Saturday, March 11, 2023

Part 4 Sandworm : A New Era of Cyberwar ... Warnings ... Fancy Bear ...FSociety...Poligon

I am a bit surprised at the lack of interest in this work. Beyond Greenberg being a shill for American/Israeli intelligence, just the time frame in which the work is set should get curious minds to take a deeper look. Let's get real folks and talk about the American involvement in the USSR's economic implosion. Very naive to think that there would never be any retaliation on Russia's part for Project Hammer. 

A New Era of Cyberwar
by Andy Greenberg
In late 2015, half a decade after Stuxnet opened a Pandora’s box of digital threats to the physical world, the first monster had finally emerged from it. That monster was Sandworm. 

The Christmas blackout attack on Ukraine made clear that Russia’s hackers were indeed waging cyber war—perhaps the first true, wide scale cyber war in history. They had crossed the same line as Stuxnet’s creators, from digital hacking to tangible sabotage. And they had also crossed a line from military to civilian, combining the unrestricted hybrid-warfare tactics of Estonia and Georgia with vastly more sophisticated and dangerous hacking techniques. 

But even in late January 2016, only a handful of people in the world were aware of that ongoing threat. Two of them were Mike Assante and Rob Lee. When Assante had returned from the U.S. delegation’s fact-finding trip to Ukraine, he couldn’t share what he’d learned with Lee, since the agencies involved had put a firewall around the information as “for official use only.” But Lee, working from the network logs his Ukrainian contacts had shared with him and other forensic evidence, had already pieced together the anatomy of an extraordinary, multipart intrusion: BlackEnergy, KillDisk, rewritten firmware to lock out defenders, the telephone DDoS attack, disabling on-site electrical backups, and finally the phantom mouse attack that had hijacked the controls of the utility operators. 

There was nothing to stop Sandworm from attacking again. Lee and Assante agreed they had played the government’s bureaucratic games long enough. It was time to publish a full report and warn the world. 

But as Lee and Assante assembled their findings, they learned that the White House was still insisting on keeping the details of Ukraine’s blackout out of the public eye until the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Readiness Team, or ICS-CERT, could publish a warning to electric utilities. When that report finally came in late February—two months after Sandworm’s attack—it included a statement that left Lee furious: “Public reports indicate that the BlackEnergy (BE) malware was discovered on the companies’ computer networks, however it is important to note that the role of BE in this event remains unknown pending further technical analysis.” 

Lee and Assante knew perfectly well how BlackEnergy had been used in the attack: It was the remote-access Trojan planted on victim machines that had begun the long, devious chain of intrusions, leading up to the hackers opening the utilities’ circuit breakers. 

Lee saw that ICS-CERT statement as practically a cover-up. By questioning BlackEnergy’s role in the attack, or even its existence on the utilities’ network, the DHS was obscuring a key fact: that the hackers who’d planted that malware had used the same tool to target American utilities just a year earlier—that Americans, too, were at risk. 

“The message was: ‘This doesn’t map to us; this is a Ukrainian thing,’ ” says Lee. “They misled the entire community.” 
Over the next weeks, Lee says he protested in meetings and phone calls with contacts in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the NSA, and even the CIA, arguing that the White House and CERT were downplaying a serious, unprecedented new hacker threat that loomed over not just Ukraine but western Europe and the United States. He went so far as to publish an angry blog post on the SANS website. The gist of that entry, as Lee summarizes it today, was this: “This is bullshit. People need to know.” The actual text is lost to history; Assante asked Lee to delete the post out of political discretion. 

Meanwhile, Lee and Assante fought with the White House for weeks over what they could publicly reveal about the blackout attacks as White House officials insisted on one revision after another to remove details they considered classified. After a month, the SANS researchers resorted to publishing their report through the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or E-ISAC, a part of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation that answered to Congress, not the executive branch. The Obama administration had objected to the release until the last minute. 

Even then, through that spring, Lee says he found himself combating misinformed or Pollyannaish government officials who had told energy utilities the Ukrainian attacks couldn’t have occurred in the United States. Representatives from the Department of Energy and NERC had comforted grid operators that the Ukrainians had used pirated software, had left their networks unsecured, and hadn’t even run antivirus software. None of that was true, according to Lee and Assante. 

But above all, Lee argued that the U.S. government had made an even greater, irreparable mistake: not simply being slow to warn the public and potential targets about Sandworm, or downplaying its dangers, but failing to send a message to Sandworm itself—or anyone else who might follow its path. 

For years, since the first warnings of cyberwar in the late 1990s, hacker-induced blackouts had been the nightmare scenario that kept generals, grid operators, and security wonks awake at night. They had imagined and war-gamed military cyberattacks on the power grid for decades. Even President Clinton had spoken about the need to be prepared for that most fundamental form of digital sabotage, nearly fifteen years before Ukraine’s blackout. 

Now, as Lee saw it, the moment had finally come, and the U.S. government had done little more than sweep the incident under the rug. Perhaps most dangerous of all, it hadn’t issued a single public statement condemning the attack. “We talk and talk and talk about this red line for years, and then, when someone crosses it, we say nothing,” Lee said. “Someone in government needed to stand up and say a cyberattack on civilian infrastructure is something we won’t stand for.” 

In fact, just a year before, the federal government had offered exactly the sort of response Lee had called for, though for a less novel form of attack. In December 2014, North Korean hackers posing as a hacktivist group known as the Guardians of Peace revealed they had broken into the servers of Sony Pictures in retaliation for its comedy film The Interview, which depicted the assassination of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The intruders destroyed the contents of thousands of computers and stole reams of confidential information that they later leaked onto the web, trickling the files out for weeks, including four unreleased feature films. 

In the weeks following Sony’s breach, the FBI issued a public statement swiftly identifying North Korea as the culprit, cutting through its hacktivism false flag. The FBI director, James Comey, went so far as to give a public speech laying out the evidence for North Korea’s involvement, including how the hackers had failed on multiple occasions to use proxy computers as they’d intended to, and thus revealed IP addresses linked to their previous hacking operations— bread crumbs that led back to the Kim regime. President Obama himself spoke about the attack in a White House press conference, warning the world that the United States wouldn’t tolerate North Korea’s digital aggression. 

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose,” President Obama said. (The exact nature of that response has never been confirmed, but North Korea did experience a nationwide internet outage just days later, and the administration announced new financial sanctions against the Kim regime the next month.) 

“This points to the need for us to work with the international community,” Obama continued, “to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the internet and cyber operates.” 

And yet a year later, when Russian hackers had launched a far broader and more dangerous attack deep inside civil infrastructure, no government official offered statements about proportional responses or international “rules of the road.” No U.S. agency even named Russia as the offender, despite the numerous clues available to any researcher who looked. The Obama administration was virtually silent. 

America and the world had lost a once-in-history chance, Lee argues, to definitively establish a set of norms to protect civilians in a new age of cyberwar. “It was a missed opportunity,” he says. “If you say you won’t allow something and then it happens and there’s crickets, you’re effectively condoning it.” 
In fact, Obama’s most senior cybersecurity-focused official never doubted the gravity of Sandworm’s blackout attack. In late January, not long after the delegation to Ukraine had flown back to Washington, J. Michael Daniel sat in a highly secured situation room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just beyond the grounds of the West Wing, receiving a briefing from Department of Homeland Security officials on the results of that fact-finding trip. Daniel, a soft spoken career civil servant with a kind, nervous face and slightly thinning hair, listened carefully. Then he walked back down the hall to his office to meet with his own staff, who would assemble a report for the national security advisor and, in turn, President Obama. 

As he spoke with the White House aides about what the president should know, Daniel found himself marveling aloud at the brazenness of the attackers. “We’ve clearly crossed the Rubicon,” he remembers saying, echoing Michael Hayden’s comments on Stuxnet three years earlier. “This is something new.” 

Daniel had prided himself on the Obama administration’s work to set clear boundaries on state-sponsored hacker provocations. Working together with Obama administration officials from the Department of Justice to the Pentagon to the Departments of State and Commerce, his team had answered misbehavior by foreign hackers with rigorous retaliation. In 2014, for instance, after Chinese cyberspies had for years pillaged American intellectual property, the Obama Justice Department had identified and levied criminal charges against five members of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army hacking unit by name. The next year, the State Department threatened China with sanctions if the economic espionage continued. China’s president, Xi Jinping, more or less capitulated, signing an agreement that neither country would hack the other’s private sector targets. Security companies such as CrowdStrike and FireEye reported an almost immediate drop-off in Chinese intrusions—90 percent according to CrowdStrike—an unprecedented victory for cybersecurity diplomacy. 

North Korea’s Sony attack had received almost as forceful a response. And the administration would later indict a group of Iranian state hackers, too, accusing them of DDoS attacks against American banks and of probing the computer systems of a U.S. dam in upstate New York. (The Bowman Avenue Dam they’d targeted was only about twenty feet tall. The hackers might have intended to hit the far larger and more critical Bowman Dam in Oregon.) The message of all those hard-line disciplinary actions was this: No foreign state gets away with hacking American companies or digitally disrupting U.S. infrastructure. 

Then came an actual, full-blown act of cyberwar against Ukraine, and all the same diplomats and security officials went silent. Why? 

Michael Daniel’s immediate train of thought when he first learned of the blackout may offer an answer: When a phone call from the DHS alerted him to Sandworm’s attack the day after Christmas, his first reaction was alarm. “The thing we’ve been worried about has actually happened,” he thought. But moments later, he remembers having a very different feeling: “My second reaction was a little bit of relief that it wasn’t domestic to the U.S.” 

Daniel was deeply troubled by the notion that Russian hackers were willing to attack civilian infrastructure. Worse, these seemed to be the same hackers who’d been probing U.S. infrastructure only a year earlier. He had no illusions that the techniques used in the blackout attacks were limited to Ukrainian targets. “We have those systems in the United States, and we can’t claim those systems to be any more secure than what Ukraine is running,” he later told me. In fact, the greater automation in the American grid might mean that it provided even more points of attack. “We were equally if not more vulnerable.” (By the time the U.S. delegation had returned from Ukraine, Daniel also had few doubts that the Russian government was indeed behind the attacks. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…,” he said.) 

But even so, when Sandworm had finally pulled the trigger, it had carried out its attack in Ukraine, four thousand miles away from U.S. borders. This was the source of Daniel’s relief: Ukraine was not America. It wasn’t even a member of NATO. As a result, for the U.S. government, it was officially someone else’s problem.

Perhaps the Obama administration, given enough time, would have gotten around to calling out Sandworm acts of cyberwar and making an example of the attackers with speeches, indictments, or sanctions. But by June 2016, its attention had been entirely hijacked by another hacker provocation—one that hit far closer to home. 

On June 14, The Washington Post revealed that the Democratic National Committee had been penetrated for months by not one but two teams of state-sponsored Russian hackers. The security firm CrowdStrike, which the DNC had brought in to analyze its breach two months earlier, published a blog post identifying the pair of intrusion crews inside the Democrats’ network as Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, teams it had watched carry out spying campaigns for years, hitting everyone from the U.S. State Department and the White House to aerospace and defense contractors. 

Based on past years of detective work, Crowd Strike tied Fancy Bear to the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU. Cozy Bear, it would later be revealed, worked within Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. (The two “bear” names derived from Crowd Strike’s system of labeling hacker teams with different animals based on their country of origin—bears for Russia, pandas for China, tigers for India, and so on.) “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services,” Crowd Strike’s analysis read. 

In other words, these were teams that seemed to be focused on silent cyberespionage of the kind Russia had carried out since the days of Moonlight Maze, not the louder, more disruptive cyber war tactics Sandworm had only just begun to demonstrate. (CrowdStrike had in fact tracked Sandworms attacks too. Its own code name for the group was Voodoo Bear.) 

But while the DNC hack wasn’t an act of disruptive cyberwar, neither would it prove to be an ordinary espionage operation. Just twenty-four hours after news of the breach broke, a figure calling himself Guccifer 2.0 appeared on Twitter, posting links to a blog that introduced him to the world. The post was titled “DNC Servers Hacked by a Lone Hacker.” 

“Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by ‘sophisticated’ hacker groups,” Guccifer 2.0 wrote glibly. “I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly))) But in fact, it was easy, very easy.” 

