PALEOLITHIC ART MAGAZINE
THE OBSERVATION OF THE STARS FOR CULT PURPOSES IN THE MOST REMOTE ANTIQUITY
THROUGH MYTH READING
Fig.1 Obelisk - Roma, Piazza del Popolo.
Height .23,20; weight 235 tons.
It was the first obelisk to be brought to Rome from Egypt, in the 1st century B.C., by Augustus.
It was placed on the "spina" of the Circus Maximus as symbol of the Sun.
It was decorated by Seti I ("he who fills Heliopolis with obelisks so that their rays may illuminate the temple of Ra") and Ramesses II ("he who produces innumerable monuments like the stars in the sky. His works reach the heavens").
A myth of the Society Islands so tells the creation of the world: "The One was the ancestor of all gods; he created all things; he developed in solitude; he was the parent of himself. He sat in his shell, in the dark, for millions of ages: The shell was like a rotating egg in infinite space, without sky, without earth, without moon, without sun, without stars. Finally Ta'Aroa gave his shell a tap that produced a fissure: he slipped out and saw that he was alone. Finally he grew tired of that shell and slipped out of another, and the one he opened first became a limited sky. He lived in that limited sky in complete darkness, and thus became a child.But within him he kept these beings: memory, thought, contemplation and observation; they discovered the earth. He gave himself a name, and by him all things existed. He evoked the gods, and they were born in darkness. Therefore the sky was called the sky of the gods. Much later man was created" (free reduction from T.Henry, Ancient Tahiti, Honolulu, 1928).
Therefore, memory, thought, contemplation and observation: these beings discovered the earth.
And the sky.
It is matter therefore of a process of inner evolution.
There is no doubt that the contemplation of the celestial vault has powerfully contributed to rising of the idea of transcendence in the man of the Paleolithic, with the occurrence of an awareness of the underlying symbolism.
Probably, soon elements of magic, totemism and animism interlaced themselves, for which it is hypothetical that prematurely the man has projected his fantasies on the stars that followed each other in the sky, in which the world of the nature, mainly the animal one and that one of beings similar to himself, were variously implied in a recurrent vicissitude rich of meanings, signs and signals, beyond that of symbols. And , from these, he must have tried to draw indications and explanations regarding phenomena of important order, in primis the death, thus providing the basis for a spiritual heritage, the foundation of religion itself, but also of everything that has to do with the irrational.
Beyond that, such signs and signals soon had to be revealed useful for practical indications, aimed to the survival, about the quality of the time (we think as an example some indications of meteorological type, useful for hunting and harvest) .
Presumably , stars constituted the main source of guideline in the time and the space. It is not in fact possible to orient him self without stable, absolute points of reference, and these, at the beginnings, could have been constituted from the constellations (see L. Filingeri, The running of the time in the mental and material representation of the Paleolithic man and The most ancient known representation of the moon (Upper Paleolithic, Vara, Savona, Liguria, Italy).
Thus, the observation of the sky set the basis for scientific observation.
Therefore, the vicissitudes of the stars have always been closely connected with those of life on earth, so that the constellations themselves, in their denomination, reflect the culture of the men who gave them a name. Today we are indebted to these ancient peoples who have built for us the map of the sky, naming and distinguishing those same stars from which, even today, in an era of sophisticated technology, we start to make our basic observations.
Which could be then the relationship between man and stars, in that far epoch of our history of which only traces remain, for many aspects still scarcely decipherable for us?
In particular, what relationship could exist between the stars and the spirituality of man?
About the cult rituals connected to the sky and to its astronomical events interpreted like manifestations of divinity tell us great megalithic monuments of the most remote times (see Post- paleolithic places of worship with sculpture in the lowlands ), menhir, dolmen, erected stones, gigantic complexes, of which Stonehenge has become the symbol that in some way encloses them all, and that has in himself double valence of space-time limit , sacred complex for cult rituals and astronomical observatory.
This sacredness connected to the vault of heaven will be preserved for a very long time.
The tekhenu of the Egyptians, the messalah of the Arabs, those that were later called obelisks, known even before the 20th century B.C., were nothing more than an evolved form of monoliths sacred to the solar divinities of sunrise and sunset, whose religious center par excellence was Heliopolis: Pliny the Elder tells us that they represented the rays of the sun. They derived from the Babylonian Gnomon, a stick planted in the ground, whose shadow projected on the ground marked both the passing of the hours of the day, and particular moments during the year, such as the solstices and equinoxes.
Near the Romans, the temple itself represented a part of the sky enclosed within ideal limits, and projected on the earth, from which the particular guideline of temples and places of cult in general, in connection with the cardinal points. Notice that temple and time has a same root, and it is implicit their tie with the "All infinite ", with the supreme divinity.
Therefore, between the several sciences, also the Archeoastronomy, studying the believes and the astronomical practices of the ancient people, can be of aid to other sciences, archaeology, palethnology, anthropology, archeoarteology, conducting precisely investigations on the relationship between stars, myths and rites of worship.
