by Andrew Collins
All around the world
ancient peoples fixed the location of heaven - the
source of cosmic life and death - in the same segment of
sky, the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan. But why?
From the oldest temple in the world to the cutting edge
of astrophysics, Andrew Collins sets out to find answers
on an extraordinary historical quest to unravel the
earliest beliefs of our most distant ancestors.
'THE CYGNUS MYSTERY is an intellectual adventure that
considers shamanism and the influence of the Cygnus
constellation on the minds of our Neolithic ancestors.
Andrew Collins takes readers into deepest, darkest caves
in search of the sound of the universe, making a
compelling case for Palaeolithic CERNs.'
anthropologist and author
of The Cosmic Serpent and Intelligence in
Oldest Temple in the World
The Direction of Heaven
The Circle of Cygnus
On the Wolf Trail
Pathway to the Gods
The Winged Serpent
Goddess of the Swan
The Waters of Life
Swan Knights and Swan Maidens
The Key to Ascension
In Search of Sokar
The Road to Rostau
The Well of Souls
The Swan-Goose of Eternity
The First Astronomers
The Point of Creation
The Secret of Life
Children of the Swan
The True God Star
Postscript - Montgomery's
Temple in the World
Covering an area the size of three tennis courts, the archaeological
site known as
Göbekli Tepe in South-east Turkey is known as
oldest temple in the world. Consisting of a series of sub-surface
cult buildings, it is to be found on the top of a ridge overlooking
a fertile agricultural landscape, north-east of the modern city of Saniurfa. According to the German archaeologists who have been
excavating here since 1995, Göbekli Tepe, as much as 11,500 years
old, was constructed by faceless individuals (+/- 500 years)
belonging to an epoch known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.
This was a transitional stage between
the hunter gatherers of the still present Ice Age, and the more
settled agricultural communities that emerged on the banks of the
Euphrates river shortly after the ice sheets receded, causing a
gradual change in temperature and environment.
Why exactly Göbekli Tepe was built even before this took place
remains a mystery. All that makes sense is that the various linear
structures with roofs supported by carved T-shaped pillars,
displaying a wide range of animals, birds, serpents, spiders and
anthropomorphs of a quality unequalled thereafter until the
emergence of the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations down in the
fertile plains of Iraq thousands of years later. What was the
purpose of these incredible prehistoric structures? Might they be
aligned to the stars like megalithic monuments worldwide?
Stone with serpent carving from Karahan Tepe ( photo: Harran
Nearby is another Pre-Pottery Neolithic site called Karahan Tepe,
which dates to a similar age as Göbekli Tepe. Stone rows, T-shaped
stone pillars, and other standing stones cover an area the size of a
soccer field. One day it will, I believe, prove to be even more
important than Göbekli Tepe.
Exactly what the mindset was behind
those who created Early Neolithic sites such as Göbekli Tepe and
Karahan Tepe is a complete mystery. Who were these faceless
individuals, and what inspired them to construct such incredible
monuments at the end of the Last Ice Age?
Note similarity of the structure of the sperm to the carving on the
Back to Contents
Direction of Heaven
The stone rows at Karahan Tepe are directed towards the north, and
the temple structures at
Göbekli Tepe are likewise roughly
north-south. Other stone structures in South-east Turkey from a
slightly later age, such as Çayonu north of the city of Diyarbakir
and the now submerged site of Nevali Çori in Hilvan province,
between Diyabakir and Sanliurfa, also have their ritual areas at the
northern ends. This preference for the north is found among the Sabians, a pagan race who thrived for thousands of years at the
nearby city of Harran.
They envisaged the Primal Cause,
as a divine force that resided in the north. This was their kiblah,
or direction of prayer, while Sabian feasts honouring the Mystery of
the North regularly took place. Was it possible that the Sabian form
of worship was a leftover from a much earlier epoch, when the
earliest Neolithic temples were built in the same region?
Yezidi sanjak depicting cosmic bird atop the sky-pole.
Several other early cultures, religions and civilizations connected
the north not only with the direction of the celestial abode, but
also with the transmigration of the soul. Among them were the
Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (first encountered by European travellers
during the Middle Ages and erroneously termed 'St John's
Christians'), the angel-worshipping Yezidi from Northern Iraq and
Syria, and the Shiite sect known as the Brethren of Purity, all of
which are descended from the Sabians of Harran.
Most usually it is
the Pole Star, also known as the North Star, that is the object of
their veneration, even though originally this could not have been
Polaris, the current Pole Star, due to the process of precession.
Did the priestly elite of the Early Neolithic world also venerate
the Pole Star during their own epoch, c. 9500-5500 BC? Like the
Mandaeans, they practiced a cult of the dead, focused around the
process of excarnation, whereby vultures were allowed to pick clean
the flesh of human carcasses. It is depicted on the walls of Çatal
Huyuk, the oldest known city in the world, built on the Konya plain
in Southern Turkey, c. 6500 BC, by the descendants of those
responsible for sites such as Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe in
Southeast Turkey. At Çatal Huyuk we see the vulture carrying, or
accompanying, the soul of the deceased, shown as a head, into the
Once again, the north, along with the east, end of cult buildings
that are associated with cosmic life and death. In addition to this,
walls at Çatal Huyuk show scenes of
shamans adopting the guise of
the vulture to make otherworldly journeys. More evidence of the
veneration of the vulture is to be found at the Early Neolithic
sites of Southeast Turkey, including in one instance a bird emerging
from a totem pole of human heads found at Nevali Çori and dated, c.
Curiously, there was no Pole Star in 9500 BC. Indeed, one has to
turn back the clocks to 11,000 BC in order to find one. This was
Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, identified in the past as an
or vulture. It had held this role between 13,000-11,000 BC, before
precession caused it to move too far away from the celestial pole to
act as the North Star.
Had this been a celestial object of
veneration among the Early Neolithic peoples of South-east Turkey,
even after it ceased being Pole Star? Although an attractive
proposition it made no sense of alignments at the Neolithic sites
examined, so another explanation was sought using a computer
generated map of the night sky.
Back to Contents
Circle of Cygnus
Unable to determine whether the star Vega had been an object of
veneration in the Early Neolithic world, we turn our attentions to
Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, which until around 9300 BC was
circumpolar (i.e. it never set) at the latitude of Göbekli Tepe and
Moreover, on its lower transit of the meridian - the
north-south zenith line that bisects the night sky - it crossed from
left to right just above the northern horizon.
Cygnus was identified as a celestial bird on the Euphrates as early
as c. 2000 BC. Although most obviously a swan in Europe, Cygnus had,
like Lyra, once been seen as a vulture, making it an obvious
destination for those human souls being accompanied into the
afterlife by a psychopomp (Greek for 'soul carrier') in the guise
of the celestial vulture.
In pre-Islamic Arabic tradition, Cygnus
was the Eagle of the Arabs, a mythical bird known also as the roc,
or rukh. This was venerated by the Yezidi, the angel-worshipping
descendants of the Sabians of Harran, as a form of Khuda (Kurdish
for 'God '), associated with the Mysteries of the North.
The Yezidi depicted Khuda as a bird called anfar, which was seen
perched on top of a pole used in private services and called a
sanjak. Since the anfar is identified as a dove, it can be equated
with the pigeon bird idols venerated prior to the age of Mohammed at
Mecca, originally a Sabian shrine.
These idols have been identified
variously with Allah and/or al-Lat, al-Uzza and
pre-Islamic goddesses associated with the swan, or crane. Their
avian associations link them directly with Cygnus, which as the
celestial swan came under the influence of Near Eastern love
goddesses, who in Classical tradition were identified as Aphrodite
In Christian tradition, Cygnus was seen as the Cross of Calvary as
early as the sixth century, and arguably as far back as Roman times,
where the crucifixion scene was associated more with the pagan god
Orpheus, whom Jesus was portrayed as in a number of early Christian
statues and murals found in Rome. In Classical tradition the swan of
Cygnus was originally said to have been Orpheus, god of the
Cygnus was occasionally shown in Christian planispheres as Christ on
the Cross, his wounds perhaps corresponding to its principal stars.
Moreover, the dove as a Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit (Greek
pneuma), derives from the Hebrew concept of the Spirit or Breath of
God (ruach), and stems from the same cosmological root as the Yezidi
concept of the anfar, the form of Khuda (God ) as a bird that brought
the universe into manifestation. In the first chapter of Genesis the
Spirit of God (ruach) hovers over the primordial waters moments
before God's Creation of the universe. The dove or pigeon was
equated with Cygnus in Arabic tradition.
