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VELIKOVSKIAN                                                                                                         Vol. I, No. 1

Indeterminacy: Temporary,
Permanent, or Indefinite?
Roger W. Wescott
April 26, 1987

An Invited Response to the Exchange of Letters between David Talbott and Milton B.  Zysman January 12, February 18 and April 4, 1987

In his letter of January 12, David Talbott urges that catastrophists "reach a stronger consensus on the key symbols and themes" of myth.  Whether dealing with mythic tradition or with other sources of evidence, most members of the Canadian Society of Interdisciplinary Studies (CSIS) and most KRONOS readers, I think, assume that protohistoric disruptions of global scale were exogenous catastrophes--that is, disasters of extraterrestrial origin.  While I share this belief, I am impressed by the fact that the most complete compendium of catastrophist mythology that I have yet seen, Brendan Stannard's Origins of Israel,[1] takes an endogenist position, attributing ancient man's collective distress to recurrent seismicity of wholly terrestrial origin.

Such considerations lead me to the conclusion that stronger consensus on the interpretation of mythic imagery would constitute premature intellectual cloture and shackle, rather than liberate, our thinking.

Talbott's Saturnian iconography and mythography seem to rest on two assumptions, neither of which I share unreservedly.  The first of these is that most, if not all, of mankind's perennial imagery reflects pre-catastrophic Saturn and its surroundings.  The second is that, apart from Saturn's primal, or polar configuration, mythic imagery becomes, in his words, a "madhouse of absurd and contradictory themes."

Ever since Greek philosophers first initiated critical examination of Homeric and Hesiodic myth, some mythologists have characterized myths in general as mad.  And, during the past century of mythological theorizing, naturists have been contradicted by psychoanalysts who in turn have been contradicted by structuralists, until the entire debate has come to be viewed by many external observers as a scholarly Theater of the Absurd.

As I see it, recurrence rather than persistence is the leitmotif of mythic imagery, because trauma rather than tranquility is the generator of myth.  In these terms, the primal configuration will recur only to the extent that a later and more transient configuration duplicates or resembles it: The circle will represent the primal celestial body as reincarnated by the Sun, our Moon, or any Earth-approaching planet; the cosmic serpent will represent the world-axis in its wobbly or disintegrative phase when that image is reawakened by proto-Venus or some other cometary body; and so on.

In other words, all mythic images, as I interpret them, are superimposed images.  Because of this superimposition, they are necessarily blurred images.  This fact (quite apart from his penchant for mystification rather than clarification) may help explain the extraordinary vagueness of Jung's archetypes.


Since we now know that Jovian planets other than Saturn have rings, I find it quite easy to believe that Earth itself once had a canopy (as Isaac Vail called it) or a mirror-dome (as Milton B. Zysman now calls it).  Moreover, I assume that this reflective band changed shape with each rearrangement of Earth's planetary surroundings, and may, at various times, have constituted a disc, a torus, a girdle, or a shell, each of which produced a different image of the sky.

Returning to Talbott's reconstruction, my greatest difficulty lies in accepting his identification of his super-planet (or mini-star) as Saturn.  As Zysman, Alfred De Grazia, and Earl Milton ask, What about Uranus?  Or, for that matter, what about Neptune?  I am not caviling about Saturn as such, but rather raising the vexed paleo-astronomical problem of planetary identity.  This identity problem, of course, has a semantic aspect, since there is a lexical paradox in the fact that, while identity means sameness, we more often use it to denote distinctiveness or difference.  But it also has a substantive aspect, since any general disturbance in the solar system might be expected to produce drastic changes in the apparent size, color, luminosity, velocity, or orbit of any or every planet.  Under such circumstances, it would become a problem for even the most careful and detached observers to decide which unfamiliar-looking objects in the sky should be equated with which (if any) of the familiar objects they remembered from before the disturbance.  I believe we may safely assume that, after such a disturbance, even the most experienced star-gazers would feel distraught and disoriented and could make identifications more on an emotive than on a calculative basis.

Non-linguists may entertain the understandable hope that information about ancient planetary nomenclature and their etymologies will eliminate most of the verbal ambiguities that now plague our efforts to identify ancient celestial objects.  Unfortunately, however, this hope is, at best, only partially justified.  There were, for example, three verbal bases meaning shine in the Proto-Indo-European language (which, according to Allan Bomhard, were shared with Afro-Asiatic languages, including Egyptian and Semitic).[2]  These were bha-, dei-eu-, and leuk-.  From the first of these came the Greek Phaeton and Phanes (the Orphic name of the primal body which Talbott would probably identify with Saturn).  From the second came the English Tue- (an Anglo-Saxon war-god), the Latin Diana, and the Greek Zeus.  And from the third came the Latin Luna and Lucetius (a by-name of Jupiter), the Gaulish Leucetios (a by-name of Mars), the Old Persian raucah-, heaven and, in Sanskrit, loka-, or world.  Each of these bases produced names with disparate references: In the last case, as many as five distinct entities may have been designated.

Apart from these nomenclatural ambiguities, there are, needless to say, other cases of divine names that seem to lack planetary or celestial reference.  Among them are such familiar Olympian names as Hera and Apollo.  If they designate bodies that were either shattered (yielding planetesimals) or ejected from the solar system during a period of interplanetary disturbance, there is little chance of our ever achieving an identification of any sort.

My conclusion is that both Talbott and Zysman have done us a service by collecting as much evidence as possible for the polar configuration and the mirrordome, respectively.  I hope that they will continue collecting it and presenting it as graphically and engagingly as ever, but think that most catastrophists would be ill-advised to leap onto either pragmatic bandwagon at this stage in the development of cosmogonic thought.

[1].  Brendan Stannard, The Origins of Israel and Mankind: A Unified Cosmogonic Theory, 882 pages (Lancaster, England: Carib Publishing Co., 1983).

[2].  Allan R. Bomhard, Toward Proto-Nostratic: A New Approach to the Comparison  of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Afroasiatic, 356 pages (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1984).

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