Commentary on Hamlet's Mill
by John Major Jenkins
"But whatever fate awaits this last enterprise of my latter years [Hamlet's Mill], and be it that of Odysseus' last voyage, I feel comforted by the awareness that it shall be the right conclusion of a life dedicated to the search for truth."
- Giorgio de Santillana (1968:xi).
Some books are ahead of their time. Some books convey a message which threatens prevailing notions, and are therefore brushed away. Some books are mixtures of profound insights and garbled speculations. Hamlet's Mill, An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (1969) partakes to varying degrees in all of the above. Hamlet's Mill began a revolution in understanding the profound sources of ancient mythology. Although it tottered on the edge of oblivion for years, it has reemerged as the fundamental inspiration for many progressive researchers who find the precession of the equinoxes lurking within ancient creation myths around the world.
The text of Hamlet's Mill covers 349 pages and includes another 100 pages of appendices. The authors of this thorough study are respected scholars. Hertha von Dechend was professor of the history of science at the University of Frankfurt, and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for five winters, 1962 to 1967. For many years she emphasized in her work the relationship between ancient myth and astronomy. Giorgio de Santillana, not to be confused with the Italian philosopher George Santiyana, was for many years professor of the history and philosophy of science at M.I.T. By 1969, when Hamlet's Mill was published, he had authored numerous articles and books (e.g., Santillana 1955, 1961, and 1968). Whatever these authors have to say should be considered in all seriousness. Santillana seems to be the primary speaker; he served as editor for von Dechend's material and compiled other material relating to her thesis.
Hamlet's Mill traces the transformations of mythic imagery around the globe on a search and rescue mission, to breathe life back into an archaic insight into the nature of the cosmos. It seems, admittedly, that an a priori feeling, or insight, drives the book onward to its conclusion, which is really more of a new beginning. This archaic insight is a cherished discovery of the two authors, the culmination of their academic careers, and they seem driven to quickly document and consolidate their thesis-one that von Dechend actually espoused for many years-and share it with the world. There are problems with Hamlet's Mill, but they are more in terms of the book's organization rather than a faulty reasoning. However, some citations, especially those of Mesoamerican myth, are somewhat off the mark. In this case, the reason may have more to do with the embryonic state of Mesoamerican studies in the 1960s. As for other glitches, these hurried flaws can be explained when we consider the context in which the book was written. Giorgio de Santillana published a book of his own the previous year and was still lecturing at M.I.T., so his work load during the late 1960s must have been intense. In fact, he was ill at the time. As William Irwin Thompson writes:
"Professor de Santillana worked on editing von Dechend when he was sick and near death, and so this book is not the best expression of their theories. Encyclopedic, but rambling, it is often as chaotic as it is cranky. This weakness, however, should not mislead the reader. The work is very important in seeking to recover the astronomical and cosmological dimensions of mythic narratives" (Thompson 1982:268-269).
This may explain the variations in the narrative, the ebb and flow of the sequence in which the book was ordered, and the generally chaotic character of the book's organization. Nevertheless, the bulk of the text conveys ruthless interpretation and careful documentation of international scholarship in linguistics, archaeology, comparative mythology, and astronomy. In addition, an informal and usually engaging, if somewhat locquacious, prose style prevails throughout. Hertha von Dechend, long-time German historian and mythologist, seems to be the director behind the scenes:
"Von Dechend has argued that the astronomy of the most ancient civilizations is far more complicated than we have hitherto realized. She sees myth as the technical language of a scientific and priestly elite; when, therefore, a myth seems to be most concrete, even gross, it is often using figurative language to describe astronomical happenings . . . Von Dechend's thesis that there is an astronomical dimension to myth that is not understood by the conventional archaeologists of myth is, I believe, quite correct" (Thompson 1982:173).