What came next in the post shocked the world: a sample of actual stolen documents from the DNC’s servers. They included a file of opposition research on the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, policy documents, and a list of donors by name and amount. “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks. They will publish them soon,” Guccifer 2.0 wrote. “Fuck the Illuminati and their conspiracies!!!!!!!!!” 

That “Illuminati” reference and Guccifer 2.0’s name were meant to convey a kind of rogue hacktivist, stealing and leaking the documents of the powerful to upend the corrupt social order. The original Guccifer had been a Romanian amateur hacker named Marcel Lehel Lazăr who had broken into the email accounts of high-profile figures like Colin Powell, the Rockefeller family, and the sister of former president George W. Bush. 

Guccifer 2.0 took on the persona of a cocky eastern European cyberpunk who idolized figures like the original Guccifer, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange. “Personally I think that I’m among the best hackers in the world,” he would write in a FAQ. 

When CrowdStrike maintained that Guccifer 2.0 was a thin disguise meant to obscure the Russian state hackers behind the DNC intrusion, Guccifer 2.0 shot back with vague denials. “They just fucked up! They can prove nothing!” he wrote. “All I hear is blah-blah-blah, unfounded theories and somebody’s estimates.” 

But in reality, the Russians’ mask almost immediately showed cracks. A former staffer for the British intelligence service GCHQ, Matt Tait, found that the very first document the Russians released, the Trump opposition file, contained Russian-language formatting-error messages. Moreover, the metadata from the file showed that it had been opened on a computer with the username “Feliks Dzerzhinsky.” That clue was almost comically revealing: Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the Soviet secret police, whose bronze statue had once stood in front of the KGB headquarters. 

When the tech news site Motherboard reached out to Guccifer 2.0 via Twitter and the hacker agreed to an instant-message interview, Motherboard’s reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai cleverly threw him off guard with a series of questions in English, Romanian, and Russian. Guccifer 2.0 answered those questions in broken English and Romanian and protested that he couldn’t understand the Russian. Franceschi-Bicchierai then showed the chat logs to Romanians and language experts who pointed out small linguistic clues that Guccifer wrote like a Russian and appeared to be pulling his Romanian answers from Google Translate. The Russian hackers seemingly hadn’t even bothered to recruit a real Romanian for their cover story. 
The flimsiness of the Guccifer 2.0 lie hardly mattered. The hackers sent the news site Gawker the Trump opposition research document, and it published a story on the file that received half a million clicks, robbing the Democrats of the ability to time the release of their Trump dirt. Soon, as promised, WikiLeaks began to publish a steady trickle of the hackers’ stolen data, too; after all, Julian Assange’s secret-spilling group had never been very particular about whether its “leaks” came from whistle-blowers or hackers. 

The documents, now with WikiLeaks’ stamp of credibility, began to be picked up by news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Politico, BuzzFeed, and The Intercept. The revelations were very real: It turned out the DNC had secretly favored the candidate Hillary Clinton over her opponent Bernie Sanders as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, despite the committee’s purported role as a neutral arbiter for the party. DNC officials had furtively discussed how to discredit Sanders, including staging public confrontations about his religious beliefs and an incident in which his campaign’s staff allegedly accessed the Clinton campaign’s voter data. 

The DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was hit the hardest. The stolen emails revealed that she had privately written that Sanders’s campaign manager was a “damn liar” and that Sanders “isn’t going to be president.” A little over a month after the hacked emails first began to appear, she resigned. 

But the hackers weren’t content to rely on WikiLeaks, nor was the DNC their only victim. Over the next several months, Guccifer 2.0’s stolen DNC emails also began to appear on a new site called DCLeaks, along with emails stolen from other targets ranging from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to General Philip Breedlove, an air force official who had pushed for a more aggressive response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite DCLeaks’ attempt to appear as another whistle-blowing “leak” site, the security firm ThreatConnect quickly identified it as a cover for Russia’s Fancy Bear hackers, based on overlapping target data with known Fancy Bear intrusion operations and clues in DCLeaks’ registration data. 

If anyone still doubted that Fancy Bear was behind the serial data dumps, that uncertainty lifted in September 2016, when the group launched a new attack on the World Anti-Doping Agency. Putin’s government had been furious at the agency’s recommendation that all Russian athletes be banned from that year’s Summer Olympics after multiple athletic teams from the country were found to be part of widespread programs of performance-enhancing drug use. In retaliation, Fancy Bear published the stolen medical records of the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and the gymnast Simone Biles, showing they too had used medications that could be interpreted —at a stretch—as offering athletic advantages. This time, in a blatant mockery of critics, the leaks were published on Fancy, a website covered with clip art and animated GIFs of bears. 

Fancy Bear had emerged as brash practitioners of what intelligence analysts call “influence operations.” More specifically, they were using an old Russian intelligence practice known as kompromat: the tradition, stretching back to Soviet times, of obtaining compromising information about political opponents and using it to leverage public opinion with tactical leaks and smears. 

Sandworm’s hackers were stealthy, professional saboteurs. Fancy Bear, by contrast, seemed to be shameless, profane propagandists. And now, in the service of Vladimir Putin, they were tasked with helping Donald Trump to win the presidency. 

The 2016 presidential race wasn’t Fancy Bear’s first time using its skills to influence elections. In May 2017, a group of security researchers at the University of Toronto called the Citizen Lab would find forensic evidence that the group was also behind CyberBerkut, the pro-Putin hacktivist group that had in 2014 hacked Ukraine’s Central Election Commission. Like Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, CyberBerkut was just another cover story. 

Most of the group’s techniques were simple. Next to an operation like Sandworm’s 2015 Christmas blackout, they were practically primitive. But one of Fancy Bear’s crudest tactics turned out to be its most effective of all: a rudimentary spoofed log-in page. 

On October 7, WikiLeaks began publishing a new series of leaks, this time stolen directly from the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. The previous March, Podesta had fallen prey to a basic phishing email, directing him to a fake Gmail site that asked for his username and password, which he handed over. The site, of course, was a Fancy Bear trap. 

WikiLeaks would trickle out its resulting stash of Clinton campaign kompromat for weeks to come. The revelations included eighty pages of closely guarded speeches Clinton had given to private Wall Street audiences. One included a reference to politicians’ need to have separate “public” and “private” positions, which her critics interpreted as an admission of deception. Another seemed to call for “open borders,” enraging immigration hard-liners. The daily media bombs would keep the campaign off balance through its final days.*

The Podesta hack also eradicated any last doubts about Fancy Bear’s role: The security firm Secureworks found the link to the fake Gmail site that had tricked Podesta was created with an account on the URL-shortening service Bitly that had also been used to target hundreds of other Fancy Bear victims, from Ukrainian officials to Russia-focused academics and journalists. 

Trump, of course, brushed aside the evidence of Russia’s involvement and reveled in the flood of scandals. “I love WikiLeaks!” he declared at one rally. At another point, he quipped that he hoped the Russian hackers had also breached the controversial private email server Clinton had set up in her home, and asked the hackers to release thousands more of her emails. But for the most part, Trump nihilistically denied that those leaks had been enabled by the Kremlin, instead suggesting that the hackers might just as easily be Chinese or a “400-pound” loner or that the Democrats had hacked themselves. Trump’s obfuscation served Fancy Bear well: Even months later, in December 2016, only about a third of Americans believed Russia had meddled in the U.S. election, while 44 percent doubted it, and a quarter were unsure.*2 

Whether the Kremlin actually expected to swing the 2016 race with its influence operation has never been clear. Putin, whose hatred of Hillary Clinton since her days as secretary of state under Obama could barely be concealed, might have simply wished to saddle her presidency with crippling political baggage. Russian officials, of course, repeatedly denied any hand in the attacks. But regardless of what outcome they imagined, they had successfully thrown the core of American democracy into chaos. 

When I met up with Crowd Strike’s chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, at a park in Manhattan’s financial district in October 2016, with the election just weeks away, he seemed to almost grudgingly admire the effectiveness of the hackers whose operation his firm had first uncovered four months earlier. 

“I think they’ve gotten medals already,” he said ruefully. “They’ve had success beyond their wildest dreams.” 

In fact, Fancy Bear’s real moment of glory came three weeks later: Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. 
When J. Michael Daniel had become Obama’s most senior official concerned solely with cybersecurity in 2012, one of his first big moves had been to fly to Moscow in 2013 to finalize a “cyber hotline.” Using a protocol first established to prevent nuclear Armageddon half a century earlier, the hotline was intended to serve as an open channel between the White House and the Kremlin for sending messages about cyber attacks, a kind of safety valve to avoid misunderstandings that might lead to unnecessary escalation and war. Daniel describes the setup as a “glorified, dedicated email system.” 

On October 7, 2016, Daniel used that hotline for the first and only time in his tenure, to send a message to Putin in response to Russia’s blatant election interference. He paraphrases the message: “We know that you are carrying out these kinds of activities. And stop. Knock it off.” The same day, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a public statement that U.S. intelligence agencies had officially come to a consensus that the Russian government was the source of the stolen emails, as cybersecurity researchers had been pointing out for four months.[Sorry Seth Rich is the correct answer dc ] 

Eventually, in the waning days of Obama’s presidency, the administration would escalate its response to include new economic sanctions against Russian intelligence agencies as punishment for their election hacking, effectively preventing them from doing any business with American citizens and companies. The order would eject thirty-five Russian diplomats from the United States and seize control of two Russian government compounds on U.S. soil. James Lewis, a cybersecurity-focused fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, would describe the reaction as “the biggest retaliatory move against Russian espionage since the Cold War.” 

But on the subject of Russia’s blackout attacks, the hotline from the White House to the Kremlin remained silent. Sandworm had been sent an implicit signal. It could now proceed with impunity. 

*1 The most powerful effect of those leaks may have been to distract from a shocking video released by The Washington Post on October 7, in which Trump bragged on the set of the TV show Access Hollywood that he had grabbed women’s genitals without their consent. WikiLeaks published the first Podesta leaks just hours after that tape surfaced. 
*2 When this book went to press, the extent of Trump’s collaboration with the Russian government in its election interference remained unclear. But the investigation of independent counsel Robert Mueller had revealed that multiple members of Trump’s staff as well as Donald Trump Jr. had met with Kremlin officials and other Russian nationals who had offered compromising information on Clinton, which Trump Jr. was eager to accept. As a candidate, Trump had also weakened the Republican Party position on defending Ukraine from Russia, all while pursuing a billion-dollar deal to establish a Trump Tower in Moscow.

On election night, Michael Matonis had gone to bed early. He’d seen the increasing likelihood of Trump’s win. But he’d chosen, rather than biting his nails all evening, to just assume Clinton would prevail as expected and sleep through the drama until then. 

At 5:00 a.m., he was woken up by the shortwave radio next to his bed, immediately heard the news, and emitted a long, heartfelt moan of profanity. 

Matonis, a twenty-seven-year-old security researcher with a mass of curly black hair, lived at the time in Albany, New York, but had been planning a party that night in his hometown of Brooklyn—not so much to celebrate Clinton’s victory as to herald an end to seeing Trump’s face on television every day. After learning the shocking election results, Matonis and his friends quickly reconceived the party as a kind of emotional support group. So he nonetheless boarded an Amtrak train south, then made his way from Penn Station through a New York City that was visibly grieving, with signs of protest and condolences posted on subway platforms and in shop windows. 

When he arrived in the city, Matonis had planned to wander around Williamsburg and find some good Turkish or Brazilian food. But he soon found that he was too depressed to leave his Airbnb. So instead, despite officially being on vacation, he opened his laptop to distract himself with work. 

Matonis was a member of the team of researchers that reported to John Hultquist, who by then had become director of cyber espionage analysis at FireEye, the security firm that had acquired iSight earlier in 2016. As part of his daily hunting, Matonis had created his own software tools that automatically scanned malware feeds like VirusTotal for interesting tidbits that might serve as footprints of state-sponsored hackers—what he calls “cyber gold panning.” 

Early that morning, one of his filter tools had pinged him with results that he’d been too distracted to read. Now he dug into its origin: Someone had uploaded to VirusTotal a piece of malicious code that used a Microsoft Office script to install itself on the victim’s machine, just as BlackEnergy had done in the late 2015 attacks. The new malware appeared to be a fresh backdoor for remote access to victim machines, one that curiously used the encrypted instant messaging software Telegram to communicate with its command-and control servers. But Matonis had tracked the BlackEnergy attacks closely enough to see that they shared a similar encoding. 

