is widely known. The principal deed of the adventurer is usually to make fire with his fire sticks in the interior of the monster, thus bringing about the whale’s death and his own release. Fire making in this manner is symbolic of the sex act. The two sticks—socket-stick and spindle—are known respectively as the female and the male; the flame is the newly generated life. The hero making fire in the whale is a variant of the sacred marriage.

And in modern progressive Christianity the Christ—Incarnation of the Logos and Redeemer of the World—is primarily a historical personage, a harmless country wise man of the semi-oriental past, who preached a benign doctrine of “do as you would be done by,” yet was executed as a criminal. His death is read as a splendid lesson in integrity and fortitude.

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved. Such a blight has certainly descended on the Bible and on a great part of the Christian cult.


1 From Psychology to Metaphysics

…there can be little doubt, either that myths are of the nature of dream, or that dreams are symptomatic of the dynamics of the psyche.

With their discovery that the patterns and logic of fairy tale and myth correspond to those of dream, the long discredited chimeras of archaic man have returned dramatically to the foreground of modern consciousness. According to this view it appears that through the wonder tales—which pretend to describe the lives of the legendary heroes, the powers of the divinities of nature, the spirits of the dead, and the totem ancestors of the group—symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior. Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography; history, and cosmology.

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve. This is the power known to science as energy, to the Mela nesians as mana, to the Sioux Indians as wakonda, the Hindus as shakti, and the Christians as the power of God. Its manifestation in the psyche is termed, by the psychoanalysts, libido. And its
manifestation in the cosmos is the structure and flux of the universe itself.

God and the gods are only convenient means—themselves of the nature of the world of names and forms, though eloquent of, and ultimately conducive to, the ineffable. They are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.

Correspondingly, the key to open the door the other way is the same equation in reverse: the unconscious = the metaphysical realm. “For,” as Jesus states it, “behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Redemption consists in the return to superconsciousness and therewith the dissolution of the world.

The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and rep resents the claims of the superconsciousness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious. The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination—the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death.

Perhaps the most eloquent possible symbol of this mystery is that of the god crucified, the god offered, “himself to himself.” Read in one direction, the meaning is the passage of the phenomenal hero into superconsciousness: the body with its five senseslike that of Prince Five-weapons stuck to Sticky-hair—is left hanging to the cross of the knowledge of life and death, pinned in five places (the two hands, the two feet, and the head crowned with thorns). But also, God has descended voluntarily and taken upon himself this phenomenal agony. God assumes the life of man and man releases the God within himself at the mid-point of the cross-arms of the same “coincidence of opposites,” the same sun door through which God descends and Man ascends—each as the other’s food.

2. The Universal Round

As THE consciousness of the individual rests on a sea of night into which it descends in slumber and out of which it mysteriously wakes, so, in the imagery of myth, the universe is precipitated out of, and reposes upon, a timelessness back into which it again dissolves. And as the mental and physical health of the individual depends on an orderly flow of vital forces into the field of waking day from the unconscious dark, so again in myth, the continuance of the cosmic order is assured only by a controlled flow of power from the source. The gods are symbolic personifications of the laws governing this flow. The gods come into existence with the dawn of the world and dissolve with the twilight. They are not eternal in the sense that the night is eternal.

A basic conception of Oriental philosophy is understood to be rendered in this picture-form. Whether the myth was originally an illustration of the philosophical formula, or the latter a distillation out of the myth, it is today impossible to say. Certainly the myth goes back to remote ages, but so too does philosophy. Who is to know what thoughts lay in the minds of the old sages who developed and treasured the myth and handed it on? Very often, during the analysis and penetration of the secrets of archaic symbol, one can only feel that our generally accepted notion of the history of philosophy is founded on a completely false assumption, namely that abstract and metaphysical thought begins where it first appears in our extant records.

The philosophical formula illustrated by the cosmogonic cycle is that of the circulation of consciousness through the three planes of being. The first plane is that of waking experience: cognitive of the hard, gross, facts of an outer universe, illuminated by the light of the sun, and common to all. The second plane is that of dream experience: cognitive of the fluid, subtle, forms of a private interior world, selfluminous and of one substance with the dreamer. The third plane is that of deep sleep: dreamless, profoundly blissful. In the first are encountered the instructive experiences of life; in the second these are digested, assimilated to the inner forces of the dreamer; while in the third all is enjoyed and known unconsciously, in the space within the heart,” the room of the inner controller, the source and end of all.

