Chapter 23 - The Sun and the Moon and the Way of the Dead

Some archaeological discoveries are heralded with much fanfare; others, for various reasons, are not. Among this latter category must be included the thick and extensive layer of sheet mica found sandwiched between two of the upper levels of the Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Sun when it was being probed for restoration in 1906.


The lack of interest which greeted this discovery, and the absence of any follow-up studies to determine its possible function is quite understandable because the mica, which had a considerable commercial value, was removed and sold as soon as it had been excavated. The culprit was apparently Leopoldo Bartres, who had been commissioned to restore the time-worn pyramid by the Mexican government.1

There has also been a much more recent discovery of mica at Teotihuacan (in the ‘Mica Temple’) and this too has passed almost without notice. Here the reason is harder to explain because there has been no looting and the mica remains on site.2

One of a group of buildings, the Mica Temple is situated around a patio about 1000 feet south of the west face of the Pyramid of the Sun. Directly under a floor paved with heavy rock slabs, archaeologists financed by the Viking Foundation excavated two massive sheets of mica which had been carefully and purposively installed at some extremely remote date by a people who must have been skilled in cutting and handling this material. The sheets are ninety feet square and form two layers, one laid directly on top of the other.3

Mica is not a uniform substance but contains trace elements of different metals depending on the kind of rock formation in which it is found. Typically these metals include potassium and aluminum and also, in varying quantities, ferrous and ferric iron, magnesium, lithium, manganese and titanium. The trace elements in Teotihuacan’s Mica Temple indicate that the underfloor sheets belong to a type which occurs only in Brazil, some 2000 miles away.4


Clearly, therefore, the builders of the Temple must have had a specific need for this particular kind of mica and were prepared to go to considerable lengths to obtain it, otherwise they could have used the locally available variety more cheaply and simply.


1 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 202.

2 Ibid. The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.

3 The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.

4 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8:90, and The Lost Realms, p. 53.

Mica does not leap to mind as an obvious general-purpose flooring material. Its use to form layers underneath a floor, and thus completely out of sight, seems especially bizarre when we remember that no other ancient structure in the Americas, or anywhere else in the world, has been found to contain a feature like this.5

It is frustrating that we will never be able to establish the exact position, let alone the purpose, of the large sheet that Bartres excavated and removed from the Pyramid of the Sun in 1906. The two intact layers in the Mica Temple, on the other hand, resting as they do in a place where they had no decorative function, look as though they were designed to do a particular job.


Let us note in passing that mica possesses characteristics which suit it especially well for a range of technological applications. In modern industry, it is used in the construction of capacitors and is valued as a thermal and electric insulator. It is also opaque to fast neutrons and can act as a moderator in nuclear reactions.

Erasing messages from the past
Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

Having climbed more than 200 feet up a series of flights of stone stairs I reached the summit and looked towards the zenith. It was midday 19 May, and the sun was directly overhead, as it would be again on 25 July. On these two dates, and not by accident, the west face of the pyramid was oriented precisely to the position of the setting sun.6

A more curious but equally deliberate effect could be observed on the equinoxes, 20 March and 22 September. Then the passage of the sun’s rays from south to north resulted at noon in the progressive obliteration of a perfectly straight shadow that ran along one of the lower stages of the western façade. The whole process, from complete shadow to complete illumination, took exactly 66.6 seconds. It had done so without fail, year-in year-out, ever since the pyramid had been built and would continue to do so until the giant edifice crumbled into dust.7


5 The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 16.

6 Mexico: Rough Guide, p. 217.

7 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 252.

What this meant, of course, was that at least one of the many functions of the pyramid had been to serve as a ‘perennial clock’, precisely signalling the equinoxes and thus facilitating calendar corrections as and when necessary for a people apparently obsessed, like the Maya, with the elapse and measuring of time. Another implication was that the master-builders of Teotihuacan must have possessed an enormous body of astronomic and geodetic data and referred to this data to set the Sun Pyramid at the precise orientation necessary to achieve the desired equinoctial effects.

This was planning and architecture of a high order. It had survived the passage of the millennia and it had survived the wholesale remodelling of much of the pyramid’s outer shell conducted in the first decade of the twentieth century by the self-styled restorer, Leopoldo Bartres. In addition to plundering precious evidence that might have helped us towards a better understanding of the purposes for which the enigmatic structure had been built, this repulsive lackey of Mexico’s corrupt dictator Porfirio Diaz had removed the outer layer of stone, mortar and plaster to a depth of more than twenty feet from the entire northern, eastern and southern faces.


The result was catastrophic: the underlying adobe surface began to dissolve in heavy rains and to exhibit plastic flow which threatened to destroy the whole edifice. Although the slippage was halted with hasty remedial measures, nothing could change the fact that the Sun Pyramid had been deprived of almost all its original surface features.

By modern archaeological standards this was, of course, an unforgivable act of desecration. Because of it, we will never learn the significance of the many sculptures, inscriptions, reliefs and artifacts that had almost certainly been removed with those twenty feet of the outer shell. Nor was this the only or even the most regrettable consequence of Bartres’s grotesque vandalism. There was startling evidence which suggested that the unknown architects of the Pyramid of the Sun might have intentionally incorporated scientific data into many of the key dimensions of the great structure.


This evidence had been gathered and extrapolated from the intact west face (which, not accidentally, was also the face where the intended equinoctial effects could still be seen), but thanks to Bartres, no similar information was likely to be forthcoming from the other three faces because of the arbitrary alterations imposed upon them. Indeed, by drastically distorting the original shape and size of so much of the pyramid, the Mexican ‘restorer’ had possibly deprived posterity of some of the most important lessons Teotihuacan had to teach.

Eternal numbers
The transcendental number known as pi is fundamental to advanced mathematics. With a value slightly in excess of 3.14 it is the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference. In other words if the diameter of a circle is 12 inches, the circumference of that circle will be 12 inches x 3.14 = 37.68 inches. Likewise, since the diameter of a circle is exactly double the radius, we can use pi to calculate the circumference of any circle from its radius. In this case, however, the formula is the length of the radius multiplied by 2pi.


As an illustration let us take again a circle of 12 inches diameter. Its radius will be 6 inches and its circumference can be obtained as follows: 6 inches x 2 x 3.14 = 37.68 inches. Similarly a circle with a radius of 10 inches will have a circumference of 67.8 inches (10 inches x 2 x 3.14) and a circle with a radius of 7 inches will have a circumference of 43.96 inches (7 inches x 2 x 3.14).

These formulae using the value of pi for calculating circumference from either diameter or radius apply to all circles, no matter how large or how small, and also, of course, to all spheres and hemispheres. They seem relatively simple - with hindsight. Yet their discovery, which represented a revolutionary breakthrough in mathematics, is thought to have been made late in human history. The orthodox view is that Archimedes in the third century BC was the first man to calculate pi correctly at 3.14.8


Scholars do not accept that any of the mathematicians of the New World ever got anywhere near pi before the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century. It is therefore disorienting to discover that the Great Pyramid at Giza (built more than 2000 years before the birth of Archimedes) and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, which vastly predates the conquest, both incorporate the value of pi. They do so, moreover, in much the same way, and in a manner which leaves no doubt that the ancient builders on both sides of the Atlantic were thoroughly conversant with this transcendental number.

