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Velikovsky and Planetary Catastrophe
by David Talbott

In confronting the strange consistency of planetary mythology one must ultimately ask the question asked more than 45 years ago by Immanuel Velikovsky, author of  Worlds in Collision.

At the heart of Velikovsky's controversial thesis was a seemingly outrageous idea. He claimed that planets, moving on quite different courses than observed today, formerly disturbed the motions of the Earth and caused great destruction to ancient nations. These extraordinary events, Velikovsky claimed, are recorded in ancient chronicles, myths and rites around the world, sources that are simply incomprehensible in terms of celestial motions today.

Velikovsky contended that the planet Venus, just a few thousand years ago, possessed a spectacular, comet-like "tail", and its orbit intersected that of the Earth. Though Velikovsky's interest in the subject began with a reading of biblical accounts of the Exodus period, the plagues of Egypt, and the spectacles of the wandering in the desert, what led to his startling conclusions was a thorough cross-referencing with global myths of disaster–stories in which the agent of catastrophe takes the form of a great comet or flaming dragon, a body consistently identified with the planet Venus.

Velikovsky also argued that the planet Mars, in the eighth and seventh centuries before the present era, moved on an erratic course, disrupting the Earth. Celestial upheavals caused by the unstable movements of Mars, according to Velikovsky, are the true reason why Mars appears in ancient records as a great war god, shaking the heavens and producing general pestilence and devastation.

Additionally, in a brief unpublished manuscript, Velikovsky made an extraordinary claim about the planet Saturn. He claimed that during a remote epoch remembered around the world as the Golden Age, the planet Saturn was the dominant body in the sky of the terrestrial observer.

For the simple answer to the question of Velikovsky's place in the history of science, you can ignore almost everything else you may have heard about the heretic. Why? Because, if Velikovsky was as wrong on the fundamentals as critics would have us believe, then nothing could be more wasteful than spending any time at all on the subject. But if Velikovsky was even close in his discernment of planetary instability and catastrophe, he is one of the true intellectual pioneers of the twentieth century. It really is that simple.

Of course the stakes are high here, because if Velikovsky was right in any fundamental sense, then the treatment of Velikovsky by an arrogant and thoughtless scientific elite will be exposed as exactly what Velikovsky's supporters have claimed–a horrifying picture of business as usual within the scientific establishment. The fact that major theoretical edifices would collapse under the impact of anything resembling Velikovsky's revelations is not a small matter either–a consideration one could hardly ignore in examining the rampant psychology of denial in conventional treatments of Velikovsky.

So who was Velikovsky? Here's a common-sense suggestion. When someone claiming knowledge on the subject issues a sweeping dismissal of Velikovsky, the first thing you might ask yourself is whether the speaker could be an ignoramus or fool masquerading as a historian. It's a fact: Velikovsky commanded the respect of intellectual giants of the twentieth century, a respect clearly demonstrated by his friendship and scholarly discourses with the likes of Claude Schaeffer, one of the deans of modern archaeology; the eminent geologist, Harry Hess of Princeton University; Horace Kallen, founder of the respected New School for Social Research in New York; the esteemed Robert Pfeiffer of Harvard University; the pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud; and of course Albert Einstein, who edited the physics and mathematics sections of Velikovsky's publication Scriptas Universitatis.

But was Velikovsky himself a physicist or astronomer? No. His training was in law, economics, history and medicine. Did he pretend to be a physicist or astronomer? No. But intensive historical research did lead him to believe that physicists and astronomers have failed to understand the history of the solar system. Moreover, as stated by the leading astronomers Archie Roy, Lloyd Motz and Valentin Bargmann–and more recently by Victor Clube (Oxford department of astrophysics) and the astronomer Tom Van Flandern–Velikovsky did show a remarkable ability to converse with specialists outside his own field, even the ability to expose certain weaknesses or anticipate unexpected discoveries in other fields. Not one of these astronomers, it must be added, embraced Velikovsky's comet Venus or anything like the planetary instability claimed by Velikovsky, but in no case did any of them engage in the kind of belittling commentary that seems always to lead the way when the dimmer lights of science begin to expound on Velikovsky.

In the years since publication of Worlds in Collision a relatively small group of researchers–some well-accredited academically and some working entirely as outsiders, but all inspired to investigate questions first raised by Velikovsky–has produced interesting and highly significant results. The work ranges from the study of physical markers consistent with interplanetary upheavals, to the systematic exploration of the great ritual and symbolic traditions of the ancient world. All told, the work raises issues that urgently need to be addressed in a forum free of prejudicial rhetoric and posturing.

Keep in mind that not just Velikovsky's conclusions, but his entire theoretical approach, challenged conventional ideas. He insisted that events remembered by ancient peoples count as evidence. When far flung cultures preserve the same distinct, but highly unusual memory, or employ quite different symbols to tell the same extraordinary story, there must be an explanation we have overlooked . Velikovsky saw in ancient literature, with its pervasive imagery of cosmic disaster and improbable monsters in the sky, a story of planets out of control, and he claimed that the collective records of early man will permit a reconstruction of the crucial events, if only we will suspend our judgment long enough to rigorously assess the material from a new vantage point.