Cygnus can be found in the centre of the Milky Way, universally seen
in past ages as a road or river of stars used by the dead, or the
shaman in a state of trance. In ancient cosmology the Milky Way was
equated with the World Tree, around which curled a serpent and on
top was a celestial bird.
In shamanic tradition worldwide, this
World Tree had to be ascended to reach the celestial abode, or
sky-world, either via the Milky Way or the north-south meridian
line. It was a realm accessed via a hole, door or gate at its most
northerly point, and often this was seen as being located someone in
the proximity of the cosmic axis, marked by the bird at the top of
the tree, which we can safely identify as the Cygnus constellation.
This realization is expressed in the Mandaean concept of entry into
the afterlife, which is gained via the Pole Star. Mandaean tradition
speaks of no less than 360 melki, or divine beings. Among them is
Abathur-Muzania (or Awather-Muzania), whose 'throne' is located
'behind the North star', known as the 'House of Abathur'. It is he,
"who judges the souls of men after they have passed through
Purgatory, seeing whether they are purged enough to pass on into
If deemed pure enough, the soul then makes its onward
journey by boat over a celestial 'river', arguably the Milky Way, to
one of the countless 'worlds of light', inhabited by their dead
kinsmen. In these unimaginable realms, governed by 'great spirits of
light', they meet other purified souls as well as their own 'dmutha
or over-soul '.
It also makes sense of Karahan Tepe's secondary alignment towards
sunrise on the summer solstice. From here in 9500-9000 BC, the Milky
Way emerged from the horizon and rose almost horizontally until it
reached the stars of Cygnus which would have hung just above the
Did the Early Neolithic world associate Deneb and
the stars of Cygnus with cosmic life and death, as their
descendants, the Sabians, Mandaeans and Yezidi would seem to have
If correct, how did Deneb and the stars of Cygnus become so
important to our earliest Neolithic ancestors?
The answer appears to
lie in the fact that between c. 16,000-15,000 BC Deneb was Pole
Star. At the same time, the Milky Way would have risen up from the
eastern horizon to where Cygnus occupied pole position, whilst the
stars of Scorpio, anciently seen as a serpent, were placed at the
base of the Milky Way expressed as the World Tree.
Did a veneration of Deneb and Cygnus linger over from the Late Palaeolithic era, c. 15,000 BC, through until Early Neolithic times,
even after a dimmer star, delta Cygni (also in Cygnus), took over as
Pole Star in c. 15,000 BC, retaining this role until 13,000 BC, when
pole position was finally claimed by Vega?
The Early Neolithic sites
in South-east Turkey as well as ancient cosmologies worldwide
suggest that this was indeed the case. Yet how universal were these
concepts, really? Only by tracing the roots of this apparently Palaeolithic ideology could the theory really be proved.
To achieve this aim, we turn our attentions to the ancient cosmology
of the Native American peoples. They, having arrived on the
continent from Asia in Late Palaeolithic times and, in theory,
having remained in isolation through until the time of the conquest,
might well have preserved some semblance of knowledge regarding the
former significance of Cygnus to the prehistoric mindset, imported
on to the continent by nomadic peoples using the Bering land bridge
between Siberia and Alaska, which emerged as the ice sheets withdrew
at the end of the last Ice Age, c. 10,500-9500 BC.
Back to Contents
iv. On the
The Blackfoot tribe of the Rocky Mountains believe that the
sky-world, inhabited by a celestial race of people, is reached via
something called the Wolf Trail, which turns out to be the Milky
Way. It forms part of a foundation story that is arguably Palaeolithic in origin, and might easily have crossed over to North
America from the Eurasian continent more than 11,500 years ago.
A number of other tribes preserve
similar traditions about the Milky Way, seen as a celestial road or
river to the sky-world. More significantly, some tribes, such as the Skidi Pawnee, single out the sky-world as a Star of the North, often
confused with Polaris, the current Pole Star, which is nowhere near
the Milky Way.
This northerly-placed star is associated
by the Skidi Pawnee and others, with a constellation known as the
Bird Foot, or Turkey Foot, a three-pronged device identified as
Cygnus, making Deneb the most likely candidate for the Star of the
North. Such knowledge is confirmation that ancient star-lore of this
nature might well date back to when Deneb was Pole Star. It also
strengthens the case for such ideas being inherited by the Early
Neolithic peoples from their Palaeolithic ancestors.
Yet what was the continuity of this veneration of Cygnus among the
Native American tribes? Could its significance be taken back to the
age of the Hopewell mound builders of the Ohio Valley, who were one
of the earliest cultures known to have emerged on the North American
continent? One example is an enormous circular earthwork known as
Great Circle in Newark, Ohio. At its centre is a bird, or bird foot,
shaped earthwork called Eagle Mound, thought to have been
constructed by the Hopewell culture in c. 100 BC.
The henge monument's single entrance
faces the point on the horizon where the midsummer sunrise occurs,
and after surveying the site we find that it was constructed so that
anyone watching from Eagle Mound prior to sunrise on the summer
solstice would have seen the Milky Way rising up into the sky from
between the site's entrance. If the celestial trial was followed
upwards it would take the observer to where the stars of Cygnus were
to be seen directly overhead, imitating the position of Eagle Mound.
Thus Eagle Mound was almost certainly a representation of Cygnus as
the Bird Foot constellation, an opinion drawn already by at least
one archaeo-astronomer, Thaddeus M Cowan, who has identified
Newark's Eagle Mound, as well as other bird effigy mounds
constructed by the Hopewell, with the Cygnus constellation. The
purpose of the midsummer alignment was most probably to enable the
living and the dead to access the sky-world via the Milky Way as the
celestial road or river of the soul.
Back to Contents
Was the same interest in Cygnus to be found in other parts of the
American continent? Archaeologist Marion Popenoe Hatch excavated the Olmec site of La Venta, in the Tabasco province, at the beginning of
the 1970s and determined that the site's fluted pyramid, built c.
1000 BC, was aligned towards the stars of both Ursa Major (the Big
Dipper) and Sadr (gamma Cygni) the central star in Cygnus, these
were used in conjunction with each other to determine the time of
the summer solstice, a tradition she traces back to 2000 BC.
symbol in Mayan texts used to represent Cygnus she has identified as
the cross bands glyph, which appears also on much earlier Olmec
statues of the were-jaguar. This, she suspects, signifies the starry
Cygnus can be seen as a key constellation in Olmec and Mayan
astronomy, a point previously unrecognized by everyone but Popenoe
Hatch. It features also as the beautiful bird Seven Macaw, who sits
atop the World Tree in Maya tradition. This can easily be
interpreted as the Milky Way, as is shown by American academics
David Freidel, Linda Schele and Joy Parker in their fabulous work
Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, published in
Moreover, Cygnus's location adjacent to the stars of Sagittarius and
Scorpio, where the ecliptic (the path of the sun), crosses the Milky
Way, makes it an important feature in the eschatological phenomenon
associated with the birth of the new sun at the climax of the
Long Count calendar on
21 December 2012.
The sun will emerge at this time at a
point that aligns with the visual position of galactic centre,
something which some modern researchers feel the Maya were aware of
somehow. In ancient Mexican cosmology, the sun was seen as an egg
that comes from a crack which opens in a cosmic mountain, and this
can be equated with the Milky Way's Great Rift, the dark region
caused by interstellar dust clouds where new stars are born.
This begins at Cygnus and continues on
down to Sagittarius and Scorpio, where it opens out to form the
point of emergence of the new sun.
Back to Contents
vi. Pathway to
In Peru also, the pre-Conquest peoples of the Andes believed that
the Milky Way was the celestial river leading to the sky-world,
findings elegantly displayed in the writings of cultural historian
William Sullivan. More curiously, they revered north as 'up', as
well as the direction that features in their ancient cosmology.
This is despite the fact that Peru is in
the Southern Hemisphere, and the northern celestial pole would not
have been visible. At Cuzco, the administrative capital of the Inca
Empire, the rebirth of the sun was celebrated at the time of the
winter solstice (the summer solstice of the Northern Hemisphere).
Here was to be found the sacred river known as the Vilcanota, seen
as a terrestrial representation of the Milky Way.
All along the river valley are
topographical features such as settlements, terraces and even cities
built on prominent natural features that the Incas felt were
terrestrial effigies reflecting the influence of star-to-star and
dark cloud constellations located along the Milky Way.
seen by the Incas as the centre of the world, the axis mundi, linked
to the sky-world via points of access on the Milky Way when it rose
up from the horizon at the time of the solstices (just like at
Newark's Great Circle).
