Graham Pemberton
29 min readOct 11, 2023

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Astrology, the Ancients, ‘Primitive’ Peoples, and the Perennial Philosophy

pixabay InspiredImages pixabay 12019

This is part of my unpublished book on Astrology, the third chapter of part 3. While taking a break from writing new material (see this article), I am using the opportunity to try to complete this project. (For what has preceded please see this list.) Part 3 is not so much about Astrology itself, rather the implications if there is any truth in it. In the previous article I explored the possibility of using Astrology as a means to reunify science and religion. Here I explore the thinking of ancient and indigenous peoples, some of whom took Astrology seriously. My purpose is to show that their spiritual and religious worldviews were highly sophisticated, contrary to what modern science would have us believe. I conclude that they subscribed to a worldview which would at the very least allow Astrology (what in earlier chapters I have called QMAP — Quantum Physics + Analytical Psychology — developed in part 1 of the book).

At the end of the previous article/chapter I asked the question, “if Astrology lived comfortably side by side with astronomy and science for thousands of years, that is if they were not in fact identical, and that this situation was accepted by some of the greatest minds, was the arrival of the Age of Reason a genuine advance, or is it just a passing trend, a fashion imposed upon us by over-rational scientists?” That is what is being referred to at the start of this next chapter.

Chapter 21: ‘PRIMITIVES’

In order to answer this question I am going to investigate the ways of thinking of ancient peoples, and try to get inside their minds. In any real, objective sense this will obviously be impossible; we can, however, look backwards and try to imagine what it was like. There are two areas worthy of exploration:

1) original indigenous peoples, often living a tribal life-style, so-called ‘primitives’, some examples of which are the following: European Pagans, Native Americans, the African Bushmen, the Aborigines.

2) the more advanced urban civilisations — for example, those of Babylon, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, the Maya and the Incas.

Perhaps the most important feature of the ‘primitive’ world-view is what modern psychologists call ‘mystical participation’ in the world. Carl Jung describes it thus: “In our daily experience, we need to state things as accurately as possible, and we have learned to discard the trimmings of fantasy both in our language and in our thoughts — thus losing a quality that is still characteristic of the primitive mind. Most of us have consigned to the unconscious all the fantastic psychic associations that every object or idea possesses. The primitive, on the other hand, is still aware of these psychic properties; he endows animals, plants, or stones with powers that we find strange and unacceptable… (He gives various examples) For in the primitive’s world things do not have the same sharp boundaries they do in our ‘rational’ societies”¹.

Sir Laurens van der Post, who spent time living with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, is in a position to talk about this from his personal experience:

“Yet with all this hunting, snaring, and trapping the Bushman’s relationship with the animals and birds of Africa was never merely one of hunter and hunted; his knowledge of the plants, trees, and insects of the land (was) never just the knowledge of a consumer of food. On the contrary, he knew the animal and vegetable life, the rocks, and the stones of Africa as they have never been known since. Today we tend to know statistically and in the abstract. We classify, catalogue, and sub-divide the flame-like variety of animal and plant according to species, sub-species, physical property, and use… He and they all participated so deeply of one another’s being that the experience could almost be called mystical. For instance, he seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, an antelope, a steenbok, a lizard, a striped mouse, mantis, baobab tree, yellow-crested cobra, or starry-eyed amaryllis, to mention only a few of the brilliant multitudes through which he so nimbly moved. Even as a child it seemed to me that his world was one without secrets between one form of being and another. As I tried to form a picture of what he was really like it came to me that he was back in the moment which our European fairy-tale books described as the time when birds, beasts, plants, trees, and men shared a common tongue, and the whole world, night and day, resounded like the surf of a coral sea with universal conversation”².

One consequence of this mystical participation is described by Jungian analyst and writer Edward Edinger: “For the primitive everything is saturated with psychic meaning and has hidden connections with transpersonal powers. The primitive, like the child, lives in a world that is continuous with himself. He is in rapport with the cosmos. The more one attempts to relate consciously to the depths of the psyche, the more he is led to the same attitude expressed by Jung, namely, that all the vicissitudes of the outer and inner life have a meaning and are expressions of transpersonal patterns and powers. Chance as a category of experience is a symptom of the alienated life. For the Self-connected man as for the child and the primitive chance does not exist”³.

