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Survival of the fittest: The mother-of-three, 57, will hit our screens again on Bear Grylls' right hit survival show The Island on Channel 4. And Erika hints that she can't promise there won't be any naked slip-ups on the extreme survival programme The Island. She told the Daily Mirror : 'I'm not saying I'm a naturist. Who knows? Erika added about her experience on the show: 'I was given the chance to add an amazing adventure to my already amazing bloody life at the age of The show saw contestants kill wild animals, fish, make fire and create shelters in the previous season last year.

Erika, who grew up in Tanzania where her father owned a thriving tea estate, hit headlines again when she bared her breasts again last October. Erika was helping launch Bra The Brunel - a campaign to raise awareness and funds for research into breast cancer. The campaign will also see the launch of a month-long exhibition of actual bras that have been donated to the centre by an array of celebrities. The campaign is close to Erika's heart; her sister died of the disease in aged She was It devastated my family; we have taken her two children in.

Erika pictured on ITV's Lorraine in December talking about a naked calendar she was taking part in to raise awareness for breast cancer in memory of her sister who died from the disease. Share this article Share. More top stories. Bing Site Web Enter search term: Search. For real Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky line up for a domestic flight back to Byron Bay after spending the weekend in Melbourne Tamzin Outhwaite, 48, isn't 'closed off to the idea of marrying again' after finding love with new beau Tom Child, College drop out, 23, claims he's become a millionaire after learning to trade Forex on YouTube but says he Is this farewell to the pizza that's a slice of our lives?

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Mother-of-four, 29, watched her 'veins collapse' when a hot water bottle she put down her leggings exploded Ad Feature Too many turmeric supplements to choose from? Could this Cambridge company provide the answer? Mutiny on the fjords! The interpretation of folklore presents us with various problems.

A further alternative, recently suggested from the natural sciences, is that many widespread myths, including those with Christian themes, are derived from the common observation of natural phenomena and events. The latter is unlikely. We do have fairly good accounts of Polynesian cosmogony, though.

In the central Carolines the creator was a goddess, Lukelong, and in the Gilbert Islands, now part of the republic of Kiribati, the male creator, Naruau, or Na Reau, collaborated with his daughter, Kobine. Generally, all creation originates in po, the dark, preexistent cause, eternity, the beginning of all things. Po had a counterpart, ao, or aiu, that was light, brilliant, and virtuous. From po and ao emerges the divine trinity of Kane who was associated with the sun and sky , Ku the god of war , and Lono representing fertility, agriculture, rainfall, and music.

The three may be regarded as either separate entities or different aspects of a single being. The first people were made out of mud taken from the four quarters and so themselves incorporated the structure of the cosmos in their being. In the version compiled by the Christian convert Kepelino, rather than three creator gods, Kane exists as a triad—Kane, Ku, and Lono—and exists alone in the dark night.

As creation begins, he brings into existence, in a sequence, first light, then the heavens, followed by the earth, ocean, and then the sun, moon, and stars. As Kane creates, he chants the following words: Here am I on the peak of day, on the peak of night. The spaces of air, The blue sky I will make, a heaven, Oceania. Behold the heavens! There is the heaven, The great heaven, Here am I in heaven, the heaven is mine. A standard interpretation of the Polynesian creation has Kane accompanying himself with a chant while he creates.

Physically, the Hawaiian cosmos was a dome, or bowl, a model familiar from many cultures that could be compared to a calabash, or gourd, with the astronomical reference points inscribed on it. Aiu, Light and Sky, exists above the Kaingu land, the surface of the earth and Po, darkness, exists below it. Kaingu, also perceived as the Womb of the Earth, therefore becomes the means for communication between Aiu, the world in which humanity exists, and Po, the source of creation. Sacred places are therefore liminal zones that facilitate communication between creator and creation.

The chief celestial bodies, as elsewhere, were the sun and the moon, the latter the basis of a lunar calendar. In the Gilbert Islands the sun and the moon were the children of the first man and the first woman, an unusual inversion of the normal sequence of creation, in which the sun and the moon precede humanity.

In a tale that carries clear warnings against disobedience yet suggests that punishment can be avoided if there is a sufficiently persuasive explanation, Na Reau, the male creator, threatened to beat his human children to death for defying his order that they have no children of their own. In terms of cosmic politics this piece of astronomical myth also provides a model for good governance: Even when people break the law they may be able to give a reasonable account of their behavior, to which the wise ruler will pay attention.

Invariably the universe was described as alive and dramatic. Sometimes In the Celebes, the sun, moon, and stars were the body of a girl who was thrown into the sky. Some stories explain the origin of day, others the origin of night. In the Banks Islands, in northern Vanuatu, the story is told that, in the distant past, the day was endless. The creator, Qat, received complaints about this monotonous, endless day from his brothers and so, taking a pig as barter, set off to find Night, and buy nighttime.

When he returned home, nighttime slipped into the sky and the sun slid down over the horizon, inaugurating the first night; Qat even taught his brothers how to sleep, thoughtfully providing roosters to wake them at dawn. In all societies astronomy serves a navigational purpose, but for the island dwellers of Oceania, its application by travelers was of supreme importance. To sail hundreds of miles between islands that may be barely visible on the horizon only when relatively close is an astonishing achievement, and the means by which this was accomplished has only recently been understood by Westerners.

