In May 1997 I moved into a house on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania. I had gotten a job as the Community Recovery Officer, a role created in response to the Port Arthur shootings the year before. The house was isolated in bushland.
One night, soon after I moved in, I went to bed and was unable to sleep. I lay in bed in a dark room with eyes closed for over 4 hours. Around 2.00am I heard a car approaching. It was my brother arriving very late from Hobart. I got up to go downstairs to turn the outside light on. What happened next stunned me.
I looked out the window and saw a night sky awash with light, but there was no moon. The intensity of starlight was so intense my eyes reacted. Instead of darkness filling the background it was light of varying intensity – from a soft glow to strong patches. The most compelling memory was however the sense of proximity of the presence of stars and light. It was so close I felt almost oppressed, and distinctly uncomfortable. Despite my awe I had to get downstairs, and I felt relieved to go.
I grew up in the country and was walking in wilderness since I was 15. Laying back and looking at the night sky, campfire nearby, was a common experience. but we always had light – the fires or torches. This was the first time my eyes had been fully deconditioned.
The struggle with perspective
Since then, I have seen images of the night sky that have been impressive, but they have not replicated my experience.
All this matters, I believe, because we look back on our ancestors with our eyes. Graham Hancock noted, in Ancient Apocalypse, that our ancestors were pre-occupied with the sky. In the context of a post-apocalypse hyper vigilance, that makes sense. But I wonder what weight that anxiety should be given, relative to other motives.
My experience forced me to think of the night sky not as a deeply distant place, but an immanent place – close but just out of reach. It was also a place that had regular and erratic movement. So, like any part of the human environment it should be observed to be understood, risks assessed, and opportunities weighed.
It made sense, then, that climbing a mountain might get you closer – higher was nearer.
I recently bought Richard Carrier’s Jesus from Outer Space. Carrier has a doctorate in ancient history. I came across his work in David Fitzgerald’s Jesus Mything in Action where there was a discussion about the idea that earlier than 2,000 years ago folk thought heaven was a material place, and gods were actual ‘people’ with bodies and appetites. Hence the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh made more sense to folks than the idea of a spiritual body.
Our minds are schooled by light years and light pollution makes the heaven seem sparsely populated. Remoteness, vastly distanced, is our measure.
We can assume our ancestors were stupid and ignorant or allow that their sense of what was was fairly and reasonable formed. We can think they were thinking literally in the way we mean that word, or we can allow that myth and metaphor served a purpose.
Because of how we think now, we cannot understand how our ancestors thought – and a good measure of modesty is in order if we want to be fair.
Our animist foundations
My main interest is in animism – a once apparently global way of knowing. My awareness of animism is conditioned by modern thought, so it is unlike how a native animist understands things – more so if they are free from any modern thought as well.
Human child development includes an ‘animistic’ stage out of which we develop into proper rational and abstract thought. But what if such ‘development’ was not always as harsh as now? I see relational modes of awareness (myth, metaphor, symbol) as different from the kind of abstract rational mode we have come to champion, not entirely a precursor or primitive mode. It could be that advancing abstract rational thought is an evolutionary development that should embrace its foundational modes – not denigrate and reject them. It something we are not doing well, if at all. Maybe the healthy evolution is toward a holistic way of knowing?
I came to animism after my night sky experience, so I have been trying to develop a sense of relational engagement with the night sky – the sky generally in fact. ‘Night and day’ has a yin/yang sense to it. The Egyptian goddess Nuit makes more sense this way.
The Celtic symbol, the Awen, expresses the solar positions on the horizon at the solstices and the equinoxes. The night sky, being more complex, is symbolised in astrology. The relationship between the complexity of night and simplicity of day seems to be incorporated into monumental structures around the world.
Earth and sky have their mutual complexities. The complexities of Earth are stimulated from the complexities of sky. There is a moral dimension in ancient thought that suggests there is also a reciprocity – a balance to be kept.
What was that way of knowing?
We are disposed to see the monumental works of our ancient past as products of a now past present without grasping the precursor conditions – which demand a far more complex and sophisticated culture. The idea of a ‘lost civilization’ makes so much sense. But we then must ask how this civilization thought. Was it a holistic culture which developed thought and technologies that evolved in high complex forms very different from our own?
If our science and technology retained a grounding in myth, metaphor, and symbolism (a presumption of relatedness) from the outset they may not have developed the toxic processes that now beset us.
