The Origins of the World’s Mythologies by Michael Witzel

shijing

The Living Force
I just got done reading an article by Michael Witzel entitled 'Slaying the Dragon Across Eurasia', where he examines mythology across five continents which shares a common structure and archetypal lexicon that involves dragon-slaying, amongst other things. I was impressed with the relevance to Secret History, so I looked up his most recent work and he has a brand new book that is coming out later in 2010 entitled The Origins of the World’s Mythologies:

http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Worlds-Mythologies-Michael-Witzel/dp/0195367464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262592157&sr=1-1

Here is the blurb:

This remarkable book is the most ambitious work on mythology since that of the renowned Mircea Eliade, who all but single-handedly invented the modern study of myth and religion. Focusing on the oldest available texts, buttressed by data from archeology, comparative linguistics and human population genetics, Michael Witzel reconstructs a single original African source for our collective myths, dating back some 100,000 years. Identifying features shared by this "Out of Africa" mythology and its northern Eurasian offshoots, Witzel suggests that these common myths--recounted by the communities of the "African Eve"--are the earliest evidence of ancient spirituality. Moreover these common features, Witzel shows, survive today in all major religions. Witzel's book is an intellectual hand grenade that will doubtless generate considerable excitement--and consternation--in the scholarly community. Indeed, everyone interested in mythology will want to grapple with Witzel's extraordinary hypothesis about the spirituality of our common ancestors, and to understand what it tells us about our modern cultures and the way they are linked at the deepest level.
 

shijing

The Living Force
Speaking of mythology, here is an interesting article in which Witzel et al discuss the development of Eurasian correlative cosmologies (and its companion article explaining the computer modeling involved):

http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/BMFEAfinal.pdf

http://www.safarmer.com/simulations.pdf

To the extent that I understand what they describe, I think that they may be over-relying on a neurobiological explanation for the genesis of cosmologies, but I think they provide some interesting suggestions about how these arise from pre-existing decontextualized data (giving rise to myths which are opaque on the surface, but which might contain clues to the disjecta membra of previous civilizations from our point of view).
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Shijing said:
I just got done reading an article by Michael Witzel entitled 'Slaying the Dragon Across Eurasia', where he examines mythology across five continents which shares a common structure and archetypal lexicon that involves dragon-slaying, amongst other things. I was impressed with the relevance to Secret History, so I looked up his most recent work and he has a brand new book that is coming out later in 2010 entitled The Origins of the World’s Mythologies:

http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Worlds-Mythologies-Michael-Witzel/dp/0195367464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262592157&sr=1-1

Here is the blurb:

This remarkable book is the most ambitious work on mythology since that of the renowned Mircea Eliade, who all but single-handedly invented the modern study of myth and religion. Focusing on the oldest available texts, buttressed by data from archeology, comparative linguistics and human population genetics, Michael Witzel reconstructs a single original African source for our collective myths, dating back some 100,000 years. Identifying features shared by this "Out of Africa" mythology and its northern Eurasian offshoots, Witzel suggests that these common myths--recounted by the communities of the "African Eve"--are the earliest evidence of ancient spirituality. Moreover these common features, Witzel shows, survive today in all major religions. Witzel's book is an intellectual hand grenade that will doubtless generate considerable excitement--and consternation--in the scholarly community. Indeed, everyone interested in mythology will want to grapple with Witzel's extraordinary hypothesis about the spirituality of our common ancestors, and to understand what it tells us about our modern cultures and the way they are linked at the deepest level.

After long delays, this book has finally been published. I've started reading it and it's pretty interesting. Witzel characterizes all the past approaches to mythology (myth-and-ritual, comparative, historical, structural, diffusion, archetype) as blind men describing an elephant. None can account for the totality of features in myths, especially what he has discovered. While past researchers have focused on the similarities between individual myths (motifs and mythemes - groupings of motifs), they haven't focused on the common features of whole mythologies - the story line of myths. Witzel has identified these common story line elements (basically a story of the creation of the world to its end) in mythologies all over the world. He calls it "Laurasian" mythology, after the geographical term for the Northern continents (he also includes South America). And an earlier mythology he calls "Gondwanan", after the name for the Southern continents, Africa and Australia. Prior to this is Pan-Gaean. (The Laurasian mythology seems to have originated in the region where the Cs say Kantekkians appeared, incidentally.) That's all I'll say for now, as I haven't gotten to the meat of the matter yet.
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Here's a summary of some stuff gleaned from Wiztel's book so far. (I've only read the first 100 pages, which introduces and justifies his historical comparative method, akin to that used in linguistics, palaeontology, and genetics.)

