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Credit: Rens van der Sluijs

Nov 20, 2007
Stacked Ancestors

Totem poles are one expression of a worldwide custom that portrays legendary or sacred ancestors in a stack.

This theme is associated with the wider category of “axis symbols.” Axis symbols, in turn, have been associated with plasma formations observed in laboratory-generated high-energy-density electrical discharges. It is considered that the theme of stacked ancestors originated in observations by ancient peoples of an unusual and prolonged “auroral pillar.”

A wide range of cultures worldwide portrayed their legendary ancestors in a stack, the one piled above the other. In some places, such as the Pacific northwest coast of North-America and parts of Melanesia, this peculiar tradition expressed itself through the art of wood-carving in the phenomenon known as "totem poles." The specimen shown here was carved in 2000 and belongs to the Sechelt people of Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. As the name ‘totem pole’ indicates, the entities depicted were originally seen as "totems", sacred animals and other beings regarded as the ancestors of the clans. In more modern terms, this concept is expressed by the totem pole’s function as a heraldic crest, whose animals are comparable to the lions, eagles, and dragons gracing the coats of arms of European nobility.

Archaeologists have so far not been able to trace the custom of totem-pole carving back for thousands of years, but the importance of the theme of "stacked ancestors" in a cross-cultural mythical tradition suggests a venerable antiquity. The theme taps into the universal shamanic or mythological tradition of a string of divine beings, often counted seven to nine in number, that descended from the sky by means of a heaven-spanning pillar, tree, mountain, or rope. The Tshi people of Ghana, for example, speak of “a great chain” that was once “let down from heaven to earth with seven men hanging on it,” who became the ancestors of the nation. Such traditions are remarkably common. It would seem that the carved pillars represent a relatively modern artistic expression of an age-old motif that was previously handed down orally.

As the natives of British Columbia identify their sacred poles with a giant tree that once connected the underworld, earth, and sky, it is justifiable to associate the symbolism of such totem poles with the wider category of "axis symbols". Axis symbols are mythical trees, mountains, pillars, giants, bridges, pathways or ropes, often endowed with a luminous splendour, that were believed to connect the respective regions of the cosmos with each other, having formed and disintegrated under catastrophic circumstances remembered in myths of creation and eschaton. A case is made that this class of traditions derives from observations of a so-called "auroral pillar" of unusual proportions, that may have been visible for a prolonged period of time – possibly decades or even a few centuries – as the earth experienced an excessive influx of charged particles from space.

Plasma research suggests that the collimated Birkeland column thus formed would pinch into nine superimposed beaded segments that correspond closely to the stacks of heads or ancestors found in ancient traditions. The outstretched wings of the thunderbird on top, paralleled by the Egyptian "winged disc" on monuments that are millennia older, readily make sense in terms of "shockwave phenomena". Anthony Peratt, a specialist in plasma phenomena, writes, “a shock pulse initiates a series of hydrodynamic instabilities that differ from the plasma column instabilities. In hydrodynamics, these are the Richtmeyer-Meshkov instabilities recorded by Budzinskii and Benjamin … Initially, a pulsed perturbation on a denser layer causes a rippling of the layer that rapidly develops into periodically spaced spike like features. These features, or 'spikes' then evolve … the shock impulse causes the generation of yet more instability spikes that themselves morph into yet more complex instability shapes.”

Contributed by Rens van der Sluijs

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