Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The World of Two Moons and Ur-Memory

How do we remember the times that are so far in the distant past that they are not only beyond history, but beyond memory? The ocean of time that earlier humanoid species and humans crossed before they even reached the outer boundaries of history is enormous: the Stone Age lasted 2.5 million years.  Archaeological and geological research is almost our only means of telling what transpired in that period.  Occasionally, these disciplines draw from astronomical findings, as with the report just out that the Earth may once have had two moons.

Myths and epics of deities and kings are the other remnants of that vast period of lost human experience, particularly of the last 20,000 years of the Stone Age (see my post on that period here).  How interesting it must be, then, for the creators and fans of Elfquest to hear news that this fantasy possibly overlaps with ancient prehistory.  Nature reported on the researchers' twin moon theory:
A new hypothesis claims the Earth may once have had two moons, which eventually crashed together forming our current celestial partner. This new idea, reported in the journal Nature, could explain a long standing puzzle about the differences between the near and far sides of the lunar surface. The near side is relatively low and flat with many large dark basalt mare, while the far side is high and mountainous, with thicker crust. The work, based on computer simulations undertaken by planetary scientists Erik Asphaug and Martin Jutzi from the University of California, Santa Cruz, claims the lunar far side highlands, are the solid remains of a collision with a smaller companion moon. 
While legends, ancient religious writings and folklore cannot be taken literally, they may contain weird, displaced grains of truth. For example, it is strange how old wives' tales preserve centuries' worth of domestic wisdom and tried-and-true practices: superstitions about cats bringing ill omens around nurseries turned out to have some credibility, as research into cat-borne diseases later showed.  In this case, the imaginary world of Elfquest features a fictional world with two moons.  Do myths, old or new, preserve bits of the distant past beyond memory? Can fragments of these tales catch a glimpse of lost reality?  No.  It would be foolish to assume that the Pinis, who created Elfquest in the late 1970s, somehow accurately imagined our planet's real prehistory.

But the 'two moons' here are a curious coincidence, which raises some questions.  What fundamental elements of human existence persist in oral tradition across aeons?  What is the basic common denominator of Ur-memory - what cultural material survives?  And how are these surviving fragments dressed up in ways that make them comprehensible now, for each new generation?  Pioneering work was done in this field by the Brothers Grimm in tracing fairy tales in Central Europe, even as they tracked the philological evolution of the German language.  Other attempts to categorize and thereby follow the spread of fairy tales and folktales include the Aarne Thompson classification system and Krohn's historic-geographic method.  But these systems deal with the core elements of stories across centuries or even millennia at most (through references to Greek texts).  They don't cover many thousands, or even millions, of years.

If myths mirror any literal truths that scientists later confirm, it's equally worth considering that researchers' interpretations of scientific results are sometimes coloured by contemporary expectations. Fantasy and science are on opposite sides of the looking-glass. In this case, Millennial dualism likely reflects in the latest theory that Earth once had two moons.  It's not that the science doesn't stand on its own: it can and often does.  But the flavour or tone of scientific interpretation - its metascientific subtext - is influenced by the Zeitgeist.

Dualism is fashionable right now but it's as old as the hills: dualistic legends focus on metaphors for the human struggle away from savagery. Fantasy's classic parables involve the struggle between good and evil in the human heart. In Elfquest, a Stone Age Earth with two moons is visited by aliens - the Elves - who get stranded on our planet. Using their highly evolved abilities, they interact with the earthly environment, and the result is a lot of strange, hybrid beings who are feared and worshipped by Stone Age humans as evil spirits and nature gods (see my posts on Elfquest here and here).  Primitive and advanced, familiar and alien, Elfquest's two moons may symbolize duality of consciousness.  Duality is a persistent motif in human stories across millennia. Modern legends, from popular fantasy novels to pulp fiction comic books, merely perpetuate the material once transmitted by oral tradition.

An advertisement with a Nymph and Satyr - fantastical creatures that straddle animals, humans, and the elements.  They are the predecessors and prototypes for Adam and Eve.

Duality, long imagined as mind-versus-body, is now increasingly conceived as virtual-versus-body, or cyber-versus-body.  A mythical fixation on duality may ultimately symbolize a society's attempts to cope with traumatic change, between past and future states of human existence.  Legends sometimes incorporate the point of actual transition, the synthesis.

Another case in point: DC's Garfield Logan is a human-animal shapeshifter.  He is obviously derived from legendary sources.  He recalls an ancient transition out of animism. Pan-gods, fauns, centaurs and related metamorphs symbolized a transformation of belief.  Through a long worship of animals and the elements, ancients began to perceive their gods as human. Half-animal, half-human entities preserved the power and mentalities of that transition.  And really, that is what divinities are: they are the power incarnated in particular ideas, and combinations of ideas.

Logan's pairing with DC's character Terra, an archaic earth goddess recast in the 1980s with a Postmodern identity crisis, retells one of the oldest legendary matches of fauna and flora.  This pairing has reappeared through the ages.  It was evident in fertility rituals symbolized by satyrs and nymphs at Bacchanalia festivals.  The story has been retold from the Fall in the Garden of Eden to film noir.  It is a cautionary tale about how a human hero can be born out of the rough union of animals and nature.  The ensuing harmony and conflict create humanity, creatures who seek to be something more than the raw stuff of which they are made.

A contrasting aspect of Logan's mythological roots involves the 'great king raised by animals' story.  Gar Logan is DC's take-off on Tarzan and Mowgli, but those characters were in turn take-offs on much older archetypes, wherein human society became too civilized and enervated.  A weak human society would have to be reminded of the power of its savage roots.  Two aspects to the character, two sides of the same coin.  (See my full discussion on these themes and characters here.)

Rough Ur-memory as a source of future transcendence has captured the imagination of DC writer Grant Morrison.  He just published a book, Supergods, in which his starting point takes comic book heroes as manifestations of ancient myths.  But he appears to be interested primarily in divine superhuman legends as archetypal models for future human potential during the Singularity.  (There is a review here; a sharp comment here about the big corporate influence on Morrison, a self-styled visionary and rebel with counter-establishment roots, who is becoming a DC company man (Morrison is helming part of the the DC reboot that will likely pry Superman away from the copyright claims of the heirs of that hero's creators); and another review here).

Caption for the above video: Deepak Chopra and Grant Morrison chatted about their views of superheroes as ancient archetypes last month at the San Diego Comic Convention.

Not to be outdone, guru Deepak Chopra and his son, Gotham Chopra have co-written a book to support the family's founding of a comics company with Richard Branson, Virgin Comics (now Liquid Comics).  The book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World, also looks to superheroes as ancient models of futuristic self help and self improvement in the Cyber Age. 

From battling the evil without to battling the evil within, Atlantis, Conan the Barbarian, the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Dungeons and Dragons, Elfquest, the Potter books, and the latest arrival, the Game of Thrones, and other wildly popular fantasy epics all point to our eternal worry about savagery and transcendence in the human condition.  It's a strange tension that propels us backwards and forwards through time.

See my post on the history of Elves.

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  1. Fantastic post!

    I suppose if the science fiction genre can predict future scientific fact, then other types of "fiction" can do the same... in the end, perhaps all of our "stories" represent knowledge... for who can say, with any certainty, where any story originates from, or what constitutes "valid" memory?

  2. Glad you liked the post, Dia. I think that the default is to assume that stories have some ethereal but unquantifiable inherent human wisdom. What intrigued me was the point at which that haziness suddenly became crystal clear, and weirdly verifiable.