The calendar seems to have generally begun with the first appearance of the Pleiades in the eastern sky at sunset, followed by, typically, twelve thirty-day months. But of the precise calendrical markers and seasonal rituals that were in some other cultures marked by astronomically aligned sites, we are only now establishing evidence, after some false starts resulting from over-enthusiasm and lack of rigor. It seems, then, that the Hawaiian temple builders might have prioritized any feature of the terrestrial or celestial cosmos, with one part being inherently more important than any other.

As with the astronomical alignment of sacred sites, astrology in the sense of the use of stars and planets to derive meaning or anticipate the future is Oceania. Of this we have simple examples. In parts of Fiji, the god of hell, a one-toothed man who devours the dead, flies through the sky as a meteor—so both here and in other places, such as the Torres Straits Islands, meteors were often evil omens. In Tahiti, the god Tane could be a meteor, and in New Zealand, the god Rongo-mai came to earth like a ball of fire, suggesting that the shooting star either embodied him or acted as his agent.

In New Zealand Tunui-a-te-ika, a comet, seems to have been less a star for the Maori than a demon and presages death and violence. Atmospheric events, we should also remember, are sky phenomena and therefore potentially astrological. There may be no stars involved in this account of meaning in the cosmos, but it portrays the cosmos as infused with romantic love better than any stellar story.

Even in navigational matters, sailors would consult the stars to find the most auspicious times to sail, just as fishermen might seek advice on the best time to fish, farmers to sow their crops, and soldiers to go to war. In New Zealand, the Maori developed a class of experts in the entire range of celestial lore, including the measurement of celestial positions and evaluation of their significance. We can infer their actions and the value attributed to them from secondary accounts. These were men We read of the thoughts of one famous old wise man of the 19th century who spent long nights watching the stars from the summit of a hillock near his hut.

A night under a starry sky, though, could have had other functions. The tohunga kokorangi could have been watching for omens—messages from the stars— purging his soul or communing with celestial deities. He may even have been actively engaging with the sky, acting as a co-creator, for there was a belief that certain men, with sufficient power, could cause a solar halo to appear at will. Just before the battle of Orakau we saw this sign. As we were a war party of course our warriors made much of this omen. To the first heaven. Soar to the second heaven, Where sacred powers reside, And sacrifices are made, And offerings are given.

Other astrological signs had agricultural significance, but no distinction was made between celestial omens and seasonal markers—all were signs that required a correct response, whether lifting a crop or reciting a sacred chant. There has been a tendency to reduce Oceanic astronomy to the purely functional in the form of navigation, as if the stars can be measuring points devoid of meaning. It is now increasingly accepted that the sky functioned both as a source of order according to which important religious, political, and social events should be organized and as a theatrical medium through which celestial deities could transmit meaning to humanity.

Whether the full extent of Oceanic astral religion, divination, and astrology of various kinds can ever be recovered, though, is doubtful. A great emphasis was placed across the region on cooperation between society and the wider environment, in which stars were one component along with the ocean, mountains, and all forms of natural phenomena. So much Polynesian sky lore has been lost, and we have little or no evidence of the development of a highly codified astrology.

Instead, the sky was seen as a tableau across which living beings moved, sending messages concerning the regular unfolding of time as in the cycles of the sun and the moon or unexpected events such as comets that warn of coming drama. The Polynesian cosmos was, above all, theatrical. Yet it was an essential ally, for without the predictable motions of the stars, navigation between islands would have been impossible and the unity of the entire culture would have been no more.

Polynesian religion is based in nature, in the expression of the cosmos through the sun, moon, winds, and ocean currents. It is greatly concerned with higher powers, but these are friends as much as to be feared: Without the movement of the oceans and seasonal changes in the weather, and without the signs of these alterations in the stars, Polynesian culture would have come to an end.

In the traditional societies of pre-colonial North America, the sky and earth are a single part of the same life-world, containing all visible and invisible things. The stars, as much as people, are part of the natural world, full of life and endowed with meaning, and the natural world is indistinguishable from the supernatural. The study of Native American cosmology, as with the study of all things Native American, is beset by political problems.

First, there are those who attempt to particularize Native American cosmology, making it special by rendering it unique and different from, for example, European thought. Second are those who attempt to normalize Native American ideas by drawing out similarities to European concepts. The scholarly study of traditional North American cosmology dates back to the mid- to late 19th century, but it is only since the s that the subject has attracted a dedicated group of academics.

Most writers take the modern arbitrary boundary between the United States and Mexico as indicative of a pre-Columbian reality, and so, with a few notable exceptions, we tend to see books either on the Maya and Aztecs on the one hand, or the Native Americans of the modern United States and Canada on the other. However, the recognizable cultural zone represented by major features of Mesoamerican culture, such as monument construction, extended well north of the modern Mexican border, while an insistence on the importance of aspects of horizon astronomy—especially the rising and setting of the sun at particular moments of the year—appears to be universal.

Additionally, of course, the people of North America were themselves diverse and might be either settled or nomadic and inhabit the Floridian swamps or the Arctic ice sheets. While I have therefore taken the culture of North America as a whole, we need to remember its diversity.


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Similarities can tell us as much as differences. First, the origins of human occupation in the Americas are difficult to date and subject to the constantly shifting discoveries of archaeologists. If we wish to identify pre-colonial cosmology we also have to identify and filter out possible Western imports.

