image: Wikimedia commons, "Landscape with Buddhist Temples," 16th century, unknown artist (link). Cropped.
In a justifiably well-known quotation from the introduction to the ground-breaking 1969 book Hamlet's Mill: An essay on myth and the frame of time, Giorgio de Santillana quotes from an earlier essay of his which he wrote in 1959 (and which, although I may be incorrect on this, I believe was published in 1962 or 1963 as an article in a literary journal, under the title "In the High and Far-off Times").
Often quoted for its most memorable lines, the full quotation is worth considering carefully (from pages 4 and 5 of the edition linked above):
The dust of centuries had settled upon the remains of this great world-wide archaic construction when the Greeks came upon the scene. Yet something of it survived in traditional rites, in myths and fairy tales no longer understood. Taken verbally, it matured the bloody cults intended to procure fertility, based on the belief in a dark universal force of an ambivalent nature, which seems now to monopolize our interest. Yet its original themes could flash out again, preserved almost intact, in the later thought of the Pythagoreans and of Plato.
But they are tantalizing fragments of a lost whole. They make one think of those "mist landscapes" of which Chinese painters are masters, which show here a rock, here a gable, there the tip of a tree, and leave the rest to imagination. Even when the code shall have yielded, when the techniques shall be known, we cannot expect to gauge the thought of those remote ancestors of ours, wrapped as it is in its symbols.
Their words are no more heard again
Through lapse of many ages . . .
Think for a moment of the implications of what is being asserted in the above statements. The author is saying that all of the world's surviving myths, rites, and even fairy tales are "tantalizing fragments of a lost whole" -- in other words, that they are all connected, or were at one time.
But, he says, like the "mist landscapes" of Chinese art, vast portions of this "great world-wide archaic construction" are now hidden from our sight, and all the little pieces or bits of ground which we can see today seem at first glance to be disconnected.
Now, with the great ancient structure now in ruins, we can only pick out "here a rock . . . there the tip of a tree," or perhaps the corner of a gable on a roof, or even some mysterious artifact whose original purpose is now unknown.
Modern "isolationist" theory, and most conventional understanding of ancient sacred scriptures, treats this landscape as if each part is not and never was part of a single unified whole, that they are not descended from some single vastly ancient unified design.
It is as if someone were to stand on one little "island in the mist" in a Chinese painting and declare that they are part of their own separate landscape, and that they have no connection to what is going on over on the other side of the mist-covered parts of the same painting.
Or, to use the metaphor from the first line of the above quotation, it is as if a vast ancient ruin of great antiquity can be seen poking up in various places around our entire planet, sometimes scattered in the sands of deserts, or peeking out of the vines of jungles, or rising up out of lonely swamps or marshes or even windswept tundras . . . and all of it apparently once functioning together as a single overarching and interconnected structure.
After making this remarkable assertion, the authors of Hamlet's Mill, both university professors, then proceed to fill hundreds of pages with evidence to back up their reconstruction of the now-vanished lines of connection, connections which are now obscured by thick mists, or which must be lying deep beneath the shifting sands and the jungle overgrowth between the few fragments of ancient ruins that we can still see above the surface. In support of their argument, they provide hundreds of examples from mythology, images of the stars and constellations and of artifacts and art from ancient times, and extensive quotations and footnotes from scholars during the twentieth and previous centuries in the fields of mythology, religion, anthropology, history, linguistics, and literary criticism.
The "great world-wide archaic construction" whose now-fragmented pieces they are examining appears to have encompassed aspects of measure (of distance and of time), of music, of art and proportion, of architecture, of history, of astronomy, of cosmology, of physics, of what the authors call a "kind of Naturphilosophie" (p70), of consciousness, of the gods and their realm . . . and perhaps of much, much more.
And of course, central to this structure in some way appears to have been the myths -- like pillars holding up the vast over-arching design, not one single pillar perhaps but numerous pillars located in every single part of the globe, all different in some way and yet all connected and all mutually-supporting.
Carrying further the work that von Dechend and de Santillana have done in tracing the interconnectedness of these myths and myth-systems and cosmologies, we can see that it becomes harder and harder to deny that all the world's sacred traditions appear to share a common system, an esoteric system, a system founded upon the heavenly cycles and on celestial metaphor.
Since first encountering Hamlet's Mill, I have over the course of many years of investigating and pondering and even dreaming about various ancient myths and stories, begun to see the outlines of this system -- particularly in regard to the myths of the world -- more and more clearly, and now believe that its outlines and connections can be seen even more extensively than even was visible at the time that de Santillana and von Dechend were writing. In addition to the "rock here" and "tip of a tree there," additional features have occasionally emerged out of the flowing mist, to the point that the existence of this vast ancient system cannot be denied.
The preceding post, explaining in fairly extensive detail all the celestial connections and clues preserved for our understanding in the ancient Hebrew scroll of Numbers (part of the Pentateuch) and specifically in the story of Balaam and the Ass and their encounter with the Angel on the way, is just one more example of an analysis that could be repeated again and again and again, using other sacred stories from around the world, including from Africa, Scandinavia, ancient Greece, ancient India, ancient Egypt, the Americas, China, Japan, and many more.
Significantly, the same celestial analysis can also be repeated again and again in the stories of the Old Testament and New Testament (see the partial list here -- and dozens more could be provided).
