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Open letter to science editors

 
VELIKOVSKY'S LEGACY

Ev Cochrane

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and legacy of Immanuel
Velikovsky, who has been an extraordinary source of inspiration for several
generations of scholars since the publication of Worlds in Collision in 1950.
Velikovsky demonstrated once and for all-as if any such demonstration were
necessary-that it is possible to read the Classics and contribute to various
branches of knowledge without a PhD in one specialized field or another, and
without belonging to one of the more prestigious academic institutions. What
Heinrich Schliemann-yet another rank amateur-did for the resurrection of Greek
tradition, Velikovsky performed for the entire human race: Nothing less than
a resurrection and reinvigoration of our cultural heritage.

Like Darwin, Freud and other intellectual catalysts throughout history,
Velikovsky is not only important for what he added to the storehouse of
knowledge, but for the bold new questions posed and hitherto unimagined
horizons exposed. To read Velikovsky is to be catapulted into an entirely new
way of viewing the world and its history. Just as, after Darwin, few can
look at Nature's myriad of life forms without seeing evidence of an organism'
s evolutionary history in every feature; and just as, after Freud, few can
afford to overlook unconscious determinants of behavior; so too, after
Velikovsky, one can never again look at myth-nay the entire intellectual
heritage bequeathed to us by ancient man in the form of oral traditions,
heroic epics, sacred texts, rock art, etc.-without seeing unequivocal
evidence of the cataclysmic recent history of this planet.

As is the case with Darwin and Freud, Velikovsky was not infallible and not
everything he wrote survives analysis. As Nietzsche once quipped, however,
the errors of great men often prove more fruitful than the truths of little
men, and thus it is that much can be gained from learning how and why
Velikovsky went wrong. Those who follow Velikovsky's pioneering excursions
into foreign waters will no doubt find that he occasionally takes a wrong
turn but, as with Columbus, new worlds are frequently discovered in the
process.

This said, I would maintain that Velikovsky was right with regards to the
three fundamental challenges offered in Worlds in Collision: (1) Great
cataclysms have distinguished the recent history of the solar system; (2)
Those cataclysms were caused by extraterrestrial agents; (3) The agents of
catastrophe can be identified with the respective planets, which only
recently moved upon vastly different orbits and threatened the Earth.

In addition to these general claims, Velikovsky also offered the following,
more specific, claims: (1) The planet Saturn only recently loomed large in
the heavens, an indication, presumably, of the Earth's former close proximity
to the gas giant; (2) The planet Venus only recently presented a comet-like
appearance during a particularly spectacular cataclysm; (3) The planet Mars
only recently participated in epoch-ending cataclysms, inspiring its
reputation as a war-god. The latter three claims are entirely without
precedent in the annals of human thought and underscore the profoundly
original nature of Velikovsky's vision of the recent history of the solar
system.

Complementing the oft-cited evidence from recent space probes consistent with
his general thesis of planetary catastrophism, a wealth of evidence has come
to light since 1950 which suggests that several of Velikovsky's more
specific-and seemingly most fantastic-claims were right. Here I will focus on
developments I have been involved in, either directly or indirectly.

In 1983, Dave Talbott and myself began a series of collaborative researches on
Venus' role in ancient myth and religion. This research spawned a trilogy of
articles for Kronos and continues today.

Talbott and I began by investigating the most common ancient terms for
"comet", including "hair-star", "serpent-star", "bearded-star", "tailed-
star", "torch-star", "smoking-star", etc. Such terminology, as we
documented, was not only common to most ancient cultures, but surprisingly
prominent in the earliest religious and mythical traditions; thereby
attesting, it would appear, to the prominence accorded comets in ancient
thought.

This finding, although significant, paled alongside our finding that each of
these terms for "comet" was specifically applied to Venus! From ancient
Mesopotamia to ancient Mesoamerica, Venus was consistently described as a
"hairy" star, "smoking" star, "bearded" star, "serpent" star, etc. Here
there is simply no denying Velikovsky's pioneering insight on this score.
Nor, once this point is granted-and the evidence is quite unequivocal-is
there any denying Velikovsky's thesis that Venus only recently presented a
comet-like appearance.

