Monday, July 16, 2012

Ancient origins of the circus, and reflections on the "Wheel of Death"

Above is a clip from the Cirque du Soleil's amazing Wheel of Death performance in the Koozå show, which I was fortunate enough to see with my family in 2007.

As incredible as it appears in the video, it is even more breathtaking in person.

The word "circus" literally means "circle," and comes from the Greek word "kirkos," which also meant "circle" but which also clearly the root of the name of the sorceress Circe in Homer's Odyssey, who transforms men into different animals.  Astronomical and precessional imagery in the Odyssey are discussed in the Mathisen Corollary book.

It is quite clear that the ancient circus was closely connected to the circular motions of the heavens, and in particular the motions of the planets, as discussed in this previous post from a year ago entitled "The chariot race in Ben-Hur and the motions of the planets."

That post demonstrated that the ancient "circus" (which involved a horse-race in an oval stadium, in the same direction that the planets orbit the sun) clearly had celestial significance.

For one thing, ancient sources explain that there were never more than seven circuits around the track (corresponding to the number of visible planets, including Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), and for conclusive evidence, the authors of Hamlet's Mill point to ancient sources who relate that the central lawn of the ancient circus featured a pyramid dedicated to the sun, as well as altars dedicated to the Moon and the five visible planets.  These features, added to the direction of the motion of the race, clearly indicate a celestial connection to the ancient "circus."

The "Wheel of Death" is of course a modern invention, first designed in the 1930s, but there appear to be elements of continuity between this amazing feature of the modern circus and its ancient namesake (the ancient circus that represented the circling planets), including the fact that travel to the mystical "circles of the planets" has long been seen as a crossing of the boundary between the realm of the living and the spirit world (see discussions of shamanic tradition, as well as the intriguing work of Dr. Jeremy Naydler who argues that ancient Egyptian priests and pharaohs deliberately went right up to "the threshold of death in order to travel into the spirit world") (120).

The imagery of the Cirque du Soleil Wheel of Death performance in Koozå is obviously deliberately evocative of death and otherworldly scenes (including the horned costumes of the main performers, and the skeletal costumes of the supporting performers, as well as the otherworldly music and atmosphere). Further, the overall name of the transformative modern "Cirque du Soleil" evokes the circle or circuit of the sun, which has deep ancient significance, as discussed in previous posts about the solstices and the equinoxes (see here and here) and the video "Precession = The Key."

The cosmic importance of the circle, from which the "circus" takes its name, is discussed by the authors of Hamlet's Mill on pages 48 and 49:
"What is eternal," Aristotle said, "is circular, and what is circular is eternal."  That was the mature conclusion of human thought over millennia.  It was, as has been said, an obsession with circularity.  There is nothing new under the sun, but all things come back in ever-varying recurrence.  [. . .]  The cosmos was one vast system full of gears within gears, enormously intricate in its connections, which could be likened to a many-dialed clock.  Its functions appeared and disappeared all over the system, like strange cuckoos in the clock, and wonderful tales were woven around them to describe their behavior; but just as in an engine, one cannot understand each part until one has understood the way all the parts interconnect in the system.
The same could be said of a circus, which seems to be many bizarre and awe-inducing parts that each have their own strange fascination, but taken as a whole they add up to something more -- something that evokes the awe-inspiring "gears within gears" of the universe itself.

Even more profound, circus performances such as the Wheel of Death performance shown in the video above illustrate the awe-inspiring capabilities of the individual human being (in this performance, two human beings who must balance their finely-honed skills with one another in order to bring about a display that could not be accomplished by one man alone).

The ancient esoteric traditions insisted that man as an individual is a "microcosm," an embodiment of the universe in both his body and his mind.  The awe-inspiring aspects of the macro universe were thus reflected and embodied in the micro universe of the individual.

When we see individuals achieving heights of performance such as those on display in the Wheel of Death performance above (and in many other acts in Cirque du Soleil's Koozå and indeed in many other circuses around the world and throughout the centuries), we are reminded that we human beings are something far beyond the diminished vision we are brainwashed into believing by the keepers of the (demonstrably false) conventional paradigm of human history and their ideology of materialism.

To the extent that Koozå and other modern circuses remind us of this incredible capacity of the human being, they tap into a very ancient and profound truth that stands against the tide of modern mediocrity and materialism.  We should support them at every opportunity and in every way possible.