By TLB Contributor: Ken LaRive
Every person who has ever lived on this earth has tried in their own way to understand their place in it. Before children can talk they are already questioning the world. It is what we are as human beings. Even infants have an ability to be amazed by life’s beauty and grandeur. We marveled at the stripe of crystalline glitter on a rock as we held it to the sun, danced laughing in sprinkler rainbows, and watched cloud shapes on a summer’s day from piles of autumn clover. A glass prism held magic for a dimpled hand, and gave us inklings to creation’s awesome complexity. We saw life struggling in our garden, astonished by its diversity, convolution and splendor, and both the smell of the rose and multicolored butterfly dust on our fingertips stirred our souls.
When we are young, before perception was formulated by our mostly well-meaning teachers, good and bad melted together, and both Christmas angels and shooting stars were caught in the corner of our eyes.
Experience was fringed with awe, where meaning longed to be understood, but was not yet assigned and categorized. Learning is, and of itself, a self realization, and it may be in the mere trying where both solace and comprehension lie. It is our very nature to learn, and to travel this world in search of answers, but it is the particle of the child in us that motivates that.
Early men lived in a dark, dangerous, and bewildering world. When the sun set there was only the moon and stars, and a tiny flickering firelight. Even this fire wasn’t a pure comfort to him, and though it gave him warmth and light, it also distorted shadows and shapes in its flickering. His imagination flickered too, and was pulled into the sharp edges of the dark where fear of the unknown longed for the light of day.
He attempted to temper imagination with understanding, and he saw it to be the key to his very survival. The lack of perception was the essence that darkened his mind, and that primeval glimmer stirred his psyche nurtured into what we call consciousness. It became the greatest survival tactic this world has ever seen, and spurred him into new-found quests with fresh tools …faith and hope!
The marks he made in his pursuit for knowledge are still visible today. High atop mountains he etched patterns under ledges of rock pierced by a single ray of sunlight. He measured this beam as it traveled through the day and into the changing seasons, and he etched the patterns it made on the stationary rocks below. From there, he held burning embers and clay lamps as he traveled deep into caves, drawing pictures of the world of day, and his new-found dreams.
The night sky glowed in a glory unhampered by modern electric lights, holding his fascination long into the night. Eyes upward, wrapped to the cool night winds, human faces would shine from the firmament glow, and stars hung like pendulums of glass just beyond reach. Some saw the sky with the glazed look of bewilderment, but a few, as years progressed, realized that there was a redundancy to the seasons, and the glittering dots of light that moved across the heavens were the maps to future events. Predictions of the next occurrence gave that person a special instrument, a knowledge that other men had not observed. Forecasting them gave him power, and as civilization progressed, mystery and magic became tools for a new societal elite where religion and government became one.
Now, with the sun, moon, planets and stars as template, the knowledge taken from these observations could be transferred from one generation to another. Longer annotations beyond our life span could be predicted, like a comet’s return, or a solar eclipse. Early primitive religions governments found these predictions to be useful, as a naturally reoccurring phenomenon could accent a religious dance, or worship service, instilling credibility not only for their invented supernatural gods, but for the priest who was their self made mediator.
These new Astronomer/Astrologer priests were found all around the world, and though historians think that they observed the heavens quite independently from each other, all were poised to make an astounding discovery almost at the same time. This amazing paradox would go unnoticed in the casual observer’s lifetime, but longer observations, possibly for many thousands of years, and a phenomenon called The Procession of the Equinox was found. To his amazement, he saw that the point of reference he was using to mark time was not finite, but somehow moving along the skies axis! His great grandfather’s observation had moved, slowly but perceptually slipping past his line of sight!
To understand this we must start near the beginning, when one year was divided into four, and the seasonal Equinox and Solstice was used to predict the time to plant and harvest. Men found that the heavens moved across the sky in a predictable manor, and measuring its shadow or the number of days between each section could predict the seasons. A primitive calendar was found.
Sounds so simple today, but it was quite a psychological leap for early man. He was able to actually tie in the external world into his own life, and this semblance of order must have given him, the astrologer, a great comfort.
Just before the eastern sunrise each year, on a particular chosen night, observers would mark the view of sky by the stars on the horizon. This was done mostly in December, where the New Year was brought in. An observer would sit in the exact same position and gaze at the eastern horizon set between two objects, just before dawn. These objects could be man made, like the stones of Stonehenge, pyramids, or natural mountains. These amazing star gazers found that an unexplained wobble made the stars shift ever so slightly every year, and with time they would move completely out of their line of sight. So slight was this wobble that it took 24,000 years to go a full 360 degrees, and yet these men found it!
An illustration of this is simple. A top is spinning, just like the earth, with the point of reference being the poles. The top, just as the earth, always has a slight wobble, so that if a person was observing the heavens, marking them, measuring them, this wobble would finally be evident. What makes it difficult is the time element!
After this revelation, the more advanced observers began to divide the sky into sections. Our Zodiac has twelve sections, or houses, but some civilizations, like the Chinese, have more. Each section of sky has inside a star cluster constellation representing some religious metaphor, or possibly a symbolic representation of that society itself. Ancient European observers have us traveling from the sign of Pisces, the fish, to the Age of Aquarius, the lady with the water jug, at this time, and each one of these star clusters took about 2000 years to move past that observable arc. Now this may seem a simple concept today, but remember that just a few hundred years ago it was understood that the earth was flat. Back then most thought the wobble was caused by a glob of dirt, where we actually lived, found on the back of a great turtle making its way through the stars. The wobble was his steps. Others observed that we were the exact center of the universe, and everything was revolving around us.
Even with these misconceptions, our ancestors were truly amazing. They tried and found order in what seemed like a world of chaos. Can you imagine the reasoning patience it must have taken to understand such a phenomena as The Procession? What in the world would motivate a string of people to take on what the other left off, if not faith and hope? And then, how far back could these observations actually go? Would they in fact name a constellation that wouldn’t be seen for 24,000 years? Or is it possible that these Astrologers have seen the Procession make full arc many times as some think the Maya have in their Long Count Calendar, 3 X 33,000 years. In perspective, it would take more than forty generations of observations to witness and record one house!
Man’s inquisitive imagination has propelled him into ground breaking revelations. Without this singular intrepid spirit our brave new world would still be afraid of flickering shadows. With tremendous leaps of faith today’s explores pull from the same spectrum of hope our ancestors did, where unknown realms of knowledge are found on the sharp edge of reality.
Physicists today are actually questioning our linear way of thinking as inadequate to understand their science, and see that possibly an artistic mind would be more effective. We men relentlessly pick and probe the unknown, and now with break-neck speed forge exponentially our store of knowledge by computer catapults, extensions of our selves, and that same spirit for learning our ancestors had.
We have in each of us the same childlike fascination that initially started us on this fantastic road of learning so long ago. While lying on a blanket with a couple of kids and field glasses we can melt away all layers of time, again viewing the great expanse with wonder. We have in us the same needs as our so called primitive ancestors did, and those wonderful oohs and ahs that children have for shooting star sparks and comet streams still runs hot in our blood. Our human connection to the stars, and the consciousness that set us free, makes full circle every Precession, by a tiny wobble.