The Cosmic Tree and the Mill of the Gods
In their brilliant and far-reaching study
Hamlet’s Mill, Professors
de Santillana and von Dechend present a formidable array of mythical
and iconographic evidence to demonstrate the existence of a curious
phenomenon. For some inexplicable reason, and at some unknown date,
it seems that certain archaic myths from all over the world were
‘coopted’ (no other word will really do) to serve as vehicles for a
body of complex technical data concerning the precession of the
The importance of this astonishing thesis, as one leading
authority on ancient measurement has pointed out, is that it has
fired the first salvo in what may prove to be ‘a Copernican
revolution in current conceptions of the development of human
Hamlet’s Mill was published in 1969, more than a quarter of a
century ago, so the revolution has been a long time coming. During
this period, however, the book has been neither widely distributed
among the general public nor widely understood by scholars of the
This state of affairs has not come about because of any
inherent problems or weaknesses in the work. Instead, in the words
of Martin Bernal, professor of Government Studies at Cornell
University, it has happened because ‘few archaeologists,
Egyptologists and ancient historians have the combination of time,
effort and skill necessary to take on the very technical arguments
of de Santillana.’ 2
Livio Catullo Stecchini, ‘Notes on the Relation of Ancient Measures
to the Great Pyramid’, in Secrets of the Great Pyramid, pp. 381-2.
Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afro-asiatic Roots of Classical
Civilization, Vintage Books, London, 1991, p. 276.
What those arguments predominantly concern is the recurrent and
persistent transmission of a ‘precessional message’ in a wide range
of ancient myths. And, strangely enough, many of the key images and
symbols that crop up in these myths—notably those that concern a
‘derangement of the heavens’—are also to be found embedded in the
ancient traditions of worldwide cataclysm reviewed in Chapters
Twenty-four and Twenty-five.
In Norse mythology for example, we saw how the wolf Fenrir, whom the
gods had so carefully chained up, broke his bonds at last and
‘He shook himself and the world trembled.
The ash-tree Yggdrasil was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches.
Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom ... The earth began
to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift in the sky.’
In the opinion of de Santillana and von Dechend, this myth mixes the
familiar theme of catastrophe with the quite separate theme of
precession. On the one hand we have an earthly disaster on a scale
that seems to dwarf even the flood of Noah.
On the other we hear
that ominous changes are taking place in the heavens and that the
stars, which have come adrift in the sky, are ‘dropping into the
Such celestial imagery, repeated again and again with only
relatively minor variations in myths from many different parts of
the world, belongs to a category earmarked in Hamlet’s Mill as ‘not
mere storytelling of the kind that comes naturally’.4
Norse traditions that speak of the monstrous wolf Fenrir, and of the
shaking of Yggdrasil, go on to report the final apocalypse in which
the forces of Valhalla issue forth on the side of ‘order’ to
participate in the terrible last battle of the gods—a battle that
will end in apocalyptic destruction:
500 doors and 40 there are I ween, in Valhalla’s walls; 800 fighters
through each door fare, When to war with the Wolf they go.5
3 The reader will recall from Chapter Twenty-five how
world tree itself, was not destroyed and how the progenitors of
future humanity managed to shelter within its trunk until a new
earth emerged from the ruins of the old. How likely is it to be pure
coincidence that exactly the same strategy was adopted by survivors
of the universal deluge as described in certain Central American
myths? Such links and crossovers in myth between the themes of
precession and global catastrophe are extremely common.
Mill, p. 7.
5 Grimnismol 23, the Poetic Edda, p. 93, cited in Death
of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 199; Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162; Elsa Brita
Titchenell, The Masks of Odin, Theosophical University Press,
Pasadena, 1988, p. 168.
With a lightness of touch that is almost subliminal, this verse has
encouraged us to count Valhalla’s fighters, thus momentarily
obliging us to focus our attention on their total number (540 x 800
= 432,000). This total, as we shall see in Chapter Thirty-one is
mathematically linked to the phenomenon of precession. It is,
unlikely to have found its way into Norse mythology by accident,
especially in a context that has previously specified a ‘derangement
of the heavens’ severe enough to have caused the stars to come
adrift from their stations in the sky.
To understand what is going on here it is essential to grasp the
basic imagery of the ancient ‘message’ that Santillana and von Dechend claim to have stumbled upon. This imagery transforms the
luminous dome of the celestial sphere into a vast and intricate
piece of machinery. And, like a millwheel, like a churn, like a
whirlpool, like a quern, this machine turns and turns and turns
endlessly (its motions being calibrated all the time by the sun,
which rises first in one constellation of the zodiac, then in
another, and so on all the year round).
The four key points of the year are the spring and autumn equinoxes
and the winter and summer solstices. At each point, naturally, the
seen to rise in a different constellation (thus if the sun rises in
Pisces at the spring equinox, as it does at present, it must rise in
Virgo at the autumn equinox, in Gemini at the winter solstice and in
Sagittarius at the summer solstice).
On each of these four occasions
for the last 2000 years or so, this is exactly what the sun has been
doing. As we have seen, however, precession of the equinoxes means
that the vernal point will change in the not so distant future from
Pisces to Aquarius. When that happens, the three other
constellations marking the three key points will change as well
(from Virgo, Gemini and Sagittarius to Leo, Taurus and Scorpius)—almost
as though the giant mechanism of heaven has ponderously switched
Like the axle of a mill, Santillana and von Dechend explain,
Yggdrasil ‘represents the world axis’ in the archaic scientific
language they have identified: an axis which extends outwards (for a
viewer in the northern hemisphere) to the North Pole of the
This instinctively suggests a straight, upright post ... but that
would be an oversimplification. In the mythical context it is best
not to think of the axis in analytical terms, one line at a time,
but to consider it, and the frame to which it is connected, as a
whole:... As radius automatically calls circle to mind so axis
should invoke the two determining great circles on the surface of
the sphere, the equinoctial and solstitial colures.6
These colures are the imaginary hoops, intersecting at the celestial
North Pole, which connect the two equinoctial points on the earth’s
path around the sun (i.e. where it stands on 20 March and 22
September) and the two solstitial points (where it stands on 21 June
and 21 December). The implication, is that:
‘The rotation of the
polar axis must not be disjointed from the great circles that shift
along with it in heaven. The framework is thought of as all one with
Hamlet’s Mill, p. 232-3.
7 Ibid., p. 231.
Santillana and von Dechend are certain that what confronts us here
is not a belief but an allegory. They insist that the notion of a
spherical frame composed of two intersecting hoops suspended from an
axis is not under any circumstances to be understood as the way in
which ancient science envisaged the cosmos. Instead it is to be seen
as a ‘thought tool’ designed to focus the minds of people bright
enough to crack the code upon the hard-to-detect astronomical fact
of precession of the equinoxes.
