Friday, April 29, 2016

Unshorn hair and the sixth sense

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Big thank you goes out to Darren and Graham of Grimerica, who posted a link to this article today on twitter concerning an absolutely amazing topic worthy of careful consideration by all.

Entitled "Hair is an extension of the nervous system," the article was actually first posted back in November of 2015 on The Mind Unleashed.

The text describes an alleged discovery which came to light during the Vietnam War that talented Native American trackers recruited by the military seemed to lose their "sixth sense" when their hair was cut off (short haircuts are routinely administered to everyone entering the US Army). 

According to the article, a series of experiments were devised to try to determine whether cutting off the hair was a factor in the loss of the ability to sense the stealthy approach of an enemy, or the "numbing" of the sense of danger when approaching a location containing a concealed armed enemy -- and the results of the studies were so conclusive that the military recommended that the highly skilled trackers should be exempt from military haircuts" and in fact were required to keep their hair long.

The article does not provide any way of actually checking the original sources of the assertions that it makes. It would be beneficial to pursue some of the records backing up the claims made in the story. However, this information would fit a pattern in which knowledge of a type which is generally discredited by the "conventional paradigm" taught in schools and universities, and reinforced in the general media and "scientific" literature and videos, is explored by the military in situations where they are more interested in certain results than in conforming to the flawed models which (for whatever reason) are force-fed to the general public.

Another example of the same sort of phenomenon (in which the military acknowledges realities which fit a paradigm of the cosmos that is very different from what is taught in school and reinforced in the general media and public discourse) would be the various "psi" (or "psy") programs which have been described by former participants, in which personnel with demonstrated psychic capabilities were used in order to perform "remote viewing" and "out-of-body travel" to conduct reconnaissance on distant locations in other countries, or to search for a downed aircraft in areas that were either too sensitive or too difficult to search using conventional technologies.

Note that the extraordinary tracking abilities are described using terms such as "sixth sense," "intuition,"   "extrasensory" and even "almost supernatural."

This would imply that, in addition to their highly-developed skills at reading the physical signs available to our five physical senses, the men in question were also connected to the Invisible Realm in some way and to some degree when they were performing their incredible feats of tracking. It is extremely significant to consider the possibility that it was this particular aspect of their ability that was impacted by the cutting off of their hair. 

And, it is interesting to note that this article mostly focuses on the question of whether or not men cut their hair short, and the possible impact of that decision. Women, of course, tend to wear their hair longer as a general rule -- and are also often observed to exhibit greater levels of intuition (to such a degree that the phrase "woman's intuition" is fairly common).

Some might argue that the article is describing the benefits of unshorn hair in a combat environment, which is a very unusual and dangerous environment not representative of normal day-to-day life, and that therefore the discoveries described in the article, even if they were verifiably proven, would not have much relevance in other situations.

But it could certainly be argued that the kind of "sixth sense" and "intuition" described in the article as being somehow connected to the hair -- which the article argues is actually "an extension of the nervous system" -- could be beneficial in a host of other aspects of daily life having nothing to do with military combat, from driving a motor vehicle, to surfing, to creating artwork or music or participating in any other creative activity which involves contact with the Higher Self.

Indeed, if the article is correct, it would appear that there is some connection between unshorn hair and the realm of spirit -- an assertion that would appear to be very much in line with ancient myths, scriptures and sacred traditions found in many cultures in different parts of the globe. Previous posts which have dealt with this subject include "Dionysus, mighty and many shaped god," "Samson and the seven locks of his head," and "Joseph Hill and the Nazarite vow."  

It is also interesting to consider that in previous centuries, it appears to have been much more common for men to wear their hair "unshorn" (even in "western" cultures, but in fact all around the globe) than it has been since about the beginning of the twentieth century. Here are a few images of individuals, some of them well known and others not as well known, demonstrating this reality:

Isaac Newton, whose Principia Mathematica was first presented to the Royal Society on April 28th, 1686 (thanks to my friend Mark S. for pointing out that significant historical anniversary). Wikimedia commons (link).

Self-portrait of artist Albrecht Durer, Wikimedia commons (link).

Chinese-American man in San Francisco's Chinatown circa 1910, with long hair braided in a queue. Wikimedia commons (link).

Samurai with long hair drawn upwards into traditional topknot, Japan. Wikimedia commons (link). 

Lysander Spooner. Wikimedia commons (link).

Walt Whitman. Wikimedia commons (link).

John Muir. Wikimedia commons (link).

Sikh men (hair is traditionally unshorn and coiled beneath turban in a Rishi knot). Wikimedia commons (link).

Bob Marley. Wikimedia commons (link).

Aborigines of Sri Lanka. Wikimedia commons (link).

Australian man circa 1923. Wikimedia commons (link).

These are just a small sample of images from previous decades and centuries. Obviously, many more could be provided. 