The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark.

3. Out of the Void—Space

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS declares: “The name of being wise is reserved to him alone whose consideration is about the end of the universe, which end is also the beginning of the universe.” The basic principle of all mythology is this of the beginning in the end. Creation myths are pervaded with a sense of the doom that is continually recalling all created shapes to the imperishable out of which they first emerged.

Mythology is defeated when the mind rests solemnly with its favorite or traditional images, defending them as though they themselves were the message that they communicate. These images are to be regarded as no more than shadows from the unfathomable reach beyond, where the eye goeth not, speech goeth not, nor the mind, nor even piety. Like the trivialities of dream, those of myth are big with meaning.

From the void beyond all voids unfold the world-sustaining emanations, plantlike, mysterious.

3. Within Space—Life

The image of the cosmic egg is known to many mythologies; it appears in the Greek Orphic, Fgyptian, Finnish, Buddhistic, and Japanese. “In the beginning this world was merely nonbeing,” we read in a sacred work of the Hindus; “It was existent. It developed. It turned into an egg. It lay for the period of a year. It was split asunder.

“Space is boundless by re-entrant form not by great extension. That which is is a shell floating in the infinitude of that which is not.” This succinct formulation by a modern physicist, illustrating the world picture as he saw it in 1928,32 gives precisely the sense of the mythological cosmic egg. Furthermore, the evolution of life, described by our modern science of biology, is the theme of the early stages of the cosmogonie cycle. Finally, the world destruction, which the physicists tell us must come with the exhaustion of our sun and ultimate running down of the whole cosmos.

Not uncommonly the cosmic egg bursts to disclose, swelling from within, an awesome figure in human form.

This cabalistic text is a commentary to the scene in Genesis where Adam gives forth Eve. A similar conception appears in Plato’s Symposium. According to this mysticism of sexual love, the ultimate experience of love is a realization that beneath the illusion of two-ness dwells identity: “each is both.” This realization can expand into a discovery that beneath the multitudinous individualities of the whole surrounding universe—human, animal, vegetable, even mineral—dwells identity; whereupon the love experience becomes cosmic, and the beloved who first opened the vision is magnified as the mirror of creation.

4. The Breaking of the One into the Manifold

In mythology, wherever the Unmoved Mover, the Mighty Living One, holds the center of attention, there is a miraculous spontaneity about the shaping of the universe. The elements condense and move into play of their own accord, or at the Creator’s slightest word; the portions of the self-shattering cosmic egg go to their stations without aid.

As known to the Greeks, this story is rendered by Hesiod in his account of the separation of Ouranos (Father Heaven) from Gaia (Mother Earth). According to this variant, the Titan Kronos castrated his father with a sickle and pushed him up out of the way.

Again the image comes to us from the ancient cuneiform texts of the Sumerians, dating from the third and fourth millenniums B.C. First was the primeval ocean; the primeval ocean generated the cosmic mountain, which consisted of heaven and earth united; An (the Heaven Father) and Ki (the Earth Mother) produced Enlil (the Air God), who presently separated An from Ki and then himself united with his mother to beget mankind.

Icelandic Eddas, and in the Babylonian Tablets of Creation. The final insult here is given in the characterization of the demiurgic presence of the abyss as “evil,” “dark,” “obscene.” The bright young warrior-sons, now disdaining the generative source, the personage of the seed-state of deep sleep, summarily slay it, hack it, slice it into lengths, and carpenter it into the structure of the world. 1 his is the pattern for victory of all our later slayings of the dragon, the beginning of the agelong history of the deeds of the hero.

In the Babylonian version the hero is Marduk, the sun-god; the victim is Tiamat—terrifying, dragonlike, attended by swarms of demons—a female personification of the original abyss itself: chaos as the mother of the gods, but now the menace of the world.

The myths never tire of illustrating the point that conflict in the created world is not what it seems. Tiamat, though slain and dismembered, was not thereby undone.

Herein lies the basic paradox of myth: the paradox of the dual focus. Just as at the opening of the cosmogonic cycle it was possible to say “God is not involved,” but at the same time “God is creator-preserver-destroyer,” so now at this critical juncture, where the One breaks into the many, destiny “happens,” but at the same time “is brought about.” From the perspective of the source, the world is a majestic harmony of forms pouring into being, exploding, and dissolving. But what the swiftly passing creatures experience is a terrible cacaphony of battle cries and pain. The myths do not deny this agony (the crucifixion); they reveal within, behind, and around it essential peace (the heavenly rose).