In 1740, William Stukeley, studying the megalithic complex of Stonehenge, observed that the main axis was oriented in the direction of the summer solstice at sunrise.
Later on, British astronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer, towards the end of his life, was interested to the megalithic alignments, in particular Carnac and Stonehenge, and to their relationships with astronomy, using their data in conjunction with computations concerning the precession of the equinoxes, detecting alignments to different celestial bodies, and trying both to establish connections with astral religions and early calendars, and to establish or confirm the dates of construction of those megalithic complexes.
To them then joined Max Müller (Contributions à la science de la mythologie, 1897) with researches of classic mythology and philology, aimed to demonstrate that from the interpretation of the celestial phenomena, in particular of the God Sun, were derived all the religious believes of the men of the Prehistory . To the theory of the "solar spread" joined Max Müller, Alfred Jérémias, and Andrew Lang.
Later on, the Archeoastronomy has been supported mainly from the Archeology.
There is no doubt that myths bring back to us the story of the Origins, the perennial search for a link with the transcendent. It is not by chance that cosmogonic myths come first in almost all cultures.
In myths, human behavior is correlated with primordial events.
Consequently, one way to discover vestiges of the importance of the stars in the imaginary, even religious, of ancient peoples may be to investigate the residual traces of them among indigenous peoples of our time who have maintained this tradition.
Among the Wlijmbaio of Australia, the supreme being, Nuralle, gives also the name to a constellation, and is the protagonist of a myth, in which it is told how he destroys the moon every 28 days, breaking it into new stars, and removes the rise and go down of the sun.
Also in Australia, at the tribes of Kulin. a supreme being, Mami-Ngata (which means "Our Father"), is lord of the sky, and his children are the stars.
In the Narrinyeri mythology, the supreme being Nurrundere, of which the thunder is the voice when the god is angry, presides over the starry sky.
Many are the Australian myths, especially of the south-eastern and central part, centered on the constellations, as the supreme being always has its seat in the sky and manifests itself through celestial phenomena, being himself a celestial being (See on this subject A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, London 1904, pp. 491-500).
In Japan, a legend tells of Pinyin Pan Ku, according to Taoist tradition, primordial being at the origin of the cosmos, at the exit from chaos: the stars would have been originated from his hair, and he would have placed in the sky, in their place, sun, moon, stars and planets.
In a tablet of Easter Island, in a song to a supreme being, it is sung: "What are the powers of the great King of the universe? He has the power to create the stars..."
Moving towards Indonesia, in Borneo, near the Dajaki Ngadju the celestial vault with the stars is born from the collision of two great and precious mountains that symbolize the two divinities, the God of the world of over, the Mahatala bird-unicorn, and the goddess of the world of under.
In Africa, near the Boscimans, great observers of stars, the God word is Kagan, that means "father that is up, dwelling in the sky"; Khonuum was the supreme God, who every night collected here and here the scattered rests of the dying sun, put them in a bag, and then recomposed them because the sun, the following day, could re-birth.
Near the oriental Bantu, the stars are the heifers of God Ruwa, that lives on the Kilimanjaro.
For the Ashanti, the supreme and creator Being calls Njongmo, and the stars are considered ornament of his face.
In North America, near the Sioux, the sky is seen in anthropomorphic way, and is divided in male and female, for which the stars of the oriental region are males, females those of the western region.
For the Skidi-Pawni, the distribution of the villages reproduces that one of stars in the sky.
Near the Sia (coinciding perhaps with Hopi or Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona), the supreme Being creator Sussistiunako made the people of the stars rise for the sake of men
For the Huicol, the mother of the Sun, which from the high observes every thing, has the dress parsemed of stars.
In elaborated mythology of the Wichita (area of the Arkansas.Texas river), that is influenced from the strong impact of the nature on their mind, the stars are much important. The main divinities are Sun or Star-that-is -always -in-motion, Moon or dazzling Woman, Star of the Morning or Brìnging- the -Light. A myth of the creation of this culture narrates like The-one-who-lights-up illuminates the world, helping the human beings and conferring them great powers. Dazzling woman and Star of the Morning , in her turn, after to have lived on the earth like men and to have fulfilled their mission of ancestors, transform themselves in stars, dwelling always in the firmament still fulfilling up there their vigilant and helpful duties towards men.
In the Myth of the Origins of the Hopi of Oraibi, Pueblos Western, Arizona, telling about the men and the other creatures who came up from the cavernous worlds to try to make light, it is said that they made the lining of a shield out of a buckskin of extreme whiteness, colored turquoise, which immediately gave forth a light so bright that it illuminated the whole world. They sent the light to the East, and it became the Sun. To the West, it became the Moon. The Prairie Wolf, curious to discover the contents of a very heavy jar, opened it to the light, and out of it came myriads of small luminous fragments and sparks, which rising upwards gave life to the stars. So much light made discover the smallness of the world and the presence of a great mass of water, and this gave rise to a series of reflections and acts, which changed the appearance of the world.
In South America, stars are encountered as a primordial pleiad, or collective group.
