VOL V, No 4,
March 15, 2001
thunderstorm is a remarkable, often terrifying event.
So it’s not surprising that few scholars have paused to wonder about
the prominent role of lightning in ancient mythology. Archaic
images of huge lightning gods roaring in the heavens, or of
celestial armies hurling lightning across the sky will appear
perfectly “understandable.” Thus, students of folklore
assure us that, through the primitive logic of the lightning myths,
our early ancestors sought to describe one of the more frightening
aspects of everyday life.
This common supposition is unfortunate, however, because it has
prevented even the most discerning comparative mythologists
from seeing the underlying patterns, none of which describes the
phenomenon familiar to us. As strange as it may seem, all of the
most common lightning motifs speak of things never observed in our
Our comparative investigation has identified hundreds of recurring
themes of myth, including numerous global images of lightning. The
disconnection of these images from the observed behavior of
lightning is an impressive anomaly. The usual
tendency will be to look for what is intelligible under the tests of
common experience. If, however, “UNCOMMON experience” is the
basis of the global imagery, then this very habit must be confronted
as a prime obstruction to discovery.
The lightning gods of old have a story to tell, and that
story, when traced to its substructure, points to extraordinary
natural events. The prime requirement for investigators in this
field is an independent attitude, free from theoretical prejudice
and eager to consider all patterns of ancient memory, even when the
mythic themes make no sense under prevailing assumptions.
SEEKING A UNIFIED THEORY
The interpretation offered here will add new opportunities for
interdisciplinary exploration. Stunning revelations of plasma
physics must be studied alongside ancient memories of
the divine thunderbolt. Laboratory demonstrations
will find a place next to prehistoric rock art. Ancient tales of
prodigious gods battling in the sky must be compared with the
massive scars on planets and moons, now revealed by space age
probes. And recent telescopic images, revealing new worlds in space,
must be considered on the same page with ancient astronomical
traditions describing the thunderbolt as a weapon
launched by PLANETARY gods.
Our ancestors lived beneath an alien sky, a world so different from
what we experience today that historical descriptions required a
vast complex of analogies to make sense of it. That is precisely
what the lightning symbols give us. Great spectacles in the sky
produced an explosion of human imagination — a myth-making epoch
that had no counterpart in later times.
Let us begin, therefore, with the most common ancient symbols
of the divine thunderbolt. All of the unusual motifs listed
below find wide distribution in the ancient world:
Lightning takes the form of a frightful weapon—a sword, arrow,
mace, club, spear, axe, or hammer.
Lightning is an ancestral warrior, the hero god who defeated
chaos monsters in primeval times. Lightning-hero and
lightning-weapon are frequently synonymous.
Lightning appears as a great bird or “thunderbird”
with heaven-spanning wings.
Lightning is the flash of an “eye” in heaven. It is the
destructive power of the “evil eye,” destroying opposition.
Lightning is launched from a great wheel turning in the sky, the
“chariot” of the gods.
Lightning is accompanied by falling stones or “thunderstones.”
Lightning is the messenger of a central sun that ruled the sky
before the present sun.
Lighting streaks along the world axis, acquiring the form of a
towering column, the axis mundi. It is the pillar
of the sky which, at the beginning of time, “separated heaven
Lightning is a generative, masculine pillar. It impregnates
Lighting is a “chain of arrows” launched skyward by a
great warrior or hero.
Lighting appears as a ladder or backbone of the sky, whose steps
were ascended by an ancestral hero.
Lightning spirals, twists, or whirls across the heavens. It is a
whorl, swastika, or triskeleon.
Lighting appears as an undulating, fiery serpent.
Lightning takes the form of twins, two brothers, or two
companions, each viewed as the alter ego of the other.
Lightning is two serpentine or rope-like filaments wound around
a central axis (caduceus motif)
Lightning appears as an equal-limbed cross; it explodes as
luminous streamers, dividing the home of the gods into equal
Lighting “blossoms” as a flower, the celebrated plant of
Lightning is fire and brimstone (sulfur). The lightning
of the gods gives rise to a sulfurous stench.
Motif #19: In
their violent wars, the gods blast each other with lightning.
Chaos monsters are destroyed by lightning.
Lightning leaves its mark on celestial heroes and chaos
monsters, who are “lightning scarred,” or “thunderstruck.”
The lightning-scar or wound of the warrior-hero is the mark by
which he is identified or recognized.
is one more lightning motif that must be mentioned. This theme is
perhaps the most enigmatic of all, and it traces to the earliest
astronomical traditions. It seems that, amongst many ancient
peoples, the owners of the lightning bolt were PLANETS, when the
planets were claimed to have ruled the world. All of us are familiar
with the ancient Greek images of Zeus, the bearer
of the thunderbolt, wielding his weapon against the powers of
darkness. Zeus is, of course, the Latin Jupiter,
and classical images were strongly influenced by the Akkadian
images of Marduk, the king of gods, the planet
Jupiter, famous for the thunderbolt by which he assumed
It was Immanuel Velikovsky who, in
Worlds in Collision,
drew our attention to the ancient memory of lightning passing
between planets. The historian Pliny, for example, wrote:
“Most men are not
acquainted with a truth known to the founders of the science
from their arduous study of the heavens.”
wrote, “are the fires of the three upper planets.”