We are locked into assuming that high intelligence is exclusively expressed by abstract rational thought alone. That means that generating toxic consequences is an inherent feature of intelligence – and that doesn’t seem to be a sensible thing to think.
One thing that struck me more than anything else about the Ancient Apocalypse series was the sense of urgency to construct these monumental structures (they are all dated around the same time) – to restore a capacity to connect with the sky? The effort that went into them was extraordinary. The perceived need was powerful – maybe to scan for more danger and to plug back into a sustaining way of knowing.
Operating complex systems of knowing that involve building and maintaining massive structures takes people and time. It seems to me that the agents to drove the making of these structures were restoring, not inventing, and so also restored agriculture – a necessity when many people stay in the same place for a long time.
I think the lost civilization hypothesis is sound. It fits the facts and offers sense to things that seem otherwise odd. It certainly changes the narrative line of history that our culture tells itself – and aligns more with myth – as it should.
Graham spoke of what the users of Gobekli Tepe intended when they buried the site – to preserve it for future generations? Did they sense a need to do so, and why? To memorialise what had happened or as a signal to take care, lest it happen again?
This is from 14 February 1979. I recorded a session with a discarnate agent who spoke through a close friend. Here is part of the transcript. The voice was not always clear. The difficulty is that man this time is not evenly evolved but is made up of many groups from past civilizations all incapable of cohesive action. The cataclysms will be in the earth system (time not clear) If the spiritual level of mankind does not raise itself dramatically within (time not clear) all things which are at present useful and beautiful will be taken away.
As with all such things, do be careful in how you assess them. I include this because of two ideas that link to the theme of Ancient Apocalypse.
The first is that humanity is not evenly evolved – something that seems to have been the case a long time ago as well. In our language ‘advanced’ and ‘primitive’ people share the same landscape. But who is who? That may depend on what we measure.
The second is that our future depends upon our “spiritual level”. That theme was present in the flood myth accounts.
The theme of harmony between Heaven and Earth is persistent. My sense is that restoring harmony was a task the post-apocalyptic flood heroes took on for themselves -to go out and build new centres of connection with Heaven and get things back to some kind of order.
Whether you believe this was a meaningful act or not it does seem true that our civilization is built upon that foundation. We are heirs of a restoration effort, but we may also be heirs to a collective existential trauma. Those who have been raised influenced by the Jewish tradition have two traumatic acts at the foundation of our spiritual thought – an expulsion from paradise by a God whose later genocidal intent was to drown our ancestors.
What has been passed down to us is the need to be redeemed from an inherited sin. Our culture carries the residue of an ancient trauma that injures our relational capacity to this day.
In an animistic consciousness reciprocity between humanity and Heaven is a reality. This idea is present in our religion traditions, though expressed in ways that often make the idea rationally offensive. It is a deeper and far more subtle way of thinking, but you can’t explore it and keep your materialistic inclinations. It is a deep relational, not a wholly rational, way of knowing.
As climate change continues to force us to accept that our world is changing in ways that are increasingly detrimental to our collective interests it may be a good time for a collective re-assessment of the post-apocalyptic structures in terms of their intent and the motives behind their construction.
The idea that we are the highest manifestation of humanity is alluring, save that it may be unbalanced. After centuries of championing reason and science we have come up the idea of the ‘mad scientist’ who wants to take over or destroy the world. That is our worst nightmare of Enlightenment thinking.
But we know now that expressing ‘advanced attributes’ of humanity includes emotional and spiritual attributes as well as cognitive prowess. By spiritual I mean that capacity for holistic and integrative awareness, not religious or metaphysical thought or belief – though it could be also expressed in those ways. It can be expressed in scientific terms with a little help from our mythic, metaphoric, and symbolic mind elements – if we allow them.
Animism at its foundation, is a relational way of knowing. Studies on trauma show that this way of knowing is deeply injured through traumatic events. The idea of moral reciprocity requires a balance that demands a mature sense of realism, not a romantic religious sentiment or a disconnected objectivity – both injured states.
Around the world indigenous people have been traumatised when they are invaded, subjugated, and abused by modern thought. In western civilisation, our capacity for relational ways of knowing – amongst our own, between others and with the non-human – is impaired, sometimes gravely so.
Where to from here?
Note: Ancient Apocalypse is an 8-part series only on Netflix. It is one of Netflix’s highest rated shows ever.