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KRONOS Vol II, No. 1
THE ROLE OF ANCIENT MYTHS IN ORTHODOX NATURAL SCIENCE
A. M. PATERSON
Historical myths are culturally based. Natural sciences supposedly base their myths*
upon physical events of non-human phenomena as they are interpreted through logical
perspectives. These logical perspectives are dependent upon scientific theories and their
models. Historical myths indicate the reporting of the lives of the people after and during
socio-political events. Reigns of kings and physical holocausts that were disruptive or fatal to
the lives of the people were recorded. These reports aim to perpetuate socio-political
ideologies or they are written to justify the destruction of a socio-political reign.
[* Myths such as "steady state," "big bang," "greenhouse effect," "light years," "celestial bodies," "law of uniformity," "law of gravity," "quarks".]
Insofar as physical events of the natural phenomena (non-human) act as cause of
socio-political upheaval, there is an overlap between historical reality and scientific reality.
Scientific myths are inexorably locked into "socially acceptable" models of the universe, and
they are protected by the scientific orthodoxy. And besides this, if the historical reporting
violates the predictions from scientific models that yield a powerful technology for the
socio-political leaders, the historical myth will be modified to support the scientific myth. In
short, there is a cooperation between historical orthodoxy and scientific orthodoxy that entails
the support of a parallelity between these two kinds of ideologies.
This practice is as old as man. We see in ancient Egypt the use of the Phoenix cycle in
order to complement the cosmic cycle. The rise of the Nile was a mundane reality that was an
essential event in the practical life of the people. This event was tied to the organized body of
statements that constituted a deductive model of the universe (Zodiac, Sothis, etc.). The
timing of the overflow of the Nile was controlled by socio-political leaders through their
priests who were the ones who supposedly saw a bird (the Phoenix) return to the area. This
bird was supposedly half human and in a state of prayer (with praying hands). The priests
"timed" the appearance of the Phoenix with the overflow of the Nile in such a way that the
movements of Sothis and the completion of the twelve signs of the Zodiac would all agree
with the overflowing of the Nile. The astronomers and students of the sun, moon, stars, etc.,
coordinated their reports with the reporting of the priests.
The Phoenix constituted the completion of a "yearly"(1) cycle that integrated the human
experience of the change of seasons with the formal deductive models of the astronomers. All
of human experience was explained and interpreted in a monolithic manner by the prior
agreement of the astronomers and the priests as to a "feasible" report for the "uninitiated"
members of the culture. In this way, all questions from the naive could ultimately be
encompassed by ideologies that were complementary to each other.
The Phoenix myth, as the chief instrument of the priests for marking off the sun's signal
to the Nile, became a signal to the people. The priest, in cooperation with the astronomers and
political rulers would declare that the Nile had overflowed. Then, the social ritual would be
held to recognize the event as completed. The Phoenix myth signaled the guarantee that
human experience and nature's activity were a harmony. This, in its turn, enabled the people to
enrich their own awareness of themselves and their lives as being an integral part of the
cyclical nature of nature. Man's life became a microcosm of the macrocosmos. The Phoenix
became the symbolic messenger from the inner life of nature to the inner life of man, the
microcosm. Therefore, the Phoenix, through the priests, became the symbol of the endurance
of all species (through the passage of times) throughout time.
The Phoenix, carrying the deceased remains of its father, flew into the fire of the sun,
and out of the fire would emerge -- a Phoenix. Is this the same Phoenix, which has risen from
its own ashes? Is this another Phoenix that arose in a new moment of time from the ash of the
seed of its father (which was without weight, as it was carried in its wrappings of myrrh)?
The interpretation would depend upon a very old metaphysical problem. It is the
dispute as to whether individuals or generals are the most real. The history of analysis is
replete with this argument. There appears to be no final answer. The hylozoism of the
Egyptians would suggest that their priests interpreted the Phoenix that rose from the fire as the
endurance of individuality-at-large because of the indestructibility of the power of nature to
induce kinds or species that would produce individuals. Individuality-at-large was to them the
reflection of the uniqueness of nature that (through infinite transformations) demonstrated the
infinite vitality of its primary material. In fact, for them, the infinite vitality constituted the
primary material of the universe. The Phoenix myth became the explanatory model that
guaranteed the journey of the human seed through the soil of culture to its ultimate fulfillment
of its formula or soul.
