THEOSOPHY, Vol. 16, No. 10, August, 1928
(Pages 448-454; Size: 23K)
(Number 31 of a 59-part series)
(Compiler's Note: This is the first installment of this 4-part article. It is also the last of the articles in this 59-part series that are numbered, as you see the XXXI below.) ANCIENT LANDMARKS
A LAND OF MYSTERY(3), BY H.P.B.
WHETHER one surveys the imposing ruins of Memphis or Palmyra; stands at the foot of the great pyramid of Ghizé; wanders along the shores of the Nile; or ponders amid the desolate fastnesses of the long-lost and mysterious Petra; however clouded and misty the origin of these prehistoric relics may appear, one nevertheless finds at least certain fragments of firm ground upon which to build conjecture. Thick as may be the curtain behind which the history of these antiquities is hidden, still there are rents here and there through which one may catch glimpses of light. We are acquainted with the descendants of the builders. And, however superficially, we also know the story of the nations whose vestiges are scattered around us. Not so with the antiquities of the New World of the two Americas. There, all along the coast of Peru, all over the Isthmus and North America, in the canyons of the Cordilleras, in the impassable gorges of the Andes, and, especially beyond the valley of Mexico, lie, ruined and desolate, hundreds of once mighty cities, lost to the memory of men, and having themselves lost even a name. Buried in dense forests, entombed in inaccessible valleys, sometimes sixty feet under-ground, from the day of their discovery until now they have ever remained a riddle to science, baffling all inquiry, and they have been muter than the Egyptian Sphinx herself. We know nothing of America prior to the Conquest -- positively nothing. No chronicles, not even comparatively modern ones survive; there are no traditions, even among the aboriginal tribes, as to its past events. We are as ignorant of the races that built these cyclopean structures, as of the strange worship that inspired the antediluvian sculptors who carved upon hundreds of miles of walls, of monuments, monoliths and altars, these weird hieroglyphics, these groups of animals and men, pictures of an unknown life and lost arts -- scenes so fantastic and wild, at times, that they involuntarily suggest the idea of a feverish dream, whose phantasmagoria at the wave of some mighty magician's hand suddenly crystallized into granite, to bewilder the coming generations for ever and ever. So late as the beginning of the present century, the very existence of such a wealth of antiquities was unknown. The petty, suspicious jealousy of the Spaniards had, from the first, created a sort of Chinese wall between their American possessions and the too curious traveller: and the ignorance and fanaticism of the conquerors, and their carelessness as to all but the satisfaction of their insatiable greediness, had precluded scientific research. Even the enthusiastic accounts of Cortez and his army of brigands and priests, and of Pizarro and his robbers and monks, as to the splendour of the temples, palaces, and cities of Mexico and Peru, were long discredited. In his History of America, Dr. Robertson goes so far as to inform his reader that the houses of the ancient Mexicans were "mere huts, built with turf, or mud, or the branches of trees, like those of the rudest Indians;"(1) and, upon the testimony of some Spaniards he even risked the assertion that "in all the extent of that vast empire," there was not "a single monument or vestige of any building more ancient than the Conquest"! It was reserved to the great Alexander Humboldt to vindicate the truth. In 1803 a new flood of light was poured into the world of archaæology by this eminent and learned traveller. In this he luckily proved but the pioneer of future discoverers. He then described but Mitla, or the Vale of the Dead, Xoxichalco, and the great pyramidal Temple of Cholula. But, after him came Stephens, Catherwood, and Squier; and, in Peru, D'Orbigny and Dr. Tschuddi. Since then, numerous travellers have visited and given us accurate details of many of the antiquities. But, how many more yet remain not only unexplored, but even unknown, no one can tell. As regards prehistoric buildings, both Peru and Mexico are rivals of Egypt. Equalling the latter in the immensity of her cyclopean structures, Peru surpasses her in their number; while Cholula exceeds the grand pyramid of Cheops in breadth, if not in height. Works of public utility, such as walls, fortifications, terraces, water-courses, aqueducts, bridges, temples, burial-grounds, whole cities, and exquisitely paved roads, hundreds of miles in length, stretch in an unbroken line, almost covering the land as with a net. On the coast, they are built of sun-dried bricks; in the mountains, of porphyritic lime, granite and silicated sandstones. Of the long generations of peoples who built them, history knows nothing, and even tradition is silent. As a matter of course, most of these lithic remains are covered with a dense vegetation. Whole forests have grown out of the broken hearts of the cities, and, with a few exceptions, everything is in ruin. But one may judge of what once was by that which yet remains.