The principal factors involved in the geometry of any pyramid are (1) the height of the summit above the ground, and (2) the perimeter of the monument at ground level. Where the Great Pyramid is concerned, the ratio between the original height (481.3949 feet9) and the perimeter (3023.16 feet10) turns out to be the same as the ratio between the radius and the circumference of a circle, i.e. 2pi.11


Thus, if we take the pyramid’s height and multiply it by 2pi (as we would with a circle’s radius to calculate its circumference) we get an accurate read-out of the monument’s perimeter (481.3949 feet 2 x 3.14 = 3023.16 feet). Alternatively, if we turn the equation around and start with the circumference at ground level, we get an equally accurate read-out of the height of the summit (3023.16 feet divided by 2 divided by 3.14 = 481.3949 feet).

Since it is almost inconceivable that such a precise mathematical correlation could have come about by chance, we are obliged to conclude that the builders of the Great Pyramid were indeed conversant with pi and that they deliberately incorporated its value into the dimensions of their monument.

Now let us consider the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. The angle of its sides is 43.5° 12 (as opposed to 52° in the case of the Great Pyramid13).

The Mexican monument has the gentler slope because the perimeter of its base, at 2932.8 feet,14 is not much smaller than that of its Egyptian counterpart while its summit is considerably lower (approximately 233.5 feet prior to Bartres’s, ‘restoration’15).


8 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9:415.

9 I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt, Penguin, London, 1949, p. 87.

10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., p. 219.
12 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 55.

13 The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 87, 219.

14 The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, p. 74.

15 Mexico, p. 201; The Atlas of Mysterious Places, p. 156.

The 2pi formula that worked at the Great Pyramid does not work with these measurements. A 4pi formula does. Thus if we take the height of the Pyramid of the Sun (233.5 feet) and multiply it by 4pi we once again obtain a very accurate read-out of the perimeter: 233.5 feet x 4 x 3.14 = 2932.76 feet (a discrepancy of less than half an inch from the true figure of 2932.8 feet).

This, surely, can no more be a coincidence than the pi relationship extrapolated from the dimensions of the Egyptian monument. Moreover, the very fact that both structures incorporate pi relationships (when none of the other pyramids on either side of the Atlantic does) strongly suggests not only the existence of advanced mathematical knowledge in antiquity but some sort of underlying common purpose.

The height of the Pyramid of the Sun x 4pi = the perimeter of its base. The height of the Great Pyramid at Giza x 2pi = the perimeter of its base.

As we have seen the desired height/perimeter ratio of the Great Pyramid (2pi) called for the specification of a tricky and idiosyncratic angle of slope for its sides: 52°. Likewise, the desired height/perimeter ratio of the Pyramid of the Sun (4pi) called for the specification of an equally eccentric angle of slope: 43.5°.


If there had been no ulterior motive, it would surely have been simpler for the Ancient Egyptian and Mexican architects to have opted for 45° (which they could easily have obtained and checked by bisecting a right angle).

What could have been the common purpose that led the pyramid builders on both sides of the Atlantic to such lengths to structure the value of pi so precisely into these two remarkable monuments? Since there seems to have been no direct contact between the civilizations of Mexico and Egypt in the periods when the pyramids were built, is it not reasonable to deduce that both, at some remote date, inherited certain ideas from a common source?

Is it possible that the shared idea expressed in the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of the Sun could have to do with spheres, since these, like the pyramids, are three-dimensional objects (while circles, for example, have only two dimensions)?


The desire to symbolize spheres in three-dimensional monuments with flat surfaces would explain why so much trouble was taken to ensure that both incorporated unmistakable pi relationships. Furthermore it seems likely that the intention of the builders of both of these monuments was not to symbolize spheres in general but to focus attention on one sphere in particular: the planet earth.

It will be a long while before orthodox archaeologists are prepared to accept that some peoples of the ancient world were advanced enough in science to have possessed good information about the shape and size of the earth. However, according to the calculations of Livio Catullo Stecchini, an American professor of the History of Science and an acknowledged expert on ancient measurement, the evidence for the existence of such anomalous knowledge in antiquity is irrefutable.16


Stecchini’s conclusions, which relate mainly to Egypt, are particularly impressive because they are drawn from mathematical and astronomical data which, by common consent, are beyond serious dispute.17


16 The most accessible presentation of Stecchini’s work is in the appendix he wrote for Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, pp. 287-382.

17 See The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 95.

A fuller examination of these conclusions, and of the nature of the data on which they rest, is presented in Part VII. At this point, however, a few words from Stecchini may shed further light on the mystery that confronts us:

The basic idea of the Great Pyramid was that it should be a representation of the northern hemisphere of the earth, a hemisphere projected on flat-surfaces as is done in map-making ... The Great Pyramid was a projection on four triangular surfaces. The apex represented the pole and the perimeter represented the equator. This is the reason why the perimeter is in relation 2pi to the height. The Great Pyramid represents the northern hemisphere in a scale of 1:43,200.18 In Part VII we shall see why this scale was chosen.

18 Stecchini, in appendix to Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 378. The perimeter of the Great Pyramid equals exactly one-half minute of arc - see Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, p. 279.


Mathematical city
Rising up ahead of me as I walked towards the northern end of the Street of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon, mercifully undamaged by restorers, had kept its original form as a four-stage ziggurat. The Pyramid of the Sun, too, had consisted of four stages but Bartres had whimsically sculpted in a fifth stage between the original third and fourth levels.

There was, however, one original feature of the Pyramid of the Sun that Bartres had been unable to despoil: a subterranean passageway leading from a natural cave under the west face. After its accidental discovery in 1971 this passageway was thoroughly explored. Seven feet high, it was found to run eastwards for more than 300 feet until it reached a point close to the pyramid’s geometrical centre.19


Here it debouched into a second cave, of spacious dimensions, which had been artificially enlarged into a shape very similar to that of a four-leaf clover. The ‘leaves’ were chambers, each about sixty feet in circumference, containing a variety of artefacts such as beautifully engraved slate discs and highly polished mirrors. There was also a complex drainage system of interlocking segments of carved rock pipes.20


19 The Pyramids of Teotihuacan, p. 20.

20 Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, pp. 335-9. 21 Ibid.

This last feature was particularly puzzling because there was no known source of water within the pyramid.21 The sluices, however, left little doubt that water must have been present in antiquity, most probably in large quantities. This brought to mind the evidence for water having once run in the Street of the Dead, the sluices and partition walls I had seen earlier to the north of the Citadel, and Schlemmer’s theory of reflecting pools and seismic forecasting.

Indeed, the more I thought about it the more it seemed that water had been the dominant motif at Teotihuacan. Though I had hardly registered it that morning, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl had been decorated not only with effigies of the Plumed Serpent but with unmistakable aquatic symbolism, notably an undulating design suggestive of waves and large numbers of beautiful carvings of seashells.


With these images in my mind, I reached the wide plaza at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon and imagined it filled with water, as it might have been, to a depth of about ten feet. It would have looked magnificent: majestic, powerful and serene.

