Yesterday, I discussed the precessional claims of Walter Cruttenden, an “amateur theoretical archaeo-astronomer.” I explained that Cruttenden’s speculations about precession were based on flawed math and bad history, never mind the fact that there is no conceivable way that the illusory movement of the stars caused by the wobble in the earth’s axis could have any real impact on earth life. (Cruttenden believes that precession is caused by the sun warping our view of the stars, which is physically impossible.) But, as promised, I will also evaluate Cruttenden’s claims about the cycles of “light” and “dark” that lead to the rise and fall of civilizations.
It is deeply disturbing to me that he has a children’s book designed to “teach” children that their lives are controlled by the mechanical movements of the stars, and that all history runs on the cycling of the constellations.
Cruttenden believes that modern science follows a sort of straw man argument when it comes to history, claiming falsely that the modern paradigm preaches a “linear pattern from the primitive to the modern, with few exceptions.” This is obviously untrue, and was untrue when the earliest anthropologists proposed a spectrum of civilization in the 1800s. It is well recognized that there is no teleological pattern to civilization, and each culture rises and falls according to its own internal and external dynamics—not all at once, not universally.
Cruttenden needs this to be true so he can claim the existence of a better paradigm based on “worldwide” ages of light and dark. He claims, for example, that there are periods when all civilizations were in terminal decline, a universal “dark age.”
There was no period from 3000 BCE down to the Roman Empire when Egypt had “turned to dust or nomadic ways of life.” There was always civilization of some sort in Egypt, even during the relatively chaotic intermediate periods between the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. But his claim is that the year 500 CE marked the low point of world civilization, which he believed had been in decline for 12,000 years, and at that point Egypt was already shrouded in myth.
I can think of no period where every civilization was at base barbarism, or even in decline. To take but the most obvious example, during the period we call the European Dark Ages (c. 300-700 CE), which Cruttenden calls the nadir of human civilization, the Maya were at the apex of their power, as were the rulers of Axum in Ethiopia, and Roman civilization continued all but unchanged in Constantinople. In Mexico, Teotihuacan was at its height, and in Bolivia Tiwanaku was moving toward its most powerful phase. In Polynesia, civilization began its florescence. There is no simple rise and fall at work. During the earlier period of the Greek Dark Ages (1100 BCE-750 BCE) the Israelites were flourishing, as were the Olmec in Mexico. As Rome declined, the Maya rose, and when the Maya were in decline Islamic civilization was in florescence.
All of this is made more complicated when attempting to define exactly what makes a civilization “rising” or “declining,” and Cruttenden in his article offers no criteria for judging. Is it architecture? Land under central control? Population size? Literary output? These aspects do not move at equal rates and can operate independently. The Maya built their largest pyramids just as their civilization broke down.
Cruttenden further claims that “five hundred years ago … every nation was at war, plagues and poverty decimated large populations, lifespans were half what they are today, individual rights were nonexistent, and justice was doled out through torture, inquisition, or burning at the stake.” And this widespread war and plague was different from the “Golden Age” of 2500 BCE—or big chunks of today’s world—exactly how? Plague is a function of population density, not astrology. War began, as best we can tell, with the rise of civilization, with settlements coming into conflict, not the fall of civilization.
All this he ties to the “Great Year” of precession—the time for the stars to complete one cycle. Cruttenden likens the “Great Year” to a clock: “Its importance can be seen in the system of time we use to this day: 24 hours in a day, with 12 hours of ascending light, a.m., and 12 hours of descending light, p.m. It is a perfect microcosm of a Great Year, with its 24,000 years, 12,000 ascending and 12,000 descending.” This is a microcosm of his own ignorance. Everywhere except the equator the day is only divided in two equal 12-hour periods of light and dark on two days of the year. The Great Year is 25,772 years long, not 24,000; it has no perfect cycle of ascending and descending years parallel to the hours of day and light.
The entire concept of ascending and descending Cruttenden derives from the cyclical worldview of the Hindus; but the Hindus did not count a 26,000 year period but one lasting billions of years; Cruttenden’s age of decline is modeled on the Kali Yuga, but that was 432,000 years long—which is no even number of Great Years (it’s 16.6 and change), even when rounding off to 26,000 for the Great Year. He has to cite a nineteenth century text by Sri Yukteswar to try to squeeze the Hindu numbers into his fake 24,000-year system.
Even leaving aside this math problem, Cruttenden makes much of the fact that various ancient cultures imagined a more glorious past and felt themselves in decline. This, he is convinced, means that precession controls the rise and fall of civilizations. He cites Hesiod’s succession of ages in Works and Days (from gold to silver to bronze to iron) as a key text, but he knows less than nothing about why ancient peoples imagined decline despite tangible evidence of civilization becoming larger, more widespread, and more prosperous over time.
There were several reasons, but the most important is ancestor worship. Early peoples revered the ancestors, and the ancestors were held to be powerful spirits capable of interceding on behalf of their descendants. This belief is nearly universal. Early farmers literally buried their ancestors under their houses to keep them close. The Greeks worshiped the Heroes, their semi-divine ancestors from the Bronze Age. The Romans traced their families back to the gods. (Caesar was descended from Venus, for example.) Even modern Christians pay homage to the saints, who took over much of the Greco-Roman hero cult.
Because the universe was founded by the Gods, who birthed half-gods, who in turn gave rise to mere humans, philosophically speaking, the world could be in nothing but decline as it moved from the divine to the mundane. This had nothing to do with the stars and everything to do with the logical consequences of believing one’s ancestors to be semi-divine and the children of the gods.
Such philosophy found confirmation in the fossils that erupted from time to time out of the ground. Ancient peoples almost universally mistook the skeletons of paleo-megafauna (elephants, mammoths, etc.) as the oversized bones of human beings—the mighty men of old, the men of renown (Gen. 6:4). In consequence of the observation that bones were bigger in the days of yore, the obvious and long-lived conclusion (not refuted until the Enlightenment) was that the earth was in decline, with animals and men growing smaller and weaker.
In the case of Greece, the actual collapse of Mycenaean civilization also contributed to Hesiod’s idea of the ages. This civilization left behind mighty ruins which the Greeks considered supernatural works. Tiryns was said to be the work of the Cyclopes, and the walls of Troy of Apollo himself. Even when the Greeks and Romans exceeded the size and complexity of these ruins, they still imagined themselves the weaker successors of the great heroes. In Mexico, the Aztecs attributed the (human-built) pyramids of Teotihuacan to the gods.
Finally, the human lifespan lends itself to a philosophy of decline. Children are born young and vital and carefree, but humans grow old and sick and careworn. Similarly, time wears away and effaces all human creations, a fact not lost on early people. If man is the measure of all things, then his lifelong decline from grace in a world that works to erase him can yield nothing but a philosophy of decline.
Given all of this, what right or reason have we to grant to the stars the power to control the human mind? Why project into the uncaring skies a philosophy born of the human soul?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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