The shift of perspective from the repose of the central Cause to the turbulation of the peripheral effects is represented in the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They ate of the forbidden fruit, “And the eves of them both were opened.”51 The bliss of Paradise was closed to them and they beheld the created field from the other side of a transforming veil. Henceforth they should experience the inevitable as the hard to gain.

5. Folk Stories of Creation

THE simplicity of the origin stories of the undeveloped folk mythologies stands in contrast to the profoundly suggestive myths of the cosmogonic cycle.

Through the blank wall of timelessness there breaks and enters a shadowy creator-figure to shape the world of forms. His day is dreamlike in its duration, fluidity, and ambient power.

A clown figure working in continuous opposition to the well-wishing creator very often appears in myth and folk tale, as accounting for the ills and difficulties of existence this side of the veil.

Note 52: A broad distinction can be made between the mythologies of the truly primitive (fishing, hunting, root-digging, and berry-picking) peoples and those of the civilizations that came into being following the development of the arts of agriculture, dairying, and herding, ca. 6000 BC. Most of what we call primitive, however, is actually colonial, i.e. diffused from some high culture center and adapted to the needs of the a simpler society. It is in order to avoid the misleading term, “primitive,” that I am calling the undeveloped or degenerate traditions “folk mythologies.” The term is adequate for the purposes of the present elementary comparative study of the universal forms though if would certainly not serve for a strict historical analysis.

Universal too is the casting of the antagonist, the representative of evil, in the role of the clown. Devils—both the lusty thickheads and the sharp, clever deceivers are always clowns.


1 Mother Universe

THE world-generating spirit of the father passes into the manifold of earthly experience through a transforming medium—the mother of the world. She is a personification of the primal element named in the second verse of Genesis, where we read that “the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In the Hindu myth, she is the female figure through whom the Self begot all creatures. More abstractly understood, she is the world-bounding frame: “space, time, and causality”—the shell of the cosmic egg.

More abstractly still, she is the lure that moved the Self-brooding Absolute to the act of creation.

And she is virgin, because her spouse is the Invisible Unknown.

2. Matrix of Destiny

“THE universal goddess makes her appearance to men under a multitude of guises; for the effects of creation are multitudinous, complex, and of mutually contradictory kind when experienced from the viewpoint of the created world. The mother of life is at the same time the mother of death; she is masked in the ugly demonesses of famine and disease.

The Sumero-Babylonian astral mythology identified the aspects of the cosmic female with the phases of the planet Venus. As morning star she was the virgin, as evening star the harlot, as lady of the night sky the consort of the moon; and when extinguished under the blaze of the sun she was the hag of hell. Wherever the Mesopotamian influence extended, the traits of the goddess were touched by the light of this fluctuating star.

3. Womb of Redemption

Men’s perspectives become flat, comprehending only the light reflecting, tangible surfaces of existence.

The people yearn for some personality who, in a world of twisted bodies and souls, will represent again the lines of the incarnate image.

In an inconspicuous village the maid is born who will maintain herself undefiled of the fashionable errors of her generation: a miniature in the midst of men of the cosmic woman who was the bride of the wind. Her womb, remaining fallow as the primordial abyss, summons to itself by its very readiness the original power that fertilized the void.

The story is recounted everywhere; and with such striking uniformity of the main contours, that the early Christian missionaries were forced to think that the devil himself must be throwing up mockeries of their teaching wherever they set their hand.

4. Folk Stories of Virgin Motherhood

THE Buddha descended from heaven to his mother’s womb in the shape of a milk-white elephant.

Any leaf accidentally swallowed, any nut, or even the breath of a breeze, may be enough to fertilize the ready womb. The procreating power is everywhere. And according to the whim or destiny of the hour, either a herosavior or a world-annihilating demon may be conceived—one can never know.


1 The Primordial Hero and the Human

The cosmogonic cycle is now to be carried forward, therefore, not by the gods, who have become invisible, but by the heroes, more or less human in character, through whom the world destiny is realized. This is the line where creation myths begin to give place to legend—as in the Book of Genesis, following the expulsion from the garden.