To translate these ideas into modern language, primitives believe that matter is animated. Rather than merely believing that everything in the world is an undivided whole, they actually have a direct experience of this. They live much closer than us to the archetypal level, and they believe in synchronicity, and some version of (physicist David) Bohm’s implicate order. (This sounds remarkably like QMAP.) Further examples leading to the same conclusion are given by Van der Post when he talks about:

  1. “Nxou’s Shakespearian assertion that there was ‘a dream dreaming us’ ”⁴ which sounds very similar to the statement by Sir James Jeans quoted above (in a previous chapter) that “the universe is looking less like a great machine and more and more like a great thought”.

2. the bushman’s ability to communicate telepathically. Psi in general, and telepathy in particular, reveal a hidden interconnection between all people and things through the psyche. When Van der Post wonders how the women managed to know that the hunters had killed an eland, he says, “We bushmen have a wire here” — he tapped his chest — “that brings us news”⁵.

pixabay Solarus

Paganism is another source of similar ideas. There are now modern pagans who believe that we have lost something valuable by moving away from these ancient ways, and therefore try to recapture its spirit and incorporate it into modern life. (It is not clear, however, to what extent modern paganism is based upon the original ways. Please be aware of this in what follows. For a brief discussion of this point, see footnote 6.)

In order to explore their world I am going to refer to two books: Paganism by Vivianne Crowley⁷, and Paganism: a Beginner’s Guide by Teresa Vidgen-Moorey⁸. The latter describes the essence of paganism thus: “Pagans love and honour the earth as Mother Goddess… They feel a part of all that lives in animals, plants, and the soil itself, and so they treat all with respect”(p2). So, as well as sharing in the mystical participation described above, pagans therefore consider the earth to be a living being, along the lines of the modern writers James Lovelock and Peter Russell whose ideas I discussed in previous chapters. Crowley puts it thus: “Many Pagans believe in a conscious and creative universe in which humans and the rest of creation are the eyes and ears, the brain and the hands. All our experience is fed into the group mind of humanity which in turn feeds the consciousness of the universe” (p11). Pagans provide further extensions to this idea by their belief in ley-lines (lines of energy on the earth, which may be analogous to chi ideas in acupuncture), power points, and holy places which appear to be ‘special’ or ‘sacred’ in some way.

Vidgen-Moorey goes on to say: “Their religion is one of immanence, which means that divinity is all around us and within us. It is felt and perceived; there is no act of faith” (p5), and concludes that “the pagan view of god-within-matter includes animism, pantheism and polytheism” (p19). Here paganism seems to have a direct correspondence with Hinduism, and is therefore consistent with the Perennial Philosophy.

When discussing Celtic Paganism she describes a particularly strong belief in the unity of all things: “Their myth was part of their life; inner and outer were the same”. “They saw all existence as linked — actions and reactions, life and the individual, Otherworld, Underworld, the Everyday, person, god/dess and place all intertwine in an endless web. Tweak any part, however gently, and the entire network resonates in harmony” (p89).

When discussing shamanism she describes how it is “based on the belief that reality has many levels, and the universe consists of a complex energy-network of powers, vibrations and forms, of which the shaman gains direct experience” (p74). All this sounds very much like quantum physics.

In her book, Paganism consists of animism, nature worship, a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, and of the planet as a living being; there is no mention of the reuniting of human consciousness with the Divine, so that one could easily think that an essential ingredient of the Perennial Philosophy is missing. A slightly different picture emerges from Crowley’s book. She identifies the three core beliefs of Paganism as polytheism, pantheism, and the Divinity as both male and female (p8), which is broadly in line with three statements of belief issued by the Pagan Federation which, in its view, define a Pagan⁹.

Beyond this there is no definite set of beliefs because there are different tendencies within Paganism. She says that: “Most Pagan traditions teach reincarnation… Some Pagans have ideas similar to Hindus about karma” (p17). So there is a significant overlap with the Perennial Philosophy, but a different emphasis emerges. She says: “Since Nature is a manifestation of the Divine and life on Earth is a pleasure and a gift, then we can be in union with the Divine in this life as well as in the one beyond” (p17), thus emphasizing union with the Divine through a communion with Nature, union with the immanent God, whereas in the Perennial Philosophy the union is rather with the transcendent God. The latter trend is not absent, however, for when Crowley describes the spiritual life of Pagans, she includes meditation, retreats, fasting, exactly the practices one would expect from those seeking to unite with the Divine consciousness.