While we do not know, due to what may be the suppression or the rejection or the gradual loss of the knowledge of the connection between unshorn hair and the ability to sense the Invisible World, how much of a role our hair plays in this regard, it is very interesting to speculate about what additional consciousness or perception we might be depriving ourselves by ignoring wisdom that once perhaps was known more widely, and that survived among some cultures longer than among others.

Big up to Graham and Darren for pointing out this important subject.

For more on the subject of tracking, see some of the books by Paul Rezendes and by others skilled in this ancient art, as well as the many courses and workshops led by those who have spent years developing their skills in the outdoors, who can be located using searches on the web for experts in your area.

For my previous visits with Darren and Graham in the land of Grimerica (where there are no haircuts), see here and here.

And don't forget this little piece of ancient knowledge:

"Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghetti . . . "

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Dendera Zodiac and the message of the Decans

I loved going to visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, as a child. Here is a post written almost five years ago discussing a few of the many fond memories I have from visits to the "mummy museum" when I was very young.

I had the opportunity to visit the museum again this weekend, and found that one of the most striking aspects of the collection, in addition to the many actual artifacts from ancient Egypt on display, is the large number of actual castings of very significant ancient treasures which the visitor can examine up close, with no glass case in between.

These casts were made from the original ancient pieces of art themselves: they are not replicas created  by later artists (although there are some replicas in the collection as well). In other words, the castings preserve the actual artwork as created by the ancient artists themselves, and not an interpretation or imitation from the hand of a modern artist, no matter how skilled.

Some of the casts of incredible ancient artifacts which you can examine in minute detail, getting as close as you wish, include castings taken from the original Rosetta Stone, from the Dream Stele of Thutmose IV, from the famous diorite statue of Khafre enthroned with Horus Falcon behind his head, and many others.

But one of the highlights of the entire collection for me this time was the breathtaking casting of the Round Zodiac of Dendera, taken from the original ceiling of the Temple of Hathor-Isis at Dendera. The ceiling itself was actually blasted out during the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon and taken back to the Louvre, in Paris, in early 1800s. The cast of that original ceiling section was made at the Louvre for the Rosicrucian Museum in 1987. 

Sadly, the actual Temple of Hathor in Egypt also has a casting in the location of the original, since the original ceiling is in France -- a continuing testament both to European imperialism and to the "privatization" of treasures which should properly be understood to belong to all of humanity (the King of France apparently paid Egypt 150,000 francs to "purchase" the priceless Round Zodiac ceiling and remove it from Egypt to the Louvre).

Regardless of whether you think the Louvre should return the original to Dendera and display a cast for visitors to the Louvre, the cast model on display at the Rosicrucian Museum in California is spectacular.  You can get as close as you wish, and examine the detail of the incredible ancient artwork of this famous piece. Above is an image that I took at the museum this weekend. Below is an image of the actual original Dendera Zodiac on display at the Louvre:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Much could be written about the significance of this beautiful piece of sacred art. Much in fact has been written about the Dendera Zodiac by insightful analysts of the esoteric and symbolic art of ancient Egypt, including R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz and later by John Anthony West in Serpent in the Sky.  Both argue that the Dendera Zodiac contains evidence of understanding of the phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes, as well as evidence of other important celestial mastery by its designers.

For those able to read the French language, there is also a study published in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774 - 1882) of the Dendera Zodiac and the evidence that its designers incorporated the phenomenon of precession, available online for examination here.

The precision casting of the Round Zodiac in the Rosicrucian Museum enables you to see at close range the figures of the zodiac which are arranged around the central constellations of the north circumpolar region of the sky.

Below is a reproduction of the same image from the top of this post, with the constellations of the zodiac band labeled in red letters, as well as the constellations Orion and the Big Dipper (which is technically an "asterism" and not a full constellation) labeled in yellow letters:

And below is a slightly closer view of the same labeled zodiac figures from the Dendera Round Zodiac:

Note that the Big Dipper is depicted as the "foreleg of the bull," a depiction that was common in ancient Egypt and which is discussed at some length in my 2014 book, The Undying Stars.

Just as they are arranged in the Dendera Zodiac, the Lion of Leo and the Big Dipper of Ursa Major are placed in the sky "back-to-back," such that the lower contour of the Big Dipper is always facing the line of the upper back of the Lion. You can in fact see the Lion and the Dipper in the night sky at this present time of year (end of April, 2016), high up in the night sky during the "prime time" viewing hours prior to midnight. Here is a previous post discussing the "interlocking" relationship of Leo and the Dipper.

