Cultural Suppositions Regarding Life on Other Worlds

The concept of intelligent life on other worlds has been widespread in many cultures around the world. The Dogon account of being taught useful skills by fish-men from Sirius (see §8.4) is more specific than are most such accounts but is otherwise typical. Heroes pass back and forth between this world and the star worlds with ease. In South American belief, Star Woman came from the sky, taught people agriculture, and returned to the sky. Many groups in both North and South America are divided into moieties of Sky People and Earth People, and in many cases, it is believed that the ancestors of Sky People came from the stars (see §§§13.3.2, 14.2.2, and 14.3). Even where there are no moieties, lineages or even whole tribes may claim that their ancestors came from the sky. It was an Ojibway claim that Indians descended from the Moon on a web spun by a giant spider (Conway 1992, pp. 241-242). Some Yumans of Arizona and California say that their ancestors came from the Pleiades. In Polynesia, specific, named ancestors of existing families are alleged to have gone back and forth between the land of the Sky People, Earth, and the underworld. When these lands are described, they are usually very much like Earth. Occasionally, their inhabitants have special characteristics, such as the Dogon fish-men, but more frequently, celestial dwellers are virtually indistinguishable from humans except for their superior knowledge. One could say that Mercury (as Apollo in Greece, Woden in northern Europe, Budha in India, and probably Quetzalcoatl in Mexico) was a dynastic ancestor.

The idea of the heavens as the source and destiny of the soul was widespread in the ancient world. Buddhist concepts of the journey of the soul after death include various dangers that it must face—a treacherous river that must be crossed, a giant dog, a pair of rocks that clash together, among others. At the close of the 19th century, Edward B. Tylor (1894, 1896) argued that these ideas were so similar to those of the Aztecs and other peoples of Mexico that Buddhist ideas must have spread to the New World. He suggested a possible origin from India (particularly because of the resemblance between the Indian cosmological game pachisi, and the Aztec patolli). Since then, detailed parallels have also been discovered in Oceania and in other parts of the Americas, with some particularly striking examples in California. Although we know of no culture in which these dangers are systematically associated with asterisms, many of them seem to be identifiable in the sky.

Also in Buddhism, one finds multiple heavens and hells, the transformation of the soul of the dead into moths or butterflies, and rebirth (sometimes as a human, sometimes as an animal). Dualistic concepts of good and evil are used to reinforce ethical values of the society. Many of these beliefs are also found in Oceania and Mesoamerica.

In the Mediterranean, the descent of the soul to Earth was felt by some to be fraught with dangers from evil planets and by others to be either a morally neutral or a positive experience, in which traits were acquired from planetary beings en route (Scott 1991, Ch. 6). These ideas carried over into the Christian era, particularly among the gnostics. Variants of the ideas were held also by Philo, among the Jews, and Clement [d. 216] of Alexandria, among the Christians (Scott 1991, especially, pp. 107-109). Philo basically believed that the planets and stars were creations of God and were used by him and, in all cases, were dependent on him. On the other hand, Philo considered the astral bodies to be higher forms of creation, and astral worship by pagans was part of a divine plan to move them toward religious truth (Scott 1991, p. 72). Both Philo and Clement were strong opponents of astrology, in the sense that they considered astral bodies not to be causative agents, but both considered the stars as newsbearers of things to come (Scott 1991, p. 105). Dodds (1965, p. 15) thinks that the KOO|iOKpdTff>peQ ("cosmocra-tores"), "rulers of the darkness of this world" of Ephesians 6:12), is a reference to these planetary powers. The Christian theologian Origen [Alexandria, ~184-254], Clement's student, regarded the Sun, Moon, and stars as creations of God and, as such, were considered good and unlikely to be the sources of evil among people.1 Clement had believed that the stars and planets played an important role in the universe, but Origen carried the ideas further. He envisioned a prior creation in which creatures suffered moral lapses to various degrees: The worst was the devil and his angels; then humans, somewhat less degraded; the only slightly lapsed principalities and powers (including celestial

1 In his Commentary on Matthew (tr. by Patrick in Menzies 1896, p. 478), written between 246 and 248, Origen says about lunacy that "the great light in Heaven which was appointed "to rule by night" . .. has no power to originate such a disorder among men." And, citing Jeremiah (Lamentations iii:38), "Out of the mouth of the Lord shall come things noble and good", Origen asserts that "no star was formed by the God of the universe to work evil."

bodies); and the unlapsed angels. The present world was created in order for the fallen to be redeemed; into this world the Logos, the second person of God, was sent to provide the means for salvation. Through repeated rebirths, individuals would have opportunities to grow in grace and become closer to God, whereas sinners would sink lower and undergo regression at later births. At the close of this world and age, a new world and a new age would be created—an effective restoration of the original and perfect condition of the universe. As a necessary consequence of the infinite mercy of God, no soul could be lost in this process, and would ultimately be redeemed. Thus, creation is tripartite, and in our present world, all of creation is in a constant state of flux. The brilliance, sweep, and enormous optimism of Origen's vision in a time of severe persecution of Christians is all the more amazing.

Another well-known, but less illustrious figure who discussed the multiplicity of worlds was Giordano Bruno [1548-1600]. Bruno took Dominican orders, renounced them, and traveled extensively throughout Europe. He believed that the universe is the manifestation of God himself, and that God is the soul of the universe. He was a Copernican, and he believed that the stars were distant suns, and the centers of many worlds, each in need of salvation and grace. He was arrested by the Inquisition in Venice, and as a lapsed priest who denied the efficacy of prayer, and for other offenses (but not necessarily his astronomical ideas), he was imprisoned for seven years and then burned at the stake.

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