The “This Is Your Story” Book Tag

I shamelessly stole this tag from Bookstooge and The Orangutan Librarian … oh wait, it looks like TOL actually did tag me. Technically. Thanks to  Sheri Dye for creating this fab tag!

The Rules

  • Link back to the creator @ReadBetwixtWords
  • Answer each question by using your favorite (or TBR) book covers, characters, and stories
  • Tag a friend or two
  • And have fun with it!

QUESTIONS

Here they come:

AUTHOR – WHO’S WRITING YOUR STORY?

Andrew Klavan. He writes older female characters pretty well, plus he totally adores women, so he will make me seem like a much better person than I actually am finally give me the credit I’m due!

On the down side, his stories tend to be rather dark and violent, so buckle up.

WORLD – WHAT LITERARY WORLD IS YOUR STORY PART OF?

It’s a paranormal portal fantasy where I go to an archaeological site to research a book, unwisely step along a ley line, and end up in Atlantis.

Mixed with a Miss Marple mystery.

ROMANCE – WHO WILL BE YOUR LOVE-INTEREST?

I’m a married woman, and besides I’m too old for romance. The romances will take place among secondary characters, the way they always do in Brother Cadfael mysteries. My grown sons will each get married in the course of the book, plus there will be at least one secondary romance in Atlantis, but it will end tragically.

APPEARANCE – WHAT WILL YOUR CHARACTER LOOK LIKE?

Myself, but about 20 years older. I’ll be a spry little old lady with wild, flyaway hair. Sort of a Good Witch look. Also, my nose will be bigger than current.

SIDEKICK – WHAT CHARACTER/CREATURE WOULD YOU HAVE BY YOUR SIDE?

My niece, a very cool person who just happened to meet up with me at Newgrange because she was on a study program in England.

I have a lot of nieces. I won’t say which one I have in mind, but she knows who she is.

GOOD, EVIL, OR GRAY – WHERE DOES YOUR CHARACTER STAND?

Twenty years from now, I will be so sanctified and refined by the sufferings of life that I am the goodest of the good, hidden underneath a thick layer of Old Lady bitterness and cynicism.

DESIGNATION – WHAT WILL YOU BE? (HUMAN, FAIRY, PIRATE, PRINCESS, ETC..)

Wait a minute … we have options other than human? Why wasn’t this mentioned earlier???

OPPOSITION – WHO WILL BE YOUR NEMESIS?

Since this is an Andrew Klavan novel, there will be two nemesises (nemesi?). In this world, it will be Klaus Schwab. In Atlantis, it will be a being of light that is going to help bring humanity to a higher plane. Later, it turns out that Schwab is working for the being of light.

THE ENDING – HOW DOES YOUR STORY END? SPOILER ALERT!

Like they all end: I die.

But not before I make it back to the 21st century in time to help expose Klaus Schwab (working together with my niece and an unlikely band of misfits that includes James Lindsey, Andrew Klavan, and my pastor. Klavan will be about 100 years old at this point, unless he has also engaged in time travel).

And, we all know what happens to Atlantis.

(What’s that you say?

Plotholes, schmotholes!)

Book Review: The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries by David Ulansey

I thought you should know that this book exists.

I don’t even remember where I got it. I have a feeling I got it at a used book store or a library sale, or maybe I stole it from my dad’s library. I know it’s been sitting around my study for a few years, waiting for me to get to it. It was published in 1989.

This is a good, accessible piece of scholarly work that first explains what the cult of Mithros was, then traces the history of scholarly thinking about it, and then advances Ulansey’s theory about what was really behind the cult.

What Is Mithraism

Mithraism began to spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century C.E., reached its peak in the third century, and finally succumbed to Christianity at the end of the fourth century. At the cult’s height mithraea could be found from one end of the empire to the other, “from the banks of the Black Sea to the mountains of Scotland and to the borders of the great Sahara Desert,” as one authority puts it.

ibid, p. 4

As a result, many of the underground Mithraic temples whose iconography Ulansey shows pictures of are found in Germany or in Italy, although this is a cult that had its origins in Tarsus, in southern Turkey.