It is a thought tool that keeps on cropping up, in numerous
disguises, all over the myths of the ancient world.
At the mill with slaves
One example, from Central America (which also provides a further
illustration of the curious symbolic ‘cross-overs’ between myths of
precession and myths of catastrophe), was summarized by Diego De Landa in the sixteenth century:
Among the multitude of gods worshipped by these people [the Maya]
were four whom they called by the name Bacab. These were, they say,
four brothers placed by God when he created the world at its four
corners to sustain the heavens lest they fall. They also say that
these Bacabs escaped when the world was destroyed by a deluge.8
It is the opinion of Santillana and von Dechend that the Mayan
astronomer-priests did not subscribe for a moment to the
simple-minded notion that the earth was flat with four corners.
Instead, they say, the image of the four Bacabs is used as a
technical allegory intended to shed light on the phenomenon of
precession of the equinoxes.
The Bacabs stand, in short, for the
system of coordinates of an astrological age. They represent the
equinoctial and solstitial colures, binding together the four
constellations in which the sun continues to rise at the spring and
autumn equinoxes and at the winter and summer solstices for epochs
of just under 2200 years.
Of course it is understood that when the gears of heaven change, the
old age comes crashing down and a new age is born. All this, so far,
is routine precessional imagery. What stands out, however, is the
explicit linkage to an earthly disaster—in this case a flood—which
the Bacabs survive. It may also be relevant that relief carvings at
Chichen Itza unmistakably represent the Bacabs as being bearded and
of European appearance.9
Be that as it may, the Bacab image (linked to a number of badly
misunderstood references to ‘the four corners of heaven’, ‘the
quadrangular earth’, and so on) is only one among many that seem to
have been designed to serve as thought tools for precession.
Archetypal among these is, of course, the ‘Mill’ of Santillana’s
It turns out that the Shakespearean character, ‘whom the poet made
one of us, the first unhappy intellectual’, conceals a past as a
legendary being, his features predetermined, preshaped by
longstanding myth.10 In all his many incarnations, this
remains strangely himself.
The original Amlodhi (or sometimes Amleth)
as his name was in Icelandic legend,
‘shows the same characteristics
of melancholy and high intellect. He, too, is a son dedicated to
avenge his father, a speaker of cryptic but inescapable truths, an
elusive carrier of Fate who must yield once his mission is
8 Yucatan before and after the Conquest, p. 82.
See, for example, The God-Kings and the Titans, p. 64. It may also
be relevant that other versions of ‘the Bacabs’ myth tell us that
‘their slightest movement produces an earth tremor or even an
earthquake’ (Maya History and Religion, p. 346).
10 Hamlet’s Mill,
In the crude and vivid imagery of the Norse, Amlodhi was identified
with the ownership of a fabled mill, or quern, which, in its time,
ground out gold and peace and plenty. In many of the traditions, two
giant maidens (Fenja and Menja) were indentured to turn this great
contraption, which could not be budged by any human strength.
Something went wrong, and the two giantesses were forced to work day
and night with no rest:
Forth to the mill bench they were brought, To set the grey stone in
motion; He gave them no rest nor peace, Attentive to the creak of
Their song was a howl, shattering silence; ‘Lower the bin and
lighten the stones!’ Yet he would have them grind more.12
Rebellious and angry, Fenja and Menja waited until everyone was
asleep and then began to turn the mill in a mad whirl until its
great props, though cased in iron, burst asunder.13 Immediately
afterwards, in a confusing episode, the mill was stolen by a sea
king named Mysinger and loaded aboard his ship together with the
Mysinger ordered the pair to grind again, but this time
they ground out salt. At midnight they asked him whether he was not
weary of salt; he bade them grind longer. They had ground but a
little longer when down sank the ship:
The huge props flew off the bin,
The iron rivets burst,
The shaft tree shivered,
The bin shot down.14
When it reached the bottom of the sea, the mill continued to turn,
but it ground out rock and sand, creating a vast whirlpool, the
Maelstrom.15 Such images,
Santillana and von Dechend assert, signify
precession of the equinoxes.16 The axis and ‘iron props’ of the mill
stand for: a system of coordinates in the celestial sphere and
represent the frame of a world age.
Actually the frame defines a
world age. Because the polar axis and the colures form an invisible
whole, the entire frame is thrown out of kilter if one part is
moved. When that happens a new Pole star with appropriate colures of
its own must replace the obsolete apparatus.17
12 Grottasongr, ‘The Song of the Mill’, in The Masks of Odin, p.
13 Ibid., p. 201.
14 Grottasongr, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 89-90.
15 Ibid., p. 2.
17 Ibid., p. 232.
Furthermore, the engulfing whirlpool:
belongs to the stock-in-trade of ancient fable. It appears in the
Odyssey as Charybdis in the Straits of Messina, and again in other
cultures in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It is found there,
too, curiously enough, with an overhanging fig-tree to whose boughs
the hero can cling as the ship goes down, whether it be Satyavrata
in India or Kae in Tonga ... The persistence of detail rules out
free invention. Such stories have belonged to the cosmographical
literature since antiquity.18
The appearance of the whirlpool in Homer’s Odyssey (which is a
compilation of Greek myths more than 3000 years old), should not
surprise us, because the great Mill of Icelandic legend appears
there also (and does so, moreover, in familiar circumstances). It is
the last night before the decisive confrontation.
Odysseus, bent on
revenge, has landed in Ithaca and is hiding under the magic spell of
the goddess Athena, which protects him from recognition. Odysseus
prays to Zeus to send him an encouraging sign before the great
Straightaway Zeus thundered from shining Olympus ... and goodly
Odysseus was glad. Moreover, a woman, a grinder at the mill, uttered
a voice of omen from within the house hard by, where stood the mills
of the shepherd of the people. At these handmills twelve women in
all plied their task, making meal of barley and of wheat the marrow
Now all the others were asleep, for they had ground out
their task of grain, but this one alone rested not yet, being the
weakest of all. She now stayed her quern and spake the word ... ‘May
the [enemies of Odysseus] on this day, for the last time make their
sweet feasting in his halls. They that have loosened my knees with
cruel toil to grind their barley meal, may they now sup their
Santillana and von Dechend argue that it is no accident that the
allegory of the ‘orb of heaven that turns around like a millstone
and ever does something bad’ 20 also makes an appearance in the
biblical tradition of Samson, ‘eyeless in Gaza at the mill with
His merciless captors unbind him so that he can ‘make
sport’ for them in their temple; instead, with his last strength, he
takes hold of the middle pillars of that great structure and brings
the whole edifice crashing down, killing everybody.22 Like
Menja, he gets his revenge.
18 Ibid., p. 204.
19 Odyssey (Rouse translation), 20:103-19.
20 Trimalcho in
Petronius, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 137.