St Domingo church, Cuzco, built on the site of the Coricancha.
Cuzco's own terrestrial personification is that of a
symbol of kay pacha, 'this world'. Its head and jagged teeth are to
be seen at Sacsahuaman - the hilltop fortress famous for its
foundation walls composed of breathtaking cyclopean masonry.
town's main plaza of Huacaypata corresponds with the feline's belly
and legs, while the Coricancha, site of the former temple of the sun
on which was built the church of St Domingo, falls in the vicinity
of its genitals. The spine and tail of the puma are represented by
the Tullumayu and Huatanay rivers, which flow into the Vilcanota
Italian astrophysicist Giulio Magli, Professor of Mathematical
Physics at Milan's Politechnic, has identified Cuzco's celestial puma
as a joint star-to-star and dark cloud constellation occupying the
position of Cygnus at the very top of the Great Rift, demonstrating
that this was the Incan point of access into the celestial abode,
called hanaq pacha, the 'world above'.
It was here that the human
soul started its life and would ultimately return in death. This was
accessed, or linked, via its terrestrial counterpart focused upon Cuzco, the Incan centre of the world, making this place an
expression of Cygnus laid out on the landscape.
Having satisfied ourselves that the associations between Cygnus,
cosmic creation and the transmigration of the soul were once present
throughout the American continent, and thus could have been imported
from Asia as early as Palaeolithic times, we now cross the Atlantic
and move closer to home in search of further clues to the Cygnus
Back to Contents
Prehistoric Avebury, the megalithic stone complex in the southern
county of Wiltshire in South-west England, is second only to
Stonehenge in grandeur and popularity. Constructed c. 2600-2000 BC,
it consists of a circular henge and ditch that appear uncannily like
those making up Newark's Great Circle. Yet unlike its American
counterpart, Avebury has a gigantic circle of standing stones inside
the henge, with another pair of circles contained inside the larger
Approaching the great circular earthwork
from a distance of around 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) were once two
giant avenues of stones, of which only fragments of one remain today
(the Kennet Avenue). Aubrey Burl, a leading authority on megalithic
structures in Britain, has outlined his belief that Avebury was the
centre for a regional cult of the dead and rebirth.
Overhead photo of Avebury.
Avebury was surveyed during the eighteenth century by antiquarian
William Stukeley, who saw the whole monument in terms of a winding
serpent (the avenues) curling around a sun disk (the main henge and
circles). For him it was a personification of Kneph, a Graeco-Egyptian
creator god (also known as Chnoubis, or Khnum) which he acknowledged
was linked in classical mysteries with the story of 'Cycnus', a
character of legend personified in the sky as the Cygnus
Yet this fact was forgotten, even when in the 1960s Professor
Alexander Thom, famous for finding stellar and lunar alignments at
hundreds of stone circles across Britain, established that the
central axis of Avebury was aligned to the setting of the star Deneb
His contemporary Gerald Hawkins, author of the bestselling book
STONEHENGE DECODED (1965), who famously used a computer to
demonstrate that Stonehenge was used to calculate eclipses, doubted
this, stating that the ancients would not have used such an
Yet what he did not know is that several other key megalithic sites
in Britain are also aligned to Deneb, including a number of
chambered monuments in the vicinity of Avebury. Was this a survival
through from the Early Neolithic era, which had begun in Southeast
Turkey some 7,000 years beforehand?
Adding to Avebury's suspected connections with the Cygnus
constellation is the fact that the only carving to be seen on a
standing stone there (Stone #25S in the Kennet Avenue) shows the
head and neck of a swan (first identified by local earth mysteries
writer John Wakefield). Nobody before had made the link between this
stone and the swan.
In the knowledge that the water-filled meadows
of nearby Silbury Hill, as well as the Kennet river which runs
alongside Avebury, once played host each winter to flocks of
migrating whooper swans inbound from their breeding grounds in the
Arctic, this had to relate in some way to Avebury's axial alignment
towards the setting of Deneb.
In the knowledge that Avebury has frequently been linked with
ancient British goddess called variously Bride, Brigid,
Bridget, Breeshey and Brigantia, whose main totemic symbols are the
serpent, might she help us better define the precise nature of the
site's link to Cygnus?
Back to Contents
of the Swan
The Irish Brigid or Bridget, Scottish Bride, or
Manx Bree, or
Breeshey derive from a common root, a female deity who almost
certainly served as the tutelary goddess for the first Iron Age
peoples to enter Britain in the first millennium BC. Her cult
lingered through until Romano-British times, most obviously as the
divine patron of the Brigantes, the powerful northern tribe famously
led at the time of the Roman conquest by the warrior queen Cartamandua.
With the arrival of Christianity Brigid became a saint, celebrated
as Jesus's nursemaid, and sometimes even as his mother under the
name 'Mary of the Gaels'. St Bride, or Bridget, bore an assortment
of animal forms, but by far the most significant is that of the
white swan. In her role as patron of childbirth, Bride-Bridget was
associated with the Milky Way, where the celestial swan flies, and
her mark was the bird's foot, anticipated by peoples of the Scottish
Western Isles in their hearth on the morning of her feast day.
This same symbol was associated by Welsh
bards and druids with the goddess Minerva, the given to the Gallic
form of Brigantia, or Brigid, by the Romans. Yet what might any of
this have to do with Avebury's cult of the dead?
A more direct association between swans and the northerly
transmigration of the soul comes in the knowledge that in the
Scottish Western Isles people saw whooper swans (and also greylag
geese) migrating northwards to their breeding grounds in Iceland
each spring as carrying the souls of the dead to heaven, which lay
'north beyond the north wind', an expression borrowed from classical
mythology. Should a person be alive when the birds depart, then they
would be free from death for another year.
Cygnus being essentially circumpolar in
Scotland would always have been seen in the northern night sky. Is
this how the stars of Cygnus became associated with the swan, and
why the bird was linked with not only the cosmic axis, but also the
journey of the soul into the afterlife - because it was seen to fly
towards the celestial pole? If so, then this connection can only
have begun when Deneb occupied the position of Pole Star in c.
Swans in flight
Among the peoples of the Baltic the swan replaced the stork as the
bringer of new-born babies, showing that it both brought life and
took it away again. This process of giving and taking life is
exemplified at Çatal Huyuk in Southern-central Turkey where
Neolithic wall sculptures contain vulture's skulls inserted
horizontally so that the tips become the nipples of sculpted
breasts, while murals nearby show human foetuses inside the bodies
The cult of Bride-Bridget exemplified these archaic beliefs, and
these survived through until the nineteenth century in the Scottish
Western Isles. However, evidence of her worship in England has been
scant until now. Yet archaeologists working in South-west England
have recently unearthed macabre evidence of a pagan cult of the
swan, possibly associated with the goddess Bride-Bridget, which
survived through until the 1640s.
It comes in the form of a series of
earthen pits unearthed at Saveock, Cornwall, and found to contain
carcasses of swans, as well as other votive offerings such as eggs,
down feathers, crystals and stones. It is important to recall that
at this time England was under Puritan rule, with the punishment for
any kind of sympathetic folk magic being very severe indeed.
In Britain, the cult of the swan is likely to have come under the
protection of Bride, whose feast day, 1st February, marked the
northern departure of the migrating swans. Yet her worship proved to
be only half the story, for a whole different cult of the swan once
surrounded the return of the birds each November, a fact echoed in
an archaic ceremony that continues each year on the River Thames.
Back to Contents
ix. The Waters
The cult of the swan never died out in England, it simply
transformed into something new. For over 600 years, two ancient
livery companies of London - the Vintners and Dyers - have
accompanied the British sovereign's swan-master and swan-warden on
an enchanting journey along the River Thames from London to Oxford.
Its purpose is to mark and weigh all cygnets - young swans -
allotted by birth-right to one or other of the companies.
Great pomp and ceremony surrounds
Swan-upping, as the event is known, which takes place in the third
week of July (previously in association with a swan feast on St
Swithin's Day, 15 July). What is more, the Vintners - the wine
traders - have a whole room celebrating Swan-upping at Vintners'
Hall, their home close to the River Thames in the City of London.
The expression 'upping' refers both to the taking up of the young
birds from the water, and to the magical journey itself, which halts
at the lock closest to Windsor Castle in order that the swan-master
might toast the reigning sovereign as 'Seignior of the Swan'.