Through infinite transformations the human seed (passing through infinitely changing
worlds) remained impervious to times. By generalizing the seasonal cycles, the idea of Time
itself supported the human insight that (as a seed) man would undergo infinite transformations.
The transformation processes themselves, as the inner life of nature, were only experienced by
existential man through the forms of human experience, such as temporal-spatial states of
being. The Phoenix bridged this gap. The Phoenix exonerated its kind by the just and
instinctive husbanding of its father's seed. The sacrifice of the son by entering the inferno of
origin (the sun) not only exonerated his species by sparking the deliverance of a new Phoenix
in a new moment of time, but this sacrifice created the new moment of time. The future of
mankind was guaranteed in time-space by this sacrifice that produced a tempering of the seed
and, therefore, a tempered Phoenix.
Each case of return to the primal fire would cause the special seed to undergo
tempering. The son contributed to the fire his space (experienced and still in the flesh). The
father's seed contributed to the fire his formula, his recipe, his soul, as a kind of being. The
father, therefore, contributed the capacity for times or Time itself. The son contributed his
transcendence and the father contributed his immanence. With this coincidence of contraries
(as Cusa later understood), the seed became periodically tempered with both. These contraries
amounted to an embodied space and (on the other hand) an ageless kind of capacity for times.
Here is one of the earliest ideas of human evolution.
It should be noted that this was a psychosomatic physical evolution, which was
inaugurated and sustained by periodic "heroic frenzy" (Bruno) on the part of a naturally
endowed individual to confront the existential world with a demonstration of the infinite
power a natural individual possesses (through his species). Like the Phoenix, an individual
man, in service to his species, opted for lighting a torch that would reach over centuries and all
geographical places. Through the long life of the human species, these ideas underwent
cultural and scientific revision (i.e.: Greeks, Christians, Orientals, Arabs, and Hebrews).(2) But
the principles remain intact.
These principles hold that an individual is locked into an ironclad cosmic economy that
enables him to understand that the appearances (within a cultural context) of contrary desires
and powers within himself can be easily brought into coincidence. This is accomplished by
transforming his homely experience into the intellectual vistas that his will (rooted inexorably
in nature) can make clear to him. Consigned to merely adaptative, homely experience alone, an
individual can be brought into relative harmony or coincidence through the emotional or
psychological capture of his will by myths or repeated demonstrations. Those in analytical or
social circles who controlled the myths and chose the demonstrations became as cosmic root
to merely adaptative men.
As lately as the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, ferocious intellectual
battling for control of human cultures reached crisis dimensions. The controversies over
realism vs. nominalism, transcendence vs. immanence, human immortality and the orthodoxy
of various moral ideologies revolving around the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the seed
or the soul) raged in analytical and social circles.
These issues are still disputed today. In the seventeenth century there appears to have
emerged an armed truce on these matters in analytical and social circles. Awareness of the long
history of civil interdependence of the priest, the politician, and the professor (as seen in
ancient Egypt), in order to keep the domestic peace, spearheaded an orthodox position, a
socialized academia. Francis Bacon's work best exemplifies this cultural truce. Bacon
distinguished between the role of theology and the role of natural science in the kingdom.
These separate roles would be coordinated by the Vicar of God (the King). Today, in the
Baconian tradition, most of academia maintains the same posture.
However, the myth of the Phoenix is especially interesting. During the Renaissance,
Giordano Bruno used this symbol as his woodcut. For Bruno, the burning of human beings on
the charge of heresy (academic, religious, or social) was a paradoxical affair. Liberation of the
son (who carried the seed of his father) through consigning him to the flames only marked a
temporary respite for the professor, priest, or politician. Sensitive to the history of
metal-making and the on-going research along these lines in his period, Bruno understood that
tempered materials were transformed into stronger formulas. For Bruno, in the long run, the
fires of socio-political tyrants and their academic hirelings only carried the seeds of their own
destruction. For that which emerged from the fire escaped from their chains and was incapable
of incarceration. As "tempered" manness and "tempered" men were repeatedly born from out
of the ashes, society forged fewer and fewer merely adaptative human beings. The human
seed, in essential evolution, became less and less pervious to arbitrary authority.
Myths, whether in astronomy, physics, or social engineering, are modeled from
theories about the structure of the universe and the meaning of this structure and its contents.
Theoretical perspectives in the natural sciences that are abridged by social engineering will
adopt models that cooperate with the myths useful to the current political powers. Their
theories and models cannot be said to adopt primary assumptions from a clear and wide-awake
intelligence. Therefore, their conclusions cannot be espoused in clear and wide-awake
intelligent models. Their models are based upon prescriptive myths, rather than being based
upon description of human experience.