The Akapana Pyramid in far-off Tiahuanaco had also been surrounded by water, which had been the dominant motif there - just as I now found it to be at Teotihuacan.

I began to climb the Pyramid of the Moon. It was smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun, indeed less than half the size, and was estimated to be made up of about one million tons of stone and earth, as against two and a half million tons in the case of the Pyramid of the Sun. The two monuments, in other words, had a combined weight of three and a half million tons. It was thought unlikely that this quantity of material could have been manipulated by fewer than 15,000 men and it was calculated that such a workforce would have taken at least thirty years to complete such an enormous task.22

Sufficient labourers would certainly have been available in the vicinity: the Teotihuacan Mapping Project had demonstrated that the population of the city in its heyday could have been as large as 200,000, making it a bigger metropolis than Imperial Rome of the Caesars. The Project had also established that the main monuments visible today covered just a small part of the overall area of ancient Teotihuacan.


At its peak the city had extended across more than twelve square miles and had incorporated some 50,000 individual dwellings in 2000 apartment compounds, 600 subsidiary pyramids and temples, and 500 ‘factory’ areas specializing in ceramic, figurine, lapidary, shell, basalt, slate and ground-stone work.23


22 The Riddle of the Pyramids, pp. 188-93.
23 The Prehistory of the Americas, p. 281. See also The Cities of Ancient Mexico, p. 178 and Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, pp. 226-36.

At the top level of the Pyramid of the Moon I paused and turned slowly around. Across the valley floor, which sloped gently downhill to the south, the whole of Teotihuacan now stretched before me - a geometrical city, designed and built by unknown architects in the time before history began. In the east, overlooking the arrow-straight Street of the Dead, loomed the Pyramid of the Sun, eternally ‘printing out’ the mathematical message it had been programmed with long ages ago, a message which seemed to direct our attention to the shape of the earth. It almost looked as though the civilization that had built Teotihuacan had made a deliberate choice to encode complex information in enduring monuments and to do it using a mathematical language.

Why a mathematical language?

Perhaps because, no matter what extreme changes and transformations human civilization might go through, the radius of a circle multiplied by 2pi (or half the radius multiplied by 4pi) would always give the correct figure for that circle’s circumference. In other words, a mathematical language could have been chosen for practical reasons: unlike any verbal tongue, such a code could always be deciphered, even by people from unrelated cultures living thousands of years in the future.

Not for the first time I felt myself confronted by the dizzying possibility that an entire episode in the story of mankind might have been forgotten. Indeed it seemed to me then, as I overlooked the mathematical city of the gods from the summit of the Pyramid of the Moon, that our species could have been afflicted with some terrible amnesia and that the dark period so blithely and dismissively referred to as ‘prehistory’ might turn out to conceal unimagined truths about our own past.

What is prehistory, after all, if not a time forgotten - a time for which we have no records? What is prehistory if not an epoch of impenetrable obscurity through which our ancestors passed but about which we have no conscious remembrance? It was out of this epoch of obscurity, configured in mathematical code along astronomical and geodetic lines, that Teotihuacan with all its riddles was sent down to us.


And out of that same epoch came the great Olmec sculptures, the inexplicably precise and accurate calendar the Mayans inherited from their predecessors, the inscrutable geoglyphs of Nazca, the mysterious Andean city of Tiahuanaco ... and so many other marvels of which we do not know the provenance.

It is almost as though we have awakened into the daylight of history from a long and troubled sleep, and yet continue to be disturbed by the faint but haunting echoes of our dreams ...


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Back to Teotihuacan




Part IV

The Mystery of the Myths
1. A Species with Amnesia


Chapter 24 - Echoes of Our Dreams

In some of the most powerful and enduring myths that we have inherited from ancient times, our species seems to have retained a confused but resonant memory of a terrifying global catastrophe.

  • Where do these myths come from?

  • Why, though they derive from unrelated cultures, are their storylines so similar?

  • Why are they laden with common symbolism?

  • Why do they so often share the same stock characters and plots?

  • If they are indeed memories, why are there no historical records of the planetary disaster they seem to refer to?

  • Could it be that the myths themselves are historical records?

  • Could it be that these cunning and immortal stories, composed by anonymous geniuses, were the medium used to record such information and pass it on in the time before history began?

And the ark went upon the face of the waters
There was a king, in ancient Sumer, who sought eternal life. His name was Gilgamesh. We know of his exploits because the myths and traditions of Mesopotamia, inscribed in cuneiform script upon tablets of baked clay, have survived. Many thousands of these tablets, some dating back to the beginning of the third millennium BC, have been excavated from the sands of modern Iraq.


They transmit a unique picture of a vanished culture and remind us that even in those days of lofty antiquity human beings preserved memories of times still more remote - times from which they were separated by the interval of a great and terrible deluge:

I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.1

1 The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics, London, 1988, p. 61.

The story that Gilgamesh brought back had been told to him by a certain Utnapishtim, a king who had ruled thousands of years earlier, who had survived the great flood, and who had been rewarded with the gift of immortality because he had preserved the seeds of humanity and of all living things.

It was long, long ago, said Utnapishtim, when the gods dwelt on earth: Anu, lord of the firmament, Enlil, the enforcer of divine decisions, Ishtar, goddess of war and sexual love and Ea, lord of the waters, man’s natural friend and protector.

In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council,

‘The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.’ So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind.’2

Ea, however, took pity on Utnapishtim. Speaking through the reed wall of the king’s house he told him of the imminent catastrophe and instructed him to build a boat in which he and his family could survive:

Tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise wordly goods and save your soul ... Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat with her dimensions in proportion - her width and length in harmony. Put aboard the seed of all living things, into the boat.3

In the nick of time Utnapishtim built the boat as ordered.

‘I loaded into her all that I had,’ he said, ‘loaded her with the seed of all living things’:


I put on board all my kith and kin, put on board cattle, wild beasts from open country, all kinds of craftsmen ... The time was fulfilled. When the first light of dawn appeared a black cloud came up from the base of the sky; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding ... A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup ...

On the first day the tempest blew swiftly and brought the flood ... No man could see his fellow. Nor could the people be distinguished from the sky. Even the gods were afraid of the flood. They withdrew; they went up to the heaven of Anu and crouched in the outskirts. The gods cowered like curs while Ishtar cried, shrieking aloud, ‘Have I given birth unto these mine own people only to glut with their bodies the sea as though they were fish?’ 4

2 Ibid., p. 108.
3 Ibid., and Myths from Mesopotamia, p. 110.

4 Myths from Mesopotamia, pp. 112-13; Gilgamesh, pp. 109-11; Edmund Sollberger, The Babylonian Legend of the Flood, British Museum Publications, 1984, p. 26.


Meanwhile, continued Utnapishtim:

For six days and nights the wind blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the flood was stilled. I looked at the face of the world and there was silence. The surface of the sea stretched as flat as a roof-top. All mankind had returned to clay ... I opened a hatch and light fell on my face.


Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every side was the waste of water ... Fourteen leagues distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge ... When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting place she returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back.5

Utnapishtim knew that it was now safe to disembark:

I poured out a libation on the mountain top ... I heaped up wood and cane and
cedar and myrtle ... When the gods smelled the sweet savour they gathered like
flies over the sacrifice ...’6

These texts are not by any means the only ones to come down to us from the ancient land of Sumer. In other tablets - some almost 5000 years old, others less than 3000 years old - the ‘Noah figure’ of Utnapishtim is known variously as Zisudra, Xisuthros or Atrahasis. Even so, he is always instantly recognizable as the same patriarchal character, forewarned by the same merciful god, who rides out the same universal flood in the same storm-tossed ark and whose descendants repopulate the world.

There are many obvious resemblances between the Mesopotamian flood myth and the famous biblical story of Noah and the deluge7 (see note). Scholars argue endlessly about the nature of these resemblances. What really matters, however, is that in each sphere of influence the same solemn tradition has been preserved for posterity - a tradition which tells, in graphic language, of a global catastrophe and of the near-total annihilation of mankind.

5 Gilgamesh, p. 111.

6 Ibid.

7 Extracts from the Book of Genesis, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight:

God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart ... And God said, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence ... And behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life from under heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die.

Saving only Noah and his family (whom he instructed to build a great survival ship 450 feet long x 75 feet wide x 45 feet high), and ordering the Hebrew patriarch to gather together breeding pairs of every living creature so that they too might be saved, the Lord then sent the flood:

In the selfsame day entered Noah and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the wives of his sons with them, into the Ark - they and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the Ark, two and two of all flesh wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded, and the Lord shut them in.

And the flood was upon the earth; and the waters increased and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. And the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered ... And every man was destroyed, all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

In due course, ‘in the seventh month in the seventeenth day of the month, the Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month’:

And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.

And he stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth ... And Noah went forth ... and builded an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled the sweet savour ...


Central America
The identical message was preserved in the Valley of Mexico, far away across the world from Mounts Ararat and Nisir. There, culturally and geographically isolated from Judaeo-Christian influences, long ages before the arrival of the Spaniards, stories were told of a great deluge.


As the reader will recall from Part III, it was believed that this deluge had swept over the entire earth at the end of the Fourth Sun:

‘Destruction came in the form of torrential rain and floods. The mountains disappeared and men were transformed into fish ...’8

According to Aztec mythology only two human beings survived: a man, Coxcoxtli, and his wife, Xochiquetzal, who had been forewarned of the cataclysm by a god. They escaped in a huge boat they had been instructed to build and came to ground on the peak of a tall mountain. There they descended and afterwards had many children who were dumb until the time when a dove on top of a tree gave them the gift of languages. These languages differed so much that the children could not understand one another.9


8 Maya History and Religion, p. 332.
9 Sir J. G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend and Law (Abridged Edition), Macmillan, London, 1923, p. 107.

A related Central American tradition, that of the Mechoacanesecs, is in even more striking conformity with the story as we have it in Genesis and in the Mesopotamian sources. According to this tradition, the god Tezcatlipoca determined to destroy all mankind with a flood, saving only a certain Tezpi who embarked in a spacious vessel with his wife, his children and large numbers of animals and birds, as well as supplies of grains and seeds, the preservation of which were essential to the future subsistence of the human race.


The vessel came to rest on an exposed mountain top after Tezcatilpoca had decreed that the waters of the flood should retire. Wishing to find out whether it was now safe for him to disembark, Tezpi sent out a vulture which, feeding on the carcasses with which the earth was now strewn, did not return. The man then sent out other birds, of which only the hummingbird came back, with a leafy branch in its beak. With this sign that the land had begun to renew itself, Tezpi and his family went forth from their ark, multiplied and repopulated the earth. 10

Memories of a terrible flood resulting from divine displeasure are also preserved in the Popol Vuh. According to this archaic text, the Great God decided to create humanity soon after the beginning of time. It was an experiment and he began it with ‘figures made of wood that looked like men and talked like men’. These creatures fell out of favour because ‘they did not remember their Creator’:

And so a flood was brought about by the Heart of Heaven; a great flood was formed which fell on the heads of the wooden creatures ... A heavy resin fell from the sky ... the face of the earth was darkened and a black rain began to fall by day and by night ... The wooden figures were annihilated, destroyed, broken up and killed.’11

Not everyone perished, however. Like the Aztecs and the Mechoacanesecs, the Maya of the Yucatan and Guatemala believed that a Noah figure and his wife, ‘the Great Father and the Great Mother’, had survived the flood to populate the land anew, thus becoming the ancestors of all subsequent generations of humanity.12


10 Lenormant, writing in Contemporary Review, cited in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, p. 99.
11 Popol Vuh, p. 90.

12 Ibid., p. 93.

South America
Moving to South America, we encounter the Chibcas of central Colombia. According to their myths, they had originally lived as savages, without laws, agriculture or religion. Then one day there appeared among them an old man of a different race. He wore a thick long beard and his name was Bochica. He taught the Chibcas how to build huts and live together in society.

His wife, who was very beautiful and named Chia, appeared after him, but she was wicked and enjoyed thwarting her husband’s altruistic efforts. Since she could not overcome his power directly, she used magical means to cause a great flood in which the majority of the population died. Bochica was very angry and exiled Chia from the earth to the sky, where she became the moon given the task of lighting the nights.


He also caused the waters of the flood to dissipate and brought down the few survivors from the mountains where they had taken refuge. Thereafter he gave them laws, taught them to cultivate the land and instituted the worship of the sun with periodic festivals, sacrifices and pilgrimages. He then divided the power to govern among two chiefs and spent the remainder of his days on earth living in quiet contemplation as an ascetic. When he ascended to heaven he became a god.13

Farther south still, the Canarians, an Indian tribe of Ecuador, relate an ancient story of a flood from which two brothers escaped by going to the top of a high mountain. As the water rose the mountain grew higher, so that the two brothers survived the disaster.14

When they were discovered, the Tupinamba Indians of Brazil venerated a series of civilizing or creator heroes. The first of these heroes was Monan (ancient, old) who was said to have been the creator of mankind but who then destroyed the world with flood and fire ...15

Peru, as we saw in Part II, is particularly rich in flood legends. A typical story tells of an Indian who was warned by a llama of a deluge. Together man and llama fled to a high mountain called Vilca-Coto:

When they reached the top of the mountain they saw that all kinds of birds and animals had already taken refuge there. The sea began to rise, and covered all the plains and mountains except the top of Vilca-Coto; and even there the waves dashed up so high that the animals were forced to crowd into a narrow area ... Five days later the water ebbed, and the sea returned to its bed. But all human beings except one were drowned, and from him are descended all the nations on earth.16

The Araucnaians of pre-Colombian Chile preserved a tradition that there was once a flood which very few Indians escaped. The survivors took refuge on a high mountain called Thegtheg (‘the thundering’ or ‘the glittering’) which had three peaks and the ability to float on water.17

In the far south of the continent a Yamana legend from Tierra del Fuego states:

‘The moon woman caused the flood. This was at the time of the great upheaval ... Moon was filled with hatred towards human beings ... At that time everybody drowned with the exception of those few who were able to escape to the five mountain peaks that the water did not cover.’18

Another Tierra del Fuegan tribe, the Pehuenche, associate the flood with a prolonged period of darkness:

‘The sun and the moon fell from the sky and the world stayed that way, without light, until finally two giant condors carried both the sun and the moon back up to the sky.’19

13 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 440; Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, p. 105.
14 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 104.