For example, could the Skidi Pawnee belief that the good are transported to the stars after death while the bad are turned to stone be an adaptation from Christian missionaries?

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Our knowledge of Native American cosmology is fragmentary, partly because of the widespread destruction of material during the period of colonization, but there are other culture-specific problems await the researcher. The First Nations of North America were systematically uprooted from their lands, brutalized, and humiliated. The consequence is a resistance to outside investigators, fueled by resentment in some quarters at recent New Age adaptation of Native American lore, which is making research into, for example, archeoastronomical remains extremely difficult.

Even a casual tourist question concerning, for example, the activities that might occur in a kiva, the building within which religious-shamanic activities take place, can be met by hostility. Understandable as such attitudes may be, and even though there are many exceptions, even the most welcome of Western scholars frequently find that they are not trusted with the knowledge considered to be available only to insiders. To be fair, such secrecy is also borne of the belief, shared with so many traditions, that the sacred must be protected by discretion, a point of view summed up in the Jewish reluctance to write the name of God and the Islamic prohibition on representing Him.

This is especially true of initiatory knowledge, which, as we have seen, loses its power and value if disseminated to the non-initiated. There may be no single cosmological dogma across the entire continent, but there are recognizable, widespread assumptions that we may identify as follows: The cosmos is an essential unity bound together sometimes by its origin in a single creator, but always by the interlocking relationships of all living beings among whom we must include not only animals, birds, and fish but also water, plants, meteorological phenomena such as clouds, winds, and thunder , and the invisible beings of whose existence one is aware of only through dreams and the imagination.

The sun, moon, and stars form an important component of this living cosmos, engaged as they are in a symbiotic relationship with humanity. The repetitive patterns evident in the motions of the celestial bodies point to a world governed by a cyclical law of birth, decay, and regeneration. This living, breathing, thinking world is then described through myth and managed through ritual. Finally, there is a tension between the predictable order of events such as solar and lunar cycles and the nightly rising and setting of the stars, on the one hand, and the alarming incidence of unpredictable events, such as eclipses and the appearance of comets, on the other.

The ethnographic evidence suggests that the most antique item of star lore in North America, one that is strongly suggestive of a shared legacy with northern Europe and Asia dating back to the Paleolithic, before human beings migrated over the Bering land bridge, relates to the Great Bear. This North America. Instead—and this is a simple experiment that anyone with the energy to spend a sleepless night outdoors can conduct—it rotates around a central point in the night sky now occupied by the pole star. This point therefore tends to become representative of stillness and symbolic of an absence of movement through either time or space.

This is certainly how the Egyptians, for example, saw it when they described the stars that orbit it as immortal, free from the patterns of birth and death that pervaded the universe. It has been argued that this point of stillness was the upper part of the pillar on which the world rotates, and the focus of the ancient shamanic bear cult for which evidence may be found in modern folklore. In some stories the two motifs overlap. For example, one version that is told among the Blackfoot, Wichita, and Crow involves seven brothers and two sisters, one of whom becomes a bear and chases the others, who then take refuge as the stars of the constellation; the sky, in this sense, offers safety and reassurance.

The possibility that Paleolithic links between the northern areas of Europe, Asia, and America are evident in astronomical tales was first proposed by the folklorist Charles G. Leland, who traveled among the Algonquin Indians, collecting stories, poems, and songs that he published in We are the stars which sing, We sing with our light; We are the birds of fire,. We fly over the sky. Our light is a voice. We make a road for spirits, For the spirits to pass over. Among us are three hunters Who chase a bear; There never was a time When they were not hunting. We look down on the mountains.

This is the Song of the Stars. In the final analysis, the widespread occurrence of the Bear is convincing and there is no theoretical objection to a shared origin. This is in spite of the fact that there are suggestions that a Bear constellation may have been located elsewhere. Von Del Chamberlain suggested that, for the Skidi Pawnee, the Bear might actually have corresponded to Sagittarius, a constellation entirely unrelated to the stars of Ursa Major. The most common and near-universal theme of American religious astronomy is the worship of the sun.

Here, we do not need to worry about the transmission of ideas, for reverence for the sun is a feature of virtually all religious traditions. The native peoples of North America tend to accept the existence of a primeval Great Spirit, a monotheistic creator, who is sometimes equated with the sun. First, though, a word of caution. Among the Inuit the Spirit is Torngasoak, the most powerful of all spirits, although not all-powerful. He or She, or It if we prefer, is at once the impersonal force that holds the world together, permeating the entire cosmos, and the personal, supernatural parent who provides a protective role, teaching the first humans the skills and secrets of survival and guiding those who observe the harmonies of the natural world.

He or She is both a single entity and a composite of all that exists. The variety of cosmogonies among the Native Americans is as great as that which we find on any other continent. The creation of the world often begins in the sky, but rarely, if ever, suggests creation ex nihilo. In some cosmogonies, the process begins with an original supreme creator, imagined not as a personal god but as an original form of creation.

The Hopi story is particularly poetic, beginning with nothing but infinite space: In the beginning there was only Tokpella, Endless Space. Only Tawa, the Sun Spirit existed, along with some lower gods. Among the Iroquois and Hurons, the chief deities were those who embodied the power of nature, Wind and Thunder and Echo. Thunder, the highest god, lived above the clouds in the space occupied by the sun, moon, and stars. Generally all the peoples of the Americas, in common with much of the rest of humanity, believed in an upper world, the home of the heavenly. It is only the details that are a matter of uncertainty and disagreement, partly because Westerners have too often jumped to conclusions, but also because their modern informants are themselves often unsure of the origin of their own sky traditions.

