Response to Ev Cochrane on Clube and Napier

The following comes from an exchange on between myself (Phil "Pib" Burns) and Ev Cochrane. Mr. Cochrane, an editor of Aeon, is a leading proponent of the Saturnist hypothesis. The Saturnists believe Saturn was once Earth's primary (during the Holocene) and that Venus, Mars, and Jupiter also orbited Saturn. Mythology then reflects various stages in the disruption of this Saturnian system. I do not agree with the Saturnist viewpoint. If you are interested in finding out more about it, please see the Kronia or Aeon sites.

In message Thu, 13 Oct 94 21:17:04 -0500,
  Everett Cochrane writes:

> "It is a real privlege to have this opportunity to contribute to the
> ongoing debate over the validity of the respective theories of
> Velikovsky and Clube & Napier.  Like many readers of Review, no doubt,
> my interest in this area was originally inspired by Worlds in Collision.
> During the course of the past dozen years I have pursued extensive
> researches in an attempt to evaluate Velikovsky's claims, particularly
> with regard to ancient mythology, some of which have yielded positive
> results, some negative.  Working in close collaboration with David
> Talbott, I have unearthed a wealth of evidence supporting Velikovsky's
> claims of great cataclysms involving the planets Venus, Mars and
> Saturn (1).  Although much of this research has yet to be published,
> a good deal *has* seen the light of day, and it is fair to say that
> it has yet to elicit much response from fellow scholars working in
> Velikovsky-related studies.  This apparent apathy, needless to say,
> has been a source of some surprise and not a little frustration to
> both Talbott and myself.

In a previous message to Dave Talbott I suggested that one reason for this
apathy may be that you have not elaborated the physical (astronomical/
geological/archaeological) evidence for the polar configuration.  Until
you do, the polar configuration remains just one more way of interpreting
mythology -- one among many.  Without solid, testable physical evidence
and models supporting the polar configuration, scientists will not pay much

I realize this probably seems unfair to you, given your personal involvement
in the development and elaboration of the polar configuration.  Remember
the dictum "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" tells
you how scientists treat hypotheses.  The polar configuration is an
extraordinary hypothesis because it contradicts so much of the current
understanding of the recent history of the solar system.  The apparent lack
of supporting physical evidence results in rejection of the claims of the
polar configuration.

> It is also with a great deal of dismay that I have come to witness the
> relative approval accorded the recent theories of Clube and Napier
> within Velikovskian circles.  These two astronomers, if one may judge
> from their statements in various publications [including Aeon],
> would not only seek to deny their considerable debt to Velikovsky,
> they would borrow much of what is most questionable about Worlds in
> Collision (i.e., the historical placement of comet-induced cataclysms
> in the second millennium BC) and throw out that which is more reliable
> (the planetary identifications of such primary players as Inanna,
> Kronos, and Heracles).

It is easy to show that Clube and Napier do not "seek to deny their
considerable debt to Velikovsky."  Consider this passage from "The Cosmic

     "No authors can justifiably make references to proposals of this kind
      without mention also of the investigations by Velikovsky.  In a quite
      remarkable piece of historical analysis some thirty years ago, this
      author not only drew attention to the parallels between the events
      described in _Exodus_ and the Ipuwer Chronicle, but also to their
      implications so far as a catastrophic extra-terrestrial missile and
      ancient chronology were concerned."

Clearly Clube and Napier recognize the worth of Velikovsky's work.  They
later say:

     "Unfortunately Velikovsky's researches have remained firmly outside
      the main line of historical enquiry, and his arguments involving a
      correction of Egyptian dates up to the end of the eighteenth
      dynasty, similar to the one we are proposing in this chapter, have
      not been given the attention by experts they deserve.  The reasons
      for this are not hard to find.  In the first place, Velikovsky
      followed up these quite plausible discoveries by drawing attention to
      further challenging parallels between the late New Kingdom kings and
      rulers in the _latter_ half of the first millenium BC.  His later
      identifications contravened the usual stratigraphic sequence of
      events however, and archaeologists have generally found them quite
      unacceptable.  But much worse than this, Velikovsky became seriously
      involved in pressing a quite impossible astronomical hypothesis to
      explain the catastrophic events.  Although in the reaction to these
      ideas one can see the signs of an irrational adherence to the
      principle of uniformitarianism, Velikovsky himself was quite unable
      to conduct rational and scientific arguments in support of his case.
      The result has been to turn opinion firmly against all aspects of his
      work, sound and reasonable thought some of it is."

