religious peaks and troughs

22 Nov 2015

Alfred de Grazia, in his book 'The Divine Succession' made a connection between catastrophic events, and peaks and troughs in religious experiences. We live in a pretty stable world as far as nature is concerned, with little activity in the cosmic zone, and religion in general is pretty quiescent. Islamic activity in the political sphere appears to have a connection with their version of millennarianism (different dates are involved to the numbers involved in Christian millennarianism for example and we are, it is alleged, very close to the End Times in their world view, hence the clamour as the two groups collide with each other to be in the most favourable situation as the numbering system approaches the allotted time). Unfortunately everyone else is becoming collateral in the jockeying for position - but it is interesting to note that Mohammed came on the back end of the 6th century AD where some kind of major cosmic event has been deduced by the likes of Mike Baillie and Dallas Abbot and so ably illustrated by David Keys in his book, 'Catastrophe: an investigation into the making of the modern world'. The 5th and 6th centuries AD were also important in Christianity too - especially here in the British Isles, on the fringe of the Roman world. Pagan religion was dominant right up to this period in our neck of the woods but shifted dramatically as a result of some kind of event (which can only be speculative for the moment). Evidence can be shown that druidic priests were transformed into Christian proselytisers - all in the shake of a wrist. In the first millennium BC there was also an explosion of ideas associated with religion and philosophy, and Baillie has pinpointed three low growth tree ring events (cause unknown) in the 8th and 5th centuries BC, and again around 200BC. These inlcude Tao and Confucious, Socrates, the Buddha and Mahaviru, and of course the Biblical prophets such as Amos and Isaiah, and later, Daniel (a millennialist). Michael Wood, in BBC History magazine (Christmas of 2014) made the point these people arose after the collapse of the Bronze Age (which should include Zoroaster in that case) in what has become known to some historians, such as Karen Armstrong, as the Axis Age, a period that came to an end with the Roman Warm period (200BC to around 400AD) when activity in the sky was not too different than today for the most part (although there was a distinct blip in the 3rd century AD). In other words, a quiet sky is more likely to promote an Aristotelian view of the cosmos - or in our age, a uniformitarian one. In spite of that we have a well reported episode of religious experience a revival of enthusiasm following an event involving Paul on the road to Damascus - see ... a post which is derived from a paper in Meteoritics and Planetary Science 50:3 by William Hartmann. 

Lesser episodes of 'enlightenment' giving rise to religious 'experience' and revived enthusiasm for the Holy Book are connected with the rise of the Quakers as an example (on Pendle Hill)  and the springing up of non-conformist groups in the 17th century, a sort of backdrop to the Civil War period that allowed ordinary people to worship outside the established parish church system, and a practise that was heavily curtailed with the restoration of the monarchy (and the doffing of hats to the gentry). It must have been a strange couple of decades with Parliamentarian militia drawn from the lower classes taking potshots at the landowning class in all their finery - like shooting pheasants in a way, with their bright plumage. They fly overhead when disturbed by beaters making a noise and banging on a hard surface and the great and the good were knocked off their perches (horseback) with the crash of musket fire. The fact is that the first half of the 17th century witnessed an extraordinary level of meteoritic activity and the appearance of a number of comets in the sky - and the weather was very cold and wet. Was this a vector - a rebellion against ship tax among some, a rise in religious enthusiasm by others, and witch persecution too (especially on the continent). All the while there were those propaganda sheets being hastily printed and distributed around the towns and cities, aiding and abetting the general air of dissatisfaction and mischief. These eventually coalesced into newspapers, firstly as radical organs but developing over time into instruments of the establishment and liable to follow the money by following their noses. The latter coincided with a quieter period in the sky as the 17th century became the 18th and apart from a blip in the 1740s nothing much extraordinary occurred. The mid 19th century had a blip mostly known by a sharp drop in temperatures for a few years leading to famine in various parts of Europe (such as Poland and Ireland) but generally the 19th century was benign. The beginning of the 20th includes the Tunguska meteor but even before this there was some strange activity in the natural world (as recorded by Paul Devereux in his book, Earth Lights) where electro magnetic activity along fault lines in Wales preceded religious revivals on a nationwide scale.

Alfred de Grazia foresaw such experiences going back way into prehistory and he even went so far as to say humans imitated the activities of the gods (or what they saw in the sky). For example, why does a spear look like a shooting star, we might query, and why does an arrow shot from a bow take the form of a fast moving meteor? Why is a carefully crafted and polished stone axe look like a stone from heaven - sent by the gods. Human ingenuity is of course involved. In the equatorial forests some tribes use blow pipes to kill animals in the canopy, such as monkeys. They first take poison from the skin of green tree frogs and dip the dart into that before unleashing it to stun or immobilise the animal causing it to fall out of the tree rather than take a chance on wounding it and the animal skurrying away. That is ingenious - but they still use a dart. In the Late Palaeolithic the atlatl appeared, a device invented to propel a spear at greater speed and penetrating power - but it remained a spear. These are carefully thought out implements in order to hunt prey as a food source - one cannot live on nuts alone. The most amazing tool was the Acheulian stone axe, the tool of choice of Homo erectus (in one half of the world as it doesn't appear to have caught on in northern or eastern Asia, where bamboo was the material of choice and abundance). What might have been the idea, or imitation properties of this weapon (as it was undoubtedly used in the hunt). The first thing to note is that Homo erectus lived over a long period of time, one and a half million years according to the uniformitarian times scale. It was a long time and during that period the Acheulian axe was reproduced faithfully and constantly which suggests it had a role greater than just a tool. It was representative of something important to the people making them. It is flattish and carefully chipped, steeply along the edges but always almond shaped with the pivotal end always displayed to one side of the central axis. It weighs around 4lb, is a foot in length, and was used to work wood, prepare hides, cut meat, pulverise roots and grains, and when used as a weapon on the hunt was capable of killing an antelope and being reused afterwards as the aerodynamics of the Acheulian stone axe meant they always landed point downwards. In flight they rotated which itself must have created a deeper wound in prey suggesting larger animals were the animal of choice (feeding a family group). They were flat, sharp on all edges, and almond shaped - so what might they have imitated apart from a meteorite? Anthropologists have considered they had a religious origin - or were designed to mimic a feature of nature (what that might have been is generally left unsaid).

Neanderthals, somewhat later, also used the Acheulian axe as it was an all round tool. They did have blades, made by chipping flints from nodules - but Homo erectus had chipped pebble tools (so that is not a great stage of advance). It would seem the Acheulian stone axe was perceived as a gift from the gods, a faithful replica of a meteorite rotating as it cleaved a way across the sky. Rather, that is a suggested interpretation and others might think of something else. Of course lightning phenomena was also imitated, as in the hammer of Thor. In St Albans abbey there are a couple of swords, or staffs, hanging on the wall, that seem to have no practical use as they zig zag like lightning in the sky. Alfred de Grazia, in his book, goes on to say that human behaviour is an unconsciously motivated repitition of actions in every sphere of life. These habits and customs are inherited from earlier generations. Habit is normal human activity - but can develop into obsession. He suggests each habit was derived from trauma, giving rise to obsessive behaviour, and repitition. As far as the Acheulian stone axe was concerned it required a lot of work to be able to make a copy - down to the fine detail. On that basis young people must have spent a long period learning how to do it with not so perfect versions being rejected. These tools had to be exact copies, it is theorised, like Aborigines and their paintings. The design in both instances had meaning, and that supports the Alfred de Grazia view. See

See also Eileen O Brien, 'The Hand Axe - a million years of use' in Natural History (1984)