pixabay Solarus

It is therefore an open question to what extent Paganism is an exact manifestation of the Perennial Philosophy, but it is certainly consistent with QMAP. Other tribes do, however, come closer to the Perennial Philosophy, for example the Australian Aborigines. In the past Western civilisation has tended to see such people as ‘primitives’, and to look down upon their religious beliefs, prejudices that we have belatedly begun to question. Max Charlesworth, who has edited a collection of essays on Aboriginal spirituality¹⁰, sums up the situation thus: “To early twentieth-century scholars of that era it would have seemed absurd to think that Aboriginal religious systems could be approached in the same way that scholars approached the great world religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism — or that Aboriginal religious ideas could have contemporary relevance… It took almost 80 years for Australian Aboriginal religions to escape from that characterisation and for scholars to recognise that Aboriginal religions were belief-systems of considerable sophistication and seriousness” (Pxv).

In order to describe their world I shall use as sources two books by James Cowan, who has worked and travelled with them and describes himself as “Aboriginalized”: Elements of the Aborigine Tradition¹¹, and Mysteries of the Dream-Time¹². He talks about their close identification with the “land that they considered inseparable from their soul” (¹¹, p2), and how this led to “accusations of pantheism, totemism and animism” (¹², p25), but says that it appears thus only to ignorant outsiders and that the reality is more subtle: “We must take care too not to translate ‘life-essence’ as a sort of animistic spirit that gives life to the earth… Kurunba or ‘life essence’ is a metaphysical expression denoting the presence of a cultural layer within the landform itself… In other words, the landform has become iconic in essence, fulfilling a role of containment, not only of physical attributes… but of meta-physical significations” (ibid. p26). This notwithstanding, other statements he makes seem to suggest pantheism/animism, for example:

“For Aborigines, the numen is embodied in all things manifest”.

“The Aborigine enters into a Dream world where the land is transformed into a metaphysical landscape saturated with significations. In the same way that Homeric heroes live in close proximity and contact with the Olympian gods, so too do Aborigines recognize the immanent presence of their own spiritual exemplars”.

“His religious outlook is not a conceptual formularization in the way of dogma, but instead is expressed as a vital force in everything that happens or is said or thought” (ibid. pp2, 48 and 71).

Other aboriginal ideas in line with those I was proposing earlier are:

1) their belief that the continent of Australia is a gigantic human body (¹¹,p79), which is an expression of microcosm/macrocosm thinking, and also suggests the possibility of a national identity and personality. (For those who find this a strange idea, people attuned to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis talk about the rain-forests as the “lungs of the planet”.)

2) they have a powerful awareness of the archetypes (compare Jung), to which they give the mythological name of Sky Heroes:

“(The Aborigine) sees the physical environment as a projection of the archetypes that govern his existence, real or imaginary” (¹², p90).

“The Aborigines do not think differently from us; they merely observe material data in a more mystical way. For them their environment is not and has never come into being as a result of morphic activity. Spiritual identities govern the creation of their world. It is these spiritual identities, or Sky Heroes, which form the basis of all religious belief” (ibid., p20).

“The archetypal ideas which form the basis of all living creatures are an essential part of the Sky Heroes’ persona, given that they generate ‘echoes’ of types in the realm of matter. The dictum ‘as above, so below’ is fully in concordance with the Abo belief in metaphysical exemplars masquerading as Sky Heroes. Thus the Hare-Wallaby People or the Pungalunga Men embody both the physical dimension of their earthly prototypes, while at the same time they embody a purely metaphysical dimension that is not and can never be made manifest” (ibid. p24).

This archetypal realm is called the Dreaming. It is a world in which the Aborigines need to journey in order to maintain their sense of spiritual identity: “The language of myth is at pains to separate ordinary reality from that of the events of the Dreaming. In doing so, it allows Aborigines to range free over a realm of the imagination which belongs to the Soul of the universe. For it is clear that the Dreaming represents just that: a supreme interworld of archetypal images which themselves partake of revelation” (ibid. p81).

Given that, as I have discussed in previous chapters, the archetypal realm is outside space-time, it is not surprising that the aborigines, like the Kalahari Bushmen, have experiences which suggest a quantum reality. Here, for example, we see a quantum perception of time alongside the more conventional one: “Since neither time nor history exist in any meaningful sense to the Abo, it is fitting that the Dreaming should partake of eternality rather than temporality. Nevertheless social time does exist and therefore imposes its round of ceremonies upon the tribal unit. Cyclic time is inherent in the Dreaming, bringing distant events into the immediate present with consummate ease” (¹¹, p26). It is experiences from this level which provide social guide-lines: “it is the activities of the ancestral beings in their various acts of world creation ‘outside time’ that the Aborigine identifies with when it comes to determining how he should live’ (ibid., p23).