"Archaeologists of myth" is a strange statement, but what discipline does this study belong to? It certainly isn't astronomy, because astronomy's technicians have nothing to do with ancient myth. Is it ethnology, mythology, or science? The burgeoning field of archaeoastronomy perhaps gets closest to the mark. Since the 1970s, two different academic journals have been devoted to elucidating and exploring the topic of archaeoastronomy. Norman Lockyear pioneered this field in the late 1800s with the publication of The Dawn of Astronomy in 1894. The next real advance in this field came with the Stonehenge studies of Gerald S. Hawkins in the 1960s. As a result of Hawkins' new "astro-archaeology" picking up where Lockyear left off, and a growing academic interest in what the field had to offer, Giorgio Santillana saw fit to arrange the reprinting of Lockyear's The Dawn of Astronomy in 1964, for the occasion of its 70th anniversary.
Much of humanity's oldest myths were derived from celestial observations. This is probably the most important contribution that Hamlet's Mill offers, one that has been suppressed and scoffed at for much of this century. In addition to its ancillary use in archaeoastronomy, this concept is being reclaimed as a guiding principle for those who study Maya mythology. The Maya, the most mathematically and calendrically advanced culture of the ancient New World, also preserved complex myths which are now being interpreted as referential to astronomical features and processes. For example, Maya epigrapher Linda Schele has promoted the Mayan Sacred Tree, one of the oldest motifs in Mayan myth, as a description of the intersection of the ecliptic with the Milky Way. Many breakthroughs in this regard are recorded in books she coauthored with David Freidel and, with some amazement, she even goes as far to say, "With that discovery, I realized that every major image from Maya cosmic symbolism was probably a map of the sky" (Freidel et al. 1993:87). Elsewhere she writes "The cosmic monster is also the Milky Way" (Freidel et al. 1993:87) and, in a direct linkage of myth to the sky: "Clearly Orion was the turtle from which the Maize God rose in his resurrection. The Milky Way rearing above the turtle had to be the Maize God appearing in his tree form as he does on the Tablet of the Cross at Palenque. The image of the first turtle really is in the sky" (Freidel et al. 1993:82).
Major mythic images describe celestial features or processes. Von Dechend was saying the same thing about Old World and Polynesian mythology decades earlier. Now that scholars have caught up with and recognized the importance of the perspective pioneered by von Dechend and de Santillana, we can look at Hamlet's Mill with new appreciation. Unfortunately, it is a difficult book. As one writer put it, "Their book is rich and interesting but not easy to read. Many different themes and an extraordinarily large and diverse collection of data fold over each other in its chapters like some origami nightmare" (Krupp 1991:298).
Notice that the various commentators on Hamlet's Mill acknowledge the value of it while noting its problems; this isn't a question of naïve or blind acceptance of something appealingly fantastical. Neither can it be accused of New Age sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and in 1969 the age of rampant spiritual materialism was still off in the future. Moreover, the Castaneda-style of scholarship, unprecedented in its originality and audacity, had yet to be identified. Hamlet's Mill was a straightforward and honest attempt to eluicidate a valuable aspect of ancient science and myth previously overlooked.
So, in this appendix, I will sort out the wheat from the chaff, and offer a summation of the essential message of Hamlet's Mill. What I have felt since my first reading is that this book is groundbreaking, the beginning of a new way of understanding the origins of civilization. In the intervening twenty-five years since it was first published (it is presently still in print with David R. Godine, Publisher), other disciplines have supported its tenets in various ways. For example, the work of Marija Gimbutas, James Mellart and Riane Eisler demonstrate that there was a stylistically unified Old Europe civilization in place before the advent of "civilization as we know it" in ancient Sumer. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of this in some depth, describing the 18,000-year old Magdalenian culture as "a peaceful Golden Age." Despite this new information, scholars are generally cautious on new turf. Many people who have read Hamlet's Mill are initially impressed, but soon encounter the politically dangerous nature of "speculating." Observe the words of the Finnish-born poet Anselm Hollo:
"Then, came my encounter with Giorgio de Santillana's astounding book Hamlet's Mill, which resulted in a slightly embarrassing countre-temps with a Finnish ambassador to the U.S. During the ten minutes preceding my modest speculative reading of Santillana's thoughts on the Sampo theme, at a major American city's Kalevala Day, said ambassador delivered himself, in a manner reminiscent of Heinrich Mann's Der Untertan, of a speech to the effect that the Kalevala was simply so great that it did not, ever, require any form of interpretation . . . it had to be taken at face value" (Hollo 1989).