21 John Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1:41. 22 Judges, 16:25-30.
In Japanese myth the Samson character is named Susanowo. See Post
Wheeler, The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese, New York, 1952, p.
The theme resurfaces in Japan,23 in Central America,24 among the
of New Zealand,25 and in the myths of Finland. There the
Hamlet/Samson figure is known as Kullervo and the mill has a
peculiar name: the Sampo. Like Fenja and Menja’s mill it is
ultimately stolen and loaded on board a ship. And like their mill,
it ends up being broken in pieces.26
It turns out that the word ‘Sampo’ has its origins in the Sanskrit
skambha, meaning ‘pillar or pole’.27 And in the
Atharvaveda, one of
the most ancient pieces of north Indian literature, we find an
entire hymn dedicated to the Skambha:
In whom earth, atmosphere, in whom sky is set, where fire, moon,
sun, wind stand fixed ... The Skambha sustains both heaven and
earth; the Skambha sustains the wide atmosphere; the Skambha
sustains the six wide directions; into the Skambha entered all
Whitney, the translator (Atharvaveda 10:7) comments in some
‘Skambha, lit, prop, support, pillar, strangely used in
this hymn as frame of the universe’.28
Yet with an awareness of the
complex of ideas linking cosmic mills, and whirlpools and world
trees and so on, the archaic Vedic usage should not seem so strange.
What is being signaled here, as in all the other allegories, is the
frame of a world age—that same heavenly mechanism that turns for
more than 2000 years with the sun rising always in the same four
cardinal points and then slowly shifts those celestial coordinates
to four new constellations for the next couple of thousand years.
In slightly distorted form in the Popol Vuh’s account of the Twins
and their 400 companions (see Chapter Nineteen). Zipcana, son of Vucub-Caquix sees the 400 youths dragging a huge log they want as a
ridgepole for their house. Zipcana carries the tree without effort
to the spot where a hole has been dug for the post to support the
ridgepole. The youths try to kill Zipcana by crushing him in the
hole, but he escapes and brings down the house on their heads,
killing them all. Popol Vuh, pp. 99-101.
In Maori traditions the Samson character is known as Whakatu. See
Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology, London, 1956 (1st ed. 1858),
26 Cited in Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 104-8.
27 Ibid., p. 111.
28 Ibid., 233.
This is why the mill always breaks, why the huge props always fly
off the bin in one way or another, why the iron rivets burst, why
the shaft-tree shivers. Precession of the equinoxes merits such
imagery because, at widely separated intervals of time it does
indeed change, or break, the stabilizing coordinates of the entire
Openers of the way
What is remarkable about all this is the way that the mill (which
continues to serve as an allegory for cosmic processes) stubbornly
keeps on resurfacing, all over the world, even where the context has
been jumbled or lost. Indeed, in Santillana and von Dechend’s
argument, it doesn’t really matter if the context is lost.
particular merit of mythical terminology,’ they say, ‘is that it can
be used as a vehicle for handing down solid knowledge independently
from the degree of insight of the people who do the actual telling
of stories, fables, etc.’ 29
29 Ibid., 312.
What matters, in
other words, is that certain central imagery should survive and
continue to be passed on in retellings, however far these may drift
from the original storyline.
An example of such drift (coupled with the retention of essential
imagery and information) is found among the Cherokees, whose name
for the Milky Way (our own galaxy) is ‘Where the Dog Ran’. In
ancient times, according to Cherokee tradition, the ‘people in the
South had a corn mill’, from which meal was stolen again and again.
In due course the owners discovered the thief, a dog, who,
howling to his home in the North, with the meal dropping from his
mouth as he ran, and leaving behind a white trail where now we see
the Milky Way, which the Cherokee call to this day ... “Where the
Dog Ran”.’ 30
In Central America, one of the many myths concerning Quetzalcoatl
depicts him playing a key role in the regeneration of mankind after
the all-destroying flood that ended the Fourth Sun. Together with
his dog-headed companion Xolotl, he descends into the underworld to
retrieve the skeletons of the people killed by the deluge.
succeeds in doing, after tricking Miclantechuhtli, the god of death,
and the bones are brought to a place called Tamoanchan. There, like
corn, they are milled into a fine meal on a grindstone. Upon this
ground meal the gods then release blood, thus creating the flesh of
the current age of men.31
Santillana and von Dechend do not think that the presence of a
canine character in both the above variants of the myth of the
cosmic mill is likely to be accidental. They point out that
Kullervo, the Finnish Hamlet, is also accompanied by ‘the black dog
Musti’.32 Likewise, after his return to his estates in Ithaca,
Odysseus is first recognized by his faithful dog,33 and as anyone
who has been to Sunday school will remember, Samson is associated
with foxes (300 of them to be precise34), which are members of the
In the Danish version of the Amleth/Hamlet saga, ‘Amleth
went on and a wolf crossed his path amid the thicket.’35 Last but
not least an alternative recension of the Kullervo story from
Finland has the hero (rather weirdly) being ‘sent to Esthonia to
bark under the fence; he barked one year ...’36
James Mooney, ‘Myths of the Cherokee’, Washington, 1900, cited in
Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 249, 389; Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A.
Williamson, They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths,
Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1987, pp. 117-18.
31 The Gods and
Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, p. 70.
32 Cited in Hamlet’s
Mill, p. 33.
33 Homer, The Odyssey, Book 17.
34 Judges, 15:4.
35 Saxo Grammaticus, in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 13.
36 Ibid., p. 31.
Santillana and von Dechend are confident that all this ‘doggishness’
is purposive: another piece of the ancient code, as yet unbroken,
persistently tapping out its message from place to place. They list
these and many other canine symbols among a series of ‘morphological
markers’ which they have identified as likely to suggest the
presence, in ancient myths, of scientific information concerning
precession of the equinoxes.37
These markers may have had meanings
of their own or been intended simply to alert the target audience
that a piece of hard data was coming up in the story being told.
Beguilingly, sometimes they may also have been designed to serve as
‘openers of the way’—conduits to enable initiates to follow the
trail of scientific information from one myth to another.
Thus, even though none of the familiar mills and whirlpools is in
sight, we should perhaps sit up and pay attention when we learn that
Orion, the great hunter of Greek myth, was the owner of a dog. When
Orion tried to ravish the virgin goddess Artemis she produced a
scorpion from the earth which killed him and the dog. Orion was
transported to the skies where he became the constellation that
bears his name today; his dog was transformed into Sirius, the
Precisely the same identification of
Sirius was made by the ancient
Egyptians,39 who linked the
Orion constellation specifically to
their god Osiris.40 It is in
Ancient Egypt too that the character of
the faithful celestial dog achieves its fullest and most explicit
mythical elaboration in the form of Upuaut, a jackal-headed deity
whose name means ‘Opener of the Ways’.41 If we follow this way
opener to Egypt, turn our eyes to the constellation of Orion, and
enter the potent myth of Osiris, we find ourselves enveloped in a
net of familiar symbols.
