The Origins of the World’s Mythologies by Michael Witzel

Laura

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Yes, it's a heavy duty academic book. I got the paperback edition which wasn't too expensive all things considered.

What is surprising is that a heavyweight scholar at Harvard would even attempt such a project, much less write a book about it! Declaring that you are going to figure out/sort out the world's myths going back 65KYA or further is pretty ambitious and just flies in the face of what other scholars say can even be done. He spends the first chapter or so explaining his theory, his methods, and why he is confident that what he is doing is at least a good first approximation.

He does not engage at all with any cataclysmic events as part of the discussion, he's just talking about myths as "myths." But, with all the additional information we've collected over the years, we can plug in some things and understand that often, myths were history.

What is really bizarre is to go from this book to the book "From Yahweh to Zion" and to see what the Jews did to the myths.
 

luc

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Thank you @Jones for linking that thread, very interesting.

Something that caught my eye was this cryptic remark by the Cs:

Q: (L) I have tried to imagine a plane full of people of pure Aryan types, or purified Celtics, and it is difficult to imagine what such a culture would be like. Is there anything that we can look at, literary or otherwise, that would give me a concept of what this culture or society could have been like?

A: Search Japan and the Bahamas.

Q: (L) What?! What do Japan and the Bahamas have in common?

A: See for yourself. Remember, learning is fun and energizes. Spoonfeeding sessions do little for you.

Now, Japan and the Bahamas both are roughly situated at the borders between what Witzel calls "Laurasia" and "Gondwana"... Here's a map from the book, to which I added 2 arrows pointing at Japan and the Bahamas:

30973


Here is a depiction of plate tectonics today - notice how both Japan and the Bahamas are "border posts" of what used to be Laurasia, if I understand it correctly:

earth-s-tectonic-plates.jpg


So maybe this was one of those cryptic clues by the Cs that only gain meaning much later? The remark "learning is fun and energizes" and "Spoonfeeding sessions do little for you" also seems apropos. Then again, could be nothing and just pattern recognition run amok on my part :)
 

Jones

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My thoughts went in another direction, I was thinking of Japan and the Bahama's in terms of tracing the white skinned Celts. I'd heard of the fairer skinned, hairier and bushier bearded indigenous population that could have blonde or red hair and blue eyes, the Ainu, in Japan so I wondered if there was a fairer skinned connection in the Bahama's.

Turns out the DNA of the Lucayans in the Bahamas can trace back to Northern South America -but the only reference to white skinned South Americans is the Chachapoya - sometimes called Cloud Warriors in Peru. I couldn't find anything to suggest either the Lucayans, the Chachapoya or the Ainu had any connections to European whites, though it's not a subject that I've delved into deeply.
 

Gaby

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What is really bizarre is to go from this book to the book "From Yahweh to Zion" and to see what the Jews did to the myths.

For me it happened the other way around. After reviewing the myths in "From Yahweh to Zion", I felt like a needed a break from that book and took "The Origins of the World’s Mythologies" instead. I'll get back to it though.
 

lilies

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My thoughts went in another direction, I was thinking of Japan and the Bahama's in terms of tracing the white skinned Celts. I'd heard of the fairer skinned, hairier and bushier bearded indigenous population that could have blonde or red hair and blue eyes, the Ainu, in Japan so I wondered if there was a fairer skinned connection in the Bahama's.

Turns out the DNA of the Lucayans in the Bahamas can trace back to Northern South America -but the only reference to white skinned South Americans is the Chachapoya - sometimes called Cloud Warriors in Peru. I couldn't find anything to suggest either the Lucayans, the Chachapoya or the Ainu had any connections to European whites, though it's not a subject that I've delved into deeply.
Cloud warriors, hmm? Was that name meant literally? Most interesting find! There were these historical events:
The Curious Case of Two Mighty Storms: Saving Japan from two Mongol invasions.
 

Laura

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My thoughts went in another direction, I was thinking of Japan and the Bahama's in terms of tracing the white skinned Celts. I'd heard of the fairer skinned, hairier and bushier bearded indigenous population that could have blonde or red hair and blue eyes, the Ainu, in Japan so I wondered if there was a fairer skinned connection in the Bahama's.