This kind of treatment has no doubt had the effect of dampening the enthusiasm of many students. Whether it be politics or academics, some areas are simply "sacred ground," not to be trampled. Usually this indicates exactly where progress can be made. The quote above mentions the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, and the Sampo, a cosmological artifact of Central Asian shamanism (see Ervast , 1998; Jenkins 1995e; Jenkins 1998a). Speaking of Ivory Towerism, Edmund Leach, a scholar of the old school, provided a rather indignant review of Hamlet's Mill:
"[The] authors' insistence that between about 4000 B.C. and 100 A.D. a single archaic system prevailed throughout most of the civilized and proto-civilized world is pure fantasy. Their attempt to delineate the details of this system by a worldwide scatter of random oddments of mythology is no more than an intellectual game. . . . Something like 60 percent of the text is made up of complex arguments about Indo-European etymologies which would have seemed old-fashioned as early as 1870. . . . Despite their claims to scholarship the authors avoid all reference to the currently relevant literature" (Leach 1970).
In fact, de Santillana and von Dechend do refer to contemporary literature, but point out that much "modern" scholarship is biased, built upon sand castles of past assumptions. In the 1960s, and to a large degree still today, the prevailing notion among historians of science was that "civilization" progressed in a Darwinian model of advance, from lesser to greater sophistication. It then follows that no "primitive" culture could know things that "modern" man does not. Observe Leach's use of the terms "civilized" and "proto-civilized"; this implicit bias precludes the possibility of socially or perceptually refined people living in the Neolithic. The well-known historian Will Durant entertains other possiblities: "Immense volumes have been written to expound our knowledge, and conceal our ignorance, of primitive man. . . . Primitive cultures were not necessarily the ancestors of our own; for all we know they may be the degenerate remnants of higher cultures that decayed when human leadership moved in the wake of the ice" (Durant, cited in Childress 1992:570).
This is not to say that Hamlet's Mill presents some kind of Atlantis theory to explain the preponderance of similar cosmological myths around the globe. Instead, cosmological myths are understood to be stories that come from the sky, encoded maps about the arrangment of celestial features and the movement of planets and stars during the year. The universal storyboard of the night sky is viewed around the globe and, in this way, similar cosmologies and metaphors arise to explain the great questions: human origins, the mystery of life, time, and death, and the exploits of deities (who are really stars and planets). Echoes of a unified Neolithic world religion? Even in Greco-Roman myth it is obvious that Saturn, Jupiter and other mytho-cosmic deities refer to planets.
Regardless of Leach's words, which clearly illustrate the type of scholasticism threatened by Hamlet's Mill, other reviewers were less reactionary and were even optimistic: "Drawing on various learned disciplines, the authors have attempted to construct a master theory of myth-a theory, that is, which accounts for the appearance of identical mythical motifs in areas between which no cultural contact can be discovered or even surmised" (Atlantic).
In a clear summary of the likely impact of Hamlet's Mill, Phoebe Adams wrote, "This courageous enterprise has produced a difficult, disorderly (no conscientious examination of myth can be anything but disorderly), and provocative book, based on the assumption that the great international myths represent an explanation of the structure of the universe, and that this explanation-long since forgotten except in its picturesque narrative form-was actually mathematical and derived from astronomical observation. If this scandalously oversimplified description boggles imagination, let the reader not take alarm; the book is equally boggling but much more persuasive. It is likely to draw howls of protest from the scholars whose fields have been raided" (Adams 1969).
De Santillana raided his own field (the history and philosophy of science), draws from others, and, furthermore, advises his colleagues (especially mythographers) to educate themselves in basic astronomy. Another reviewer emphasized the challenge that Hamlet's Mill posed thinkers unaccustomed to new ideas: "[The authors] open a speculative inquiry into the origins of science that has great relevance for both the history and philosophy of science. . . . This book presents an intellectual challenge to those accustomed to think of ancient Greece as the unique cradle of Western science" (Basilia 1969).