In addition to this shared terminology, Venus and comets also shared a like
reputation in ancient tradition. Throughout the ancient world, comets were
typically associated with the following motives: (1) Disaster (i.e., the
appearance of a comet heralded a great epidemic, earthquakes, a terrifying
eclipse of the Sun, etc.); (2) The end of the world (end of a world
age/kingdom, etc.); (3) The death of a great king; (4) The transmigration of
a great king's soul.

Strange to say, and wholly inexplicable from the standpoint of modern
astronomy, the very same motives are also associated with the planet Venus.
From Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica, from the most ancient times to the advent of
the twentieth century, Venus was widely regarded as an omen of disaster;
harbinger of the end of a world age; the agent of a great eclipse at the dawn
of time; a sign that a prominent king was about to die; and explicitly
associated with the departing "soul" of a dying king.

For the past decade or so, Talbott and I have occupied ourselves with trying
to discover the objective basis for this unusual but highly specific set of
motives uniting Venus and comets. From whichever vantage point we approached
the problem, the trail consistently led to a lost age associated with Saturn.
Whichever body of mythical tradition we explored, we found the same bizarre
references to a once great but now lost sun-god-Saturn-and his beloved
consort-Venus-the latter of whom deserted her companion and threatened to
destroy the world.

All told, a wealth of evidence suggests that at a relatively recent date
(certainly within the last 5-10,000 years), Venus participated in a very
unusual celestial configuration, one which found the Cytherean planet
positioned between Saturn and the Earth, whereby it presented the appearance
of a central, luminous "eye" set within the borders of the larger gas giant.
It was the departure of Venus from its axial location vis a vis Saturn which
precipitated (or was a consequence of) a spectacular cataclysm recalled as the
"death" of the first king, the end of a great age, the disaster to end all
disasters, etc. (As the first king, Saturn was the celebrated ruler of a lost
Golden Age. ) And it was during this spectacular set of events that Venus
took on a comet-like appearance, sporting a tail that literally spanned the
visible heavens. Thus it is that, in various accounts of world-ending
catastrophe, the Venus-goddess is specifically compared to an eye and/or said
to assume the form of a comet-like "eye" or "dragon" when embarking upon her
destructive war-dance. These ancient traditions of a dragon-formed goddess
spewing fire across the heavens, or of a witch-like star whose disheveled
hair threatened to blot out the light of the sun, traditions which only
recently appeared wholly impossible, imaginary, or lost in the mists of
antiquity, now appear as archetypal, ubiquitous and profoundly relevant for
an adequate understanding of ancient history, the evolution of human thought,
and the origins of civilization (language, art, myth, religion, ritual, etc.
).

Aside from the abundant mythical testimony, is there any physical evidence for
this bizarre scenario? Actually the evidence is quite extensive as, indeed,
must be the case if such events actually occurred. Consider the evidence
from ancient petroglyphs, for example. It is well-known that prehistoric
pictures of the "Sun" grace cave walls and prominent rocks around the world.
Many of these petroglyphs-few of which bear much resemblance to the modern
solar orb-commonly feature a disc with a central orb(s) set within its center
(See Figure One). The objective basis of this particular image would appear
to be confirmed by its appearance on all inhabited continents. And yet, if
it is to be regarded as a realistic representation of the ancient sun-god,
what could possibly be the significance of the smaller, central orb?