First, he remarks that myth deals with eternal questions (who are we, why are we here, how'd we get here, what's our purpose, etc.). As such, it's easy to see why myths persist, taking into account what Gurdjieff wrote and the stuff in Schumaker's "Corruption of Reality". So if myths are as Laura, Clube, Napier, Baillie, etc. present them, important information can be passed on for thousands of years, even if it's buried in a lot of obfuscation from addition/deletion/changes.

First, I'll mention that Witzel doesn't cite Clube and Napier. He acknowledges the possibility of some myths passing on memories of real disasters/catastrophes (citing the Black Sea flood [5600 bce] and Toba explosion/tsunami [77,000 bce], as well as some recounted in American myths, as possible examples), but rejects the idea that the universal Flood myths recount an actual occurrence. He also rejects the idea of "mnemotechnical mechanics of myth formation as storage device of Stone Age 'scientific' knowledge" as the be-all-end-all explanation of myth. I think he's obviously wrong about the former, and kind of wrong about the latter. It may not account for every aspect of mythology, but it certainly explains a lot, as Laura shows in "Horns of Moses."

So I think his approach is partly flawed. It doesn't take into account just how influential shared astronomical events can be to world populations. But I think it is probably useful for figuring out earlier, more common versions of the varied myths.

He argues for 3 distinct historical layers of myth: Pan-Gaean > Gondwana > Laurasian (originating in Greater Southwest Asia some time between 50,000 [time Australian, New Guinean migration) to 20,000 ybp (American migration) - i.e., sometime after the second-last ice age). The rationale being that the common features can only be explained by common inheritance; they're too similar in structure to be explained as coincidence or based on archetypes, and too separated geographically and temporally to be explained by diffusion.

Laurasian myth is the main focus of the book, which added on unique features to the existing Gondwana myths (e.g., Gondwana myth has the emergence of humans into a preexisting and eternal world, contrasted with what's below). Witzel has identified 15 or so motifs common to Laurasian mythology, forming a common story line.

The Storyline (the 15 motifs are numbered [in brackets])

-primordial emergence / creation: often from water/darkness/chaos/non-being [1], or the breaking up/dismemberment of an egg, giant, or bull (comet imagery!) [2], or the emergence of a hill or island, often with help of a diver [3].

-subsequent four generations ("ages") of gods: Father Heaven and Mother Earth giving birth to various generations of children/gods (often 4 generations or ages) [4]; this 'primordial intercourse' results in groups of gods like the Titans/Olympians or Asura/Deva, for example, and there's usually some godly incest going on. There's also the 'pushing up of heaven' (and origin of the Milky Way) [5]. Gods like Indra and Atlas act as 'poles' between heaven and earth. The 'hidden light of the sun' is revealed' [6].

These changeovers are violent, e.g., the Near Eastern (adopted by the Greeks) castration mytheme (e.g. Kronos and Ouranos, Kumurbi, Indra). These are separate from the original killing of the primordial giant, however (the original giant comet?). In the Mesopotamian version, the 4 ages are progressive (more optimistic), contrasted with the Greek, for example, which just gets worse. The Mesopotamian one may be older, but it's hard to say.

-age of monsters / semidivine heroes, where the new gods defeat or kill their predecessors [7]; killing the dragon [8] (e.g., Indra, Beowulf, Sigurd, Siegfried, Herakles, etc., who overlap with semidivine heroes like Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, Romulus and Remus, David, Xbalanque, etc.). Only the Earth fertilized by the blood of the dragon can support life (i.e., humans). (Panspermia?) The 'sun' (comet?) deity is the father of humans [9]. Interesting here is the 'solar' origin (often via the world tree) of various chiefs and kings, e.g., the 'descent' of the 1st Japanese 'emperor' from heaven.