It is also notable that the zodiac sign of Cancer the Crab, clearly visible in the Dendera Round Zodiac, is not positioned in front of the muzzle of Leo on the Round Zodiac, the way it is in the night sky. Instead, for some reason, Cancer is moved "upwards" and towards the center of the entire spiral of the heavens and heavenly denizens. Of this fact, John Anthony West states in Serpent in the Sky:
Detail of the round Denderah zodiac. Schwaller de Lubicz thought the signs of the zodiac disposed about an eccentric circle with one center at the pole of the ecliptic (nipple of the female hippopotamus) and the other at the pole star (jackal or dog). This does not seem to me entirely convincing. Note the placement of Libra, for example. But whatever the scheme directing the arrangement, it is certain that the sign of Cancer has been singled out for special treatment. 114.
Even more noteworthy on the Dendera ceiling than the zodiac spiral itself (which is undeniably possessed of tremendous significance) is the beautiful procession of the "decans" around the outermost rim of the heavenly dome in the temple relief. Previous posts have discussed the fact that each of the twelve signs of the zodiac is associated with three nearby non-zodiacal constellations as well, which are known today as "decans." But this decan system is slightly different from, and probably prefigured by, the ancient Egyptian use of decans as a division of the hours of the night throughout the year, a system which was in operation in Egyptian civilization many centuries prior to the creation of the actual Dendera Zodiac itself.

The mathematician and historian of scientific and mathematical thought Otto E. Neugebauer explains the ancient Egyptian system of decans in his 1969 text, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. His description is both fascinating and eye-opening, for those attuned to the system of esoteric knowledge encoded in the constellations and heavenly cycles in the Star Myths of the world. 

Professor Neugebauer details how the heliacal rising of selected stars located along the zodiac band would help observers in ancient Egypt (in particular, the priests) to know when the dawn would be arriving at any given time of the year. He explains:
When we watch the stars rise over the eastern horizon, we see them appear night after night at the same spot on the horizon. But when we extend our observation into the period of twilight, fewer and fewer stars will be recognizable when they cross the horizon, and near sunrise all stars will have faded out altogether. Let us suppose that a certain star S was seen just rising at the beginning of dawn but vanished from sight within a very short time because of the rapid approach of daylight. We call this phenomenon the "heliacal rising" of S, using a term of Greek astronomy. Let us assume that we use this phenomenon as the indication of the end of "night" (meaning real darkness) and consider S as the star of "the last hour of night." One day later we may again say that the brief appearance of S indicates the end of night. 83, available to read online here.
So far, so good: Neugebauer is explaining that specific stars always appear to rise up at the same location on the horizon, although as we will see and as he is about to discuss, each star will rise later each night due to earth's progress around the sun (this is discussed in many previous posts, including in this video about the "analogy of the dining room"). Just prior to sunrise, as the eastern sky begins to grow lighter and lighter (from deep velvet black to dark blue to lighter and lighter blue), stars which made it high enough above the horizon to be briefly observed will soon be swallowed up by the light of the rising day-star. 

This is the phenomenon known as the "heliacal rising" of a star. As the earth proceeds on its orbit, a star will get further and further "ahead" of the sun, so that it is above the horizon for longer and longer portions of the night (or early morning) before the day-star pops up and drowns out the stars.

Next, Professor Neugebauer will explain that the Egyptians called the star undergoing its "heliacal rise" as the decan for that particular ten-day stretch each year. But, as it rises a bit earlier and earlier, it will be higher and higher in the eastern sky when the sun finally pops up -- which means that eventually a new star below it will be the star of heliacal rise at that time, and the previous decan will retire from the role until next year:
We may continue in the same way for several days, but during this time a definite change takes place. The sun not only participates in the daily rotation of the sky from East to West, but it also has a slow motion of its own relative to the stars in a direction opposite to the daily rotation. 
This eastward motion of the sun (completed once in one year) delays the rising of the sun from day to day with respect to the rising of S. Consequently, the rising of S will be more and more clearly visible and it will take more and more time before S fades away in the light of the coming day. Obviously, after some lapse of time, it no longer makes sense to take S as the indicator of the last hour of night. But there are new stars which can take the place of S, and this procedure can be repeated all year long until the sun comes back to the region of S. Thus year after year S may serve for some days as the star of the last hour, to be replaced in regular order by other stars T, U, V, . . .
It is this sequence of phenomena which led the Egyptians to measure the time of night by means of stars (or groups of nearby stars) which we now call decans. 83 - 84. 

Once we understand this progression, we can understand the layout of the so-called "diagonal calendars" which began to appear painted on the coffin lids of Egyptian coffins in the Middle Kingdom (11th and 12th dynasties, around 2000 BC to 1700 BC). Each month of 30 days would be divided into three "decades" of ten days apiece, in which a certain specified star was the designated decan (undergoing the phenomenon of heliacal rise in the east just prior to sunrise). In the subsequent decade, that decan would be higher in the sky (due to rising a bit earlier each night), and the decan "under" it would have taken over as the new decan, and the previous decan would be written above it, as such (read from right to left):

decade 3   decade 2   decade 1
S                                                        three hours left of night
T                    S                                 two hours left of night  
U                   T                S               last hour of the night

(Table based upon that found in Neugebauer 85).