And keep in mind as well that Velikovsky's argument for large-scale catastrophe was offered in 1950, at a time when astronomers and geologists were entirely captivated by uniformitarian models, in which catastrophes played virtually no significant role in the history of the solar system, in the history of the Earth, or man's own past. So we have to ask ourselves: under the weight of space age discovery, has it been Velikovsky, or his critics, that have had to give the most ground? Who could deny that, by comparison with the intellectual environment of 1950, the affected sciences have moved dramatically toward more catastrophist models, sounding more Velikovskian every year?

But what about Velikovsky's use of ancient mythical, religious and historical material–a body of evidence the scientific elite, in the 1950's, considered to be ludicrous?

Well it seems that even this remaining chasm between Velikovsky and established science is closing. Consider, for example, the work of the British astronomers, Victor Clube and Bill Napier, authors of The Cosmic Serpent, and Cosmic Winter, offering a theory of cometary catastrophe that not only sounds a lot like Velikovsky, but is Velikovskian in more ways than one–even in its broad use of ancient myth and symbolism as _evidence_. These respected astronomers bring to their argument a great deal of scientific credibility. Recently, for example, the eminent astronomer, Fred Hoyle, expressed personal support for the Clube and Napier general thesis.

What Clube and Napier have done is write a Velikovskian thesis of cometary catastrophe in historical times while replacing the comet Venus with the known comet Encke, thereby removing the potential embarrassment posed by Velikovsky's planetary "comet." In the process they have created for themselves a different set of unanswered questions: 1) why do ancient sources repeatedly identify the intruder with the planet Venus? and 2) why do so many global aspects of the story refuse to fit a theory based on the comet Encke? (Much has already been published outlining universal imagery of the "Great Comet" that simply cannot be explained by the comet Encke, under any conceivable scenario. I can only urge the intellectually curious to begin with the publication AEON: A Journal on Myth and Science.)

Issues of this sort are moving science inexorably toward a final reckoning on the Velikovsky question. If Clube and Napier's use of previously forbidden evidence (ancient chronicles) is accepted, there will be just one core issue remaining. And if that issue is answered in Velikovsky's favor–as I am certain it will be–the final victory will be Velikovsky's even if, on the way to victory, he erred a hundred times and more. This issue is: did the planet Venus, only a few thousand years ago, appear as a comet-like form in the sky, moving close to the earth and contributing to remembered upheavals?

All that is needed here is an appropriate methodology allowing the researcher to apply common-sense rules of logic and demonstration. If Venus' did, in fact, once roam the skies in anything like the fashion Velikovsky suggested, this attribute would–beyond a shadow of a doubt–show up in the ancient language and mythical images of Venus, even though the images would have no relationship to Venus' appearance in our sky today.

What a fascinating juncture this is! After more than forty five years, the challenge sparked by Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision has come down to an issue on which the evidence is overwhelming. If I speak with assurance on this, it is because I have (along with fellow researcher Ev Cochrane) spent many years examining the images of Venus around the world. And I can say without the slightest equivocation that wherever astronomical traditions of Venus are preserved in any detail, Venus is the mythical Great Comet, appearing in the sky at a time of world-destroying catastrophe. You will find this identity confirmed from Mexico and Peru to ancient Greece and Rome, from ancient China to even more ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Long-haired star. Bearded Star. Smoking star. Torch star. Feathered star. Cosmic serpent or dragon. In fact, literally all of the astronomical hieroglyphs for "the comet" are simultaneously attached to Venus and to the revered great goddess, who is Venus in the first astronomies.

To apply common-sense rules of logic, one should start with the obvious:

1) the symbols cited above are the acknowledged, most frequently- employed hieroglyphs for the comet in the ancient world, and

2) the only astronomical phenomenon answering to these glyphs is the comet.

Additionally, as a matter of simple logic, the attachment of these distinct comet glyphs to Venus must be considered alongside the convergence of these glyphs on a biologically impossible monster– the bearded serpent, long-haired serpent, flaming serpent, fire-breathing serpent, and feathered serpent. In none of these instances could phenomena observed today account for the incongruous motifs, which occur again and again throughout the ancient world. But let the comet glyphs mean what they meant in the ancient languages themselves, and the incongruity vanishes. Should it surprise us that one acknowledged comet glyph would be brought into conjunction with another comet glyph? And will anyone propose with a straight face that these universal comet images could have found their inspiration in the quiet and regular motions of Venus today?

(Just in case the point is missed: the comet as celestial serpent or dragon, and the comet as long-haired star leads to the simple and undeniable identity of the comet as the long-haired serpent, etc. If, as a matter of curiosity, you will investigate the incredible extent to which ancient language, in seeming denial of nature, combined words and images for "serpent" and for "hair", you will begin to sense how deeply the roots of civilization itself were shaped by experiences the modern world failed to understand. In the Egyptian language, for example, numerous, words mean, at once, "hair" and "serpent", a fact which the conventional schools could only explain as a ridiculous coincidence. And by such an explanation they must ignore the worldwide juxtaposition of hair and serpent in myth, language and religious symbolism. Try as you may, you will never find an explanation for this apart from the global identity of the "long-haired star"/Great Comet with the cosmic serpent/Great Comet)

To see the integrity in the ancient profile of the Great Comet is to simply take the first step. Even more stunning is the inseparable link of these Venus images to the larger themes of ancient myth and ritual. Velikovsky's comet Venus is, in fact, a key to the substructure, enabling us to re-envision human history and the history of the solar system in ways never anticipated by established science. In the end, many revisions in Velikovsky's reconstruction will be necessary, but none of these revisions will diminish the stature of the pioneer.  

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