Turns out the DNA of the Lucayans in the Bahamas can trace back to Northern South America -but the only reference to white skinned South Americans is the Chachapoya - sometimes called Cloud Warriors in Peru. I couldn't find anything to suggest either the Lucayans, the Chachapoya or the Ainu had any connections to European whites, though it's not a subject that I've delved into deeply.

Well, what I thought of with that remark was the underwater structures in the Bahamas area and underwater structures off the East Asian coasts (Japan?). And, of course, the Ainu.
 

Laura

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Of course - "Laurasia"!
An 'in your face clue' that I totally missed.

LOL!

What also piqued my interest were the references to Gauguin at the beginning and end.

97 May 3
Q: Okay. I have the idea. Now, let me ask about the really
strange things that I have been discovering. I am sure
that I am not even halfway through it. But, let me ask
this: am I correct in my thinking that following the
genetic clues is part of the key...

A: Connect the dots and when you have finished, you will have
a "Gauguin."

Obviously, that refers to Gauguin's famous painting:
D'ou venons-nous Que sommes-nous Ou allons-nous
Or, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?



31020
 

whitecoast

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From the C's":

Q: Let’s back up here. You said that the Celts came from Kantek. They were transported by the Lizzies... brought here, correct?
A: Yes.
...
Q: And, that was what, 79 to 80 thousand years ago?
A: Over 80,000.

In the book Into Africa Fenton posits that the Toba Supereruption around 75,000 years ago is what wiped out the vast majority of Eurasian human and hominid populations (leaving Sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia alone), spurring a second wave of migration and hybridization. On page 122 onwards:

The Homo sapiens expansion into Asia occuring after 74 Kya were, then, new waves of immigrants. They represented a repouplation of territory, not a first colonisation.... The global population of hominins is understood to have collapsed after Toba, with estimates of around 10,000 adult hominins remaining alive on Earth. Communities living in central and southern Australia would have likely absorbed small numbers of survivors moving southwards; this might have included a range of displaced human types including Denisova,s Neanderthals [and many others]. This merging of any of these lineages would have given the small surviving populations a significant boost in genetic diversity and access to the total of genetic advantages this human family had gained while separated into distinct isolated populations. The greatest numbesr of refugees congregate dint he less impacted Densiovan territory of North East Sahul (modern New Guinea), remaining distinct from modern humans until 44 Kya....

We also need to consider evidence for the second ingression of modern humans into Africa, around 73 Kya, involving a more culturally and anatomically advanced human group. We should again consider the two-pronged approach for these refugees relocating after the Lake Toba catastrophe, involving watercraft. Evidence usually associated with easterly movement in the oOAT can equally be interpreted as support for a westerly migration, with groups of people hugging the coastlines of Asia until reaching the Arabian Peninsula, and there crossing the Bab al-Mandeb straights.

The lowered temperatures didn't rebound until about 60,000 years ago. It's interesting that the mass hybridization of the refugees was used to try and explain the ability of the rebounding groups to deal with the environmental fallout (dimming and cooling). It almost seems like it would have been more efficient to simply pull DNA from hominids living on a planet more distant from the sun that's cooler and dimmer.... a heck of a coincidence if it is one. The invocations of "watercraft" to explain the transport might also be explained in another way.
 
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Laura

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What is really fascinating about the Laurasian mythology is, as Witzel says, that it is a complete story from start to finish.

1. Creation from nothing, chaos, etc. Father Heaven and Mother Earth created.
2. Father Heaven and Mother Earth engender two generations of gods/demi-gods (Titans, Olympians).
3. 4 or 5 generations (Ages) during which Heaven is "pushed up" and the Sun is released.
4. Current gods defeat/kill predecessors: killing the dragon, use of sacred drink
5. Humans come on the stage and are the somatic descendants (in some way) of some god or other (Sun most popular).
6. Humans show hubris and are punished by a great flood.
7. Trickster deities bring culture; humans spread; emergence of "nobles" or half human/half gods;
8. Local history begins
9. Final destruction of the world
10. A new heaven and earth of some sort emerge in some way.

