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in the collective memory
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The awaited return of the most obvious seasonal signal
The "brilliant" sectors of the sky
An assembly of sacred images

Figures portrayed
by stars in the night,
by nature "dramatic" figures

Why make reference to
seasonal stars.
Measuring time in "moons"

When lunar imagery is combined
with stellar imagery to compose a "mythical cinema"

The human condition
and its development
in the collective memory


French version


What can we deduce from comparing grand mythical images (described or depicted) and sidereal images that result when the ritual calendar’s absolute sovereign – the Moon – encounters major constellations?

Fidelity of collective memory

Underlying the superabundance of accounts and representations that have come down to us through millennia of oral tradition, human groups show an extraordinarily tenacious – impressively moving – desire to transmit the significant details (images or key locutions) that unite it with its most distant past, with what it believes are its origins. Of course, ancient feats and obsolete beliefs were updated and reinterpreted thousands of times on the basis of new living conditions, but the basic patterns endure. When humans were totally emerged in untamed nature where survival was necessarily a collective endeavor, this transmission of "tradition" appears to maintain the group’s vigor, functioning as a sort of mental oxygen. This existential will to pass down a legacy of what the group feels to be its identity is like a stream gradually enlarged by tributaries of detail added by generations of shamen, griots, druids and bards. Nevertheless, the nature and direction often emerge as a remarkably intact testimony to human evolution.

It seems to us that the most significant work on this subject, and the one that should be consulted first, is the "Popl Vuh" or "Popol Vuh" (the "woven mat", the "text" of the events), the sacred book of the Quiche Maya. Whereas the Jewish Bible’s book of Genesis hands down a relatively recent form of thought corresponding to the first semi-nomadic pastoralists and the first cultivators who were trying to eliminate the more ancient and "savage" traditions, the Mayan tradition provides us with living snapshots of the prior steps. First we see the Simian, the initial ancestral Thinker-Artist (Hun Chouen), then the Hunter-Gatherer, who is followed by the slash and burn cultivator ("The Exotericism of the Popol Vuh", an authoritative analysis by Raphael Girard, is a necessary reference available both in print and free on-line at: http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/popolvuh/pv-hp.htm).

Memory of the evolution from monkey to man

This leads us to the conclusion that from Asia to pre-Columbian America mythic memory agrees with Darwinian evolution of the species, including the evolution from ape to human.

For religious reasons that merit analysis, Middle Eastern and European tradition has literally "petrified" the story of creation, sweeping under the rug any allusion to our ape origins until the 19th century. On the contrary, Asian thought remains the very essence of "evolutionism". It was richly endowed with the initial intuitions gleaned from living in an intact nature where energy continued its eternal metamorphosis (the "Maia" of India: the continuous change in the appearance of all things).

This true to he extent that the keys to prehistoric religions can be searched in tradition that is still alive and well in Asia: in India the tradition of the "Great Monkey Kings", the Vanaras (or monkey-tailed Hunters WNR: capture, hunt) which becomes Hanuman/Hanumat, is still a major sacred image at the present time. In the Ramayana (essential reading for any prehistorian), divine forces sent these "valiant backwoodsmen" to open the way for their more civilized human brothers.

Hanu Man

Rama Tchandra

In the same respect, from Tibet to China the Man-Monkey concept is connected with memories of an advance in knowledge: in Tibet it is obtaining medicine from plants (myth of Yd Hphrog Ma), in China knowledge of the nature of energy (legends of the human Child of the White Monkey). The ape’s image blends with the human image in the traditions of Sun Wukong, the ancestral "White Monkey" and Wu Tsi Gi, the antediluvian "giant white-headed black monkey".

The monkey’s silhouette has been well hidden in the West, but in the East it remains associated with the soul’s voyage through death in its search for the original creative source. Nearly everywhere in Asia, the Monkey is still the mandatory functionary in propitiatory rituals. In Burma, theater shows and marionettes were an excellent example: they opened by recalling the past history of earthly creatures in the form of a procession. The leader was the "Queen of the Spirits", then the Monkey, followed by the Two Ogres, one said to represent "civilization", and finally contemporary animals and humans. This procession brings us back to a time where monkey-like beings venerated a feminine creative power, a "celestial mother", sovereign over souls… a time of pure predatory conditions imbued with animal violence, where different sorts of relationships - more "human" - arose in the form of sacrificial rites marked by cannibalism…

Neanderthal ?

The vast compendium of Asian traditions that we mention, where the monkey image represents the appearance of Man, might lead one to think that a remarkable culture was developed by groups of hunters who were subsequently considered by rival Cro-Magnum groups as being "monkey-like".

The mythical image of the Monkey turns out to be quite special: it is an "aerial" image. The continuous flights of Hanuman and Sun Wukong, the Chinese Gibbon replacing Orion in Asia, to the star-speckled monkeys and the Thot-Moon Baboon of Egypt show that this image is consistently associated with celestial regions, with the Moon and the constellations.

At that point, it is tempting to imagine that the "Great Monkey Kings" of India, the human-like creatures who, with only slight differences resembled us, and were subsequently considered as monkey-like, might be the ones who made the first great leap of "knowledge" about the universe. They may have invented the first stellar-lunar-solar calendars.

These tribes of Hunters may just be the beings we know as the "Neanderthals". We now know that these cousins of ours had a remarkable cranial capacity, which allows us to indulge in this sort of speculation. As for their abilities, one only has to read the wonderfully exhaustive text of Marylene Pathou-Mathis (Perrin Editions) "Neanderthal", which combines science with humanism.

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