So Clube and Napier believe that Velikovsky was completely mistaken in the
physical models he proposed to explain the evidence of catastrophes he
uncovered.  Hence I would not expect Clube and Napier to feel they owe any
debt to Velikovsky since the physical model they propose differs greatly

Clube and Napier are also cognizant of the work of others who suggested
astronomy was more important to understanding ancient civilizations than
most scholars credited.  In various works and speeches, Clube and Napier
mention the work of Bellamy, Radloff, Donnelly, Whiston, and Laplace,
among others.  Clube and Napier see Velikovsky, as well as themselves,
as members of a long line of scholars who believed in catastrophism.

Clube and Napier do agree with Velikovsky that there were astronomically
induced disasters in the second millenium BC.  They differ with Velikovsky
as to the nature and extent of the disasters in the first millenium BC.
Clube and Napier also ascribe earlier (before the second millenium BC) and
later (centuries AD) disasters and social trends to astronomical effects.
I believe the evidence they present warrants their conclusions.

> Confronted with the wealth of testimony associating Venus with
> cataclysmic imagery (i.e., the traditions surrounding Inanna), Clube
> and Napier would explain it all away with a mere wave of the hand,
> arguing that such traditions properly refer to one early comet or
> another (which one is difficult to determine since their statements
> on its identity are conflicting) and were only subsequently
> 'transferred' to the planet Venus (2).  Here, as is frequently the
> case in their writings, Clube and Napier show themselves to be
> virtual novices when it comes to the ancient sources.  The fact is
> that Venus/Inanna is recognizable as a planet in very early sources,
> being known as the Queen of Heaven since time immemorial.  It was
> in this latter role, of course, that the planet-goddess is said
> to have participated in spectacular cataclysms shaking the very
> foundations of heaven and earth.  That it was the planet Venus that
> was the subject of these traditions is indicated by the fact that
> similar motifs occur in the Mesoamerican traditions surrounding that
> planet.

Clube and Napier are astronomers. I would not expect them to be experts in
archaeology or mythology.  Indeed, some of what they say in those areas
seems weak, even wrong.

On the historical front, I cannot accept the chronological revisions Clube
and Napier offer in "The Cosmic Serpent." (I reject Velikovsky's
reconstructions from the "Ages in Chaos" series as well.)  There may be
good reasons for suggesting revisions to Egyptian chronology and thereby to
chronologies derived from Egyptian chronology.  "Centuries of Darkness" by
James[10] argues for such revisions.  These remain highly controversial.

We need sound chronologies in order to place historical texts in their
proper time periods.  This allows us to correlate historical evidence with
climatological, geological, and archaeological evidence.  Hopefully over
the next few years, scholars will finally be able to sort out the
chronology of the Near East.

Clube and Napier's analysis of mythology is not as detailed as I would like
either.  Some, but not all, of the weaknesses of "The Cosmic Serpent" are
redressed in later works such as "Cosmic Winter"[7].  For example, Clube
and Napier almost ignore the role of precession in the development of
archaic astronomy and mythology.  "Hamlet's Mill" by De Santillana and
Dechand[14] shows the importance of precession.  I would like to see the
themes engendered by precession combined in a fruitful way with the themes
originating in catastrophes.

As regards the identification of Venus with cataclysmic imagery, Clube and
Napier do not "explain it all away with a wave of the hand." It is still a
matter of legitimate contention whether early astronomical references to
Inanna, for example, refer solely to Venus, or to some other body as well.
It is very difficult to disentagle references to specific astronomical
objects in ancient chronicles as Bjorkman[4] and Chadwick[5] demonstrate.
For example, Chadwick notes the term "MUL.GAL" or "great star" can refer to
Jupiter, the Moon, Saturn, a meteor, or Sirius.  Sometimes we can tell from
context which astronomical object is being referred to -- but sometimes we

It is also difficult to determine what the "morning star" is, in many
ancient texts.  De Santillana and Dechand in "Hamlet's Mill" talk about
this problem, specifically in the context of Venus as morning star:

   "Jubar is generally accepted for Venus on the presupposition that
    'morning star' stands every single time for Venus, which is
    certainly misleading:  any star, constellation, or planet rising
    heliacally may act as morning star."

