The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
August 2008 -- Vol. 11 Issue 6
The most precious relic of Pre-Columbian culture in Mexico is the Aztec Calendar Stone. This immense object of basaltic porphyry measures thirteen feet in diameter and weighs twenty-four tons. It is a living link with Mexico's fascinating past, a blend of Aztec science and mythology. The stone was carved shortly after the year 1502, and was unearthed about the middle part of the seventeenth century at the Zocalo or Central Plaza of Mexico City.
To the amazement of archaeologists, the stone, when deciphered, revealed a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. Aztec astronomy, based chiefly on astrology, divided the solar year into 18 months of 20 days each with 5 intercalaries (days inserted into the calendar to make it correspond to the solar year). The days were named by consecutive hieroglyphics, and they could by means of the stone, calculate annual periods of 4, 13, 52, and 104 cycles. The Aztec priests used the stone calendar to regulate important festivals and sacri-ficial seasons. With the aid of the calendar, they could settle the hours of the day, the periods of equinoxes and solstices, and the zenith transit of the sun with precision.
The face of the stone contains various mythological and astrological figures and signs in geometrical order. The outer border contains two serpents which represent time and the chief Aztec gods. Within this border are the rays emanating from the central figure which represents "Tonatiuh," the Sun god. Surrounding the central sun figure are seven rings of varying dimensions. Above the face of the Sun god is an arrowhead symbolizing the wind. In the rectangles at the right and left of the sun's face are symbolic representations of the four elements, air, fire, water, and earth. An interesting legend surrounds these four symbols. It is called the legend "del Quinto Sol," the legend of the Fifth Sun.
According to this legend, we are now living in the era of the Fifth Sun, which is, incidentally, an era of decline. In this present era, creatures on the earth suffer continual hardship and testing by the gods. Any species which fails these tests is doomed to perish and to return to the sun from where it came. The first era was symbolized by an ocelot – a period of instinctive power, dwelling in animal form and in darkness. The end of the first era was marked when the ocelots devoured all the human inhabitants, and the sun was destroyed. Then followed the sun of Air, an era of pure spirit which might eventually be transformed into flesh and blood. However, the people of this era lacked the redeeming principle, which was a deified heart, and were transformed into monkeys.
After this follow the eras of the sun of the Rain of Fire, sun of Water, and the present Fifth Sun – Naollin (four movements). This sun too will die, unless mankind climbs the ladder of redemption which is represented in the names of the twenty days of the Mayan calendar. The ultimate aim of creation is a regenerative process by which mankind redeems itself. If this aim or goal is not achieved, the world must be destroyed.
At the bottom of the calendar there are two serpents brought face to face with each other. The two serpents represent on the left, the gods and Tonatiuh, and on the right, Quetzalcoatl, the God of the Air. Archaologists place the birth of Quetzalcoatl as several centuries before Christ. And like Christ, Quetzalcoatl exemplified the deified man. He was a person of rare compassion and wisdom. Quetzalcoatl is represented in Aztec and Mayan mythology as the feathered serpent, a union between flesh and the spirit.The Aztec calendar thus emerges as a remarkable instrument of science and religion, an enduring tribute to Aztec culture and knowledge. – Louis R. Arana
"Ancient Monuments and Mysteries" is our next subject. We will be discussing such questions as: How old is human culture? What do we know about Stonehenge, Easter Island, and the many pyramids, temples, mounds, geoglyphs, and other structures found worldwide, and about the aims and technology of their builders? How are they connected with astronomy and other sciences, and with religion? Are they relevant to us today? What are the ancient Mysteries, and how are they related to the perennial wisdom? Are there places that are intrinsically sacred? Is human history cyclic, progressive, descending, or random? Why is it so popular to justify ideas and behavior with stories about ancient humanity, whether hunters and gatherers or the Garden of Eden? How can we avoid projecting ourselves and our ideas onto the past? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
September 4: The Path of the Mystic
October 9: Is the End of the World Coming?
November: Becoming Completely Human
December: Agreement among Religions
Stonehenge in Washington State? My husband and I were skeptical of the sign, but in a mile or two there we were at the full-sized replica made of reinforced concrete – a war memorial for those from Klickitat County who died in World War I. The builder, a pacifist, was told when visiting the original monument in England that it had been used for human sacrifice. Feeling that “humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war,” he chose this form for the memorial, built between 1918 and 1929. Scientists have since shown bloody Druidic rites to be fantasies, and the red stain on the Neolithic “slaughter stone” to be simply oxidation.
The most popular theory today about the purpose of Stonehenge is astronomical. While its alignment with the solstice had long been obvious, the current view gained wide acceptance after Gerald Hawkins published his computer analysis in the 1960s that implied connections to many other astronomical cycles. Still, despite centuries of study, this structure remains very much a mystery.
In his new book, Solving Stonehenge, archeologist Anthony Johnson subjects Stonehenge to another computer analysis, this time from an architectural, engineering, and surveying standpoint. His book combines historical survey with a detective story of his researches. He argues that, far from being an astronomical calculator built piecemeal from empirical observations, Stonehenge was planned in its entirety as architecture and then realized in stone. He stresses the structure’s geometrical sophistication, built using surveys with pegs and chords to replicate on site the form, proportional dimensions, and symmetry which had been planned with straight edge and a compass or scribing device. Even its occasional irregularities provided him with clues about how the structure had been surveyed.
What about the circles of stones or holes of various numbers? While some are compatible with astronomical cycles, Johnson believes the geometry came first. Discussing a ring of holes that forms a 56-sided polygon, he notes that in Neolithic Britain, “The association between any geometric figure and a cycle of events in the natural world will not have gone unnoticed – it was magical, if you like, that what they had drawn to a simple set of ‘discovered’ rules could equate with, for example, two lunar cycles of 28 days; right from the outset 28 or 56 will have become important. Here was some-thing they undoubtedly established by experiment long before marking it on the ground, a link between their ‘mathematics’ and the perceived harmony of the wider world. It was prehistoric science, with workable rules and repeatable results” (p. 259). Johnson quotes Greek philosopher Plutarch (45-120 AD) on the astronomical connection of this 56-sided figure in Classical times with a god associated with “the Earth’s shadow, into which [Pythagoreans] believe the moon slips when it suffers eclipse” (Moralia, quoted p. 260). Stonehenge also has a circle of 30 holes; and Plutarch associates solar eclipses with the thirtieth of the month, which in a lunar calendar equates with the new moon (new moons being about 29.5 days apart). Such figures and numbers would have had similar associations in many times and places.
Johnson holds that we do not understand the purposes of Neolithic monuments in Britain and elsewhere, and feels that perhaps we may never do so completely. Speaking of those who built Stonehenge 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, he says: “It has taken a long time to eliminate the perception that prehistory is synonymous with primitive culture, a notion long abandoned by archaeologists, but one which remains a pervasive part of the popular perception of our distant ancestors. The skill and imagination of the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge would stand any test of intellect we might apply today. . . . In using the evidence on the ground to explore how the design of Stonehenge was laid out by the prehistoric engineers, I have learnt something about what the communities who build the monument knew, an intangible but vital part of the insight into the wider dynamics of the monument’s construction . . . Perhaps eventually we will have to conclude that its unique structure served an equally unique and elusive function . . .” (p. 267)Stonehenge is only one among many ancient mysteries. Scientists worldwide continuously uncover artifacts, forma-tions, and human remains that provide new insights, and occasionally overthrow widely held theories – even about civilizations or structure we know a great deal about. We need to become ever more aware of our preconceptions, and approach with patience and an open mind even the simplest findings, if we are to successfully solve these riddles from humanity’s past.