This site author knows David Talbott very
well, and considers him to be the foremost mythologist in the world, if not
the foremost scholar. He is a polymath of extremely high intelligence and
integration capability. More importantly, in scholarship his integrity and
valuation of the truth is at the highest level. The genius of David Talbott as a
mythologist is that he has made a science out
of the comparative method to winnow out identifications and historical
and he has identified the acid tests to support or falsify the proposals.
The Thunderbolt as Myth and Symbol
by David Talbott
A thunderstorm is a remarkable, often terrifying event.
So it's not surprising that few scholars have paused to wonder about the
prominent role of lightning in ancient mythology. Archaic images
of huge lightning gods roaring in the heavens, or of celestial
armies hurling lightning across the sky will appear perfectly
"understandable." Thus, students of folklore assure us that,
through the primitive logic of the lightning myths, our early
ancestors sought to describe one of the more frightening aspects
of everyday life.
This common supposition is unfortunate, however, because it has
prevented even the most discerning comparative mythologists from
seeing the underlying patterns, none of which describes the
phenomenon familiar to us. As strange as it may seem, all of the
most common lightning motifs speak of things never observed in our
Our comparative investigation has identified hundreds of recurring
themes of myth, including numerous global images of lightning. The
disconnection of these images from the observed behavior of
lightning is an impressive anomaly. The usual tendency will be to
look for what is intelligible under the tests of common
experience. If, however, "UNCOMMON experience" is the basis of
the global imagery, then this very habit must be confronted as a
prime obstruction to discovery.
The lightning gods of old have a story to tell, and that story,
when traced to its substructure, points to extraordinary natural
events. The prime requirement for investigators in this field is
an independent attitude, free from theoretical prejudice and eager
to consider all patterns of ancient memory, even when the mythic
themes make no sense under prevailing assumptions.
Seeking a Unified Theory
The interpretation offered here will add new opportunities for
interdisciplinary exploration. Stunning revelations of plasma
physics must be studied alongside ancient memories of the divine
thunderbolt. Laboratory demonstrations will find a place next to
prehistoric rock art. Ancient tales of prodigious gods battling
in the sky must be compared with the massive scars on planets and
moons, now revealed by space age probes. And recent telescopic
images, revealing new worlds in space, must be considered on the
same page with ancient astronomical traditions describing the
thunderbolt as a weapon launched by PLANETARY gods.
Our ancestors lived beneath an alien sky, a world so different
from what we experience today that historical descriptions
required a vast complex of analogies to make sense of it. That is
precisely what the lightning symbols give us. Great spectacles in
the sky produced an explosion of human imagination–a myth-making
epoch that had no counterpart in later times.
Let us begin, therefore, with the most common ancient symbols of
the divine thunderbolt. All of the unusual motifs listed below
find wide distribution in the ancient world–
Motif #1: Lightning takes the form of a frightful weapon–a sword,
arrow, mace, club, spear, axe, or hammer.
Motif #2: Lightning is an ancestral warrior, the hero god who
defeated chaos monsters in primeval times. Lightning-hero and
lightning-weapon are frequently synonymous.
Motif #3: Lightning appears as a great bird or "thunderbird" with
Motif #4: Lightning is the flash of an "eye" in heaven. It is the
destructive power of the "evil eye," destroying opposition.
Motif #5: Lightning is launched from a great wheel turning in the
sky, the "chariot" of the gods.
Motif #6: Lightning is accompanied by falling stones or
Motif #7: Lightning is the messenger of a central sun that ruled
the sky before the present sun.
Motif #8: Lighting streaks along the world axis, acquiring the
form of a towering column, the axis mundi. It is the pillar of
the sky which, at the beginning of time, "separated heaven and
Motif #9: Lightning is a generative, masculine pillar. It
Motif #10: Lighting is a "chain of arrows" launched skyward by a
great warrior or hero.
Motif #11: Lighting appears as a ladder or backbone of the sky,
whose steps were ascended by an ancestral hero.
Motif #12: Lightning spirals, twists, or whirls across the
heavens. It is a whorl, swastika, or triskeleon.