Such serpent kings and minotaurs tell of a past when the emperor was the carrier of a special world-creating, world-sustaining power, very much greater than that represented in the normal human physique. In those times was accomplished the heavy titan-work, the massive establishment of the foundations of our human civilization.

2. Childhood of the Human Hero

…the tendency has always been to endow the hero with extraordinary powers from the moment of birth, or even the moment of conception. The whole herolife is shown to have been a pageant of marvels with the great central adventure as its culmination.

This accords with the view that herohood is predestined, rather than simply achieved, and opens the problem of the relationship of biography to character.

In Part I, “The Adventure of the Hero,” we regarded the redemptive deed from the first standpoint, which may be called the psychological. We now must describe it from the second, where it becomes a symbol of the same metaphysical mystery that it was the deed of the hero himself to rediscover and bring to view.

Stated in the terms already formulated, the hero’s first task is to experience consciously the antecedent stages of the cosmogonic cycle; to break back through the epochs of emanation. His second, then, is to return from that abyss to the plane of contemporary life, there to serve as a human transformer of demiurgic potentials.

The deeds of the hero in the second part of his personal cycle will be proportionate to the depth of his descent during the first.

If the deeds of an actual historical figure proclaim him to have been a hero, the builders of his legend will invent for him appropriate adventures in depth. These will be pictured as journeys into miraculous realms, and are to be interpreted as symbolic, on the one hand, of descents into the night-sea of the psyche, and on the other, of the realms or aspects of man’s destiny that are made manifest in the respective lives.

King Sargon of Agade (c. 2550 B.C.) was born of a lowly mother. His father was unknown. Set adrift in a basket of bulrushes on the waters of the Euphrates, he was discovered by Akki the husbandman, whom he was brought up to serve as gardener. The goddess Ishtar favored the youth. Thus he became, at last, king and emperor, renowned as the living god.

Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 540?- 604) was born of noble twins who at the instigation of the devil had committed incest. His penitent mother set him to sea in a little casket. He was found and fostered by fishermen, and at the age of six was sent to a cloister to be educated as a priest.

Charlemagne (742-814) was persecuted as a child by his elder brothers, and took flight to Saracen Spain. There, under the name of Mainet, he rendered signal services to the king. He converted the king’s daughter to the Christian faith, and the two secretly arranged to marry. After further deeds, the royal youth returned to France, where he overthrew his former persecutors and triumphantly assumed the crown. Then he ruled a hundred years, surrounded by a zodiac of twelve peers.

Each of these biographies exhibits the variously rationalized theme of the infant exile and return.

This is a prominent feature in all legend, folk tale, and myth. Usually an effort is made to give it some semblance of physical plausibility. However, when the hero in question is a great patriarch, wizard, prophet, or incarnation, the wonders are permitted to develop beyond all bounds.

The folk tales commonly support or supplant this theme of the exile with that of the despised one, or the handicapped: the abused youngest son or daughter, the orphan, stepchild, ugly duckling, or the squire of low degree.

In sum: the child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace. He is thrown inward to his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored. And this is a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone, or peasant. Fostered in the animal school, or, like Siegfried, below ground among the gnomes that nourish the roots of the tree of life, or again, alone in some little room (the story has been told a thousand ways), the young world-apprentice learns the lesson of the seed powers, which reside just beyond the sphere of the measured and the named.

The myths agree that an extraordinary capacity is required to face and survive such experience. The infancies abound in anecdotes of precocious strength, cleverness, and wisdom.

Jesus confounded the wise men. The baby Buddha had been left one day beneath the shade of a tree; his nurses suddenly noted that the shadow had not moved all afternoon and that the child was sitting fixed in a yogic trance. The feats of the beloved Hindu savior, Krishna, during his infant exile among the cowherds of Gokula and Brindaban, constitute a lively cycle.

The conclusion of the childhood cycle is the return or recognition of the hero, when, after the long period of obscurity, his true character is revealed. This event may precipitate a considerable crisis; for it amounts to an emergence of powers hitherto excluded from human life. Earlier patterns break to fragments or dissolve; disaster greets the eye. Yet after a moment of apparent havoc, the creative value of the new factor comes to view, and the world takes shape again in unsuspected glory. This theme of crucifixion-resurrection can be illustrated either on the body of the hero himself, or in his effects upon his world. The first alternative we find in the Pueblo story of the water jar.

