The profound influence of ancient cosmologies on our ideas about the human spirit
• Shows how ancient myths contain a sophisticated understanding of our relationship to the cosmos, derived from thousands of years of observation of the night sky
• Explains how ideas of the mind and spirit are still entwined with these ancient cosmologies despite the disruptive effects of modern astronomy
• Reveals how ancient ideas and contemporary cosmology might be combined into a new model for spiritual meaning
Thousands of years before the first written records, humans were turning to the night sky as a source of meaning for existence and their place within it. The conclusions drawn from these observations are embodied in stories from across the world known as Creation Myths. Contrary to the popular belief that these myths were meant to explain the origins of the universe, Pete Stewart shows that they were actually designed to create a harmony and order in the lives of humans that reflected, in their society and architecture, the ordered patterns they saw evidenced in the sky.
These ancient myths also record, in the story of “the separation of Heaven and Earth,” the discovery of a disastrous discord in this ancient harmony, which the mythmakers overcame by imagining a vastly expanded architecture, one in which the individual soul had a role to play in the evolution of the cosmos.
Today science presents a similar challenge to our sense of meaning. Stewart explores how, by reexamining the myths of creation in this light, we can learn how contemporary cosmology might yield a new architecture for the spirit and how the ancient sense of being in the cosmos might be reconstructed for our age.
Architect, author and bagpipe aficionado Stewart, apparently inspired by a 1969 essay ("Hamlet's Mill") by historians Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana, pursues the link between cultural myths and celestial cosmology is this eye-opening but uneven anthropological study. Showing how early myth, like science, was based on precise astronomical data measured similarly around the world, the author attempts to resurrect respect for the ancient intelligence that navigated the earth using only the galaxy as a guide, and who established still-dominant concepts of time and its measurement. As such, he argues convincingly that "mythology is the work of science, and science alone can explain it," linking common concepts across cultures and times (locating, for instance, the serpent that bites its own tale in the creation myths of Hindus, the Unambal culture of Australia, the Fon people of West Africa and the ancient Mayans) through their development of sophisticated proto-scientific methods. While the book succeeds in bringing further inquiry to a refreshing world view, it falls short of the (ceaselessly referenced) essay that inspired it; lacking Dechend and Santillana's rich allegorical language and vast collection of ancient art and poetry, Stewart falls into summarization and occasionally tone-deaf translation.