Now, Neugebauer explains perhaps the most important aspect of this system -- the selection of the stars to be used as decans, and the criteria for their selection:
From what has been said to this point, any sequence of stars or constellations whose risings were spaced at ten-day intervals could have been used. But additional information is available. We not only know that Sirius and Orion figured among the decans but that Sirius was, so to speak, the ideal prototype of all the other decans. Its heliacal rising ideally begins the year, just as the rising of the other decans are associated with the beginning of the parts of the year, the decades. The rising of Sirius occurs after an interval of about 70 days, in which the star remains invisible because of its closeness to the sun. Similarly, it was assumed that the same holds for all decans. The Demotic commentary to the inscriptions in the cenotaph of Seti I describes at length how one decan after another "dies," how it is "purified" in the embalming house of the nether world, to be reborn after 70 days of invisibility. 87.
This discussion is of the greatest significance.

Professor Neugebauer has just explained that the 70-day disappearance of Sirius (caused by the interposition of the sun, as we on earth go around our orbit, when the direction of the star Sirius is not visible because the sun is "in the way" -- see the previously-linked video with the metaphor of the dining room) was anciently associated with the death, embalming, and purification of that star in the "nether world" (the underworld).

This corresponds to the 70-day process of embalming a mummy, which was detailed by early Egyptian scholar E. A. Wallis Budge, and which is referenced in the famous "tomb tour" at the Rosicrucian Museum. 

And now comes the most important piece of the puzzle, provided by Alvin Boyd Kuhn. In Lost Light (available online -- see the link to the 1940 text on the "resources" page of the Star Myth World website), Alvin Boyd Kuhn devotes an entire chapter to the significance of the mummy (chapter 10), and presents a convincing argument that the whole purpose of embalming the corpse was as an elaborate metaphor for our mortal life in this physical body

In other words, Kuhn avers that the mummification process was meant to signify the descent of a living spirit into a "dead" or "dying" mortal body, a descent we each undergo in our incarnation into this material world.

Now, please follow the argument: 
  • The mummification process took 70 days (very strictly 70 days, not more nor less).
  • The decans were selected because, like Sirius (the first decan), they disappeared for 70 days.
  • When the decan was not visible, it was said to be "in the underworld."
  • There, in the underworld, the decan star was envisioned as being "embalmed like a mummy" and purified for 70 days.
  • Then, the decan would reappear -- into new life.
  • Alvin Boyd Kuhn argues that the 70-day mummification process was meant to metaphorically represent this mortal life in the body.
In other words, the star's descent into the underworld for 70 days was metaphorically an "embalming" prior to new life, and our own descent into this life was metaphorically figured by the mummy's embalming over 70 days -- hence (by a kind of "transitive property of metaphors") we can see that the decan's disappearance (the "death" of the decan-star) figures our own descent into this world, where we are "purified" in a mortal body as part of our preparation for new life on a higher level!

The story of the decans (stars, plunged into the underworld, only to appear again in the celestial realm) is the story of our own plunge into incarnation for a time.

In fact, this is the exact understanding that brings the exhibits and artifacts of ancient Egypt to life for each of us, once we realize their meaning. Each symbolic piece of sacred art is in fact about us -- about you, and about me. Each piece of sacred art which has survived from ancient Egypt is meant in some way to teach us about our own human condition in this life, within a universe that is simultaneously spiritual and material.

When we understand this, we can appreciate the beautiful sacred artwork on the Dendera Zodiac (for example) on a whole new level.

Here is an image of an artist's rendition of a beautiful rectangular star-clock depiction showing the procession of the decans from the tomb of King Seti I, whose reign began in 1290 BC (and who was the father of Ramses II):

image: Wikimedia commons (link). 

Like other decan star-clocks or calendars, it is read from right to left (into the faces of the figures, reading as though you are "having a conversation" with them). Can you see the decan of Sirius, associated with the goddess Isis? She is just after a smaller figure who represents Orion (just left of the Orion figure), and she is the tallest of the decans depicted (and she has the star Sirius above her headdress).

And below is some detail of the Dendera Zodiac cast at the Rosicrucian Museum, with a few of the decans indicated (the decans are arranged in a circle, around the edge of the sky-disc in the Round Zodiac):

There is much more which could be said about the Dendera Round Zodiac, and much more that could be said about the many other accurate castings and original ancient artifacts which are on display at the wonderful Rosicrucian Museum.

It is difficult to fully appreciate these ancient treasures, however, until we begin to understand their profound metaphorical meanings.

Once we begin to understand the language that they are speaking, then they can again begin to whisper their intended message, across the vast gulf of time, to provide to us incredible ancient wisdom for application in our own lives.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl

image: Ixtaccihuatl (left) and Popocatepetl (right); Wikimedia commons (link).