3. The Hero as Warrior

THE place of the hero’s birth, or the remote land of exile from which he returns to perform his adult deeds among men, is the mid-point or navel of the world. Just as ripples go out from an underwater spring, so the forms of the universe expand in circles from this source.

From the umbilical spot the hero departs to realize his destiny. His adult deeds pour creative power into the world.

For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.

The tyrant is proud, and therein resides his doom. He is proud because he thinks of his strength as his own; thus he is in the clown role, as a mistaker of shadow for substance; it is his destiny to be tricked. The mythological hero, reappearing from the darkness that is the source of the shapes of the day, brings a knowledge of the secret of the tyrant’s doom. With a gesture as simple as the pressing of a button, he annihilates the impressive configuration. The hero-deed is a continuous shattering of the crystallizations of the moment. The cycle rolls: mythology focuses on the growing-point. Transformation, fluidity, not stubborn ponderosity, is the characteristic of the living God.

The great figure of the moment exists only to be broken, cut into chunks, and scattered abroad. Briefly: the ogre-tyrant is the champion of the prodigious fact, the hero the champion of creative life.

The world period of the hero in human form begins only when villages and cities have expanded over the land. Many monsters remaining from primeval times still lurk in the outlying regions, and through malice or desperation these set themselves against the human community. They have to be cleared away. Furthermore, tyrants of human breed, usurping to themselves the goods of their neighbors, arise, and are the cause of widespread misery. These have to be suppressed. The elementary deeds of the hero are those of the clearing of the field.

The warrior-kings of antiquity regarded their work in the spirit of the monster-slayer. This formula, indeed, of the shining hero going against the dragon has been the great device of self-justification for all crusades.

4. The Hero as Lover

THE hegemony wrested from the enemy, the freedom won from the malice of the monster, the life energy released from the toils of the tyrant Holdfast—is symbolized as a woman. She is the maiden of the innumerable dragon slayings, the bride abducted from the jealous father, the virgin rescued from the unholy lover. She is the “other portion” of the hero himself—for “each is both”: if his stature is that of world monarch she is the world, and if he is a warrior she is fame. She is the image of his destiny which he is to release from the prison of enveloping circumstance. But where he is ignorant of his destiny, or deluded by false considerations, no effort on his part will overcome the obstacles.

5. The Hero as Emperor and as Tyrant

THE hero of action is the agent of the cycle, continuing into the living moment the impulse that first moved the world. Because our eyes are closed to the paradox of the double focus, we regard the deed as accomplished amid danger and great pain by a vigorous arm, whereas from the other perspective it is, like the archetypal dragon-slaying of Tiamat by Marduk, only a bringing to pass of the inevitable.

The supreme hero, however, is not the one who merely continues the dynamics of the cosmogonic round, but he who reopens the eye—so that through all the comings and goings, delights and agonies of the world panorama, the One Presence will be seen again. This requires a deeper wisdom than the other, and results in a pattern not of action but of significant representation. The symbol of the first is the virtuous sword, of the second, the scepter of dominion, or the book of the law. The characteristic adventure of the first is the winning of the bride—the bride is life. The adventure of the second is the going to the father—the father is the invisible unknown.

Adventures of the second type fit directly into the patterns of religious iconography.

Even in a simple folk tale a depth is suddenly sounded when the son of the virgin one day asks of his mother: “Who is my father?” The question touches the problem of man and the invisible. The familiar myth-motifs of the atonement inevitably follow.

Where the goal of the hero’s effort is the discovery of the unknown father, the basic symbolism remains that of the tests and the self-revealing way. In the above example the test is reduced to the persistent questions and a frightening look.

The hero blessed by the father returns to represent the father among men. As teacher (Moses) or as emperor (Huang Ti), his word is law. Since he is now centered in the source, he makes visible the repose and harmony of the central place. He is a reflection of the World Axis from which the concentric circles spread—the World Mountain, the World Tree—he is the perfect microcosmic mirror of the macrocosm. To see him is to perceive the meaning of existence. From his presence boons go out; his word is the wind of life.

6. The Hero as World Redeemer

Two degrees of initiation are to be distinguished in the mansion of the father. From the first the son returns as emissary, but from the second, with the knowledge that “I and the father are one.” Heroes of this second, highest illumination are the world redeemers, the so-called incarnations, in the highest sense. Their myths open out to cosmic proportions. Their words carry an authority beyond anything pronounced by the heroes of the scepter and the book.

