-- The Other Group --
the success and failure of arguments
countering alternative cosmologies

David Talbott:
The Comparative Method Justified.

Let's start with the popular mainstream opinion of Wikipedia about the methods used by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book "Worlds in Collision" (1950):

"Velikovsky arrived at these proposals using a methodology which would today be called comparative mythology - he looked for concordances in myths and written history of unconnected cultures across the world, in particular following a rather literal reading of their accounts of the exploits of planetary deities."
-- Wikipedia: Worlds_in_Collision

Wikipedia offers a working definition of "Comparative Mythology" as the "comparing [of] different cultures' mythologies," whereby "scholars" attempt to construct a "protomythology." But the alternate methods of "particularists" is noted, "who emphasize the similarities." Particularists tend to "maintain that the similarities deciphered by comparativists are vague and superficial".

It is interesting to note that although the force of Worlds in Collision is almost entirely constituted by mythological texts and classical literature, all of the criticism revolved around physical aspects of the proposed theory, and most of these were so weak that they had to be overdramatised to attempt any effect.

Wikipedia notes that "comparative approaches to mythology held great popularity among eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars. Many of these scholars believed that all myths showed signs of having evolved from a single myth or mythical theme," and cites Max Muller and Joseph Campbell as 19th and 20th century examples.

The same belief that all myths point to a single source can be extended to suggest or recognize the source not as an ur-myth or some psychological predisposition common to the psyche of all humans, but as an event -- an event of stupendous terror or extraordinary importance (as the Saturnians will claim). This cannot be done if we admit metaphorical readings to the myths (as the Saturnians also claim).

But the conclusions might be in error. There could have been no such stupendous event. Or there might have been two or three or a dozen events. It is perhaps too easy to adopts the methods of Campbell of assuming solitary examplary causes based in ur-myth or the psyche. But it cannot be sensible.

The comparative approach to mythology finds expression on the [website] of Rens van der Sluijs, in particular, one item from a list of "some key ideas" in his polar plasma column theory:

single prototype: "Many of the most prominent myths, widely reflected in rituals and traditional icons and centring on the themes of 'creation', 'world destruction' and cosmology, trace back to *a single prototype*, even if the astronomical reality behind this prototype may in reality have been stretched out over several centuries. The narrated events form a *coherent sequence*, not a disparate assemblage of nature symbols."

This is a formal expression of Talbott's "comparative method" -- which probably ought to be called the "comparative thesis." In a Thoth Newsletter (1998), speaking of the Iliad and Velikovsky's interpretation, Talbott wrote:

"Here was my conclusion: there is no local history whatsoever in the poet's narrative! The entire story of the 'Trojan War' is a localization of a much more ancient memory - the earthshaking celestial conflagration called the 'wars of the gods'."

"How can I assert this sweeping conclusion with such confidence? The confidence comes from the comparative study itself, which exposes the taproot of worldwide cultural traditions. It is this deeply-rooted cultural memory that fed all of the later accounts of heroes and warriors, as the chroniclers brought formerly celestial gods down to earth and presented them in mortal dress. First there was the story of a heaven-shattering conflagration, in which celestial powers battled in the sky. Then, centuries later, there were the chronicles of 'tribal' wars, of 'nations' battling 'nations', all highlighting the exploits of a great warrior, and all sounding as if the events occurred on a terrestrial landscape."

Am I missing something here? The whole of the last paragraph is conjecture, "First there was the story..." But Talbott continues:

"But who were these heroes, whose feats and ordeals fill the pages of Homer's Iliad, or the Aeneid of Virgil, or the Mahabharata and Ramayana of the Hindus, or the Celtic Mabinogion (not to mention countless other native chronicles)? It is simply impossible to undertake a comparative study of such figures without confronting the ARCHETYPAL warrior-hero presented under a vast range of symbols - what Joseph Campbell called 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces'."

"In tracing various hero-motifs to the earliest strata of civilization, it became crystal clear to me that the later figures are nothing more than echoes of the great celestial warrior celebrated in the oldest written records of humankind -- Nergal, Ninurta, and Irra of the Akkadians; Shu, Horus, and Sept of the Egyptians, to mention the barest few examples. The archetypal warrior-hero moves in the sky. And yet centuries later this same personality is seen on a local landscape, and the entire texture has changed. (For example, he no longer stands in relationship to a central sun or Universal Monarch, but instead serves a TERRESTRIAL 'great king', a literary echo of the central sun.)"

This then explains the "comparative methods" as used by the Saturnians: It is completely and totally in error, because it collapses all detail in on itself.

If all things are thought to be "echoes" of an earlier event, then nothing new will ever be differentiated in the process of a review of the data. The method, says Talbott, involves "tracing various hero-motifs to the earliest strata of civilization", but how this is done, except by fiat, remains unexplained. "It became crystal clear to me that the later figures are nothing more than echoes of the great celestial warrior celebrated in the oldest written records of humankind," writes Talbott. But how does it become clear?

This is not a "comparative method", this is an indiscriminate lumping of sources. The idea was probably based on Cambell; he too starts from the supposition that all myth has a singular unity. That might be reasonable if we posit some sort of underlying psyche that informs all myth. That will do for Campbell, where nothing more physical is claimed than some ceremonies which grow out of the substrate of myth.

For the Saturnians the situation is reversed. The myths grow out of a substrate of physical events. This application of a "comparative method" is not a method at all. It is simply an unproven hypothesis. It remains suspended to encompass all the available data because there is no method of discrimination.

The outstanding failure is seen in looking at Mesoamerica, where there is no Mother Goddess, there are no Warrior-Heroes, there is no Universal Monarch. The almost total lack of goddesses among the Maya tribes, as well as the people of the Valley of Mexico, and certainly even their lack as spouses to the male gods, is something the Saturnians have utterly failed to incorporate into their model. Instead of warriors, there are only two blowgunner boys who without much compunction summarily kill their brothers, execute Zipacna and Earthquake, and destroy Seven-Macaw. How does this fit in with Indo-European Christian notions of power and authority? The pride is not in conquest, but in cleverness.

URL of this page: http://othergroup.net/method.php
This page last updated: Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
[home page]

Feel free to email me with any comments or corrections.
jno (at) othergroup (dot) net
I'll be glad to add relevant comments or essays

Copyright © 2010 - 2017 Jno Cook

Permission to reprint in whole or in part is granted,
provided full credit is given.