15 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 445.

16 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 105.

17 Ibid., p. 101.
18 John Bierhorst, The Mythology of South America, William Morrow & Co., New York, 1988, p. 165.

19 Ibid., pp. 165-6.

North America
Meanwhile, at the other end of the Americas, among the Inuit of Alaska, there existed the tradition of a terrible flood, accompanied by an earthquake, which swept so rapidly over the face of the earth that only a few people managed to escape in their canoes or take refuge on the tops of the highest mountains, petrified with terror.20

The Luiseno of lower California had a legend that a flood covered the mountains and destroyed most of mankind. Only a few were saved because they fled to the highest peaks which were spared when all the rest of the world was inundated. The survivors remained there until the flood ended.21


Farther north similar flood myths were recorded amongst the Hurons.22 And a legend of the Montagnais, belonging to the Algonquin family, related how Michabo, or the Great Hare, re-established the world after the flood with the help of a raven, an otter and a muskrat.23

Lynd’s History of the Dakotas, an authoritative work of the nineteenth century which preserved many indigenous traditions that would otherwise have been lost, reports an Iroquois myth that ‘the sea and waters had at one time infringed upon the land, so that all human life was destroyed’.


The Chickasaws asserted that the world had been destroyed by water ‘but that one family was saved and two animals of every kind’. The Sioux also spoke of a time when there was no dry land and when all men disappeared from existence.24


20 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 426.

21 Folklore in the Old Testament, pp. 111-12.

22 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 431.
23 Ibid., pp. 428-9; Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 115. In this version the character of Michabo is called Messou.

24 From Lynd’s History of the Dakotas, cited in Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, p. 117.

Water water everywhere
How far and how widely across the myth memories of mankind do the ripples of the great flood spread?

Very widely indeed. More than 500 deluge legends are known around the world and, in a survey of 86 of these (20 Asiatic, 3 European, 7 African, 46 American and 10 from Australia and the Pacific), the specialist researcher Dr Richard Andree concluded that 62 were entirely independent of the Mesopotamian and Hebrew accounts.25

25 Frederick A. Filby, The Flood Reconsidered: A Review of the Evidences of Geology, Archaeology, Ancient Literature and the Bible, Pickering and Inglis Ltd., London, 1970, p. 58. Andree was an eminent German geographer and anthropologist. His monograph on diluvial traditions is described by J. G. Frazer (in Folklore in the Old Testament, pp. 46-7) as ‘a model of sound learning and good sense set forth with the utmost clearness and conciseness ...’

For example, early Jesuit scholars who were among the first Europeans to visit China had the opportunity in the Imperial Library to study a vast work, consisting of 4320 volumes, said to have been handed down from ancient times and to contain ‘all knowledge’. This great book included a number of traditions which told of the consequences that followed ‘when mankind rebelled against the high gods and the system of the universe fell into disorder’:

‘The planets altered their courses. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon and stars changed their motions. The earth fell to pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and overflowed the earth.’26

In the Malaysian tropical forest the Chewong people believe that every so often their own world, which they call Earth Seven, turns upside down so that everything is flooded and destroyed. However, through the agency of the Creator God Tohan, the flat new surface of what had previously been the underside of Earth Seven is moulded into mountains, valleys and plains. New trees are planted, and new humans born.27

A flood myth of Laos and northern Thailand has it that beings called the Thens lived in the upper kingdom long ages ago, while the masters of the lower world were three great men, Pu Leng Seung, Khun K’an and Khun K’et. One day the Thens announced that before eating any meal people should give them a part of their food as a sign of respect. The people refused and in a rage the Thens created a flood which devastated the whole earth. The three great men built a raft, on top of which they made a small house, and embarked with a number of women and children. In this way they and their descendants survived the deluge.28

In similar fashion the Karens of Burma have traditions of a global deluge from which two brothers were saved on a raft.29 Such a deluge is also part of the mythology of Viet Nam, where a brother and a sister are said to have survived in a great wooden chest which also contained two of every kind of animal.30

Several aboriginal Australian peoples, especially those whose traditional homelands are along the tropical northern coast, ascribe their origins to a great flood which swept away the previous landscape and society. Meanwhile, in the origin myths of a number of other tribes, the cosmic serpent Yurlunggur (associated with the rainbow) is held responsible for the deluge.31

26 Reported in Charles Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah, W. H. Allen, London, 1989, p. 126.

27 World Mythology, pp. 26-7.

28 Ibid., p. 305.
29 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 81.

30 Ibid.
31 World Mythology, p. 280.

There are Japanese traditions according to which the Pacific islands of Oceania were formed after the waters of a great deluge had receded.32 In Oceania itself a myth of the native inhabitants of Hawaii tells how the world was destroyed by a flood and later recreated by a god named Tangaloa. The Samoans believe that there was once an inundation that wiped out almost all mankind. It was survived only by two human beings who put to sea in a boat which eventually came to rest in the Samoan archipelago.33

32 E. Sykes, Dictionary Of Non-Classical Mythology, London, 1961, p. 119.
33 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, pp. 460, 466.

Greece, India and Egypt
On the other side of the world, Greek mythology too is haunted by memories of a deluge. Here, however (as in Central America) the inundation is not viewed as an isolated event but as one of a series of destructions and remakings of the world. The Aztecs and the Maya spoke in terms of successive ‘Suns’ or epochs (of which our own was thought to be the Fifth and last).


In similar fashion the oral traditions of Ancient Greece, collected and set down in writing by Hesiod in the eighth century BC, related that prior to the present creation there had been four earlier races of men on earth. Each of these was thought more advanced than the one that followed it. And each, at the appointed hour, had been ‘swallowed up’ in a geological cataclysm.

The first and most ancient creation had been mankind’s ‘golden race’ who had,

‘lived like the gods, free from care, without trouble or woe ... With ageless limbs they revelled at their banquets ... When they died it was as men overcome by sleep.’

With the passing of time, and at the command of Zeus, this golden race eventually ‘sank into the depths of the earth’. It was succeeded by the ‘silver race’ which was supplanted by the ‘bronze race’, which was replaced by the race of ‘heroes’, which was followed by the ‘iron’ race - our own - the fifth and most recent creation.34

It is the fate of the bronze race that is of particular interest to us here. Described in the myths as having ‘the strength of giants, and mighty hands on their mighty limbs’,35 these formidable men were exterminated by Zeus, king of the gods, as a punishment for the misdeeds of Prometheus, the rebellious Titan who had presented humanity with the gift of fire.36 The mechanism the vengeful deity used to sweep the earth clean was an overwhelming flood.


34 C. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, Thames & Hudson, London, 1974, pp. 226-9.

35 Ibid.
36 World Mythology, pp. 130-1.

In the most widespread version of the story Prometheus impregnated a human female. She bore him a son named Deucalion, who ruled over the country of Phthia, in Thessaly, and took to wife Pyrrha, ‘the red-blonde’, daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora. When Zeus reached his fateful decision to destroy the bronze race, Deucalion, forewarned by Prometheus, made a wooden box, stored in it ‘all that was necessary’, and climbed into it with Pyrrha.