The cosmological organization of the Skidi—or Skiri—Pawnee, who were originally settled along the Missouri River before being ejected by white settlers, is a case in point. The movements of the celestial bodies and conceptions of the structure of the universe provided a paradigm by which the Zuni organized all aspects of their lives, the most dramatic evidence being in their rituals and rock art.

Their sacred and calendrical rituals were focused on six kivas that represented not just six directions but six colors, rain-hearing winds, water-bringing birds, and rain priests. Despite our best efforts, there is still doubt about the identity or location of many of the Native American constellations. I have already noted that the Skiri-Pawnee constellation of the Bear has been equated with Sagittarius, which is distant from and entirely unrelated to the conventional Great Bear constellation, but the identification is highly speculative.

Even if we wanted to, we cannot reconstruct a precise religious cosmology in the Native American sky. After the sun and moon, the most important of the celestial bodies was Venus, a significant planet in all cosmologies because of its periodic brilliance either in the western evening sky after dusk or the eastern morning sky before sunrise.

However, while some designations are obvious, others are not. But it could equally be Mars, or it might, some think, be Jupiter. We can face this problem from a number of directions. One is that the Pawneee priests deliberately obfuscated, refusing to reveal secret knowledge to outsiders. In a context in which the name of the celestial father, Tirakittako, was spoken only in hushed tones, even among insiders, such discretion is plausible. Another solution identifies 19th-century Pawnee astronomy as the fossilized remnant of a tradition that might date back to the 14th century or earlier and that was no longer understood.

A third possibility is that the Pawnee, unlike their Western interrogators, were simply concerned not with precision but with meaning. They were speaking in a language of symbols— yellow star, black star, morning star, and so on—symbols that were multivalent.

Not only might such symbols have multiple meanings, but they might be shared by different celestial bodies.

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However, as stars and people were both alive, the relationship between them could be individual and dynamic. We are told that if a SkiriPawnee child is born at night then the stars are observed, but the only inter The relationship continues into adult life. The results were not always desirable. That this was a familiar problem is suggested by the immediacy with which a healing ritual was conducted. The shaman or priest took the boy outside and waited for the guilty star to rise.

When it did so, the boy was painted black, covered in white spots, wrapped in a fawn skin, and a star was painted on his forehead; the treatment was successful as long as the star remained on his forehead, but when it wore off he went mad again. Concepts of linear temporal progression do not seem to occur among the peoples of North America, for whom time may be seen as atemporal, or ahistorical, in the sense that the passage of time does not require any kind of evolution or qualitative change. Instead it is repetitive, cyclical, and seasonal.

As the rising or setting sun shifts its position between midwinter and midsummer, it carves an arc along the horizon, encoding time in the landscape: At the summer solstice it is at its northerly extreme, at midwinter at its southerly. From a particular vantage point the daily sequence of risings and settings can become its own epic drama, now appearing over a distant mountaintop, now a valley. The primary referent on the horizon, and the one that enables the division of space into quadrants, is the location of the solstice points, the locations on the horizon at which the sun rises on the shortest day of the year, and the longest.

The additional points—at which the sun sets—are often, if not always, as important, and are directly opposite the rising points. This solar grid formed the basis of a fourfold division of space which contrasts with the four cardinal points—north, south, east, and west—that commonly divide time and space into four in Europe and Asia. The typical division of time and space into four, which appears to be an almost universal feature of human culture, occurs across the AmeriNorth America.

From the north of what are now the states of North Dakota and South Dakota, the Lakota, according to Tyon, one of their wise men, recorded in the early 20th century, grouped all their activities by fours. The Navajo surrounded their world with four sacred mountains, each associated with colors and stones and kinship clans. East, for example, was the color white, a white shell, and the Leaf Clan. The ritual enactment of the fourfold cosmos was observed in the s, among the Hopi of First Mesa.

All three festivals feature corn, a staple of the Hopi diet. The Powamu commenced with the first appearance, which would have been in the early evening shortly after sunset, of the new moon in late January or early February, corresponding to the GrecoBabylonian sign Aquarius. The anthropologist Julian Steward recorded in his diary: January On this day the new moon appeared.

Kachina chief looked for it, but was unable to see it on account of clouds. He must actually see it. January The Kachina chief looked again for the moon and was successful in seeing it. This day is not counted as part of the ceremony. The following day is the first day. Already, at the previous full moon the Kachina chief had planted a box of corn. The seedlings were then distributed in the early days of the ceremony, their healthy sprouting being a good omen for the coming year. A Kachina is a spirit being, a reminder that the astronomy of the situation requires both ritual enactment and co-operation with invisible intelligences.

The ceremony then proceeded for seventeen days of events, sometimes serious, at other times playful, often contemplative, but also festive, until the power of the life-world had been restored. The use of stars to time rituals is apparent in some cultures, as in the case of the Mescalero Apache female puberty ritual. Arcturus sets approximately one hour before timing begins with the Big Dipper. Alkaid ticks off hours by degrees [and] by the time that Capella is first visible.

