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by David Talbott

Language of the Pole

In the sixth century B.C. Xenophanes of Colophon offered this definition of the true god: "There is one God, greatest among gods and men, neither in shape nor in thought like unto mortals. He abides ever in the same place motionless, and it befits him not to wander hither and thither."

I think it will become clear to anyone who takes up this subject with any seriousness that Xenophanes was expressing, not a new abstract philosophy, but a very ancient tradition elevated to a philosophical principle.

A remarkable parallel occurs in the Hindu Upanishads:

"There is only one Being who exists
Unmoved yet moving swifter than the mind
Who far outstrips the senses, though as gods
They strive to reach him, who, himself at rest
He supports all vital action
He moves, yet moves not."

As more than one scholar has pointed out, such images arose from the idea that the ruler of the sky stood motionless at the polar center, while yet turning the heavens. Which is to say that the philosopher's Unmoved Mover had an ancient mythical prototype in the central sun, the founder of the Golden Age.

So one step in the reasoning here is simply to note the language applied by the first astronomers to the celestial pole and to compare that terminology to the earlier language applied to the great rulers of the sky.

Consider the image of the pole in Shakespeare–

"...I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament"

The speaker here is Shakespeare's Caesar–whom tradition regarded as the supreme ruler on earth, a replica of the celestial power. Is it significant that he locates this supreme power at the celestial pole? Many centuries before Shakespeare, Hipparchus spoke of "a certain star remaining ever at the same place. And this star is the pivot of the Cosmos." That language turns out to be the very language used by the ancient Chinese in describing the pole star as the "star of the pivot." And this was anything but an abstraction, for Chinese astronomy insisted with one voice that the pivot was the ancient location of the celestial
emperor Shang-ti, the ruler of beginnings.

To the Polynesians the pole is the station of the "Immovable One." The Pawnee call it "the star that stands still" and regard it as the governor of the sky. This star, they say, "is different from other stars, because it never moves." To the Hindus, the star is Dhruva,
meaning "firm," while the region of the pole is esteemed as the "motionless site," the celestial "resting place" of gods and heroes.

Polar Sun

The worldwide astronomical designations of the celestial pole become crucial pieces in a puzzle, for this reason: the language establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the pole is the remembered location of the archaic sun god Saturn. In modern astronomical terms, a planet at the celestial pole is a preposterous idea. All of the planets in our sky, together with the Earth, move on a common plane around the Sun, so that from Earth we see the planets moving on roughly the same arc across the sky as the Sun. The paradox is glaring.

No planet today approaches Earth's celestial pole! And yet the ancient tradition of the polar sun confronts us everywhere.

In ancient Egyptian cosmology, possibly the oldest known thought-system, one finds a mystifying connection of the sun god Atum with the pole. The French scholar Jacques Enel, in his study of Egyptian imagery, for example, assures us that the Egyptians remembered Atum's station as "the single, immovable point around which the movement of the stars
occurred." To the Egyptians, states Enel, "Atum was the chief or center of the movement of the universe at the pole."

Much the same language is used by the eminent Egyptologist, T. Rundle Clark, who tells us the pole was the place par excellence. Atum, according to Clark, is "the arbiter of destiny perched on the top of the world pole." So when the text declare that "the great god lives, fixed in the middle of the sky," the reference is to the polar station, according to Clark.

Clark writes that "the celestial pole is 'that place,' or 'the great city.' The various designation show how deeply it impressed the Egyptian imagination. If god is the governor of the universe and it revolves around an axis, then god must preside over the axis."

That the Egyptians would remember a former sun god at the celestial pole may seem hard to digest. And yet the preeminence of the celestial pole as the resting place of Atum is both emphatic and unequivocal. Clark writes: "No other people was so deeply affected by the eternal circuit of the stars around a point in the northern sky. Here must be the node
of the universe, the center of regulation." (Our only disagreement here is with Clark's assumption that ancient nations outside his own area of expertise–Egypt–were less preoccupied with the celestial pole.)

Atum, the first form of the sun god Ra, was thus the 'Unmoved Mover" described in Egyptian texts many centuries before Aristotle offered the phrase as a definition of the supreme power. The Egyptian hieroglyph for Atum is a primitive sledge, signifying "to move." To the god of the cosmic revolutions, the Book of the Dead proclaims "Hail to thee, Tmu [Atum] Lord of Heaven, who givest motion to all things." But while moving the heavens Atum remained em hetep, "at rest" or "in one spot." Throughout all of Egypt this "resting place" of Atum was remembered as the site of the First Occasion, the drama of cosmic beginnings.