Strangely, the whole event coincides with a major annual meteor
shower called the Alpha Cygnids, where meteors are seen to come from
Deneb in Cygnus, an astronomical firework display that could not
have gone unnoticed.
Swan Upping on the Thames
Moreover, there is some evidence that the Vintners Company, derived
from a 'mystery', or guild, of Saxon origin, was linked originally
to the city's Roman Temple of Isis, which lay within 300 meters of
Vintry Wharf, where the Swan-upping ceremony traditionally began.
Isis, the sister-wife of Osiris in Egyptian mythology, was the
inventor of wine. Her symbol was traditionally the goose, although
through classical associations in Roman times she became associated
with the swan through her absorption of elements of the cult of
Venus-Aphrodite. It is thus possible that Isis's followers in London
might have honoured a pre-existing cult of the swan associated with
the River Thames, where in London colonies of swans were a familiar
sight right through until medieval times.
Another clue to the pagan origin of Swan-upping, and the mystery of
the Vintners, is their patron St Martin of Tours. On his holy day
(11 November) they performed a swan feast, during which a roasted
swan was ceremoniously paraded around the banqueting room before
being eagerly consumed by all present. Although this tradition
continues, today the Vintners eat a goose at Martinmas, while
instead of a roast swan being paraded around its place is taken by a
stuffed bird. When not in use, it is kept in the Swan Room at
Christian tradition associates St Martin with geese, although the
fact that geese were also once sacrificed on his feast day across
Europe argues for a much older pagan origin for this ceremonial act.
Indeed, there can be little doubt that Martinmas developed as an
extension of the former pagan cross-quarter day of Samhain, the
Celtic new year, known also as All Soul's Day, or the Day of the
It was around this time that migrating
swans (and geese) returned from the Arctic, most usually at night
under a full moon. Whooper swans in particular make unearthly sounds
in flight that might once have been taken as the dead returning to
this world, the origin perhaps of the association between Hallowe'en
and the skies being alive with witches, spirits and other
supernatural specters at this time (old pictures exist showing
witches riding geese in particular).
As St Martin's Day marked the arrival of migrating swans and
St Bride's Day on 1-2 February marked their departure, carrying the
souls of the newly dead towards a northerly placed heaven among the
stars of Cygnus. It is for this reason that Bride, or Bridget,
became so much associated with swans and the Milky Way, for she was
almost certainly a personification of the Cygnus constellation.
Such information provides us with some
understanding of the annual rituals that once might have taken place
at prehistoric Avebury, which becomes Britain's premier site for the
cult of the swan. Yet it is across the Irish Sea in Ireland that we
find what is arguably the British Isles' most significant link
between Cygnus and the Neolithic world.
Back to Contents
Knights and Swan Maidens
The gigantic passage grave encircled by a massive stone circle to be
seen at Newgrange in Ireland's Boyne Valley is famous for its
alignment towards the midwinter solstice. Each year the first
sunlight penetrates a narrow corridor and enters a womb-like chamber
at the heart of the monument, built c. 3000 BC.
In it's an enchanting spectacle that
befits its former identity as a sidhe, a house or palace, of the
Tuatha de Danaan, the mythical first inhabitants of Ireland. In this
guise it features in the old Irish tale known as 'The Dream of
Angus', concerning a chieftain named Angus Mac Og, whose story
relates how he fell in love with a swan-maiden after she visited him
in a dream. After she agreed to marry him, they fly off to Newgrange
in the form of swans, where they lived happily ever after. In
Scottish folklore, Angus was married to the goddess Bride, who was
herself a swan-maiden.
All this was knowledge known to two Irish earth mysteries
researchers, Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore, who linked it with
the fact that each winter flocks of migrating swans settle for the
winter in the water-logged meadows of the Boyne Valley. Sensing that
this annual spectacle might have influenced the mythology and
practices of those who built the Newgrange monument, they wondered
whether the passage grave reflected the influence not just of the
sun, but also that of Cygnus, the celestial swan.
Newgrange passage grave.
Overlaying the stars on a map of Newgrange, they determined that the
monument's interior echoes the arrangement of Cygnus's principal
stars (see their site
mythicalireland.com). Moreover, if the
midwinter sunrise line is extended backwards some 15 kilometers (9
miles), it targets a smaller passage grave known as Fourknocks.
This they found to be aligned perfectly
to the rising of Deneb in c. 3000 BC. Thus the solsticial sun has to
pass through a Deneb aligned site before reaching Newgrange, which
is itself a terrestrial form of the swan, reflected in 'The Dream of
Similar tales of shape-shifting swan-maidens can be found across
Northern and Central Europe. In these one of their number is usually
caught and made to marry a mortal man, after he steals her cloak of
feathers as she bathes with other swan-maidens. Such stories are
linked also with the European tradition of 'Le Chevalier du Cygne
('Knight of the Swan'), descended of a swan-maiden M, creating the
archaic belief that certain families and individuals were descended
from a mythical swan-knight.
These includes the Cleves family, from
whom came Annes of Cleves, wife and queen of the English king
VIII, and Godfrei de Bouillon, the leader of the First Crusade.
Traditions of this sort hark back to an age when magical flight was
thought to be attained by the male or female shaman through wearing
either a cloak of swan feathers or other swan paraphernalia,
evidence of which occurs in these same countries, and also in many
parts of Asia and the Indian sub-continent, where swan veneration
was prominent in the past. Moreover, in Denmark archaeologists have
discovered a unique burial in a cemetery dating to the Mesolithic
age, c. 4800 BC.
A young woman was found beneath a small
knoll, next to her dead child, who had been laid to rest on a swan's
wing. Its striking presence has been seen by some archaeologists as
evidence of a link between the swan and the transmigration of the
soul. If correct it shows the antiquity of this cult, which preceded
even the spread of Europe's megalithic culture, of which both Avebury and
Newgrange are prime examples.
Yet the connection between swan-maidens and prehistoric tombs is not
confined to Newgrange, for at the Wayland Smithy long barrow
situated some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Avebury, a legend
connects the founder Wayland, or Weland, the Germanic and Norse
divine smith, with the cult of the swan. It was written that he
escaped from the labours imposed on him by the wicked king Niğuğ by
wearing a swan coat, enabling him to achieve magical flight. In some
versions of the tale, this was given to him by his wife, who was a
They were female spirits, shape-shifting
swan-maidens, who carried the souls of the dead to Valhalla, the
Hall of the Heroes in Norse myth. Although Wayland's link with the
monument that bears his name post-dates its construction by some
4,000 years, it cannot be coincidence that, quite separately, prehistorian Professor
John North determined that Wayland Smithy is
aligned to Deneb, suggesting that a swan cult existed here as early
as c. 3700 BC, its accepted date of construction.
Wayland Smithy long barrow.
From Wayland Smithy we travel to the Scottish Outer Hebrides, where
at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, we find one of the most
impressive stone circles in Britain. Legends speak of it being built
by a black-skinned people who arrived in the company of a white
priest-king dressed in a coat of mallard feathers, which along with
swan feathers was the traditional garment of a Gaelic bard.
Callanish's northern avenue of stones points towards a distant hill
in the NNE, and it can be shown that this alignment targets the
point in the sky where in 3000 BC Sadr (gamma Cygni), the star at
the centre of Cygnus's cross-like design, would climb high enough to
return to life after having faded out as it crossed the meridian
from left to right.
This would have been a magical sight to
anyone present, and so makes sense of why the stone avenue was built
to mark this remarkable phenomenon. Aubrey Burl argues that Callanish's foundation story associates it with a rebirth cult
linked with water and waterfowl. It is a conclusion that adds weight
to Callanish's proposed Cygnus alignment, which must now be seen as
part of a more widespread religion that embraced the megalithic
world with its own unique religious practices associated with cosmic
life and death.
Yet having established the reality of
the cult in megalithic Britain, we now go in search of the Cygnus
mystery to Egypt, where we come a little closer to understanding the
constellation's greater purpose in the minds of our most distant
Back to Contents
xi. The Key to
The Great Pyramid is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Constructed in c. 2600 BC as a funerary monument for the Old Kingdom
pharaoh Khufu (or Cheops), it is the triumph of 500 years of
evolution in funerary architecture, beginning with simple burials in
underground tombs and culminating with the perfect pyramid.
Invariably, Egyptian funerary monuments were aligned north-south, a
ritual act achieved with precision in the Pyramid Age. Finding true
north was ceremonially determined during a ritual known as
'Stretching of the Cord', which involved the use of a specific star,
or stars, in the northern night sky.