A vivid description of an interplanetary discharge was also given by
“Heavenly fire is
spit forth by the planet as crackling charcoal flies from a
burning log.” When such a discharge falls on the earth, he
reported, “it is accompanied by a very great disturbance of the
air,” produced “by the birth-pangs, so to speak, of the planet
referred to an ancient Etruscan tradition describing a bolt
from the planet Mars that fell on Bolsena -
“the city was entirely burned up by this bolt.”
Similarly, Pliny’s contemporary, the naturalist Seneca,
distinguished the “lesser bolts” of the local storm from the
vastly more powerful bolts of the planet Jupiter, “by
which the threefold mass of mountains fell.”
THUNDERBOLT AS ARCHETYPE
I’ve said it before, but the surface of world mythology is a
madhouse, and on the matter of the thunderbolt we have
a particularly telling example. It is as if the mythmakers took
special pleasure in defying all experience, including direct and
unassailable observation. The myths have no integrity.
They insult our intelligence. How could a rational,
feet-on-the-ground investigator see more than random fiction in
It is the recurring themes, the ARCHETYPES, that
rescue us from such skepticism, enabling us to distinguish the
substratum of human memory from the carnival of fragmentation and
elaboration over time. An archetype is an irreducible
first form - it cannot be reduced to a more elementary statement.
And as far as can be determined from historical investigation, it
has no precedent.
Archetypes as a whole are the keys to our understanding of
ancient mythmaking imagination. In the remembered age of the
gods, our sky presented to terrestrial witnesses a stupendous
display of light, form, color, and sound, associated with concrete
bodies in the heavens, evolving through well-defined stages.
Sometimes exquisite, sometimes terrifying, these forms were, in the
imagination of the sky gazers, divine and awe-inspiring gods. Thus
the myths themselves insist that nothing comparable ever occurred
over subsequent millennia.
RULES OF INVESTIGATION
A productive investigation of the archetypes will require
three overriding principles:
investigation must focus exclusively on common mythical,
symbolic, or ritual themes: including all points of agreement
between far-flung cultures
2) Each verifiable theme must be traced to its
3) All common cultural expressions of the themes
must be considered as evidence. Pictures illuminate ancient
storytelling. Ritual celebrations give context to the pictures.
Myths add crucial background to the rites
facts can now be stated concerning the archetypes, and
these facts challenge all prior explanations or theories of myth.
No archetype finds its natural reference in our familiar sky.
All common themes of myth point to events that do not occur in
All archetypes are inseparably connected to each other. No
isolated archetype can be found. It is this stunning fact that
encourages the investigator to seek out a unified explanation of
All archetypes trace to the beginnings of recorded human
history. Following the flowering of ancient civilizations, it
does not appear that any new archetypes arose.
We further claim that no
comprehension of world mythology is possible apart from the memory
of PLANETS extremely close to the earth, accompanied
by earth-shaking electrical activity. It was not that
long ago that heaven was alive with electricity as planets moved
through a rich plasma environment. Ambient electrical activity gave
rise to unearthly sights and sounds for which natural experience
today can only provide the faintest reminder. In the wake of these
events, cultures around the world strove to reckon with the forces
unleashed, to interpret the meaning of cosmic catastrophe, and to
>From this new
vantage point, it is now possible for the serious student to
follow the progression of the symbolic language from first form,
or archetype, through later elaboration. The “Saturn
model,” about which we have spoken so frequently
in this newsletter, is based on rigorous cross-cultural
comparison. Hundreds of archetypes, traced to their prehistoric
roots, provide the concrete basis for a series of “snapshots”
showing an evolving planetary configuration as seen from the
earth. Many of these first glimpses have been presented at
seminars and conferences, and more will be presented at the
upcoming conference, July 6-9. An introduction will be offered
in the forthcoming book,
Thunderbolts of the Gods
(co-author is Wal Thornhill.)
ACID TESTS OF A
As for the implications of the Saturn model, there can
be little ambiguity. The model is both unique and highly specific.
Moreover, our rules of investigation preclude selective perception,
focusing entirely on an undisputed field of evidence: the verifiable
themes, the archetypes. When measured against the known patterns of
human memory, does the model meet the test of a good theory?
The role of electricity is crucial, and I must confess
that I did not realize the full import of electricity until the
meeting with Wal Thornhill late in 1996. For thirty days,
Wal camped out in my office helping us prepare for the January’
1997 world conference. During that time he convinced me that the
celestial images I had reconstructed were plasma discharge
phenomena. This revelation proved to be a critical turn in
the historical investigation.
For many years I had insisted that electromagnetism
would have to be considered if we were to account for the remembered
dynamics of the ancient Saturnian system. From the beginning
I was convinced (following Velikovsky’s lead) that
lightning bolts had passed between planets. And I had identified
the Valles Marineris
on Mars as the lightning scar, wound, or
disfiguring mark on the celestial warriors of mythology (the “Scarface”
motif about which I’ve spoken elsewhere).