Motif #13: Lighting appears as an undulating, fiery serpent.
Motif #14: Lightning takes the form of twins, two brothers, or two
companions, each viewed as the alter ego of the other.
Motif #15: Lightning is two serpentine or rope-like filaments
wound around a central axis (caduceus motif)
Motif #16: Lightning appears as an equal-limbed cross; it explodes
as luminous streamers, dividing the home of the gods into equal
Motif #17: Lighting "blossoms" as a flower, the celebrated plant of
Motif #18: Lightning is fire and brimstone (sulfur). The lightning
of the gods gives rise to a sulfurous stench.
Motif #19: In their violent wars, the gods blast each other with
lightning. Chaos monsters are destroyed by lightning.
Motif #20: Lightning leaves its mark on celestial heroes and chaos
monsters, who are "lightning scarred," or "thunderstruck."
Motif #21: The lightning-scar or wound of the warrior-hero is the
mark by which he is identified or recognized.
Weapon of Planetary Gods
There is one more lightning motif that must be mentioned. This
theme is perhaps the most enigmatic of all, and it traces to the
earliest astronomical traditions. It seems that, amongst many
ancient peoples, the owners of the lightning bolt were PLANETS,
when the planets were claimed to have ruled the world. All of us
are familiar with the ancient Greek images of Zeus, the bearer of
the thunderbolt, wielding his weapon against the powers of
darkness. Zeus is, of course, the Latin Jupiter, and classical
images were strongly influenced by the Akkadian images of Marduk,
the king of gods, the planet Jupiter, famous for the thunderbolt
by which he assumed celestial sovereignty.
It was Immanuel Velikovsky who, in Worlds in Collision, drew our
attention to the ancient memory of lightning passing between
planets. The historian Pliny, for example, wrote: "Most men are
not acquainted with a truth known to the founders of the science
from their arduous study of the heavens." Thunderbolts, Pliny wrote,
"are the fires of the three upper planets."
A vivid description of an interplanetary discharge was also given
by Pliny: "Heavenly fire is spit forth by the planet as crackling
charcoal flies from a burning log." When such a discharge falls on
the earth, he reported, "it is accompanied by a very great
disturbance of the air," produced "by the birth-pangs, so to
speak, of the planet in travail." Pliny also referred to an
ancient Etruscan tradition describing a bolt from the planet Mars
that fell on Bolsena–"the city was entirely burned up by this
Similarly, Pliny's contemporary, the naturalist Seneca,
distinguished the "lesser bolts" of the local storm from the
vastly more powerful bolts of the planet Jupiter, "by which the
threefold mass of mountains fell."
Thunderbolt As Archetype
I've said it before, but the surface of world mythology is a
madhouse, and on the matter of the thunderbolt we have a
particularly telling example. It is as if the mythmakers took
special pleasure in defying all experience, including direct and
unassailable observation. The myths have no integrity. They
insult our intelligence. How could a rational, feet-on-the-ground
investigator see more than random fiction in these tales?
It is the recurring themes, the ARCHETYPES, that rescue us from
such skepticism, enabling us to distinguish the substratum of
human memory from the carnival of fragmentation and elaboration
over time. An archetype is an irreducible first form–it cannot
be reduced to a more elementary statement. And as far as can be
determined from historical investigation, it has no precedent.
Archetypes as a whole are the keys to our understanding of ancient
mythmaking imagination. In the remembered age of the gods, our
sky presented to terrestrial witnesses a stupendous display of
light, form, color, and sound, associated with concrete bodies in
the heavens, evolving through well-defined stages. Sometimes
exquisite, sometimes terrifying, these forms were, in the
imagination of the sky gazers, divine and awe-inspiring gods.
Thus the myths themselves insist that nothing comparable ever
occurred over subsequent millennia.
Rules of Investigation
A productive investigation of the archetypes will require three
1) The investigation must focus exclusively on common mythical,
symbolic, or ritual themes: including all points of agreement
between far-flung cultures.
2) Each verifiable theme must be traced to its earliest instances.