The astrology operating here is one of signs, involving an active dialogue between sky and earth. The human act cannot actually start until the time is right, and this information must be revealed by the moon. While it is clear, then, that there is a notion that time unfolds in rhythms and patterns, understanding their meaning requires an act of communication between moon and human: Human sees moon and moon sends information to human. On the other hand, there is no need to face the sun in order to either experience morning light or wake up; it is circadian daily rhythms in body chemistry and physiology that cause human beings to make that crucial shift from sleep to wakefulness, and no direct exposure to the sun is necessary for the resulting North America.

A fixation with the east is, then, a religious imperative. It results from an understanding that the quality of time varies throughout the day, and at dawn one partakes of the source of the life itself. Celestial relationships could also be much more elaborate.

The Skiri-Pawnee, for example, who, as we have seen, had a sophisticated system of constellations, embodied stellar patterns in the layout of their villages. The best-known example is the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, which consists of a central cairn of around four meters in diameter, surrounded by twenty-eight spokes, consisting of stones, extending about twelve meters to an outer circle that contains, or is surrounded by, six other stone cairns.

These can be used to measure both sunrise and sunset on the summer solstice as well as the rising of three bright stars—Aldebaran, Rigel, and the brightest of all the fixed stars, Sirius. Unfortunately, many of the medicine wheels have been interfered with and so we cannot be entirely sure of their original layout. On a more massive scale, the cosmological monument-building practices of Mexican civilization are evident in the extensive structures of the Puebloan culture in the southwestern United States, of which the best known are the ruins at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, which were constructed between around and ce.

From Alaska to Florida and from Labrador to California, Native American cosmology was based on an essential unity between all things, and its In certain fundamental respects, the Native American schemes share significant features with those in other regions, including the widespread reverence for a supreme creator, near-universal worship of the sun, a belief that terrestrial society should be harmonized with the passage of time as revealed in the passage of the celestial bodies, and the division of space and time into four.

It was also magical, in the sense that structures which incorporate celestial principles function as talismans, protecting humanity by calling heaven down to earth. The Native American religion, or worldview, was based on communication—talking to the spirits, conversing with the sky—in order that they could play as full a part in the life-world as possible.

In this sense for the Native Americans, to live meant to act. And since until noon the sun was rising, they heightened their voices, and after noon they slowly softened them, always in step with the movement of the sun. The best-known cultures of Mesoamerica, those of the Maya and Aztecs, and, in the Andes, that of the Inca, are well known for the attention they paid to the harmonization of their societies with the celestial realms. We know there were also unofficial local astrologers—sometimes we also know them as folk astronomers or calendar shamans. The only major technique used by them that has survived, though, is the Maya divinatory calendar, with which we shall deal below.

Most of the surviving evidence concerning the astrology of the Andean and Mesoamerican cultures relates to its official functions in relation to political matters; historical periodization and dynastic power; and war, peace, and The literature on Andean and Mesoamerican cosmology is not extensive, but there are sufficient studies to present a rich picture of societies that paid intense attention to the sky as a guide for ritual, social and agricultural affairs, and engagement with the divine.

Carbon 14 dates of about 20, b ce of human remains were also obtained decades ago at Tlapacoya, Mexico, and in Pikimacahy Cave near Ayacucho, Peru, but were not universally accepted. The source problems are also considerable. It is a small consolation that, although the peoples of South and Central America were systematically brutalized by their conquerors, and their culture devalued and destroyed, we do have the advantage of some written sources in the form of monumental inscriptions, and surviving texts known respectively as the Dresden, Madrid, Paris, and the possibly inauthentic Grolier Codices, named after the locations of the archives that now house them, as well as scores of other postcolonial texts that provide accounts of earlier cosmology.

Such work has contributed much of value to our understanding of Mesoamerican culture since the major breakthrough in the translation of the Maya script took place in the s, as a result of a concerted effort building on earlier successes; by , about hieroglyphs had been identified. This has allowed a valuable reconstruction of the major features of pre-Columbian cosmic religion, but there is still considerable work to be done.

Everything else, along with the notebooks we know that the astrologers carried, has been lost. When we move to Peru, the situation is worse, because of the Inca habit of keeping records on thin, golden sheets that were melted by the conquistadores, for whom cash was of far greater importance than knowledge. This leaves us with little more than visual clues: We have just one precious drawing of a wall in the Coricancha, the main temple in the capital, Cuzco, dedicated to, among other deities, the sun, moon, and stars. The first are the monumental buildings and sculptures, of which the richest examples survive from the Mesoamerican cultures, which either contain celestial iconography or are aligned with significant celestial patterns.

The other, which has proved fruitful in our understanding of Maya cosmology, is the testimony of modern Indians and the anthropologists who have lived with them. Even so, all our understanding of pre-Columbian cosmology is provisional and dependent on fragmentary sources, archaeological interpretation, colonial-era texts that may be filtered through Christian eyes, and anthropological accounts that are, inevitably to some extent, corrupted by their assumptions and preconceptions.

We have a good account of the origins of the Maya cosmos itself, which came into being as a gradual emergence of order, of something from nothing. The opening lines of the great creation epic the Popul Vuh expresses the still beauty of a calm morning, the dawn of everything: Now it ripples, now it still murmurs, ripples, still it sighs, still hums and it is empty under the sky. Here follows the first words, the first eloquence: There is not one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, forest. Only the sky alone is there; the face of the earth is not clear.