With a most flippant unconcern, the Spanish historians refer nearly every ruin to Incal times. No greater mistake can he made. The hieroglyphics which sometimes cover from top to bottom whole walls and monoliths are, as they were from the first, a dead letter to modern science. But they were equally a dead letter to the Incas, though the history of the latter can be traced to the eleventh century. They had no clue to the meaning of these inscriptions, but attributed all such to their unknown predecessors; thus barring the presumption of their own descent from the first civilizers of their country. Briefly the Incal history runs thus:--
Inca is the Quichua title for chief or emperor, and the name of the ruling and most aristocratic race or rather caste of the land which was governed by them for an unknown period, prior to, and until, the Spanish Conquest. Some place their first appearance in Peru from regions unknown in 1020; others, also, or conjecture, at five centuries after the Biblical "flood," and according to the modest notions of Christian theology. Still the latter theory is undoubtedly nearer truth than the former. The Incas, judged by their exclusive privileges, power and "infallibility," are the antipodal counterpart of the Brahminical caste of India. Like the latter, the Incas claimed direct descent from the Deity, which, as in the case of the Sûryavansa dynasty of India, was the Sun. According to the sole but general tradition, there was a time when the whole of the population of the now New World was broken up into independent, warring, and barbarian tribes. At last, the "Highest" deity -- the Sun -- took pity upon them, and, in order to rescue the people from ignorance, sent down upon earth, to teach them, his two children Manco Capac, and his sister and wife, Mama Ocollo Huaco -- the counterparts, again, of the Egyptian Osiris, and his sister and wife, Isis, as well as of the several Hindu gods and demi-gods and their wives. These two made their appearance on a beautiful island in Lake Titicaca -- of which we will speak further on -- and thence proceeded northward to Cuzco, later on the capital of the Incas, where they at once began to disseminate civilization. Collecting together the various races from all parts of Peru, the divine couple then divided their labor. Manco Capac taught men agriculture, legislation, architecture and arts; while Mama Ocollo instructed the women in weaving, spinning, embroidery and house-keeping. It is from this celestial pair that the Incas claimed their descent; and yet, they were utterly ignorant of the people who built the stupendous and now ruined cities which cover the whole area of their empire, and which then extended from the Equator to over 37 degrees of Latitude, and included not only the western slope of the Andes, but the whole mountain chain with its eastern declivities to the Amazon and Orinoco. As the direct descendants of the Sun, they were exclusively the high priests of the state religion, and at the same time emperors and the highest statesmen in the land: in virtue of which, they, again like the Brahmans, arrogated to themselves a divine superiority over the ordinary mortals, thus founding like the "twice-born" an exclusive and aristocratic caste -- the Inca race. Considered as the son of the Sun, every reigning Inca was the high priest, the oracle, chief captain in war, and absolute sovereign; thus realizing the double office of Pope and King, and so long anticipating the dream of the Roman Pontiffs. To his command the blindest obedience was exacted; his person was sacred; and he was the object of divine honours. The highest officers of the land could not appear shod in his presence; this mark of respect pointing again to an Oriental origin; while the custom of boring the ears of the youths of royal blood and inserting in them golden rings "which were increased in size as they advanced in rank, until the distention of the cartilege became a positive deformity," suggests a strange resemblance between the sculptured portraits of many of them that we find in the more modern ruins, and the images of Buddha and of some Hindu deities, not to mention our contemporary dandies of Siam, Burmah, and Southern India. In that, once more like in India, in the palmy days of the Brahmin power, no one had the right to either receive an education or study religion except the young men of the privileged Inca caste. And, when the reigning Inca died, or as it was termed, "was called home to the mansion of his father," a very large number of his attendants and his wives were made to die with him, during the ceremony of his obsequies, just as we find in the old annals of Rajesthan, and down to the but just abolished custom of Sutti. Taking all this into consideration, the archæologist cannot remain satisfied with the brief remark of certain historians that "in this tradition we trace only another version of the story of the civilization common to all primitive nations, and that imposture of a celestial relationship whereby designing rulers and cunning priests have sought to secure their ascendancy among men." No more is it an explanation to say that "Manco Capac is the almost exact counterpart of the Chinese Fohi, the Hindu Buddha, the terrestrial Osiris of Egypt, the Quetzacoatl of Mexico, and Votan of Central America"; for all this is but too evident. What we want to learn is how came these nations, so antipodal to each other as India, Egypt, and America, to offer such extraordinary points of resemblance, not only in their general religious, political, and social views, but sometimes in the minutest details. The much-needed task is to find out which one of them preceded the other; to explain how these people came to plant at the four corners of the earth nearly identical architecture and arts, unless there was a time when, as assured by Plato and believed in by more than one modern archæologist, no ships were needed for such a transit, as the two worlds formed but one continent.
