“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Shakespeare, Hamlet
Catastrophism and context
For want of a better description, Marinus Anthony (Rens) van der Sluijs coined the term Plasma Mythology some years ago. The previous two pages on this web site discuss the possibility of planets having shifted on their orbits within the memory of mankind, in large part giving rise to many of the 'myths and legends' under discussion.
While Rens accepts enhanced plasma activity as responsible for so many myths the world over, he doubts that planets were on radically different orbits in recent millennia. This is
not to say that he rules out extraordinary interplanetary events. For example, he suspects that Dr Thomas Gold’s notion of a supersized solar outburst, which plasma physicist Dr Anthony Peratt used to explain the ‘intense aurora’, could very well tie in with former
visibility of Venus’ magnetotail. As things stand, he also allows that Clube & Napier’s theory of ‘coherent catastrophism’ and the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, first
presented by Firestone and West, may have a part to play in the same body of creation myths. Exactly how that would relate to the intense aurora remains to be fully resolved.
"The interdisciplinary mind cannot help suspecting that the classic axis mundi of traditional cosmologies offers an unexpected window on features in the upper atmosphere and magnetosphere that only living generations have come to know about."
Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs (vol. 2, p. 113)
“All men are amazed at those phenomena which carry sudden fire down from on high …” Seneca the Younger
Rens has developed the theory that myths were based primarily on unusual or transient events in nature, expressed in creative metaphors. This includes events now known to be benign such as eclipses, haloes, auroras and rainbows, but also classic catastrophist fare like floods, earthquakes, lightning and cosmic impacts on scales from local to planetwide. For want of a handier term he has described the mythology of this sweep of phenomena as ‘ephnidiontomythology’ (mythology of unusual events). He has also used ‘catastrophist mythology’, with an emphasis on the catastrophic subset, and ‘plasma mythology’, which links the plasma-based or electromagnetic phenomena such as the sun, the aurora, lightning and ball lightning.
Rens has found that, within mythology as a whole, creation myths in particular share numerous elements worldwide that can hardly have been based on observations of the familiar world (lifting of a solid sky; multiple suns reduced to one; dangerously hot sun; multiple sky pillars; etc.). Such creation myths deal not only with the making of the current world, but include the catastrophic end of former worlds. Rens has made a detailed reconstruction of this ‘global template’ of creation myths and argues that it points to one or more specific periods in real time, within human memory, when the earth and its atmosphere went through a series of turbulent changes. The transition from the last Ice Age to the Holocene would have been the main epoch eventful enough for ‘myth-making’.
has to be plausible. Reality is under no such constraint." Anon
The ‘intense aurora’ proposed by Peratt would account for many of the most salient mythical motifs, including ‘world pillars’ (axes mundi) and the familiar tail-biting snake or ouroboros. Rens interprets this ‘intense aurora’ as a real aurora, albeit one scaled up by orders of magnitude. It would have been a purely terrestrial phenomenon, not an interplanetary one such as Peratt and Talbott’s group have in mind. This hypothesis can explain the same myths, petroglyphs, rituals and other symbols, but brings the source of the images closer to home, to the earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.
“It would not be too extravagant to state that the principal medium for the stories of creation
was auroral light.”
Milton Bernard Zysman, ‘Let There Be Lights’
The Cochno stone in Scotland, pictured above. What are the ancients trying to tell us? These events certainly seem to have been dramatic.
The World Axis, Cosmic Axis, Axis Mundi, or Stairway to Heaven
Rens made a special study of the axis mundi or world axis. In ancient astronomy, this was the rotational axis passing through the earth at the centre of the universe, but mythologists have long used the term for any tall object joining the sky to the earth in traditional cosmologies. Such objects range from cosmic mountains and trees to a rope or
ladder to heaven, a sky-lifting giant, a stupa, and so on. Many of these cosmologies mention several sky pillars, either bunched together or at different points on the horizon.
Rens argues that these myths find their ultimate origin in transformations of the aurora during a geomagnetic excursion. An excursion is an incomplete reversal: the two main magnetic poles attempt to change places, but end up back on their original hemispheres. Apart from the familiar dipole field, the earth's magnetic field also has half
a dozen smaller poles spread around the world. These normally have a very minor influence on the overall field, but during an excursion they can gain strength while the dipole weakens. Scientists have found that these 'minipoles' then develop their own 'minimagnetospheres' and auroral rings. Rens claims that this multipolar aurora,
including that of the remaining dipole field, also takes the form of stable narrow columns thousands of miles high. Each of these could have evolved as a Peratt column, with the characteristic plasma instabilities. These would be the cosmic columns remembered in myth and ritual, according to what Rens calls the 'polar columns' model.
Excursions last decades to centuries. Rens suspects that the axis mundi stories go back to the Gothenburg excursion, towards the end of the Pleistocene, or perhaps to the
Solovki excursion, in the middle of the Holocene.
Following an exhaustive survey, Rens and Peratt suggested that the Ouroboros has a specific origin in time, no later than the 5th or 4th millennium BCE, and was ultimately
based on globally independent observations of the intense aurora, with different characteristics than a familiar aurora.
Specifically, the ouroboros could have represented an auroral oval seen as a whole, at a
time when it was smaller and located closer to the equator than now. That could again have been the case when the geomagnetic field weakens, its
minor poles gain in strength, and some of the magnetic poles shift places.
In a recent book, Tok Thompson and Gregory Allen Schrempp cautiously allow that this extremely
speculative idea might "mark a bold new interdisciplinary venture made possible by modern science".
"Throughout human history, people have personified and mythologised the aurora. If a geomagnetic excursion had occurred within human memory, they could have observed spectacular transformations of the lights, even at low latitudes, and enshrined these in myths, monuments, images and rituals."
Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs (vol. 2, back cover)
Petroglyphs and field trips
Rens has visited archaeological sites and conducted interviews with members of indigenous groups in more than 70 countries, inspecting prehistoric petroglyphs and
pictographs in about 60 locations on 4 continents. He surveyed petroglyphs together with Peratt at Valcamonica (Italy) in April 2004 and El Morro (New Mexico), in April 2010.
As a member of Peratt’s team he conducted his own extensive survey at Tsagaan Salaa (Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, western Mongolia), the largest petroglyph field in
eastern Asia, in May 2006. Rens supports Peratt’s claim that many of these petroglyphs, especially the more abstract or geometric ones, can be records made in situ of the same intense aurorae that inspired myths. However, whereas Peratt believed all of these images
to be snapshots of a single intense-auroral column fixed over the earth’s geographical south pole, Rens argues that the unique conditions of a geomagnetic excursion gave rise
to several such columns scattered around the world, some of which changed their locations.
"The recurring petroglyph patterns are reproductions of plasma phenomena in space." Anthony Peratt, 2003