For a long time, the accepted theory among scholars was that the god Mithras got his start as the Iranian god Mithra, because they happen to share a name. However, the attributes of Mithras don’t line up very well with those of Mithra, which leaves the door open to other explanations.

The cult was apparently based on a story where Mithras slaughters a bull, and from the bull’s body sprang all the plants that man finds useful, such as wheat, grapes, etc. Because it was a mystery cult, nothing was ever written down about the secret meaning of this story, nor of the levels through which the neophyte progresses as he is initiated deeper and deeper into the mysteries. But in all Mithraic temples, there is consistent iconography. This includes a picture of Mithras slaying the bull, with wheat coming out of the wound. Mithras is typically looking away from the bull (though this is “corrected” in some reconstructions), wearing a distinctive hat which was associated with Persia and with Perseus in the ancient world. Around him are placed other figures which will prove to have significance in unravelling the meaning of the cult. Sometimes, the whole scene is placed under an arch or inside a circle that shows the zodiac. Sometimes, Mithras is also portrayed as standing inside a circle or hoop lined with star symbols.

A Brief Tour of the Ancient Mediterranean, Near East, and Europe

In unfolding his theory, Ulansey takes us on a fascinating tour of the ancient world. For example, he spends a lot of time establishing how and why Mithras came to be associated with (based on?) Perseus, who was the founder and hero of the city of Tarsus and, in fact, the local god of that whole region. (Mithras’ hat — a “Phrygian cap” — was originally worn by Perseus, and Ulansey contends that he looks away from the bull as he slaughters it because Perseus looked away from Medusa as he slaughtered her.) He gets into the fact that the cult may have originated with pirates of Cicilia, which lies just off the coast from Tarsus:

[T]he Cicilian pirates were far more than a mere band of thieves. Rather, the pirates, who numbered at least twenty thousand, formed what amounted to a small nation which at its height controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea.

ibid, p. 88

Ulansey then quotes Plutarch from Life of Pompey:

“The power of the pirates had its seat in Cicilia at first … then, while the Romans were embroiled in civil wars, the sea was left unguarded … until they no longer attacked navigators only, but also laid waste islands and maritime cities … There were also fortified roadsteads and signal-stations for piratical craft in many places … more annoying than the fear [the pirate fleets] inspired was the odious extravagance of their equipment, with their gilded sails, and purple awnings, and silvered oars … For you see, the ships of the pirates numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred … Presently men whose wealth gave them power, and those whose lineage was illustrious, and those who laid claim to superior intelligence, began to embark on piratical craft and share their enterprises.”

ibid, p. 88

There are plenty of other fascinating historical nooks in this edifice, such as the figure of a lion-headed man, entwined by a snake, standing on a sphere; the idea of Mithras being born out of the rock; the exact nature of the Gorgon, and many, many others. Every single one makes sense when it comes up in context. That said, there were certainly some bizarre ideas floating around in the ancient world.

The Zodiac

So, to get right down to it, Ulansey’s case is that the Mithraic mysteries were a way of encoding astronomical knowledge. Because this is the ancient world we are talking about, this knowledge could equally be considered scientific, cosmological, and religious, as will become clear shortly.

Lately, I’ve been studying the zodiac in a desultory fashion. Don’t worry, I am not planning to take up astrology. Astrology is specifically forbidden to faithful Jews, and to children-of-Abraham-by-faith like myself. But it is of interest to me, because it was so important to the people of the ancient world. They worked it into their monuments and their mythology. The signs of the zodiac, and other constellations, were associated with the gods, and a good case could be made that this association started in pre-Flood days.