It is imperative that the prescriptive dimensions involved in the traditional basic
premises used in the natural sciences be isolated and removed as human perspectives mature
(e.g., the metaphysical assumption of the law of uniformity, etc.). Our awareness of the
prescriptive mandates of socio-political and theological ideologies and the role they play in the
formation of metaphysical assumptions in the natural sciences must enable us critically to
excise the prescriptive aspects from descriptive models. Ancient myths, advanced for their
own times, should not bend present day natural science to their prescriptive base. If the natural
scientists of today feel consciously or unconsciously that they are in need of allowing the
ancient "oughts" to slip into the "is", the least they can do is to endure this fact about their
explanations. It will not do, to have analysts (freed from this need) rejected by the natural
sciences because they are not "orthodox". "Orthodox" here means psychological denial of the
prescriptive elements that creep into the methodology in the natural sciences. If this is so, the
natural scientists should admit that to be "unorthodox" means to do analysis outside of the
particular sociopolitical or theological habits to which they cling.
One of the few contemporary analysts willing and able to deal descriptively with actual
human experience and to expose its insidious relationship to scientific models is Immanuel
Velikovsky. His primary contribution, as I see it, is the ability to confront human experience
and human reportings analytically and dispassionately. For Velikovsky, the raw materials of his
scientific models are analytical premises from a wide-awake full description of human
experience. On the contrary, the average analyst does not use deduction from analytical
premises that rest upon full description of human experience. Rather, their initial premises
must adhere to the Baconian socialized analysis that will guarantee "peace among the
Here, in Bacon, social models and astronomical models are forced into parallelity in
theory. And in practice, these models are forced apart. Scientific models only thrive in two
tongues. One tongue is used for the vulgar and one tongue is used for the scientist. (We still
see this, e.g., "greenhouse effect" over Venus.) It appears that Velikovsky reflects the same
tremendous respect for the potential of every rational man to endure the facts, as did Bruno
Velikovsky's chain of deductive reasoning reminds one of the law written by Philo of
Judea: that the-human intelligence is both glue and knife. Velikovsky's analytical premise of
racial amnesia is deduced from analysis of descriptive materials. His discovery of the
deductive term "ancient witness" follows the premise of racial amnesia. This deductive term
"ancient witness", taken now as a further analytical premise and placed alongside ancient
literature and the empirical data of the special sciences (archaeology, geology, etc.), forces the
deductive conclusion that there have been global physical catastrophes in historical times. In
short, it is as Philo says: pure analysis and synthesis are interlaced in critical formal use of
It would appear that many of today's natural scientists, caught up in the posture of
"orthodoxy", wantonly reject Velikovsky's work without ever examining the basic premises
from which his successful physical predictions were deduced. Velikovsky's basic premises are
critical premises based upon the analysis of descriptive data. Myths spun by human beings
from the threads of their actual experience are examined analytically by Velikovsky.
These myths, when analyzed through the perspective of "racial amnesia", leave a
residue of global human agreement depicting natural catastrophes. But subjecting old cultural
myths to new scientific analysis is considered to be "unorthodox" practice by many natural
scientists. This can only be the result of reserving the right to interpret ancient literature
reflective of human experience to the cooperative team of priest, politician, and professor.
Natural scientists in the posture of this orthodoxy are committed as emotional entities not to
analyze some of human experience. Their inability to accept ancient human myths as
containing some descriptive data to be subjected to serious analysis forces them to use basic
models contrived to protect these myths from yielding their etiological contents. It would
appear that if natural scientists admit that ancient cultural myths contain a mixture of both
prescriptive and descriptive data, they would come face to face with their own prescriptive
And again, in the practice of their habits, these natural scientists (as in the tradition of
ancient Egypt) may be waiting for the social permission from some authority to declare for
them that a cycle of conditioning has passed. They are following the Baconian maxim that
sometimes teachings that are freely circulated must purposively remain ancient even though
the teacher knows better. Bacon used the model of a man standing on the top of a cliff, with
his feet firmly planted on well-known ground -- but whose eyes and thoughts were focused far
ahead of his feet. Velikovsky, in the posture of Giordano Bruno, has the courage to do as
Bruno recommended: "A man should plant his feet on the side of his mind." This means that
man should admit what he knows and build sturdy physical bridges to it, or be competent with
a compass that responds to the cosmos and points the way through nature.