-emergence of humans, their evil deeds, and the flood [10]. The flood results in a new generation (e.g., Gilgamesh, Noah, Pyrrha).

-heroes and nymphs [11]: a culture hero or shaman brings culture, fire, food; origin of rituals; spread of humans, start of 'noble' lineages, beginning of human history [12]. ([13] is missing from his chart.)

-violent end to present world (humans, world, gods), often preceded by prophecy [14], sometimes with the hope of a new heaven and earth [15].

Some other features that struck me as interesting:
-the oldest, most universal myth is the Flood myth (especially with the 'sky falling' mytheme), which only ever occurs after humans behave in a way displeasing to the gods; similarly, the 'dragon' is only slayed after the first male/female deities appear (as it is their offspring); this should make a lot of sense after reading "Horns of Moses."

-views the world/universe as analogous to a body or organism; an analogy Laura also makes in "Horns of Moses," making clear cause and effect, and our obligations to the universe

-more patriarchal than Gondwana (but Witzel notes that we often only have the male versions of myths, females often had their own versions, which were rarely recorded)

-shamanism is a common feature, and variations on the Orpheus myth are common

-in Japanese myth, the child of the primordial deities Izanami and Izanagi, Hirago, is set adrift, like Moses.

-again, drawing from "Horns of Moses", Witzel mentions that originally only the Pharaoh was 'reborn' (like the original pharaoh/comet?), before that rule was relaxed and more could have the privilege. Even though it's not reincarnation per se, it could support the idea that the view of comets returning is what gave rise to the idea.

-while Witzel doesn't agree with Jung and Campbell's archetype theories fully (the don't explain story lines, for example), he acknowledges that the human mind makes some important contributions to myth: we think in largely binary structures, make analogy based on experience, and anthropomorphize.

-discussing Zoroaster, Witzel points out that he telescoped the idea of the renewal of time and society at the new year into the life of the individual: one had to make the individual choice between right/truthful action and evil, right action restoring the universal order. Witzel sees this as an 'optimistic' feature of Laurasian myth: the possibility of renewal within mini-cycles. This brings to mind the idea of the world reflecting the thought of the human population.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Geeze, sounds like another blind man trying to describe the elephant. The scientific evidence for the flood myth is pretty overwhelming thanks to Firestone, et al, and Bailey, Clube and Napier provide scientifc back-tracking of meteorite streams to establish times of break-up as well as volume of materials, giving the astronomical evidence. Add that to dendrochronology via Mike Baillie which shows the signal of astronomical action on earth, and as far as I can see, the case is made even if the authoritarian followers of uniformitarianism etc can't deal with it. In fact, Witzel sounds like a uniformitarian apologist.

I would even suggest that it is almost - if not entirely - impossible to get a clue about the antediluvian myths at all. The almost total destruction of life on earth 13000 years ago changed the game not to mention the first appearance in the solar system of the giant comet which could have been as long ago as 70,000 years. Human beings may have been dealing with this type of event a lot longer than anyone suspects.

His ideas for the creation myths out of darkness and chaos simply doesn't fly in the face of the evidence that these myths were formed in actual experience, not imagination.

If there was an earliest myth, it was probably that the Earth itself was the supreme deity with a couple of "lovers" i.e. the Moon and Sun. And that's ignoring possible ancient science. Following that line, in the absence of astronomical intrusions, would lead to a different set of ideas.
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Laura said:
Geeze, sounds like another blind man trying to describe the elephant. The scientific evidence for the flood myth is pretty overwhelming thanks to Firestone, et al, and Bailey, Clube and Napier provide scientifc back-tracking of meteorite streams to establish times of break-up as well as volume of materials, giving the astronomical evidence. Add that to dendrochronology via Mike Baillie which shows the signal of astronomical action on earth, and as far as I can see, the case is made even if the authoritarian followers of uniformitarianism etc can't deal with it. In fact, Witzel sounds like a uniformitarian apologist.