Clube and Napier would add "comet" to that list.  Quoting again from "The
Cosmic Serpent:"

     "The aspect of Velikovsky's thesis that seems to have generated the
      most steam is his identification of the planet Venus as a gigantic
      comet that swept past the Earth before moving into its present
      orbit.  Wildly improbable though this is for dynamical and many other
      reasons, there is no doubt that Venus did eventually assume a
      particularly significant place in many early astronomies.  If undue
      reliance is placed on the mythological rather than the scientific
      evidence, the absurd speculations about Venus can at least be
      understood if not forgiven.  How the confusion of blame between
      Typhon and Venus arose in some myths, assuming indeed it did, is
      obscure.  We have already mentioned the great difficulty which may
      arise in unambiguously identifying a celestial object from Babylonian
      text.  The problem will be greatly compounded when the translating
      scholar is unaware of the picture we have developed.  Both objects
      would have the characteristics of being lost in the sunlight at
      intervals, and being seen as morning and evening phenomena, but there
      may be stronger reasons for attributing the properties of one also to
      the other (see page 269).  The Velikovsky thesis was therefore not so
      much wrong as misguided."

"Typhon" refers to a fragment of the giant comet which was the progenitor
of the Taurid/Encke complex.  Clube and Napier's thesis is that the
fragmentation of this large comet over several millenia was responsible for
many of the astronomical catastrophies encoded in mythology.

The "page 269" reference details a suggested scenario whereby the divine
names originally given to cometary bodies were later transferred to the
planets.  The text is long so I won't quote it.  Instead I'll briefly
summarize it.

In pre-classical times, Halley's comet (not part of the Taurid/Encke
complex, BTW) must have been a brilliant object, perhaps as much as 1000
times brighter than Sirius.  There is a 4:9 commensurability between the
Martian super-synodic period and that of Halley's comet.  This cycle recurs
on a 684 year period.  The 684 year period was very important to the
ancients.  Clube and Napier suggest that, because of the damage which
ensued from encounters with the Taurid-derived comets, the ancients assumed
some early near encounters with Halley's comet might also have dire

There is also a 7:17 commensurability between the 8-year Venus period used
for prediction by the Babylonians and returns of Encke's comet at 3.3
years.  This weak commensurability has a near 56 year period -- and the 56
year period was also of great importance to the ancients.  Since passages
of Encke's comet (and its brethren) did entail disastrous impact events of
the Tunguska and Super-Tunguska type (according to Clube and Napier), one
can also understand how the transfer from the comet to Venus might have
occurred as the comet and its brethren faded.

In "Cosmic Winter," Clube and Napier further address this point of the
identification of Inanna with Venus, suggesting the ancients noted a
duality between Venus and the giant comet:

     "The Babylonian Venus was therefore the planet as long ago as 1600-1700
      BC.  This need not be a difficulty for a purely cometary hypothesis
      since Inanna, 'crowned with great horns', would be a brilliant morning
      and evening star both in her planetary aspect as Venus and in her
      divine aspect as the giant comet: evidence for such duality exists in
      the dual naming of planets by the Babylonians."

Written Mesoamerican traditions about Venus, disasters, and comets date
from a period long after the major catastrophes occurred.  Given this
length of time, it is not surprising to find some confusion regarding the
relative roles of Venus, comets, meteors, and other phenomena.  Ulrich
Kohler[12] mentions that the Aztec codices _Telleriano Remensis_ and
_Vaticanus A_ record five comets from the 1530s.  The first has an attached
text comment stating that "Venus was smoking."  What the Aztecs meant by
this is not known.  The corresponding comet was indeed observed in the
Old World in 1533, but a "smoking Venus" was not.  Kohler notes that
the "Venus may be smoking" idea was reported in this century by the Pipil
of El Salvador.  What they meant is also unknown.  This is something which
requires more study.