The fact that the very same system of celestial metaphor can be seen forming the foundation for the sacred stories of the Bible that forms the foundation for virtually all the other myths, scriptures, and sacred traditions, from every part of the planet, shows that -- far from being somehow set apart from the rest of humanity, as some literalist interpretations have maintained -- the ancient wisdom preserved in these particular scriptures, and the stories themselves, are almost certainly also fragments of the same ancient structure.
To maintain that they are somehow disconnected and independent and self-contained is akin to some isolated group dwelling amidst some small part of the remains of this vast world-wide construction, ignorant of its original ancient purpose, standing on top of their own local clump of ruined blocks, and declaring that their piece of the whatever it used to be is superior to all the others, and that their portion cannot possibly be connected to the rest of the ruins, because obviously there are now great sections of wasteland in between the various places, and they could never have once functioned all together (and besides, some of them even say, all those other ruins are fakes, or at best copies of this one section over here in our territory).
The question, then, of whether the myths are all fragments of an ancient whole thus becomes one of incredible importance, and the evidence (overwhelming in its abundance once the system begins to emerge) that they are all connected by a common system of celestial metaphor thus becomes evidence which argues that the myths of humanity actually unite us, rather than divide us.
Taken literally, the myths and stories tend strongly towards dividing us from one another. Their literal interpretation has been very frequently used in the past (and indeed right up through the present) to divide instead of to unite different groups and branches of the human family.
In part, literal interpretations tend strongly towards division because, taken literally, the myths are understood to be about external, literal, historical individuals and groups -- individuals who are the ancestors of some of us but not of all of us.
For example, the Old Testament story of Shem, Ham and Japheth has been used in previous centuries to divide all people on earth into the supposed descendants of one or another of these three sons of Noah -- and to justify all kinds of oppression, denigration and mistreatment of one or another supposed set of descendants based on a literal interpretation of what I believe can be shown quite conclusively to be based upon a celestial metaphor.
But when the story is seen to be, like virtually every other sacred myth or tradition from around the globe, a celestial allegory, then it can no longer be used to claim that some are descended from one or another of the figures (if the figures are constellations in the heavens). Once this allegorical aspect is perceived, then the esoteric meaning of the myths can begin to impress itself upon our understanding: they cannot be about human progenitors of various people-groups, and so they must be about something else -- and that "something else" that they are about, I believe, is our human condition as simultaneously spiritual and material beings, inhabiting a cosmos which is also simultaneously spiritual and material . . . and all the incredible ramifications of those twin aspects of our incarnate existence.
The Star Myths of humanity are not about someone else: they are about each and every one of us, and the motions of the stars and the other heavenly cycles were selected because they perfectly allegorize our own spiritual experience of descending from the spiritual "realms above" into this apparently-physical material existence, and the necessity of our remembering the spiritual realm from whence we originally came, and of reconnecting with it and elevating it both within our own lives and in everyone and everything else around us, while we are "down here" in this "valley below."
And if they are about each and every one of us, then again it is clear that the myths unite us. If their message is primarily esoteric, and applicable to each and every human soul, then they are about you, and for your benefit, and they are about me and for my benefit as well.
When taken literally, however, the opposite can tend to happen -- they are seen as and taught as being about and for one group, and not for anyone else. That group can be defined by supposed physical descent from this or that historical person (as in the case of Shem, Ham and Japheth cited above), or it can be based upon acceptance of one set of literal interpretations and assertions, in which case those who believe and accept those assertions separate themselves from everyone else who does not.
All of these literal misinterpretations can be seen as a form of "living in one part of the mist landscape, and denying its connection to the rest of the picture," of falsely dividing and isolating and, if you will, "getting lost in the fog."
They are also a form of "physicalizing" teachings that, properly understood, are spiritual and esoteric in nature. De Santillana strongly hints at this mistake when he says, in the original quotation cited above, that "Taken verbally . . . " [and by this I believe he means the same thing I am saying when I say 'taken literally' or 'literalistically'] these ancient myths were mainly incorporated into "bloody cults intended to procure fertility" and to bend the ambivalent forces of nature for one's own interests.
In other words, they were basically "physicalized" and turned towards material ends, almost towards "animal ends," rather than pointing us towards the invisible and spiritual truths and the elevation of the divine spark (although occasionally, as in the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato, their "original themes could flash out again" and light up the general darkness).
Today, thanks to the tireless work of many, many researchers in the decades since de Santillana and von Dechend wrote Hamlet's Mill (many of those researchers inspired in their own work very directly by the "tantalizing fragments" which they encountered in Hamlet's Mill), we can see even more clearly than when that book was published that we do indeed stand within and among the mighty ruins of a great, world-wide archaic construction.
Indeed, new and astonishing aspects of the physical remains of that ancient construct continue to come to light -- such as Nabta Playa and Gobekli Tepe, neither of which were known in 1969 when Hamlet's Mill came out.
Much of this "mist landscape" still remains shrouded with mist, to be sure.
But the fact that these fragments are part of what was once some ancient and very sophisticated unified system of understanding is now almost impossible to deny.
The ramifications of this fact are extraordinary.
But we can be encouraged in the knowledge that at least one of the important ramifications of the assertions made in that quotation, so long ago, and the evidence which continues to be found in its support, is the fact that we are all connected, that all of us as human beings share an incredible (if still mysterious) past history, and that we are all inheritors of the precious treasure of the ancient wisdom that was preserved in the world's myths for our benefit -- an inheritance that belongs to us all, and not just to some.