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THE OBSERVATION OF THE STARS FOR THE PURPOSE OF CULT IN THE MOST REMOTE ANTIQUITY THROUGH THE READING OF THE MYTHS

Licia Filingeri






Fig.1 Obelisc - Roma, Piazza del Popolo.
Height m.23,20; weight 235 tons.
It was the first one obelisc to being carried to Rome from Egypt, I BC,by Augustus. It was placed on the spina of the Circo Massimo as ymbol of the Sun .Decorated by Seti I (" Who fills up Eliopolis of obeliscs because their beams can illuminate the temple of Ra") and Ramesses II (" Who produces so numerous monuments as the stars of sky. His works catch up the sky")


A myth of the Islands of the Society narrates in this manner the creation of the world: "the Only one was the ancestors of all the Gods; he created every thing; developed alone; he was the parent of himself. He remained seatting in his shell, in the dark, for million of ages: The shell was like a rotating egg in the infinite space, without sky, earth, moon, sun, stars. Finally Ta' Aroa gave to his shell a pat that produced a fissure: he slipped away outside and he saw of being alone. To the end he was ennoyed of that shell and slipped away from an other, and that before opened by him becames a limited sky. He lived in that limited sky in complete darkness, and therefore became a child..But within himself he conserved these beings: memory, thought, contemplation and observation; they discovered the earth. He gave his name to himself, and through him all the things existed . He evoked gods, and they are born in the darknesses. Therefore the sky was called the sky of gods. Much later was created the man " ( 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 trascendence in the man of the Paleolithic, taking conscience 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 on the stars that ollowed in the sky his fantasies, in which the world of the nature, mainly the animal and that one of beings similar to himself, was 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, coming therefore to place the bases of a spiritual patrimony, foundation of the same religion, but also of all what is related with the irrational.
Beyond that, such signs and signals soon had to be revealed usefuls 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) .
Presumablly , 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).
Therefore, the observation of the sky placed the bases of the scientific observation.

So, the vicissitudes of the stars appear from always closely connected with those of the life on the earth, to such point that the same constellations, in their denomination, reflect the culture of the men who gave them a name. Today we are debtors to these ancient people who have constructed for us the map of the sky, calling and distinguishing those same stars from which, still today, in an age of most sophisticated technology, we leave in order to make our observations of base.

Which could be then the relationship between man and stars, in that far age of our history of which remain alone some traces, for many sides still for us of insufficient decipheration?
In particular, which kind of relationship could elapse between the stars and the spiritualità of the man?

About the cult rituals connected to the sky and its astronomical vicissitudes interpreted as manifestations of divinity speak to us great megalithic monuments of the remoter times ( see Post- paleolithic places of cult of plain with sculpture ), 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 sacrality connected to the celestial vault will be conserved for longest time.

Tekhenu of the Egyptians, messalah of the Arabs, those that then came called obeliscs, already knewn also before XX century BC , were an evolued shape of solar monoliths sacred to the divinities of rising and going down, whose religious center for excellence was Eliopolis: Plinius the Old says that they represent the beams of the sun.
They derived from the Babylonian Gnomon, stick planted in the ground, whose shadow projected on the earth scanned both the flow of the hours in the day, and particular moments in the course of the year, like the solstices and the 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 theyr 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, archeoartology, in inquiring, beyond that the mind of the prehistoric man, and meant of his works in stone arrived until us, also his spiritual culture, searching on the relationship between stars, myths and rituals of cult.
In 1740, William Stukeley, studying the megalithic complex of Stonehenge, observed that the main axis was oriented in direction of the solstice of summer at day break.
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 some data in conjunction with the calculations regarding the precession of the equinoxes, finding alignments towards various celestial spheres, and trying to establish connections with the astral religions and the first calendars, and to establish or to confirm the dates of construction of those megalithic complexes.
To them then joined Max Müller (Contributions à la science de la mythologie, 1897) with searches of classic mythology and philology, aimed to demonstrate that from the interpretation of the celestial phenomena, in particular of the God Sun, all the religious believes of the men of the Prehistory were derived. 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.


Without doubt, the myths bring back to us the history of the Origins, the perennial search of a tie with the transcendent.

Not casually, first in nearly all cultures come cosmogonic myths.
In myths, the human behavior is put in correlation with the primordiali events. Consequently, a way in order discovering vestigia of the importance of the stars in imaginary also religious of the ancient people can be constituted investigating some residual traces near aboriginal populations of our time that have maintained this tradition.
Near the Wlijmbaio of Australia, the supreme being, Nuralle, give also the name to a constellation, and is protagonist of a myth, in which he tells as every 28 days he destroys the moon, breaking it in new stars, and determines rising and go down of the sun.
Always in Australia, near the tribes of the Kulin. a supreme being, Mami-Ngata (that means "Our Father"), is god of the sky, and his sons are the stars.
In narrinyeri mythology, supreme Being Nurrundere, of which the thunder is the voice when the God is choleric, presides to the stary sky.
Numerous are the Australian myths, above all of the Southeastern side and centralized on the constellations, in how much always the supreme being has his center in the manifest sky and through the celestial phenomena, being same heself a celestial being (See to this purpose A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, London, 1904, pp.491-500).

In Japan, a legend narrates of Pinyin Pan Ku, according to the taoista tradition primeval being to the origin of the cosmos, escaping from the chaos: the stars would have been originated from his hats, and he would have placed in the sky, at the place of them, sun, moon, stars and planets.