The reader will recall that the myth presents Osiris as the victim
of a plot. The conspirators initially dispose of him by sealing him
in a box and casting him adrift on the waters of the Nile. In this
respect does he not resemble Utnapishtim, and Noah and
all the other deluge heroes in their arks (or boxes, or chests)
riding out the waters of the flood?
Another familiar element is the classic precessional image of the
world-tree and/or roof-pillar (in this case combined). The myth
tells us how Osiris, still sealed inside his coffer, is carried out
into the sea and washed up at Byblos. The waves lay him to rest
among the branches of a tamarisk tree, which rapidly grows to a
magnificent size, enclosing the coffer within its trunk.42
37 Ibid., pp. 7, 31.
World Mythology, p. 139. It should also be noted that, like Samson,
Orion was blind— the only blind figure in constellation mythology.
See Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 177-8.
39 Mercer, The Religion of Ancient
Egypt, London, 1946, pp. 25, 112.
Ibid. Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 39: ‘the ancient Egyptians
are known to have identified Orion with Osiris’.
Also rendered Wapwewet and Ap-uaut. See, for example, E. A. Wallis
Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, Methuen and Co., London, 1904, vol.
II, pp. 366-7.
42 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. L.
of the country, who much admires the tamarisk tree, cuts it down and
fashions the part which contains Osiris into a roof pillar for his
palace. Later Isis, the wife of Osiris, removes her
husband’s body from the pillar and takes it back to Egypt to undergo
The Osiris myth also includes certain key numbers. Whether by
accident or by design, these numbers give access to a ‘science’ of
precession, as we shall see in the next chapter.
Ibid. Though a mill, as such, is nowhere to be seen, many Ancient
Egyptian reliefs depict two of the principal characters in the
Osiris myth (Horus and Seth) jointly operating a giant drill, again
a classic symbol of precession. Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162: ‘This feature
is continuously mislabelled the “uniting of the two countries”
whether Horus and Seth serve the churn or, as is more often the
case, the so-called Nile Gods.’
Chapter 31 -
The Osiris Numbers
Archaeo-astronomer Jane B. Sellers, who studied Egyptology at the
University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, spends her winters in
Portland, Maine, and summers at Ripley Neck, a nineteenth-century
enclave ‘downcast’ on Maine’s rocky coast.
‘There,’ she says, ‘the
night skies can be as clear as the desert, and no one minds if you
read the Pyramid Texts out loud to the seagulls ...1
One of the few serious scholars to have tested the theory advanced
by Santillana and von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill,
Sellers has been
hailed for having drawn attention to the need to use astronomy, and
more particularly precession, for the proper study of ancient Egypt
and its religion.2 In her words:
‘Archaeologists by and large lack
an understanding of precession, and this affects their conclusions
concerning ancient myths, ancient gods and ancient temple alignments
... For astronomers precession is a well-established fact; those
working in the field of ancient man have a responsibility to attain
an understanding of it.’3
It is Sellers’s contention, eloquently expressed in her recent book,
The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, that the Osiris myth may have
been deliberately encoded with a group of key numbers that are
‘excess baggage’ as far as the narrative is concerned but that offer
an eternal calculus by which surprisingly exact values can be
derived for the following:
1 - The time required for the earth’s slow precessional wobble to cause
the position of sunrise on the vernal equinox to complete a shift of
one degree along the ecliptic (in relation to the stellar
2 -The time required for the sun to pass through one
full zodiacal segment of thirty degrees;
3 -The time required for the
sun to pass through two full zodiacal segments (totalling sixty
4 -The time required to bring about the ‘Great Return’4, i.e., for
the sun to shift three hundred and sixty degrees along the ecliptic,
thus fulfilling one complete precessional cycle or ‘Great Year’.
1 The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, author biography.
example by Robert Bauval in The Orion Mystery, pp. 144-5.
Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 174.
This phrase was coined by Jane Sellers, whom also detected the
precessional calculations embedded in the Osiris myth.
Computing the Great Return
The precessional numbers highlighted by Sellers in the Osiris myth
are 360, 72, 30 and 12. Most of them are found in a section of the
myth which provides us with biographical details of the various
characters. These have been conveniently summarized by E. A. Wallis
Budge, formerly keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British
The goddess Nut, wife of the sun god Ra, was beloved by the god Geb.
When Ra discovered the intrigue he cursed his wife and declared that
she should not be delivered of a child in any month of any year.
Then the god Thoth, who also loved Nut, played at tables with the
moon and won from her five whole days. These he joined to the 360
days of which the year then consisted [emphasis added]. On the first
of these five days Osiris was brought forth; and at the moment of
his birth a voice was heard to proclaim that the lord of creation
Elsewhere the myth informs us that the 300-day year consists of ‘12
months of 30 days each’.6 And in general, as
‘phrases are used which prompt simple mental calculations and an
attention to numbers’.7
5 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, page XLIX.
6 Cited in
The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 204.
Thus far we have been provided with three of Sellers’s precessional
numbers: 360, 12 and 30. The fourth number, which occurs later in
the text, is by far the most important. As we saw in Chapter Nine,
the evil deity known as Set led a group of conspirators in a plot to
kill Osiris. The number of these conspirators was 72.
With this last number in hand, suggests Sellers, we are now in a
position to boot-up and set running an ancient computer programme:
12 = the number of
constellations in the zodiac
30 = the number of degrees
allocated along the ecliptic to each zodiacal constellation
72 = the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to
complete a precessional shift of one degree along the ecliptic
360 = the total number of
degrees in the ecliptic
72 x 30 = 2160 (the number of
years required for the sun to complete a passage of 30
degrees along the ecliptic, i.e., to pass entirely through
any one of the 12 zodiacal constellations)
2160 x 12 (or 360 x 72) = 25,920 (the number of years in one
complete precessional cycle or ‘Great Year’, and thus the total
number of years required to bring about the ‘Great Return’)
Other figures and combinations of figures also emerge, for example:
36, the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete
a precessional shift of half a degree along the ecliptic
4320, the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to
complete a precessional shift of 60 degrees (i.e., two zodiacal
These, Sellers believes, constitute the basic ingredients of a
precessional code which appears again and again, with eerie
persistence, in ancient myths and sacred architecture. In common
with much esoteric numerology, it is a code in which it is
permissible to shift decimal points to left or right at will and to
make use of almost any conceivable combinations, permutations,
multiplications, divisions and fractions of the essential numbers
(all of which relate precisely to the rate of precession of the
The pre-eminent number in the code is 72. To this is frequently
added 36, making 108, and it is permissible to multiply 108 by 100
to get 10,800 or to divide it by 2 to get 54, which may then be
multiplied by 10 and expressed as 540 (or as 54,000. or as 540,000,
or as 5,400,000, and so on).