3) All common cultural expressions of the themes must be
considered as evidence. Pictures illuminate ancient storytelling.
Ritual celebrations give context to the pictures. Myths add
crucial background to the rites.
Certain extraordinary facts can now be stated concerning the
archetypes, and these facts challenge all prior explanations or
theories of myth.
Fact #1: No archetype finds its natural reference in our familiar
sky. All common themes of myth point to events that do not occur
in our time.
Fact #2: All archetypes are inseparably connected to each other.
No isolated archetype can be found. It is this stunning fact that
encourages the investigator to seek out a unified explanation of
Fact #3: All archetypes trace to the beginnings of recorded human
history. Following the flowering of ancient civilizations, it does
not appear that any new archetypes arose.
We further claim that no comprehension of world mythology is
possible apart from the memory of PLANETS extremely close to the
earth, accompanied by earth-shaking electrical activity. It was
not that long ago that heaven was alive with electricity as
planets moved through a rich plasma environment. Ambient
electrical activity gave rise to unearthly sights and sounds for
which natural experience today can only provide the faintest
reminder. In the wake of these events, cultures around the world
strove to reckon with the forces unleashed, to interpret the
meaning of cosmic catastrophe, and to REMEMBER.
>From this new vantage point, it is now possible for the serious
student to follow the progression of the symbolic language from
first form, or archetype, through later elaboration. The "Saturn
model," about which we have spoken so frequently in this
newsletter, is based on rigorous cross-cultural comparison.
Hundreds of archetypes, traced to their prehistoric roots, provide
the concrete basis for a series of "snapshots" showing an evolving
planetary configuration as seen from the earth. Many of these
first glimpses have been presented at seminars and conferences,
and more will be presented at the upcoming conference, July 6-9.
An introduction will be offered in the forthcoming book,
Thunderbolts of the Gods (co-author is Wal Thornhill.)
Acid Tests of a Hypothesis
As for the implications of the Saturn model, there can be little
ambiguity. The model is both unique and highly specific.
Moreover, our rules of investigation preclude selective
perception, focusing entirely on an undisputed field of evidence:
the verifiable themes, the archetypes. When measured against the
known patterns of human memory, does the model meet the test of a
The role of electricity is crucial, and I must confess that I did
not realize the full import of electricity until the meeting with
Wal Thornhill late in 1996. For thirty days, Wal camped out in my
office helping us prepare for the January' 1997 world conference.
During that time he convinced me that the celestial images I had
reconstructed were plasma discharge phenomena. This revelation
proved to be a critical turn in the historical investigation.
For many years I had insisted that electromagnetism would have to
be considered if we were to account for the remembered dynamics of
the ancient Saturnian system. From the beginning I was convinced
(following Velikovsky's lead) that lightning bolts had passed
between planets. And I had identified the Valles Marineris on
Mars as the lightning scar, wound, or disfiguring mark on the
celestial warriors of mythology (the "Scarface" motif about which
I've spoken elsewhere).
But prior to Wal Thornhill's arrival in Portland, I didn't even
know what a Birkeland Current is, and I knew nothing about the
unique configurations taken by plasma discharges.
Convergence of Myth and Science
While I've experienced many breakthroughs over more than a quarter
century, this one exceeded all others. It was the first indication
that, at a level of explicit detail, a convergence of myth and
science may be possible. This, then, inspired me to reconsider the
mythic thunderbolt in terms far more concrete than I had
previously envisioned. Until then, I had treated the thunderbolt
as a secondary symbol, a meteorological signpost only generally
directing our attention to the sights and sounds of primordial
times. I had not zeroed in on lightning as a core mythical motif,
one inspired by the ELECTRICAL attributes of the planetary
configuration itself. What you do not recognize you do not see.
Wal's revelations encouraged me to reconsider the thunderbolt from
the ground up. Applying the principles of the historical
reconstruction, I abstracted from my files a summary of the
archaic forms taken by "lightning" in ancient texts and art. The
conclusion was startling. The recurring patterns of lightning
symbolism turn out to be nothing else than the extraordinary forms
taken by the planetary configuration. When considered in their
ancient contexts, not one of these archetypal forms is either
logical or expected under our familiar sky. Hence, an entirely
new level of evidence came into the picture.