There are strong parallels with the Perennial Philosophy in that:

“The presence of the Dreaming in the life of an Aborigine begins, in a sense, before conception. His individual spirit is a part of the infinite reservoir of Spirit that emanates from the Dreaming. His appearance on earth is as a result of a transmigratory act of becoming (manifestation) on the part of spirit entities from the Dreaming. By way of totemic encounter a man is thus ‘conceived’ in his human form for the duration of his physical life on earth. This means he cannot break the Gordian knot that binds him to the Dreaming. All his life he owes allegiance to the ‘spirit that made him’ and therefore acknowledges the Dreaming as ever present in his life” (ibid. p25).

“Reincarnation plays a significant role in Aboriginal totemic belief” (ibid. p48), and their attitude towards death fits in with the world-view of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (See¹¹, p112 et seq).

Regarding the issue of trying to unite with divine consciousness that I addressed in relation to paganism, it is explained that the ordinary Aborigine attains higher planes of consciousness through his totemic identity, “for it is the act of identifying with ‘something other’ than himself that allows a tribesman the opportunity to transcend ordinary reality in an act of union”, and during the rituals: “Only when the performers had appeared from behind the bush and commenced their enactment of the mythical event was he (A.P.Elkin) told that the men were in a state of Dreaming — that they had ‘become’ the Sky Heroes and First Animals already described in the chants and songs… Contact with the Dreaming is the sole object for all the participants during these ceremonies. It is not a divine place that they are endeavouring to enter by way of ritual gesture, but a state of mind — a return to the source” (¹¹, p39 and ¹², p60).

The spiritual leaders, however, are aware of even higher possibilities; they place importance upon “meditation as a mode of contact between themselves and the spirit-world” (¹², p13), and the following statement strongly suggests an advanced spiritual knowledge: “For every trickster wishing to demonstrate his prowess there were other men who preferred to engage in meditation and contemplation of a high order as a sign of their calling” (¹¹, p89). There are clear parallels with Hinduism here. Cowan himself compares Aborigine practice with Kundalini Yoga (¹², pp13–4), and this last quotation is also reminiscent of India, where fakirs impress the crowds with their tricks, whilst others prefer the contemplative life.

pixabay Walkingbird96

Now, if we look into the world of the Native Americans, we find not only a fully fledged version of the Perennial Philosophy, but also a culture which, even more than the Kalahari bushmen and the Aborigines, lives quantum physics as an everyday reality. I have come to this conclusion after reading three books: Principles of Native American Spirituality by Timothy Freke and Wa’Na’Nee’Che’ (Dennis Renault)¹³, The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian by Joseph Epes Brown¹⁴, and Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat¹⁵. To justify this statement I would need to quote much material similar to what has gone before. Alternatively, trust me that you will find outstanding parallels with the Perennial Philosophy, including:

a) the identity of the individual Self with the ultimate Spirit and the microcosm/ macrocosm enfoldment

b) the goal of union with the Divine, the nature of which they, like all mystics down the ages, understand to be silence

c) a belief in reincarnation and karma which extends to the Eastern concept of the transmigration of souls

d) a quasi-Hindu understanding of divinity as monotheism within polytheism.

The references to this point are expressed in terms remarkably similar to Eastern religions and quantum physics, thus providing further material as a possible appendix to Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics. On other occasions they echo the Western mystery tradition, for example, Black Elk (¹³, p84) sounds remarkably like Plato. Brown makes the overall connection explicit: “Native American traditions, at least where there has not been excessive compromise to the modern world, are in no sense inferior, but indeed are legitimate expressions of the philosophia perennis” (¹⁴, p109). Not only do their beliefs correspond to it; they also have a system of spiritual practices which seeks union with the divine consciousness.

Furthermore the Native Americans place great importance upon dreams and visions, teaching that they are doorways into a vastly greater reality than that of the senses. They thus show themselves to be a significant precursor of Jung’s Analytical Psychology (¹⁵, p79, and ¹³, p87. Also, Jung’s follower Marie-Louise von Franz describes the Naskapi Indians who provide an extraordinary example of the Perennial Philosophy and Analytical Psychology in a tribal setting¹⁶.)