According to the most recent researches, there are five distinct styles of architecture in the Andes alone, of which the temple of the Sun at Cuzco was the latest. And this one, perhaps, is the only structure of importance which, according to modern travellers, can be safely attributed to the Incas, whose imperial glories are believed to have been the last gleam of a civilization dating back for untold ages. Dr. E. R. Heath, of Kansas, (U.S.A.) thinks that "long before Manco Capac, the Andes had been the dwelling-place of races, whose beginning must have been coëval with the savages of Western Europe. The gigantic architecture points to the cyclopean family, the founders of the Temple of Babel, and the Egyptian pyramids. The Grecian scroll found in many places is borrowed (?) from the Egyptians; the mode of burial and embalming their dead points to Egypt." Further on, this learned traveller finds that the skulls taken from the burial-grounds, according to craniologists, represent three distinct races: the Chinchas, who occupied the western part of Peru from the Andes to the Pacific; the Aymaras, dwellers of the elevated plains of Peru and Bolivia, on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca; and the Huancas, who "occupied the plateau between the chains of the Andes, north of Lake Titicaca to the 9th degree of South Latitude." To confound the buildings of the epoch of the Incas in Peru, and of Montezuma and his caciques, in Mexico, with the aboriginal monuments, is fatal to archæology. While Cholula, Uxmal, Quiché, Pachacamac, and Chichen were all perfectly preserved and occupied at the time of the invasion of the Spanish banditti, there are hundreds of ruined cities and works which were in the same state of ruin even then; whose origin was unknown to the conquered Incas and caciques as it is to us; and which are undoubtedly the remains of unknown and now extinct peoples. The strange shapes of the heads, and profiles of the human figures upon the monoliths of Copan are a warrant for the correctness of the hypothesis. The pronounced difference between the skulls of these races and the Indo-European skulls was at first attributed to mechanical means, used by the mothers for giving a peculiar conformation to the head of their children during infancy, as is often done by other tribes and peoples. But, as the same author tells us, the finding in "a mummy of a foetus of seven or eight months having the same conformation of skull, has placed a doubt as to the certainty of this fact." And besides hypothesis, we have a scientific and an unimpeachable proof of a civilization that must have existed in Peru ages ago. Were we to give the number of thousands of years that have probably elapsed since then, without first showing good reasons for the assumption, the reader might feel like holding his breath. So let us try.