> Clube and Napier fare no better as comparative mythologists.  Witness
> their discussion of the mythological traditions surrounding Heracles.
> At one time or another the Greek her is identified with Chronos,
> Phaethon, Zeus, a comet, a meteor-stream, and a host of others (3).
> I thus find myself in complete agreement with Atkinson [a reviewer
> of The Cosmic Serpent], who recently observed:
> 'Virtually all their mythological-historical material should be
> ditched.  There is a corpus of much more persuasive evidence in
> Worlds in Collision.' (4)

Clube and Napier have continuously improved their historical material.
There was a great improvement between "The Cosmic Serpent" and "Cosmic
Winter", and another between "Cosmic Winter" and Clube's article[8]
"Hazards from Space:  Comets in History and Science."

As for the mythological material, Clube and Napier suggest that the
disintegration of the original large comet which was the progenitor of the
Taurid/Encke complex engendered a variety of mythological themes.  Some of
the fragments become comets; some gave rise to meteor swarms; some impacted
the Earth as "thunderbolts" from the gods; and so on.  This disintegration
is a fundamental part of Clube and Napier's physical model.  They assume
that, at different time periods -- over thousands of years -- the
disintegrating comet and its "children" took on different names reflecting
the status of the disintegration.  They conclude these observations led to
the creation of myths about the generational wars of the gods, the birth of
gods from other gods, the conflict between gods/heros and serpents, among

Is it possible to create a better and more comprehensive scheme for
deriving mythological themes from the disintegration events?  I believe it
is.  Likewise, I believe that careful examination of the mythological
themes can lead to a better understanding of the order, nature, and timing
of the disintegration events.

> In short, it is my opinion that an attempted synthesis between the
> ideas of Velikovsky and Clube and Napier would be a grave mistake if
> not a travesty altogether.  To my way of thinking, the cometary
> thesis of Clube & Napier represents a misappropriated, watered-down
> version of Velikovsky's and certainly does not constitute an
> advance in scholarship--rather the opposite.  This is not to deny
> that there are a host of unresolved problems with Velikovsky's
> scenario and this, perhaps, is the reason why my comrades in
> Britain might be tempted to entertain the possibility of such a
> 'star-crossed' marriage in the first place.

I agree that trying to meld Velikovsky's physical models with that of Clube
and Napier is a mistake since the physical models are different. and
Velikovsky's physical model cannot be supported by physical evidence
anyway.  Clube and Napier's model, on the other hand, CAN be supported by
physical evidence.

Clube and Napier's model involves the disintegration of a giant comet in
earth-crossing orbit.  This comet was the progenitor of the Taurid/Encke
complex.  This idea has received considerable theoretical and observational
support in the past decade.  See the review article by Asher et al[1] for
details.  For example, the identification of giant cometary objects such as
Chiron in the outer solar system lend credence to Clube and Napier's
model.  Chiron is a particularly interesting object since there is a good
chance that perturbation by Saturn will inject Chiron into the inner solar
system within the next hundred thousand years.  As a result, we may once
again experience the types of catastrophes Clube and Napier suggest the
Earth has repeatedly undergone during the Holocene.

> Thus it can be demonstrated that the mythical careers of Venus and
> Mars were inextricably linked with each other (as Velikovsky
> intuitively surmised) as well as with the planet Saturn (a point
> overlooked by Velikovsky, and one with grave consequences for his
> historical reconstruction).  The role of Venus as great mother
> goddess and Queen of Heaven, for example, is not fully understandable
> apart from that planet's relationship to Saturn, which signified
> the King of the Gods and, as such, her beloved consort (7).  The
> planet Mars, in turn, is represented as their son in literally
> hundreds of mythical traditions, his principal role being that of
> a great warrior defending the celestial kingdom (8).  The mythical
> activities of the respective planet-gods--including their
> cataclysmic overtones--are likewise inextricably linked.  Mars'
> combat with the celestial dragon, for example, forms a primary
> motif in the Creation myths of numerous ancient peoples and is
> clearly related to the spectacular events surrounding the formation
> of Saturn's celestial kingdom.  Hence the myth of the dragon combat
> cannot relate to events during the period covered by W. in C.  The
> time of Venus' comet-like epiphany, similarly, is intimately
> associated with the myth of the 'death' of Saturn (9).
> As Talbott and I have shown, the mythology surrounding Saturn, Venus
> and Mars is remarkably consistent and it is this fact, coupled with
> its antiquity and complexity, which confirms its archetypal nature.
> The principle that has guided the research of Talbott and myself
> is very simple: namely, that the ancient traditions (mostly
> mythological) are our best guide to the appearance and arrangement
> of the earliest remembered Solar System, not some fancy computer's
> retrocalculations based upon current understandings of astronomical
> principles.
> Our methodological approach is thus in accord with that of Velikovsky
> and stands in stark contrast to that of Clube and Napier, who would
> interpret the ancient traditions in accordance with the narrow
> parameters (some would say laws) dictated by modern astronomy.  The
> fundamental incompatibility of the two approaches could not be more
> apparent and underscores the root of the problem: either the myths
> are a reliable guide to the ancient cosmos--no matter how incongrous--
> their message--or they are not.  If they are, as Talbott and I
> maintain, analysis of ancient myth becomes an invaluable tool for
> understanding the recent history of our Solar System and will
> inevitably have profound ramifications for astronomical theory.
> The science of astronomy, after all, developed from early
> mythological conceptions and it is possible that the oldest 'science'
> still has something to teach the young upstart.