Also highly significant is 2160 (the
number of years required for the equinoctial point to transit one
zodiacal constellation), which is sometimes multiplied by 10 and by
factors often (to give 216,000, 2,160,000, and so on) and sometimes
by 2 to give 4320, or 43,200, or 432,000, or 4,320,000, ad infinitum.
Better than Hipparchus
If Sellers is correct in her hypothesis that the calculus needed to
produce these numbers was deliberately encoded into the Osiris myth
to convey precessional information to initiates, we are confronted
by an intriguing anomaly. If they are indeed about precession, the
numbers are out of place in time. The science they contain is too
advanced for them to have been calculated by any known civilization
Let us not forget that they occur in a myth which is present at the
very dawn of writing in Egypt (indeed elements of the Osiris story
are to be found in the Pyramid Texts dating back to around 2450 BC,
in a context which suggests that they were exceedingly old even
then8). Hipparchus, the so-called discoverer of precession lived in
the second century BC. He proposed a value of 45 or 46 seconds of
arc for one year of precessional motion.
8 Ibid., pp. 125-6ff; see also The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
These figures yield a one-degree shift along the ecliptic in 80
years (at 45 arc seconds per annum), and in 78.26 years (at 46 arc
seconds per annum). The true figure, as calculated by twentieth
century science, is 71.6 years.9 If Sellers’s theory is correct,
therefore, the ‘Osiris numbers’, which give a value of 72 years, are
significantly more accurate than those of Hipparchus.
the obvious confines imposed by narrative structure, it is difficult
to see how the number 72 could have been improved upon, even if the
more precise figure had been known to the ancient myth-makers. One
can hardly insert 71.6 conspirators into a story, but 72 will fit
Working from this rounded-up figure, the Osiris myth is capable of
yielding a value of 2160 years for a precessional shift through one
complete house of the zodiac. The correct figure, according to
today’s calculations, is 2148 years.10 The
Hipparchus figures are
2400 years and 2347.8 years respectively. Finally, Osiris enables us
to calculate 25,920 as the number of years required for the
fulfillment of a complete precessional cycle through 12 houses of
the zodiac. Hipparchus gives us either 28,800 or 28,173.6 years.
correct figure, by today’s estimates, is 25,776 years.11 The
Hipparchus calculations for the Great Return are therefore around
3000 years out of kilter. The Osiris calculations miss the true
figure by only 144 years, and may well do so because the narrative
context forced a rounding-up of the base number from the correct
value of 71.6 to a more workable figure of 72.
9 Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 205.
All this, however, assumes that Sellers is right to suppose that the
numbers 360, 72, 30 and 12 did not find their way into the Osiris
myth by chance but were placed there deliberately by people who
understood— and had accurately measured—precession.
Is Sellers right?
Times of decay
The Osiris myth is not the only one to incorporate the calculus for
precession. The relevant numbers keep surfacing in various forms,
multiples and combinations, all over the ancient world.
An example was given in Chapter Thirty-three—the Norse myth of the
432,000 fighters who sallied forth from Valhalla to do battle with
‘the Wolf’. A glance back at that myth shows that it contains
several permutations of ‘precessional numbers’.
Likewise, as we saw in Chapter Twenty-four, ancient Chinese
traditions referring to a universal cataclysm were said to have been
written down in a great text consisting of precisely 4320 volumes.
Thousands of miles away, is it a coincidence that the Babylonian
historian Berossus (third century BC) ascribed a total reign of
years to the mythical kings who ruled the land of Sumer before the
flood? And is it likewise a coincidence that this same Berossus
ascribed 2,160,000 years to the period ‘between creation and
Do the myths of ancient Amerindian peoples like the Maya also
contain or enable us to compute numbers such as 72, 2160, 4320, etc.
We shall probably never know, thanks to the conquistadores and
zealous friars who destroyed the traditional heritage of Central
America and left us so little to work with. What we can say,
however, is that the relevant numbers do turn up, in relative
profusion, in the Mayan Long Count calendar.
Details of that
calendar were given in Chapter Twenty-one. The numerals necessary
for calculating precession are found there in these formulae:
Nor does it seem that Sellers’s ‘code’ is confined to mythology. In
the jungles of Kampuchea the temple complex of Angkor looks as
though it could have been purpose-built as a precessional metaphor.
It has, for example, five gates to each of which leads a road
bridging the crocodile-infested moat that surrounds the whole site.
Each of these roads is bordered by a row of gigantic stone figures,
108 per avenue, 54 on each side (540 statues in all) and each row
carries a huge Naga serpent.
Furthermore, as Santillana and von Dechend point out in
Hamlet’s Mill, the figures do not ‘carry’ the
serpent but are shown to ‘pull’ it, which indicates that these 540
statues are ‘churning the Milky Ocean’. The whole of Angkor ‘thus
turns out to be a colossal model set up with true Hindu fantasy and
incongruousness’ to express the idea of precession.14
12 Ibid., p. 196.
13 Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, p. 143.
14 Hamlet’s Mill, pp.
162-3; see also Atlas of Mysterious Places, pp. 168-70.
Churning the Milky Ocean, one of the several ‘thought tools’ for
precession encountered in ancient myths.
The same may be true of Java’s famous temple of Borobudur, with its
72 bell-shaped stupas, and perhaps also of the
megaliths of Baalbeck
in the Lebanon—which are thought to be the world’s biggest blocks of
cut stone. Long predating Roman and Greek structures on the site,
the three that make up the so-called ‘Trilithion’ are as tall as
five-storey buildings and weigh over 600 tons each.
megalith is almost 80 feet in length and weighs 1100 tons. Amazingly
these giant blocks were cut, perfectly-shaped and somehow
transported to Baalbeck from a quarry several miles away. In
addition they were skillfully incorporated, at a considerable height
above ground-level into the retaining walls of a magnificent
temple. This temple was surrounded by 54 columns of immense size and
15 See, for example, Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, Time-Life
Books, 1990, p. 65.
In the subcontinent of India (where the Orion constellation is known
as Kal-Purush, meaning Time-Man16), we find that
numbers are transmitted through a wide range of media in ways
increasingly difficult to ascribe to chance. There are, for
instance, 10,800 bricks in the Agnicayana, the Indian fire altar.