The king of the gods caused mighty rains to pour from heaven, flooding the greater part of the earth. All mankind perished in this deluge, save a few who had fled to the highest mountains.

‘It also happened at this time that the mountains of Thessaly were split asunder, and the whole country as far as the Isthmus and the Peloponnese became a single sheet of water.’

Deucalion and Pyrrha floated over this sea in their box for nine days and nights, finally landing on Mount Parnassus. There, after the rains had ceased, they disembarked and sacrificed to the gods. In response Zeus sent Hermes to Deucalion with permission to ask for whatever he wished. He wished for human beings. Zeus then bade him take stones and throw them over his shoulder. The stones Deucalion threw became men, and those that Pyrrha threw became women.37

As the Hebrews looked back on Noah, so the Greeks of ancient historical times looked back upon Deucalion - as the ancestor of their nation and as the founder of numerous towns and temples.38

A similar figure was revered in Vedic India more than 3000 years ago. One day (the story goes) when a certain wise man named Manu was making his ablutions, he found in the hollow of his hand a tiny little fish which begged him to allow it to live. Taking pity on it he put it in a jar. The next day, however, it had grown so much bigger that he had to carry it to a lake. Soon the lake was too small.

‘Throw me into the sea,’ said the fish [which was in reality a manifestation of the god Vishnu] ‘and I shall be more comfortable.’

Then he warned Manu of a coming deluge. He sent him a large ship, with orders to load it with two of every living species and the seeds of every plant, and then to go on board himself.’39

Manu had only just carried out these orders when the ocean rose and submerged everything, and nothing was to be seen but Vishnu in his fish form - now a huge, one-horned creature with golden scales. Manu moored his ark to the horn of the fish and Vishnu towed it across the brimming waters until it came to rest on the exposed peak of ‘the Mountain of the North’:40

The fish said, ‘I have saved thee; fasten the vessel to a tree, that the water may not sweep it away while thou art on the mountain; and in proportion as the waters decrease thou shalt descend.’

Manu descended with the waters. The Deluge had carried away all creatures and Manu remained alone.41


37 The Gods of the Greeks, pp. 226-9.

38 World Mythology, pp. 130-1.

39 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 362.
40 Ibid., Satapatha Brahmana, (trans. Max Muller), cited in Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, p. 87. 

41 Ibid. See also Folklore in the Old Testament, pp. 78-9.

With him, and with the animals and plants he had saved from destruction, began a new age of the world. After a year there emerged from the waters a woman who announced herself as ‘the daughter of Manu’. The couple married and produced children, thus becoming the ancestors of the present race of mankind.42

Last but by no means least, Ancient Egyptian traditions also refer to a great flood. A funerary text discovered in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, for example, tells of the destruction of sinful humanity by a deluge.43 The reasons for this catastrophe are set out in Chapter CLXXV of the Book of the Dead, which attributes the following speech to the Moon God Thoth:

They have fought fights, they have upheld strifes, they have done evil, they have created hostilities, they have made slaughter, they have caused trouble and oppression ... [Therefore] I am going to blot out everything which I have made. This earth shall enter into the watery abyss by means of a raging flood, and will become even as it was in primeval time.44

42 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 7:798. The Rig Veda, Penguin Classics, London, 1981, pp. 100-1.

43 The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 48.
44 From the Theban Recension of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, quoted in From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 198.



On the trail of a mystery
With the words of Thoth we have come full circle to the Sumerian and biblical floods. ‘The earth was filled with violence’, says Genesis: And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah,

‘The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold I will destroy them with the earth.’45

45 Genesis, 6:11-13.

Like the flood of Deucalion, the flood of Manu, and the flood that destroyed the Aztecs’ ‘Fourth Sun’, the biblical deluge was the end of a world age. A new age succeeded it: our own, populated by the descendants of Noah. From the very beginning, however, it was understood that this age too would in due course come to a catastrophic end. As the old song puts it, ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time.’

The Scriptural source for this prophecy of world destruction is to be found in 2 Peter 3:

We must be careful to remember that during the last days there are bound to be people who will be scornful and [who will say], ‘Everything goes on as it has since it began at the creation’.

They are choosing to forget that there were heavens at the beginning, and that the earth was formed by the word of God out of water and between the waters, so that the world of that time was destroyed by being flooded by water.


But by the same word, the present sky and earth are destined for fire, and are only being reserved until Judgment Day so that all sinners may be destroyed ... The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, and the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up.46

The Bible, therefore, envisages two ages of the world, our own being the second and last. Elsewhere, in other cultures, different numbers of creations and destructions are recorded. In China, for instance, the perished ages are called kis, ten of which are said to have elapsed from the beginning of time until Confucius. At the end of each kis, ‘in a general convulsion of nature, the sea is carried out of its bed, mountains spring up out of the ground, rivers change their course, human beings and everything are ruined, and the ancient traces effaced ...’47

Buddhist scriptures speak of ‘Seven Suns’, each brought to an end by water, fire or wind.48 At the end of the Seventh Sun, the current ‘world cycle’, it is expected that the ‘earth will break into flames’.49 Aboriginal traditions of Sarawak and Sabah recall that the sky was once ‘low’ and tell us that ‘six Suns perished ... at present the world is illuminated by the seventh Sun’.50


Similarly, the Sibylline Books speak of nine Suns that are nine ages’ and prophesy two ages yet to come - those of the eighth and the ninth Sun.’51

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Hopi Indians of Arizona (who are distant relatives of the Aztecs52) record three previous Suns, each culminating in a great annihilation followed by the gradual reemergence of mankind. In Aztec cosmology, of course, there were four Suns prior to our own. Such minor differences concerning the precise number of destructions and creations envisaged in this or that mythology should not distract us from the remarkable convergence of ancient traditions evident here.


46 2 Peter 3:3-10.
47 See H. Murray, J. Crawford et al., An Historical and Descriptive Account of China, 2nd edition, 1836, volume I, p. 40. See also G. Schlegel, Uranographie chinoise, 1875, p. 740.
48 Warren, Buddhism in Translations, p. 322.

49 Ibid.
50 Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, p. 178.

51 Worlds in Collision, p. 35.

52 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 6:53.

All over the world these traditions appear to commemorate a widespread series of catastrophes. In many cases the character of each successive cataclysm is obscured by the use of poetic language and the piling up of metaphor and symbols. Quite frequently, also, at least two different kinds of disaster may be portrayed as having occurred simultaneously (most frequently floods and earthquakes, but sometimes fire and a terrifying darkness).

All this contributes to the creation of a confused and jumbled picture. The myths of the Hopi, however, stand out for their straightforwardness and simplicity.


What they tell us is this:

The first world was destroyed, as a punishment for human misdemeanours, by an all-consuming fire that came from above and below. The second world ended when the terrestrial globe toppled from its axis and everything was covered with ice. The third world ended in a universal flood. The present world is the fourth. Its fate will depend on whether or not its inhabitants behave in accordance with the Creator’s plans.53

53 World Mythology, p. 26. Details of the Hopi world destruction myths are in Frank Waters, The Book of the Hopi, Penguin, London, 1977.