I remember learning the touching legend of the lovers Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl when I was in high school. It is a Mexicahtl legend from the Aztec Empire (and perhaps earlier as well) which is mentioned in the accounts from the 1500s recorded by the Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun and which predates the European invasion and destruction of the Mesoamerican civilizations. 

The story relates that the beautiful maiden Ixtaccihuatl was the daughter of the emperor, and she fell in love with the warrior Popoca. In the different versions of the myth, the emperor says he will consent to their marriage, if the young warrior returns victorious from an upcoming battle (in some accounts, the emperor disproves of the match for his precious daughter, and thus does not intend for the warrior to ever return). 

Whether or not the emperor was harboring treacherous motives against the young man, in all the accounts the message comes back from the battle that the brave warrior has met his death on the battlefield -- in most versions, this message is falsely dispatched to the capitol by a rival who hates Popoca and wishes to marry the emperor's daughter himself.

Ixtaccihuatl is devastated by the news and either takes her own life (with a dagger) or perishes of grief after a short period of intense mourning.

When the handsome young warrior returns victorious from the battlefield and is told what has happened, he too is overcome with grief, and -- gathering the body of his beloved in his arms -- ascends into the high mountains beyond the city, where he lays her down and takes up a lonely vigil, holding a flaming, smoking torch as the days and nights pass and the snow and ice slowly cover both Ixtaccihuatl and the bereaved Popoca.

Eventually, by the will of the gods, the two become snow-covered mountains themselves -- mountains sacred to the Nahua or Mexicah peoples who lived in what is now central Mexico and who built the Aztec Empire. Sahagun relates that he himself climbed these mountains to observe the ongoing veneration that took place there in the 1500s.

In the stunning image above, you can clearly see the outline of Ixtaccihuatl, who looks like a woman lying on her back, draped in snow, at the left of the photograph as we face it -- and beyond is the looming peak of Popocatepetl, who still holds his blazing, smoking torch as he keeps watch over his beloved.

Both mountains are volcanos. Ixtaccihuatl rises to a dizzying elevation of 17,160 feet above sea level, and Popocatepetl to 17,802 feet above sea level.

When I first learned the story of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, neither had erupted for many decades. Ixtaccihuatl is usually classified as being extinct. But in 1991, after a half a century of inactivity, Popocatepetl awakened, producing a series of eruptions which continue to this day.

Clearly, the steadfast warrior still watches over his beloved Ixtaccihuatl, and he still bears his flaming brand.

This week, Popocatepetl began a powerful eruption in which fiery lava can be seen bursting violently out of the mountain, and a thick column of billowing volcanic ash has been pouring up into the sky and leaving a thin coat of volcanic dust over the surrounding countryside and the closest city, Puebla.

The latest eruption commenced in the early morning hours after midnight on April the 18th. Below are two videos showing the volcano's activity:

video above: link.

video above: link. (Note that the most spectacular activity begins after about 4:00 in the clip).

Obviously, this is a myth which appears to be completely inspired by the actual sacred mountains themselves: but it is very intriguing to note that in the sky there is also a corresponding set of constellations in which a male figure sits up as if in a vigil over the recumbent form of a female figure in the heavens -- and in between them, not far from the seated male figure, we can also perceive a constellation which does indeed resemble a flaming torch, and which can be shown to play the role of a flaming torch in some of the Star Myths found around the globe (some of which are discussed in my recent series of books, Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them -- examples are found in both Volume One and Volume Two).

Below is a diagram of the night sky taken from the open-source planetarium app, Stellarium. I have drawn in the outlines of the constellations Virgo (in yellow), Bootes (in light purple), and Coma Berenices (in red), using the system of constellation outlines suggested by H. A. Rey:

Note that the female figure (Virgo) is lying down on her back, just as Ixtaccihuatl in the legend, and beside her sits the male figure (Bootes) dutifully watching over her, with his flaming torch nearby (Coma Berenices, or "Berenice's Hair").

At this point, of course, nearly everyone will object that any suggestion of a celestial origin for this moving story of the Aztec warrior and his beloved princess cannot possibly be correct, because we can all see the mountains themselves, towering over Mexico City and the surrounding plains to this very day. Surely this legend is inspired directly from the volcanos themselves, and has nothing to do with the stars!

But note carefully that the legend chooses to "see" these mountains in terms of a recumbent maiden and a vigilant lover with a torch -- certainly not the only possible way to frame a myth regarding these two mountains. In other words, the sacred mountains are imbued with a mythical legend which reflects a reality which can also be seen in the heavens above: a pattern often referred to by the meaningful phrase "as above, so below," which can be found to operate worldwide and often at geographical locations which are specifically envisioned as reflecting the celestial realm (such as the River Ganga in India or the region of the Paha Sapa in the Lakota lands in North America).  