Remember that the sun god Atum and the sun god Ra were one and the same, though the Egyptians insisted that the god himself evolved with the unfolding events. The god who was Atum became Ra in the course of his own unfolding, as the originally formless god began to acquire certain distinct attributes.

Thus Atum's counterpart Ra, according to the sources themselves, "rests on his high place." He does not roam about the sky. Like Atum, Ra is the pivot, with the lesser lights revolving around him. These are, as the texts say, the "stars who surround Ra." "These gods shall revolve round about him." "The satellites of Ra make their round." Again, the picture is of a stationary god serving as the pivot of celestial motions.

As I have already noted the ancient Sumerian counterpart of Atum was the creator-king An, the Akkadian Anu, whose "terrifying glory" was a repeated subject of the hymns and rites. This was "the terror of the splendour of Anu in the midst of heaven," and the star-worshippers did not mean by the "midst" of heaven some vague and unfamiliar metaphor. The "midst" (kirib sami, Kabal sami, meant, very concretely, the cosmic center), making the polar god, according to Robert Brown, Jr., a nocturnal sun. The words translated as the "midst" mean, according to Brown, "that central point where Polaris sat enthroned."

Both Sumerian and Akkadian texts are replete with references to the "firm" and "steadfast" or "motionless" character of the dominant gods. The great god Enki of Eridu is "the motionless lord," and god of "stability." A broken Sumerian hymn, in reference to Ninurash, a form of Ninurta, reads:

"Whom the 'god of the steady star' upon a foundation
To...cause to repose in years of plenty."


Failing to perceive the concrete meaning of such terms, solar mythologists like to think of the place of "repose" as a hidden "underworld" beneath the earth, a dark region visited by the sun after it has set. But the place of repose is no underworld. It is:

"The lofty residence...
The lofty place...
The place of lofty repose..."

What, then, of the famous Assyrian and Babylonian god Shamash, the sun god whom we now recognize as Saturn? A remarkable fact is that Shamash "comes forth" (shines) and "goes in" (declines, diminishes) at one spot, the "firm," "stable" or motionless station of supreme "rest".

This place par excellence was symbolized by the top of the ziggurats the famous Babylonian axis-towers constructed as symbolic models of the Cosmos. Hence, the uppermost level was deemed the "light of Shamash," and the "heart of Shamash," denoting (in the words of E.G. King) the pivot "around which the highest heaven or sphere of the fixed stars revolved.:"

The Babylonian tradition of the polar sun has been preserved up to the twentieth century in the tradition of the Mandaeans of Iraq. In their midnight ceremonies these people invoked the celestial pole as Olma l'nhoara, "the world of light." It is therefore not surprising to find that chroniclers of the Mandaean rituals call the polar power the "primitive sun of the star-worshippers."

The recurring concepts are these: a stationary location, the celestial place of rest, the place round which the heavens turn, and the cosmic center, the place where the myths begin. Firmness, stability, pivot, axis, center, and summit or zenith. The imagery is both archetypal and universal.

To the Hindus the sacred celestial spot, the province of the creator-king, was the place of "supreme rest," called also "the motionless site." The Hindu Dhruva, whose name means "firm," stands on this very spot–"a Spot blazing with splendor...and which subsists
motionless." In the Sanskrit texts, Dhruva means the celestial pole.

What remains to be explained by mythologists is that the sun god Surya "stands firmly on this safe resting place." Surya, states the Sanskrit authority V.S. Agrawala, "is himself at rest, being the immovable center of his system." Just as the Egyptian and Mesopotamian sun gods "rise and set" in one place, Surya occupies samanam dhama–"the same place of
rising and setting." The words translated as "rising" and "setting" can only mean the phase of brightness followed by the phase of receding light.

Another name for the stationary sun, according to Agrawala, is Prajapati. "The sun in the center is Prajapati: he is the horse that imparts movement to everything,"

The motionless Dhruva, Surya, and Prajapati compare with the light of Brahma, called the "true sun." This is the ancient sun, the texts say, which "after having risen thence upwards ... rises and sets no more. It remains alone in the center." Here, too, center and summit are synonymous. Brahma, observes Rene Guenon, is "the pivot around which the world accomplishes it revolution, the immutable center which directs and regulates cosmic movement."

