The Theosophical Forum – March 1940


[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

Antiquity of Civilization in America

In regard to the spread of civilization throughout the world since the Old Stone Age, two rival theories exist. One is that of the Convergents, who believe that similar cultures arose independently in remote places by the natural working of the human mind; the other school, the Diffusionists, argue that customs, inventions, etc., were gradually diffused from some original center, probably Central Asia, or perhaps Egypt, and ultimately reached America. We are not taking part in the discussion at this moment, but only refer to it to draw attention to a new archaeological discovery which indicates an immensely greater antiquity for the Maya civilization in America than has hitherto been allowed, or perhaps even suspected. Our information is derived from an article by Dr. W. D. Lighthall in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for January on "The Diffusion of Culture Controversy."

The discovery was made by Robert Henseling, a German astronomer, as the result of his studies made in 1935 of the dates carved on early Mayan monuments at Naranjo in Yucatan, Mexico. It is well known that the Mayan astronomers had a predilection for exact reckonings, and, as he says: "All [researchers] agree that, regarding the motions in time of the heavenly bodies, the Maya priest-astronomers were very much better informed than those of any other old civilization; especially as to the methods of correcting errors of neglect of day-fractions of periods by insertion or omission of whole-daytime values." Their treatment of the leap-year problem was even more exact than the equation employed by us in the Gregorian calendar.

In brief, it seems that he discovered a "commencing or zero date" when many astronomical events converged, "a year of wonders," which the Mayans adopted as a natural starting-point for their time reckoning. This zero-epoch occurred as far back as b. c. 3373, almost exactly 3000 years before the earliest existing Maya monument whose age is known. This planetary "convergence" is mainly due to a rare synodic phase of the revolutions of the planets Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, and the data given include the subtil difference made by the precession of the equinoxes! As a convincing tribute to the reality and importance of the zero-date R. Henseling shows that it practically coincides with the Chinese starting-point of measurements along the ecliptic which dominates in ancient Chinese astronomy. He says, "On zero-day the sun and Saturn stood at this point in the heavens."

Dr. Lighthall, who appears to favor the Diffusion Theory, says: "Henseling thus shows the original unity of the Maya system with the Chinese, and by so doing he mathematically decides the famous diffusion-of-culture controversy in favor of those who class the Maya with the original archaic civilization." He also refers to the importance of the conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, but we cannot go into the matter further at present. It is perhaps worthy of note that modern astrologers allege that such conjunctions — separated by about twenty years — have proved very significant in United States history. The next occurs in 1941. Dr. Lighthall suggests that the zero date of b. c. 3373 is associated with the beginning of the First Dynasty of Egypt, but a comparison of the wide differences of opinion by Egyptologists about early Egyptian chronology — amounting in some cases to nearly two thousand years — warns us to go very slowly in such comparisons. The Egyptians did not date their monuments by any fixed point in time as the Mayas seem to have done.

Scientists Reconsider Evolutionary Theories

Many biologists are beginning to doubt the truth of mechanistic theories of evolution. A correspondent kindly sends us the following extract from The Lancet, the leading British Medical journal, which relates to the difficulty in believing that reaction to environment explains the appearance of new forms of life:

But more profound puzzles confront the "Anatomist," and he poses the recurrent problem of the persistence in many groups of animals of primitive generalized types. If changing environments demand the evolution of more complex animals to meet the new needs, how is it that these have survived through aeons of time, apparently completely meeting the requirements without significant structural change, basic forms upon which all the higher developments of the group are founded? As examples of these "immortal" forms which have not developed their potentialities he gives the shark, the giant salamander, the tuatara lizard [with the third eye], the ostrich, and, following Bolls's thesis of infantilization, he would regard man as the permanent baby amongst mammals, emphasizing that lack of structural specialization which is man's saving grace.

In regard to the point referred to by the Lancet writer, the Theosophist refuses to accept the view that environment is the primary cause of the evolution of new complexities, and it is encouraging to know that the mechanistic evolutionists are being forced by their own studies to reconsider their position. According to the Ancient Wisdom, evolution is not haphazard, or the mechanical result of a reaction to environment, but is an orderly process of unfoldment of what is already latent in each creature or group. Environment has a minor place, no doubt. Some animals come to the end of their potentialities of specialization sooner than others and are then affected by the "Law of Retardation" mentioned in The Secret Doctrine. They remain stationary, or practically so, but if the environment is unendurable, they die out and their monads seek other forms.

The expression used in the above quotation "man is the permanent baby (1) amongst mammals" has a deeper implication than the writer may suspect. It is true that by not specializing in physical development man's body has not become lopsided or sidetracked and therefore unfit to be the instrument of the soul. His specializing is spiritual and intellectual and it permits unlimited progress. Man even in his bodily structure is very ancient, and is only "infantile" in the fact that he has remained practically unchanged for millions of years in form. In his inner and divine nature, however, man is immeasurably older and was the originator of the basic types of the mammals which gradually appeared on earth in orderly and lawful evolution by a process yet unrecognised by science. Spiritual "Man" is a repertory of archetypal forms. This may seem curious to those who are unacquainted with Theosophy, but we cannot further discuss the subject in these brief notes. A clear explanation will be found in Dr. G. de Purucker's The Esoteric Tradition, chapter x.


1. Called by H. P. Blavatsky a "persistent type of life" (Huxley's term). See The Secret Doctrine, I, 256, where she explains the importance to the Occult Philosophy of man being one of these persistent types. — C. J. R. (return to text)

The Theosophical Forum