I am sure that most scientists would strongly disagree with the statement
"the ancient traditions (mostly mythological) are our best guide to the
appearance and arrangement of the earlier remembered Solar System."  Our
best guide to the appearance of the earlier solar system is the current
appearance of the solar system, followed by historical and geological
evidence for changes.

Mythology, by its very nature, is not necessarily a reliable guide to
science.  Deriving physical models from mythology instead of from physical
evidence is unsound.  Multiple interpretation of myths are always
possible.  When you dismiss the physical evidence, or reduce it to a lessor
status, you can easily end up with nonsensical and unsupportable physical

We should remember that our outlook on the cosmos is very different from
those of the ancients.  We can easily be misled if we look at mythological
events as "real" events in our modern sense because we "see" a different
sky than the ancients -- even if no changes have occurred at all.  This is
because the ancients interpreted celestial events in differently than we
do.  Hadingham[11] expresses this eloquently:

     "The one characteristic shared by all the skywatching peoples
      discussed in this book was a unifying vision that connected
      their astronomical skills to so many other aspects of their lives.
      The order perceived in the heavens provided a model that gave
      form and meaning to the actions of people on earth.  Whether their
      needs and decisions revolved around the right time to plant corn
      or the proper place to raise a cairn or pyramid to honor a dead
      lord, the cosmic order provided them with guidance and justification.
      The conscious use of the sky to create and reinforce social values
      was quite different from the attitude of the astronomer today.
      Of course, we know that the path of modern scientific inquiry is
      influenced by economic and political forces; indeed, if we look
      beneath the proverbial objectivity of the scientist we might
      find his calculations serving such ends as guiding missiles and
      spy satellites.  However, it is the essential and explicit
      concern of the ancient astronomers with human affairs, as well as
      with beliefs about the natural order, that distinguishes their
      thinking from ours today.  This is not to suggest they were
      any less capable of logical reasoning than a modern researcher,
      or less interested in predicting events.  But the motivation of
      their skywatching skills corresponded to different needs and
      anxieties from those of our technological world."

These ideas are further elaborated at length in "Conversing with the
Planets" by Anthony Aveni[2] from a non-catastrophist viewpoint.  Aveni
uses examples that bear directly on topics we have been discussing,
including the role of Saturn as the "night sun" and the interpretation of
the Venus observations by the Maya and Babylonians.  Owen Gingerich[9]
provides a good review of the role of archaeoastronomy in the history of
astronomy.  Harald Reiche[13] discusses the relationship between ancient
astronomy and mythology, particularly in the creation of etiological myths.

The difference in approach between Velikovsky (and yourself, if I
understand you correctly) and Clube and Napier is this:  Velikovsky looked
at the mythology, found evidence for catastrophes in the myths, and devised
an untenable physical model to explain the catastrophes.  Clube and Napier
looked at the evidence for, and physical model of, a large comet
disintegrating in near-Earth environs.  They deduced the likelihood of
catastrophic events as a result of this evidence.  They then tried to see
if mythology, history, climatology, and archaeology might refer to such
events.  This is how we would expect from astronomers like Clube and Napier
to proceed.

