Saturday, July 9, 2011

Shamans and cosmology, continued

In the previous post, we discussed the ability of shamans throughout the world to traverse the seven or nine worlds by entering into a state of ecstasy connected with the use of a drum.

We noted that the layered worlds appear to be strongly connected to the spheres of the planets, and were either seven in number (corresponding to Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, sun and moon) or nine in number (corresponding to the previously-named seven plus the two draconitic points or lunar nodes which cause solar and lunar eclipses).

We also observed the ancient connection of the circling heavenly bodies to the concept of time, and the noteworthy fact that the shaman enters the realm of these time-giving entities through the means of an instrument, the drum, that is strongly connected with the concept of time itself.

Because it is such a rich subject, we saved some discussion for later! Here is a link to an excellent discussion of Mongol cosmology which contains many observations of Mongol cosmology which resonate strongly with themes discussed in previous posts (while the author of the informative article is not identified, the author appears to have gathered information from personal observation and interviews, and the website source of this article notes that many of the articles on the site were written by the late Sarangerel Odigon and are related to the material she published in her book Riding Windhorses). Note the discussion of the cosmological orientation of the Mongol ger or yurt, which is designed to represent a model or microcosm of the universe itself.

Very noteworthy is the discussion of the turge tree:
The other important symbol of the world center is the turge tree, which creates an axis as well as a pole for ascent and descent. Siberian and Mongolian traditions locate the tree at the center of the world, but also in the south, where the upper and middle worlds touch. The tree is tended by the goddess Umai, and the ami souls of living things waiting to be born are believed to live as birds on this immense tree. By the World Tree, which some say stands at the border of day and night, the World River enters the middle world from its sources in the upper world. According to the traditions of the Altai, Bayan Ami, lord of the forest animals, will be encountered during the ascent of this tree and will grant the shaman geese to assist him on his journey to the upper world. The top of the turge tree touches the sky by the Pole Star, the Altan Hadaas, the sky nail that holds up the heavens.
There are clear echoes here to the concept of the world-tree found throughout other ancient cosmologies, including not only Yggdrasil but also the erica tree of Egyptian mythology in which the body and casket of Osiris were imprisoned and which Isis sought and guarded in the form of a bird, as well as the sacred cedar found in Native American legend in the branches of which the thunderbirds roosted and which had four paths made by forest animals leading up to it, possibly signifying the animals of the zodiac (which has four very important stations each year in the two solstices and two equinoxes). The significance of these ancient world-tree myths are discussed at length in the Mathisen Corollary book.

The Mongolian connection of the central tree with an entity who may represent the ruler of the zodiac animals (which are on the ecliptic) resonates with the themes discussed by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill, in which they show that these two celestial features (the celestial axis-pole and the ecliptic), seemingly very separate in the spacial layout of the night sky, are actually intimately connected. Note also the significant fact that in Buryat tradition, this central tree has nine branches (a 1904 photograph of a Buryat shaman with drum is shown above).

Another interesting point is the connection of the World-Tree and the rainbow mentioned in the article on Mongol cosmology: these two images were closely connected in Norse mythology as well. Some of the celestial significance of the rainbow bridge is discussed in this previous post about Heimdall, the guardian of the rainbow bridge in Norse mythology. Note, too, the discussion of rivers flowing down into the underworld, which is a very prominent feature of the important conversation of Socrates in Plato's Phaedo, discussed in this previous post.

Are we to believe that all these connections are simply isolated cultural elements that grew up in various cultures around the world completely independently of one another? Or is it possible that they are all echoes of a very ancient knowledge that was carried around the globe at a remote time that predates even dynastic Egypt?

The authors of Hamlet's Mill argued for the latter possibility, and presented extensive evidence and coherent arguments in its favor. They wrote that:
The shaman travels through the skies in the very same manner as the Pharaoh did, well equipped as he was with his Pyramid Text or his Coffin Text, which represented his indispensable timetable and contained the ordained addresses of every celestial individual whom he was expected to meet. The Pharaoh relied upon his particular text as the less distinguished dead relied upon his copy of chapters from the book of the Dead, and he was prepared (as was the shaman) to change shape into the Sata serpent, a centipede, or the semblance of whatever celestial "station" must be passed, and to recite the fitting formulae to overcome hostile beings.

To sum it up -- whether Shamanism is an old or a relatively young offshoot of ancient civilization is irrelevant. It is not primitive at all, but it belongs, as all our civilizations do, to the vast company of ungrateful heirs of some almost unbelievable Near Eastern ancestor who first dared to understand the world as created according to number, measure and weight. 132.
In other words, the very clear echoes we see in the shamanic tradition, which appear in very similar form in shamanic practices around the world, are another very important set of clues about mankind's ancient past. They clearly preserve in another form a related body of knowledge to that which was encoded in ancient myths, knowledge that was encoded in the dialogues of Plato, and the beliefs and practices that the ancient Egyptians held to be most sacred, most central, and most important to their fate in the afterlife.

We will return to the connection between the hazardous journey of the shaman and the hazardous journey of the "equipped Pharaoh" through the heavens in a future discussion of these important subjects.