Given that they live a quantum reality, it is not surprising that their world-view and the language used to express it reflect quantum thinking. In Wholeness and the Implicate Order¹⁷ David Bohm laments the inability of Western languages, given that they are noun-based, to describe the true nature of reality. He therefore suggests changes to create a new language (which he calls the rheomode) which gives a more prominent place to verbs, and coins some new vocabulary to help this process. However, as F. David Peat explains: “David Bohm had not known when he wrote of that concept that such a language is not just a physicist’s hypothesis. It actually exists… A few months before his death, Bohm met with a number of Algonkian speakers and was struck by the perfect bridge between their language and worldview and his own exploratory philosophy. What to Bohm had been a major breakthrough in human thought — quantum theory, relativity, his implicate order and rheomode — were part of the everyday life and speech of the Blackfoot, Mic Maq, Cree, and Ojibwaj” (¹⁵, p238). What is especially striking is that, in general, Native American languages do not have past and future tenses, preferring to reflect “a perennial reality of the now” (¹⁴, p50 — compare the Aborigines’ attitude to time discussed above), and they portray a quantum view of reality as a world of flux and change¹⁸.

Although these indigenous cultures all have manifestations of QMAP and the Perennial Philosophy as their world view, there seems to be little importance attached to Astrology, even though these ideas, as I have argued previously, are those that would make it possible¹⁹. It seems that it was necessary for an urban society to have developed before Astrology became established and flourished, the obvious examples being the early Middle Eastern civilisations, the Greeks, Egyptians, Maya, Chinese and the Incas.

It is not completely obvious why this should be so. In early history the tribes were perhaps not technically equipped to calculate the motions of the planets, but given their sophistication in other areas there is no reason why the Native Americans should not have managed it, had they wished. It seems necessary to seek another explanation. The purpose of Astrology is to reveal the hidden meaning behind the world of appearances, and hopefully to help us attune ourselves to the unfolding divine will. As we have seen, these peoples already achieved this purpose in their daily lives. It could be said therefore that Astrology was in a sense superfluous to their requirements.

If this is true, it immediately poses a new question — why did urban societies develop Astrology given that these other means were also available to them? Purely as hypothesis, I offer the following suggestion. The tribal peoples, as we have seen, had a very strong sense of identity with the external world/universe; at some stage there was no separation, so that instinctively, effortlessly, they were in tune with their Spirits. It is possible that, by the time that urban societies had developed, consciousness had separated itself both from the external world and from its roots in the psyche, and no longer intuitively knew the ‘will of the gods’, therefore needing a means to reconnect itself, hence the development of Astrology.

It is well known that the ancient Egyptians were deeply attached to Astrology. West and Toonder believe that “astrology may well have been known to the Egyptians thousands of years before the Greeks knew of it”. In case we are tempted to think that this means they were in some way superstitious and stupid, we should bear in mind that the Egyptian pyramids and temples involved such extraordinary architectural and logistic difficulties that we moderns still struggle to figure out how they were built, and their calendar was “so accurate that only in very recent times has it been possible to improve upon it”²⁰. The authors conclude that “Egyptian astronomy from earliest antiquity was of the highest order, and that such a science could not have developed without some master plan and an organized — not random — system of observation” (ibid. p47).

Since there is no doubt about their intelligence, it is only important to establish their underlying philosophy. In the following version it sounds unsurprisingly familiar:

“The sages of Egypt considered the universe a whole, in which every part is related to every other part. To them the universe was, in its entirety, conscious. This consciousness manifested itself in the hierarchy of levels which man observes as diversity. What man regards as ‘matter’ is a manifestation of consciousness, and what he regards as ‘mind’ is consciousness at a higher level”.

“The Egyptians believed that the laws of the universe had been written into man; that if he understood himself well enough, he would understand the universe”. (These are the conclusions of Egyptologist R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz described in West/Toonder p40.) Haven’t we heard all this before somewhere?

