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Book Excerpt: Mythology as History

In Watermark, a new book from Paraview Pocket Books, author Joseph Christy-Vitale marshals a vast array of evidence to argue forcefully that the near-Earth passage of a fragment from an exploded star, roughly 12,000 years ago, caused the catastrophic destruction of much of life on Earth and brought to a sudden and dramatic conclusion the reign of an advanced civilization then existing, but now lost to memory. We still live, believes Christy-Vitale, in the wreckage of that event and our collective psyche remains deeply scarred by it. The record of that episode appears in many forms including geology and archaeology, but among the least appreciated is mythology. Stories like Noah’s Ark and the Greek myths seem full of clues to actual events. In the following excerpt from Watermark the author shows how real history can be effectively extracted from accounts often written off as nothing more than primitive imagination. —Editor


Myths are our ancestral memories. Transmitted through generations, they share their ancient knowledge of how we once viewed the world. Science does not accept these myths, traditions, legends, and literatures as historically accurate because they can seldom be verified, duplicated or counted. Instead myths are viewed symbolically. Through the symbols, metaphors and allegory of myths, stories are told that are considered both entertaining and instructional but not historical. Mythologist Joseph Campbell is the most well known scholar of symbolic interpretation.

Historical interpretation, a less common method for understanding myth, was established around 300 B.C., by the Greek mythographer, Euhemerus. In this view, mythological characters and events are based on historical people and occurrences. Homer’s Troy was believed to be a myth until Heinrich Schliemann uncovered it in 1871. The wealth of the Egyptian pharaohs was believed to be a myth until Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s. Much precedence exists for the truth of myth, but it is a difficult task to find the kernels of truth in memories that may have accumulated a lot of dust over the centuries or millennia. Immanuel Velikovsky, whose views have been widely criticized by the mainstream, is among the proponents of historical interpretation.

Science prefers the symbolic method and ignores the historical implications, that is, until they are proven. It could be that the symbolic and historical views of myth are both correct. Just like any great literature, from the Bible to Shakespeare to James Joyce, myths have multiple perspectives. They are not just words telling a single story. They are more like holograms of our past. Their multidimensional nature appears when our deductive facilities are focused. Otherwise we see a distorted picture revealing, like the broken stick in the pond, how we can deceive ourselves.

We have long understood that mythology and our spiritual comprehension of the universe are related. Through research in physics, science is coming to realize that it is also a part of that story. Joseph Campbell said that the world’s myths “resemble each other as dialects of a single language.” In order to fully comprehend history it may be that the mythological, spiritual and scientific perspectives—the dialects of interpretation—must harmonize, not contradict.


Sometime during our lives we have all imagined Paradise. “Once upon a time,” the stories begin. One of the most compelling types of myth we have is the consistent worldwide memory that humanity once lived in Paradise. Some say that we should seek Paradise within, since it never existed outside us. Is this paradise only wishful thinking from a long-suffering species, a trickster apparition that teases us with what we never had, once upon a time? Or could there be historical truth buried deep within the myths?

We have discussed the fact that our past, 12,000 years ago, was a dynamic time. The world was not encased in ice. Instead it was a climatically temperate world filled with abundant plant life. Vast herds of animals and expansive forests covered the continents. Myths from every corner of the world support the biological evidence. Most familiar to us is the Garden of Eden, with its fruit-bearing trees and sweet water. In Greece’s Golden Age the “untilled earth bore its fruit, and the unploughed field grew hoary with heavy ears of wheat.” Spring was eternal here as it was in the Egyptian First Time, known as the Tep Zepi, when everything good was in abundance.

Throughout Polynesia across to the high Andes, up to the Great Plains of North America, and from the deep rain forests of Africa to the steppes of Asia, the memories are the same: we once lived in a world of abundance and peace.

Other myths of Paradise describe animals being less fearful and aggressive. Today, one can journey to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, and look into a sea lion’s eyes, mere inches away, see absolutely no fear and realize that a different world can exist and has existed before. It is an emotional discovery going beyond laboratory science, and our scientific and religious prejudices will resist, but our spirits connect.

