6 TAKING ON THE EXPERTS
© Ian Lawton 2020
In each of the last four chapters we’ve discussed the more obvious psycho-materialist interpretations that could be used to dismiss the idea that the themes we’ve been considering might have some historical authenticity. But if we now turn specifically to the opinions of the experts in comparative mythology, it’s something of a surprise to find they don’t have a great deal to say about these important themes, despite the considerable quantity of worldwide detail we can now see exists. Arguably the two foremost experts in the field are, as we saw in chapter 1, Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade, and we’ll deal with each in turn.
CAMPBELL AND CYCLES
If we start with Joseph Campbell, he reviews the biblical themes of the fall of Adam and Eve and of the flood in some detail, but the fall of the angels that sits in between – a narrative that’s arguably of the utmost importance – receives barely a mention. In fact he hardly comments on our main themes at all, despite the huge depth and breadth of his studies. To the extent that he does, though, he has a tendency to dismiss them as ‘part and parcel of the heritage of civilisation itself’ – which leaves us somewhat in the dark about his true feelings. The only other thing we can say is that his attitude towards them is on the one hand angled towards a cyclical interpretation, the principles behind which were introduced in chapters 1 and 5; and on the other a mathematical one – no surprise given his attempts, as described in the last chapter, to link the numbers in the Hindu cycles to those of precession.
Nowhere is this more obvious than when he discusses the flood theme in Sumerian tradition in The Masks of God:
The whole idea of the Flood rather as the work of a god of wrath than as the natural punctuation of an eon of say 432,000 years seems, indeed, to be an effect of later, secondary, comparatively simple cerebration.
Thus the evidence from a number of quarters suggests very strongly that in the earliest known Sumerian mythological texts the basic, mathematically inspired priestly vision has already been overlaid by an intrusive anthropomorphic view of the powers that motivate the world, far more primitive than that from which the earliest high civilisation had emerged; so that the myths that have survived to us represent a certain drop or devolution of tradition, which was either intentional, in the way of all devotional popularisation, or else unintentional following a loss of realisation. And the latter is the more likely, since, as Professor Poebel has let us know, the Sumerian idiom of these texts ‘is no longer that of the classical period’. They are already of a late, epigonous age.
I would suggest, therefore, that the mathematics still evident in certain of the earliest known, yet late, Sumerian documents suffice to show that during the formative period of this potent tradition (which has by now reshaped humankind) an overpowering experience of order, not as something created by an anthropomorphic first being but as itself the all-creative, beginningless, and interminable structuring rhythm of the universe, supplied the wind that blew its civilisation into form. Furthermore, by a miracle that I have found no one to interpret, the arithmetic that was developed in Sumer as early as around 3200 BCE, whether by coincidence or by intuitive induction, so matched the celestial order as to amount in itself to a revelation. The whole archaic Oriental world, in contrast to the earlier primitive and later Occidental, was absolutely hypnotised by this miracle. The force of number was of far greater moment than mere fact; for it seemed actually to be the generator of fact. It was of greater moment than humanity; for it was the organising principle by which humanity realised and recognised its own latent harmony and sense. It was of considerably greater moment than the gods; for in the majesty of its cycles, greater cycles and ever greater, more majestic, infinitely widening cycles, it was the law by which gods came into being and disappeared. And it was greater even than being; for in its matrix lay the law of being.
To comment on this briefly, it’s certainly true that the early Sumerians developed a sophisticated sexagesimal – or base-60 – numerical system that we still use to this day to measure time and angles, for example. However for what it’s worth I’m unclear as to his evidence that they were heavily influenced by the concept of universal cycles. Indeed their literature seems to me to have had highly active, sometimes vengeful gods at its heart from the outset – and certainly, as we already saw in chapter 2, in the earliest recorded versions of the flood tradition. I will postpone further comment until the conclusion.