The answer can be obtained upon comparison of these early petroglyphs with
ancient representations of the "Sun" in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In
Egypt, the ancient sun-god is typically represented as a circular disc,
within which is set a smaller orb (the sign of Ra, for example. See Figure
Two). While this same image is present in early Sumerian iconography as
well, it is more common in Mesopotamia to find the ancient sun-god depicted
by the image of a disc within which is set a star (See Figure Three).
Typically, the star upon the face of the sun-disc is four-pointed, with wavy
lines emanating like spokes between the respective points of the star. On
several occasions, however, the star is eight-pointed. (See figure Four.
Hardly confined to Mesopotamia, the setting of an eight-pointed star upon the
face of the ancient "sun-god" is very widespread, occurring in Mesoamerica as
well. ) Once again we are confronted with the same question, posed earlier:
What is the objective reference for the tiny orb/star set upon the face of the
ancient sun-god?

In Mesopotamia, as is well-known, the eight-pointed star is the special symbol
of the planet Venus. This supports the conclusion that the central orb/star
which frequently adorns images of the ancient sun-god has some reference to
the planet Venus. If we allow this important clue to serve as our guide in
deciphering the sign of Ra, it will be impossible to overlook the following
facts: (1) the latter sign approaches the form of an eye quite closely; (2)
the ancient sun-god is commonly held to have a single eye; (3) the planet
Venus was itself compared to an eye by cultures as disparate as the Maya,
Polynesian islanders, and Australian aborigines. (The same planet, of
course, was regarded as the star par excellence by more than one ancient
people.) (4) many ancient goddesses, including nearly every Egyptian goddess
of renown, were identified with an eye; (5) the greatest goddesses of the
ancient world, from Inanna/Ishtar to Isis, were commonly identified with the
planet Venus.

There are numerous other indications that Venus was once located in the
immediate proximity of Saturn, the ancient sun-god. Here I would point to
the widespread image of the star set within a crescent. Found in both Old
World and New World contexts, this ancient image corresponds to nothing in the
current skies. To what then could it possibly refer?

Confronted with this image upon ancient Babylonian kudurru, leading scholars
have routinely held that it signifies Venus set within the horns of the
crescent Moon. Scholars of Moslem religion-where the star and crescent
forms the leading symbol-have offered a similar opinion. But such a
relationship between Venus and Moon is quite impossible from an astronomical
standpoint. Why then would ancient cultures all around the world fixate upon
the same imaginary image?

The solution, of course, is that the crescent has absolutely no reference to
the current Moon; rather, it almost certainly refers to the crescent which
once adorned the planet Saturn, as Talbott has documented. Thus the image
of the star set within a crescent, properly understood, offers a close
analogue to the star set upon the disc of the "sun": both having reference to
a former age in which Venus appeared superimposed upon the face of the
ancient sun-god (Saturn). That such was indeed the case can be seen from
ancient kudurru which actually show the solar disc beset with both the
central star and crescent (See diagram Five). All that is necessary to make
sense of these seemingly impossible yet surprisingly widespread images is to
take seriously the Babylonian claims that the ancient sun-god-Shamash-was
actually the planet Saturn.

MARS

Although the episode of the Venus-comet generated the most controversy and
thus drew the most attention, Velikovsky also accorded a prominent role to
the planet Mars in various celestial catastrophes, remarking upon the
intimate and volatile relationship between the two planets. Here, too, there
can be little doubt but that Velikovsky was on the right track, although his
understanding and chronology of the events involving the respective planets
requires substantial revision.

If one looks at the earliest astronomical traditions surrounding the planet
Mars—those from ancient Babylon—it will be found that the red planet is
typically accorded an especially malevolent disposition, being conceived of
as an agent of war, pestilence, disaster, discord, death, insurrection and
eclipses of the sun. The mythology which came to surround the various gods
identified with Mars-Nergal and Erra, for example-reflects these ominous
characteristics. Thus it is that, in the Poem of Erra, Erra attempts to usurp
the rule of heaven, displacing the planetary bodies and producing a great
eclipse of the sun in the process.

There is a notable anomaly in the cults of Nergal and Erra: A common epithet
of both gods is "hero". Why would a planet-god associated with such ominous
attributes and disastrous consequences be worshipped as a "hero"? Is there
anything about the behavior of the red planet which marks it as especially
heroic?