There are 10,800 stanzas in the Rigveda, the most ancient of the
Vedic texts and a rich repository of Indian mythology.
is made up of 40 syllables with the result that the entire
composition consists of 432,000 syllables ... no more, and no
less.17 And in Rigveda 1:164 (a typical stanza) we read of ‘the
12 spoked wheel in which 720 sons of Agni are established’.18
In the Hebrew Cabala there are 72 angels through whom the Sephiroth
(divine powers) may be approached, or invoked, by those who know
their names and numbers.19 Rosicrucian tradition speaks of cycles of
108 years (72 plus 36) according to which the secret brotherhood
makes its influence felt.20
Similarly the number 72 and its
permutations and subdivisions are of great significance to the
Chinese secret societies known as Triads. An ancient ritual requires
that each candidate for initiation pay a fee including ‘360 cash for
“making clothes”, 108 cash “for the purse”, 72 cash for instruction,
and 36 cash for decapitating the “traitorous subject”.’21
(the old universal brass coin of China with a square hole in the
centre) is of course no longer in circulation but the numbers passed
down in the ritual since times immemorial have survived. Thus in
modern Singapore, candidates for Triad membership pay an entrance
fee which is calculated according to their financial circumstances
but which must always consist of multiples of $1.80, $3.60, $7.20,
$10.80 (and thus, $18, $36, $72, $108.00, or $360, $720, $1,080, and
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita, Myths of the Hindus and
Buddhists, George G. Harrap and Company, London, 1913, p. 384.
Hamlet’s Mill, p. 162.
18 Rig Veda, 1:164, cited in The Arctic Home
in the Vedas, p. 168.
Frances A. Yates, Girodano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, the
University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 93.
20 Personal communication
from AMORC, San Jose, California, November 1994.
Leon Comber, The Traditional Mysteries of the Chinese Secret
Societies in Malaya, Eastern Universities Press, Singapore, 1961, p.
22 Ibid., p. 53.
Gustav Schlegel, The Hung League, Tynron Press, Scotland, 1991
(first published 1866), Introduction, p. XXXVII.
Of all the secret societies, the most mysterious and archaic by far
the Hung League, which scholars believe to be ‘the
depository of the old religion of the Chinese’.23 In one Hung
initiation ritual the neophyte is put through a question and answer
session that goes:
Q. What did you see on your walk?
A. I saw two pots with red bamboo.
Q. Do you know how many plants there were?
A. In one pot were 36 and in the other 72 plants, together 108.
Q. Did you take home some of them for your use?
A. Yes, I took home 108 plants ...
Q. How can you prove that?
A. I can prove it by a verse.
Q. How does this verse run?
A. The red bamboo from Canton is rare in the world. In the groves
are 36 and 72. Who in the world knows the meaning of this? When we
have set to work we will know the secret.
The atmosphere of intrigue that such passages generate is
accentuated by the reticent behaviour of the Hung League itself, an
organization resembling the medieval European Order of the Knights
Templar (and the higher degrees of modern Freemasonry) in many ways
that are beyond the remit of this book to describe.24 It is
intriguing, too, that the Chinese character Hung, composed of water
and many, signifies inundation, i.e. the Flood.
Finally, returning to India, let us note the content of the sacred
scriptures known as the Puranas. These speak of four ‘ages of the
earth’, called Yugas, which together are said to extend to 12,000
‘divine years’. The respective durations of these epochs, in ‘divine
Krita Yuga = 4800
Treta Yuga = 3600
Davpara Yuga =
Kali Yuga = 1200
The Puranas also tell us that ‘one year of the mortals is equal to
one day of the gods’.26 Furthermore, and exactly as in the Osiris
myth, we discover that the number of days in the years of both gods
and mortals has been artificially set at 360, so one year of the
gods is equivalent to 360 mortal years.27
24 For fuller details see The Hung League and J. S. M. Ward, The
Hung Society, Baskerville Press, London, 1925 (in three volumes).
W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Puranic, Heritage
Publishers, New Delhi, 1991, p. 353.
The Kali Yuga, therefore, at 1200 years of the gods, turns out to
have a duration of 432,000 mortal years.28 One
Mahayuga, or Great
Age (made up of the 12,000 divine years contained in the four lesser
Yugas) is equivalent to 4,320,000 years of mortals. A thousand such
Mahayugas (which constitute a Kalpa, or Day of Brahma) extend over
ordinary years,29 again supplying the digits for basic precessional
Separately there are Manvantaras (periods of Manu) of
which we are told in the scriptures that ‘about 71 systems of four
Yugas elapse during each Manvantara.’30 The reader will recall that
one degree of precessional motion along the ecliptic requires 71.6
years to complete, a number that can be rounded down to ‘about 71’
in India just as easily as it was rounded up to 72 in Ancient Egypt.
The Kali Yuga, with a duration of 432,000 mortal years, is, by the
way, our own. ‘In the Kali Age,’ the scriptures say, ‘shall decay
flourish, until the human race approaches annihilation.’31
29 Ibid., pp. 353-4.
30 Ibid., p. 354.
31 Ibid., p. 247.
Dogs, uncles and revenge
It was a dog that brought us to these decaying times.
We came here by way of Sirius, the Dog Star, who stands at the heel
of the giant constellation of Orion where it towers in the sky above
Egypt. In that land, as we have seen, Orion is Osiris, the god of
death and resurrection, whose numbers—perhaps by chance—are 12, 30,
360. But can chance account for the fact that these and other prime
integers of precession keep cropping up in supposedly unrelated
mythologies from all over the world, and in such stolid but enduring
vehicles as calendar systems and works of architecture?
Santillana and von Dechend, Jane Sellers and a growing body of other
scholars rule out chance, arguing that the persistence of detail is
indicative of a guiding hand.
If they are wrong, we need to find some other explanation for how
such specific and inter-related numbers (the only obvious function
of which is to calculate precession) could by accident have got
themselves so widely imprinted on human culture.
But suppose they are not wrong? Suppose that a guiding hand really
was at work behind the scenes?
Sometimes, when you slip into Santillana’s and von Dechend’s world
of myth and mystery, you can almost feel the influence of that hand
... Take the business of the dog ... or jackal, or wolf, or fox. The
subtle way this shadowy canine slinks from myth to myth is
peculiar—stimulating, then baffling you, always luring you onwards.
Indeed, it was this lure we followed from the Mill of Amlodhi to the
myth of Osiris in Egypt. Along the way, according to the design of
the ancient sages (if Sellers, Santillana and von Dechend are right)
we were first encouraged to build a clear mental picture of the
celestial sphere. Second, we were provided with a mechanistic model
so that we could
visualize the great changes precession of the equinoxes periodically
effects in all the coordinates of the sphere. Finally, after
allowing the dog Sirius to open the way for us, we were given the
figures to calculate precession more or less exactly.
