October 28th, 2007

Books!

Seven and Mountains and Bears ... OH MY!

Having not quite un-tired of the topics in my current "to be read" piles of books, I went diving into my various file boxes of older stuff that got rotated off the "to be read" shelves as those spaces were needed for recent completed reads (and, yes, that dreaded "out of shelf space" zone is hovering on the horizon now). Like the math book which preceded it here, this had been likely waiting for me to get to it for the better part of two decades.

Naturally, one of the problems with picking up an older book, especially one "groping its way through" a murky or complex subject, is that one is never quite sure where the information falls in terms of "present knowledge". Now, as noted in previous reviews, when dealing with some cutting-edge physics, it's reasonably easy to triangulate what's "preliminary" and what's just "early", but in stuff like Geoffrey Ashe's Dawn Behind the Dawn: A Search for the Earthly Paradise it's hard to gauge. Ashe, a "cultural historian" specializing in sorting through myths to find their historical roots (most notably in the Arthurian material), had previously published a book on "ancient wisdom" and had been badgered by the response to that to looking into some of the theories of the likes of Marija Gimbutas, of there having been some "golden age" of a matriarchal peaceful culture that was crushed beneath the wheels of the Aryan expansion.

I was worried early on, as, while Gimbutas is a respected researcher, Ashe floated into using Starhawk as a "source" ... fortunately, this appears to have only been to set a mark as to the extents that the "Goddess stuff" can go, and did not base much, if any, of the rest of the book on that material. In fact, Ashe seems careful to "skate around" many "non-academics" (he does briefly discuss Blavatsky, but never mentions Sitchin, although he could well "have gone there" in context), and keep his discussions to "standard research" sources.

Unfortunately, the book ends up looking at a LOT of cultures over a large expanse of both territory and time, so it makes doing a "thumbnail sketch" of it difficult. Ultimately, it considers the possibility that there was a "northern homeland" (he calls it a cultural "seedbed") which is recalled in the myths of the Hyperboreans, Shambhala, Mount Meru, etc., and how one might be able to find traces of that in surviving cultural and archaeological remnants. There are several elements which he follows, but these eventually boil down to a core three, the number 7 as an "organizing grid" (think the days of the week), the idea of a "holy mountain" (be it Meru, Zion, or even Purgatory), and "the Bear" in various contexts. Much of the latter arises from Shamanic practices (and he argues that the Shamanism found in the Americas is a linear survival of that practiced in Asia when there still was a land bridge), with a fascinating factoid that in all the early cultural traces, each north Asian tribal group had a very similar name for a female shaman (something like "utygan"), but had widely varying names for male shamans ... indicating that the practice was initially a women's rite, only later co-opted by the men. Also, in some of these languages, the same word meant "bear". The significance of the number 7, he believes, is ultimately based on the stars of the Great Bear, which in antiquity circled the pole when there was no well-defined pole star. The other element that seems to have moved with these is "proto-Artemis", a Goddess (who with her brother Apollo) seems to crop up in various forms in numerous places. One side note that I was amazed that he "didn't pull the trigger on" was pointing out that Arthur is a "bear name" (despite his noting that "arth-" is a prefix indicating "bear" in Welsh and related tongues) ... I guess Ashe felt that pulling in his Arthurian work was only going to confuse matters more!

Anyway, he traces these threads through India (and the Rig-Veda), Tibet (and the Kalachakra materials), the Caspian, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Israel. His thesis eventually becomes that the early Indo-Europeans, rather than being the "conquerers" of the early Goddess culture, had branches which settled very early in north-central Asia (the Altai range of mountains, whose Mount Belukha {pictured at right} would be the "cultural memory" model of all the subsequent "sacred mountains"), and then began their expansions into India, Iran, and Europe, carrying with them the "Bear/7" model and the "Artemis" Goddess lore (which would re-surface in various settings, when given the chance). One of the most fascinating "hints" dropped in here is that post-Babylon Jewish practice was deeply stamped with this model, from the 7-pillared Menorah (and the multitude of 7s in the Bible) to the possibility that "temple period" JHVH was something of a admixture of an early tribal sky-god with the Apollo aspects of the Artemis/Apollo duad ... thus leading to both Christianity (which formalized the 7 pattern for most of the world), and Islam being simply degenerate Apollonian cults which had lost all sense of their true roots!

As you can tell by my flailing around in the above, Ashe covers a LOT of stuff in this book, and backs it up with over six hundred foot-noted references and nearly two hundred cited works. While being something of a muddle (maybe it's me, but this book seemed to "reel like a drunk" in getting from point A to its eventual conclusion), it's certainly a substantially researched muddle! This is one of those books that's a bit hard to follow, but is so filled with little "I did not know that!" gems that it's quite endearing. I don't know if I've attained any new wisdom from having read this, but I'm glad I went through the journey.

Dawn Behind the Dawn is out of print in both hardcover and paperback at this point, but is available through the used vendors with "very good" hardcover copies for under a buck and new copies of the paperback for around three bucks (plus shipping, of course). If you have any interest in "this sort of stuff", it would certainly be a good addition to your library!


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