To be Baconian in the days of Bacon is perfectly understandable after the loss of
Bruno and the threat to Galileo. But to remain so habitual that the state of natural science
remains older than the understanding of the ancients is to mark the ancient myth maker as
more new than we are (as Bruno would say). These ancient myths carried analytical insights
from experience much beyond their actual orthodoxies, and they were courageous.
Our own time and place creates scientific myths from out of social contexts hundreds
of years behind us. In fairness to those times, we should not use lack of courage to render only
selective writings from them. The natural scientist who still socializes his cosmological or
astronomical premises in faithfulness to Baconian tradition has not read enough of Bacon.
Bacon also admonished that even though truth had passed for dead under some rigid
orthodoxies, that which brings forth fresh perspectives never dies. And again, it would seem
appropriate here to note that from the brink of the twenty-first century, we all know now that
each human sees his own Phoenix return from the fire of his own burning insights -- even
though transient authorities can prohibit him from speaking about his own growth and
development aloud for a while.
The important and crucial factor here is that Velikovsky's basic premise of racial
amnesia that yielded the deductive term "ancient witness" led to the further deductive
inference that there have been near-collisions of the planets within historical times. This
deduction led him to further deductions about the history of the planets and about the present
state of the planets, and hundreds of these deductions have now been verified. It is hardly
acceptable to ask Velikovsky's readers and serious analysts at large to reject his findings
because they have been found to be accurate. And it is not acceptable to ask these same
people to reject Velikovsky's work merely because it is not based on the metaphysical
assumptions of adaptative men committed to Bacon's armed truce for his times. The human
species is reflexive, and no amount of coercion from any vested interest groups can do a thing
about it. A long tradition of careful human thought has taught that "Truth is the daughter of
time and not the daughter of authority", as Bruno and Bacon reminded us.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. The word "yearly" means cyclical and not necessarily our 365 days. In fact, in ancient
appropriations of this myth, historians have interpreted this cycle in some cases as every 500
years or so. A longer period of this sort was sometimes called a "Great Year". The numerical
count varied with the needs of the historians, politicians, priests, and astronomers.
2. The rendition of the Phoenix myth in this paper does not necessarily follow all possible
cultural interpretations of it. The details change from culture to culture to some degree. But
the essential theme remains the same.
3. The willow tree reproduces from a pollen that is invisibly small. In Bacon's time, he was
pushing for a Christian industrial state based upon an "empirical rationalism" in natural science
that should coincide with a "rational empiricism" (Christianity) in social sciences. The mills and
factories worked best in an uninterrupted atmosphere free of ecclesiastical or monarchial
inspection. The fertilizations in industry should be invisible to the social censors. The roar of
rumor could turn off the roar of the furnaces and the machines. Like the willows, the
laboratories should generate the power of human discovery very much in silence. There should
be enough dissemination of the information to promote cross fertilizations but not enough
dissemination to make the "pollenization" (human invention and discovery) visible to those
outside the inner circle. Natural scientists should imitate the willows, they should reproduce
under the camouflage of not doing a thing to startle anyone. There was peace among the
willows - and yet they were broadcasting their seeds to their own kind in an undetectable
1. Arrian. Anabasis Alexandri Translated by E. Iliff Robson. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1954. Two volumes. [*!* Image] INSERT KII1_56.JPG HERE
2. Breasted, James Henry. A History of Egypt 2nd ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909.
3. Breasted, James Henry. The Conquest of Civilization. New York and London: Harper &
4. Breasted, James Henry. The Dawn of Conscience. New York and London: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1934.
5. Budge, E. A. Wallis, translator. The Book of the Dead. New Hyde Park, New York:
University Books, 1960.
6. Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Gods of the Egyptians. New York: Dover, 1969. Two volumes.
7. Dampier-Whetham, William Cecil Dampier. A History of Science. New York: Macmillan,
8. Herodotus. The Persian Wars. Translated by George Rawlinson. New York: Modern
9. Palmer, William. Egyptian Chronicles. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts,
1861. Two volumes.
10. Paterson, A. M. The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C.
11. Paterson, A. M. Francis Bacon and Socialized Science. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C.
12. Pliny. The History of the World. Translated by Philemon Holland. Carbondale, Illinois:
Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.
13. Tacitus. The Annals. Translated by John Jackson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1956.
14. Van Den Broek, R. The Myth of the Phoenix. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972.