ELIADE AND RENEWAL
Eliade is a much more specialised commentator, so the fact that he fails to consider our main themes in any great depth is less surprising. In Myth and Reality he follows a similar tack to Campbell but with a few differences. His most pertinent comments come when, after discussing the rituals of annual or seasonal renewal at some length, he attempts to apply this to the idea of world ages and to certain flood traditions:
In other words, the End of the World in the past and that which is to take place in the future both represent the mythico-ritual system of the New Year festival projected on the macrocosmic scale and given an unusual degree of intensity… But now we no longer have what might be called the ‘natural end’ of the World… there is a real catastrophe, brought on by Divine Beings. The symmetry between the Flood and the annual renewal of the World was realised in some very few cases (Mesopotamia, Judaism, Mandan). But in general the Flood myths are independent from the mythico-ritual New Year scenarios. This is easy to understand, for the periodic festivals of regeneration symbolically re-enact the cosmogony, the creative work of the Gods, not the destruction of the old world; the latter disappeared ‘naturally’ for the simple reason that the distance that separated it from the ‘beginnings’ had reached its extreme limit.
As a corollary in his separate work The Sacred and the Profane he suggests that flood myths, especially of the submerged and lost continent type, can be compared to the concept of initiatory death and rebirth through baptism. But that is pretty much it.
Quite apart from the fact that his work on hero myths was the inspiration for George Lucas’ Star Wars films, Campbell’s contribution to the study of comparative mythology is second to none. Yet in terms of our current themes his work surely leaves something to be desired. In particular his interpretation of catastrophe traditions can be summed up as ‘early cyclical models good, later anthropomorphic models bad’. This is still a largely psychological approach and surely somewhat simplistic, in that it effectively suggests that the bulk of the traditions left to us contain nothing of any value in terms of possible pointers to a real hidden history. To be more specific he clearly argues that the idea of a single worldwide flood must be seen as an anthropomorphised distortion of the previously dominant cyclic view. He doesn’t entertain the possibility that the two themes should perhaps be seen as entirely separate.
But here’s the thing. What if, as I strongly suspect, the original Vedic and perhaps even earlier concept of universal cycles related only to the admittedly lengthy but periodic emergence and re-absorption of the universe as a whole – with no suggestion of debasement and destruction being a part of this process. As we’ll see in chapter 8, this is an entirely plausible and highly esoteric worldview. In the meantime we have the quite separate tradition of a major catastrophe that wiped out our forgotten race, which just might be an echo of a genuine historical event on Earth. The problem is that some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to link them together.
Eliade too has much to offer and his observations about global catastrophe traditions quoted above appear highly erudite. Yet if we look behind the façade surely the obscure, symbolic, psychological explanations he pursues with such determination are rather less than convincing? Above all, as with most modern experts in this field, this apparent dismissal by Eliade and Campbell – of any possibility that the body of supposedly mythic texts and traditions from around the world that contain our key themes might have some genuine historical content – seems to be at least partly based on a lack of allowance for the sort of sophisticated but general spiritual worldview that I’d argue underpins much of it. Whether or not the alternative interpretations I’m putting forward in this work stand up, either partially or fully, surely – and however much their broader erudition is not in doubt – the shortcomings of the experts’ approach to these traditions are there for all to see?
There are, moreover, two further themes that potentially strengthen our spiritual interpretations more than any other. We find these new pieces of the puzzle in yet more veiled secrets our ancestors have bequeathed to us – in their descriptions of the humankind and of the origins of the world. It is to these we’ll now turn.
 Ibid., chapter 3, pp. 127–8. For some reason his figure of 432,000 years is merely the duration of a Kali Yuga rather than an entire Maha Yuga; see our Figure 3.
 Eliade, Myth and Reality, chapter 4, p. 55. In pp. 60–8 he goes on to discuss the various world age theories, and then the Judaeo-Christian apocalyptic traditions, but nowhere do we receive any additional explanation for these themes. His only other relevant comment is on p. 69 when, discussing the golden age, he suggests the Communist and Nazi movements of the twentieth century were attempts to recreate it – and that it’s a powerful and natural human trait. He follows the same path in The Myth of the Eternal Return.
 Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, chapter 3, pp. 130–1.