Only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky; there is nothing whatever gathered together. It is at rest; not a single thing stirs. It is held back, kept at rest under the sky. Whatever there is that might be is simply not there: only the pooled water, only the same sea. And then, the text continues, deep within the dark, the Plumed Serpent, the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the Maker and Modeler of all, stirs and speaks with the Heart of Sky, also known as Hurricane, and the creation begins. The cosmos of the great Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations was alive. Its structure was that of a living body.

The Mesoamerican universe was envisaged as revolving around a world tree, also a common motif in Europe and Asia; and, like the Native Americans to the north and the Europeans to the east, the Mesoamericans venerated the number four as a means of dividing time and space.

The tree stood at the center of the four cardinal directions, although in some versions there might be a tree for each direction. Fourness, though, is not necessarily defined spatially by north, south, east, and west but may also be marked by the four points at which the sun rises and sets at dawn and dusk on the winter and summer solstices. This belief in fourness as the basic structure of time and space extended to the Andes, where the Inca envisaged four heavens, with the greatest god in the highest heaven. In a parallel with schemes found in Greece, Mesopotamia, and India, the fourfold division of space was also generally extended into notions of time.

The Aztecs, coming later in time than the Maya, added a fifth world: their own.

What the Myth Tells Us About the Fixed Star Capulus

The first sun, 4 Jaguar, was destroyed by wild animals; the second, 4 Wind, by wind; the third, 4 Rain, by a rain of fire; and the fourth, 4 Water, by a deluge. The Aztecs believed that they were living in a fifth age, 4 Movement. Such repetitive cosmogonies incorporate a dialetical relationship between chaos and order, with attendant hopes and fears—hope for order and fear of chaos. The Aztec version includes the creation of the fifth sun— and the moon—brought into existence by the deliberate self-immolation of the gods Nanahuatzin or Nanahuatl and Tecuciztecatl.

The tale contains a combination of features from the profound to the mundane. In recognition of his willingness to offer his own life so that others may live, Nanahuatzin is transformed into the sun, Tonatiuh. When, then, solar rituals were enacted and solar alignments written into sacred monuments, the Aztecs were engaged in a deeply respectful acknowledgment of the great sacrifice made on their behalf. Like many polytheistic systems, in which the relationship with monotheism is fluid and uncertain, the Mesoamerican may be portrayed as a scheme in which many deities emerge out of the one.

In the Popul Vuh, this being is described as the Maker Modeler, mother-father of life, of humankind, giver of breath, giver of heart, bearer, upbringer in the light that lasts of those born in the light, begotten in the light; worrier, knower of everything, whatever there is: sky-earth, lake-sea.

The Great Spirit, if we can apply that North American term to the Maya deity, is, then, the world and whatever is in it, the creator and the creation, life and the source of life. He was also known as Hunab Ku the one god , and, as elsewhere, solar and universal deities are often coincident, the universal being expressed through the particular. In some stories Itzamna, the legendary founder of Maya culture and the supreme deity and creator, was a savior and a civilizing hero who, among his other skills, was able to return the dead to life.

The colonial sources are far from precise and may be misleading, but Itzamna himself can also be associated with Hunab Ku or the sun; celestial and divine identities may both be polysymbolic. The details of the Maya constellations are better understood now than they were a few decades ago, but the identification of Maya stars with their Western equivalents are less important than the use of the sky as a huge stage set for imaginal engagement between humanity and the cosmos, a means to engage not just with the creation but with the act of creation.

The Aztec sun god was known under various names depending on how he was best invoked in different rituals. In his main form he was Tonatiuh, the leader of heaven. It is difficult to unravel myths after centuries of syncretism and crosscultural transmission, but, in an early form, Tezcatlipoca was the Heart of the Sky who initiated the creation with Quetzalcoatl in the Popul Vuh.

The two creators, though, were also sworn enemies, expressing the motif of struggle between two gods familiar from Persia, Egypt, and Christian mythology. The worship of the snake-bird, the Plumed Serpent, is attested under a variety of names across the region since the Preclassic period, probably in the late first millennium b ce, and was clearly associated with the planet Venus, which achieved the same profound significance for the Maya and Aztecs as South and Central America.

He was a civilizer, a creator and inventor, responsible for art, crafts, knowledge, and technology, and he was connected with merchants, was related to the dawn and the gods of the wind, and was a patron of the priesthood. Like many other conquerers the Romans and Assyrians come to mind , the Aztecs were syncretizers who adopted the gods and goddesses of the people they subjugated, along with their land and wealth, and deities could be added to the pantheon with no concern for precise consistency.

The Aztecs also had a goddess, Tlazolteotl, who had a relationship, albeit a marginal one, with Venus and was connected with, among other things, love and sex she was the patronness of adulterers. Anthony Aveni takes up the story: [A]t the time when the planet was visible in the sky as evening star Quetzalcoatl died. And when Quetzalcoatl was dead he was not seen for 4 days; they say that he dwelt in the underworld, and for 4 more days he was bone that is, he was emaciated, he was weak ; not until 8 days had passed did the great star appear; that is, as the morning star.

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They said that then Quetzalcoatl ascended the throne as god. The Inca celestial trinity consisted of Inti, the sun; his wife and sister Mama Quilla, the moon; and Chasca, his page, the god of Venus and the dawn. The meanings of the Inca constellations appear to have no central patterning and so may be based on the gradual accretion of regional ideas over centuries, rather than a single invention. Their correspondences with terrestrial phenomena appear to be primarily animal and botanical.