In these myths, many skills and qualities are attributed to our ancestors who lived during this age. They spoke a single world language, had the ability to communicate with animals, and were, for the most part, vegetarians living in harmony with all things. In addition, they were luminous, long-lived and wise.

How much of this is believable? Could all these stories be fictional, a symbolic desire for something we do not have? Skepticism is important. To accept it all without reservation would be as myopic as to reject it outright. Yet these myths relay consistent information, and come from hundreds of cultures across the planet. Some have, no doubt, influenced others, but there is too much similarity to account for all the myths in a symbolic way.


Today there are, depending on the criteria, up to 10,000 languages on Earth. However, many of our most ancient myths tell of a single world language. The fact that so many diverse traditions throughout history share this belief, from the Hebrews of the ancient Middle East (prior to the Tower of Babel), to the Chins of Southeast Asia and the Maya of the Americas, suggests the myths may be true. Linguist Joseph Greenberg narrowed the number of languages, which share a common heritage, down to 17 major groups. Then in 1995, Merrit Ruhlen and John Bengston proposed that a common language, Proto-Global or Proto World, spanned the entire planet more than 12,000 years ago. For example, the word for water in Indo-European (our linguist group) is aqua. It is found in Afro-Asiatic groups as ak(k)a. In the Altaic family, which includes the Turkish languages, Mongolian and Japanese, it is aka, and in the Amerindian family it is called waka. Simple as they may seem, these similarities are found over the entire globe. They cannot be explained away by borrowing from other cultures or by coincidence.

Another skill myths across the globe mention is the ability to communicate with animals. Many African myths remember that we once understood many animal languages. The Greek Aesop believed that during the Golden Age animals understood the use of words. This belief is reflected in his collection of fables, gathered from many older sources.

Today this “skill” is still very popular and can be found in the numerous talking animals in our literature and film. Also, many people today speak of an ability to understand and be understood by pets. While some people shake their heads, others know a connection is being made. The successful research of the last few decades initiating communication with dolphins, apes, chimpanzees, and most recently with parrots supports the truth of these age-old myths.

Language was a turning point in our evolution, like the winter solstice that brings light to a darkened world. It allowed us to learn and share what the universe, so marvelous and mysterious, had to teach us. It was the glue that united us in an ancient global village. Would that be worth remembering?


As we continue this line of thinking, we find many myths of people being vegetarians. Many myths that describe communication between species mention a close harmonious relationship with animals as well. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are given all the seed-bearing plants and fruits to eat. Not meat. It is only after the Flood that mankind begins to eat animal flesh.

We have been meat-eaters, according to science, from time immemorial and certainly within the last 10,000 years. Vegetarianism has only made global inroads in Western culture within the past 30 to 40 years. Why would these old myths recall that we did not eat meat? It is unlikely that such culturally and geographically diverse people would all come up with the idea of vegetarianism and then add it to their myths. Though it is widespread in our myths, it is not universal. The aborigines of Australia recall that game was abundant in their Golden Age, the Great Dreamtime.

A recent field of scientific study is the blood that our ancient ancestors, generation after generation, passed down to us. It uses blood types to show how those ancestors spread across the planet and adapted to challenges they faced. Type O is the most ancient. It appeared between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Recent research into the history of our blood types has produced some interesting ideas. One of these is that people with type O appear to thrive on meat. Type A seems to have emerged sometime between 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, and those people may live a healthier life if they eat no meat. This perhaps reveals the ancient change to a more vegetarian lifestyle. Type B is the tantalizing one, however. It appeared mysteriously on the world scene 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, and people who have this blood type are believed to have a healthier life if they balance meat and vegetables in their diet. The global disaster we are remembering 12,000 years ago falls within these dates, and may reflect a switch back to meat after much of the plant life was wiped out.

Recall that our ancestors inhabited a world of vast forests and vegetation with many animal and plant species that are now extinct. It can be assumed that the edible plants and herbs, grown in soil fertile beyond our imagination, were much higher in nutritional value than the nutrient-depleted meat and produce we consume today. Also, prior to the disaster, our atmosphere contained up to 15 times the current concentration of carbon dioxide, which stimulates circulation and oxygenation in animal brains. With improved circulation, oxygenation, and better nutrition our ancestors’ brains may have functioned better than our own.