The work of the incarnation is to refute by his presence the pretensions of the tyrant ogre. The latter has occluded the source of grace with the shadow of his limited personality; the incarnation, utterly free of such ego consciousness, is a direct manifestation of the law.

The legends of the redeemer describe the period of desolation as caused by a moral fault on the part of man (Adam in the garden, Jemshid on the throne). Yet from the standpoint of the cosmogonic cycle, a regular alternation of fair and foul is characteristic of the spectacle of time. Just as in the history of the universe, so also in that of nations: emanation leads to dissolution, youth to age, birth to death, form-creative vitality to the dead weight of inertia. Life surges, precipitating forms, and then ebbs, leaving jetsam behind. The golden age, the reign of the world emperor, alternates, in the pulse of every moment of life, with the waste land, the reign of the tyrant. The god who is the creator becomes the destroyer in the end.

Stated in direct terms: the work of the hero is to slay the tenacious aspect of the father (dragon, tester, ogre king) and release from its ban the vital energies that will feed the universe. “This can be done either in accordance with the Father’s will or against his will; he [the Father] may ‘choose death for his children’s sake,’ or it may be that the Gods impose the passion upon him, making him their sacrificial victim. These are not contradictory doctrines, but different ways of telling one and the same story; in reality, Slayer and Dragon, sacrificer and victim, are of one mind behind the scenes, where there is no polarity of contraries, but mortal enemies on the stage, where the everlasting war of the Gods and the Titans is displayed.

The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.

To protect the unprepared, mythology veils such ultimate revelations under half-obscuring guises, while yet insisting on the gradually instructive form. The savior figure who eliminates the tyrant father and then himself assumes the crown is (like Oedipus) stepping into his sire’s stead. To soften the harsh patricide, the legend represents the father as some cruel uncle or usurping Nimrod. Nevertheless, the half-hidden fact remains. Once it is glimpsed, the entire spectacle buckles: the son slays the father, but the son and the father are one. The enigmatical figures dissolve back into the primal chaos. This is the wisdom of the end (and rebeginning) of the world.

7. The Hero as Saint

…the saint or ascetic, the world-renouncer.

King Oedipus came to know that the woman he had married was his mother, the man he had slain his father; he plucked his eyes out and wandered in penance over the earth. The Freudians declare that each of us is slaying his father, marrying his mother, all the time—only unconsciously: the roundabout symbolic ways of doing this and the rationalizations of the consequent compulsive activity constitute our individual lives and common civilization.

The tree has now become the cross: the White Youth sucking milk has become the Crucified swallowing gall. Corruption crawls where before was the blossom of spring. Yet beyond this threshold of the cross—for the cross is a way (the sun door), not an end—is beatitude in God.

8. Departure of the Hero

THE last act in the biography of the hero is that of the death or departure. Here the whole sense of the life is epitomized. Needless to say, the hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror; the first condition is reconciliation with the grave.

The life-eager hero can resist death, and postpone his fate for a certain time


1 End of the Microcosm

THE mighty hero of extraordinary powers—able to lift Mount Govardhan on a finger, and to fill himself with the terrible glory of the universe—is each of us: not the physical self visible in the mirror, but the king within. Krishna declares: “I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.”1 This, precisely, is the sense of the prayers for the dead, at the moment of personal dissolution: that the individual should now return to his pristine knowledge of the world-creative divinity who during life was reflected within his heart.

But, as in the death of the Buddha, the power to make a full transit back through the epochs of emanation depends on the character of the man when he was alive.

The myths tell of a dangerous journey of the soul, with obstacles to be passed.

Dante’s Divina Commedia is an exhaustive review of the stages: “Inferno,” the misery of the spirit bound to the prides and actions of the flesh; “Purgatorio,” the process of transmuting fleshly into spiritual experience; “Paradiso,” the degrees of spiritual realization.

2. End of the Macrocosm

One of the strongest representations appears in the Poetic Edda of the ancient Vikings. Othin (Wotan) the chief of the gods has asked to know what will be the doom of himself and his pantheon, and the “Wise Woman,” a personification of the World Mother herself, Destiny articulate, lets him hear:

Brothers shall fight and fell each other, And sisters’ sons shall kinship stain; Hard is it on earth, with mighty whoredom; Ax-time, sword-time, shields are sundered, Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls; Nor ever shall men each other spare.