There is more. Those who have seen some of the "snapshots" of
the Polar Configuration will recall that the reconstructed images
involve certain filamentary streamers radiating from planets or
stretching between planets. In human imagination these were seen
most commonly as braided hair, entwining ropes, streaming
feathers, or undulating, twisting serpentine forms. Here the
interactions of Venus and Mars within the configuration are most
prominent, illuminating the global myths of the goddess and
warrior-hero. (Several examples will be given in future
installments in this series.)
One of the forms I will present at the upcoming conference is that
of the far-famed caduceus. Another is the so-called "winged disk"
and its many variants in the ancient world. Since these highly
unusual forms answer to nothing in nature as we know it today,
they must be included among the acid tests of the model.
But for now I must simply state the punchline:
THE VIOLENT EVOLUTION OF THE PLANETARY CONFIGURATION, RECORDED
ON PAPYRUS, CLAY, AND STONE, FINDS DIRECT VERIFICATION IN THE
EVOLUTION OF PLASMA DISCHARGE CONFIGURATIONS IN THE LABORATORY.
The Mythical "Chain of Arrows"
This surprising picture emerged only in the past year. In my
earlier reconstruction, I had followed the connections
between an undulating, upward-spiraling, serpentine form and two
powerful mythical motifs–the "chain of arrows" and the "ladder of
heaven." Gathered around these motifs in texts and art are
numerous other themes, including: backbone of the sky, tower of
heaven, flared skirt of the mother goddess, pyramid or steps of
ascent, bound serpent or dragon, severed limbs of the serpent or
dragon, and more. In the course of assimilating this material, it
became clear to me that a simple evolutionary sequence explained
the full range of symbolic connections, if one allows for the
three-dimensional perspective of an observer on earth.
At the heart of this evolutionary sequence is the "chain of
arrows" event, a global theme so preposterous as to mock every
attempt of comparative mythologists to understand it. In this
theme an ancestral warrior or hero launches arrows toward the sky,
and each arrowhead embeds itself in the one above it. The chain
of arrows then becomes a ladder by which the hero ascends to
heaven. Numerous examples of the theme will be found in the
Americas alone, but other examples occur from Africa and India to
the South Pacific. In the Kathlamet legend of a hero named "Many
Swans," this great ancestor launches a stream of arrows
heavenward, these forming a ladder of ascent to the sky. In the
Hindu _Ramayana_ the arrows of Arjuna form a bridge capable of
carrying the mighty Hanuman, the traveler between worlds.
>From a systematic examination of ancient pictographs, I had
concluded that the chain of arrows involved a series of toroids
stacked along a central spine and that these toroidal forms had
evolved violently from a luminous filament spiraling up the polar
axis. Additionally, since Wal Thornhill had persuaded me that
the unique phases of the polar configuration involved plasma
discharging, I became increasingly aware of the vital links
between the arrow-chain and the mythical "lightning" of the gods.
In 1997 I had sketched out the unique form of the arrow-chain for
Wal. He replied that this configuration must indeed have its
explanation in plasma behavior. He agreed to look into it.
Then came one of the great surprises in the history of the
research. It occurred only last September, when Tony Peratt, one
of the world's most accomplished plasma theorists, described the
violent evolution of a plasma discharge form that he had
documented over more than two decades. In plasma science this
configuration is named after Tony–it is called the "Peratt
Instability." From the moment of this revelation, nothing has
been the same. The correspondence between the global pictographic
record, our reconstruction based on historical testimony, and the
extraordinary forms of the evolving discharge in the laboratory is
simply "too specific and too precise to be due to accident" (not
my words, but the words of plasma experts).
The result of this new information is that the "chain of arrows,"
one of the most perplexing archetypes, is no longer seeking an
explanation. Moreover, these revelations will bring us into direct
liaison with leading experts in plasma science, and the
convergence appears to be more powerful than anything we had
previously hoped for.