We are on the trail of a mystery here. And while we may never hope to fathom the plans of the Creator we should be able to reach a judgment concerning the riddle of our converging myths of global destruction.

Through these myths the voices of the ancients speak to us directly. What are they trying to say?

Back to Contents

Chapter 25 - The Many Masks of the Apocalypse

Like the Hopi Indians of North America, the Avestic Aryans of pre-Islamic Iran believed that there were three epochs of creation prior to our own. In the first epoch men were pure and sinless, tall and long lived, but at its close the Evil One declared war against Ahura Mazda, the holy god, and a tumultuous cataclysm ensued.


During the second epoch the Evil One was unsuccessful. In the third good and evil were exactly balanced. In the fourth epoch (the present age of the world), evil triumphed at the outset and has maintained its supremacy ever since.1

The end of the fourth epoch is predicted soon, but it is the cataclysm at the end of the first epoch that interests us here. It is not a flood, and yet it converges in so many ways with so many global flood traditions that some connection is strongly suggested.

The Avestic scriptures take us back to a time of paradise on earth, when the remote ancestors of the ancient Iranian people lived in the fabled Airyana Vaejo, the first good and happy creation of Ahura Mazda that flourished in the first age of the world: the mythical birthplace and original home of the Aryan race.

In those days Airyana Vaejo enjoyed a mild and productive climate with seven months of summer and five of winter. Rich in wildlife and in crops, its meadows flowing with streams, this garden of delights was converted into an uninhabitable wasteland of ten months’ winter and only two months summer as a result of the onslaught of Angra Mainyu, the Evil One:

The first of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda, created was the Airyana Vaejo ... Then Angra Mainyu, who is full of death, created an opposition to the same, a mighty serpent and snow. Ten months of winter are there now, two months of summer, and these are cold as to the water, cold as to the earth, cold as to the trees ... There all around falls deep snow; that is the direst of plagues ...’2

The reader will agree that a sudden and drastic change in the climate of Airyana Vaejo is indicated. The Avestic scriptures leave us in no doubt about this. Earlier they describe a meeting of the celestial gods called by Ahura Mazda, and tell us that ‘the fair Yima, the good shepherd of high renown in the Airyana Vaejo’, attended this meeting with all his excellent mortals.

1 The Bundahish Chapters I, XXXI, XXXIV, cited in William F. Warren, Paradise Found: The Cradle of the Human Race at the North Pole, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston, 1885, p. 282.
2 Vendidad, Fargard I, cited in Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The Arctic Home in the Vedas, Tilak Publishers, Poona, 1956, pp. 340-1.

It is at this point that the strange parallels with the traditions of the biblical flood begin to crop up, for Ahura Mazda takes advantage of the meeting to warn Yima of what is about to happen as a result of the powers of the Evil One:

And Ahura Mazda spake unto Yima saying:


‘Yima the fair ... Upon the material world a fatal winter is about to descend, that shall bring a vehement, destroying frost. Upon the corporeal world will the evil of winter come, wherefore snow will fall in great abundance. ...

‘And all three sorts of beasts shall perish, those that live in the wilderness, and those that live on the tops of the mountains, and those that live in the depths of the valleys under the shelter of stables.

‘Therefore make thee a var [a hypogeum or underground enclosure] the length of a riding ground to all four corners. Thither bring thou the representatives of every kind of beast, great and small, of the cattle, of the beasts of burden, and of men, of dogs, of birds, and of the red burning fires.3

‘There shalt thou make water flow. Thou shall put birds in the trees along the water’s edge, in verdure which is everlasting. There put specimens of all plants, the loveliest and most fragrant, and of all fruits the most succulent. All these kinds of things and creatures shall not perish as long as they are in the var. But put there no deformed creature, nor impotent, nor mad, neither wicked, nor deceitful, nor rancorous, nor jealous; nor a man with irregular teeth, nor a leper ...’4

Apart from the scale of the enterprise there is only one real difference between Yima’s divinely inspired var and Noah’s divinely inspired ark: the ark is a means of surviving a terrible and devastating flood which will destroy every living creature by drowning the world in water; the var is a means of surviving a terrible and devastating ‘winter’ which will destroy every living creature by covering the earth with a freezing blanket of ice and snow.

In the Bundahish, another of the Zoroastrian scriptures (believed to incorporate ancient material from a lost part of the original Avesta), more information is provided on the cataclysm of glaciation that overwhelmed Airyana Vaejo. When Angra Mainyu sent the ‘vehement destroying frost’, he also ‘assaulted and deranged the sky’.5


The Bundahish tells us that this assault enabled the Evil One to master ‘one third of the sky and overspread it with darkness’ as the encroaching ice sheets tightened their grip.6

3 Vendidad, Fargard II, cited in The Arctic Home in the Vedas, pp. 300, 353-4.

4 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 320.

5 West, Pahlavi Texts Part I, p. 17, London, 1880.

6 Ibid.; Justi, Der Bundahish, Leipzig, 1868, p. 5.

Indescribable cold, fire, earthquakes and derangement of the skies
The Avestic Aryans of Iran, who are known to have migrated to western Asia from some other, distant homeland,7 are not the only possessors of archaic traditions which echo the basic setting of the great flood in ways unlikely to be coincidental.


Indeed, though these are most commonly associated with the deluge, the familiar themes of the divine warning, and of the salvation of a remnant of mankind from a universal disaster, are also found in many different parts of the world in connection with the sudden onset of glacial conditions.

In South America, for example, Toba Indians of the Gran Chaco region that sprawls across the modern borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, still repeat an ancient myth concerning the advent of what they call ‘the Great Cold’.


Forewarning comes from a semi-divine hero figure named Asin:

Asin told a man to gather as much wood as he could and to cover his hut with a thick layer of thatch, because a time of great cold was coming. As soon as the hut had been prepared Asin and the man shut themselves inside and waited. When the great cold set in, shivering people arrived to beg a firebrand from them. Asin was hard and gave embers only to those who had been his friends.


