While our planet is only a tiny, almost infinitesimal, speck in an expanding universe, the earth’s history can be drastically affected by even minor cosmic events. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, let alone the universe, is barely comprehensible to our limited minds. Yet, the earth is an inseparable part of the whole. Everything is finely balanced for smooth functioning most of the time. Even though the earth, as part of our solar system, is engaged in a series of regular movements taking place at dizzying speeds – around its axis, around the sun, and through the constellations of the zodiac – we don’t lose our balance, those in the southern hemisphere, seemingly in upside-down position, don’t fall off, and everything seems to us solid and fairly even keel while our planet is hurtling through space. However, appearances can be deceiving.
While overall, the universe is friendly and the earth is excellently equipped for life as we now know it, there have been times when it wasn’t so. In less known history, there is evidence of catastrophes and mass extinctions that have occurred at regular intervals. Civilizations have come and gone as a result of major global or minor cosmic disturbances. We are now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, which, in contrast to the others, is largely brought about by human activity.
Myths and legends from around the world express the concepts of periodic worldwide cataclysms – including a global flood not unlike the scenario described in the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 6. Science has regarded these as just tales of superstition, but they could well contain more truth that meets the eye. We may be wise to pay attention and learn from the experience and wisdom of our ancestors.
Indigenous peoples, such as the Mayas and others have understood that there have been in human history so called world ages – times of births, deaths and rebirths of civilizations – some very advanced. Civilizations as such go back much further than the commonly accepted five to six thousand years, and humanity may have been on earth far longer than the commonly accepted 100,000 years. Rather than a gradual evolution of the universe and humanity, a more accurate view may be a so called punctuated equilibrium – “smooth sailing” punctuated by global disasters or cataclysms.
The earth and solar system operate on roughly 5,000 and 26,000 year time cycles. The ancient Mayas and the Hopi people of north America have documented 4-5 previous world ages, each of which may have been quite advanced, but was brought to an end by a global cataclysm. The Hopi people of the American Dessert South West have preserved information, gathered by scholar Robert Boissiere, who lived among the people for years, in his book Meditations with the Hopi (1986). According to their tradition, the first world was destroyed by fire, including volcanoes, earthquakes and the sinking of continents; the second froze up and became covered by ice; and the third came to its demise through a global flood. We are now in the fourth world age, which is about to end. While appearing unscientific, these myths and legends are not too unlike the history that can be read in the geological record. Ocean sediment and polar ice cores, as well as other evidence bear record to world cataclysms followed by recovery periods.
In each case, some have survived “the end of the world” and left records about it. We are not the only advanced civilization and like others before us, we’ll not be around for ever – in fact, right now we are facing numerous survival-threatening crises. We would be wise to heed what our forebears of long ago had to say regarding their “end of the world” and learn from their experience.
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