Nor is Sirius, in his eternal station at Orion’s heel, the only
doggish character around Osiris. We saw in Chapter Eleven how Isis
(who was both the wife and sister of Osiris32) searched for her dead
husband’s body after he had been murdered by Set (who, incidentally,
was also her brother, and the brother of Osiris). In this search,
according to ancient tradition, she was assisted by dogs (jackals in
Likewise, mythological and religious texts from
all periods of Egyptian history assert that the jackal-god Anubis
ministered to the spirit of Osiris after his death and acted as his
guide through the underworld.34 (Surviving vignettes depict
as virtually identical in appearance to Upuaut, the Opener of the
Last but not least, Osiris himself was believed to have taken the
form of a wolf when he returned from the underworld to assist his
son Horus in the final battle against Set.35
Investigating this kind of material, one sometimes has the spooky
sense of being manipulated by an ancient intelligence which has
found a way to reach out to us across vast epochs of time, and for
some reason has set us a puzzle to solve in the language of myth.
If it were just dogs that kept cropping up again and again, it would
be easy to brush off such weird intuitions. The dog phenomenon seems
more likely to be coincidence than anything else. But it isn’t just
The ways between the two very different myths of Osiris and
Amlodhi’s Mill (which nonetheless both seem to contain accurate
scientific data about precession of the equinoxes) are kept open by
another strange common factor. Family relationships are involved. Amlodhi/Amleth/Hamlet is always a son who revenges the murder of his
father by entrapping and killing the murderer. The murderer,
furthermore, is always the father’s own brother, i.e., Hamlet’s
This is precisely the scenario of the Osiris myth. Osiris and Seth
are brothers.37 Seth murders Osiris. Horus, the son of Osiris, then
takes revenge upon his uncle.38
For details of these complicated family relationships, see Egyptian
Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLVIIIff.
33 The Gods of the
Egyptians, volume II, p. 366.
34 The Traveller’s Key to Ancient
Egypt, p. 71.
35 Gods of the Egyptians, II, p. 367.
Mill, p. 2.
37 Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLIX-LI.
Another twist is that the Hamlet character often has some sort of
incestuous relationship with his sister.39 In the case of
Finnish Hamlet, there is a poignant scene in which the hero,
returning home after a long absence, meets a maiden in the woods,
gathering berries. They lie together. Only later do they discover
that they are brother and sister. The maiden drowns herself at once.
Later, with ‘the black dog Musti’ padding along at his heels,
Kullervo wanders into the forest and throws himself upon his
39 Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 32-4.
40 Ibid., p. 33.
There are no suicides in the Egyptian myth of Osiris, but there is
the incest of Osiris and his sister Isis. Out of their union is born
Horus the avenger.
So once again it seems reasonable to ask:
What is going on?
there all these apparent links and connections?
Why do we have these
‘strings’ of myths, ostensibly about different subjects, all of
which prove capable in their own ways of shedding light on the
phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes?
And why do all these
myths have dogs running through them, and characters who seem
unusually inclined to incest, fratricide and revenge?
drives skepticism beyond its limits to suggest that so many
identical literary devices could keep on turning up purely by chance
in so many different contexts.
If not by chance, however, then,
Scientists with something to say
Whoever it was, they must have been smart—smart enough to have
observed the infinitesimal creep of precessional motion along the
ecliptic and to have calculated its rate at a value uncannily close
to that obtained by today’s advanced technology.
It therefore follows that we are talking about highly civilized
people. Indeed, we are talking about people who deserve to be called
scientists. They must, moreover, have lived in extremely remote
antiquity because we can be certain that the creation and
dissemination of the common heritage of precessional myths on both
sides of the Atlantic did not take place in historic times. On the
contrary the evidence suggests that all these myths were ‘tottering
with age’ when what we call history began about 5000 years ago.41
41 Ibid., p. 119.
The great strength of the ancient stories was this: as well as being
for ever available for use and adaptation free of copyright, like
intellectual chameleons, subtle and ambiguous, they had the capacity
to change their colour according to their surroundings. At different
times, in different continents, the ancient tales could be retold in
a variety of ways, but
would always retain their essential symbolism and always continue to
transmit the coded precessional data they had been programmed with
at the outset.
But to what end?
As we see in the next chapter, the long slow cycles of precession
are not limited in their consequences to a changing view of the sky.
This celestial phenomenon, born of the earth’s axial wobble, has
direct effects on the earth itself. In fact, it appears to be one of
the principal correlates of the sudden onset of ice ages and their
equally sudden and catastrophic decay.
Chapter 32 -
Speaking to the Unborn
It is understandable that a huge range of myths from all over the
ancient world should describe geological catastrophes in graphic
detail. Mankind survived the horror of the last Ice Age, and the
most plausible source for our enduring traditions of flooding and
freezing, massive volcanism and devastating earthquakes is in the
tumultuous upheavals unleashed during the great meltdown of 15,000
to 8000 BC.
The final retreat of the ice sheets, and the consequent
300-400 foot rise in global sea levels, took place only a few
thousand years before the beginning of the historical period. It is
therefore not surprising that all our early civilizations should
have retained vivid memories of the vast cataclysms that had
terrified their forefathers.
Much harder to explain is the peculiar but distinctive way the myths
of cataclysm seem to bear the intelligent imprint of a guiding
hand.1 Indeed the degree of convergence between such ancient stories
is frequently remarkable enough to raise the suspicion that they
must all have been ‘written’ by the same ‘author’.
Could that author have had anything to do with the wondrous deity,
or superhuman, spoken of in so many of the myths we have reviewed,
who appears immediately after the world has been shattered by a
horrifying geological catastrophe and brings comfort and the gifts
of civilization to the shocked and demoralized survivors?
White and bearded, Osiris is the Egyptian manifestation of this
universal figure, and it may not be an accident that one of the
first acts he is remembered for in myth is the abolition of
cannibalism among the primitive inhabitants of the Nile Valley.2
Viracocha, in South America, was said to have begun his civilizing
mission immediately after a great flood; Quetzalcoatl, the
discoverer of maize, brought the benefits of crops, mathematics,
astronomy and a refined culture to Mexico after the Fourth Sun had
been overwhelmed by a destroying deluge.
See Chapter Twenty-four for details of flood myths. The same kind of
convergence among supposedly unconnected myths also occurs with
regard to precession of the equinoxes. The mills, the characters who
work and own and eventually break them, the brothers and nephews and
uncles, the theme of revenge, the theme of incest, the dogs that
flit silently from story to story, and the exact numbers needed to
calculate precessional motion—all crop up everywhere, from culture
to culture and from age to age, propagating themselves effortlessly
along the jet-stream of time.
Diodorus Siculus, Book I, 14:1-15, translated by C. H. Oldfather,
Loeb Classical Library, London, 1989, pp. 47-9.
Could these strange myths contain a record of encounters between
scattered palaeolithic tribes which survived the last Ice Age and an
unidentified high civilization which passed through the same epoch?
