By Teomancimit – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17377542
Review article of : Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits
Gordon White, Scarlet Imprint, 2016
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Big book with a big vision
The title appears to contain a fairly big hint as to where this book’s final destination could be; although in the end the author rejects UFO theories of human progress. In our troubled times many claim to have experienced things such as alien abduction, but is this really just another way of describing magical or supernatural experiences using the vocabulary of the de-enchanted?
This is a big book in every sense, very much in the tradition of alternative archaeology of Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Andy Collins, Robert Schoch et al. Of the many new things the author brings to the mix is a focus on magic, its source in the cultures of the Stone Age and a belief that returning to the source now is both an inevitable and revitalizing project.
Gordon White here presents much modern research on prehistory to the reader, taking account of the latest discoveries and offering them up to a magical community which he feels has been too dependent on an older, perhaps moribund strata of scholarly works. In this Gordon is part of the current geist, steadily chipping away at the magical paradigm, realigning it back to an older, more authentic version of its role and mission.
For me the early chapters of this book contain the biggest punch. Especially chapter 2: “The Cathedral predates the City” which recounts the recent discoveries at Gobekli Tepe, which by all accounts is the world’s oldest purpose built stone temple. It dates from a dizzying early time circa 10,000bce. (Perhaps a date that might also ring bells for readers of some of the other authors mentioned above, for it is also the date favoured by “alternative archaeologists” for the carving of Egypt’s famous Sphinx. Gordon White may well include himself in that company, although I must confess I’ve not so far seen anything to convince me and thus tend to stick to the boring scholarly consensus, but who knows.)
Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, really is 12,000 years old, which is so early that it predates the invention of ceramics. Its discovery is causing a slow earthquake in our view of our origins. Thus far there is no evidence of permanent human occupation at Gobekli Tepe, and it thus appears to be an elaborate structure built purely for religious purposes. This must have been the work of ancient nomads, who returned repeatedly to their temple, to refresh their memories of ancestors, with feasting, celebration and no doubt, some devotions at the altar of one of the world’s oldest religions, astronomy.
Gordon White’s chapter title is taken from the work of the site’s discoverer and chief excavator, the late Klaus Schmidt. If you don’t have Gordon’s book, it’s worth googling Gobekli Tepe and looking at the images to get some idea of the site’s significance, majesty & indeed magic. One of many wonderful things about this temple is the iconography. Gordon draws our attention to the serpent lore of a kind that is to become so important in many later cultures, ie it lies behind the late Hindu idea of Kundalini; serpents also play many roles in ancient Egyptian religion, and for instance appear on the diadem of the king as the protective Uraeus.
White also invites us to see the hammer headed pillar statues found there as possible “headless” entities, again a theme pregnant with meaning for later generations, including ours. Gobekli Tepe as a whole he rightly calls the “New Rosetta Stone.”
If Gordon had finished his monograph here I think he would already have done enough service to the magical community in offering such a cogent presentation of the important material from Gobekli Tepe.
I’ve recently been reading the work of Egyptologist Dirk Huyge, an expert on ancient rock art. Some of his research on the cultures of Egypt’s Neolithic and Palaeolithic past offer some points of contact here and perhaps some corroboration of Gordon’s theory.
For during the last glaciation, Huyge says, the level of the Mediterranean Sea was “about 100 meters lower than today, and therefore he does not rule out the possibility that people of the Palaeolithic established contact with Egypt and may even have exchanged artistic and symbolic concepts.”
Klaus Schmidt, also made a few tentative comparisons with Egypt, but only the art of much later times, during the era of its famous kings.
But, “The existence of ancient artistic remains on the African continent has long been known. Thus, in 1969, were discovered in a cave in Namibia, stone plates with painted animals that can be dated to 26,000 years ago! In Egypt, there are now scores of sites with Palaeolithic artwork, in caves and in the open air. Thus Gordon is on fairly firm ground if he compares Gobekli Tepe with the Rock Art of Upper Egypt, which does indeed show forms that may persist into historical, pharaonic times. The uncertainty is caused by the Egyptian’s ideological reworking of their own prehistory, motivated by politics, a process that has obscured the links between dynastic and predynastic imagery.
The other great theme running through this book is from the controversial theories of E.J. Michael Witzel. The Origins of the World’s Mythologies. Witzel apparently also sees in myth evidence of two primary streams, (according to his critics “races”, one dark skinned, one light). The ultimate division would be between the “Gondwana” and “Laurasian” myth. To get a grip of this, one has to cast one’s mind back 200 or 300 million years to when the first geological continent of Pangaie broke into two super-continents, a northern Laurasia and a South Godwana. Humans and their myth making come only within the last 2 million years. Question is, does later myth somehow reflect these primary divisions?
If one looks at the vast ocean of story one might well be able do a bit of textual archaeology, stratifying these from the more modern, right back to the oldest primal myths. Examples of the lowest strata of myth could be the story of the flood.