Neither do we have any evidence of notions of time among the Inca comparable to the complexity of calendrical counting among the Mesoamericans. Such astrology includes moral tales the sun repents his unwitting act of incest with his daughter, Venus , warnings of chaos as a result of moral collapse solar eclipses , and important information for food collection the nights of the full moon are bad for fishing; the constellation of the shrimp heralds the rainy season.

Reichel-Dolmatoff was particularly alert to the notion of astrological theory as a celestial projection of social codes. Describing Desana cosmology, he explained how [a] relationship also exists between the moon and the conditions of health and sickness. When there is a full moon, people observe in which zone the spots are most outstanding, east, west, south or north and fro[m] their position the direction from which the sickness come is deduced.

Because these spots, according to myth, represent the menstrual blood of the Daughter of the Sun [Venus? The details may not be exactly those of Andean popular astrology under the Inca, but the spirit, most likely, is. Later work extended this research into other Colombian peoples, demonstrating an astrology very similar to that familiar in North America, including very careful attention to the sun, moon, and calendars; a ritual approach to daily life expressed, for example, in the incorporation of cosmic principles such as the universal division of space into gender—male and female—or by the number four ; and a participatory attitude to the cosmos as a whole, recognizing that human action South and Central America.

The accuracy of Mesoamerican astronomy points to the concept of the world as precisely regulated by mathematically definable patterns—the cosmic ticking clock. The Maya of the classical period could forecast the dawn appearance of Venus or a total eclipse to within a day, a century in advance. The purpose of astronomy was to forecast the future and manage the present, two functions that are symbiotic. They were highly educated and responsible for maintaining the calendar, arranging and conducting official rituals, and providing to the political elite advice and answers to their questions, all activities that required mathematical and astronomical skill and a sophisticated awareness of the intricate meaning of each phase of the unfolding patterns of time and space.

The surviving almanacs from the post-conquest period give a flavor of the reasons for precise prediction in order to warn of future danger, a custom that continued until the Conquistadores arrived. Both the Inca and the Aztecs observed dire omens that presaged or coincided with their conquest by the Spanish. Again, a multitude of examples from the Old World suggests the means that might be taken to stave off such a disaster, from the natural reinforce the water storage and irrigation systems to the supernatural appeal to the gods via prophylactic rituals and a mixture of the two manage the environment by manipulating magical sympathies.

We can identify three other major characteristics of Mesoamerican astrology. Third, such manipulation of time on a daily human scale should be seen as a microcosmic drama that took place within the macrocosmic concern with the long-term cycles of the creation and destruction of the world, the birth of the gods, and the origins of humanity. For example, the first of the 20 day signs, Imix, was a water lily to the Maya and a caiman Cipactli to the Aztecs.

It represented the surface of the earth and was bad for leaders. This prognostic system still survives in unchanged form among some isolated folk in southern Mexico and the Maya highlands, under the care of calendar priests, and it has also performed an easy and popular leap into Western New Age culture. The thirteenth baktun was seen to come to an end on ad 21 December the Maya date The real gap between Sun— Venus conjunctions varies from to days, but the average, over five Without getting too involved in numbers, the significance is that every eight years, almost to the day, the sun, moon, and Venus all returned to the same place in the sky.

That three great cycles of cosmic time had simultaneously come to an end and were beginning again appeared to be a dramatic indication of the infinite possibilities of creation. Any cycle involving Venus was reminiscent of Quetzalcoatl and so concerned with war and violence.

The Maya, Aztecs, and Inca all managed time through an elaborate series of rituals whose timing was defined by astronomical patterns, chiefly the phases of the sun and moon, throughout the year, and were intended to maintain the equilibrium of the seasonal cycle, preventing extremes of drought or flood, a purpose achieved through the careful propitiation of the relevant deities. Every year, for example, just one prisoner, whose looks were suitably powerful, was chosen to impersonate Tezcatlipoca, one of the creators. For most of the following year he was treated with deep reverence and lived in great luxury, waited on by eight devoted servants.

He was a living god in human form. Twenty days before he was sacrificed, the intended victim took four wives, representing goddesses who embodied the female aspect of the division of space-time, initiating a series of festivals. On the day of his blood sacrifice the solar man-god was led to the top of the temple, where his beating heart was ripped out and offered to the sun god. The great Inca calendar rituals were as magnificent as anything in Mesoamerica. It was like a procession, some on one side and the others on the South and Central America.

When the sun had not yet fully risen, they began slowly and in great order and harmony to intone a chant; and as they sang they each moved forward. As in many solar states, the Inca, in his person, embodied the sun on earth. He stood at the fulcrum of the system of ritual action, architecture, and astronomy that preserved harmony on earth. It is often said the cosmic political systems of Mesoamerica and the Andes were designed to maintain the power of the elites. This is misleading. The emperor was an embodiment of the sun and could be associated with other celestal bodies, including Venus, and was a link with the divine and a magician, a living talisman, channeling the power of the heavens for the benefit of his people.