The people were freezing, and they cried the whole night. At midnight they were all dead, young and old, men and women ... this period of ice and sleet lasted for a long time and all the fires were put out. Frost was as thick as leather.8

As in the Avestic traditions it seems that the great cold was accompanied by great darkness. In the words of one Toba elder, these afflictions were sent ‘because when the earth is full of people it has to change. The population has to be thinned out to save the world ... In the case of the long darkness the sun simply disappeared and the people starved. As they ran out of food, they began eating their children. Eventually they all died ...9

The Mayan Popol Vuh associates the flood, with ‘much hail, black rain and mist, and indescribable cold’.10 It also says that this was a period when ‘it was cloudy and twilight all over the world ... the faces of the sun and the moon were covered.’11


Other Maya sources confirm that these strange and terrible phenomena were experienced by mankind,

‘in the time of the ancients. The earth darkened ... It happened that the sun was still bright and clear. Then, at midday, it got dark ...12 Sunlight did not return till the twenty-sixth year after the flood.’13

7 The Arctic Home in the Vedas, p. 390ff.

8 The Mythology of South America, pp. 143-4

9 Ibid., p. 144.
10 Popol Vuh, p. 178.

11 Ibid., p. 93.
12 The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, p. 41.

13 Maya History and Religion, p. 333.

The reader may recall that many deluge and catastrophe myths contain references not only to the onset of a great darkness but to other changes in the appearance of the heavens. In Tierra del Fuego, for instance, it was said that the sun and the moon ‘fell from the sky’14 and in China that ‘the planets altered their courses. The sun, moon and stars changed their motions.’15


The Incas believed that ‘in ancient times the Andes were split apart when the sky made war on the earth.’16 The Tarahumara of northern Mexico have preserved world destruction legends based on a change in the sun’s path.17 An African myth from the lower Congo states that ‘long ago the sun met the moon and threw mud at it, which made it less bright. When this meeting happened there was a great flood ...’18


The Cahto Indians of California say simply that ‘the sky fell’.19 And ancient Graeco-Roman myths tell that the flood of Deucalion was immediately preceded by awesome celestial events.20 These events are graphically symbolized in the story of how Phaeton, child of the sun, harnessed his father’s chariot but was unable to guide it along his father’s course:

Soon the fiery horses felt how their reins were in an unpracticed hand. Rearing and swerving aside, they left their wonted way; then all the earth was amazed to see that the glorious Sun, instead of holding his stately, beneficent course across the sky, seemed to speed crookedly overhead and to rush down in wrath like a meteor.’21

This is not the place to speculate on what may have caused the alarming disturbances in the patterns of the heavens that are linked with cataclysm legends from all over the world. For our purposes at present, it is sufficient to note that such traditions seem to refer to the same ‘derangement of the sky’ that accompanied the fatal winter and spreading ice sheets described in the Iranian Avesta.22


Other linkages occur. Fire, for example, often follows or precedes the flood. In the case of Phaeton’s adventure with the Sun,

‘the grass withered; the crops were scorched; the woods went up in fire and smoke; then beneath them the bare earth cracked and crumbled and the blackened rocks burst asunder under the heat.’23

14 See Chapter Twenty-four.
15 Ibid.
16 National Geographic Magazine, June 1962, p. 87.

17 The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, p. 79.

18 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 481.

19 The Mythology of all Races, Cooper Square Publishers Inc., New York, 1964, volume X, p. 222.
20 See particularly the writings of Hyginus, cited in Paradise Found, p. 195. See also The Gods of the Greeks, p. 195.

21 The Illustrated Guide to Classical Mythology, p. 15-17.
22 The Iranian Bundahish tells us that the planets ran against the sky and created confusion in the entire cosmos.

23 The Illustrated Guide to Classical Mythology, p. 17.

Volcanism and earthquakes are also mentioned frequently in association with the flood, particularly in the Americas. The Araucanians of Chile say quite explicitly that ‘the flood was the result of volcanic eruptions accompanied by violent earthquakes.’24 The Mam Maya of Santiago Chimaltenango in the western highlands of Guatemala retain memories of ‘a flood of burning pitch’ which, they say, was one of the instruments of world destruction.25


And in the Gran Chaco of Argentina, the Mataco Indians tell of ‘a black cloud that came from the south at the time of the flood and covered the whole sky. Lightning struck and thunder was heard. Yet the drops that fell were not like rain. They were like fire ...’26


24 Folklore in the Old Testament, p. 101.

25 Maya History and Religion, p. 336.

26 The Mythology of South America, pp. 140-2.



A monster chased the sun

There is one ancient culture that perhaps preserves more vivid memories in its myths than any other; that of the so-called Teutonic tribes of Germany and Scandinavia, a culture best remembered through the songs of the Norse scalds and sages.


The stories those songs retell have their roots in a past which may be much older than scholars imagine and which combine familiar images with strange symbolic devices and allegorical language to recall a cataclysm of awesome magnitude:

In a distant forest in the east an aged giantess brought into the world a whole brood of young wolves whose father was Fenrir. One of these monsters chased the sun to take possession of it.


The chase was for long in vain, but each season the wolf grew in strength, and at last he reached the sun. Its bright rays were one by one extinguished. It took on a blood red hue, then entirely disappeared.

Thereafter the world was enveloped in hideous winter. Snow-storms descended from all points of the horizon. War broke out all over the earth. Brother slew brother, children no longer respected the ties of blood. It was a time when men were no better than wolves, eager to destroy each other. Soon the world was going to sink into the abyss of nothingness.

Meanwhile the wolf Fenrir, whom the gods had long ago so carefully chained up, broke his bonds at last and escaped. He shook himself and the world trembled.


The ash tree Yggdrasil [envisaged as the axis of the earth] was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom, and the dwarfs who had their subterranean dwellings in them sought desperately and in vain for entrances so long familiar but now disappeared.

Abandoned by the gods, men were driven from their hearths and the human race was swept from the surface of the earth. The earth itself was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void. They were like swallows, weary from too long a voyage, who drop and sink into the waves.

The giant Surt set the entire earth on fire; the universe was no longer more than an immense furnace. Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks; everywhere there was the hissing of steam. All living things, all plant life, were blotted out. Only the naked soil remained, but like the sky itself the earth was no more than cracks and crevasses.

And now all the rivers, all the seas, rose and overflowed. From every side waves lashed against waves. They swelled and boiled slowly over all things. The earth sank beneath the sea...

Yet not all men perished in the great catastrophe. Enclosed in the wood itself of the ash tree Yggdrasil - which the devouring flames of the universal conflagration had been unable to consume - the ancestors of a future race of men had escaped death. In this asylum they had found that their only nourishment had been the morning dew.

Thus it was that from the wreckage of the ancient world a new world was born. Slowly the earth emerged from the waves. Mountains rose again and from them streamed cataracts of singing waters.27

The new world this Teutonic myth announces is our own.


Needless to say, like the Fifth Sun of the Aztecs and the Maya, it was created long ago and is new no longer. Can it be a coincidence that one of the many Central American flood myths about the fourth epoch, 4 Atl (‘water’), does not install the Noah couple in an ark but places them instead in a great tree just like Yggdrasil? ‘4 Atl was ended by floods.


The mountains disappeared ... Two persons survived because they were ordered by one of the gods to bore a hole in the trunk of a very large tree and to crawl inside when the skies fell. The pair entered and survived. Their offspring repopulated the world.’28


27 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, pp. 275-7.

28 Maya History and Religion, p. 332.

  • Isn’t it odd that the same symbolic language keeps cropping up in ancient traditions from so many widely scattered regions of the world?

  • How can this be explained?

  • Are we talking about some vast, subconscious wave of intercultural telepathy, or could elements of these remarkable universal myths have been engineered, long ages ago, by clever and purposeful people?

  • Which of these improbable propositions is the more likely to be true?

  • Or are there other possible explanations for the enigma of the myths?

We shall return to these questions in due course. Meanwhile, what are we to conclude about the apocalyptic visions of fire and ice, floods, volcanism and earthquakes, which the myths contain? They have about them a haunting and familiar realism.


Could this be because they speak to us of a past we suspect to be our own but can neither remember clearly nor forget completely?


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