The old man and his daughter

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Even those who are willing to entertain the idea that an identical system underlies the sacred traditions found in the Norse, Greek, and Egyptian myths as well as the stories of the Bible might remain skeptical of the possibility that the same system is found in the sacred traditions of Americas. After all, while the cultures of Egypt or India are quite far removed from the frozen north lands of Scandinavia, they are after all geographically contiguous. However, the supposedly impassable oceans of the Atlantic and the Pacific lie between the lands of the "Old World" and the "New," and conventional historians remain adamant (even in the face of abundant archaeological evidence to the contrary) that there was no ancient cultural contact of any significance between them (this doctrine is known as "isolationism"). 

In addition to the archaeological evidence of ancient and sustained trans-oceanic contact, there is abundant evidence from myth and sacred tradition suggesting either cultural contact and diffusion, or descent from a common world-wide system (perhaps from a common world-wide civilization of great antiquity, predating the earliest known "historical" civilizations such as Sumer and Egypt). The mythological evidence for such a system was extensively documented in the seminal text Hamlet's Mill:  An essay on myth and the frame of time, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1969).

One of the myths the authors examine in that text is from the First Nations people of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, described in James Frazer's Myths of the Origins of Fire (1930) which itself cites the work of Franz Boas in Indianische Sagen von der Nord-Pacifischen Kuste Amerikas (1895).  Unfortunately, like much else in Hamlet's Mill, the authors hint at the celestial origins of this myth and indicate that it is a very important myth, with echoes in other myths around the world, and yet they stop short of explaining exactly how the specific elements of the story relate to the ancient system of celestial allegory.  An explanation of the connections follows below (perhaps for the first time in print).

The myth is described as follows, on pages 318 and 319 of Hamlet's Mill, all of which is a direct block quotation of the text of Frazier's Myths of the Origins of Fire (found on pages 164-165 of the 1996 Barnes & Noble edition of the 1930 text, ISBN 1-56619-996-4):

The Catlolq, and Indian tribe of Vancouver Island, to the north of the Nootka, say that long ago men had no fire.  But an old man had a daughter, who possessed a wonderful bow and arrows, with which she could bring down whatever she chose. But she was very lazy and slept constantly. Therefore her father was angry with her and said to her, "Sleep not always, but take your bow and shoot into the navel of the ocean, that we may get fire." Now the navel of the ocean was a huge whirlpool, in which sticks for the making of fire by friction were drifting about. The girl took her bow and shot into the navel of the ocean, and the apparatus for the making of fire by friction sprang ashore. The old man was very glad.  He kindled a great fire, and as he wished to keep it to himself, he built a house with a single door, which opened and shut with a snap like a mouth and killed everybody who tried to enter. But people knew that he had fire in his possession, and the Deer resolved to steal it for them. So he took resinous wood, split it, and stuck the splinters in his hair. Then he lashed two boats together, decked them over, and danced and sang on the deck, while he sailed towards the house of the old man. He sang, "Oh, I am going to fetch the fire." The old man's daughter heard him singing and said to her father, "Oh, let the stranger enter the house; he sings and dances so beautifully." Meantime Deer landed and approached the door, singing and dancing. He leaped up to the door as if he would enter. Then the door closed with a snap, and when it opened again, Deer jumped into the house. There he sat down by the fire, as if he would dry himself, and continued to sing.  At the same time he stooped his head over the fire, till it grew quite sooty and the splinters in his hair ignited.  Then he sprang out of the house, ran away, and brought the fire to men.  

This story is absolutely full of evidence of the common celestial system of the world's mythology. First, the identity of the "old man and his daughter" must almost certainly be the constellations Virgo the Virgin and Bootes the Herdsman (shown above). A decisive clue is the fact that the daughter possesses a wonderful bow, but she is very lazy and always sleeping. Anyone familiar with the constellation Virgo will immediately realize that the constellation itself is recumbent in the sky (both Virgo and Bootes are visible now for easy viewing in the hours of darkness prior to midnight, high in the southern sky for observers in the northern hemisphere). We have also seen in previous posts that Virgo has a distinctive outstretched arm (marked by the star Vindemiatrix), which in some of the world's sacred traditions gives rise to the goddess or maiden holding a bow in the act of shooting an arrow.

For example, in the sacred traditions of India, the goddess Durga is sometimes depicted as riding upon a lion and shooting a bow with her bow-arm extended and locked, as in this bas-relief of Durga slaying Mahisasura. The fact that Durga is seen riding upon a lion is a dead giveaway that she is related to the constellation Virgo, who follows in the zodiac directly behind Leo the Lion and who gives rise to goddesses around the world who ride upon the backs of Lions or in chariots pulled by Lions, or who are depicted in ancient art as seated in a throne flanked by a Lion (Virgo is recumbent, but the stars of Virgo also allow her to be envisioned as seated upon a throne). This connection between Leo and Virgo and the Great Goddesses of the world's sacred traditions is discussed in this previous post.

