HUMANPAST.NET

Religion & Legends                   8,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

In General

A young woman - we are told - went into the forest. The serpent saw her. "Come!" he said. But the young woman answered, "Who would have you for a husband? You are a serpent. I will not marry you." He said, "My body is indeed that of a serpent, but my speech is that of a man. Come!" And she went with him, married him, and presently bore a boy and girl; after which the serpent husband put her away, saying, "Go! I shall take care of them and give them food." The serpent fed the children and they grew. One day the serpent said to them, "Go, catch some fish!" They did so and return, and he said, "Cook the fish!" but they replied, "The sun has not yet risen." When the sun rose and warmed the fish with its rays, they consumed the food, still raw and bloody. And the serpent said, "You two are spirits; for you eat your food raw. Perhaps you will eat me. You, girl, stay here! You, boy crawl into my belly!" The boy was afraid and said, "What shall I do?" But the snake said, "Come!" and he crept into the serpent's belly. The serpent said to him, "Take the fire and bring it out to your sister! Come out and gather coconuts, yams, taro, bananas!" So the boy crept out again, bringing the fire from the belly of the serpent. Then, having gathered roots and fruit, as told, they lit a fire with the brand the boy had brought forth, and cooked their food; and when they had eaten, the serpent asked, "Is my kind of food or yours the better?" To which they answered, "Yours! Our kind is bad." Here is a legend of the planting world such as might have been told practically anywhere along the tropical arc of the primary migration, from Africa eastward (south of the Elburz-Himalayan mountain line) to southeast, Asia, Indonesia, and Melanesia; whereas, actually, its place along the arc was a primitive enclave at the remote eastern end of this great tropical province: the Admiralty Islands, just off the northern coast of New Guinea. (128)

Of the mythologies open to study in that extremely interesting area, many are undoubtedly of great age. But, as we have seen in the Andaman Island legend of Sir Monitor Lizard and Lady Civet Cat playing the roles of Tammuz and Ishtar, traits from the higher culture spheres can be absorbed even by the most primitive traditions. And yet, on the other hand, as we have seen in the case of the Solo (Ngandong) skulls from c. 200,000 BC treated in the manner of the modern Borneo headhunt, the most amazing conservatism can also be represented in these societies. Coming across such a trait, therefore, as that of the serpent and the maiden among primitive Papuans, are we to think it a regressed, or a primitive, form of the Fall in the Garden? Or does anyone know, indeed, where this mythological theme first arose? (128)

It is reasonably clear that the widely known mythological theme of the serpent and the maiden first appeared somewhere along the arc of the primary tropical diffusion from Africa, through Arabia and the Near East, to India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Melanesia. As we have learned from the evidence of the paleolithic tools, a broad and even fairly rapid diffusion along this arc can be readily demonstrated; however, two major provinces are to be distinguished: (a) that from Africa to India; and (b) that from North-Central India, through Southeast Asia, to Indonesia and Melanesia. In the first, a number of developed varieties of the paleolithic hand ax have been found as well as earlier and cruder "pebble tools"; but in the second, only relatively crude types of chopping tool. Furthermore, in the first we have found the vigorous microlithic-Capsian diffusion, which did not extend into the second. So that Province (a) would appear not only to have been the earlier of the two, but also to have retained the cultural lead at least until the end of the paleolithic. For we can be certain that from one end to the other of Province a there was an effective communication of thought and techniques; slow, indeed, according to modern standards - requiring centuries instead of seconds - yet eventually effective, nevertheless. (128)

In the case of our present myth, we do not know where, on the great arc of Province (a), the idea occurred to some of the women grubbing for edible roots that it would be sensible to concentrate their food plants in gardens; nor do we know whether the idea stemmed from a concept of economy or from some "seizure" and related ritual play. All that is certain is that the functions of planting and of this myth are related and that the myth flourishes among gardeners; moreover, that it can have appeared spontaneously within a broad zone of readiness in more than one place at once; and finally, that within a period which in terms of paleolithic reckoning need not have been long (say, a thousand years) the myths and rites, together with their associated gardening techniques, can have filled the arc. We may guess the date, therefore, to have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 7500 BC. But since we know that a mythology of the goddess was already flourishing earlier than this - having shown itself in the Aurignacian figurines, practically with the first appearance of Homo sapiens on the prehistoric scene - we must recognize that the myth of the serpent and the maiden represents only a development from an earlier base. In the rickety child's grave at the Mal'ta site, where some twenty female figurines were found, there was an ivory plaque bearing on one side a spiral design and on the other three cobralike snakes. Another spiral was stippled on the side of an ivory fish. The child was in the fetal position, facing east. And there were some ivory birds in the grave. (128)