The backdoor program was packaged in a Word document written in Cyrillic characters. When Matonis put the file through Google Translate, he found that it was a list of prices of storage hardware and servers written in Ukrainian, what appeared to be bait for Ukrainian IT systems administrators. “I could think of only one group that would do this thing, in this particular way,” he says. 

Since the Ukrainian blackouts nearly a year earlier, Sandworm had gone entirely silent. After its grid-hacking tour de force, it seemed as if the group might even have disappeared. Aside from a few die-hard obsessives including Matonis, his boss, Hultquist, and Rob Lee, much of the American security community’s attention to Russian hacking had shifted almost entirely to Fancy Bear’s election meddling. 

Now Matonis was seeing the first sign that Russia’s blackout hackers had surfaced again. “Holy shit,” Matonis thought to himself as he sat at the kitchen table of his Brooklyn rental. “I think I’ve found Sandworm version two.” 
By August 2016, eight months after the first Christmas blackout, Yasinsky had left his job at StarLightMedia. It wasn’t enough, he decided, to defend a single company from an onslaught that seemed to be targeting every stratum of Ukrainian society. Despite Sandworm’s silence since the blackout, Yasinsky knew that the group spent long months advancing its intrusions and that the next wave of attacks was likely already in motion. He needed a more holistic view of the hackers’ work, and Ukraine needed a more coherent response to the brazen, callous organization of attackers that Sandworm was becoming. “The light side remains divided,” he told me of the balkanized reaction to the hackers among their victims. “The dark side is united.” 

So Yasinsky took a position as the head of research and forensics for a Kiev firm called Information Systems Security Partners, or ISSP. The company was hardly a big name in the security industry. But Yasinsky joined with the intention of using his position to make ISSP the go-to first responder for victims of Ukraine’s digital siege. 

Not long after he switched jobs, as if on cue, the country came under another, even broader, more punishing wave of attacks. Starting in December, a month after FireEye’s Michael Matonis and other researchers around the world were seeing the first signs of Sandworm’s reemergence, Yasinsky began to learn of other Ukrainian agencies and infrastructure companies targeted by the same destructive hackers as in 2015. Those victims would eventually include Ukraine’s pension fund, Treasury, seaport authority, and Ministries of Infrastructure, Defense, and Finance. In each case, as in the year before, the attacks culminated with a KillDisk-style detonation on the target’s hard drives. 

The hackers again hit Ukraine’s railway company, Ukrzaliznytsia, this time knocking out its online booking system for days, right in the midst of the holiday travel season. In the case of the Finance Ministry, the logic bomb deleted terabytes of data, destroying the contents of 80 percent of the agency’s computers, deleting its draft of the national budget for the next year, and leaving its network entirely off-line for the next two weeks. 

In other words, the hackers’ new winter onslaught matched and exceeded the previous year’s in both its scale and the calculated pain of its targeting. But as security researchers delved into the companies’ logs in those first weeks of December, they could see their tormentors were trying out new forms of deception, too. In one round of attacks, for instance, the hackers had altered their KillDisk code to not merely cripple victims’ machines but also to display a haunting image on their screens. 

The picture—first published by researchers at the Slovakian security firm ESET, who were also closely tracking the second wave of Ukrainian attacks—wasn’t merely a file planted on the victims’ computers. Instead, with a kind of hacker flourish, it had been painstakingly programmed into the malware to be drawn by Windows’s graphics interface every time the code ran. The resulting image was a neon-green and black low-resolution mustachioed mask, over a background of multicolored ones and zeros. Above and below the mask were the words “WE ARE FSOCIETY” and “JOIN US.” 

The hackers had co-opted the symbology of the fictional anarchist hackers in the television show Mr. Robot, perhaps to create a veneer of freewheeling, grassroots nihilism over what was clearly a well organized, state-sponsored disruption campaign. (With the benefit of hindsight, they might have also been revealing something about their intentions: In Mr. Robot, FSociety’s hackers permanently destroy the records of a massive banking conglomerate, erasing the debt of thousands of people and throwing the world economy into chaos—a story line that, within a year, would feel prescient.) 

In the second round of attacks, the hackers switched up their ruse: Instead of a hacktivist front, they adopted a cybercriminal one, plastering victims’ corrupted machines with a ransom message demanding a Bitcoin payment: “We are sorry, but the encryption of your data has been successfully completed, so you can lose your data or pay 222 btc.” 

Sandworm seemed to have adapted its cover story to mimic an increasingly trendy tactic among hacker profiteers: Rather than try to steal credit cards or other data that had to be resold to be monetized, cybercriminals had discovered they could extort money directly from victims by encrypting their hard drives and demanding payment to unlock them. Only once the victims forked over the ransom—within a prescribed time limit—would the extortionists send a key to decrypt their data. Some ransomware schemes had become so professional that they even included live customer support, increasing the likelihood of payment by reassuring victims that they would actually receive their data back. 

But most of those moneymaking schemes, as cruel as they were, asked for just a few hundred or thousand dollars from victims. This one demanded, at late 2016 Bitcoin exchange rates, more than $150,000. No one, it seemed, was foolish enough to pay. And ESET’s researchers found that even if they had, there was no decryption mechanism in the malware. Instead, the ransom demand only added another layer of confusion to the same KillDisk-style data destruction that Sandworm had been carrying out since the year before. 

Yasinsky could see that the hackers were not only evolving but experimenting. After a year underground, they had reemerged more dangerous and deceptive than ever. Ukraine’s cyberwar was ramping up. And then, on a Saturday night two weeks into that growing plague, not long after Yasinsky sat down on the couch of his Kiev apartment to watch the movie Snowden with his family, Sandworm put its full capabilities on display. 
On December 17, 2016, a young engineer named Oleg Zaychenko was four hours into his twelve-hour night shift at Ukrenergo’s transmission station just north of Kiev’s city limits. He sat in an old Soviet-era control room, its walls covered in beige and red floor-to-ceiling analog control panels. The station’s tabby cat, Aza, was out hunting; all that kept Zaychenko company was a television in the corner playing pop music videos. 

He was filling out a paper-and-pencil log, documenting another uneventful Saturday evening, when the station’s alarm suddenly sounded, a deafening continuous ringing. To his right, Zaychenko saw that two of the lights indicating the state of the transmission system’s circuits had switched from red to green—in the counterintuitive, universal language of electrical engineers, a sign that they had turned off. 

The technician picked up the black desk phone to his left and called an operator at Ukrenergo’s headquarters to alert him to the routine mishap. As he did, another light turned green. Then another. Zaychenko’s adrenaline began to kick in. While he hurriedly explained the situation to the remote operator, the lights kept flipping: red to green, red to green. Eight, then ten, then twelve. 

As the crisis escalated, the operator on the phone ordered Zaychenko to run outside and check the equipment for physical damage. At that moment, the twentieth and final circuit switched off, and the lights in the control room went out, along with the computer and TV. Zaychenko was already throwing a coat over his blue-and yellow uniform and sprinting for the door. 

Ukrenergo’s northern Kiev transmission station is normally a vast, buzzing jungle of electrical equipment stretching over twenty acres, the size of more than a dozen football fields. But as Zaychenko came out of the building into the freezing night air, the atmosphere was eerier than ever before: The three tank-sized transformers arrayed alongside the building, responsible for about a fifth of the capital’s electrical capacity, had gone entirely silent. 

Until then, Zaychenko had been mechanically ticking through an emergency mental checklist. As he ran past the paralyzed machines, the thought entered his mind for the first time: The blackout hackers had struck again. 

This time the attack had moved up the circulatory system of Ukraine’s grid. Instead of taking down the distribution substations that branch off into capillaries of power lines, the saboteurs had hit an artery. That single northern Kiev transmission station carried two hundred megawatts, more total electric load than all the fifty-plus distribution stations knocked out in the 2015 attack combined. 

Luckily, the system was down for just an hour—hardly long enough for pipes to freeze or for locals to start panicking—before Ukrenergo’s engineers began manually closing circuits and bringing everything back online. Even so, when that hour-long midnight blackout enveloped Yasinsky’s home in northern Kiev, it unnerved him like no cyberattack he’d ever experienced in his years as a security professional. 

Yasinsky told me he’s always tried to maintain a dispassionate perspective on the intruders who were ransacking his country. He seeks to avoid entirely, for instance, the topic of the attackers’ identities, arguing that their names or nationalities don’t figure into the analysis of their intrusions or strategies for defending against them. (That refusal to wade into questions of attribution is common in the cybersecurity industry. But Yasinsky takes it to an extreme, going so far as to wag his finger with a mock-scolding grin when I refer to the attackers as Russian.) 

Yasinsky has always preferred to see his job as a game of chess, logically analyzing the adversary’s moves on an abstract plane free from any personal psychology. Become too emotionally invested, he argued, let your thinking be corrupted by your own anger or obsession or self-interest, and you begin to make mistakes. “You need a cold, clear mind,” Yasinsky said. “If you want to play well, you can’t afford to hate your opponent.” 

But when the blackout extended to his own home, he admitted that it crossed a new boundary. It was “like being robbed,” he told me. “It was a kind of violation, a moment when you realize your own private space is just an illusion.” 

Within twenty-four hours of the blackout, Ukrenergo staffers had publicly confirmed that it had indeed been caused by another cyber attack, just as Yasinsky had immediately suspected. Ukrenergo and the SBU—the Ukrainian security service that partly functions as the country’s equivalent of the NSA—determined that Ukraine would handle the response itself. This time, there would be no American delegation. And so naturally, when ISSP called up Ukrenergo and offered its services, the job was handed to Yasinsky. 
In early 2017, at a meeting in Ukrenergo’s central Kiev headquarters, the company gave ISSP a hard drive filled with the terabytes of log files that Yasinsky would need to begin his forensic analysis. Just as he had at StarLightMedia, he pored over the logs for weeks, combing them for any anomaly that might reveal the traces of hackers who had sought at every point in their intrusion to perfectly mimic the normal behavior of the victims they had infiltrated—what Yasinsky calls “finding needles among needles.” 

After tracking the same hackers for more than a year, Yasinsky knew where to find their footprints. By the end of January, ISSP had assembled nearly the entire anatomy of the intrusion. He presented it in a briefing for Ukrenergo’s IT administrators, rolling out in front of them a six-foot-long printed paper timeline of the hackers’ work. Though the company had given him six months of logs, it appeared the hackers had likely obtained their access far earlier: In January 2016, nearly a year before the second blackout, Ukrenergo had discovered an infection of the same BlackEnergy malware that had hit StarLightMedia, TRK, and Boryspil airport. Yasinsky guessed that despite the utility’s cleanup efforts the intruders had maintained a stealthy foothold somewhere inside Ukrenergo’s systems, patiently biding their time. 

To move between computers within Ukrenergo’s network, they had deployed a common hacker tool called Mimikatz, designed to take advantage of a security oversight in older versions of Windows that leaves passwords accessible in a computer’s memory. Mimikatz plucks credentials out of that ephemeral murk so that hackers can use them to gain repeated access to a computer, or to any others that a victim’s account could access on the same network. The hackers had also exploited a more obscure trick, one that allows them to dig through memory when an application unexpectedly crashed, with sensitive credentials lingering in the “crash dump” of data that borked programs leave behind—a bit like grabbing and instantly copying the keys from a stalled car. 

With those stolen credentials, the hackers eventually gained access to a kind of all-seeing database server in Ukrenergo’s network, what’s sometimes known as a “historian.” That database acted as a record keeper for the utility’s operations, collecting data from physical equipment and making it available to the business network. For the intruders, it offered a crucial bridge between the traditional IT side of Ukrenergo’s network and the industrial control system side, including workstations with access to circuit breakers. 

That historian database didn’t merely collect data from the utility’s computers. It also, more dangerously, had the ability to send certain commands to them. As Yasinsky describes it, the hackers hijacked that functionality to turn the database into a “Swiss Army knife,” capable of running any code the hackers chose. Ultimately, that included planting the payload of their attack at the doorstep of Ukrenergo’s actual transmission station equipment and, as in 2015, callously flipping those switches to cut power to hundreds of thousands of people. 

The attackers seemed to have shifted their focus from the 2015 attack, when they had ransacked the three regional power utilities with a broad arsenal of humiliations, attacking everything from the utilities’ own backup generators to their phone systems. Instead, this time they had penetrated directly into the transmission systems with single minded professionalism. “In 2015, they were like a group of brutal street fighters,” says Marina Krotofil, a Ukraine-born German industrial control systems expert who then worked at Honeywell and who advised Yasinsky during ISSP’s analysis. “In 2016, they were ninjas.” 