The additional carbon dioxide also promotes plant growth. We know from their remains that plants and animals 12,000 years ago were much larger than today. Many traditions recall a time when giants (humans sometimes included) walked the Earth.

One of the most consistent benefits of good health found in Paradise myths is long life, sometimes described as immortality. The Bible records that the patriarchs, the fathers of the human race, lived for thousands of years, while other spiritual traditions view our present life as one stop in a greater cycle of many lives through reincarnation. Such memories and beliefs led to stories of immortality in myth. Are they fictional stories, or can there be some truth in them?

Another benefit recalled in worldwide myth, and perhaps explained in part by good health, is that we were luminous. Adam and Eve, in esoteric Christian traditions, noticed their loss of body light after they were escorted out of the Garden. Many Asian myths, among them those of the Tibetans and the Siberian Kalmucks, recall how their ancestors in Paradise radiated light. Today we read about historic individuals who were luminous: Moses, Jesus, Christian saints, and Eskimo shamans. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart called it the “divine spark” possessed by all human beings.

Up to this point there has been little scientific, verifiable proof to support the existence of these marvelous human attributes. They are, after all, just myths. Yet we find them consistent within each individual myth and within the worldwide body of Paradise myths. Their very existence, in a proven physical paradise, adds support to the biological and geological evidence. And considering what follows after the disaster, such amazing skills and traits would be worth remembering. However, such conditions would not be achieved “suddenly,” but learned through experience over the course of thousands of years in an environment easily conducive to human life. The question is, does any evidence exist to support this ancient knowledge?


Woven within our lives, and stretching back like long threads across time, are five beliefs that have come down to us from an unknown fountainhead. In Lake of Memory Rising, author and humanist William Fix noticed that these beliefs appeared first on one continent and then another, during this century or that millennium. Through spiritual traditions, religious movements and moments of enlightenment, men and women like us have shared these beliefs as revelation. Today, they are embedded in all of our major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, reminding us of our potential to exist in a more spiritual world.

The first is a near universal belief in a creative source. Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that there were 9 billion names for god, titles for our unfathomable beginning or some divine being that set the universe in motion.

Second, we find, extending from ancient Egypt across 2,000 years to Jesus of Nazareth, and then across another 2,000 years to the current Amerindian cultures of North America, an acknowledgment that humans are all from the same family. We are brothers and sisters. There are no exceptions, no exclusions.

Third, we have all existed, throughout time, in the same spiritual universe—that is, a universe where we share many of the same rituals and symbols in our myths, daily beliefs, visions and dreams. For example, rituals of birth, rites of passage, marriage, and death have common elements throughout history and cultures. Others may not appear the same at first, but they serve the same purpose. Numerous and diverse spiritual paths can be followed, but in the end will join together and lead to the same place: liberation, spiritual enlightenment, nirvana.

Fourth is the One Law. It is found in almost every religion in the world. “Love your neighbors as yourself,” said Leviticus. Confucius says, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” This law has come down to us as the Golden Rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It is the law of reciprocity. It is karma. It is wisdom pure, simple and straight from the heart. In a world where this is held to be the highest truth and practiced as such, we would find no greed, hate, racism or violence towards any living thing.

The fifth is revelation. Our current concept of truth’s disclosure has come to be understood, in the last 2,000 years, as the Logos, the divine Word of God. But this interpretation originated almost 10,000 years after the event we are remembering. Our ancient ancestors, 12,000 years ago, realized revelation not as the Word, but as an effect of their everyday action of following the One Law, doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you. “The spirit,” William Fix writes, “will not cease revealing, nor wait upon a time whenever it finds channels; it will pour forth.” From this comes the final insightful discovery: a connection to that spirit is always within us.

Did all these same five beliefs rise independently in remote and diverse locations, times and cultures? Or did they flow from a common source, the Golden Age of our myths?

Copyright © 2004 by Joseph Christy-Vitale. Reprinted by permission of Paraview Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Available at your local bookstore and at ISBN: 0-7434-9190-4, $14.00.)

Ancient Mysteries

Sept/Oct 2004 – #47