Moreover, this stationary and axial character of the greatest gods seems to be common to all of the primary celestial figures in Hindu myth, with its diverse pantheon gathered from so many cultural traditions. The god Varuna, "seated in the midst of heaven," is the "Recumbent," and called the "axis of the universe." "Firm is the seat of Varuna," declares one of the Vedic hymns. In him "all wisdom centres, as the nave is set within the wheel." One of Varuna's forms is Savitar, the "impeller." While the rest of the universe revolves, the impeller stands firm. "Firm shalt thou stand, like Savitar desirable."

Also occupying the stationary center is the popular god Vishnu–who takes a firm stand in that resting place in the sky." The location is the celestial pole, called "the exalted seat of Vishnu, round which the starry spheres forever wander." Vishnu is the polar sun or central
fire: "Fiery indeed is the name of this steadfast god," states one Vedic text.

To the Buddhists this is the center of the cosmic wheel, the throne of the Buddha himself. It is acalatthana, the "unmoving site," or the "unconquerable seat of firm stance." Thus, as noted by Coomaraswamy, the Buddha throne crowned the world axis.

Given the great variety of mythical figures pointing to the same underlying concepts, it is crucial that we recognize where Hindu and Buddhist myth located this cosmic center, the celestial resting place. It was, according to the most widely respected Sanskrit authorities such as Ananda Coomaraswamy, the celestial pole, the axis of the turning heavens, a verdict repeated again and again by Rene Guenon, Mircea Eliade, and others.

According to ancient Chinese astronomy the revered Emperor on High, prototype of kings, stood at the celestial pole. Chinese astrologers, according to Gustav Schlegel, regarded the polar god as "the Arch-Premier I the most venerated of all the celestial divinities. In fact the Pole star, around which the entire firmament appears to turn, should be considered as the Sovereign of the Sky." It was thus proclaimed that the celestial pole was the seat of the supreme ruler Shang-ti, mythically, the first king of a great dynasty in the remote past. His seat was "the Pivot," and all the heavens turned upon his exclusive power.

Raised to a first principle, the polar power became the mystic Tao, the motor of the Cosmos. The essential idea is contained in the Chinese word for Tao, which combines the sign for "to stand still" with the sign for "to go" and "head" The Tao is the Unmoved Mover, the supreme ruler, who "goes," or "moves" while yet remaining in one place–revealing a
striking correspondence with the images of the polar power in other lands.

Chinese sources proclaim the Tao to be the "light of heaven" and "the heart of heaven." "Action is reversed into non-action," states Jung. "Everything peripheral is subordinated to the command of the centre." Thus the Tao, in the words of Erwin Pousselle, rules the "golden center, which is the Axis of the World."

Significantly, these same overlapping images of a polar sun or sovereign luminary at the pole occur in the Americas. In southern Peru the Inca Yupanqui raised a temple at Cuzco to the creator god who was superior to the sun we know. Unlike the solar orb, he was able to "rest" and "to light the world from one spot." As the pioneering Mesoamerican scholar, Zelia Nuttal, noted many years ago, the only reasonable position in the sky for fulfilling this requirement is the celestial Pole. "It is an extremely important and significant fact," writes
Nuttall, "that the principal doorway of this temple opened to the north." (Since the north celestial pole is not visible from Cuzco, 14 degrees below the equator, Nuttall assumed that this tradition of a polar sun was carried southward.)

It seems that the memory of the central sun established itself around the world. Other reflections of the polar power in the Americas are noteworthy.

Cottie Burland tells us that, among the Mexicans, "the nearest approach to the idea of a true universal god was Xiuhtecuhtli, recalled as the Old, Old One who enabled the first ancestors to rise from barbarism. Xiuhtecuhtli appears as the Central Fire and "the heart of the Universe." "Xiuhtecuhtli was a very special deity. He was not only the Lord of Fire which burnt in front of every temple and in the middle of every hut in Mexico, but also Lord of the Pole Star. He was the pivot of the universe and one of the forms of the Supreme Deity." An apparent counterpart of this central fire is the Maya creator god Huracan, the
"Heart of Heaven" at the celestial pole.

The Pawnee locate the "star chief of the skies" at the pole. He is the "star that stands still." Of this supreme power they say, "Its light is the radiance of the Sun god shining through."

The Central Polar Sun Part 4

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