The myth and folklore of ancient cultures speak of a vast cycle of time with alternating dark and golden ages; Plato called it the Great Year. Most of us were taught that this cycle was just a myth and the golden age, just a fairytale.
Giorgio de Santillana, former professor of the history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, tells us this idea of a cycle went far beyond Greece and India. In their landmark work, Hamlet’s Mill, de Santillana and co-author Hertha von Dechend, show that the myth and folklore of more than thirty ancient cultures mention a cycle of time with long periods of enlightenment broken by dark ages of ignorance. Moreover, they show that it seems to be connected to or driven by a known astronomical phenomenon, the precession of the equinox.
This is where modern science may now be giving us some startling new evidence.
We all know the two celestial motions that have a profound effect on life and consciousness. Earth’s rotation on its axis causes humans to move from a waking state to a sleep state and back again every twenty-four hours. Our bodies have adapted to Earth’s rotation so well that it produces these regular changes in consciousness without our even thinking the process remarkable.
Precession of the equinoxes as seen from ‘outside’ the celestial dome. (Tau’olunga)
The second Copernican motion, the earth revolving around the sun, has an equally significant effect, prompting trillions of life forms to spring out of the ground, to bloom, fruit, and then decay, while billions of other species hibernate, spawn, or migrate en masse. Our visible world literally springs to life, completely changes its color and stride, and then reverses with every waxing and waning of the second celestial motion. Again we are so used to it we hardly think it noteworthy.
The third celestial motion, libration, or the precession of the equinox, is less understood than the first two, but if we are to believe ancient cultures, its effect is equally transformative. What disguises the impact of this motion is its timescale. Like the mayfly, which lives but one day a year and knows nothing of the seasons, the human being has an average life span that comprises only 1/360th of the roughly 24,000-year precessional cycle. And just as the mayfly born on an overcast, windless day has no idea that there is anything as splendid as sunshine or a breeze, so do we, born in an era of materialistic rationality, have little awareness of a golden age or higher states of consciousness – though that is the consistent ancestral message.
As Giorgio and Hertha point out, the idea of a great cycle linked to the slow precession of the equinox was common to numerous cultures before the Christian era, but then lost. Now an increasing body of astronomical and archaeological evidence suggests the cycle may have a basis in fact. More importantly, understanding its ebb and flow and the character of each epoch provides insight into civilization’s future. So far the Ancients are right on; there does seem to be evidence of a lost high age in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient India, etc. long before the Dark Ages. Then we sunk into a period where even Greece and the great Roman Empire collapsed, with famine, plague and brutal inquisition as a rule. And finally, a renaissance (rebirth) of scientific knowledge helping us to emerge from the depths of the dark ages. So what drives these changes and what can we expect in the future? Understanding the cause of precession is key.
Cycles of rising and falling: The burning of Rome, and the rebirth of knowledge. (Public Domain)
The observation of Earth’s three motions is quite simple.
In the first, rotation, we see the sun rise in the east and set in the west every twenty-four hours. And if we were to look at the stars just once a day, we would see a similar pattern over a year: the stars rise in the east and set in the west. The twelve constellations of the zodiac — the ancient markers of time that lie along the ecliptic, the sun’s path — pass overhead at the rate of about one per month and return to the starting point of our celestial observation at the end of the year. And if we looked just once a year, say on the autumnal equinox, we would notice the stars move retrograde (opposite to the first two motions) at the rate of about one degree every seventy years. At this pace, the equinox falls in a different constellation approximately once every 2,000 years, taking about 24,000 years to complete its cycle through the twelve constellations. This is called precession (the backward motion) of the equinox relative to the fixed stars.