Among the Apapocuva, (Guarani), the tigers or jaguars that coexist with the celestial being (Kamuscini), are precisely the stars.
Among the Catiò of Colombia, the god of the sky, Caraga bì, after having created man and woman from the mud, decided to place in the sky the sun and the moon, which asked to be placed further away from the place assigned to them, in order not to burn or freeze the earth, then he placed light and stars, before continuing the work of creation.
For the Yaruro of the Venezuela the Sun travels in a canoe from the East to the West. The Stars, his daughters, go in turn the night and the Moon, sister of the sun, travels in boat. All the men of the earth are sons of the Sun and Indian Rose. According to other sources, was Indian Rose to come before in order, and the Sun is her son.
The supreme being Ulracocha, at the Quechua of Peru, who initially lived in a world without sun, moon and stars, then created, after ups and downs, everything, and his name became Ulracocha Pachaiadhachic, which means Creator-of-all-things. About the origin of the celestial bodies, the myth tells that the moon was brighter than the sun and that the sun, envious, threw on her face a handful of ashes, before ascending to heaven: this is the reason for the dark spots that can be seen on the face of the moon.
Near the Jivaro (eastern Ecuador) Etsa the Sun, son of the creator Kumpara, had as wife the Moon, Nantu, after alternate vicissitudes of courtship, in which the Moon escaped, painting her face of black (origin of the lunar spots and the night), until the two stroke each-other (this would be the origin of the respective eclipses) until the defeat of the moon that cried (when the moon is red, means that it's going to rain). In the pregnancy after their union, we find the origins of the increasing and decreasing moon.
As it is looked at, in these myths of the Origins, the human destinies and those of the celestial deities are closely interlaced. Therefore, the supreme being always characterizes itself in a celestial being, a uraniaan God, and in general the celestial beings have common and constant characteristics. Their residence is in the heavens, and often the stars are ornament, or light, or defense. or animals, or signs, or wives or children, however their creation.
Sometimes, moreover, the stars have particular relationships with the Supreme Being (like the Pleiades), or they are symbol of catastrophe (like comets: Halley's comet is the star par excellence of the supreme being Cuok).br>
Let's see now what can be deduced from the first documents related to the great historical civilizations disappeared.
It is known that Astronomy had great importance in Mesopotamia (we are around 3000 BC), science and religion at the same time.
It is precisely among the peoples of Mesopotamia that we find the historically ascertained origin of that corpus of myths which gave rise first to Greek mythology and then to Roman mythology.
Among the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian priests, the discovery of the wandering stars had given rise to the identification, in them, of the deities: after the triad of the most ancient deities of cosmic nature, of which Anu represented the celestial firmament, Shamash, the Sun; Sin/Su'en, the Moon; Ishtar, Venus; Marduk, Jupiter; Nergal, Mars; Ninurte, Saturn; and Nabu, Mercury had been identified; finally, these entities were grouped in the group of Igigi, celestial deities of Semitic origin, who lived in the intermediate sky, the upper sky was the residence of Anu, god of heaven, the astral deities were located in the lower sky.
The ziggurat Etemenanki, with its imposing size, was the"house of the foundation of heaven and earth."
For the peoples of Mesopotamia, which we can take here as a historical model to try to draw some inferences about the paths of thought of our most ancient ancestors, every phenomenon of nature had to be under the aegis of someone, certainly a god, and of gods, among those populations, we find an exorbitant number, more than a thousand.
For the peoples of the Fertile Crescent, as for almost all the peoples of the earth of every time and land, the supreme god was identified with the sun, as the star par excellence, shining, origin of life, light and warmth, which animates , observes and judges everything.
Over time, slowly, alongside this body of myths, the scientific component of astronomical observation would grow, and astronomy would become a science in itself.
In the poem in hexameters Phenomena by Aratus of Soli (320-240 BC), the first part deals with apparitions and legends referred to the sky, talking about fixed stars, planets, celestial spheres and zodiac. It describes an ancient terrestrial globe, depicting all the known constellations (20 in the northern hemisphere, 13 in the ecliptic belt, and 12 in the southern hemisphere), of which Eudoxus of Knidos (408-355 BC about), mathematician and astronomer friend of Plato (who knew this work, see.VI and VII book of "Republic"), had been in possession during a journey to Egypt. Such representation, according to the research of the astronomer Michael Ovenden, would be the work of a people who lived around 2300 BC, perhaps the Cretans. The supposition can be plausible: the Cretans were great navigators and traders, Mycenae, Tyre and Troy were usually on their routes; moreover, they were refugees in Syria and Greece after the catastrophic destruction of their civilization.
Not many generations will pass, and even among the Romans the scientific aspect of the observation of celestial phenomena will be imposed: in "De rerum natura", Lucretius (first century BC) tells :
"If If the sky can always become animated with stars
and the sun finds in the cerulean sky nurture for his flame,
it is because there is collected all the heat escaping from its middle side."
(De rerum Natura, I, verses 1089-1091 ).
But that's another story.
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