But prior to Wal
Thornhill’s arrival in Portland, I didn’t even know what a
Birkeland Current is, and I knew nothing about the unique
configurations taken by plasma discharges.
CONVERGENCE OF MYTH AND SCIENCE
While I’ve experienced many breakthroughs over more than a quarter
century, this one exceeded all others. It was the first indication
that, at a level of explicit detail, a convergence of myth and
science may be possible. This, then, inspired me to reconsider the
mythic thunderbolt in terms far more concrete than I
had previously envisioned. Until then, I had treated the
thunderbolt as a secondary symbol, a meteorological
signpost only generally directing our attention to the sights and
sounds of primordial times. I had not zeroed in on lightning
as a core mythical motif, one inspired by the ELECTRICAL
attributes of the planetary configuration itself. What you do
not recognize you do not see.
Wal’s revelations encouraged me to reconsider the
thunderbolt from the ground up. Applying the principles of
the historical reconstruction, I abstracted from my files a summary
of the archaic forms taken by “lightning” in ancient texts
and art. The conclusion was startling. The recurring patterns of
lightning symbolism turn out to be nothing else than the
extraordinary forms taken by the planetary configuration. When
considered in their ancient contexts, not one of these archetypal
forms is either logical or expected under our familiar sky.
Hence, an entirely new level of evidence came into the picture.
There is more. Those who have seen some of the “snapshots” of
the Polar Configuration will recall that the reconstructed
images involve certain filamentary streamers radiating from
planets or stretching between planets. In
human imagination these were seen most commonly as braided hair,
entwining ropes, streaming feathers, or undulating, twisting
serpentine forms. Here the interactions of Venus and
Mars within the
configuration are most prominent, illuminating the global myths of
the goddess and warrior-hero.
One of the forms I will present at the upcoming conference is that
of the far-famed caduceus. Another is the so-called “winged disk”
and its many variants in the ancient world. Since these highly
unusual forms answer to nothing in nature as we know it today, they
must be included among the acid tests of the model.
But for now I must simply state the punchline:
EVOLUTION OF THE PLANETARY CONFIGURATION, RECORDED
ON PAPYRUS, CLAY, AND STONE, FINDS DIRECT VERIFICATION IN THE
EVOLUTION OF PLASMA DISCHARGE CONFIGURATIONS IN THE LABORATORY.
THE MYTHICAL “CHAIN OF ARROWS”
This surprising picture
emerged only in the past year. In my earlier reconstruction, I had
followed the connections between an undulating, upward-spiraling,
serpentine form and two powerful mythical motifs - the “chain of
arrows” and the “ladder of heaven.” Gathered around these motifs in
texts and art are numerous other themes, including: backbone of the
sky, tower of heaven, flared skirt of the mother goddess, pyramid or
steps of ascent, bound serpent or dragon, severed limbs of the
serpent or dragon, and more. In the course of assimilating this
material, it became clear to me that a simple evolutionary sequence
explained the full range of symbolic connections, if one allows for
the three-dimensional perspective of an observer on earth.
At the heart of this evolutionary sequence is the “chain of arrows”
event, a global theme so preposterous as to mock every attempt of
comparative mythologists to understand it. In this theme an
ancestral warrior or hero launches arrows toward the sky, and each
arrowhead embeds itself in the one above it. The chain of arrows
then becomes a ladder by which the hero ascends to heaven. Numerous
examples of the theme will be found in the Americas alone, but other
examples occur from Africa and India to the
South Pacific. In the Kathlamet legend of a hero named “Many Swans,” this great ancestor
launches a stream of arrows heavenward, these forming a ladder of
ascent to the sky. In the Hindu Ramayana the arrows of
Arjuna form a
bridge capable of carrying the mighty Hanuman, the traveler between
From a systematic examination of ancient pictographs, I had
concluded that the chain of arrows involved a series of toroids
stacked along a central spine and that these toroidal forms had
evolved violently from a luminous filament spiraling up the polar
axis. Additionally, since Wal Thornhill had persuaded me that the
unique phases of the polar configuration involved plasma
discharging, I became increasingly aware of the vital links between
the arrow-chain and the mythical “lightning”
of the gods. In 1997 I
had sketched out the unique form of the arrow-chain for Wal. He
replied that this configuration must indeed have its explanation in
plasma behavior. He agreed to look into it.
Then came one of the great surprises in the history of the research.
It occurred only last September, when Tony Peratt, one of the
world’s most accomplished plasma theorists, described the violent
evolution of a plasma discharge form that he had documented over
more than two decades. In plasma science this configuration is named
after Tony - it is called the “Peratt Instability.” From the moment of
this revelation, nothing has been the same. The correspondence
between the global pictographic record, our reconstruction based on
historical testimony, and the extraordinary forms of the evolving
discharge in the laboratory is simply “too specific and too precise
to be due to accident” (not my words, but the words of plasma
The result of this new information is that the “chain of arrows,”
one of the most perplexing archetypes, is no longer seeking an
explanation. Moreover, these revelations will bring us into direct
liaison with leading experts in plasma science, and the convergence
appears to be more powerful than anything we had previously hoped