John Anthony West, Author of the Month for March 2008
Consider the Kali Yuga: Prelude to a new book (cont.)
By John Anthony West
In ancient Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet, the goddess portrayed as a woman with the head of a lioness, is associated with vengeance, warfare, and also, curiously enough, with healing; but healing by fire, or purgation. (Esoterically, she represents the female aspect of the fire or initiating principle. Ptah (architect of heaven and earth) creates the Universe with 'words' furnished by Djehuti (Cosmic Wisdom) but it is Sekhmet, Ptah's female consort, who actually gets the work done. Her name 'Sekhem' means 'power'; the addition of the feminine suffix, 't' makes it 'feminine power'.
In one well-known myth, Re, the Sun (Creative Principle) is old and tired; fractious, disobedient mankind no longer pays him homage. So Sekhmet is dispatched by the gods to punish humanity and bring us back into line. She proceeds to carry out this task with the gleeful fury proper to her lioness nature. By day she massacres; by night she returns to gorge herself on the blood-covered fields … until a point is reached when it becomes clear that unless checked, she will soon destroy mankind altogether, and she is not distinguishing between those few still obedient to the gods and the scornful and skeptical majority. (This attitude will show up periodically throughout subsequent history, most memorably perhaps at the Siege of Beziers, during the Albigensian Crusades, when the general in charge of the siege, and about to storm the walls, asked the Papal Legate, Arnald-Amalric, Abbot of Citeaux, how he was to distinguish between the true believers in the town so that they might be spared, and the targeted heretics who, needless to say, deserved to die. The Abbot is reputed to have said: 'Kill them all. God will recognize his own.' .
In any event, in the Egyptian myth, the gods prove more merciful. For reasons difficult to ascertain, they decide mankind has been punished enough and something has to be done to stop Sekhmet before she annihilates the race entirely. A trick is played upon Sekhmet, instigated by the wise Djehuti. While Sekhmet sleeps, the blood covering the fields is replaced by wine. And when Sekhmet wakes and visits the fields to gorge herself as is her wont, the wine has its intended effect. Sekhmet falls into a drunken stupor, goes to sleep, and wakes up transformed into the beneficent Hathor, provider of Cosmic Nourishment and associated with sexuality, song, dance and the cycles of time. There the Egyptian story stops, but extrapolating, it is probably safe to suppose that the mythmakers assume that at this point, with Sekhmet pacified, mankind regroups and proceeds along its not-so-merry way.
Consider the Kali Yuga
Earlier, I left off with a brief discussion of the Vedic/Hindu doctrine of the Yugas, the idea that history follows a cycle, corresponding to the Platonic doctrine of Aeons or 'Ages' (A Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron, or 'Dark' Age). Most Hindu accounts assign improbably long time periods to each of these ages, but one relatively modern thinker Sri Yukteswar, the guru of the influential 20th Century yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, wrote that originally, the Yuga cycle was supposed to correspond to a precessional cycle (Yukteswar allots approximately 24000 years to this cycle, modern astronomy puts it close to 26,000 years but variable within narrow limits, Plato gives a precise numerologically interesting canonical number of 25,920 years - 6x6x6x12). Moreover, in the standard accounts, The Kali Yuga (or Dark Age) is followed immediately by a new Golden Age. This does not make sense; the end of winter is not followed immediately by summer.
Now in Hindu Mythology, Kali, the Destroyer is equivalent to the Egyptian Sekhmet, and it may be that the Sekhmet myth has a legitimate astronomical/astrological significance.
An aging or dying 'god' is a feature of many ancient myths and legends and it is the mythic way of signaling the end of an astronomical cycle of some sort (cf. Hamlet's Mill). Unfortunately, our standard view of history is not only very wrong, it is also very short. We have a good idea of the Piscean Age of the last 2000 years, a much less comprehensive picture of the Arian Age preceding it (beginning ca. 2000 BC) but in the Taurean Age (4000-2000 BC) except for Egypt, we enter a realm of myth and legend with relatively little factual material to base sound interpretations upon. The further back we go, the mistier it gets.
The English writer Samuel Butler (the Erewhon Butler, not the Hudibras Butler) once remarked that 'Analogy may be misleading but it is the least misleading thing we have.'
So, to appreciate our own position within the grand Yuga cycle, analogy may help.
We are familiar with the cycle of night and day. But imagine a sentient creature that lives for just a minute. If that minute falls at a rainy midnight, then our Minute Man can have absolutely no idea of what that minute of life might be like at a sunny high noon,.
Now move up a step in the cyclical hierarchy to the seasons of the year. Imagine a sentient creature that lives for just a day. If that day falls in February and it's still raining (both Minute Man and Day Man live in Wales) then he can have no idea of what a day would be like in mid-June. - unless of course legends and myths have somehow survived the course of the year, in which case they would be so inconsistent with their own life experience that they might well dismiss them as falsehoods. i.e. myths.
Now move up to ourselves within the precessional cycle. Allowing an ideal 100 year life span, if that 100 years corresponds to a rainy midnight minute or equally rainy February day in Wales then we can have no experiential possibility of understanding what a sunny 100 years in June in Cosmic California might be like, (much less that life might actually be much prolonged under such circumstances - as so many myths and legends assert.) There can be no doubt that the ancients understood precession, and equally no doubt that they considered it of paramount importance. And maybe that is why. Because it enabled them (at least in principle) to live in harmony with the dictates of their era, or so the legends tell. There is provocative evidence available to support this claim, but no room to detail it here.