The sacred mountains of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl thus appear to fit into this very same worldwide pattern.

It is also noteworthy to examine the meaning of the names of the two young lovers in the story. Ixtaccihuatl (also frequently spelled Iztaccihuatl) is said to signify the "White Maiden" (from the words ixta or izta meaning "white" and cihuatl meaning a woman or maiden). She is also sometimes referred to as the "Sleeping Maiden" or "Sleeping Woman" -- La Mujer Dormida (perhaps Popo is waiting and watching over her for the day when she will finally awaken to new life and the two can have the happiness together that they were denied for so long).

Popocatepetl, we are told by those knowledgeable in the Nahuatl language, signifies "to smoke" or "to be smoking" (popoca) and "a mountain" (tepetl). The discussion of the mountains and their legend in this volume, for instance, notes some other mounds or mountains which also end with -tepetl, such as Tlachihualtepetl.

Is it just a coincidence that halfway around the world, the very similar term "tepe" is also used to signify a mound or a hill, such as in the famous and extremely important archaeological site at the mound that had the name of Gobekli Tepe in the southern part of modern Turkey, and which we are told signifies "pot-bellied mound" or "pot-bellied hill"?

Advocates of the conventional narrative of ancient human history refuse to admit the possibility that some ancient common source may have influenced cultures all around our globe (or somehow left some kind of memory which was taken in different directions by different cultures down through the subsequent millennia). They would thus dismiss any attempt to draw linguistic connections between "mounds" or "mountains" described by the word tepe in the region of Asia Minor and the use of the  very similar word tepetl to describe mountains and man-made pyramids in Central America.

And yet, there is abundant archaeological evidence that suggests that the conventional narrative of ancient human history is gravely mistaken (if not deliberately deceptive). An earlier post discussing a site with a similarly outstanding Nahuatl name, Calixtlahuaca, provides links to some examples of the evidence which is generally ignored or disputed or "wished away" by those advancing the conventional narrative.

In addition to the formidable archaeological evidence from around the world arguing for an ancient history of the human race far different from what we are generally taught in school, there is also the emerging evidence that the myths of virtually every culture on our planet share a common system of celestial metaphor.

This worldwide system constitutes a whole additional body of evidence, very difficult to deny, which argues for some sort of very ancient common source or influence in the very distant past -- so ancient it predates ancient Sumer and ancient Babylon and ancient India and ancient Egypt (all places where the myths can be shown to be using this worldwide system), and yet so widespread that it can be found operating in the sacred traditions of cultures in the Americas and the Pacific and in Australia and in Africa which continued those traditions right up into recent centuries or to the present day.

These Star Myths from around the globe constitute a precious inheritance which was bequeathed to the human race at some point in our past.

And, as this week's activity of Popocatepetl shows, as he continues to watch over his beloved, it is a living inheritance which is still powerful and active, right up to the present moment.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Odyssey audio project (in a word-for-word literal translation)

My new website, Star Myth World dot com, contains a "Resources" page where you will find links to online versions of older texts now in the public domain, including Alvin Boyd Kuhn's Lost Light, the Astronomico-Theological Lectures of Robert Taylor, the Ganguli translation of the Mahabharata, and two different literal translations of the Odyssey which were published during the 1800s.

To find the "Resources" section of that site, you can use the menu which is found at the bottom of each page (in the footer) rather than the main menu that is found across the top of each page (or, for mobile users, which is opens up onto part of your screen when you tap on the three parallel horizontal lines near the top-right corner of your screen).

While I believe that the Robert Fagles translation of the Odyssey is one of the most inspired and moving English translations of that ancient text available to us, and have "sung its praises" many times before in blog posts (and in my books), most recently here, I also believe that using a literal or even a "word-for-word literal" translation (in which the translator attempts to give us a translation of each and every word in the original) can offer insights available in no other way short of learning the special form of ancient Greek used in the Iliad and the Odyssey and studying them in their original form.

Of course, a literal and especially a "word-for-word literal" translation will not be as smooth or as easy to follow as one that attempts to give the sense of the original in syntax and formulations that are more familiar to speakers of the language into which the original is being translated. For this reason, if you really want to "get closer" to the text of a profound ancient text such as the Odyssey, it is probably helpful to become familiar with a few different translations, to see how different translators have attempted to render certain passages and concepts.

Among those different translations, I would of course recommend the Fagles translation, but I would also recommend a very literal word-for-word translation as well, and there are more than one available on the web (some, from the 1800s, linked in the "Resources" page as mentioned).

