Maskanako gishi penauwelendamep lennowak owini palliton.
The mighty snake firmly resolved to harm the men. [from the Walam Olum]
Although we cannot yet say specifically how our ancestors were affected by the interaction of Earth with a large, short period, comet over the past 12,000 or more years, there are certain aspects that can be discerned by combining elements of what we have discovered about our past. One thing that most of us are familiar with is a tradition that claims humanity once lived in a world of abundance and did not have to work very hard to live well. In most cultures that retain a notion of this land of happy and easy living the good times are brought to an end by the activities of some powerful serpent-like creature. Such a tradition of prior abundance is really not at odds with what we presently know of Pleistocene conditions and we have recently discovered through ice core and other time defining studies that this era of rich flora and fauna ended quite abruptly around 11,000 years ago. If we assume that a large comet had something to do with this rapid change then we have a pretty clear picture of why our ancestors' stories invoke an image of a serpent-like creature destroying this pleasant time.
What is interesting about this conjecture is the fact that we will be able to establish whether interaction with comet debris caused this deterioration of conditions and, if indeed this was the reason, then the basis for some of the tales that have come down to us becomes much more understandable. It seems very likely now that much of the lore dealing with gods of the sky are metaphorical descriptions of the history of this comet as it literally fell into pieces from being exposed to both the heat of the sun and the many gravitational forces tugging on it along its less than four year Earth-crossing orbit. Thus, seemingly nonsensical statements such as Athena being born fully formed from the head of Zeus can be seen as lore that interprets the splitting of a comet as the birth of a new god.
More fascinating and perhaps helpful to us today is gaining an understanding of how our ancestors reacted to this new era which, from their perspective, was controlled by capricious luminous entities that could change shape and size, produce offspring, and occasionally launch a fiery destructive attack from above. Though it is not yet known how much physical damage these periodic encounters with comet debris caused, it is very evident that many cultures of the world came to view these destructive episodes as a form of punishment for somehow displeasing these gods. This notion over time evolved regimented rituals designed to keep the gods happy.
One reason this type of strategy arose is that it would, more often than not, appear to do the trick. Why? Because severe harm could come only when debris from the comet was crossing Earths path at the same time Earth was at that point of its orbit, this would not happen often enough to be predictable. What would be observable, at a frequency high enough to anticipate, were close approaches of the comet and its offspring. These encounters would have been visually and psychologically terrifying given that our ancestors viewed these objects as living creatures capable of purposeful action. So on these inauspicious occasions, cultures about the world would perform ceremonies that each believed would please these gods. Often these rituals involved sacrificing people, livestock, crops, etc., by fire--not an unreasonable strategy given that the ascending smoke could seemingly deliver the goods to those thought to be hungry gods, which, from our ancestors' view, consisted of animated smoke and fire.
Naturally, the willingness to provide sacrifices would be greatest immediately after a destructive encounter but as time passed it would become more difficult to convince subsequent generations that such sacrifice was needed. The tendency was to lessen the cost and sacrifice captive members of other groups or symbolic tokens that could be tossed into a fire. Eventually though, it would come time for another nasty encounter and, from our ancestors' perspective, the reason for this was their not adhering properly to the old ways which had kept the gods happy for many generations. Thus the old ways would be invigorated while the innovators who had allowed less costly substitutes during rituals might find themselves soon going up in smoke.
This type of behavior is in fact evident in the periodic rise and decline of Seth worship found in Egyptian records. A former curator of the Egyptian Museum, G.A. Wainwright, discusses this back and forth adherence to Seth worship in his book, The Sky Religion In Egypt, and several other articles he produced on this subject. Interestingly, Seth is associated with redness like many demons in various cultures. It is quite possible for comets to appear red if they contain a good supply of organic molecules. Perhaps this factor can help us to identify actual encounter events more easily.
Several cultures attribute red rains and red dust to sky gods. The Pawnee, who were sacrificing people as recently as the 19th century due to the appearance of a comet or some other unusual showing in the sky, held that when it was time for the world to end the moon would turn red and stars would fall from the sky. They clearly differentiated this from an eclipse (the moon turning black) which meant only that some chief would die. The Pawnee also contend that the feathered war bonnet was representative of a comet--this type of association is probably at the root of battle flags as well. Many cultures viewed the appearance of a comet as a sign that war was eminent--obviously a self fulfilling prophecy.
Such notions of signs from heaven have caused humanity a great deal of grief: for instance, it is documented that Pope Urban II launched the first crusade in the spring of 1096 due to a series of visually impressive events beginning with a meteor storm on April 4th of 1095 and ending with a sign in the sun and an aurora which frightened people to the extent that litanies were said in church. On the 11th of February in 1096 there was also purported to be a lunar eclipse visible in Italy, during which the moon turned red. Pope Urban saw these messages from above as a sure sign that the Judgment Day was soon to come.
It is worth emphasizing, as we approach the year 2000, that the concept of the present world coming to an end in some fiery day of judgment was born of actual experience with impact events destroying existing orders. Plato speaks of this in his Timeaus through the voice of an old Egyptian sage who informs the young Greek visitors that they lack knowledge of their ancient history due to periodic episodes of destruction by the gods. The contention is that such an event disrupted the society which had earlier lived in Greece, and left the survivors destitute of learning and written records.
The rapidly changing view of the role that encounters with space debris have had on biological evolution is quite profound and was not expected by many scientific investigators. There is presently a similar reluctance among academics in accepting that extraterrestrial events affected human social evolution. It will probably take another decade or so for such a radical change in underlying premise to become truly a mainstream model, but the situation is very clear to researchers who have kept tabs on the rapidly increasing number of near-earth objects discovered within the past two decades. These objects were not supposed to be where they are. Earth is not as safe a place as was thought thirty years ago. The number of potential impactors is several orders of magnitude greater than what had been supposed, and there is significant indication of the recent break-up of a very large comet. What does this mean? It means that much of what has been deduced about humanitys past 12,000 or more years will need to be reexamined carefully for signs of prior investigators dismissing as fantasy or otherwise explaining away evidence of encounter events.
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