In a tablet of Easter island, a song to a supreme being says."Which are the powers of the great King of the universe? He has the power to create 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 to go up, for the good of the men, the people of stars.
For the Huicol, the mother of the Sun, that 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. In 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 and fulfilling still from there to their the alert and helpful duties towards the men.
In the Myth of the Origins of the Hopi of Oraibi, Pueblos Western, Arizona, speaking about the men and the other creatures that came on from the cavernous worlds in order trying to make the light, is spoken that they manifactured the lining of a shield with a skin of deer of extreme candor, dyed of turquoise color, that soon emanated a light so dazzling to illuminate all the world. They sended the light towards East, and becames the Sun. At the West, becames the moon. The Wolf of the prairies, curious to discover the content of the heaviest jar, opened it in the light, and myriads of small luminous fragments and sparkes gushed outside, that salting towards the high gave life to stars. Much light made to discover the smallness of the world and the presence of a great mass of water, and this did place to a series of reflections and actions, that changed the appearance of the world.

In the southern America, the stars are met like primeval Pleiads, or collective group.
Near the Apapocuva, (Guarani), tigers or jaguars that coexist with the celestial being (Kamuscini), are exactly the stars.
Near the Catiò of Colombia, the God of the sky, Caraga bì, after to have created man and woman from the mud, decided to place in sky sun and moon, that asked for positionning farther of the place assigned, in order not to burn or to frost the earth, then arranged light and stars, before continuing in the creation work.
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, near the Quechua of the Perou, that initially dwelled in a world lacking in sun, moon and stars, then, after alternate vicissitudes, created every thing, and his name becames Ulracocha Pachaiadhachic, that wants to say Creator-of-all-the-Things. On purpose of the origin of the celestial bodies, the myth narrates that the moon was more luminous of the sun and that the sun, envious, threw on her face a handful of ash, before rising to the sky: this is the reason of the dark spots that are looked at 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 eachother (this would be the origin of the respective eclipses) until the defeat of the moon that cried (when the moon is red, means that she is in order 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 divinity 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 center is in skies, and often the stars are ornament, or light, or defense. or animals, or signals, or wives or sons, however theyr creation.
Sometimes, moreover, the stars have with the supreme Being particular relationships (like the Pleiads), or are symbol of catastrophe (like comets: the comet of Halley is the star for excellence of the supreme being Cuok).

Let see now what can be gained from the first documents relative to the great historical civilizations disappeared.
It is knewn that the Astronomy had great importance in Mesopotamia (we are around to the 3000 BC), science and religion at the same time.
Just near the people of the Mesopotamia is assessed the historically verified origin of those corpus of myths that has given origin to Greek mythology before, and then to the Roman .

Near the sumerians , babylonian and assyrian priests, the discovery of the wandering stars had given place to the identification, in them, of the divinity: after the triad of the more ancient divinities of cosmic character, of which Anu represented the celestial firmament, were characterized Shamash , the Sun; Sin/Su' en, the Moon; Ishtar, Venus; Marduk, Iuppiter, Nergal, Mars, Ninurte, Saturnus and Nabu, Mercury; finally, these entities had been grouped in the group of the Igigi, celestial divinities of semitic origin, that dwelled in the intermediate sky; the upper sky, was residence of Anu, God of the sky; the astral divinity had residence in the lower sky.
The Ziggurat Etemenanki, with its imposing size, was the "house of the foundation of the sky and the earth".

For the people of the Mesopotamia, that we can assume here like an historical model in order to try some inference on the ways of thought of our ancient ancestors, every phenomenon of the nature had to be under the aegis of someone, sure a God, and , near those populations, we find a number exorbitant of gods, more than thousands.
For the people of the fertile Crescent, like for nearly all the people of the earth of every time and country, the supreme God was identified with the sun, in how much star for excellence, dazzling, origin of the life, light and heat, than all animates, observes and judges.

With the time, slowly, beside this corpus of myths, would have grown the scientific aspect of the observation of the stars, and astronomy would have become a science in himself.
In the poem in exameters Phenomena by Aratus of Soli (320-240 BC), in first part it is matter of apparitions and legends referred to the sky, speaking of fixed stars, celestial spheres, planets and zodiac. An ancient terrestrial globe is described, representing all known constellations (20 in the northern emisphere, 13 in the ecliptic zone, and 12 in the southern emisphere), of which Eudoxus from Cnido (408-355 BC approximately), mathematician and astronomer friend of Platon ( who knew this work, see VI and VII book of Republic), had entered in possession in the course of a travel in Egypt. Such representation , according to the searches of the astronomer Michael Ovenden, would be work of people lived around 2300 BC, perhaps the people of Crete. The supposizione can be probable: the people of Crete were great navigators and traders, Micene, Tyrus and Troy were usually on theirs wreckage;i moreover, they were refugees in Syria and Greece after the catastrophic destruction of their civilization.
After no many generations, and also near the Romans the scientific aspect of the observation of the celestial phenomena will be prevailed: in De rerum natura, Lucrece ( I century BC) tells:
"If the sky can be always animated of stars
and the sun finds in the ceruleus sky food for its flame,
is because all the heat is collected here escaping from the middle part."
(De rerum Natura, I, vv 1089-1091 ).
But this is an other history.







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