One might also consider astronomical myths, where stories are attached to the life and death of prominent constellations, planets, the Sun and Moon. This cluster of ideas encodes secrets, which seem to get pushed ever further back in the time-line. Gobekli Tepe is a structure with strong astronomical alignments, the investigation of which is just starting. Perhaps we should not be surprised that our ancestors made such a thing about nature’s greatest spectacle and exercise in virtual reality.
White also suggests the myth of the two Brothers, known from Biblical, Egyptian and no doubt many other sources, might also be one of those primal stories told by what he calls our “Laurasian” ancestors.
The myth of Atlantis is another candidate that springs to mind. Gordon White, basing himself on the work of Robert Schoch, accepts this idea of an Ur Culture, but would push it back a lot further than many might find comfortable. “Atlantis”, as in the myth of the primal homeland, is not to be found in the Mediterranean, or even the Egyptian desert, but if it is anywhere , is in Polynesia. If there were such peoples as “Atlanteans” they would have been the “survivors of the sinking of Sunda and Sahul [In the South Pacific who] brought technology and magical techniques with them to populations across central and western Asia that were already in situ and likely even had vaguely recognizable pantheons and practices.” P 108. Perhaps an example of having one’s cake and eating it, if they brought myths to people whom already had those myths, what are we talking about?
Another of the great themes in this book is that of Kingship and its origins.
“This notion of kingship descending from the stars, and the king going up to the stars to ensure immortality and the well-being of the tribe is highly likely to be the origin of the Hermetic and Classical ritual magick we find in the grimoires, having come down to us via the dual routes of the Nile and the Fertile Crescent. If this stellar technology reaches back to the first emergence of the Laurasian storyline, as I believe it does, then we may, with a straight face, say western ritual magick is at least 30,000 years old. We may also, with a smiling face, send back the Ancient Aliens crowd back to the library to check their numbers” p 146.
Star.Ships certainly got me thinking about Kingship again. Gordon, as the above citation makes clear, sees in the figure of the king a central character in the European grimoire tradition, but also something that he thinks of as one of those primal themes of our world, and that of their magicians, from the very beginning.
This is controversial, because the consensus of academic research would now place the origins of the state and its elite rulers to circa 4000BCE. A long time ago, of course, but nothing like the 30,000 years or even 12,000. If Gobekli Tepe is dated to some time 10,000 BCE, then the intervening millennia was a time when humanity studied the stars, but also lived in nomadic extended family groups, perhaps around a patriarch, matriarch, or both. In Egypt, the first traces of inequality & elite burials are there for all to see in the Naqada 1 predynastic strata, named so from the ancient settlement of Ombos, citadel of Seth in Upper Egypt.
My own research for Isis, Goddess of Egypt & India also touched on whether the whole Osiris narrative even counted as “true myth” . One would expect the origins of a true myth to be lost in the mists of time, to thus be archaic. It may come as a shock to see the myth being crafted by priestly spin-doctors. But this is precisely what does happen in the Egyptian record. Osiris probably isn’t a Neolithic deity, he bears all the ideological traces of the biggest of Egyptian confidence tricks, otherwise known as “the myth of divine kingship”. Whether these kings were ever really viewed by the Egyptian people, or even by the kings themselves as really “Divine” is a view that can only be sustained if one makes a literal reading of official inscriptions. These, like those of every era, are full of conventions, polite fictions and protocols. Was this really the lived reality, the Egyptologist George Posener suggests not.
Establishing the ideology of Egyptian Kings in the early dynasties required “massive amounts of labour appropriated from across the country.” The corollary of the increasing drama of elite (Egyptian) life however, was the long shadow that it cast over the majority of society. Again, the scale of this activity is one that Gordon feels is mysterious and unexplained by existing scholarly research. Thus, he would push the Egyptian time-line backward towards some Atlantean race, which had the secrets needed to construct these immense monuments.
Personally, I remain skeptical and suspect that any burials at Gobekli Tepe will be communal, the equivalent to Europe’s long barrows or perhaps they will turn out to be the treasured bones of the builders. Or, as transpired with some of the remains at nearby Çatal Huyuk, at first identified as images of an ancient goddess but after further discoveries were later revealed to be animal totems – the “bear” of Çatal Huyuk. So, I am mindful to treat these ideas more as predictions about Gobekli Tepe, rather than as established facts.
Apart from fragments of human bone found in the sites careful infill, no complete human burials or cemeteries have thus far been discovered. The late Klaus Schmidt fully expected that it was only a matter of time before they were. If such a cemetery does turn out to contain what’s known as an elite burial, with rich grave goods of “special” people, if there is clear evidence of inequality, then perhaps we might be looking at a proto king or even a queen. And that really would be a major sea change on our understanding of humanity’s ancient history.
All in all, this book is quite a ride, a good stimulating read & highly recommended.