I shall not discuss the Ancient Greeks at length, in that the two most significant figures in the development of astrological thinking there, Pythagoras and Plato, both spent several years studying in Egypt, and were therefore significantly influenced by the worldview I have just described, that is to say QMAP. The Stoics also held similar views. The Vedantist philosophy of India has been discussed in earlier chapters, so there is no need to repeat that here. I will mention briefly the Chinese, some of whom expressed QMAP in an unusually direct way:

“There were… applications of a theory linking the macrocosm (the whole universe) to the microcosm ( the human body). The Taoist magicians of the first centuries of the Christian era believed that in every part of the human body there lived deities who were also gods of the sky, the earth, the constellations, mountains and rivers. By means of meditation it was possible to see the cosmic deities living inside the body, and also to acquire from them psycho-physiological prescriptions and moral precepts relating to health and welfare”²¹. What a fantastic description of the archetypes! Gauquelin also quotes the Taoist author Kwan-Tse: “The Tao, which is made manifest also in the hearts of men… It is the living force which brings existence to being. Here below, it brings forth the five varieties of cereal, and up above it ordains the movement of the stars”, and comments: “Thus the Tao is like the astrological lore of the first Sumerians, namely, the living force of the whole universe is also that of man” (ibid. p92). This sounds very much like David Bohm’s concept of the holomovement.

pixabay Jose_pachecoph

The Maya

In order to explore the world of the Maya, I am going to turn to a book called Secrets of Mayan Science/Religion by Hunbatz Men²², described as a holy man, spiritual teacher, and authority on the history, chronology, and calendars of Mayan civilization. Here we find all the ideas that we have perhaps by now come to expect: animism/pantheism, quantum mechanical understanding of matter and energy, the unity of all things, Perennial Philosophy ideas of reincarnation and karma, polytheism within monotheism, human beings as a microcosm of the Divine, levels of emanation. This is not surprising when one realizes that Men believes that the Maya strongly influenced some of the ancient civilizations of the world, including those of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Arabia, and India. It is hard for an outsider like me to know whether or not the author is showing any bias in favour of his people, but if we are prepared to believe him, Men talks about “the existence of one language (i.e. Mayan), thousands of years ago, which fell into linguistic confusion with the separation of the continents” (p82), giving examples of Asian and European languages revealing Mayan roots. With regard to the exchange of culture he says, for example: “Valmiki wrote that the Naga Maya brought their culture to India around 2700 BC, although we believe it was even earlier” (p111), citing as evidence the fact that yoga was practised by his ancestors in Mexico, and that the very word yoga exists in Mayan, as do words equivalent to chakra (i.e. chacla, see p128), and kundalini (k’ultanlilni, see p133). If this is correct then we can assert that the Maya were the originators of the Perennial Philosophy, a view with which Men himself would wholeheartedly agree.

This would suggest that they were people of extraordinary wisdom. It is therefore interesting to note with that in mind that Men says that astronomy and astrology were the foundations of their philosophy. He talks about their “profound understanding of mathematics combined with the cosmos — the movement of the Sun and its governing laws” (p110). Whereas we might think of Astrology as merely a process of observation and interpretation, Men makes the, on the face of it, extraordinary statement that “in the initiation to Mayan culture, the student must learn to use basic solar energy and, in other instances, the forces which come from the Milky Way, from other planets, and even other solar systems” (p120).

Men is in favour of the reunification of science and religion that I am discussing, because for the Maya they were always seen as a single entity (p69). Their philosophy was called panche be, which means ‘seeking the root of truth’ this in “a detailed and meticulous analysis of all that exists” (p81). It was therefore analogous to the Greek, Vedantist, and Kabbalistic traditions.

machu picchu Peru pixabay WikiImages

Turning now to the Incas, there is a new avenue to explore. I shall describe the work of William Sullivan, author of The Secrets of the Incas²³, upon which Channel 4 (UK TV) based a two-episode programme of the same name. Some of what follows was from their website, in addition to Sullivan’s book.

The Inca Empire existed for less than a century, not becoming a force until early in the 1400s. You may think that they are therefore not an example of the ancient societies that I am discussing. Sullivan explains, however, that they are the culmination of a tradition, for which he finds no other name but Andean, stretching back to at least two centuries BCE. It is reasonable therefore to compare them to the other older civilisations.

By now we should not be surprised if we discovered that they had QMAP as their worldview, and that there are strong parallels with the other societies. I will not dwell at length on examples here which would merely repeat what has gone before. I will just mention:

1) their direct understanding of the archetypes, reminiscent of the Aborigines: “The notion that each species of animal had a celestial prototype responsible for the welfare of that species is a well-established fact of Andean ethonography… Generally, they believed that for every (species of) animal and bird that there is on earth, its likeness is in the sky, whose responsibility was its (i.e. each species) procreation and augmentation” (p237). (This sounds very similar to Plato.)