THESE ARE VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  I
would personally agree with Clube and Napier that looking at the physical
evidence, and using to interpret the mythological evidence, is the proper

Giving priority to physical evidence does not preclude us from considering
the need for reviewing and revising current astronomical thinking in the
light of ancient mythological and historical evidence.  Clube and Napier
call for such a review at the end of the main body of "The Cosmic Serpent:"

     "It is appropriate that we end as we began, on a note of
      uncertainty, for the realization that mythology and early astrology
      are telling us about past comets means there is a great deal more
      research still to be done.  Such research will require the skills of
      many disciplines and hopefully it will be encouraged by the new
      perspectives that have now been opened up."

This is precisely what has been happening over the last fifteen years as a
result of Clube and Napier's work.

There is one further very important difference between Velikovsky's work
and that of Clube and Napier.  As best I can remember, Velikovsky felt that
no significant catastrophes occurred aftered the "Mars" events of the
seventh century BC.  Clube and Napier, on the other hand, see no reason why
clusters of impact events, or enhanced meteoric/bollide activity, should
not have continued to occur.  Bailey et al[3] and Clube[8] suggest that
such events have in fact occurred right up to the present.  Clube[8]
associates the end of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam (around
500/600 AD) with an intensification of the Taurid/Encke meteor flux.  He
also associates such intensifications with the emergence of millenarianism,
Protestantism, the English Revolution, the American War of Independence and
the French Revolution, as well as the recent years of European revolutions.

The impact of the Tunguska object early in this century was only the latest
in a millenia old series of strikes from objects contained in the
disintegrating Taurid/Encke complex.  Very likely it was not the last.
This should give all of us pause.  If Clube and Napier are right, the "sky
gods" and "demons" are still there -- still able to rain death and
destruction down upon us from above.  Our one consolation as we contemplate
this chilling thought is that humanity has survived thousands of years of
bombardment.  Let's hope we continue to be so lucky!


[1]   Asher, D. J., S. V. M. Clube, W. M. Napier, and D. I. Steel.
      "Coherent Catastrophism." Vistas in Astronomy, vol. 38 (1994),
      pp. 1-27.

[2]   Aveni, Anthony F.
      _Conversing with the Planets_.
      Times Books, New York, 1992.

[3]   Bailey, M. E., S. V. M. Clube, and W. M. Napier.
      _The Origin of Comets_.
      Pergamon Press, 1990.

[4]   Bjorkman, J. K.  "Meteors and Meteorites in the ancient Near East."
      Meteoritics, 8 (1973), pp. 91-132.

[5]   Chadwick, Robert.  "Comets and meteors in the last Assyrian Empire."
      In _World Archaeoastronomy_, Anthony F. Aveni, editor.
      Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[6]   Clube, Victor and Bill Napier.  _The Cosmic Serpent_.
      Universe Books, New York, New York, 1982.

[7]   Clube, Victor and Bill Napier.  _Cosmic Winter_.
      Universe Books, New York, New York, 1990.

[8]   Clube, S. V. M. "Hazards from Space: Comets in History and Science."
      In _The Mass-Extinction Debates: How Science Works in a Crisis_,
      William Glen, editor.  Stanford, 1994.

[9]   Gingerich, Owen.  "Reflections on the role of archaeoastronomy
      in the history of astronomy."  In _World Archaeoastronomy_,
      A. F. Aveni, editor.  Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[10]  James, Peter.  _Centuries of Darkness_.
      Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1993.

[11]  Hadingham, Evan.
      _Early Man and the Cosmos_
      University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

[12]  Kohler, Ulrich.  "Comets and falling stars in the perception of
      Mesoamerican Indians."  In _World Archaeoastronomy_, A. F. Aveni,
      editor.  Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[13]  Reiche, Harald A. T.  "The language of archaic astronomy:
      A clue to the Atlantis myth?"  In _Astronomy of the Ancients_,
      Kenneth Brecher and Michael Feirtag, editors.  The MIT Press,
      Cambridge, MA., 1980.

[14]  Santilliana, Giorgio de and H. von Dechend.
      _Hamlet's Mill_.  Macmillan, London, 1969.

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