But the final payload those saboteurs had planted, to Yasinsky, was a kind of black box. He could see that the hackers had, ahead of their midnight strike, installed a collection of dynamic-link library, or .dll files, essentially collections of instructions they could call upon. But industrial control systems are their own arcane discipline within cybersecurity, and Yasinsky, despite his knowledge of the forensics of traditional IT systems, couldn’t interpret the .dll files himself. Krotofil, his friend and go-to industrial control systems expert, had helped to guide him through that side of the Ukrenergo investigation. But thanks to the nondisclosure agreement he’d signed with the utility, he couldn’t share the .dlls with her. 

Yasinsky showed the files to Ukrenergo’s engineers, and they told him that the code included commands written in a particular protocol —a kind of computer vocabulary understood by their circuit breaker equipment. Somehow, those files had triggered the final, disruptive step of the hackers’ blackout operation. Exactly how would remain a mystery for months to come. 
In the United States, meanwhile, the second Ukrainian blackout resonated momentarily through the cybersecurity community, stealing back a modicum of attention from the frenzy around Russia’s election focused attacks. For the first time in history, as Lee described it to me, a group of hackers had shown it was willing and able to repeatedly attack critical infrastructure. They’d refined their techniques over multiple, evolving assaults. And they’d planted their malware on the U.S. grid once before. 

All of that meant, Lee argued, that American utilities and government officials needed to see Russia’s escalating cyberwar operations not only as Ukraine’s problem but as their own. “The people who understand the U.S. power grid know that it can happen here,” he told me. 

When I’d run that notion by NERC’s chief security officer, Marcus Sachs, in a phone call, he’d downplayed the threat. American power companies have already learned from Ukraine’s victimization, he argued. Sachs pointed to the road show of briefings he and others had performed for U.S. utilities to educate them about the attacks, hammering into them that they need to shore up their basic cybersecurity practices and turn off remote access to their critical systems whenever possible. And for all the sophistication of the Ukraine grid hacks, he pointed out, even they didn’t really constitute a catastrophe; the lights did, after all, come back on. 

“It would be hard to say we’re not vulnerable. Anything connected to something else is vulnerable,” Sachs said. “To make the leap and suggest that the grid is milliseconds away from collapse is irresponsible.” 

But to hackers like Sandworm, Lee countered, the United States could present an even more convenient set of targets. U.S. power firms are more attuned to cybersecurity, but they’re also more automated and modern than those in Ukraine, with more computer-controlled equipment. In other words, they present more of a digital “attack surface” to hackers than some older systems. 

American engineers, he argued, also have less experience with manual recovery from frequent blackouts than a country like Ukraine. Regional utilities in Ukraine, and even Ukrenergo in Kiev, are all far more accustomed to blackouts from the usual equipment failures than American utilities. They have fleets of trucks ready to drive out to substations and manually switch the power back on, as Ukrainian utilities did in 2015 when the hackers first hit them. Not every hyper automated American utility is prepared for that all-hands, on-the-ground manual override. “Taking down the American grid would be harder than Ukraine,” Lee said. “Keeping it down might be easier.” 

As Sandworm’s power and brashness grew, the question remained: Would it ever dare hit the United States the way it had Ukraine? An attack on American utilities, after all, would almost certainly result in immediate, serious retaliation from the U.S. government, even if the same attacks in a regional war of Russian aggression had barely elicited a murmur from U.S. officials. 

Some  cyber security analysts at the time of Sandworm’s second grid attack argued that Russia’s goal was simply to hem in America’s own cyberwar strategy: By turning the lights out in Kiev—and by showing that it’s capable of penetrating the American grid—Moscow had sent a message warning the United States not to try a Stuxnet-style attack on Russia or its allies, such as the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, whose revolutionary opponents the United States was supporting in the Syrian civil war. 

In that view, it was all a game of deterrence. As one influential pseudonymous hacker and security analyst known as the Grugq had written in a blog post after the second Ukraine blackout, “This expensive light flicking makes more sense when viewed as an influence operation to signal the West that Russia has what the West itself believes are ‘real cyber war cyber weapons.’ 

“Russia has flicked Ukraine’s lights twice now,” he wrote. “There is no reason to run two tests of an offensive operation if the first is successful. They want to make sure the West gets the signal.” 

But Lee, who was involved in plenty of war-game scenarios during his time at the NSA, could imagine Russia striking American utilities as a retaliatory measure if it ever saw itself as backed into a corner—if the United States, say, threatened to interfere with Moscow’s military interests in Ukraine or Syria. “When you deny a state’s ability to project power,” he argued, “it has to lash out.” 

Lee and his ilk, of course, had been war-gaming these nightmares for well over a decade. And as yet, cyber doomsday had never come to U.S. soil. But in the wake of Fancy Bear’s election interference, there seemed to be no limits to Russia’s brazenness. The Kremlin had meddled in the Ukrainian election and faced no real repercussions; then it applied similar tactics to the United States. Russian hackers turned off the power in Ukraine with impunity; the syllogism wasn’t hard to complete. 

For John Hultquist, who had now watched Sandworm’s attacks escalate for more than two years, that next step was clear enough. Three weeks after the 2016 Kiev attack, he wrote a prediction on Twitter and pinned it to his profile for posterity: “I swear, when Sandworm Team finally nails Western critical infrastructure, and folks react like this was a huge surprise, I’m gonna lose it.” 
On a gray day in March 2017, a taxi dropped me off in a parking lot in front of the headquarters of ISSP in Kiev. The company at the time occupied a low-lying building in an industrial neighborhood of the Ukrainian capital, surrounded by muddy sports fields and crumbling high-rises—a few of the country’s many lingering souvenirs from the Soviet Union. 

When I found Oleksii Yasinsky inside, we sat down in the company’s “Cyber Lab,” a darkened room with a round table that’s covered in the same sort of network maps he’d developed for the Ukrenergo operation, long scrolls of paper showing nodes and connections of Borgesian complexity. Each map represented the timeline of an intrusion by Sandworm. By then, the hacker group had been the consuming focus of Yasinsky’s work for nearly two years, going back to its first attack on StarLightMedia. He told me there was still no way to know exactly how many Ukrainian institutions had been hit in the escalating campaign of cyberattacks; any count was liable to be an underestimate. For every publicly known target, there was at least one secret victim that hadn’t admitted to being breached, and still other targets that hadn’t yet discovered the intruders in their systems. 

In fact, Yasinsky said, the next wave of the digital invasion might have already been under way even then. Behind him, two younger, bearded ISSP staffers were locked into their keyboards and screens, pulling apart malware that the company had obtained just the day before from a new round of phishing emails. The attacks, Yasinsky had come to believe, took on a seasonal cycle: During the first months of the year, the hackers laid their groundwork, silently penetrating targets and spreading their presence. At the end of the year, they unleashed their payload. Yasinsky suggested that even as he was analyzing last year’s power grid attack, the seeds had already been sown for 2017’s December surprises. 

Bracing for the next round, Yasinsky told me, was like “studying for an approaching final exam.” He maintained that what he and Ukraine had faced so far was likely just a series of practice tests. 

He summed up the attackers’ intentions in a single Russian word: poligon. A training ground. Even in their most damaging attacks, Yasinsky said, the hackers could have gone further. They could have destroyed not just the Ministry of Finance’s stored data but its backups too. They probably could have knocked out Ukrenergo’s transmission station for longer or caused permanent, physical harm to the grid—a restraint that American analysts like Assante and Lee had also noted in my conversations with them. “They’re still playing with us,” Yasinsky said. Each time, the hackers retreated before accomplishing the maximum possible damage, as if reserving their true capabilities for some future operation. “We can only hope that they’re not done playing yet.” 

Yasinsky wasn’t alone in forming that new, foreboding theory around Ukraine’s cyberwar: International observers began to posit that Russia was turning the country into a test lab, trying out digital tactics that it might later unleash on the West. Where better to train an army of Kremlin hackers than in the no-holds-barred atmosphere of a hot war inside Putin’s own sphere of influence? “The gloves are off. This is a place where you can do your worst without retaliation or prosecution,” Kenneth Geers, the NATO ambassador, told me. “Ukraine is not France or Germany. A lot of Americans can’t find it on a map. So you can practice there.” 

In that shadow of neglect, Russia wasn’t only pushing the limits of its technical abilities, said Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic and military studies at Johns Hopkins. It was also feeling out the edges of what the international community would tolerate. “They’re testing out red lines, what they can get away with,” Rid told me. “You push and see if you’re pushed back. If not, you try the next step.” 

And what would it look like when the hackers ceased to play those exhibition games and unleashed their full powers? In the dim back room at ISSP’s office in Kiev during my spring 2017 visit, Yasinsky admitted to me that he didn’t know what form the next attack would take. Perhaps another, more severe blackout. Or maybe a targeted attack on a water facility. Regardless, he said, he believed it would reach out, like the blackout that he felt in his own home, well beyond the internet as we’ve long understood it, into the infrastructure of the physical world. 

Behind him, the fading afternoon light glowed through the blinds, rendering his face a dark silhouette. “Cyberspace is not a target in itself. It’s a medium,” Yasinsky said. “Use your imagination.”


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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Part 3 : The Saturn Myth ... The Holy Land ... The Enclosed Sun-Cross The Four Rivers Of Paradise

 The Saturn Myth

A reinterpretation of rites and symbols illuminating 

some of the dark corners of primordial society

By David Talbott III:
The Holy Land 
Ancient ritual the world over conceived the terrestrial ruler as the incarnation of the Universal Monarch. By the same principle each local city or kingdom became a transcript of the god-king’s primeval domain. The sanctified territory on earth was laid out according to a cosmic plan, revealed in remote times. 

On this priority of the cosmic dwelling all major traditions concur. A celestial Sumer and Akkad preceded the organization of the actual Mesopotamian kingdoms. And such settlements as Eridu, Erech, Babylon, and Lagash took their names from a heavenly city occupied by the central sun. 

Every Egyptian town—Heliopolis, Herakleopolis, Memphis, Abydos, Thebes, Hermopolis—mirrored a prototype, a “city in which the sun shone forth in the beginning.” So did Egypt as a whole, according to the ritual, reproduce the dwelling gathered together and unified by the creator. 

Hebrew tradition knew a heavenly Jerusalem which gave its name to the terrestrial city; and what the Hebrews claimed of their city, the Muslims claimed of Mecca. The Chinese declared their kingdom to be a copy of the celestial empire, and each capital city imitated the same plan. 

In unison, diverse traditions of the Near East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas recall a Holy Land par excellence, founded and ruled by the creator himself. From this Saturnian kingdom every nation took instruction in the ideals of kingship and in the proper organization of the sacred domain. 

The Mother Land 
In the creation myth the great god raised a circular plot of “earth” from the cosmic waters. The enclosure was Saturn’s paradise—the kingdom of heaven—appearing as a vast wheel or throne turning about the stationary god. 

Saturn’s Earth[417] 
In seeming reference to the fertile soil around us, the Latin poet Virgil celebrates the “mother of harvests” and “the mighty mother of men.” But he gives the great goddess of fertility an intriguing title: “Saturn’s Earth.” 

Why Saturn’s Earth? The curiosity increases when one notices that the Sumerian An, Enki, and Ninurta—all identified as Saturn—rule “in the Ekur.” The translators render Ekur as “earth.”[418] So also did Chinese astronomy deem Saturn the planet of the “earth,”[419] while the Phoenician Saturn is said to have dwelt “in the centre of the earth.” 

The Egyptian “earth god” is Seb (or Geb). That is, writes Budge, “the earth formed his body and was called the ‘house of Seb.’”[420] But if Seb’s body was the earth, why did the Greek historian Plutarch translate Seb as Kronos (Saturn)?[421] 

What connection of the planet Saturn and the “earth” might have justified this identity? Of course the common English translation, “earth,” naturally suggests to the modern mind our planet suspended in space. But to the ancients no such detached view was possible. They knew only a terrestrial region, however large or small. In archaic ritual, the terms which experts translate as “earth” mean literally “land,” “place,” “province”; and the only region which the ancients considered worthy of sanctification as the “land” was their own unified state or nation—all else belonging to the “barbarians.” 