It is amazing to think, and it is a testimony to the painstakingly cautious "advance of science," that not too long ago Greece was considered to be the "unique cradle of Western science." Today we know that Pythagoras, Plato and other influential Greek thinkers took initiation from dying Egyptian mystery schools, whose accrued knowledge went back millennia. The cosmological and philosophical insights which those Egyptian schools afforded inspired the scientific brilliance of Greece, Byzantium and Islam as well.
Serendipitously, the final reviewer suggests that there is more to be found here, that Hamlet's Mill is a bent key to a series of gates: "It is natural that so rich and complex a first unriddling is flawed. . . . The book is polemic, even cocky; it will make a tempest in the inkpots. It nonetheless has the ring of noble metal, although it is only a bent key to the first of many gates" (Morrison 1969). And this is where I pick up the lead. A clear analysis will first unbend the key. I will not only be commenting on Hamlet's Mill, but will also be interpreting it, based upon new information, and will finally tie its essential meaning to recent discoveries half-way around the globe, in the ancient calendric cosmology of the Maya. What emerges is not only an essay about a unified mythic astronomy from the archaic past but, according to this long lost perspective, an impending doorway through an uncertain collective future.
Thoughtful Presentiments of Hamlet's Mill
As we consider the importance of Hamlet's Mill more deeply, an appropriate thing to remember comes from the preface itself: "Nothing is so easy to ignore as something that does not yield freely to understanding."
In de Santillana's preface to Reflections on Men and Ideas (1968), he mentions the new project underway, what would become Hamlet's Mill, and writes "My latest productions are a definite move into a field that had long attracted me, far from ordinary research and the usual tools. . . ." These words were written in November of 1967; since Hamlet's Mill was published in 1969, his work on it indeed must have been somewhat frenzied. With some amount of foresight he continues: "It is the greatness of the subject that has called me, the prodigious wealth of mythical material gathered over the centuries, immense vistas of lost millenniums, of submerged cultures for which we may have found a key. Judgment must wait for our forthcoming book written in collaboration with Dr. von Dechend, An Introduction to Archaic Cosmology" (Santillana 1968:xi).
Besides this initial working title for the "essay" that became Hamlet's Mill, another title was considered: "The Art of the Fugue," emphasizing the image of time running through epicycles of change-a harmonic number progression-as found in Pythagorean thought. Mathematics, it is proposed, is important for the thesis-specific numbers crop up repeatedly in ancient cosmologies from India to Viking Iceland, and describe the vast periods of World Ages.
In the preface to Reflections on Men and Ideas, we discover that de Santillana tends to scornfully denounce certain episodes in the history of science. In fact, his book The Crime of Galileo was inspired by such considerations, and he compares Galileo's trial with the trial of scientist Robert J. Oppenheimer in the 1950s. The greatest crime is that these events were largely misinterpreted by historians themselves. He is therefore impatient with the proclamations of know-it-all scholars, who may be obscuring the truth rather than elucidating it. This style of "open dissent" characterizes de Santillana's writing in Hamlet's Mill as well. Combining his discoveries with von Dechend's, he arrives at a position which is controversial. He admits that this "new method may yet be deemed uninsurable by our more cautious contemporaries: but that it has a point I have no doubt" (Santillana 1968:xi). At times de Santillana's writing breaks into admirable prose; other times it is just wordy. The "spirit of protest" directed against his colleagues is refreshing; there will be no Ivory Towerism here. De Santillana's stance does not seem to be motivated by animosity, rather, he just seems impatient with the ploddingly cautious progress of scholarship. At the late stage of his life during which Hamlet's Mill was written, one can understand his desire to short-circuit conventional caution and cut to the chase.
