By: Walter Cruttenden
Ancient cultures around the world spoke of a vast cycle of time with alternating Dark and Golden Ages; Plato called it the Great Year. Most of us were taught that this cycle was just a myth, a fairytale, if we were taught anything about it all. But according to Giorgio de Santillana, former professor of the history of science at MIT, many ancient cultures believed consciousness and history were not linear but cyclical, rising and falling over long periods of time. In their landmark work, Hamlet’s Mill, de Santillana and coauthor Hertha von Dechend, show that the myth and folklore of more than thirty ancient cultures speak of a cycle of time with long periods of enlightenment broken by dark ages of ignorance, indirectly driven by a known astronomical phenomena, the precession of the equinox. This is where it gets interesting.
We all know the two celestial motions that have a profound effect on life and consciousness. Diurnal motion, Earth’s rotation on its axis, causes humans to move from a waking state to a sleep state and back again every twenty-four hours. Our bodies have adapted to Earth’s rotation so well that it produces these regular changes in consciousness without our even thinking the process remarkable. Earth’s revolution around the sun —the second celestial motion, which Copernicus identified — has an equally significant effect, prompting trillions of life forms to spring out of the ground, to bloom, fruit, and then decay, while billions of other species hibernate, spawn, or migrate en masse. Our visible world literally springs to life, completely changes its color and stride, and then reverses with every waxing and waning of the second celestial motion.
The third celestial motion, the precession of the equinox, is less understood than the first two, but if we are to believe ancient cultures from around the world, its effect is equally transformative. What disguises the impact of this motion is its timescale. Like the mayfly, which lives but one day a year and knows nothing of the seasons, the human being has an average life span that comprises only one-360th of the roughly 24,000-year precessional cycle. And just as the mayfly born on an overcast, windless day has no idea that there is anything as splendid as sunshine or a breeze, so do we, born in an era of materialistic rationality, have little awareness of a golden age or higher states of consciousness – though that is the ancestral message.
Giorgio de Santillana, former professor of the history of science at MIT, many ancient cultures believed consciousness and history were not linear but cyclical, rising and falling over long periods of time. In their landmark work, Hamlet’s Mill, de Santillana and coauthor Hertha von Dechend show that the myth and folklore of more than thirty ancient cultures spoke of a vast cycle of time encompassing alternating dark and golden ages moving with the precession of the equinox. Plato called this vast cycle the Great Year.
As Giorgio and Hertha point out, the idea of a great cycle linked to the slow precession of the equinox was common to numerous cultures before the Christian era, but today we are taught nothing of the cycle or told it is just a fairytale, there was no “golden age.” An increasing body of new astronomical and archaeological evidence, however, suggests that this cycle may have a basis in fact. More importantly, understanding the cycle and the character of each epoch or season provides insight into civilization’s direction. So far the Ancients are right on; consciousness does seem to be expanding since the depths of the dark ages, reflected as vast improvements throughout society. So what drives these changes and what can we expect in the future? Understanding the cause of precession is key.
The observation of Earth’s three motions is quite simple. In the first, rotation, we see the sun rise in the east and set in the west every twenty-four hours. And if we were to look at the stars just once a day, we would see a similar pattern over a year: the stars rise in the east and set in the west. The twelve constellations of the zodiac — the ancient markers of time that lie along the ecliptic, the sun’s path — pass overhead at the rate of about one per month and return to the starting point of our celestial observation at the end of the year. And if we looked just once a year, say on the autumnal equinox, we would notice the stars move retrograde (opposite to the first two motions) at the rate of about one degree every seventy years. At this pace, the equinox falls on a different constellation approximately once every 2,000 years, taking about 24,000 years to complete its cycle through the twelve constellations. This is called the precession (the backward motion) of the equinox relative to the fixed stars.
