Discourses on an Alien Sky #6 | When Saturn Ruled the World

You’ve just entered the
theater of an alien sky. If the words and images seem strange
to you there’s a reason for this. Our world was once a
vastly different place. To experience this won’t hurt you
and there is nothing to fear. The gas giant Saturn.
It’s the outermost planet visible to the naked eye, moving on an orbit almost
900 million miles from the Sun. For those untrained in
finding planets in the night sky, it could hardly be said that Saturn
stands out amongst it’s starry companions. This lack of distinction
underscores an unsolved mystery – where did all of the extravagant images
attached to this distant speck in the sky come from? The story of Saturn as creator. Saturn presiding over a lost Golden Age.
Saturn as a primeval sun. Saturn’s preposterous location
at the celestial pole, around which the heavens visually turn.
Saturn is the founding father of kings. And Saturn as dying or displaced god. In due course, we will take up the god’s
connection to an immense crescent, seen as a scythe or sickle
turning in the sky. So too, the cosmic mountain from which Saturn was said
to have once ruled the world. And the planet-god’s role
as divine ancestor of different nations, all recounting
the same core idea. The mysteries will quickly overwhelm a
researcher the moment they ask the present sky to explain the ancient themes. In fact, many
scholars simply walked away from the dilemma. Here’s the dilemma in a nutshell. The myths appear to be much older than
any recorded observations of planets. The first flowering of the monumental
civilizations occurred in an environment of myth and magic. There
are no lists of planets. No diaries of planetary motions. The
celebrated gods do not look at all like the planets we know so well today. So most scholars simply state that
planetary behavior could not have provoked any of the great myths. The attachment of myths to planets
must have come much later, perhaps in the first millennium BC.
Our message, however, is that a radically different planetary arrangement
prevailed in an earlier time. Planets not in their present orbits, but planets provoked all
of the mythic archetypes. What we’re offering in this series
are reasons for known facts, things not disputed. This includes the
fact that the astronomer priests themselves in recording the tranquil and
predictable motions of planets in later times, named these bodies explicitly as the
great gods of the primeval epoch. And that’s the heart of the dilemma. Why
does the behavior of these most venerated gods so boldly contradict
all observations of the named planets today? By working with the
points of cross-cultural agreement, we’ll see that the
astronomical images of Saturn connect theme by theme with an archaic
story told around the world. Told long after most cultures
had lost track of any planetary connections. The
story says that in a former time a central luminary, a motionless sun turned as a great wheel in the sky. But
why an identification with the planet Saturn? It’s said that this ancient
power, the father of kings, presided over an age of natural abundance
and cosmic harmony. But this story, in it’s countless
variations, does not end well. It states that the world fell into
confusion, when the ruling god fled the theater, or tumbled from
his appointed station. Then the hordes of chaos were set loose
and all of creation slipped into a cosmic night, the gods themselves
battling furiously in the heavens – The Clash of the Titans. In the well known Greek tradition, this
was the story of the displaced god Kronos, the father of kings. Kronos was the Greek name
for the planet Saturn. And yet, enigmatically, the
same planet was also named Helios (the Sun) – a fact that has perplexed
classical scholars for a century and a half. The shadow cast by Saturn
reached across the millennia. Even today, our language retains the age-old
cultural ambivalence toward this most ancient god. The word Saturnian, expresses the
splendor of the Golden Age, while the word Saturnine reflects the
melancholy of paradise lost. Guesses as to explanations
will never work, but an explanation based on systematic
cross-cultural investigation will work, allowing a global story
to mean what it says, even if that requires
a measure of patience, as verifiable pieces
come one by one into a coherent picture
of the ancient sky.