The Peruvian guano (huano), that precious fertilizer, composed of the excrement of sea-fowls, intermixed with their decaying bodies, eggs, remains of seal, and so on, which has accumulated upon the isles of the Pacific and the coast of South America, and its formation are now well-known. It was Humboldt who first discovered and drew the world's attention to it in 1804. And, while describing the deposits as covering the granite rocks of the Chincas and other islands to the depth of 50 or 60 feet, he states that the accumulation of the preceding 300 years, since the Conquest, has formed only a few lines in thickness. How many thousands of years, then, it required to form this deposit 60 feet deep, is a matter of simple calculation. In this connection we may now quote something of a discovery spoken of in the Peruvian Antiquities.(2) "Buried 62 feet under the ground, on the Chinca islands, stone-idols and water-pots were found, while 35 and 33 feet below the surface were wooden idols. Beneath the guano on the Guanapi islands, just south of Truxillo, and Macabi just north, mummies, birds, and birds' eggs, gold and silver ornaments were taken. On the Macabi the labourers found some large valuable golden vases, which they broke up and divided among themselves, even though offered weight for weight in gold coin, and thus relics of greater interest to the scientist have been ever lost. He -- who can determine the centuries necessary to deposit thirty and sixty feet of guano on these islands, remembering that since the Conquest, three hundred years ago, no appreciable increase in depth has been noted -- can give you an idea of the antiquity of these relics."
If we confine ourselves to a strictly arithmetical calculation, then allowing 12 lines to an inch, and 12 inches to a foot, and allowing one line to every century, we are forced to believe that the people who made these precious gold vases lived 864,000 years ago! Leave an ample margin for errors, and give two lines to a century -- say an inch to every 100 years -- and we will yet have 72,000 years back a civilization which -- if we judge by its public works, the durability of its constructions, and the grandeur of its buildings, -- equalled, and in some things certainly surpassed, our own.
Having well defined ideas as to the periodicity of cycles, for the world as well as for nations, empires, and tribes, we are convinced that our present modern civilization is but the latest dawn of that which already has been seen an innumerable number of times upon this planet. It may not be exact science, but it is both inductive and deductive logic, based upon theories far less hypothetical and more palpable than many another theory, held as strictly scientific. To express it in the words of Professor T. E. Nipher, of St. Louis, "we are not the friends of theory, but of truth," and until truth is found, we welcome every new theory, however unpopular at first, for fear of rejecting in our ignorance the stone which may in time become the very corner-stone of the truth. "The errors of scientific men are well nigh countless, not because they are men of science, but because they are men," says the same scientist; and further quotes the noble words of Faraday -- "occasionally, and frequently the exercise of the judgment ought to end in absolute reservation. It may be very distasteful and a great fatigue to suspend a conclusion, but as we are not infallible, so we ought to be cautious." (Experimental Researches, 24th Series.)
It is doubtful whether, with the exception of a few of the most prominent ruins, there ever was attempted a detailed account of the so-called American antiquities. Yet, in order to bring out the more prominently a point of comparison, such a work would be absolutely necessary. If the history of religion and of mythology and -- far more important -- the origin, developing and final grouping of the human species are ever to be unravelled, we have to trust to archæological research, rather than to the hypothetical deductions of philology. We must begin by massing together the concrete imagery of the early thought, more eloquent in its stationary form than the verbal expression of the same, the latter being but too liable, in its manifold interpretations, to be distorted in a thousand ways. This would afford us an easier and more trustworthy clue. Archæological Societies ought to have a whole cyclopædia of the world's remains, with a collation of the most important of the speculations as to each locality. For, however fantastic and wild some of these hypotheses may seem at first glance, yet each has a chance of proving useful at some time. It is often more beneficial to know what a thing is not than to know what it is, as Max Müller truly tells us.
It is not within the limits of an article in our paper that any such object could be achieved. Availing ourselves, though, of the reports of the Government surveyors, trustworthy travellers, men of science, and, even our own limited experience, we will try in future issues to give to our Hindu readers, who possibly may never have heard of these antiquities, a general idea of them. Our latest informations are drawn from every reliable source; the survey of the Peruvian antiquities being mostly due to Dr. Heath's able paper, above mentioned.
(To be continued)
A LAND OF MYSTERY, BY H.P.B.
(This is the second of four installments)
(Part 32 of a 59-part series)
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THREE (3) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(3) This article was first printed by H. P. Blavatsky in The Theosophist for March, 1880.
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(1) See Stephen' Central America.
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(2) A paper published by Mr. E. R. Heath in the Kansas City Review of Science and Industry, Nov., 1878.
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