For those who wish to listen to the Odyssey, there are audiobooks of various translations available -- including an audiobook of the Robert Fagles translation read by the great Ian McKellan (who of course is most familiar to most readers for his unforgettable performance in bringing to life Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films of Peter Jackson; previous posts such as this one have discussed some of the celestial themes in the Lord of the Rings, and my most-recent book Star Myths of the World, Volume Two makes some parallels between an important aspect of the character of Gandalf and what I take to be one of the central themes in the action of the Iliad, which of course is the companion epic to the Odyssey).

And now, for those who wish to listen to the Odyssey in a literal word-for-word translation, I have started a little "side project" in which I read from the translation of "the Rev. Dr. Giles," which was published some time in the 1800s but which actually has no date of publication in the original volumes (it was published in four volumes -- all of those are linked on the "Resources" page of my new website).

I am actually also quite partial to the literal translation by Theodore Alois Buckley, published in 1896, and also linked on the "Resources" page, but unfortunately it only goes up through the thirteenth book of the Odyssey (which is divided into a total of twenty-four books). Therefore, in my "audio Odyssey project" I am using the Dr. Giles literal translation.

The first few recordings in this series are included towards the bottom of the "Resources" page of the Star Myth World dot com website. The entire collection of recordings has its own webpage here -- new recordings will be added there as each is completed.

In the era of digital files, podcasts and audiobooks, it has become quite easy to listen to informative material while doing the dishes, riding on the bus to work, picking weeds in the garden, driving long distances (or just around town), or other necessary but sometimes monotonous tasks of daily life. Of course it is also good to spend some time alone with one's own thoughts, without listening to anything else, but for the times when you do want to listen to something, you can now listen to a "literal and word-for-word" translation of the Odyssey if you so desire!

Of course, this is an ongoing project -- you will see that at present, recordings are only available up through about half of Book Two. However, the most-recent does include the important speeches of Halitherses and of Mentor at the gathering of the council of Ithaca, in Book Two of the Odyssey, which are both worthy of careful consideration.

I hope you will enjoy this audio version of the Odyssey (although it won't hurt my feelings if you prefer to listen to the Robert Fagles version read by Ian McKellan either).

Additional installments of the project will be added to the "Odyssey audio project" page, which is linked near the bottom of the "Resources" page.

For your convenience, the recordings available thus far are embedded below (you can "right click" or "control-click" on the title in each bar if you wish to download the file to put it onto a different device or to save it somewhere):

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The octopus of twists and turns

Today in the New York Times it was reported that an octopus named Inky, who had been a resident of the National Aquarium of New Zealand since 2014, had disappeared from his tank -- apparently slipping "through a small gap" found at the top of the tank -- and then made his way across the floor to a drainpipe which led down 164 feet of pipe into Hawke's Bay . . . and freedom.

Above is a video in which aquarium manager Rob Yarrell describes the escape and notes wistfully, "Didn't even leave us a note."

The above Times article also quotes Alix Harvey of the Marine Biological Association of England, who tells of an octopus in residence there who would regularly leave his own tank and make his way to other tanks to devour the fish kept there, before heading back into his own tank before morning.

She says that "Octopuses are fantastic escape artists [. . .] They have a complex brain, have excellent eyesight, and research suggests they have an ability to learn and form mental maps." Inky's escape certainly seems to confirm the ability to "form mental maps" and to put together a rather remarkable plot to sneak out when no one was looking.

In fact, the same article reports that the staff did not even notice Inky's escape until much later -- how much later is not exactly clear but the story says that "The escape happened several months ago, but only recently came to light," which seems extremely unusual. It is especially unusual because the stories about Inky's escape also state that the staff was able to determine what happened by looking at the "octopus tracks" which "suggest he then scampered eight feet across the floor" to the drainpipe in question.

If the escape was not noticed for quite some time after Inky made his move, it would suggest that the tracks may have already gone cold by the time investigators arrived on the scene. Perhaps they called in Ace Ventura to recreate Inky's exploits (we can only imagine what that might have entailed).

In fact, the intelligence and resourcefulness of the octopus are legendary -- so much so that one of the most ancient epics of the human race pointedly compares its central figure, whose resourcefulness is also legendary, to an octopus as he himself is making good his narrow escape from captivity: the great Odysseus.

In Book 5 of the Odyssey, as the long-suffering Odysseus is making his way by raft across the open ocean from the isle of the goddess Calypso, he is spotted by the angry Poseidon, who stirs up a tremendous storm, blasts the raft to pieces, and sent winds and waves so powerful that they threaten to end the hero's homecoming right there. The vital assistance Odysseus receives from the divine Leucothea at that critical juncture is discussed in this previous post.