The other thing that fascinates me about the zodiac is that it’s so hard to observe. Now that I keep chickens and also work outside the home, I’ve been obliged to get up before dawn to let the chickens out. I live in a rural area with relatively dry weather, so you’d think it would be easy for me to take a quick glance at the horizon while I’m out there, and be able to tell which constellation is in the east, right where the sun is going to rise in an hour or two. As it turns out, it’s not so easy as all that. You not only have to know which direction is due east, you also have to have something that helps you sight where the sun is going to rise … and it moves. Then you have to be able to recognize the constellations. To really figure out the whole zodiac, you’d have to be making these observations daily, throughout all the seasons of the year, until you noticed that the constellations of the zodiac make a notional belt around the earth, and that at different times of year, they take turns “housing” the sunrise. This is already difficult enough that you’d have to have a pretty strong motivation to pursue it. (Stronger than mine is right now.) Ancient people thought this was so worthwhile that they managed to master the very difficult science of astronomy. Many ancient monuments, in fact, were built as observatories, from Stonehenge to many structures in the Americas.

Why were they so motivated to study the stars? That’s a discussion for another time.

According to Ulansey, the Mithraic iconography (and probably the whole cult) was designed to encode the secret of Equinoctal Precession. This is a really complicated phenomenon, so if you don’t know what it is, I’ll let you look it up. Basically, because of an irregularity in the earth’s rotation, the zodiac sign that “houses” the sunrise on the equinox will stay the same for 2,160 years, by which time the sunrise has migrated back to the previous zodiacal sign (hence, precession). (Also, incidentally, Polaris has not always been the the pole star.) Precession has been discovered at different times in the past by different civilizations. Graham Hancock makes a pretty good case that it was known by somebody, before conventional history began. But due to the difficulty of observing it, it has not been known at all times by all peoples. Around the time that the cult of Mithras apparently started, it had recently been discovered, and begun to be talked about, in the vicinity of Tarsus, in the same intellectual circles that were also providing aristocratic pirates.

Breaking Hoops and Wheels and Mills

Now, to you and me, equinoctal precession might fall into the category of “Oh, that’s interesting.” Not so for the ancients. For one thing, this cult probably started among pirates, who use the stars to navigate. The idea that the stars were once different and are not the same all the time would be earth-shattering to them. But this news gets even more ominous when we understand ancient cosmology.

(And when I say “ancient” here, I am talking about the cultures of the Mediterranean, Ancient Near East, and parts of Europe. Though, not to keep mentioning Graham Hancock, but in his book Fingerprints of the Gods he finds similar cosmology in ancient India, Central America, and Scandanavia. So a case could be made that this cosmology was once worldwide.)

This ancient cosmology, then, conceived of the heavens as a huge machine, constructed of two or more intersecting hoops (the zodiac, the celestial equator, and, essentially, the prime meridian/international date line projected into the sky). Sometimes the heavenly machinery is portrayed more as a big edifice with four pillars supporting it. Sometimes it’s a “mill” that turns. Probably some ancient people took this more literally than others; some understood it was notional, but represented something real.

Now, imagine that you think of the universe as a big, finely tuned machine, where the constellations always end up in the place they are supposed to be. If the whole hoop has moved out of its place, this could be conceived of as “breaking” the machine. This is why cycles of a certain number of years (not everyone got the precessional intervals right) were thought to bring cataclysms upon the world. So, we get myths worldwide about a mill being broken, and this causing the stars to fall from their places, the sky to become dark, fire and floods to sweep over the earth, etc. Again, read Hancock to find out more about this than you ever wanted to know.

But the point is, whether the Cicilian pirates thought that precession caused a cataclysm, or whether it just meant the universe was less stable than they had imagined, this would have been a revolution in their scientific, cosmological, and religious thought. (Religious because, in ancient times, science and cosmology and religion were really all a part of one system, especially when you consider that the stars and other heavenly bodies were thought to metaphysically influence events on earth.) So, whether you count it as belonging to three, two, or just one unified field of knowledge, this was a big enough discovery to be kept secret (a “mystery”) and passed on to initiates in a whole new cult religion.

The Book About Human Dispersion I’ve Been Waiting For

… I was going to put, “… I’ve been waiting for all my life,” but it hasn’t been quite that long.