The standard theory of precession says it is principally the Moon’s gravity acting upon the oblate Earth that must be the cause of Earth’s changing orientation to inertial space, a.k.a. “precession.” However, this theory was developed before astronomers learned the solar system could move and has now been found by the International Astronomical Union to be “inconsistent with dynamical theory.” Ancient oriental astronomy teaches that an equinox slowly moving or “precessing” through the zodiac’s twelve constellations is simply due to the motion of the sun curving through space around another star, which changes our viewpoint of the stars from Earth. At the Binary Research Institute, we have modeled a moving solar system and found it does indeed better produce the precession observable, while resolving a number of solar system anomalies. This strongly suggests the ancient explanation may be the most plausible, even though astronomers have not yet discovered a companion star to Earth’s Sun.
Beyond the technical considerations, a moving solar system appears to provide a logical reason why we might have a Great Year, to use Plato’s term, with alternating dark and golden ages. That is, if the solar system carrying the Earth actually moves in a huge orbit, subjecting Earth to the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum of another star or EM source along the way, and shaping the subtle electrical and magnetic fields through which we move, we could expect this to affect our magnetosphere, ionosphere, and very likely all life in a pattern commensurate with that orbit. Just as Earth’s smaller diurnal and annual motions produce the cycles of day and night and the seasons of the year (both due to Earth’s changing position in relation to the EM spectrum of the Sun), so might the larger celestial motion be expected to produce a cycle that affects life and consciousness on a grand scale.
Just recently NASA discovered (March 2014) NASA that the earth’s rotation and motion through space rearranges the electrons in the radiation belt into a zebra pattern! This was entirely unexpected as it was believed these particles are moving too swiftly to be affected by the earth’s motion.
A hypothesis then for how consciousness might be affected by such a celestial cycle can be built on the work of Dr. Valerie Hunt, a former professor of physiology at UCLA. In a number of studies, she has found that changes in the ambient subtle electrical, EM and magnetic fields (which surrounds us all the time) can dramatically affect human cognition and performance. In short, consciousness appears to be affected by subtle fields of light, or as quantum physicist Dr. Amit Goswami might say, “Consciousness prefers light.” Consistent with myth and folklore, the concept behind the Great Year or cyclical model of history is based on the Sun’s motion through space, subjecting Earth to waxing and waning stellar fields (all stars are huge generators of EM spectra) and resulting in the legendary rise and fall of the ages over great epochs of time.
Current theories of history generally ignore myth and folklore and do not consider any macro external influences on consciousness. For the most part, modern history theory teaches that consciousness (or history) moves in a linear pattern from the primitive to the modern, with few exceptions, and it includes the following tenets:
The problem with this widely accepted paradigm is that it is not consistent with the evolving interpretation of recently discovered ancient cultures and anomalous artifacts. In the last hundred years, major discoveries have been made in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, South America, Turkey and many other regions that break the rules of history theory and push back the time of advanced human development. Specifically, they show that ancient peoples were, in many ways, far more proficient and civilized nearly five thousand years ago than they were during the more recent dark ages of just six hundred to a thousand years ago. In Caral, an ancient complex of unknown origin on the west coast of Peru, we find six pyramids that are carbon dated to 2700 BC, a date contemporaneous with Egyptian pyramids and that rivals the time of the first major structures found in the so-called Cradle of Civilization in Mesopotamia. Caral is an ocean away from the Cradle. We find no evidence of writing or weaponry, two of the so-called necessities of civilization, but we do find beautiful musical instruments, astronomically aligned structures, and evidence of commerce with distant lands (fabrics, seeds and shells not indigenous to the area)— all signs of a peaceful and prosperous culture.
Gobekli Tepe presents an even greater challenge to conventional accounts of history. Dated to at least 9000 BC, this site in Turkey contains dramatic architecture, including carved pillars of huge proportions. To find that something so large and complex existed long before the dates accepted for the invention of agriculture and pottery is an archaeological enigma. These sites defy the standard historical paradigm. And what is stranger still is that so many of these civilizations seemed to decline en masse. In ancient Mesopotamia, Pakistan, Jiroft, and adjacent lands, we find knowledge of astronomy, geometry, advanced building techniques, sophisticated plumbing and water systems, incredible art, dyes and fabrics, surgery, medicine, and many other refinements of a civilized culture which seem to have emerged from nowhere and were completely lost over the next few thousand years.