The non-Laurasian, or Gondwana myths, lack certain myths listed above. They have no true "creation" stories, such as emergence out of nothing or out of chaos; the earth already exists, has always existed, will always exist. They lack a continuous story line from creation to destruction. There is a distant "high god" who doesn't pay much attention to what people do; he moves to heaven and sends a son to create humans. Humans are bad in some way, destroyed by a flood. This high god may have trickster like descendants who become totem deities. But, since among most of the peoples with the Gondwana myth structures did not develop urban type civilizations, such trickster deities obviously didn't bring "culture".

Summarized:
1. In the beginning, heaven, earth, sea, already exist.
2. A High God lives in heaven, or on earth, or ascends to heaven from earth later.
3. There is a series of lower gods, children of the high god, tricksters and heroes of one sort or another.
4. The primordial period ends by some evil deed committed by son of god or humans.
5. Humans are created from trees or clay or rock. Totem ancestors may descend directly from the gods.
6. Humans act haughtily or make mistakes and are punished by a great flood and then re-emerge in various ways (sometimes new creations)

As you see, this can only loosely hang together as a story line.

What appears to me to be the most striking difference is the fact that both heaven and earth are preexistent; nobody created space and time, the universe, etc. With very few exceptions, the question about this is never asked!

The even older, Pan-Gaean myths include mainly:
1. The emergence of humans from trees or clay or from underground or caves.
2. There is a reservoir of souls or well of souls.
3. The emergence of death. The first humans did not die, but the breaking of some rule lead to humans being subjected to death. The list of possible causes/errors is long and varied. Basically, it is the search for the origin of death and whom to blame for it.
4. Trickster deities/demi-urge type culture heroes.
5. There are souls and an afterlife or reincarnation. These ideas apparently go back to the very oldest strata of ideas.
6. No eschatology.

Then, there is the discussion of the development of sacrifice which is very interesting.
 

Michael B-C

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A fascinating overview Laura, thank you. I have the book on order and am looking forward to getting stuck into it.

Have you or other members come across the series TRADITIONAL COSMOLOGY: THE GLOBAL MYTHOLOGY OF COSMIC CREATION in 6 volumes by comparative and historical linguistics graduate Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs? All volumes are available in paperback via Lulu.com (there are rogue hardback copies on Amazon at extortionate prices which he angrily disavows).

From his website:

My research interests are very diverse, but the dominant theme is the history of cosmology, in which 'cosmology' is defined in the widest sense as knowledge about the structure, workings and origins of the natural world on all levels, including astronomy, geology and biology. Of special interest to me are the earlier or more archaic sources, such as 'ancient' astronomy and global mythology, and more unusual occurrences, such as transient natural events. These may range from relatively mundane earthquakes and solar eclipses to worldwide testimony of a time when the sky looked vastly different than it does today.

He is influenced by plasma cosmology, catastrophism, and awareness of other very ancient systemic changes in the natural environment observed by humans and recorded as myth. I have only read Vol 1& 2 and some years back now but what I remember valuing was his decision to allow the consistent strands of multiple myths to stand on their own value system making no attempt to interpret other than to collate and categorize and through this identify consistent and repeating motifs from around the world. He commences at the earliest sources and moves as follows through the first 4 volumes:

1. formation The cosmos develops from a state of chaos, via the transitory stage of a fundamental enclosing particle, into a sheet system of sky, atmosphere, earth and underworld. The axis mundi emerges.

2. functions The basic properties of the axis muridi are discussed. These include connectivity, contiguity, centrality, vitality, lurninosity and conductivity.

3. differentiation The cosmos fragments in a variety of ways. Concentric rings or windings, layered heavens and underworids and cardinal directions develop around the axis mundi. The column or its extremities split into two or three. And holes are formed at the intersection of the column and the framework of the cosmos.

4. disintegration The cosmos disintegrates through a number of catastrophic events. The axis mundi is disrupted. The regions of the cosmos are freshly populated, mythical beings depart from the earth and the mythical era is ended. The future will bring a repetition of the epic of past creation and destruction.


Volume 5 documents a large number of traditions concerning unusual and often undesirable properties and activities of the sun and moon. To name just a few examples, prominent beliefs were that the moon was originally brighter than the sun and that the earth once succumbed to the heat caused by the sun's former proximity, its greater strength, its failure to move or the appearance of multiple luminaries.