But every sacred “land” organized around a religious-political centre proclaimed itself a copy of the primeval dwelling in heaven. Thus the Egyptian ta, often rendered as “earth,” refers first and foremost to the heavenly province of the creator—the ta ab (“pure land”), ta nefer (“beautiful land”), ta sheta (“mysterious land”), ta ankhtet (“land of life”), or ta ur (“great land”). Such terms are synonymous with ta Tuat, the “land of the Tuat,” the cosmic dwelling of Osiris or Re. In naming terrestrial Egypt ta, the Egyptians gave their homeland the name of the cosmic “place” par excellence. 

Ta signifies the cosmic dwelling “gathered together” by the creator. That the Egyptians conceived the ta as the “body of Seb” corresponds with everything we have learned of the primeval enclosure. Of equal significance is Seb’s hieroglyphic symbol, the egg . The myths say that the egg of Seb is that from which the sun first shone forth (i.e., it is the same as the revolving egg of Atum, the egg of the Cosmos). This so-called “world egg” has no connection with our planet. 

Nor did the Sumerian Ekur, “earth,” denote our planet. As observed by Jensen, Langdon, and others, the Ekur appears as the celestial home of the creator.[422] Åke Sjöberg and E. Bergmann state the identity bluntly.[423] The Sumerians knew this celestial domain as the ki—“the place” or “the land”—invoked as ki-sikil-la, the “pure land” or “pure place,” and ki-gal, “great land.”[424] 

The Sumerian ki was the Assyrian Esara, the supreme “place.” Rather than familiar geography, the term refers to the created land of cosmic beginnings. Thus Esara, according to Jensen, was used with special reference to “the earth as it appeared at the creation.”[425] Equivalent is the “celestial land” of Hindu myth,[426] or the “pure land” of the Buddhists.[427] No greater mistake could be made than to seek a geographical location of this lost land. 

Ancient cosmology locates the primordial “place,” not “down here,” but at the celestial pole, the centre and summit. In Egyptian thought, states Clark, the celestial pole is “that place” or “the great city.” Here dwells the “Master of the Primeval Place.”[428] When the god in the Coffin Texts proclaims, “I am the creator who sits in the supreme place,” the reference is to the polar abode, Clark tells us.[429] Iranian astronomy drew on the same tradition when it designated the celestial pole as Gah, which means simply “the place,” the dwelling of “the Great One in the Middle of the Sky.”[430] 

In Iranian cosmology it is Saturn who occupies the polar Gah, “place”—just as it is Saturn who, in the form of the polar An, rules the Sumerian “pure place.” Hence, one could properly call this domain “Saturn’s Land,” or “Saturn’s Province.” And this simple relationship enables us to understand why the ancients, who regarded their own sacred territory as a duplication of the celestial dwelling, extolled the fertile soil as “Saturn’s Earth.”

The Egyptian Paradise 
A clarification of the Egyptian concept will help to illuminate the general tradition. One of the features of the Egyptian ta, “land,” which has encouraged its identification with our earth is its mythical character as a garden or field of abundance. To reside in the ta is to live in the Garden of Hetep. Many descriptions of this primeval domain do indeed sound very much like a terrestrial paradise. The land is filled with wheat or barley, and the inhabitants drink of beer and cool waters. In the Book of the Dead, the deceased king announces, “I know the names of the domains, the districts and the streams within the Garden of Hetep . . . there is given to me the abundance . . .”[431] The Pyramid Texts depict the deceased king drinking oil and wine and living off “the bread of eternity” and “the beer of everlastingness.”[432] 

The Egyptians deemed the meadow of peace and plenty at once the ancestral land and the future home of those yet to pass beyond. Many writers, of course, recognize the Garden of Hetep as an early —perhaps the earliest—mythical expression of the lost paradise. Its underlying nature, however, has yet to be penetrated by the conventional schools. 

To anyone willing to consider the entire context of Egyptian evidence, it should be clear that the primeval land produced by the creator and imbued with overflowing abundance was celestial. Those who attain the Garden of Hetep reach the heaven of the creator. The deceased king in the Pyramid Texts goes “to see his father Osiris.” He announces: “I have gone to the great island in the midst of the Sekhtet Hetepet [Garden of Hetepet] on which the swallow-gods alight; the swallows are the Imperishable Stars . . . I will eat of what you eat. I will drink of what you drink, and you will give satiety to me at the pole . . . You shall set me to be a magistrate among the Khu, the Imperishable Stars in the north of the sky, who rule over offerings and protect the reaped corn, who cause this to go down to the chiefest of the food-spirits who are in the sky.”[433] 

Let us analyze this important text, which combines several Egyptian interpretations of the celestial garden. As used above, the term Hetepet signifies “abundance” or “food offerings.” so that the Garden of Hetepet is the Garden of Abundance or Garden of Food Offerings in heaven. Hetepet possesses a root sense of “gathering together” or “uniting” (much like temt, “collecting,” “gathering together”), a meaning which is vital to the symbolism as a whole. 

Hetepet is, of course, inseparable from hetep, “rest,” “standing in one place.” The Garden of Hetepet is the Garden of Hetep. One can reasonably speak of the Garden as the dwelling of rest and abundance (i.e., “peace and plenty”), gathered together by the creator. The symbolism is, as I shall attempt to show, much deeper than standard interpretations would suggest. 

In the midst of the celestial garden is the “great island,” whose inhabitants—the swallow-gods—are the Akhemu-Seku (“never-corrupting” ones), here translated as “the Imperishable Stars.” The Egyptians also called these divinities Akhemu-Urtu (“never-resting” ones), conventionally identified as circumpolar stars who, revolving around the polar axis, never sink beneath the horizon. But the foregoing text identifies these gods as more than “stars” (in the modern sense of the word). They are the Khu (“words of power” or “light spirits”), which erupted directly from the creator. There is a vast body of evidence to show that these secondary light gods were themselves the abundant “food” or “offerings” of the celestial garden and that this is what the above hymn means when it speaks of the “food-spirits.” 

The flowing beer (or wine) and the field of grain (wheat, barley, corn) are, in fact, indistinguishable from the primeval sea of words (secondary gods) which sprang from the creator and which the great god gathered together to form the enclosure of the primeval island—his own “body.” On the “great island in the midst of the Garden of Hetepet” the fiery particles (Khu, Akhemu-Urtu) “alighted,” collectively forming the enclosure. If, in one myth, the god’s shining “words” congealed into the island, in another, the isle was produced from the luminous “grain of heaven.” The “words of power,” the “grain,” and the “company of the gods” represented interrelated mythical interpretations of the primeval matter ejected by the creator. In the imagination of the Egyptians the creator collected the grain from the celestial field (sometimes called the Sekhet-Sasa or “Field of Fire”), and produced the enclosure as the “granary of the gods”—the house of abundance which every king hoped to attain upon death. The grain served as the “dough” from which the creator fashioned his dwelling; and it is this crucial relationship which explains the interconnected meanings of the Egyptian term paut or pautti—signifying at once the “primeval matter” (company of gods) and “dough” or “bread.” The creator organized the company of gods (the grain) into the revolving Cosmos, conceived as a celestial land of abundance. 

Primeval matter=creative “words”
=secondary gods=grain of heaven (dough, bread). 

In their ceremonies the Egyptians reenacted the creation on a microcosmic scale by fashioning ritual dough cakes used in offerings to the dead. These cakes of paut symbolized the created “land” or “earth,” produced from the overflowing grain of heaven. Thus, while the Egyptian ta means “land,” ta also means “bread” or “cakes.” Such interrelated terminology pervades the Egyptian language. A review of this usage reveals two consistent principles: 

1. The lesser gods (children, servants, assistants) coincide with the “dough”—the beer and grain which erupted from the creator. (Prior to unification as the “land,” or Cosmos, the fiery particles compose the sea of Chaos and thus may be termed “fiends” or “demons” of darkness.) 

2. The organized dwelling (“land,” “city,” “place,” “domain”) coincides with the “granary” and the molded “cake” or “bread” of heaven. 

Here are a few of the many examples: 

The “children” of the great god are the pert, “things which appear”; but pert also means “grain.” The texts describe the beer and grain (the children) as pert er kheru, “appearing at [or as] the words” of the creator. Thus, while akhib means “to speak,” akhabu signifies “grain,” and the inhabitants of the heavenly dwelling are the Akhabiu. 

Similarly, seru means at once “grain” and “princes” or “chiefs”; both uses are inseparable from ser, “to command,” and serui, “flame.” Properly understood the “grain” and the “princes” refer to the same fiery material mythically perceived as the creator’s flaming “commands.” 

Though heq signifies the “ale” or “beer” spit out by the creator, it also means “to command.” 

If aut is “radiance” or “glory” (compare khu), the same word signifies “abundance.” But aut derives from au, “children.” The abundant wheat and barley—i.e., the light spirits who glorify the creator—are brought forth as the god’s own offspring. 

Henu means the “servants” of the great god, who “go round about” (hennui); but henu also denotes “abundance.” The lush growth of the celestial abode is the hen, but the same word signifies the “glory” or “majesty” of the ruling divinity. From the notion that the celestial lights “glorify” the creator, it is a very short step to the idea that they “praise” him or “sing prayers” to him. Thus hen means also “to praise.” 

Accordingly, the word tebhu means “abundance” but also “prayers.” (One should not attempt to distinguish the “prayers” from the praying gods; those who glorify the great god are the glory.) 

So also does senem mean, at once, “abundance” and “to pray,” “adore.” 

While “grain” is shert, the related term sherriu signifies the “little gods.” 

Fenkhu means “abundance,” but the same word denotes the inhabitants of the celestial land. 

Ahau means “food” but also the dwellers in the “land.” 

Hetepet means “abundance,” while the hetepetiu are the secondary gods. Khefa is “food,” but the Kheftiu are the “fiends” of Chaos (eventually organized into the unified dwelling). 

Betu means the “grain” or “barley” of heaven, but also the “demons.” 

Just as the secondary gods compose the “limbs” or “members” of the central sun, so does the grain. An Egyptian term for “grain” is atpet, manifestly derived from at, “limb,” and pet, “heaven.” The grain becomes the “limbs of heaven” (or of the Heaven Man). 

Thus nepu signifies “limb” or “flesh,” while neper means “grain.” The primeval abode is Nepert, i.e., the land formed from the grain. 

Gathered together by the creator, the grain becomes the enclosure of the primeval land—the “granary” or the “bread” of the gods (symbolized by the dough cakes employed in the rites of the dead). Thus, while shen ( , ) denotes the “bond” or “cord” in which the great god dwells, shena means at once “granary” and “body” (the god’s body encompasses the grain). Shenti also means “granary,” but the same word signifies “garment.” (The garment—belt, girdle, collar—is the organized band of grain.) Symbolizing this celestial enclosure are the shens, or sacrificial cakes. 

Peq is a name of the celestial land; and the great god’s garment (=land) is peqt. But peqt also means the “cake” of the gods. 

Similarly, sesher is the god’s garment, while seshert denotes the cake or bread of heaven. 

Qefenu is a name of the god’s dwelling, while qefen signifies the sacred “cake.” 

Nes means both “grain” and “fire.” (The field of grain is the field of fire.) In the rites the grain is fashioned into the nest or sacrificial cake. But nest also denotes the “throne” of the creator. (Creator’s throne=primeval land.) 

The benet are light-spirits who accompany the creator. Helping to explain the term is the related word bennut, signifying the “matter” or “fluid” which erupted from the solitary god. This primeval matter forms the sacred cake, for “cake” or “bread” is bennu. Bener, a name of the created land, derives from the same root. 

The “food-spirits” gathered together to form the primeval enclosure are the “builders” of the god’s home. Thus, the “beer” which flows from the creator is aqet, but aqet also denotes a “builder” or “mason”—i.e., one of the aqetu who fashion the celestial dwelling. 

The language repeats the same connections again and again: 

1. Secondary light gods=celestial abundance (grain, beer, etc.) 

2. Unified dwelling of god=celestial abundance (grain, land, body, garment, beer, etc.) gathered into organized form, i.e., as “cake” or “bread.” 