De Santillana met von Dechend in 1959, when she was Assistant to the Chair of the History of Science at the University of Frankfurt. Coming from a background of ethnology, archaeology and the history of science, she avoided astronomy completely for many years as a valid explanatory source for myth. Even in her examination of Mesopotamian myth, she was able to neatly ignore astronomical myth, saying "everything looked so very terrestrial, though slightly peculiar" (Santillana and von Dechend (1969:ix). Her assumptions changed when she began to study Polynesian myth, some ten thousand pages of it. She realized that "no single sentence could be understood" and admitted that the Polynesians, with their perplexing navigational skills on the open Pacific, must have known something of astronomy. Finally, the pieces of evidence were assembled and the message was clear: "planets had to be constitutive members of every mythical personnel; the Polynesians did not invent this by themselves." Once she had found the key, she quickly realized that the same insight-that astronomy was the source of myth-could be applied to the shrouded meaning of other cosmological myths. Based upon this position, the importance of measure and counting was brought to the fore. Both de Santillana and von Dechend believe that measuring preceded even the development of writing: "Way back in time, before writing was invented, it was measures and counting that provided the armature, the frame on which the rich texture of real myth was to grow." Cave art in southern France from 18,000 years ago contains a figure marked with twenty-eight lines, the moon cycle. This kind of counting and measuring may indeed be the precursor to more stylized glyphic writing. With these new ideas at the ready, the "essay" to become Hamlet's Mill demanded to be written.
Into the Whirlpool
A close look at the introduction of Hamlet's Mill will provide a clear orientation to de Santillana's and von Dechend's thinking. Extracts from the jacket flap give the impression that the overall viewpoint of the book is neither outrageous nor unfounded. We also learn here why Hamlet (Shakespeare's Hamlet), appears in the title:
"Contradicting many current notions about cultural evolution, this exploratory book investigates the origins of human knowledge in the archaic, preliterate world. Selecting Shakespeare's Hamlet as a congenial introductory figure, the authors begin their journey proper with Amlodhi, Hamlet's counterpart in Scandinavian myth."
The statement "current notions about cultural evolution" refers to a type of social Darwinism in which human society today is supposed to be hierarchically more refined and advanced in every essential way than our grunting, dirty, cave dwelling, "primitive" ancestors of the Neolithic. This view is naïve; compare life in a typical Third World urban slum of today with the cosmopolitan city dwellers of Alexandria 2,000 years ago. Technology and science is not the barometer of cultural sophistication. Social Darwinism has entered the realm of cliché, although still to a surprising degree it holds currency in the underlying assumptions of many people, including scholars.
Continuing with the book jacket's summary, we encounter the central theme of the book. The mythic Amlodhi character was the owner of a magnificent Mill. In those ancient times it ground out peace and plenty. Later, however, in decaying days, it ground out only salt. "Now, at the bottom of the sea, it grinds rock and sand, and has created a vast whirlpool, the Maelstrom, which leads to the land of the dead. The ultimate significance of this Mill, and of many similar mythical constructions, is what the authors set themselves to discovery."
This points us to the central idea without precisely defining it. The authors trace mythic metaphors of cosmological processes around the globe and in so doing, must compare different metaphors and identify similar motifs. One can then deduce that a story describing a hero's journey into the belly of a giant to retrieve magical knowledge, is the same cosmological event as a shamanic journey up the sacred tree to the North Star. Mythic cosmography speaks in mixed metaphors. De Santillana and von Dechend interpret widely scattered myths with the assumption, which many now feel is essentially correct, that cosmological mythic narratives unfold, like given stories, from events observed in night sky. The most ancient myths, though cloaked in culture-specific garb or expressed via different creative metaphors, describe an identical underlying celestial map: "The places refered to in myth are in the heavens and the actions are those of celestial bodies. Myth, in short, was a language for the perpetuation of a vast and complex body of astronomical knowledge."
The eleven-page introduction, written by de Santillana, provides an excellent orientation to the authors' thoughts, motivations, goals, and conclusions. Shakespeare's Hamlet is traced back to the story of Amlohdi and from there to the Viking tale of Grotte's Mill. The popular Norwegian fairy tale called "why the sea is salt," recorded in the early nineteenth century, descends directly from the myth of Grotte's Mill. The Hamlet's Mill "essay" then moves farther afield, drawing in a huge amount of related cosmogonic imagery. We first move to Finland, where the incredible Sampo story-its forging and theft-provides detailed imagery describing a World Age shifting of the celestial "frame of time." From there to Iran, India, Polynesia, back to Greece, Egypt, Babylonia and China; even New World mythology fits the criteria. The entire discussion indicates that ancient people around the globe observed the slow shifting of the celestial framework, what we call the precession of the equinoxes. Among academics and without good reason, the suggestion of this knowledge in ancient times has been dismissed out of hand, and this is exactly the problem. It is considered to be so patently impossible that no rational examination of the mythic forms describing precession has ever taken place. Hamlet's Mill is the first study to seriously address this question.