Note 11: From the Poetic Edda, “Voluspa”, translated by Bellows and the Prose Edda, “Gylfaginning”, translated by Brodeur.

Fenris-Wolf shall run free, and advance with lower jaw against the earth, upper against the heavens (“he would gape yet more if there were room for it”)

Othin shall advance against the wolf, Thor against the serpent, Tyr against the dog—the worst monster of all—and Freyr against Surt, the man of flame.

“And as Jesus sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.


3. The Shapeshifter

Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Müller); as a repository of allegorical instruction, to shape the individual to his group (Durkheim); as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung); as the traditional vehicle of man’s profoundest metaphysical insights (Coomaraswamy); and as God’s Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all of these. The various judgments are determined by the viewpoints of the judges. For when scrutinized in terms not of what it is but of how it functions, of how it has served mankind in the past, of how it may serve today, mythology shows itself to be as amenable as life itself to the obsessions and requirements of the individual, the race, the age.

4. The Function of Myth, Cult, and Meditation

Rites of initiation and installation, then, teach the lesson of the essential oneness of the individual and the group; seasonal festivals open a larger horizon. As the individual is an organ of society, so is the tribe or city—so is humanity entire—only a phase of the mighty organism of the cosmos.

It has been customary to describe the seasonal festivals of so-called native peoples as efforts to control nature. This is a misrepresentation. There is much of the will to control in every act of man, and particularly in those magical ceremonies that are thought to bring rain clouds, cure sickness, or stay the flood; nevertheless, the dominant motive in all truly religious (as opposed to black-magical) ceremonial is that of submission to the inevitables of destiny—and in the seasonal festivals this motive is particularly apparent.

No tribal rite has yet been recorded which attempts to keep winter from descending; on the contrary: the rites all prepare the community to endure, together with the rest of nature, the season of the terrible cold. And in the spring, the rites do not seek to compel nature to pour forth immediately corn, beans, and squash for the lean community; on the contrary: the rites dedicate the whole people to the work of nature’s season. The wonderful cycle of the year, with its hardships and periods of joy, is celebrated, and delineated, and represented as continued in the life-round of the human group.

But there is another way—in diametric opposition to that of social duty and the popular cult. From the standpoint of the way of duty, anyone in exile from the community is a nothing

The aim is not to see, but to realize that one is, that essence; then one is free to wander as that essence in the world. Furthermore: the world too is of that essence. The essence of oneself and the essence of the world: these two are one. Hence separateness, withdrawal, is no longer necessary. Wherever the hero may wander, whatever he may do, he is ever in the presence of his own essence—for he has the perfected eye to see. There is no separateness. Thus, just as the way of social participation may lead in the end to a realization of the All in the individual, so that of exile brings the hero to the Self in all.

5. The Hero Today

…for the democratic ideal of the self-determining individual, the invention of the power-driven machine, and the development of the scientific method of research, have so transformed human life that the long-inherited, timeless universe of symbols has collapsed.

In the fateful, epoch-announcing words of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “Dead are all the gods.” One knows the tale; it has been told a thousand ways

The dream-web of myth fell away; the mind opened to full waking consciousness; and modern man emerged from ancient ignorance, like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn from the womb of mother night.

The social unit is not a carrier of religious content, but an economic-political organization. Its ideals are not those of the hieratic pantomime, making visible on earth the forms of heaven, but of the secular state, in hard and unremitting competition for material supremacy and resources. Isolated societies, dream-bounded within a mythologically charged horizon, no longer exist except as areas to be exploited. And within the progressive societies themselves, every last vestige of the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality, and art is in full decay.

…today no meaning is in the group—none in the world: all is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious. One does not know toward what one moves. One does not know by what one is propelled. The lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have all been cut, and we have been split in two.

Its parody-rituals of the parade ground serve the ends of Holdfast, the tyrant dragon, not the God in whom self-interest is annihilate.

Nor can the great world religions, as at present understood, meet the requirement. For they have become associated with the causes of the factions, as instruments of propaganda and self-congratulation.

The universal triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organizations into such a definitely secondary, and finally ineffectual, position that religious pantomime is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week. Such a monkey-holiness is not what the functioning world requires; rather, a transmutation of the whole social order is necessary, so that through every detail and act of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god man who is actually immanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness.

Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.

It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.