Exploring this anomaly further, it will be found that the leading heroes of
various cultures were identified with the planet Mars, the Greek Heracles
being the most prominent example of this tendency. To the best of my
knowledge, I know of no scholar who has taken this identification seriously,
as anything more than an arbitrary consequence of Hellenistic fascination
with astrology. And yet it can be shown that Heracles' identification with
Mars is the key to understanding the manifold mythology which came to surround
this figure.

As I have shown in my various articles on Heracles, it is striking how
frequently ancient conceptions associated with the red planet inform
otherwise obscure elements of his cult. Indeed, I know of no archetypal
mythical motive in the career of the Greek hero that does not have reference
to the former appearance and/or behavior of the red planet. Whether it is
the hero's assault of the ancient sun-god; his immolation and bizarre
metamorphosis upon Mt. Oeta; the identification with the god Melkarth; the
hero's propensity for appearing alternately as a giant and as a dwarf-all
will trace to ancient conceptions associated with the planet Mars.

It is well-known, of course, that Heracles shares a great deal in common with
the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh; so much so, in fact, that several scholars have
supposed that the Greek hero is simply an import from the ancient Near East.
Yet, the simple fact of the matter is that every ancient culture has a hero or
god with Herculean attributes, and it would be quite absurd to expect
diffusion to provide the necessary explanation for this global mythical
archetype. In Vedic India, it is Indra; among the Norse, Thor; among the
ancient Celts, Cuchulainn; among the Latins, Mars; among the Aztecs,
Tezcatlipoca; among the Ulates, Batraz; among the ancient Hebrews, Samson;
among the Chinese, Kung kung; among the Japanese, Susanowo; among the ancient
Egyptians, Shu or Horus. As I have documented, an analysis of the sacred
traditions surrounding these various heroes/gods typically reveals the same
set of motives: unrivaled ability as a warrior; indiscriminate killer of men;
an ability to cause or cure pestilence; leader of an assault upon the ancient
sun-god; participation in a rebellion against a heavenly kingdom, which
itself produced an eclipse of the sun and/or the destruction of the world; an
intimate connection with the World Pillar, the latter said to uphold heaven;
an intimate association with the Netherworld; dragon-slayer; prodigious raper
of women, bane of great goddesses; a remarkable capacity for shapeshifting,
including the ability to assume the form of a giant and dwarf; intimate
association with rites of immersion in fire; etc.

There is a very simple reason for the extraordinary similarity between the
mythologies surrounding these warrior-heroes: All trace to eyewitness reports
of spectacular cataclysms associated with the planet Mars.

As Talbott and I have documented, the biography of the Martian warrior-hero
can be reconstructed in great detail. His father, typically, is Saturn.
His mother-and paramour-is Venus. His mythical "birth" occurred amidst
spectacular circumstances during the Age of Saturn. It can be shown, in fact,
that each of the Martian hero's labors originally took place in heaven, most
being intimately intertwined with spectacular cataclysms involving Saturn and
Venus.

If research supports the conclusion that the planet Venus was once located
along the axial pole uniting Saturn and the Earth, where then was Mars? Here
a wealth of evidence confirms that the red planet was once located between
the Earth and Venus. True to its reputation in Babylonian astronomy as an
"erratic star", Mars' orbit at the time caused it to fluctuate in size,
alternately waxing large when it was near Earth and waning as it neared
Venus. Given Mars' relatively small size, it actually appeared to move
"within" the Cytherean orb as it moved away from the Earth, reentering the
womb of the planet-goddess, so to speak.

Such specific actions of the red planet with respect to Venus and Saturn, if
they do not actually require a polar configuration ala that envisaged by
Talbott, must involve something quite close to it. Otherwise there would
appear to be no other way to account for the mythical record and attendant
artistic imagery.