It is clear that, in Egyptian ritual, the sacred cakes meant much more than mere “bread.” The cakes were symbols of the great god and his creation—the Garden of Abundance. The celestial prototype of the cake was the island of beginnings, which the creator organized from a previously chaotic sea of “beer and grain.” That the Egyptians conceived the unified “land” or celestial “bread” as the body of the creator is crucial to the symbolism; in eating the cake, or in drinking the sanctified beer, the initiates symbolically enjoyed the abundance of the primeval age, or, what is the same thing, they consumed the body of the creator. (I shall not distract from the present discussion by elaborating parallels in later religious symbolism.) 

The interrelated terminology identifies the primeval ta, “land,” with the enclosure of the central sun . The Egyptians knew that the primeval garden lay within the circle of the Aten. (“Thou makest thy creations in thy great Aten,” reads the Litany of Re.)[434] Thus the Egyptians denoted the garden of Re by combining the Aten glyph with the glyph for “garden”: . 

The significance of such imagery seems to have escaped mythologists: the lost “homeland” of global lore was the original dwelling of the sun-god. Of the Egyptian han or “homeland,” Reymond writes: “The Sun-God was believed to operate from his birthplace . . . In its essential nature the primeval sacred domain was the very place from which the Radiance issued first.”[435] This “sacred domain” was the island of ta, the celestial earth. 

Egyptian sources term the created domain Neter-ta—the “Holy Land” or “God’s Earth.” Here occurred the primordial dawn. That is, it was from Neter-ta that the stationary sun shone forth. A hymn to Amen-Re, for example, invokes the sun-god as the “Beautiful Face, who comest [shines] from Neter-ta.”[436] No wonder that Egyptologists confuse this Holy Land with the terrestrial east—the place of the solar sunrise! 

The exact counterpart of the Egyptian Neter-ta is the Sumerian Dilmun, the “clear and radiant” dwelling of the gods, ruled by the Universal Monarch Enki. Dilmun, according to Sumerian hymns, is “the place where the sun rises.”[437] And many thousands of miles from Mesopotamia the natives of Hawaii recall an ancestral land, Tahiti Na, “our peaceful motherland: the tranquil land of Dawn.”[438] So also did the Hindus, Persians, Chinese, and many American Indian tribes conceive the lost paradise as the place of the “sunrise.”[439] 

The World Wheel 
That Saturn, the primeval sun, first shed its light from the circle of the created “earth” will explain why the celestial land often appears as a great wheel revolving around the stationary sun. It may be called alternately the “world wheel,” “world mill,” or “chariot.” And this turning wheel of the Holy Land is consistently represented by the signs and 

Hindu descriptions of the cosmic wheel affirm that the ancient sun stands at the centre, as the Chakravartin or “wheel-turner.” From the stationary pivot of the wheel, the Universal Monarch “directs the movement without participating in it himself,” states Guenon.[440] 

On the Buddhist iconography of the world wheel, Coomaraswamy writes: “He whose seat is on the lotiform nave or navel of the wheel, and himself unmoving sets and keeps it spinning, is the ruler of the world, of all that is natured and extended in the middle region, between the essential nave and the natural felly.”[441] The organized “world” lies within the ever-turning rim . The Buddhists regard this sacred domain as both an ancestral paradise and “the situation of the Goal,”[442] the heaven reached by the deceased. 

Buddhist myths say that a plot of “land” congealed out of the cosmic waters to form a band around the great father, becoming the “golden wheel”: “The surface of these waters, just as in the Brahmanical cosmology and in Genesis, is stirred by the dawn wind of creation. The foam of the waters solidifies to form the golden circle (Kancana-mandala) or ‘Land of Gold’ (Kancana-bhumi), the same as Hsuan-tsang’s ‘golden wheel’ and representing ‘the foundations of the earth’ . . . The surface of the Land of Gold is the Round of the World.”[443] 

That the world wheel stood at the stationary pole is confirmed by the Buddhist account of the primeval “wheel king”—owner of a “wheel whose steadfastness was the measure of his fitness to rule.” He was “a universal king,” “a righteous king ruling in righteousness, lord of the four quarters of the earth.” (The four quarters were the four divisions of the wheel .) The myth states not only that the revolving wheel remained in a stationary position, but that a fall from its fixed place would mean the death of the ruler. “If the Celestial Wheel of a Wheel-turning king shall sink down, shall slip down from its place, that king has not much time to live . . .”[444] That is, of course, exactly what happened: the wheel fell, the Universal Monarch died, and the world was thrown into confusion. 

One is reminded of the Zoroastrian world wheel called the Spihr. This ever-turning wheel was the “body” of Zurvan, or Time, the planet Saturn. Throughout the primordial epoch, the wheel of the Spihr remained in one spot; and its fall coincided with the collapse of the prosperous age.[445] 

In many myths Saturn’s earth-wheel acquires the poetic form of an enormous mill churning out abundance. An old Icelandic tradition, for example, knew the mill as the fabulous possession of Amlodhior Frodhi under whose rule mankind enjoyed peace and prosperity. Recruited by Frodhi to work the mill were two giant maidens, who day and night turned the massive wheel, grinding out gold and happiness. But like all fabled wheels, Frodhi’s mill eventually broke down, causing the death of the great monarch. 

As shown by de Santillana and von Dechend, Frodhi was the planet Saturn.[446] The authors (whose work is titled Hamlet’s Mill) review widespread traditions of the cosmic mill—from Iceland to Finland to India to Greece—finding many unexpected connections with the same remote planet. (Not once, however, do the two writers wonder whether the tradition of the Saturnian wheel may have originated in the actual observation of a band around the planet.) 

As the possession of the Universal Monarch, the mill lies in the farthest north and is regularly identified with the “pole” or “axis” of the world. The Finnish Kalevala locates the mill (here called the Sampo) on a great rock in “North Farm,” the polar garden of plenty. The hero Ilmarinen: . . . 

forged the Sampo skillfully: on one side a grain mill, on the second side a salt mill, in the third a money [i.e., gold] mill. 
Then the Sampo ground away, the lid of many colours went round and round.[447] 

This cosmic mill, too, broke down, bringing wholesale disorder. And if the Finnish Sampo is a late and fanciful version of the mill, the linguists now recognize the Sampo’s connection with the older skambha of Hindu ritual.[448] In the Atharva Veda the Skambha (meaning “pole”) appears as the “golden embryo” and the “frame of creation,” a mill-like edifice “which poured forth the gold within the world.” The Vedic hymn equates the mill (Skambha) with the whole creation. The body of the Skambha houses the life elements and the gods; it is the “ancient one” or “great monster,” whose veins are the four quarters of the world (i.e., ). That the cosmic mill is at once the Universal Monarch’s body and the created paradise will immediately explain why, in the general tradition, the collapse of the great wheel coincides with the death of the god-king and the sinking of the lost land into the waters of the Abyss. 

Nothing so confuses the underlying theme as the habit, begun long ago, of conceiving the primordial wheel, or island of “earth,” in terrestrial terms. Could the landscape familiar to the ancients have produced the many interrelated images of the turning wheel? 

The One-Wheeled Chariot 
The great god sits enthroned within the celestial earth as in a one-wheeled chariot. Thus, in Scandinavian rock carvings the symbol —the universal sign of the world wheel—may either appear alone or as the wheel of a celestial wagon. All ancient sun-gods seem to own such a wheel or chariot. The one-wheeled chariot of the Hindu Surya clearly answers to the same cosmic form as “the high-wheeled chariot” of the Iranian Mithra.[449] An early form was the famous sun wheel of the Babylonian Shamash. 

Figure 15. The wheel of Shamash, held in place by a cord. 

Figure 16. Triptolemus riding on a single wheel.

Figure 17. The wheel of Ixion.

Figure 18. Hebrew Yahweh on a single wheel. 

Greek art depicts the great father Dionysus seated upon a one-wheeled chariot, much like that of the old god Triptolemos. In the Astronomica of Hyginus one finds Triptolemos remembered as “the first of all to use a single wheel.”[450] Argive tradition held that the father of Triptolemos was Trochilos, “he of the wheel,” whom some identified as the inventor of the first chariot. The Greeks of Chios knew the primeval god Gyrapsios, “he of the round wheel.”[451] Obviously, none of these wheels or wheel gods can be separated from the famous wheel of Ixion, set loose in a celestial conflagration. The Hebrew Yahweh similarly sits upon a single wheel. 

While modern commentators offer competing interpretations of the cosmic wheel—the chariot of the gods—few stop to notice the link with Saturn. Cook, for example, after a prolonged study of ancient wheel symbolism, acknowledges Kronos (Saturn) as the old wheel or “disk” bearer, but is not inclined to draw any conclusions from this.[452] The “inventor” of the wheel, or “chariot,” was the now-distant planet. This is what the Chinese tell us when they report that the god-king Huang-ti, who is identified with the planet Saturn, was the first to use the wheeled chariot. In more than one of the illustrations presented here the cosmic wheel serves as the throne of the ruling god. L’Orange calls this “the throne chariot,” noting many examples in the ancient Near East.[453] One of the divinities to sit upon such a chariot (or wheel-throne) is the Hebrew Yahweh, whose seat is “the wheel of the throne of his glory.”[454] (The god’s revolving throne is the circle of “glory”—that is, his own “halo.”) 

If later art showed the god on the wheeled seat, the original motif has the god in it, for the throne revolves around the god. Here, for example, is a verse from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, revealing a little-noticed aspect of the cosmic throne: “O my Seat, O my Throne, come ye to me, and go ye round about me, O ye gods. I am a sah [luminous body], therefore let me rise up [shine] among those who follow [go around] the great god.”[455] When the deceased king attains the celestial throne he stands within the revolving circle of the gods, the “followers” of the central sun. The Edfu texts call this the “throne-of-gods,” for the divine assembly itself forms the wheel of the throne.[456] 

Figure 19. The Celtic god of the wheel. 

Figure 20. Anglo-Saxon Seater, with wheel. 

Denoted by the throne or wheel-throne is the plot of ta, “land,” which first emerged from the cosmic sea. The creator brought forth the revolving circle of earth as his “primeval seat.” Reymond writes: “The Earth was caused to emerge from Nun by virtue of the radiance of the Sun-God who was believed to dry up the water around his primeval seat.”[457] This plot of created “earth” was the han or “homeland,” which the texts call neset, the “throne.”[458] 

The implications reach far beyond Egypt and bear directly on the wide-ranging myths of cosmic chariots and primeval mills noted above. What one usually regards as two separate themes—the “chariot of the sun” and the “world wheel”—converge in a single image: the wheel of Saturn, the primeval sun. That the ancients denoted the “sun wheel” and the created “earth” by one and the same sign was no coincidence. 

The City Of Heaven 
The Saturn myth tells us not only that the planet-god ruled the Holy Land as the first king but that he founded the first city. Saturn’s “city” means “Saturn’s Earth.” 

The great god lives 
fixed in the middle of the sky . . . 
dweller in the city.[459] 

This is the pronouncement of the Egyptian Coffin Texts. The cosmic city is the Primeval Place: “I have come to this city, the region of the ‘First Time’ to be . . . a dweller in ‘this land.’”[460] Thus the Egyptians invoke a celestial Memphis, “the divine emerging primeval island”; a celestial Thebes, “the island emerging in Nun which first came into being”; a celestial Hermonthes, “the high ground which grew out of Nun,” or “the egg which originated in the beginning”;[461] a celestial Elephantine, the “city in the midst of the waters,” or the “throne of Re”;[462] and a celestial Abydos, the ta-ur or “Great (Primeval) Land.”[463] 

The integrated symbolism—though at times complex—never departs from the underlying idea of an enclosure around the central sun. The imagery concerns “the original state of the world,” rather than a terrestrial city, states Clark.[464] Depicted is the city of the “dawn” or of the “sun’s coming forth.” The tradition is universal. Mention Erech and historians naturally think of the ancient city in southern Mesopotamia. But the Erech invoked in the ritual is no terrestrial habitation. It is: 

Erech, the handiwork of the gods, 
The great wall touching the sky, 
The lofty dwelling place established by Anu.[465] 

The creator An (Anu)—who is the planet Saturn—dwelt in the uru-ul-la, “the city of former times”—not a city on earth but the embryo of the Cosmos, according to Van Dijk.[466] Ruling from the “midst of heaven,” An shines as “the hero of the sacred city on high.”[467] This is the “city founded by An . . . Place where the great gods dine, filled with radiance and awe . . .”[468] The hymns call it “the great city,” and “the place where the sun rises.”[469] 

All Mesopotamian traditions describe the celestial city as the original garden of abundance—“the dais of plenty . . . the pure place . . . Its heart like a distant shrine . . . Its feasts flow with fat and milk, are rich with abundance.”[470] 

Thus did the Sumerians recall the lost land of Dilmun as “the primeval city”: 

Dilmun, the city thou hast founded . . . 
Lo, thy city drinks water in abundance. 
Lo, Dilmun drinks water in abundance.[471] 

Egyptian and Mesopotamian descriptions of the cosmic city make clear that this habitation was the same enclosure as the lost paradise, and the identity persists in Hebrew and Muslim thought, which continually associates Adam’s paradise with a cosmic Jerusalem. The light of the Jerusalem above was provided by God himself. “And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure fold, like unto glass.”[472] One of the Psalms glorifies the celestial Jerusalem as “Sublime in elevation in the uttermost north . . . the City of the King.”[473] The heavenly city lay at the cosmic centre; it was the first thing created by God; and it was surrounded by the primeval sea. The image, observes Faber, is “plainly borrowed from the garden of Eden.” 