[T]he scientific community selected father-son pairs (or other male relatives of known genealogy) and sequenced their Y chromosome DNA. Then they counted the number of differences between the relatives. The number of Y chromosome DNA differences between them revealed how many copying errors occurred each generation. These differences told them how fast the Y chromosome clock ticked.

One of the first studies to measure the error rate was published in 2009. Two Chinese men of a known genealogical relationship going back to the 1800s had their Y chromosome DNA sequences determined. The resultant rate of copying errors was slow. It fit the existence of a “Y chromosome Adam” (the ancestor of all living men) about 200,000 years ago. In 2015, a study of hundreds of Icelandic men produced the same result.

So far, these results would leave the mainstream time scale as is.

However, due to financial and time constraints, these earlier studies were based on low quality DNA sequence. Then, in 2015, another research group compared father and son Y chromosome DNA sequences. This time, they used high quality methods. The result was a copying error rate that was much faster than the previous, lower quality studies: “The number of [father-son Y chromosome] differences was approximately 10-fold higher than the expected number … considering the range of published [Y chromosome copying mistake] rates.”

In fact, the data from this study implied that “Y chromosome Adam” lived just a few thousand years ago.

What was the mainstream scientific community to do? Oddly, they filtered their results, removing data that contradicted the 200,000-year timescale. They did so until the Y chromosome copying error rate matched their expectations.

In 2017, researchers compared the DNA sequences between 50 parent-offspring trios — i.e., they obtained DNA from father, mother, and child. Again, they did so by using high quality DNA sequencing methods. The researchers published detailed analyses of the copying error rate in these people. But conspicuously absent from their published results was a statement on the father-son Y chromosome copying error rate. Why?
From the raw data that did make it into their published study, a potential answer emerged. From this raw data, the father-son Y chromosome DNA copying error rate could be extracted. The results were consistent with the 2015 high-quality study. The 2017 Y chromosome copying error rate again implied that “Y chromosome Adam” existed about 4,500 years ago.

Traced, pp. 67 – 68

Jeanson, the author of this book, is a geneticist who works for Answers in Genesis. In this book, written for the lay person, he explains the study of genetics and its often counter-intuitive results. For example, early in the book he covers how, if all of your ancestors were unrelated to each other, by the time you go back about a thousand years you have to have had more great-grandparents than the population of the world at the time. Obviously that can’t be right, so in the deeps of the past, you must have had cousins or second cousins marrying each other. Also early in the book, he walks us through a simple thought/mathematics experiment to show how a minority population moving into a new area could make their genes the majority in that area after several generations by dint of simply having a few more children per family than the native population. This has actually happened in Europe with a Central Asian population that apparently came to Western Europe fleeing the Mongols.

Having oriented us and laid some foundational principles, Jeanson moves on to looking at specific branches of the human family tree as it has been reconstructed through geneticists looking at Y chromosome data. Using this data, we can “see” historical events like the population collapse that happened in the Americas in the few centuries after the arrival of Columbus; the massive people movements out of Central Asia in response to the Mongols; and the dispersion of certain haplogroups from East Africa into the rest of Africa in response to the Muslim expansion. Going deeper in the family tree, we can reconstruct the movement of certain haplogroups: for example, one group that started in Central Asia, split, and moved into India and into Europe, without meeting up again. Jeanson has a method, which he explains, to convert conventional dating for these events to his young-earth dates. In some cases, historical records like the ones mentioned above corroborate his method. If you look at the pages of his book end-on, the middle third of them are thick, high-quality, glossy paper. These are the diagrams, illustrations, and numerous maps to which Jeanson is constantly referring his reader. It really is important to be able to reference these in order to follow his arguments, so that you can visualize geographic dispersion and understand the different branches on the human family tree. (Being named by scientists, the branches have names like R1a and R1b, so it is really helpful to have a visual, where they are distinguished by different colors, to help you keep them all straight.)