Following the pioneering work of English Egyptologist Gerald
Wainwright during the 1930s, Czech Egyptologist Zbynek Zába wrote in
1953 that true north was found by the ancient Egyptians of the
Pyramid Age using an alignment of stars in constellations found
either side of the northern celestial pole.
These were Cygnus and Ursa Major, which
he identified as asterisms known in Ancient Egyptian astronomy as,
respectively, dwn-'nwy, a falcon-headed god, and mhtyw the bull, or
ox thigh, additionally seen as the old foes Horus and Set, ever
sparring around each other in the night sky. Zába's findings were
subsequently verified by Livio Catullus Stecchini (1913-1979), the
brilliant Italian mathematician and metrologist.
The north-south meridian line was the key to ascension in Ancient
Egyptian religion. It is a concept found in the Pyramid Texts, to be
seen on the walls of pyramids from the Fifth to the Eighth
Dynasties, with the sky-rope, or ladder. This linked the axis mundi,
'axis of the earth', with the cosmic axis, i.e. the northern
celestial pole, providing us with a purpose for the northerly
orientation of almost all pyramids and many more simple, so-called 'mastaba'
tombs as well.
The Northern Group of constellations
including the falcon-headed god dwn-'nwy identified as Cygnus.
Even though Thuban in Ursa Minor was Pole Star at the beginning of
the Pyramid Age, after it had shifted too far to be classified under
this title, the stars of Cygnus and Ursa Major would seem to have
been used to mark out the line of cosmic ascension. This concept was
also displayed on the ground. Some 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) due
north of Giza is Ausim, the site of the ancient city of Letopolis.
This was once the home of the priest of the sacred adze, used in the
Opening of the Mouth ritual, which enabled the pharaoh to speak in
the next world.
The celestial adze was equated primarily with the stars of Ursa
Major, linking the constellation with Letopolis, an assumption
confirmed in the knowledge that the symbol of its nome, or district,
was the ox thigh. Yet if this was so, was there somewhere on this
meridian line that represented the falcon-headed god identified with
the stars of Cygnus?
Back to Contents
xii. In Search
Aside from Horus, there was another falcon god called Sokar, Egypt's
oldest god of the death. The pharaoh's final journey into the
afterlife was periodically enacted during a fabulous festival of Sokar, which included his symbolic death and rebirth in the
afterlife. Sokar presided over the Memphite necropolis, which
included Giza, ancient Rostau, and since he can be equated with the
falcon-headed god of the Northern Group of constellations, which can
be identified as Cygnus, then Sokar's role in Egypt sky-religion is
Evidence for the cult of Sokar in and around Giza goes back to the
beginning of dynastic Egypt, c. 3100 BC. Moreover, the presence
there of intact jars from the even older Maadi-Buto culture argues
for the presence here of a funerary cult as early as 3900-3200 BC,
while the discovery to the south of the plateau of even earlier
chert tools from the Neolithic age is tentative evidence that Giza
was active from at least 5000-4000 BC.
Sokar from the tomb of Thutmose III.
As ancient Rostau (which translates as 'mouth of the passages'),
Giza was associated with the most secret part of the perceived
underworld through which the soul of the deceased was expected to
pass in order to achieve ascension under the guardianship of Sokar.
Rostau was intrinsically linked with the Mound of Creation in
ancient texts, signifying that the Ancient Egyptians saw Giza as an
axis mundi of the physical world.
Rival ideas did exist in Egypt coming mostly from the south, and
involving other gods, other cult centers, and other stars such as
Sirius, Orion and Canopus. All vied for superiority as early Old
Kingdom times, and yet there can be little question that the
funerary cult most associated with Giza at the beginning of the
Pyramid Age revolved saw ascension as accessible via the north-south
meridian line marked, as in Olmec tradition, by the stars of Cygnus
and Ursa Major.
Back to Contents
xiii. The Road
Technical engineer Rodney Hale, working along side me with my
research into the Cygnus mystery, decided to see what might happen
if he overlay the principal stars of Cygnus over the Pyramids of Giza. The connection was precise, even more so that if one were to
do the same with the stars of Orion, previously linked with the
ancient astronomy of the Pyramid Age.
A closer examination of the geometry of the Giza plateau showed that
during the Pyramid age Deneb rose exactly in line with the ancient
cult centre of Heliopolis, once linked to ancient Giza via a sacred
road. This was also the approximate orientation of the Giza
pyramids, which are also known to target Heliopolis. In addition to
this, the orientation of the three pyramids matches the setting of
Cygnus on the north-western alignment during the same epoch.
Thus we can see that during the Pyramid Age the stars of Cygnus,
Deneb in particular, would seem to have played an active role in the
rise of this famed necropolis of the ancient world. What is more, Deneb, we find, might easily have been employed, symbolically at
least, in the Stretching of the Cord foundation ceremony, known to
have been used to orient buildings including pyramids such as the
ones at Giza.
Back to Contents
xiv. The Well
Ancient Egyptian cosmology talks about a bird known as the Great
Cackler, a cosmic goose, who brings the universe into manifestation
by letting out a divine honk or call. It lays the sun-egg from which
the creator god emerges, his name altering depending on which cult
centre the myth is attached.
On the famous
round zodiac of Denderah, created as late as c. 50 BC,
there appears a cosmic goose, and careful analysis of its position
in the night sky shows that it formed part of a constellation
composed of the stars of Cygnus and the bright star Altair in Aquila,
the celestial eagle, an area of the Milky Way dominated by the dark
nebulous region known as the Great Rift.
This indicates that the Ancient
Egyptians saw the point of creation as located in the vicinity of
Cygnus. In addition to this, the Great Cackler was a totem of Geb,
the earth god, whose wife/lover was Nut, the sky-goddess.
Occasionally, the Great Cackler is shown at the feet of Nut as she
is prised apart from Geb in order to form the sky and earth.
American astronomer and Egyptologist Dr Ronald Wells has put forward
a unique theory. He has determined that Nut was most probably a
personification of the Milky Way, with her vulva and birth canal
corresponding to the stars of Cygnus. This would make the Great
Rift, which extends from Cygnus down to Sagittarius, the place of
emergence of the sun-god, reborn at dawn on the winter solstice, as
he was also in Maya cosmology.
Wells further determined that the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Userkaf
aligned his sun-temple at Abusir, built within sight of the Giza
pyramid field, to Deneb, when it rose heliacally, i.e. with the sun.
Wells believed that Userkaf chose this particular star as it held
some special importance to him. Beyond this is the fact that here
was firm evidence of Deneb and Cygnus's importance to an Old Kingdom
pharaoh who lived within just three generations of Khufu, and took
the throne only a few years after the death of Menkaure, the builder
of Giza's Third Pyramid.
An obscure local legend asserts the entrance to an underground
'palace' beneath Nazlet-el-Samman, the village east of the Sphinx,
was once guarded by a holy man named Hammad el-Samman. He lived in a
'hole', or well, shaded by a sacred sycamore fig, a direct
descendant of one known to have existed in dynastic times.
Yet this legend is most certainly a
corruption of a far older belief in sacred texts found on the walls
of the Graeco-Egyptian temple at Edfu in Southern Egypt, and brought
to the world in 1969 with the publication of Egyptologist Eve A E Reymond's wonderful book THE MYTHICAL ORIGIN OF THE EGYPTIAN TEMPLE.
They speak of a subterranean domain,
called the Underworld of the Soul, accessed via a well-shaft, which
once existed in the vicinity of Giza. Mythical beings, known as the
Primeval Ones, led by an individual called the Falcon conducted
entered this chthonic realm to embrace its divine radiance known
variously as the Embryo, Seed , Lotus, or Sound Eye.
The Underworld of the Soul of the Edfu Building Texts, as they are
known, is synonymous with the hidden domain of Sokar at Rostau. Even
though this subterranean realm has long been thought to be mythical,
new evidence uncovered during my research into THE CYGNUS MYSTERY
clearly indicates that the gateway to this complex, the Place of the
Well as it was known in the Edfu Texts, lay in the vicinity of a
hill to the south of the Gebel Ghibli, once seen as a physical
representation of the Mound of Creation.
The existence of this pre-dynastic structure, associated in legend
with the god Sokar, and thus Cygnus, unquestionably inspired the
modern-day search for the so-called Hall of Records, alluded to in
the prophetic life readings of American psychic
(1877-1945). On the aforementioned Giza-Cygnus overlay this rocky
outcrop is marked by Albireo, the star signifying the mouth or beak
of the cosmic bird in Arabian star lore, recalling Giza's name of
Rostau, meaning 'mouth of the passages'.