The Hebrews also preserved the tradition of a primordial city of Tyre, similarly identified with Eden. [474] In Ezekiel we read: 

“O Tyre, you have said, 
‘I am perfect in beauty.’ 
Your borders are in the heart of the seas . . . 
You were in Eden, the garden of God; 
every precious stone was your covering.”[475] 

This equation of the cosmic city and the original paradise finds numerous parallels in other traditions. The Persian vara fashioned by Ahura Mazda is at once the first city and the lost paradise.[476] The “all-containing city of Brahma” at the pole merges into the paradisal plain of Ila;[477] the Imperial City of the Chinese Shang-ti coincides with the mythical paradise of Kwen-lun;[478] while the Mexican lost city of Aztlan (“surrounded by waters”) and the Mayan lost city of Tula (the “enclosure” in the sea) both appear as gardens of abundance.[479] 

A coherent pattern unifies what are often assumed to be unrelated myths and symbols: the created “earth,” the lost paradise, the wheel of the sun, the revolving throne, and the cosmic city. While the mythical formulations vary, all point to the same band housing the central sun. 

Surely it is of significance that, while these images are often dissociated in later myths, they constantly overlap in the earliest versions. The Aztecs may have forgotten that the lost city was the throne of the creator; and perhaps many Greek cults no longer remembered that the Island of the Blessed was the turning wheel of the sun, but such connections are central to the world’s oldest cosmologies. 

The interrelationships are clearly evident in the image of the mother goddess, who unites in a single personality the varied aspects of the celestial earth: paradise, wheel, throne, and city. 

The Egyptian great mother—whether called Isis, Nut, Hathor, Mut, or Neith—is nebt en neter ta, “the Lady of the Holy Land” or “the Lady of God’s Earth.” The “island of earth,” according to the Pyramid Texts, lies “between the thighs of Nut.”[480] If one permits the Egyptian concept to illuminate later symbolism of the “mother earth” one sees that the supposed distinction between earth goddesses and sky goddesses lacks foundation. “God’s Earth” means Saturn’s Earth, and this mother land, circumscribed by the womb of the goddess, is the enclosure of the central sun. 

Nor can one fail to notice that the hieroglyph for the goddess Nut —“the holy abode”—is the form of a wheel and an obvious prototype of the “world wheels” so common to Eastern symbolism. Isis, in the classical age, was also symbolized by a wheel.[481] 

Mesopotamian cults represented the goddess Ishtar, “the womb,” by a wheel. The Hindu goddess Rta is the “wheel of law” controlling the cosmic cycle, while the goddess Ila personifies the chakra or world wheel. The name of the Celtic goddess Arianrhod means “silver wheel.” One is reminded also of the iynx wheel of Aphrodite and the wheels of Tyche, Nemesis, and Fortuna, all of which appear to reflect a common idea. As the stable, ever-turning circle of the Cosmos, the goddess eventually became the abstract “wheel of Mother Nature.”[482] 

And when one realizes that the wheel served as the great father’s revolving throne it can come as no surprise to discover that, in the archaic terminology, “throne” and “goddess” are synonymous. “The seated great mother,” states Neumann, “is the original form of the‘enthroned goddess,’ and also of the throne itself. As mother and earth woman the Great Mother is the ‘throne’ pure and simple . . . The king comes to power by ‘mounting the throne’ and so takes his place on the lap of the Great Goddess, the earth—he becomes her son.”[483] 

Figure 21. The goddess Nemesis, with wheel of fate. 
In the Hindu kingship rites reviewed by Hocart, “the king is made to sit on a throne which represents the womb.”[484] But the identity of the throne and womb is as old as human language: the Egyptian hieroglyph for Isis, the womb of heaven, is a simple throne . 

But the same mother goddess encloses the cosmic city. The determinative of “city” in the Egyptian hieroglyphs is simply the sign of the “holy abode” , the goddess Nut. The Pyramid Texts invoke the goddess, “in this your name of ‘settlements,’ . . . in this your name of ‘City.’”[485] while the Book of the Dead extols the great mother as “Lady of terrors, lofty of walls.”[486] 

The Egyptian city-goddess finds a close parallel in the Babylonian goddess Ura-azaga, whose name means “brilliant town.”[487] Tyro, the mother goddess of the Tyrians, gave the Greeks their word tyrsis, “walled city.”[488] To enter the celestial city is to find shelter in the primeval womb. Thus the refuge of Delphi is “the womb” and Jerusalem “the city of the heavenly womb.”[489] 

In the New Testament (Book of Revelation) one finds a fascinating equation of primeval goddess and primeval city. In his vision, John beholds “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whomthe kings of the earth have committed fornication . . . and upon her forehead was a name written, ‘MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Who was this “mother of harlots”? The angel explains: “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”[490] The language points to the ancient rites of kingship, in which every local ruler took as his consort the city (womb) on the cosmic waters. 

In ranging over the myths and symbols of the created earth, paradise, wheel, throne, and city, one thus remains in the shadow of a single mother goddess, who contains within her womb the first organized domain in heaven, the island of Saturn’s Cosmos . 

The Enclosure As Prototype 
In dealing with the myths and symbols of the Holy Land one must reckon with the distinction—not always spelled out in ancient literature—between the celestial prototype and the terrestrial copy. Every sacred kingdom or city derives its character from the primeval dwelling, so that whatever was said of the enclosure above was also said of the imitative form constructed by men. 

“From the concordant testimony of all the traditions,” writes Guenon, “a conclusion emerges very clearly: the affirmation that there exists a ‘Holy Land’ par excellence, prototype of all other ‘Holy Lands,’ the spiritual centre to which all other centres are subordinated.”[491] 

Through identification, the sacred history of the race or nation merges with the history of the gods, for each organized community viewed itself as a duplication of the celestial “race.” Each line of historical kings leads back to a first king who is not a man, but Saturn, the supreme power of heaven; in the same way, the race as a whole traces its ancestry to a generation of gods or semi-divine beings who inhabited the “earth” raised in the creation. By this universal tendency, Saturn’s paradise becomes the ancestral land, the place where history began. Does not every nation claim that its ancestors descended from a race of gods, who occupied a happy garden at the centre and summit? 

It was with the utmost seriousness that the ancients laid out their first political settlements, taking the cosmic habitation as the prescribed plan. The purpose was to establish Saturn’s kingdom on earth, repeating the creator’s defeat of Chaos and founding a central authority whose power extended to a protective “border” separating the kingdom of light from the powers of darkness and disorganization (the “barbarians”). 

Accordingly, the first sacred cities were organized as circular enclosures around the ruling lord. Ritual requirements superseded practical considerations, and even when geography and growth prevented or distorted the purely circular form, the sacred city was still conceived as a revolving enclosure. Symbolically, every Egyptian city lay within the shield or protective border of Nut (the “Great Protectoress”). The Babylonian map shows the land as a circle around a centre. “Here,” concludes Eliade, “the earthly abode is the counterpart (mehret) of the heavenly abode.”[492] 

Hebrew thought repeatedly insists that the terrestrial Jerusalem was but a likeness of the city first constructed by God. “A celestial Jerusalem was created by God before the city was built by the hand of man . . . The heavenly Jerusalem kindled the inspiration of all the Hebrew prophets,” observes Eliade.[493] The distinction between the local and the primordial city receives emphatic statement in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, when God asks, “Dost thou think that this is that city of which I said: ‘On the palms of my hands have I graven thee’? This building now built in your midst is not that which is revealed with me, that which was prepared beforehand here from the time when I took counsel to make Paradise . . .”[494] (Again, note the equation of the city—Jerusalem and paradise.) 

Equally clear is the primacy of the archetypal city in Hinduism, according to Eliade. “All the Indian royal cities, even the modern ones, are built after the mythical model of the celestial city, where, in the age of gold (in illo tempore), the Universal Sovereign dwelt . . . Thus, for example, the palace fortress of Sigiriya, in Ceylon, is built after the model of the celestial city Alakamanda and is ‘hard of ascent for human beings’”[495] 

Symbolically, each Hindu settlement stood within the mandala or “circle,” delineating a consecrated space magically protected from the invading forces of disintegration.[496] The sanctified area, observes Tucci, “by the line of defense which circumscribes it, represents protection from the mysterious forces that menace the sacred purity of the spot . . .” This protective circle is “above all, a map of the cosmos.”[497] 

As documented by L’Orange, the circle around a centre was the ideal form of sacred cities in the Near East, as typified by the residential cities of Darabjerd and Firuzabad, whose circular form served as a precedent for the “Round City” of Baghdad. The ideal pattern derived from the ancient conception of the Cosmos, states L’Orange.[498] 

The same symbolism attaches to the Roman mundusa trench dug around the spot on which a new city was to be built. The enclosure served as a protective bond, ordaining the city as a renewal of the primeval homeland.[499] In the old documents the Roman cities were the urbes, from orbis, “round.”[500] 

The consistent pattern of the sacred territory shows the influence of a universal prototype. Yet few researchers take the prototype seriously. When the creation myths speak of a primordial Heliopolis, Erech, or Jerusalem, the analysts think only of the terrestrial city. One can, with far greater assurance, insist that the local habitation never produces, on its own, a cosmic myth of any kind. 

In Egypt, it is the primeval sun who rules the original Heliopolis, Memphis, Thebes, Herakleopolis, just as it is the primeval sun who governs as the first king of Egypt as a whole. The city and kingdom repeat, on different scales, the same history and this fact alone is sufficient to show that the “history” is not local but universal. If the myths say that Egypt was “gathered together” from the primeval matter, forming an island around the sun, they say the same of the sacred city, whatever its name.[501] 

That the ancients often forgot the distinction between their own city or kingdom and the celestial prototype was a natural result of the inseparable bond between the two. The local habitation inherited the mythical character of the celestial, so that the divergent actual histories of ancient nations lead back to one universal history. 

It is in this sense that one must understand the legends of the first kings and primeval generations. Many Egyptian texts, for example, refer to a remote time in which the land was ruled by the “followers of Horus.” An inscription of a King Ranofer (just prior to the Middle Kingdom) recalls “the time of your forefathers, the kings, Followers of Horus.” A text of Thutmose I speaks of great fame the like of which was not “seen in the annals of the ancestors since the Followers of Horus.” The Turin Papyrus places this primeval generation prior to the first historical king, Menes.[502] 

Did these mythical “ancestors” actually rule terrestrial Egypt? In truth the “Followers of Horus” means, not a generation of mortals, but the assembly of the gods. The “ancestors” were the light spirits of the celestial city, encircling and protecting the central sun. Just as the myths translate the Universal Monarch into the first king of Egypt, so also do they express the god-king’s companions as a primeval race from which all Egyptian nobility might claim descent. Every Holy Land on our earth was assimilated to the same celestial kingdom and every race to the same generation of gods. 

The World Navel 
Through identification with Saturn’s dwelling, each terrestrial kingdom or city of antiquity distinguished itself as the Middle Place, the centre from which history took its start. Symbolically each local Holy Land became the omphalos or “navel of the world.” 

Thus, the mythic navel constitutes a global motif of archaic symbolism. As documented in the separate studies of Roscher and Muller,[503] the ancient cities of Babylon and Nineveh (as well as Baghdad), Jerusalem, Hebron Bethel, Shechem, and the entire land of Palestine; numerous Greek cities (including Athens); the Muslim city of Mecca; and countless other cities of Asia and Europe were styled “the navel” or “the centre of the earth.” 