And could the myths be attempts to communicate?
A message in the bottle of time
‘Of all the other stupendous inventions,’ Galileo once remarked,
what sublimity of mind must have been his who conceived how to
communicate his most secret thoughts to any other person, though
very distant either in time or place, speaking with those who are in
the Indies, speaking to those who are not yet born, nor shall be
this thousand or ten thousand years? And with no greater difficulty
than the various arrangements of two dozen little signs on paper?
Let this be the seal of all the admirable inventions of men.3
3 Galileo, cited in Hamlet’s Mill, p. 10.
If the ‘precessional message’ identified by scholars like
Santillana, von Dechend and Jane Sellers is indeed a deliberate
attempt at communication by some lost civilization of antiquity, how
come it wasn’t just written down and left for us to find? Wouldn’t
that have been easier than encoding it in myths? Perhaps.
Nevertheless, suppose that whatever the message was written on got
destroyed or worn away after many thousands of years? Or suppose
that the language in which it was inscribed was later forgotten
utterly (like the enigmatic Indus Valley script, which has been
studied closely for more than half a century but has so far resisted
all attempts at decoding)? It must be obvious that in such
circumstances a written legacy to the future would be of no value at
all, because nobody would be able to make sense of it.
What one would look for, therefore, would be a universal language,
the kind of language that would be comprehensible to any
technologically advanced society in any epoch, even a thousand or
ten thousand years into the future. Such languages are few and far
between, but mathematics is one of them—and the city of Teotihuacán
may be the calling-card of a lost civilization written in the
eternal language of mathematics.
Geodetic data, related to the exact positioning of fixed
geographical points and to the shape and size of the earth, would
also remain valid and recognizable for tens of thousands of years,
and might be most conveniently expressed by means of cartography (or
in the construction of giant geodetic monuments like the Great
Pyramid of Egypt, as we shall see).
Another ‘constant’ in our solar system is the language of time: the
great but regular intervals of time calibrated by the inch-worm
creep of precessional motion. Now, or ten thousand years in the
future, a message that prints out numbers like 72 or 2160 or 4320 or
25,920 should be instantly intelligible to any civilization that has
evolved a modest talent for mathematics and the ability to detect
and measure the almost
imperceptible reverse motion that the sun appears to make along the
ecliptic against the background of the fixed stars (one degree in
71.6 years, 30 degrees in 2148 years, and so on).
The sense that a correlation exists is strengthened by something
else. It is neither as firm nor as definite as the number of
syllables in the Rigveda; nevertheless, it feels relevant. Through
powerful stylistic links and shared symbolism, myths to do with
global cataclysms and with precession of the equinoxes quite
A detailed interconnectedness exists between
these two categories of tradition, both of which additionally bear
what appear to be the recognizable fingerprints of a conscious
design. Quite naturally, therefore, one is prompted to discover
whether there might not be an important connection between
precession of the equinoxes and global catastrophes.
Mill of pain
Although several different mechanisms of an astronomical and
geological nature seem to be involved, and although not all of these
are fully understood, the fact is that the cycle of precession does
correlate very strongly with the onset and demise of ice ages.
Several trigger factors must coincide, which is why not every shift
from one astronomical age to another is implicated. Nevertheless, it
is accepted that precession does have an impact on both glaciation
and deglaciation, at widely separated intervals. The knowledge that
it does so has only been established by our own science since the
late 1970s.4 Yet the evidence of the myths suggests that the same
level of knowledge might have been possessed by an as yet
unidentified civilization in the depths of the last Ice Age.
clear suggestion we may be meant to grasp is that the terrible
cataclysms of flood and fire and ice which the myths describe were
in some way causally connected to the ponderous movements of the
celestial coordinates through the great cycle of the zodiac. In the
words of Santillana and von Dechend,
‘It was not a foreign idea to
the ancients that the mills of the gods grind slowly and that the
result is usually pain.’5
Ice Ages; John Imbrie et al., ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit:
Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’ in Science, volume 194, No. 4270, 10
5 - Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 138-9.
Three principal factors, all of which we have met before, are now
known to be deeply implicated in the onset and the retreat of ice
ages (together, of course, with the diverse cataclysms that ensue
from sudden freezes and thaws). These factors all have to do with
variations in the earth’s orbital geometry.
1 - The obliquity of the ecliptic (i.e., the angle of tilt of the
planet’s axis of rotation, which is also the angle between the
celestial equator and the ecliptic). This, as we have seen,
varies over immensely long periods of time between 22.1
degrees (the closest point that the axis reaches to
vertical) and 24.5 degrees (the furthest it falls away from
2 - The eccentricity of the orbit
(i.e., whether the earth’s elliptical path around the sun is
more or less elongated in any given epoch)
3 - Axial precession, which causes the four cardinal points on the
orbit (the two equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices) to
creep backwards very, very slowly around the orbital path
We are dipping our toes into the waters of a technical and
specialized scientific discipline here—one largely outside the scope
of this book. Readers seeking detailed information are referred to
the multidisciplinary work of the US National Science Foundation’s CLIMAP Project, and to a keynote paper by Professors
J. D. Hays and
John Imbrie entitled ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of
the Ice Ages’ (see Note 4).
Briefly, what Hays, Imbrie and others have proved is that the onset
of ice ages can be predicted when the following evil and
inauspicious conjunctions of celestial cycles occur:
eccentricity, which takes the earth millions of miles further away
from the sun at ‘aphelion’ (the extremity of its orbit) than is
(b) minimum obliquity, which means that the earth’s axis,
and consequently the North and South poles, stand much closer to the
vertical than is normal
(c) precession of the
equinoxes which, as the great cycle continues, eventually causes
winter in one hemisphere or the other to set in when the earth
is at ‘perihelion’ (its closest point to the sun); this in turn
means that summer occurs at aphelion and is thus relatively
cold, so that ice laid down in winter fails to melt during the
following summer and a remorseless buildup of glacial conditions
6 ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’.
Levered by the changing geometry of the orbit, ‘global
insolation’—the differing amounts and intensity of sunlight received
at various latitudes in any given epoch—can thus be an important
trigger factor for ice ages.
Is it possible that the ancient myth-makers were trying to warn us
of great danger when they so intricately linked the pain of global
cataclysms to the slow grinding of the mill of heaven?
This is a question we will return to in due course, but meanwhile it
is enough to observe that by identifying the significant effects of
orbital geometry on the planet’s climate and wellbeing, and by
combining this information with precise measurements of the rate of
precessional motion, the unknown scientists of an unrecognized
civilization seem to have found a way to catch our attention, to
bridge the chasm of the ages, and to communicate with us directly.
Whether or not we listen to what they have to say is, of course,
entirely up to us.
Continue to Chapter 33