The imagery of the Sacred Mill and its owner stands for vast periods of time and the supreme ruler of the heavens, a kind of primeval demiurge not unlike the position held by Mithras. In fact, David Ulansey writes, in The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (1989), that Mithraism arose soon after the Greek astronomer Hipparchus "discovered" precession in 128 B.C. The shifting of World Ages thereafter became a secret doctrine of the Mithraic mystery religion, and Mithras (the bull slayer) was accorded a ruling position above all previous gods. Recent advances in the true nature of Mithraism had to overcome nearly a century of bias, propagated by the erroneous ideas of Franz Cumont-another example of the double-edged sword of scholarship.
I should point out here that Mithraism developed quickly, as if filling a dormant position, and became widespread throughout the Greco-Roman empire. World Age doctrines certainly do not begin with Mithraism, so one wonders if Mithraism simply represented a new flowering of ancient knowledge. Today we have a popular astrological belief that the Age of Pisces is giving way to the Age of Aquarius. This, however, occupies a dubious place as a modern folk belief, being associated by rationalists with snake oil and magic. Mithraism is supposed to be the first proponent of this World Age thinking, so the astrological belief of World Ages theoretically must be traced to Mithraism. Since precession was allegedly "discovered" by Hipparchus just prior to the founding of Mithraism, it should go no further than that. However, Mithraism was an extremely secretive religion, and the central mystery could not be revealed under penalty of death. This is why its true nature eluded scholars up until just recently. Furthermore, the numbers associated with astrological ages and estimates of precession appear much earlier than Greece-back to Egypt and even in the earliest mathematical formulations of Sumer. In fact, the key numbers of Babylonian-Sumerian mathematics (including the sixty-based system still being used) were derived from astronomical observations, and point us to the traditional estimate of precession: 108 x 4 x 60 = 25,920 years. These numbers also appear in the Hindu Ages of Kali. In comparison, Hipparchus estimated the complete precessional cycle to be 36,000 years. Clearly, precessional knowledge and the attendant World Age doctrine are much older than Greek astronomy and Mithraism.
In the introduction to Hamlet's Mill, de Santillana also mentions some very ancient ideas about Ursa Major, the Milky Way, and the Pole Star, writing, "These notions appear to all have a common doctrine in the age before history . . . born of the great intellectual and technological revolution of the late Neolithic period" (Santillana and von Dechend 1969:3). Time and time again we must remind ourselves of how little we know of ancient human society, and how much we assume. Can we really conceive of what life and thought were like 7,000 years ago? The material data collected from archaeological digs paint a pretty shabby picture of Neolithic life-an assertion that any gaudy museum diarama will attest to. How can we reconstruct the perceptions, myths, and intellectual life of these far off people of the dim past? Knowing that human beings have, basically, remained unchanged for at least 40,000 years, how can we say that our remote ancestors could not observe the subtle celestial shifting of precession? Our concept of how difficult this might be is tempered by the problems of our own age, when the skies are obscured by smog and light pollution, when basic math skills are the property of the few, and no one has the time or inclination to read and explore the obscure depths of human history. If we can admit that our remote ancestors were intelligent enough to conceive of this majestic and complex doctrine of World Ages, we might allow ourselves to be smart enough to let go of destructive tendencies and move into a healthier new era.