Ancient Egyptian funerary texts speak of a Well of Souls located
beneath a sacred sycamore, a symbol of the goddess Nut, or Hathor,
the latter being a female patron of the plateau. It enabled the soul
of the deceased to ascend via the underworld to the sky-world.
According to prehistorian and
philosopher Mircea Eliade, this was a magico-religious belief of
shamanic origin that pre-dated Dynastic Egypt. Arguably, it went
back beyond the Neolithic era to the Palaeolithic epoch when Deneb
and the stars of Cygnus occupied pole position. Yet where else could
this same shamanic root be traced? We journey next to India in
search of further clues.
Back to Contents
Swan-Goose of Eternity
Each year pilgrims descend on Pushkar in Rajasthan, one of Northern
India's greatest centers of pilgrimage. The main temple is dedicated
to Brahma, the creator god. He is said to have emerged from a cosmic
egg laid by Hamsa, the swan-goose, responsible, like Ancient Egypt's
Great Cackler, for creating the divine sound that brought the
universe into being.
Brahma rides on a sky-car pulled by
seven swans, while the swan-goose is also the avatar of his wife
Saraswati, the goddess of music, writing and divine inspiration. She
is the personification of what was once India's most sacred river,
the Saraswati, which rose in the foothills of the Himalayas in
southwest Tibet. Just like the Ganges today, it was seen as a
terrestrial representation of the Milky Way, linking Saraswati with
Egypt's sky-goddess, Nut.
Saraswati was goddess also of the Rig Veda, the oldest body of
literature in the Orient, which can be traced to a mysterious
civilization that inhabited the Saraswati Valley in West India c.
3300-1900 BC. They are known to have been a shamanic based society,
which almost certainly used trance states, and Soma, the drug of
enlightenment, to obtain otherworldly information. This might have
included the writing of the Vedas, as well as knowledge of Kalahamsa,
the Swan-Goose of Eternity, the form of Brahma who brought the
universe into manifestation.
In ancient Vedic astronomy Hamsa, the swan-goose, was associated
with the stars of Cygnus, demonstrating once more that shamanic
based cultures throughout the world saw this constellation, located
on the Milky Way, as the point of creation in the universe. Yet
exactly how old was this belief? To help answer this question, we
move now to China where we discover an ancient astronomy 17,000
Saraswati on her swan vehicle.
Back to Contents
xvi. The First
Following a lengthy examination of Chinese astronomy for his French
language book Uranographie Chinoise ('Chinese Star Charts'),
published in 1875, noted Dutch Orientalist, philologist and
ethnologist Gustave Schlegel (1840-1903) came to a quite astonishing
conclusion. According to him, their stellar calendar reflected the
night sky of the Northern Hemisphere between 16,000-15,000 BC, when
Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus, was Pole Star. His findings
were verified by the US astronomer Julius Staal in a scholarly book
entitled Stars of Jade (1984).
One of Chinese astronomy's most familiar tales concerns the Weaver
Princess, or Spinning Damsel (the star Vega), who neglected her
duties after falling in love with the king's herdsman (the star
Altair). Thereafter the lovers were allowed to come together just
once a year, at which time every magpie in the land would fly to
heaven in order to create the so-called Magpie Bridge, formed across
the Milky Way by the stars of Cygnus. Both Schlegel and Staal felt
this story dated back to the time when Vega took over as Pole Star
from delta Cygni in Cygnus around 15,000 years ago.
Was this really evidence of specific astronomical knowledge during
Late Palaeolithic times, which might well have been passed down to
those responsible for the oldest temple in the world, built in
Southeast Turkey around 11,500 years ago? Dr Michael Rappenglück of
Munich University has researched the Upper Palaeolithic cave art in
the famous Lascaux cave, near Montignac in France's Dordogne region,
and concluded that it was a symbolic representation of the night sky
c. 15,000 BC.
Rappenglück's interest focuses on a scene in a deep well shaft
showing a falling birdman with a bison to his right and a bird on a
stick below him. Rappenglück proposed that this Well Scene, as it is
known, shows the stars of Cygnus, which if correct proves that this
asterism was seen as a bird as early as 15,000 BC, and that shamans
transformed themselves into bird-men to make this otherworldly
journey in a death-like trance state.
The bird on a stick is the most
interesting feature, for it is very likely a symbol of the sky-pole,
or cosmic axis, with Cygnus as the bird on top. Furthermore, it
demonstrates that this universal concept dates back to this age, and
might easily have influenced the development of magico-religious
ideals through until the beginning of the Neolithic age and beyond.
The Palaeolithic cave art at Lascaux was confirmation also that
ancient astronomy and cosmology might indeed date back 17,000 years,
a view confirmed again and again by evidence found in every part of
the world. For instance, my own studies into the religious beliefs
and practices of
the Dogon tribe of Mali in West Africa show that it
Sirius that they saw as the source of life, as some modern
writers have speculated, but Cygnus, and more significantly Cygnus
in the manner that it appeared in the night sky some 17,000 years
The Weaver Princess standing on the edge of the Milky Way with the
Bridge of Magpies (Cygnus) behind her.
Yet how did Palaeolithic peoples some 17,000 years ago come to
believe that Cygnus was the point of creation, and the destination
of the soul in death?
Back to Contents
Point of Creation
There is now overwhelming anthropological, epigraphical and
scientific evidence to demonstrate that a high percentage of Upper
Palaeolithic cave art in Western Europe depicts shamans in altered
states of consciousness. It shows also expressions of their
hallucinatory visions, which include everything from abstract
geometric forms to chimeras (purely animal hybrids), therianthropes
(human-animal hybrids), and other types of perceived spirit
intelligences. What is more, there is every reason to suppose that
these encounters were initiated by the oral ingestion of psychedelic
plants and/or mycetes, i.e. psychoactive mushrooms.
Indeed, the drug of choice for the Palaeolithic shaman in Europe was
most probably a mushroom from the Psilocybe genus, which contains
high dosages of Psilocybin, an active ingredient that induces vivid
psychedelic experiences. The early use of mushrooms for this purpose
is evident from prehistoric rock art in the Tassili mountains of
Algeria, which dates to 7000-5000 BC. It is from this region of the
Sahara that the Dogon tribe are thought to have come prior to their
southerly migration to more fertile regions on the River Niger in
what is today Mali.
Further examples of rock art from Siberia, dating to c. 4000 BC,
show spirits or shamans with mushrooms on their heads. These are
likely to be the species Amanita muscaria, which was used
extensively by Tungus Reindeer shamans to induce trance states.
The overwhelming evidence of mushroom use in prehistoric times
indicates that the Well Scene at Lascaux might indeed depict a
shaman in a trance state induced by psychedelic substances. Could
this be the origin of some sort of death cult, whereby the initiate
was brought very close to physical death in order that they might
experience the otherworld, the place of the afterlife?
Rock art from the Tassili mountains of Algeria
showing a therianthorpe with mushrooms in his hands and around his body.
As already shown, the Early Neolithic peoples of
practiced their own death cult, symbolized by the vulture, seen most
likely as a personification of Cygnus as the celestial bird atop the
cosmic axis. Thus it is no surprise to find that there are various
examples of symbolic art showing mushrooms in association with key
shamanic symbols such as the vulture, serpent and egg at the
Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites of Southeast Turkey.
Quite separate to this hard evidence of mushroom consumption during
the Early Neolithic era, is the work of celebrated Semitic language
scholar and Dead Sea Scrolls expert John Allegro. He put his career
on the line in 1970 when he published details of widespread
philological evidence of a mushroom-based cult of creation encoded
within the Sumerian and Akkadian languages.
Their joint civilization, arguably the
oldest anywhere in the world, sprang from the Early Neolithic
culture responsible for sites such as
Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe.
Allegro associated this mushroom cult directly with the symbol of
the swan (and the stork), which he saw as a representation of the
female reproductive parts. Even though he only recognized the
origins of this cult as going back to 4000 BC, it can be traced back
to Palaeolithic times, with the most common themes cosmic life and
Cygnus was the original destination of the shamanic journey, as well
as the deemed place of cosmic creation.
Yet why was Cygnus seen in this
role, long after the end of the Palaeolithic age, which
coincided with the cessation of the last Ice Age, c. 9500-8500
Did later Neolithic priest-shamans
merely continue to venerate Deneb and the stars of Cygnus since
they wished to follow well-established astronomical beliefs held
true by their ancestors, or was there something more profound
behind their knowledge of these crucially important stars?