To prove the point that the outstretched arm among the stars of Virgo was depicted as the outstretched arm holding a bow, the outline of Virgo (as diagramed in the system proposed by H.A. Rey) has been superimposed upon the imagery of the goddess Durga, below:

To continue with the celestial clues found in the myth from the Pacific Northwest, we see that the daughter is instructed to shoot her arrow into the "huge whirlpool" at the "navel of the ocean." The authors of Hamlet's Mill demonstrate conclusively that the silent, whirling ocean of ancient mythology around the world is none other than the starry heavens, a fact which is discussed extensively in The Undying Stars and which is touched upon in this previous post as well. The whirlpool at the navel of the ocean, then, would most likely be the north celestial pole, around which all of the firey stars seem to whirl (due to the daily rotation of the earth on its axis). The outstretched arm of Virgo (holding the bow, in the case of Durga and of the daughter of the old man in the myth of the First Nations people of Vancouver Island) does indeed point towards the north celestial pole.

I later came to realize that the form of the constellation Hercules is sometimes envisioned in the ancient myths as a powerful figure wielding a club, but at other times in the myths (including some of the myths of the Indigenous peoples of North America, such as the myth of Rabbit Boy and Iktome which is discussed in Star Myths of the World, Volume One) as a whirling or spider-like shape consisting of the square head of Hercules (which H. A. Rey calls "the keystone") and four arms which emanate from the central square body or hole. This second way of envisioning the Hercules constellation means that in some myths, the figure of Hercules represents either a whirlpool or a whirlwind -- and this may be what the daughter is shooting her bow towards in this story. I believe it is equally possible to interpret the north celestial pole or the whirling form of Hercules as her target in this story.

An even more conclusive piece of evidence that this story is celestial in nature is found in the detail of the magical door which the old man constructs in order to safeguard his treasured fire: the authors of Hamlet's Mill note the clear connection here to the Symplegades of Greek mythology, and the fact that these "clashing doors" symbolize the equinoxes (and Virgo, as we have discussed before, is stationed right at the gate of the September equinox). Note that the myth of Odin and Gunnlod, which also mythologizes the constellation Virgo, also contains a reference which seems to resonate with the Symplegades, as pointed out by Maria Kvilhaug following the work of Svava Jacobsdottir.

The stealing of the fire by the character of the Deer is another celestial clue. The celestial connections between Virgo and a deer or stag are described in pages 34 through 38 of The Undying Stars, which can be previewed online in the first three chapters of the book, and which are linked here.  The Deer in this story almost certainly represents the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur (not far from Virgo) -- a Centaur who can also be envisioned as a stag with a majestic spreading rack of antlers, and who appears in myths around the world which point to this particular section of the heavens.

Note the clear parallels in the Native American myth and the story of Odin and Gunnlod. In each case, there is the central motif of the giving of some knowledge of tremendous value to mankind: the gift of wisdom and poetry in the case of the mead of Gunnlod, and the gift of fire in the myth of the old man and his daughter. In each case, this divine knowledge has to be stolen and then given to humanity -- in the Norse myth stolen by Odin, and in the First Nations myth by the Deer. And, in each case, there is the centrality of a grumpy old father and a beautiful daughter (in the Norse myth, these are the jotun Suttung and his daughter Gunnlod), and the father wants to guard the precious secret by hiding it behind the mechanism of the "clashing door" or "clashing rocks" which are reminiscent of the Symplegades of ancient Greek mythology. Also, it is notable that in each myth it is the daughter who is sympathetic to some degree of the one who comes to steal the mead or the fire.

It is possible to find this same clear celestial pattern in the fire-stealing stories of the world's ancient traditions (and I am planning an article for future publication that will do just that). While some may argue that these parallels are mere coincidence, or perhaps the result of what Carl Jung called "the collective unconscious," the common occurrence of a rather obscure and esoteric metaphor such as the clashing doors of the equinox, along with many other common details, argues against the explanation that this metaphor simply popped up independently in cultures around the world who were always completely isolated.  

In fact, both of these conventional explanations (sheer coincidence, or the collective unconscious) defy "Occam's razor," and are much more difficult to support than the more obvious possibility that the world's cultures either had ancient contact or (even more likely) a common descent from what we might call for want of a better term the "lost civilization." The reason that "coincidence" or "collective unconscious" are such popular explanations  today probably has more to do with the fact that they allow room for the favored isolationist paradigm than from their ability to explain the evidence.    

The question which then arises is usually, "But why would they be so obsessed with writing myths about the stars?" The answer to this question is discussed in my books, and it involves the shamanic-holographic cosmology conveyed by these esoteric stories, which I have outlined in essays such as this one and this one. The answer can also be discerned in the common elements discussed above between the myths of Suttung and Gunnlod and the myth of the old man and his daughter.  In both cases, we have the bringing down to earth of the secret knowledge of the heavens: in the case of the mead of Gunnlod, some drops fell to Midgard, where they could be of benefit to men and women, and in the case of the old man and his daughter, she shoots her arrow into the very navel of the revolving celestial ocean in order to bring down the sacred fire that has been hidden among the stars.