Everyone likes to imaginatively trace the footsteps of their ancestors, but this book is a special treat for me. I am the kind of person who can get story ideas just from staring hard at a map. Give me a multigenerational migration story to go with it, and I’m in my element. This gets even more so when you start trying to use it to peer into the deep past. Bearing in mind that the world population was much smaller in past ages than it is now, when we look at these branches of haplogroups we are, in most cases, not seeing entire nations as we would now conceive of them. We are “seeing” clans, maybe in some cases individual families.

Traced is a real gift to people like me who want to write novels about early human dispersion. Of course, Jeanson is a good enough scientist to tell us that it is not the final word. Some haplogroups have been identified, but the sample size has been small. There are probably more out there, waiting to find their places on the big family tree. There are probably also haplogroups that have been completely wiped out, that will never be found no matter how many currently living men we sample.

Video: Christians Talk Aliens, Bigfoot

In this video, I am keeping company with Jason McLean, a Christian paranormal researcher. That moniker should tell you a lot about the nature of this video. We discuss Bigfoot, the flood, and ancient alien theory. Our interests have a lot of overlap, but I must confess that even so, I was exposed to some ideas in the course of this conversation that (even) I found startling.

We were hosted by the lovely podcaster Chris K.

If you want to forget your troubles and bury yourself in Christian paranormal weirdness, please enjoy this 2+-hour conversation.

(N.B.: At one point, Chris asks, “Have you ever heard of Michael Heiser?” and I start squealing that I am right now reading one of Heiser’s books. Then the three of us jump into a discussion of beings called the elohim, without giving any background about what these things are. What they are, is created beings who dwell in a different realm (for convenience let’s call it “the heavens”), and are called “gods” relative to human beings. They are referred to as elohim in the Old Testament, although confusingly the same word is used to refer to the Most High God. If you want to see both uses in a single verse, see Psalm 82:1, “God [Elohim] stands in the divine council; He gives judgement among the gods [elohim].” This is an Ancient Near Eastern world view that is endorsed, with some caveats, by both the Old and New Testaments. If you’re curious how this could possibly be good theology, I encourage you to read Michael Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm.)

Very Old Pyramids in Peru

The sacred city of Caral-Supe

Random thoughts:

  • The dates, as always, are messed up and questionably to be trusted. For example, the idea that the step pyramid at Saqqara is the oldest known pyramid in ancient Egypt.
  • Still, Caral-Supe seems to be old and I’ll accept that it was the region’s “mother culture.”
  • “The design of both the architectural and spatial components of the city is masterful, and the monumental platform mounds and recessed circular courts are powerful and influential expressions of a consolidated state.” Also, “Archaeologists think the sites collectively reflect the Americas’ earliest core of civilization, which existed from 3000 to 1800 B.C. and was totally uninfluenced by outside factors.” Both cannot be true. Given that it is a sophisticated city-state centered around pyramidal temples, it seems have been an expression of the ancient, pagan bureaucratic urban human culture. Triangulating with genetic evidence, it was probably carried to Peru across the Pacific when humanity was dispersing after the Flood.
  • “No trace of warfare has been found at Caral: no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure.” That’s a nice thought, but I’m withholding judgement. The same thing was said about the Maya until we got better at interpreting their inscriptions, and started finding pictures of gruesome human sacrifice, piles of bones, etc. As Caral-Supe is much older than the Mayan civilization, the traces of warfare might be even harder to find.

Pyramids in the Amazon

Lasers reveal ‘lost’ pre-Hispanic civilization deep in the Amazon

Not to be a broken record, but …

  • humans are smart, and they make culture wherever they go
  • the ancient world was much more urban than we have been told
  • there was apparently a universal human culture that included cities, pyramids, and legends/myths/cultural histories about “gods,” giants, and a worldwide flood

And, as a bonus …

  • The population of the Americas was much greater than once thought, before the arrival of the Europeans. A major population collapse happened in the centuries between the arrival of Columbus and the settling of the two continents by Europeans. For more information, see this video, which is #10 in a series, and the videos that follow it (#s 11 – 14). This is fascinating stuff.