2) their language incorporating an understanding of quantum physics, like the Native Americans: “(The verb) camay escapes the seemingly handy glosses ‘to create’ (because ‘create’ connotes an ex nihilo act, while camay connotes the energizing of extant matter) and ‘to fashion’ (because ‘fashion’ suggests only an initial shaping of inert matter, whereas camay is a continuous act that works upon a being as long as it exists)” (p238, quoting Salomon and Urioste in their translation of the Huarochiri manuscript by Francisco de Avila, University of Texas Press).

There is a more interesting story to tell, the bare facts of which are as follows: “On the evening of 15 November 1532, a band of 175 hardened Spanish adventurers crossed a pass in the high Andes… They became the first Europeans to make contact with the Incas, whose highly developed empire stretched 3,000 miles from Chile to Colombia and had a population of six million. On the following day, in what ranks as one of the strangest events in all recorded history, the Spaniards managed to seize the Inca king Atahuallpa and, in the ensuing panic, used the advantage of their 120 warhorses to kill and wound 10,000 Inca warriors…” (Channel 4 Website). Sullivan relates how this story intrigued him, and how he felt driven to understand, given that historians have no explanation, how the Incas could allow this to happen. After twenty years of research his conclusion is that the Spanish had appeared at precisely the right place and at just the right “time to fulfil an ancient, astronomically based prophecy of doom” (Channel 4), “…that after a certain number of Incas had reigned, there would come to that land a people never before seen who would destroy the religion and empire of the natives” (p255).

The astrological credentials of the Incas seem impeccable: “As with other Andean peoples, they had been schooled for centuries in the intellectual discipline of understanding history in terms of synchronous terrestrial and celestial events”. Sullivan also quotes Guamán Poma: “They knew by looking at the stars and comets what was going to happen” (p269). The prediction was not revealed to the general population, kept secret by an inner circle who discovered that “the end of everything… was written clearly in the stars” (p281).

And what a strange coincidence! The Spaniards turned up at just the right time to fulfil the prophecy. On the first day 175 Spaniards defeated 10,000 Incas. It is not clear exactly what was going on in their minds. The implication of Sullivan’s work is that the Incas, knowing that the end of their civilisation was ‘written in the stars’, when confronted by the Spaniards allowed it to happen. If this was the case, it would have been an extraordinary example of a confidence in the Divine Will so great that it could overcome the profound biological instinct of self-preservation. The Inca authorities knew of the prophecy, and the astrologers must have been aware of the timing; the arrival of the Spaniards must have seemed ominous. Yet the advance guard which went to meet them was unarmed. They could hardly have assumed naively that these strangers intended them no harm. Did they therefore intend to surrender to them? All this fits with the original hypothesis. If, however, they were so sure their civilisation was at an end, why did many Inca nobles fight to protect their leader, and why did others seem surprised when attacked, and then fled, panicking. Did fear and instinct finally take over? Did knowledge of the prophecy simply drain their motivation out of them?

Answers to questions like these are probably unanswerable now. What seems undeniable is that the prophecy came to pass. In retrospect it can clearly be seen as self-fulfilling; it would be more convincing if 10,000 Incas had fought with their heart and soul, and still managed to lose to 170 Spaniards. Sullivan, having outlined the various celestial events which led the Incas to believe that their civilisation was about to die, addresses that point thus: “To dismiss the Inca prophecy as ‘self-fulfilling’ may undervalue the perceptive powers of the Andean shamans” (p335), that is to say, the astrology was so powerful that it seemed irresistible.

We can of course dismiss the Incas’ attitude as nonsense, their behaviour as absolute folly. Yet in the period prior to the Spaniards’ arrival, Sullivan believes that those Incas aware of the prophecy were busy writing down what they thought were the valuable aspects of their culture, purely for the benefit of future generations. He comments: “How much character does it take, when your world is crashing down around you, to continue to do your job, make your observations, and preserve them for a future that may already have been destroyed?” (p328). We could therefore alternatively consider their attitude to be one of the greatest courage, the ultimate trust in the will of the gods, an absolute confidence in Astrology.

I think that I have established here that all ancient cultures of any significance held beliefs strongly reminiscent of, if not identical with, twentieth-century developments in physics and psychology, systems which themselves are completely consistent with the Perennial Philosophy, a spiritual tradition going back thousands of years. This should be enough to convince us that these peoples were not ignorant, superstitious, and gullible. Thus the astrologer Robert Hand says: “Early in human history religions reached a very high level of sophistication. The view of most modern Westerners that they consist of naive collections of superstitions is not borne out by studies of contemporary primitive peoples. If one looks at the religious concepts of so-called primitive shamans… the sophistication of these beliefs is astounding”²⁴. Why this should be is in itself an interesting question worthy of exploration. For the time being, however, I hope merely that I have convinced you that ancient peoples are worth listening to.