Other scholars have since concurred with the basic premise of Hamlet's Mill, that mythology and astronomy go hand in hand. Joseph Campbell even goes so far as to point out that the numbers associated with the ending of world, as recorded in the Icelandic Eddas, are identical to the numbers used in Hindu World Age calculations, and both ultimately refer to precession. Campbell presents this finding in several different books and tapes (most notably, in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space), yet this important aspect of his work has been characteristically ignored. We also have the viewpoint of William Irwin Thompson in his book The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light, which provides a rich elucidation of this whole perspective. The growing trend among mythologists, historians, and other reseachers into humanity's past is to 1) allow ancient people to be intelligent and perceptive, 2) understand that myth and astronomy are interwoven, and 3) allow for the possibility that we are just learning to recognize the genius of ancient civilizations, and we can learn from them. Major contributions to this perspective are implicit in the work of Linda Schele and David Freidel. In their books Forest of Kings (1990) and Maya Cosmos (1993), their methods of studying Maya writing, mythological symbolism and cosmology had to evolve to meet the challenge; confronted with a level of sophistication barely allowed for in former approaches to the subject, they adapted new strategies and new perspectives to help them understand the genius of the Maya. The greatest fruit of this change in methodology includes acknowledging that myth describes the sky. With such an understanding, a term like "archaic mono-myth" simply means that one myth or "model" may have prevailed around the globe in ancient times simply because everyone everywhere got their knowledge from the starry sky.
The authors of Hamlet's Mill feel they have made a step toward "breaking the code" of archaic cosmogonic symbolism, tracing it back to an astronomical explanation of the familiar themes that describe the world's origins: "The theory about "how the world began" seems to involve the breaking asunder of a harmony, a kind of cosmogonic "original sin" whereby the circle of the ecliptic . . . was tilted up at an angle with respect to the equator, and the cycles of change came into being" (Santillana and von Dechend 1969:5).
What they describe here, and elsewhere more precisely, is a specific era some 6,500 years ago when the position of the equinoctial sun was aligned with the band of the Milky Way. This provided an obvious celestial alignment, occurring twice a year on the equinoxes, when the sun would conjunct the Milky Way-the Bridge Out of Time-opening the way out of the plane of the living (the zodiac) and up to the cosmic center and source in heaven. A "breaking asunder" occurred when this great cosmogonic picture began to precess out of alignment. Presumably, when the "untuning of the sky" occurred, increasing social tension followed, leading to greater collective confusion and our descent into history. This simple summary is intriguing in itself, and is supported by evidence presented in Hamlet's Mill at every step of the way. Some of the problems and questions this scenario evokes will be addressed as we proceed. For example, Hamlet's Mill asserts that as a result of precession the zodiac was tilted up with respect to the celestial equator, "and the cycles of change came into being." However, I am not convinced that, in the minds of the ancient skywatchers, time "came into being" because of this particular event. It certainly could have led to a destabilization of the core institutions then in place, for example, the concept of the Earth-Mother-Goddess as the highest life principle. But I do not see it as a reason for the origin of time itself. It probably led to a belief that traditions formerly held to be "graven in stone" are indeed changeable. It could also have been seen as a great apocalyptic crisis-the destabilization of the corner pillars of the sky in respect to the center-such that one could only set sights on some far future time when the sky would realign itself and a new Golden Age could begin. These ideas certainly remind us of the Flood, Greek thought, World Age destruction in Siberian shamanism, the adventures of Gilgamesh, the descent of Innana, and thus these cosmological ideas are not isolated or unfounded constructs. Nevertheless, the "untuning of the sky" was an actual astronomical occurrence. The whole goal of Hamlet's Mill was to collect and interpret the world's most ancient myths in light of the fact of this astronomical event in the Neolithic, and the assumption that human beings back then were sophisticated enough to notice it.
The introduction travels down many byways as de Santillana recounts his journey of discovery through related research, trivia and obscure quotes. He sets the stage, readying us for the journey, with his final words, ". . .there is still some daylight left in which to undertake this first quick reconnaisance. It will necessarily leave out great and significant areas of material, but even so, it will investigate many unexpected byways and crannies of the past" (Santillana and von Dechend 1969:11).
Now, scholars are finally beginning to honor the contributuion of Santillana and von Dechend. A progressive and profound interpretation of ancient science and mythology was put forward in Hamlet's Mill. The next great alignment in this cosmological scheme which I call the archaic mono-myth is not only right around the corner, but was anticipated by the ancient Maya, as evidenced by the Maya calendar end-date, December 21, 2012 A.D.