Volume 6 offers a miscellany of traditions. Salient examples are the beliefs that the seasonal cycle was not always stable, that the morning or evening star used to be a comet or meteor, that objects or deities fell out of the sky, that the earth once turned over or changed places with the sky, that fossils are the remains of former giants and that specific areas now under water were originally dry land.


The attached gives the indexes to all six volumes. Many of the subject titles may be of interest as further material to the above.

If of value I will rework through the volumes I have an include materials in this thread. But if off specific topic please say so or ignore.
 

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OutSky

Jedi
[..]
What appears to me to be the most striking difference is the fact that both heaven and earth are preexistent; nobody created space and time, the universe, etc. With very few exceptions, the question about this is never asked!
[..]
That was a memorable observation. Also a gainful revived thread.

And it seems profitable going back now to the Gauguin notice. For this, years ago when I took a look into that painting, it just bothered me maybe because I hated then the disproportional lines of the drawings, and mostly for the annoying colors. However why was all that? I used to paint too, so this should not be a problem to me. So, that is the clue.

Years have gone and I learned a lot at this period as most of us did. Therefore I can and ought now better understand that painting. My opinion is that we should first find its focal point. Probably is correct that it could be read from right to left, which is, as entitles the painting, “from where”, “ what is,” and “to where”. But these three parties are immersed focal points, I think.

Gauguin, as many poets do, touched his soul enough to place several elements in that painting, if not all them, as to depict what happened and what happens. If this thought is precise, therefore perhaps we should not fail to notice any white duck there.
 

whitecoast

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Then, there is the discussion of the development of sacrifice which is very interesting.

I'm on chapter 3 right now, and with regard to sacrifice a common mytheme presented is a pole or axis on an altar during such sacrifices, which serves as a microcosm of the pillars or world tree in many myths that support the separation of heaven from earth. In India there was a old wives tail that if a widow wished to become pregnant with children from her deceased husband she had to climb to the top of this pole.

Now, Japan and the Bahamas both are roughly situated at the borders between what Witzel calls "Laurasia" and "Gondwana"... Here's a map from the book, to which I added 2 arrows pointing at Japan and the Bahamas:

From the limited reading India, I think, is also quite an interesting place to study religious history, since it is part of Gondwana and yet has progressively integrated a lot of myths from Laurasia, although the latter more or less had the final say in terms of what made it into the written tradition from oral when the Vedas were compiled, similar to how there were several mythical iterations and retellings in Egypt.
 

Approaching Infinity

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Following up on a footnote mentioning James Harrod, I found this paper published after Witzel's book came out. Haven't read it yet, but here's the summary:

A meta-pattern-analysis of the mitochondrial DNA phylotree and current distribution of language families indicates that over the last 200,000 years there are robust correspondences between mtDNA haplogroups and language macrofamilies. This study is a thought experiment, a top-down derivation of the Homo sapiens sapiens (‘Proto-Human’, ‘Proto-World’) language phylotree, which can be tested against bottom-up prehistoric linguistic reconstructions. It establishes a relative chronology for dating the emergence and branching of the global array of language macrofamilies. The language phylotree is crosschecked against archaeological data and fossil mtDNA studies, which support many of the correlations. Results imply L3M and N dispersed out-of-Africa at around 80,000 years ago with both Afrasian and Nile-Sudanic languages and mythological systems. After a 3-to-5000-year pause in SW Asia three Borean language superfamilies emerged, Borean-N (Dené-Caucasian), Borean-M (Eurasiatic) and Borean-R, the latter including language families of SW Asia and Europe as well as SE Asia and Sahul. Alternative short-chronology hypotheses for language evolution, dating of sapiens sapiens out-of-Africa and a ‘southern route fast track’ from SW Asia to Sahul do not appear supported by either mtDNA genetics or archaeology. A hypothesis aligning all language families to the mtDNA phylotree yields a more differentiated and different chronology to the dyadic out-of-Africa dispersion model proposed in Fleming, Zegura, Harrod, Bengtson & Keita (2013).


Right away, the results will suffer based on any limitations in the current understanding and interpretation of mtDNA phylotrees, and the out-of-Africa assumption. But like Witzel points out in his own work, the relative chronology still might be useful - so maybe there are some insights to be gleaned here, for those interested in linguistics.
 
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