Typical was the so-called Palace of the Governor, a richly decorated structure in Uxmal, the capital of a Mayan state that appears to have flourished between around and ce. This view has been challenged on the grounds that the difference between the alignment and the southernmost rising point of Venus as morning star is almost three degrees, or five diameters of the sun, and no firm conclusion can be drawn from such loose The issue, then, is not whether there is a celestial relationship but of its details. The construction of sacred space using both natural features and monumental architecture was a profoundly important matter for the civilizations of the Andes and Mesoamerica, and the latter are especially known for their building of pyramids.

They also, in that the stellar and calendrical patterns they incorporate are divine, are themselves divine. Even in the 14th century its reputation was such that the Aztecs still buried their rulers there. The smaller Pyramid of the Moon was feet high, but built on higher ground so that its summit matched that of the Sun Pyramid.

The three pyramids are also aligned with the surrounding mountains, suggesting that the entire city was seen as the focus of terrestrial and celestial forces. The key to the astronomical code lies in the day calendar and the regularity of the dry and rainy seasons that governed maize production.

The Pyramid of the Sun, for example, is aligned with sunrise on 11 February start of agricultural season, clearing of the fields , sunset on 30 April the onset of the rainy season and the time for planting and 13 August the ripening of the first corn cobs , and sunrise on 29 October, the end of the rainy season. The Maya then moved South and Central America. The relationship between the sky and the landscape in the Inca realm was less spectacular than that in Mesoamerica but ingenious and unparalleled in any other culture.

One unusual feature was the system of pillars on the horizon outside the Inca capital, Cuzco, which could be used to track the daily movement of the sunrise point backward and forward across the horizon between the summer and winter solstices. Also unique were the ceques, lines that radiated out from Cuzco, dividing the region into quadrants, and containing shrines known as huacas. The great civilizations of South and Central America were driven by a profound sense of the intricate and intimate relationship among divinity, earth, and stars.

Within the overall region we can identify differences among the official cosmologies of the great empires, with their precise calendars or devotion to the sun, and those of the indigenous native peoples, in which a spontaneous engagement with the whole environment, both earth and sky, was the guiding principle.

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Each may suggest different attitudes toward fate, which unfolded with mathematical precision in the cities of Mexico but could be a matter of more fluid negotiation for mountain and forest dwellers. In all cultures, though, divinities, stars, and food—usually corn—are combined in such a way that the overwhelming goal is clearly submission to a greater order in order to ensure a single priority: survival.

If we can generalize at all about the religion of this diverse region, it was heavily concerned with the natural world, for which evidence is found in the central importance attached to the iconography of corn, or maize. Traditional African cosmology accords a huge importance to the belief that the entire cosmos is alive, populated by invisible living beings, including spirits and ancestors, and animated by soul.

However, for general purposes a division into two—the north and the subSaharan—is logical on the simple historical grounds that the entire region along the southern Mediterranean fringe was subject to intense influences from the Near East—chiefly the Phoenicians—and Greeks, along with occupation by Rome, conversion to Christianity, and invasion by the armies of Islam. In general, much of the area to the south of the Sahara was untouched by such cultural forces until the colonial period, although there were exceptions, notably the extension of Islam as far south as northern Nigeria in the west and the coastal area of modern Mozambique.

The Mozambiquan coast was also previously in range of Roman and, later, Chinese traders; the latter, or their intermediaries, penetrating inward to the political and financial hub at Great Zimbabwe, which flourished for years, from the 13th to the 15th century; during the heyday of Great Zimbabwe, there may have been. Africa was both a source of cosmological ideas and a participant in the long-range relationships that connected Europe to Asia in the ancient world.

No cultural boundaries are watertight, and in the far northeast of the continent, the ancient Egyptian civilization, which requires a separate chapter, was in constant communication not only with its Mediterranean and Near Eastern neighbors but also with people to the south and was also subject to at least one dynasty of Nubian pharaohs. In addition, since the early centuries ce, Ethiopia has been Christian, while in the s the presence of African Jews in the country became worldwide news. In the west, a network of medieval kingdoms extending down to the coasts of modern states such as Ghana profited from trade with the north.

The most celebrated of all cities in the region was Timbuktu, a remarkable cultural center that flourished from the 11th century until Moroccan occupation in initiated a decline in both trade and scholarship. Those scholars who have paid attention to African culture, and they are not many, have generally been ignorant of celestial matters. Or, rather, if they have dealt with cosmology, it has been in terms of social hierarchies and kinship relations, with little attention paid to the sky or celestial deities.

Only terrestrial cosmology seems to be of general interest to anthropologists, and the astronomical dimension is largely ignored. Therefore, while the practice of divination is ubiquitous, evidence for astrology itself is sparse, except where part and parcel of Islam. A much higher value appears to have been placed on divinatory methods that communicated with the immediate environment rather than the distant, with local spirits rather than celestial deities.

In this sense, heaven, as a source of wisdom, is here on earth. In addition, if we wish to engage with African cosmology prior to Western colonization, we confront significant problems associated with Western influence, a key example of which is the Dogon controversy, which we will turn to below.

An additional problem, of course, is the reliance on oral traditions and the general absence of written sources, which always creates such problems for anthropologists; African religion does not have sacred texts and its cosmology is not described in encyclopedias.


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  • Then there are the political agendas. For example, we may encounter ethnocentrism, in which theories that have developed in Western contexts are then countered by an equally misleading reaction in which non-Western astronomies are seen as complex, unique, and defined by their difference from Western ideas.