Back to Contents
Secret of Life
In 1985, Swiss anthropologist Jeremy Narby spent time with the
Ashaninka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon studying their lifestyle.
He became intrigued as to how they came about their vast
pharmaceutical knowledge, which included the properties of thousands
They told him it was given directly to
the ayahuasqueros, the drinkers of ayahuasca (a powerful psychedelic
brew, with the active ingredient DMT) by the spirits of the plants.
He did not believe a word of it until he was cured of severe
backache simply by ingesting a prescribed natural brew.
So he agreed, finally, to try ayahuasca
for himself. This resulted in a psychedelic experience in which he
saw twin snakes, giant boas, which he felt were objectively real and
very important for some reason.
After many months of intense research, Narby felt that the twin
serpents signified DNA's double helix, encountered by shamans in
trances, along with other DNA motifs such as the sky-rope, vine and
ladder. He concluded that the DNA of all life forms shares a
collective consciousness that enables cross communication.
Such ideas are made possible through an
understanding of signal nonlocality on a quantum level, and since
compelling evidence now exists for life having evolved in
interstellar clouds - the concept of panspermia - might Narby's
theory be extended to include biological life elsewhere in the
galaxy? Could this provide some answers as to why Cygnus was seen as
important by our most ancient ancestors?
Francis Crick (right) with his model of the DNA double helix.
Francis Crick, the Nobel-prize winning
discoverer of the structure
of DNA, heavily supported the concept of what he called Direct
Panspermia, in which he proposed that life on earth was deliberately
seeded by an advanced civilization, a concept first intimated in the
writings of Anaxagoras, a Greek philosopher who thrived c. 450 BC,
and now being confirmed for the first time by science.
Thus it is interesting to note that
Crick admitted secretly not only to taking small quantities of LSD,
but also to first seeing the famous DNA double helix structure when
high on the drug. If so, then were shamanic journeys during Palaeolithic times, where the initiate would journey to the stars
using the sky-rope, vine or ladder, reflective in some way of his
belief that life originated elsewhere, and that after death we would
return from whence we came?
All over the world there was once a belief that life came from deep
space. Earlier we saw how the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran believed
that the human soul passed beyond the North Star, identified here as
Deneb in Cygnus, where it would join a sky-boat that would take it
across the celestial river, arguably the Milky Way, to one of the
countless 'worlds of light', home to their dead kinsmen. In these
blissful realms, governed by 'great spirits of light', they would
encounter their purified souls as well as their own 'dmutha or
Then there is the work of cultural historian William Sullivan, who
highlighted the Andean belief that:
'In this world we are exiled
from our homeland in the world above [hanaq pacha]', which is 'up
there', in the northern night sky, once again in the direction of
Cygnus (even though Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere).
this native concept with those of the seminomadic Naskapi of
Labrador in Canada, who 'speak of the possibility of contact between
worlds along the Milky Way, which they call "ghost trail," or "dead
Sullivan pointed out that for these indigenous peoples,
of the living originated in the sky, where they "rest in the
firmament until they become reincarnated."'
Similar ideas on the
transmigration of the soul lay at the heart of almost all ancient
religions, such as that of Dynastic Egypt, inspiring the belief in a
celestial heaven, somewhere that was accessible not just to spirits
or souls of the dead, but also
shamans who, as we have seen,
believed that they could enter the sky-world via a 'hole', door or
gate beyond the northerly placed cosmic axis.
In the Indonesian archipelago, several island cultures are said to
be directly descended from sky-beings. The Posso-Todjo Toradja, for
example, say that they are the children of Lasaeo, the 'sun-lord',
who married a Toradja woman. Eventually, he 'returned to the sky',
and his people departed from Pamona and founded a line of chiefs at
In Formasa (modern Taiwan), the Tsalisen
say that their ancestors came out of the moon, while the Kayan and
Kenyah say that sky-beings made the first man and woman in the form
of stone images. The Totemboan say that To'ar, a 'sun-lord', married
their daughter Lintjambene, while her son Si Marendor was said to
have been half sky-born and half made of stone.
Chinese mythology records now some of the earliest kings of China
were said to have been sons of star-gods, while the kings of
and Akkad in ancient Iraq bore a star symbol after their names
indicating that they were the product of a divine union with
Beyond this is the view shared by
ancient peoples all over the world that even though we might have
been born on earth, and are the descendants of the first human
couple, our true self, our soul, originates elsewhere, and upon its
release at death it will be free to return from whence it came. This
recalls the magico-religious beliefs of the shamanic-based societies
of Asia who considered that the souls of children sat in the upper
branches of the World Tree where they await a shaman to draw them
into incarnation, or even the European folk belief in storks, or
swans, bringing new born babies into the world.
These examples are given simply to demonstrate how across the world
indigenous cultures have believed that their entire existence is as
a result of life on earth having been seeded from elsewhere whatever
way their creation myths might have interpreted such information.
Many other examples might be cited, such as the Native American
peoples who point towards a star and say it is their original
homeland, or the African tribes, including the Dogon of Mali that
likewise claim to be descendants of sky-beings.
Not all of them say that life and death was associated with the
direction of Cygnus, but some certainly do, and this belief would
appear to stem back to Palaeolithic times. So did these people come
to learn something significant about Cygnus deep underground, where
they performed their innermost ceremonies and painted their most
sacred art, perhaps under the influence of psychedelic substances?
Back to Contents
Was there something special about the quality of deep caves which
might have enabled supernatural communication to occur, and, if so,
did this provide our Palaeolithic ancestors with a deeper
understanding of the Cygnus constellation?
Certainly, there is
direct evidence from mythology to link the use of psychedelic
substances inside caves with supernatural communications.
This is found in the Bwiti religion of
Gabon in West Africa, whose founder was led to find and use the iboga root inside caves. It is present also in the classical account
of Somnus, the god of sleep, who lived inside a cave surrounded by
In the story of Somnus, his son Morpheus, the god of dreams, stood
by ensuring that no noise entered the cave. Drugs and quite possibly
silence was seemingly an important factor in the use of deep caves
during Palaeolithic times. Yet how might this be linked with the
stars of Cygnus, something exemplified by the site of Britain's best
known example of cave art?
At Creswell Crags, on the borders between Derbyshire and
Nottinghamshire in Northern England, we see in a cave called Church
Hole swan-like birds in its deepest section, as well as an ibis head
and egg close to the entrance.
Coincidentally, a person standing in the
mouth of the cave in 10,500 BC, when the rock art was created, would
have been able to see the stars of Cygnus framed above a
south-facing cliff on the opposite side of the valley. It is very
likely that as Dr Paul Pettit, lecturer on human origins at
Sheffield University, has intimated, the north-facing side of the
valley where Church Hole is situated was reserved for cultic
practices associated with the realm of the dead.
Church Hole becomes a perfect example of the relationship during Palaeolithic times between caves, birds of creation, cosmic life and
death and the stars of Cygnus. Yet how did this link come about? Was
it related in some way to something experienced deep inside the
caves which might have been directly attributed to the influence of
Back to Contents
of the Swan
In the 1980s deep underground particle decay detectors in Europe and
the United States, as well as ground-based air shower detectors,
registered anomalous incoming cosmic rays unlike any others
registered before. They bore a 'fingerprint' periodicity of 4.8
hours, previously recorded in connection with X-rays and infrared
radiation coming from a binary star system named
Cygnus X-3, located
some 30,000 lights years away on the other side of our galaxy.
Known to astrophysicists as a high mass
X-ray binary, it consists of a tiny compact object, either a neutron
star or black hole, that accretes, that is steals, mass from its
huge companion, known as a Wolf-Rayet star. Visually speaking,
Cygnus X-3 is located at the very centre of Cygnus's cross design,
next to the star Sadr, even though dust and gas in the galactic
plane obscure its presence in the optical range of frequencies.
The exact nature of the cosmic rays from Cygnus X-3 are
extraordinary. They are tens of thousands of times stronger than
anything produced by particle accelerators, and since they are
neutral (in that they have no charge) and arrive directly from
Cygnus (as opposed to their route being distorted by the galactic
gravitational field), it indicates that they travel here very close
to the speed of light.
In addition to the qualities outlined so far, the strange particles
from Cygnus X-3 are uniquely able to penetrate hundreds of meters of
solid rock before finally crashing into atomic nuclei to form
secondary particles, detected by deep underground facilities around
the world. No other point source cosmic ray, besides neutrinos -
which are caused by nuclear fusion reactions in the sun and
supernovae and pass through matter with almost no interaction - are
known to do this.