In answer to my opening question, we can perhaps hope that the Age of Reason, the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, has been merely a temporary aberration, and that we can hopefully return soon to a pre-Enlightenment worldview, that of these highly sophisticated ancient peoples.

In the next article/chapter I’ll examine some of the allegedly extraordinary things these ‘primitive’ people believed in.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.

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Footnotes:

  1. Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p30
  2. Lost world of the Kalahari, Penguin, 1962, p21
  3. Ego and Archetype, Shambhala Publications, 1972, p101
  4. as footnote 2, p244
  5. ibid., p236
  6. Pagans would obviously like to think that their tradition extends backwards for thousands of years, since that gives it more credibility. Thus Starhawk (Miriam Samos) describes the Old Religion in these terms: “Witchcraft is a religion, perhaps the oldest religion extant in the West. Its origins go back before Christianity, Judaism, Islam — before Buddhism and Hinduism, as well, and it is very different from all the so-called great religions”. “According to our legends, Witchcraft began more than 35 thousand years ago” (The Spiral Dance, HarperCollins, 1989, p16, p17).

A central figure in the transition to modern times was Gerald Gardner, who claimed that he had discovered an existing religion. As Ronald Hutton points out: “It was central to his portrayal of this process that he was believed to be reviving an old and secret faith that had almost died out”. Hutton, a scholarly historian who has researched extensively into this field, disputes this claim in two books: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, and The Triumph of the Moon (OUP, 1999, the above quote is on p287). He says, for example, that “in the 1990s there broke a tidal wave of accumulating research which swept away… any possibility of doubt regarding the lack of correlation between paganism and early modern witchcraft” (ibid. p377). Although I am certainly in no position to disagree with him, there perhaps remains a slight element of doubt, since in his own words paganism is “a mystery religion, with initiates bound by oaths of secrecy to conceal their identities and activities from the outside world” (p10). If such people exist, it is clearly possible that an old tradition may have survived. Furthermore, even if there were no direct links, it seems to me highly unlikely that modern Paganism has no connection at all with the past. In any case, since there is no realistic alternative, I am going to discuss it as if it represents an ancient tradition.

7. Thorsons, 2000

8. Hodder & Stoughton, 1996

9. See Ronald Hutton, Triumph of the Moon, p390

10. Religious Business, Cambridge University Press, 1998

11. Element, 1992

12. Prism Press, 1989

13. Thorsons, 1996

14. Crossroad, 1982

15. Fourth Estate, 1996

16. as footnote 1, p162

17. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1995

18. See Principles of Native American Spirituality by Timothy Freke and Wa’Na’Nee’Che’ (Dennis Renault) (footnote 13), pp31–32, and Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat (footnote 15), pp46, 128, 144–145, 219–238.

19. In the three books referred to above there is no mention of astrology, so it is fair to say that it does not figure in the Aboriginal way of life. The same is true of the texts about Native Americans that I have discussed. There is, however, a book called Native American Astrology by Winfried Noé (Sterling Publishing, 1998) which might lead one to think that a tradition exists. There is in it, however, very little mentioned that would be considered astrology in our culture. No reference is made to any beliefs based upon star-gazing, and as the author explains, “Native American cosmology is more connected with nature and the animals that inhabit the Earth rather than the observed changes of stars in the heavens… Since Native Americans closely observe changes in nature, their cosmology is Earth-centered” (pp10–11). What is called astrology in this book describes a relationship with psychological and archetypal levels of spiritual reality. I have of course spent a long time in this book arguing that that is exactly what Astrology is. If there is little or no reference to the heavens, however, I would struggle to call it Astrology. It is nevertheless interesting that the archetypes have found yet another way of expressing themselves.

20. J. A. West and J. G. Toonder, The Case for Astrology, Macdonald & Co., 1970, p38

21. Michel Gauquelin, Astrology and Science, Stein and Day, 1970, p93

22. Bear & Co., 1990

23. Three Rivers Press, 1996

24. in The Future of Astrology, A. T. Mann (editor), Unwin Hyman, 1987, p26

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Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com