This symbolism of the serpent of eternal life appearing in the paleolithic period on the reverse of a plaque bearing on its obverse the labyrinth of death; a fish in the same assemblage bearing the labyrinth on its side; the birds, suggesting a flight of the soul in death, as in shamanistic trance; the orientation to the rising sun; and the fetal posture of the little skeleton - these, in a single grave in a site where twenty statuettes of the goddess were discovered as well as a number of ceremonially buried beasts, speak for the presence of a developed mythology in the late paleolithic, in which the goddess of spiritual rebirth was already associated with the symbols of the very much later neolithic cult of Ishtar-Aphrodite: the bird, the fish, the serpent, and the labyrinth. (128)

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 Sumerian texts dealing with landmark events in Mankind's saga provide specific indications regarding the periodic appearances of the Planet of the Anunnaki--approximately every 3,600 years--and always at crucial junctions in Earth's and Mankind's history. It was at such times that the planet was called Niburu, and its glyptical depictions--even in early Sumerian times--were the Cross. That record began with the Deluge. Several texts dealing with the Deluge associated the watershed catastrophe with the appearance of the celestial god, Nibiru, in the Age of the Lion (circa 10,900 BC)... The planet returned, reappeared, and again became "Nibiru" when Mankind was granted farming and husbandry, in the mid-eighth millennium BC; depictions (on cylinder seals) illustrating the beginning of agriculture used the Sign of the Cross to show Nibiru visible in Earth's skies. (137)

Egypt

 ....there was only one epoch when the celestial symbolism of a leonine equinoctial marker would have been appropriate. That epoch was, of course, the Age of Leo, from 10,970 to 8810 BC. (152)

Indus Valley

 The exact epoch in which the Sarasvati stopped flowing 'pure in her course' to the Arabian Sea and began to lose her way instead in the thirsty sands of the Indian Desert is not yet known with any certainty. Nevertheless, Ramaswamy, Bakliwal and Verma are quite satisfied that it was not in the 'Holocene' (the most recent geological age) but in the 'late Pleistocene' - about 12,000 years ago. If all these scientists are interpreting the data correctly, then it is only to follow Possehl's own logic to observe that the combination of the remote-sensing evidence and the textual evidence carries an interesting chronological implication: the composers of the Rig Veda were in the Sarasvati region at a time when that river still ran all the way to the sea, and this would be closer to 8000 BC than it is to 1000 BC.  (124)

He then told me that the Red Hill was referred to in the most ancient surviving work of Tamil literature, the Tolkappiyam, which itself makes reference to an even earlier work now lost to history which in turn had supposedly been part of a library of archaic texts, all now also vanished, the compilation of which was said to have begun more than 10,000 years previously. This had been the library of the legendary First Sangam - or 'Academy' - of the lost Tamil civilization of Kumari Kandam, swallowed up, as Captain Narayan put it, 'by a major eruption of the sea'. (124)

With its dominant motif of a once much larger Dravidian homeland, the opening of the Kumari Kandam flood myth is set in remote prehistory between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. The work of Glenn Milne and other inundation specialists confirms that between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago India's Dravidian peninsula and its outlying islands would indeed have been far larger than they are today - but were in the process of being swallowed up by the rising seas at the end of the Ice Age. (124)

China

 Another center appears to have been in China, where tradition has it that by 8000 BC survivors were moving from the Tien Shan Mountains down to the great Yellow and Yantze Rivers and on toward the sea. (Many ancient cultural sites have been identified along these two rivers. (113)

Europe

 Although the plastered walls [at Asikli] were commonly dressed in murals of natural landscapes, such as the eruption of Hasan Dag or scenes showing hunters in the pursuit of deer and auroch, some paintings displayed the macabre practice of leaving a recently deceased and beheaded corpse on a rack outside the town for its flesh to be removed by vultures. According to Mellaart's interpretation, this practice of "excarnation" was carried out not for reasons of hygiene but as part of a rite of passage, leading from death to an afterworld. (131)

South America

 Some American-Indian legends of their culture-gods described them as fair-haired, some described them as dark-haired. Some in fact were the one, some the other, as we have seen. Almost all seem to have been sea-people by contrast with the American-Indians themselves who were essentially landsmen. The distinction is clear in their tales. The arrival of the culture-heroes was nearly always from the east, using the easier Atlantic route. The important initial discovery by them of America from the west, being too early and too superficial to be remembered, probably took place in the eighth millennium. (135)

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other

 The Australian Aborigones offer a wonderful subject for meditations on the nature of humanity. Consider: these people lived in what may have been nearly complete isolation for more than 40,000 years in an ecologically diverse continent, and when first encountered by Europeans in the 17th century, their technology hardly approached the sophistication of the Neanderthals: just simple stone tools and rudimentary wooden implements; and yet they evolved a kinship system and cosmology that most graduate students in anthropology have struggled to comprehend in all its complexity--and probably never do.(24)