This has led to speculation that cygnets
are produced by exotic strange quark matter inside Cygnus X-3's
suspected neutron star. Despite claims from many particle physicists
that this data has to be erroneous, Cygnus X-3's cosmic rays keep
coming, being last reported again in 2000.
Could it be possible that these same particles from Cygnus X-3 were
being experienced deep underground as far back as Palaeolithic
times, and did they in some way affect the ancient mindset to look
towards Cygnus as the source of cosmic life and death?
The announcement in 2000 that Cygnus X-3
is quite possibly the first confirmed microblazar in the galaxy,
with a one-side particle jet, or beam, pointing towards the Earth,
has thrown considerable light on the nature of cygnets, and the
importance of this binary star system. Galactic blazars produce jets
with relativistic, i.e. light speed, acceleration, easily creating
the means for cygnets to reach the earth in the manner that they do.
Neutron star/black hole drawing gas from its companion star.
the production of relativistic jets.
Relativistic jets have been noted in connection with other stellar
bodies in the galaxy, usually either black holes or neutron stars,
but none of these have are aimed at the Earth, which is what singles
Cygnus X-3 out as a microblazar as it has been termed so as not to
confuse it with galactic blazar, associated with supermassive black
holes at the centre of AGNs (Active Galactic Nuclei), millions if
not billion of light years away from Earth.
Marking Cygnus X-3 out as even more
unique is that only its cosmic rays are known to penetrate deep
underground, something that might easily have been occurring since Palaeolithic times, simply because astrophysicists know that Cygnus
X-3 has been in its current phase of evolution for up to 700,000
Did our most ancient ancestors somehow become subtly aware of the
existence of Cygnus X-3, most obviously during psychedelic
experiences in deep cave settings?
Did they come to associate its
proximity, i.e. the stars of Cygnus - Sadr and Deneb in particular -
with cosmic creation and the transmigration of the soul?
Cosmic radiation might easily have contributed to changes in human
behaviour, or even sudden accelerations in human evolution,
especially during the Palaeolithic age, when cave art, cosmology,
astronomy, intellect and possibly even transatlantic travel emerged
for the first time.
However, this would have been a subtle
process that took place over countless generations, and away from
the harsher influence of indiscriminate cosmic rays bombarding the
planet's surface from a host of different point sources.
More likely is that low level radiation,
like that experienced by health seekers in radon mines today, was
actually beneficial to the human body and mind, especially hundreds
of meters underground where we know cosmic rays from Cygnus X-3 are
able to penetrate.
Cygnus X-3 taken by
the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2001.
Ice cores from Summit, Greenland, and Vostok, Antarctica, at the
other end of the earth, show that levels of Beryllium-10, a
radioactive substance created as a by product of cosmic ray
interaction in the upper atmosphere, were more than double towards
the end of the Last Ice Age, with massive peaks of activity around
firstly c.40,000-37,000 BP and then again c.17,000-14,000 years ago.
Was at least a percentage of these cosmic rays derived from Cygnus
Did Cygnus X-3 help accelerate human evolution, c.
17,000-15,000 years ago, and arguably even earlier?
Back to Contents
xxi. The True
In December 2005, an American scientific think tank called the
Meinel Institute of Las Vegas, founded by former consultants to the
NASA-linked JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), came forward and
announced that it now believed that cosmic rays from a galactic
binary system producing relativistic jets was responsible for a
rapid acceleration in animal and human evolution around 40,000 years
ago. It was at this time that great changes occurred in human
advancement, most obviously the appearance of anatomically modern
human beings in Europe and Asia and the emergence of cave art.
The Meinels used the Beryllium-10 data produced by the Greenland ice
cores to achieve a point source for the cosmic rays that reached
Earth during this distant epoch, and although this led them
initially to Cygnus, where they searched in vain for a possible
microblazar, they eventually concluded that the only realistic
source was the Cat's Eye nebula in neighbouring Draco, the dragon.
This, they believe, fits the data obtained from their detailed
examination of the Greenland ice core data, which enabled them to
deduce a suitable search area in the northern night sky. However,
top theorists on planetary nebulae are unable to accept the Meinel's
candidate for the production of such powerful cosmic rays, since the
Cat's Eye is deemed too weak, and no evidence exists to show that it
produces high energy radiation that might ever have reached the
More likely is that cosmic rays from Cygnus X-3 were able to more
subtly influence human evolution during the Palaeolithic age,
allowing our most ancient ancestors to become dimly aware of this
point source of activity through prolonged shamanic experiences deep
In addition to this, it becomes clear that the memory of this cosmic
influence, seen as divine, was behind the emergence of religion, art
and intellect. This was abstractly recognized and preserved,
eventually becoming the basis for the ancient cosmology behind the
symbolism found even today among various world religions, including
Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
The Cat's Eye nebula
taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
This knowledge, added to Cygnus's omnipotent presence as the cosmic
axis during the Palaeolithic epoch, must have had a profound affect
on the ancient mindset. Cygnus quite literally became the gateway to
the realm of heaven, which brought forth cosmic life and death.
Back to Contents
Montgomery's 'Cygnus Event'
The March 2006 issue of ASTRONOMY NOW cites the findings of British
anthropological writer Denis Montgomery. In 1995 he proposed that
high levels of Beryllium-10 in the Antarctic and Greenland ice cores
for a period of 2,000 years, c. 35,000 BP, argue that sudden
transitions in human behaviour patterns around this time show that
the two events are not exclusive to each other.
Most obviously, the flowering of cave
art in Western Europe, c. 32,500-30,000 BP, is a clear sign that
something quite extraordinary was taking place (and, of course, c.
17,000-14,000 BP, when further high levels of Be-10 are present in
the same ice cores).
Based on suggestions made by American and Russian scientists working
on the Greenland and Antarctica ice cores at the beginning of the
1990s, Montgomery proposed that the source of the cosmic rays was a
close supernova, most likely the one that caused the beautiful
stellar debris caught on camera by the Hubble space telescope and
known to astronomers as the Cygnus Veil, or Cygnus Loop.
Located in the right wing of the
celestial swan, the shock waves of this cosmic event were believed
to have ripped open the Earth's protective layer of ozone, causing
cosmic rays and ultraviolet radiation from the sun to rain down on
the unsuspecting world beneath. For many years the exploding star
would have been brighter than the full moon, making it a blinding
light source that turned night into day.
Premature deaths, cancer and mutations would have resulted in both
animals and humans on a massive scale. Yet very gradually the
supernova would have burnt out, and an immunity achieved by the
human survivors, our own Homo sapien ancestors, who were the
successors of the less adaptable Neanderthal peoples.
Cygnus Loop supernova blast wave.
Even though the 35,000 BP cosmic event highlighted by the Be-10
levels in the ice cores alluded to Montgomery is the same as the one
proposed by the Meinel Institute, said by them to have taken place
c. 40,000 years ago, the suspected source of the cosmic rays is
unlikely to have been the Cygnus Veil, or Loop.
This is now known to have been created
when a dying super giant in this suspected binary system exploded
into a supernova just 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. Moreover, at worst
this spectacular event, which would have temporarily made it one of
the brightest sources in the night sky, was far too distant to have
affected life on Earth.
This reassessment of the Cygnus Veil comes from revised data
regarding its distance, now thought to be around 1,400 light years
away, instead of the presupposed 150 light years banded around in
the early 1990s. Moreover, no other similar event is known to have
occurred around 35,000-40,000 years ago, even though close
supernovae cannot be ruled out as the cause of mass extinctions on
Earth, either in the past or in the future.
Having now spoken at length with Denis Montgomery on his proposed
'Cygnus event', and explained to him the latest data regarding the
Cygnus Veil, he has now revised his two electronic books (www.sondela.co.uk/Aqua/Books/AquaApeA4.pdf, and
to include other possible sources of cosmic rays that might have
irradiated the Earth in Palaeolithic times, including Cygnus X-3.
The Meinels, although now acknowledging Cygnus X-3 as a proposed
source of cosmic rays reaching the earth, have dismissed my claims
in favour of the Cat's Eye nebula. However, these criticisms are
fully addressed in a paper I have written entitled 'Cygnus
X-3 and The Cosmic Ray Question'.
Despite some questions arising from his overall theory, Denis
Montgomery must be credited for having pioneered the idea of cosmic
rays influencing human evolution, and for concluding that its point
source was in the Cygnus region, a road which he admits has been a
long and often solitary one.
Back to Contents