By the time of the worldwide dark ages, every one of these civilizations, including the big ones in Egypt and the Indus Valley, had largely turned to dust or nomadic ways of life. Near the depths of the cyclic downturn, there were ruins and little else, while the local populace knew nothing of the builders except through legend. In some areas where larger populations still remained, such as parts of Europe, poverty, plague, and disease were often rampant, and the ability to read, write, or duplicate any of the earlier engineering or scientific feats had essentially disappeared. What happened?
While records of this period remain spotty, the archeological evidence indicates that consciousness, reflected as human ingenuity and capability, was greatly diminished. Humanity seemed to have lost the ability to do the things it used to do. Interestingly, this is just what many ancient cultures predicted. Stefan Maul, the world’s foremost Assyrianologist, shed light on this phenomenon in his 1997 Stanford Presidential Lectures series. He tells us that the Akkadians knew they lived in a declining era. They revered the past as a higher time and tried to hang on to it, but at the same time, they predicted and lamented the dark ages that would follow. His etymological studies of cuneiform tablets show the ancient words for “past” have now become our words for “future” and the ancient words for “future” have become our words for “past.” It is almost as if humanity orients its motion through time depending on whether it is going toward or away from a golden age.
This principle of waxing and waning epochs is depicted in numerous bas-reliefs found in ancient Mithraic “mystery school” temples. The famed Tauroctany, or bull-slaying scene, is usually surrounded by two boys, Cautes and Cautopetes. One holds a torch up on the ascending side of the zodiac, indicating a time of increasing light, and the other holds a torch down on the descending side of the zodiac, indicating a time of darkness. As the chart below shows, these time periods correspond with the Greeks’ “iron, bronze, silver and golden ages,” a simple way to describe the Great Year epochs.
Jarred Diamond, well-known historian-anthropologist and author of Guns, Germs and Steel, makes a good case that it is primarily local geographic and environmental advantages that determine which group of humans succeeds or fails versus another. Those that have the steel, guns, and bad germs win. Although this helps to explain many regional differences of the last few thousand years, it does not address the macro trends that seem to have affected all cultures, including China and the Americas, as they collectively slipped into the last worldwide dark age. The cyclical Great Year model overlays and augments Diamond’s observations with a reason for the widespread downturn. It implies that it is not only the geography and environment on Earth that determines a people’s relative success but also the geography and environment of Earth in space that affects humanity on a macroscopic scale. Just as small celestial motions dramatically affect life over the short term, so it appears that large celestial motions color life over the long term, resulting in the seasons of a Great Year.
Understanding that consciousness may indeed rise and fall with the motions of the heavens gives meaning to ancient myth and folklore and puts anomalous cultures and artifacts, such as the Antikythera device and the Babylon battery, into a historical context that makes sense. For example, the battery was developed at least 2000 years ago, lost in the dark ages, then reinvented by Volta in the post renaissance period. The same thing goes for prosthetic devices, brain surgery, knowledge of a heliocentric system and engineering, etc. etc. They were discovered lost, then rediscovered. It also speaks to why so many ancient cultures appear to have been fascinated with the stars and provides us with a workable paradigm in which to understand history. It could also help us identify the forces that propelled the Renaissance and that may be accelerating consciousness in our current era. Myth and folklore, the scientific language of yore, provide a deeper look at consciousness throughout the ages.
Walter Cruttenden is the Director of the Binary Research Institute, an archaeoastronomy think tank in California. He is the author of Lost Star of Myth and Time, The Great Year Adventures-with Tommy the Time-Traveling Turtle, and the award winning documentary, The Great Year, narrated by James Earl Jones. Cruttenden’s work studies the astronomy of ancient cultures, their almost universal belief in a cycle of time with alternating Dark and Golden Ages, and what this means for humanity today. For income he invents new ways to help people save and invest, and presently serves as founder CEO of Acorns.