Even with the protection offered by Leucothea and the inspiration provided by Athena, making landfall on the rocky shores of the first coastline he encounters -- on the morning of the third day, after paddling for two days and nights through the heaving swells -- is a perilous undertaking, amidst what the poem describes as
roaring breakers crashing down on an ironbound coast,
exploding in fury --
the whole sea shrouded --
sheets of spray --
no harbors to hold ships, no roadstead where they'd ride,
nothing but jutting headlands, riptooth reefs, cliffs.
Odyssey, Book 5: 445 - 448, from the superlative translation by Robert Fagles.
It is just as he is negotiating this life-threatening landfall that the ancient poem compares Odysseus to the octopus, in an inspired metaphor:
Just as that fear went churning through his mind
a tremendous roller swept him toward the rocky coast
where he'd have been flayed alive, his bones crushed
if the bright-eyed goddess Pallas had not inspired him now.
He lunged for a reef, he seized it with both hands and clung
for dear life, groaning until the giant wave surged past
and so he escaped its force, but the breaker's backwash
charged into him full fury and hurled him out to sea.
Like pebbles stuck in the suckers of some octopus
dragged from its lair -- so strips of skin torn
from his clawing hands stuck to the rock face.
A heavy sea covered him over, then and there
unlucky Odysseus would have met his death --
against the will of Fate --
but the bright-eyed one inspired him yet again.  Odyssey, Book 5: 468 - 482.
When I was teaching the Odyssey in the department of literature at West Point (now very long ago), I was so struck by the aptness of the comparison of the wily Odysseus to the octopus that I made a point of adorning most of my lesson slides with octopus images (and not much else -- I believe in engaging in discussion with my students when exploring a work of literature, and not showing a bunch of words on slides) -- here are a few representative samples:

The insights into the character of Odysseus that can flow from the consideration of the incredible octopus to which he is briefly compared in Book 5 are many and deep.

The octopus, as we have already seen from the discussion of the accomplishments of Inky above, is a master of escape -- so too is the central figure of the Odyssey. Odysseus, in fact, is famously described in the opening lines of the epic as "the man of twists and turns" (Book 1, line 1). Such, at least, is the inspired translation which Professor Fagles gives to that opening descriptor of Odysseus: the line itself in the ancient Greek is
andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropos his mala polla, 
which I believe translated literally and word-for-word is something like
"the man describe-relate, O Muse, much-turned/much-turning this-one very-much"
and which previous translators have rendered
"The man, O Muse, inform -- that many a way
 Wound with his wisdom . . . " Chapman, 1616.
"Muse make the man thy theme, for shrewdness famed
And genius versatile . . . " Cowper, 1791.
"Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer . . . " Fitzgerald, 1961.
"Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven far journeys
after he had sacked Troy's sacred citadel." Lattimore, 1965.
Odysseus is a man "of twists and turns," of "many ways," who is "skilled in all ways of contending" -- one whose "ways of contending" more often involve using his inspired resourcefulness rather than using brute force, one who more than once must use his wits to escape physical pens even more daunting than the aquarium from which Inky made his bold dash to freedom, and one who frequently must change his shape and his persona and put on disguises in order to negotiate the many twists and turns he encounters on his long and arduous voyage through the unforgiving seas of this life.

Below are a few videos of octopi in various situations demonstrating absolutely incredible feats of resourcefulness, deception, and disguise -- each of which makes the ancient poem's metaphorical comparison of Odysseus to an octopus appear all the more appropriate:

Octopus escapes jar

Octopus Houdini

Amazing octopus color transformation

The Indonesian mimic octopus

Most intelligent mimic octopus in the world

Shapeshifting octopus, amazing camouflage


Psychedelic cuttlefish aka color-changing octopus

As you can probably tell by now, I love the Odyssey (and have since I was quite young in age -- just a boy, in fact, and long before the excellent Robert Fagles translation was even available).

In Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Two, I devote quite a bit of space to an exploration of this wonderful epic poem, and to the insights that can arise when we approach the Odyssey with some understanding of the language of celestial metaphor in which it -- along with the other myths and sacred stories given to humanity -- is undoubtedly speaking.

According to my analysis, it is very clear that the Odyssey is not so much intended to describe to us the adventures of the incredibly wily and resourceful "man of twists and turns," the great-hearted hero Odysseus, as it is to demonstrate to us the journey undertaken by each and every man and woman making his or her way through the furious breakers and jutting headlands and riptooth reefs of this incarnate life -- and the importance of recognizing and listening to the guidance available from the Invisible Realm, the realm of the gods: guidance which Odysseus shows himself to be extraordinarily sensitive and attuned.

We can all be grateful to Inky, for demonstrating his own Odyssean resourcefulness and providing such a stunning demonstration of the genius of the ancient poem's comparison of Odysseus to the wily,  deceptive, twisting-and-turning octopus.

His escape should also demonstrate that octopi just want to be free.

If we are upset about the great anguish and distress inflicted upon the mighty orcas in captivity (and we very much should be, as discussed in this previous post), then we should also give mind to the plight of the intelligent and complex octopi held in aquariums around the world, and then we should do the right thing and provide them all with access to small gaps in their tanks, and drainpipes that run out to the ocean.