I would even suggest that it is almost - if not entirely - impossible to get a clue about the antediluvian myths at all. The almost total destruction of life on earth 13000 years ago changed the game not to mention the first appearance in the solar system of the giant comet which could have been as long ago as 70,000 years. Human beings may have been dealing with this type of event a lot longer than anyone suspects.

Yep, he mentions that the flood myth is even found in his 'Gondwana' layer, so I think his dates are off - he pushes things too far back in time, when the common myths might have had a much more recent origin.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I'm going to revive this thread shortly as I'm almost finished with this book. It was referenced numerous times in Sweatman's book about Gobeckli Tepi and that piqued my curiosity. I'm about half way through and will highly recommend it.
 

Gaby

SuperModerator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I'm 1/4th through and enjoying it, particularly how so many myths from around the world are compiled together. Being raised in the West and being used to the Western myths, it's pretty amazing to see other non-Bible versions and how they all converge in common themes.

Recommendation: don't miss the footnotes, a big chunk of the book is written there too.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I'm leaving my initial response above even though I have completely changed my mind after reading the book; that way you will all know that I can be a complete idiot sometimes. The book really is an impressive and important piece of work. Pierre has already snagged it from me, but when I get it back, I'll outline the basics of each of the myths and make a few remarks that did occur to me as I was reading. Briefly, it seems to me that this book comes the closest to backing up what the Cs have said about the origins of white people on this planet as being from "Kantek" of anything I've ever read. They created a myth about the destruction of the world because they experienced it.
 

SlipNet

Jedi Council Member
Briefly, it seems to me that this book comes the closest to backing up what the Cs have said about the origins of white people on this planet as being from "Kantek" of anything I've ever read. They created a myth about the destruction of the world because they experienced it.

But that's not to say that earth hasn't suffered repeated cataclysms, right? But Kantek suffered absolute destruction, that would be the difference. Sorry for the nit-picking, just keeping abreast of general understandings, that's all.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
But that's not to say that earth hasn't suffered repeated cataclysms, right? But Kantek suffered absolute destruction, that would be the difference. Sorry for the nit-picking, just keeping abreast of general understandings, that's all.

Oh, sure. There are multiple subsequent cataclysms mixed all in there, but the "end of the world" scenario that was probably the original story - history, not myth - brought by the Kantekkians to Earth, has now been projected to the future.

There are a couple of things that really made me stop and think. The two myth systems are strikingly different and the "why" of that is best explained, I think, by the Kantek scenario: an advanced civilization that brought on its own destruction (human-cosmic connection), and brought that story with them.
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Oh, sure. There are multiple subsequent cataclysms mixed all in there, but the "end of the world" scenario that was probably the original story - history, not myth - brought by the Kantekkians to Earth, has now been projected to the future.

There are a couple of things that really made me stop and think. The two myth systems are strikingly different and the "why" of that is best explained, I think, by the Kantek scenario: an advanced civilization that brought on its own destruction (human-cosmic connection), and brought that story with them.
Yep, it is REALLY cool to read the development of these myth systems and how they have branched out, passed on, and been adapted by all the local cultures all over the planet. And I think that the Younger-Dryas probably just reconfirmed the accuracy of the 'myth' for all the peoples who observed it or its effects. Like watching a cosmic reenactment of the drama that has been passed on for generations. No wonder the overall myth/narrative survived and is so widespread as to be almost universal.
 

Jones

Ambassador
Ambassador
FOTCM Member
Here's a thread where C's session transcript mentions of Kantek are pulled together to construct history and culture. There are also references to historical linguistics. It was helpful to read it to refresh memory not the subject of Kantekkians.

 

latulipenoire

Jedi Master
FOTCM Member
I checked the Kindle version of the book today and to my amazement It costs 35 dollars. I won't even mention the cost of the hardcover edition. Is there a reason for this price?
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I checked the Kindle version of the book today and to my amazement It costs 35 dollars. I won't even mention the cost of the hardcover edition. Is there a reason for this price?
Probably just because it's a semi-obscure academic book, which tend to be overpriced and underproduced. There isn't a big market for a lot of academic titles, so they tend to be printed in small print runs, and very overpriced.
 
Top Bottom