As I look back at the past dozen years of my collaboration with Talbott, it is
truly amazing how far we have come in our understanding of ancient myth and
its celestial underpinnings. In many respects, however, our journey has just
begun and the task ahead is daunting. Indeed, the situation remains very
much as Velikovsky assessed it in 1953, in his address to the Princeton
graduate school:

What I want to impress upon you is that science today, as in the days of
Newton, lies before us as a great uncharted ocean, and we have not yet sailed
very far from the coast of ignorance. In the study of the human soul we have
learned only a few mechanisms of behavior as directed from the subconscious
mind, but we do not know what thinking is or what memory is. And in biology
we do not know what life is. The age of basic discoveries is not yet at its
end, and you are not latecomers, for whom no fundamentals are left to
discover....

Don't be afraid of ridicule; think of the history of all great discoveries. I
quote Alfred North Whitehead: "If you have had your attention directed to
the novelties of thought in your own lifetime, you will have observed that
almost all really new ideas have a certain amount of foolishness when they are
first produced."

So here's to Immanuel Velikovsky—maverick scholar extraordinaire—for keeping
alive the spirit of discovery when others would attempt to reserve it for a
select few or seek to squelch it altogether. In resurrecting and reexamining
the sacred traditions of the human race, Velikovsky was merely emulating-
albeit on a grand scale-what a long line of Hebrew prophets had done several
millennia earlier. Like them, Velikovsky went back to sacred tradition in
order to forge a new vision of reality.

In concluding, I would like to say a few words about Velikovsky the man.
During the course of his life, Velikovsky suffered the loss of his homeland
and family left behind as he was forced to flee Bolshevik Russia; the near
extermination of his race at the hands of the Nazis; the attempted suppression
of his life's work as a result of a boycott led by Harvard astronomers; and
savage attacks upon his character and scholarship throughout the last three
decades of his life. Dr. Velikovsky endured all of this with Job-like
forbearance and dignity. In this regard, he set an example that most of us
can only aspire to and very few will ever realize.

References

See H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky (Urbana, 1984). See also D. Cardona,
"Velikovsky's Martian Catastrophes," Aeon 2:3 (1991), pp. 29-44. I myself
have criticized Velikovsky at great length on various matters of comparative
mythology. See E. Cochrane, "Velikovsky and Oedipus," Aeon I:5 (1988), pp.
14-38; "The Birth of Athena," Aeon 2:3 (1991), pp. 19-28.
I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York, 1950), p. ix.
For a general survey, see A. de Grazia, The Velikovsky Affair (London, 1966);
S. Talbott, ed. Velikovsky Reconsidered (New York, 1966).
D. Talbott & E. Cochrane, "The Origin of Velikovsky's Comet," Kronos 10:1
(1984); "On the Nature of Cometary Symbolism," Kronos 11:1 (1985); "When
Venus was a Comet," Kronos 12:1 (1987).
Ibid. See also E. Cochrane, "On Comets and Kings," Aeon 2:1 (1989), pp. 53-
-75; D. Talbott, "The Great Comet Venus," Aeon 3:5 (1994), pp. 5-51.
I. Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 162-166.
Ibid.
Ibid.
Ibid.
D. Talbott, The Saturn Myth (New York, 1980), pp. See also E. Cochrane,
"Kronos, Minos, and the Celestial Labyrinth," Kronos 9:2 (1984), pp. 11-20.
See the discussion in E. Cochrane, "The Birth of Athena," Aeon 2:3 (1990),
pp. 10-18; D. Talbott, "Mother Goddess and Warrior-Hero," Aeon 1:5 (1988),
pp. 42-65.
For an extended analysis of this imagery, see E. Cochrane, "Suns and Planets
in Neolithic Rock Art," Aeon 3:2 (1993), pp. 51-63.
F. Steinmetzer, Die babylonischen Kudurru (Grenzstein) als Urkundenform
(Paderborn, 1922), p. 181.
As I have documented, it is also common to find five and four-pointed stars
set upon the face of the ancient sun-god, and these images too have been
associated with the planet Venus.
F. Steinmetzer, op. cit., p. 181. B. Hrouda, "Gottersymbole und Attribute,"
Reallexikon der Assyriologie III (Berlin, 1957-1971), p. 485. Kramer notes
that this symbol is associated with Inanna/Venus in the earliest times, being
found already in Uruk III. See D. Wolkstein & S. Kramer, Inanna (New York,
1983), p. 187.
E. Cochrane, "Suns and Planets in Neolithic Rock Art," Aeon 3:2 (1993), p.
63.
Ibid., pp. 58-63.
W. Heimpel, "A Catalog of Near Eastern Venus Deities," Syro-Mesopotamian
Studies 4:3 (1982), pp. 9-15.
F. Steinmetzer, op. cit., p. 181.
See B. Schaefer, "Heavenly Signs," New Scientist 21/28 (December 1991), pp.
48-51. There Schaefer offers various explanations for the symbol, citing
Gerald Hawkins' thesis that it originated in a simultaneous appearance of the
crescent moon and Venus in the sky on July 23rd, 610 AD.
D. Talbott, The Saturn Myth (New York, 1980), pp. 228-327.
M. Jastrow, "Sun and Saturn," Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archeologie Orientale
7 (1909), pp. 163-178. For an extensive discussion of Saturn as the ancient
sun-god, see D. Cardona, "Intimatations of an Alien Sky," Aeon 2:5 (1991),
pp. 5-34.
I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York, 1950), pp. 205-294.
D. Cardona, "Velikovsky's Martian Catastrophes," Aeon 2:3 (1990), pp. 29-44;
S. Mewhinney, "On the Year - 687," Kronos 6:4 (1981), pp. 4-27; S. Mewhinney,
"Velikovsky, Mars, and the Eighth Century B.C.," Part Two in Kronos 12:1
(1987), pp. 69-80. While the idea of Saturn's prominence is original with
Velikovsky, it must be said that he overlooked the association of Venus and
Mars with the gas giant-he traced the episode of the Venus-comet to a much
later period-and thus our thesis departs radically from Velikovsky's
reconstruction of the events associated with these planets.
P. Gossman, Planetarium Babylonicum (Rome, 1950), p. 5. See also the
discussion in E. Cochrane, "Mars and Pestilence," Aeon 3:4 (1993), pp. 59-79.
See E. Cochrane, "The Poem of Erra," Aeon 1:5 (1988), pp. 66-79.
Ibid., pp. 74-75. See also E. von Weiher, Der babylonische Gott Nergal
(Berlin, 1971), p. 17.
See E. Cochrane, "Heracles and the Planet Mars," Aeon 1:4 (1988), pp. 89-105;
"The Death of Heracles," Aeon 2:5 (1991), pp. 55-72.
B.C. Brundage, "Heracles the Levantine," JNES 17:4 (1958), pp. 209ff. M.
Schretter, Alter Orient und Hellas (Innsbruck, 1974), p. 171. Gilgamesh
himself, as I have shown, shares several characteristics in common with
Nergal, being, in fact, identified with the Akkadian god of the underworld.
Heracles was also identified with Nergal, as well as with the Latin god Mars.
As I have argued, these identifications are best understood as a patent
reference to the Greek hero's identification with the red planet.
I have provided the evidence for these various identifications in my articles
in Aeon. See especially "Heracles and the Planet Mars," Aeon 1:4 (1988), pp.
89-105; "Indra: A Case Study in Comparative Mythology," Aeon 2:4 1991), pp.
49-76.
See E. Cochrane, "Heracles and the Planet Mars," Aeon 1:4 (1988), pp. 89-105;
"The Death of Heracles," Aeon 2:5 (1991), pp. 55-72; D. Talbott, "Mother
Goddess and Warrior-Hero," Aeon 1:5 (1988), pp. 38-65; "Servant of the Sun
God," Aeon 2:1 (1989), pp. 37-52.
I. Velikovsky, "Forum Address," in Earth in Upheaval (New York, 1955), pp.
269-270.
 

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