Just as the Egyptians conceived their land as the “middle-earth” (Aguipte), the Chinese proclaimed their empire to be the “Kingdom of the Middle.”[504] Early Japanese sources call Japan the centre of the earth—or the “middle kingdom of the reed plain,” while the Mongolians regard their home as “the Middle Place.”[505] Peoples of northern Siberia know the Yenisei as “the centre of the world,”[506] Ireland was once the kingdom of the Mide or “Middle.”[507] 

In faraway Easter Island the natives speak of their land as the “navel.”[508] And in the Americas, the Zuni call (or once called) their town “the Middle Place”; the Inca city of Cuzco signified “the navel of the earth”;[509] so also did the Chickasaw of Mississippi regard their territory as “the centre of the earth.”[510] 

The reader may respond: isn’t it perfectly natural that a people, seeing other lands and nations distributed around them, would come to regard their own as the “centre”? This is, of course, a common explanation of the universal habit. On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that the concept of the world navel reflects something more than narrow vision or tribal arrogance. 

The acknowledged religious centre of the Greeks was Delphi, on the steep slopes of Mount Parnassus. Here was located the omphalos (“navel”), revered as the Seat of Apollo and “the centre of the earth.” But among the Greeks, Delphi was not alone in claiming distinction as the omphalos. Similar claims were made for world navels in the Peloponnesus, at Elis, at Thessaly, and at Crete. Both the Aetolians and Epirotes were called omphalians or “people of the navel.”[511] 

Many competing seats of Apollo appear as the omphalos, according to Roscher.[512] Rather than suggest narrow-mindedness, such repeated claims confirm a consistent memory: from high antiquity the idea must have been passed down that Apollo’s throne occupied the “centre.” All local shrines certainly shared this tradition. But one must not mistake the imitation for the original. Just as one might say of Apollo’s statue, “This is the god Apollo,” without intending a literal identification, so could the cult worshippers say of the local shrine, “This is the throne of Apollo at the earth navel.” That the statement comes from more than one locality only reinforces the general tradition. The truth was observed by W. T. Warren long ago when he declared Delphi to be “a memorial shrine, an attempted copy of the great original.”[513] 

Clearly, the “great original”—the god’s primeval home—was not of our earth. Apollo, the polar sun, was not the only god to occupy this centre. In Mexico, a Nahuatl hymn extols the god Ometeotl as: 

Mother of the Gods, Father of the Gods, 
the old God distended 
in the navel of the earth, 
engaged in the enclosure of turquoise 
He who dwells in waters the colour of the bluebird.[514] 

A Babylonian hymn located the god Ea at the “centre of the earth”: 

The path of Ea was in Eridu, teeming with fertility. 
His seat (there) is the centre of the earth; 
his couch is the bed of the primeval mother.[515] 

Similarly, the Egyptian Osiris “sits in judgement on the Primeval Mound, which is in the middle of the world,” states Clark.[516] In the ancient account of Sanchuniathon, the great god El (Kronos/Saturn) acquires supremacy “in a certain place in the center of the earth.”[517] 

The earth navel, in the original tradition, is the inaccessible dwelling at the cosmic summit which is why the Hindus could say of the fire god Agni,[518] “He is the head and summit of the sky, the centre [Nabhi, navel] of the earth.” Hebrew and Muslim thought constantly identifies the throne of Yahweh and Allah with the “navel of the earth,” but this navel is above, for the Muslim text states of the Ka’ba, or earth navel: “Know that the centre of the earth, according to a tradition on the authority of the Prophet, is the Ka’ba: it has the significance of the navel of the earth, because of its rising above the level of the earth.”[519] 

Another source relates, “Tradition says: the polestar proves the Ka’ba is the highest situated territory; for it lies over against the centre of heaven.”[520] Both Jerusalem and Mecca, as earth navels, lie at the cosmic summit. “The centre of the earth and the pole of heaven, both are intimately connected with the throne,” observes Wensinck.[521] 

Similarly, Gnostic traditions surveyed by Jung consider the polar region both “the seat of the highest gods” and “the navel of the world.”[522] That the Greek omphalos received the appellation “axis” indicates an obvious connection with the pole.[523] 

In all of these traditions, of course, one has to contend with the confusion between the celestial earth and what we call “earth” today. It can hardly be doubted that ancient races eventually came to use the phrase “world navel” in connection with the terrestrial landscape. The original concept of the navel, however, is not complicated by ambiguous meanings of the “earth.” In the original tradition, the created earth is the navel, pure and simple; Saturn’s Cosmos appeared as a central enclosure or “navel” of dry ground rising from the primordial waters. So it is not surprising to find that the symbol of the navel was the enclosed sun , the sign of the world wheel. “The concentric circles or the dot-in-circle denoted, in the Mediterranean area, the omphalos, the navel of the earth,” states Butterworth.[524] (Thus, in organizing their sacred cities in the form of a wheel the ancients expressed the cities’ character as “navel.”) 

The enclosed sun , according to Neumann, served as “the life symbol of the womb-navel centre.”[525] It would be difficult to improve upon this definition. To reside within the life containing navel is to dwell in the womb of the mother goddess, for the omphalos, as discerned by Uno Holmberg, is “the representative of the Great Mother” not only in classical symbolism but in Hindu and Altaic ritual also.[526] 

Hence Delphi, the Greek omphalos, signifies “the womb.”[527] The spouse of Hercules is Omphale, the female personification of the omphalos.[528] In the same way, Hindu ritual constantly identifies the mystic yoni or “womb” with the navel: Agni is “born from the yoni or navel of the earth,”[529] while Brahma is the “navel-born.”[530] 

Such symbolism connects the famous navel with the primeval enclosure. Saturn’s band, marking out the stable, revolving island which appeared in the cosmic waters, came to be remembered as the cosmic centre—where mythical history began.

The Ocean 
Many ancient traditions describe a circular ocean or river girdling the “earth.” The gods, according to the Norse creation legend, “made the vast ocean, in the midst of which they fixed the earth, the ocean encircling it as a ring.”[531] By the Greek Okeanos, “the whole earth is bound.”[532] The Babylonians said of the nether river, “all earth it encloses.”[533] Hebrew and Arabic cosmologies, according to Wensinck, hold that “the whole of the earth is round and the ocean surrounds it like a collar.”[534] 

In spite of the widespread belief, certain classical writers grew skeptical. Of the famous ocean stream the historian Herodotus announced: “For my part, I cannot but laugh when I see numbers of persons drawing maps of the world without reason to guide them; making, as they do, the Ocean stream to run all round the earth.”[535] 

Or again: “The boundaries of Europe are quite unknown, and there is not a man who can say whether any sea girds it round either on the north or on the east.”[536] Such was the inevitable conclusion of historians and philosophers, once the “world” or “earth” lost its original cosmic meaning and passed into a figure of geography. Even today conventional treatments of the mythical ocean perpetuate the misunderstanding. 

The cynics overlooked a most significant point: originally, the ocean encircled the creator as a girdle: Okeanos was no terrestrial river, but the “belt” around the cosmic deity.[537] The “land” which the ocean enclosed was the dwelling of the gods. Hesiod, for example, in his description of the shield of Hercules (an acknowledged figure of the Cosmos) identifies the ocean as the rim of the shield, enclosing a celestial paradise. 

The shield was a wonder to see, “for its whole orb was a-shimmer with enamel and white ivory and electrum, and it glowed with shining gold.” Within the shield’s protective enclosure dwelt the great god and the lesser divinities: “There also was the abode of the gods, pure Olympus, and their assembly, and infinite riches were spread around in the gathering of the deathless gods.” The inhabitants of this circular land above celebrated a continual festival, for here grew grapes and corn in abundance. “And around the rim,” writes Hesiod, “Ocean was flowing, with a full stream as it seemed, and enclosed all the cunning work of the shield.”[538] 

As in the case of the world navel, the imagery makes sense only when one understands the created “earth” as the dwelling of the great god himself. 

Egyptian sources remove all possible doubt as to the celestial character of the encircling stream. The Coffin Texts say of the Father of the Gods: “the river around him is ablaze with light.”[539] The same circular river is called a lake of fire. Re appears as ami-mer-nesert, “he who is in his fiery lake”; while the throne of Horus is the “Lake of Double Fire.”[540] 

Actually, the Egyptian ocean or lake is simply the Tuat, the dwelling of Osiris or Re:[541] “This is the lake which is in the Tuat . . . This lake is filled with barley [i.e., grain, abundance]. The water of the lake is fire.”[542] 

Containing the fiery waters of the Abyss, the celestial river or lake encircled the “world.” The Pyramid Texts invoke: 

The Great Circle, in your name of 
“Great Surround,” an enveloping ring, in the 
“Ring that encircles the Outermost Lands”, 
A Great Circle in the Great Round of 
the Surrounding Ocean.[543] 

In the Egyptian symbolism this watery circle is the band of the enclosed sun , the band which circumscribed the outermost limit of the cosmic dwelling. The “ocean” in the above text is the Shenur, or “the great Shen.” In the Egyptian language the shen bond or cord ( , ) signifies at once the band of the Aten and “ocean” or “river.” One can properly term this circle of water “the river of the cosmic bond” or “the ocean of the cord.” 

Pointing to the same interrelationships is the Egyptian word nut. Nut, the goddess, is the female personification of the Cosmos or shen bond; but nut also denotes “stream,” “river,” “sea.” The encircling river, as the border of the “Holy abode” (nut), thus gives rise to the phrase “the ocean, the border of Nut.”[544] That nut further means “cord” and “city” only confirms the integrated symbolism. 

In none of this symbolism is there any suggestion of a terrestrial ocean. As detailed by Reymond, the primeval waters form an enclosure around the resting place of the great god “perhaps resembling the channel which was made around sacred places later on.”[545] Encircled by the celestial river, the province of beginning becomes the “island in the stream,”[546] or the “pool.” (See, for example, the “pool of Hermopolis”; the celestial Abydos was the “pool of Maati.”)[547] 

The mythical “waters” are inseparable from the primeval matter or company of gods which exploded from the creator, subsequently to be gathered into the circle of glory (khut). The radiant gods—or “Primeval Ones”—revolved around the border of the cosmic ocean or lake, for the Egyptians, according to Reymond, “imagined that, after the phases of the primary creation were completed, these Primeval Ones lived in the vicinity of the pool . . . Their resting place, however, is portrayed as of the most primitive appearance: the bare edges of the pool.”[548] The gods occupy the border and revolve around it, as confirmed by the Book of the Dead: “‘Hail,’ say these gods who dwell in their companies and who go round about the Turquoise Pool.”[549] 

Nor in Egypt alone does the cosmic ocean form the band of the enclosed sun . Here is a Sumerian description of the Engur or “river” around the motionless lord Enki: 

Thou River, creatress of all things, 
When the great gods dug thee, on thy bank they placed mercy. 
Within thee Ea, King of the Apsu, built his abode. 
They gave thee the Flood, the unequalled. 
Fire, rage, splendour, and terror . . . 
O great River, far-famed River . . .[550] 

These are the waters of the cosmic sea Apsu—“the waters which are forever collected together in the deep,”[551] corresponding to the Egyptian dwelling gathered together by the creator. The oldest image of this encircling river or ocean is the ancient Sumerian sign for Kis (the all, the complete land, the Cosmos): . The band in this sign, according to Jeremias, represents the encircling ocean, the same river that is depicted encircling the “earth” (Cosmos) in the Babylonian world map.[552] Like the Egyptian ocean the revolving stream forms the border of the celestial land. 

As the womb of primeval birth, the Sumerian Engur, “River,” provides a close parallel to the Egyptian goddess Nut. Indeed, like Nut, the Sumero-Babylonian river goddess was conceived as the unifying cord. The waters of Engur (Apsu) compose the tarkullu, “rope,” or the markasu, “band,” bond,” holding together the created Cosmos.[553] Like the Egyptians, the Sumero-Babylonians recalled the enclosure of the cosmic ocean as that which gave birth to the primeval sun. The god who “illuminates the interior of the Apsu” is Ninurta, the planet Saturn.[554]

The Enclosed Sun-Cross 
The Four Rivers Of Paradise 
“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.”[555] So reads the Book of Genesis. The four rivers of Adam’s paradise, according to many Hebrew and early Christian accounts, flowed in opposite directions, spreading to the four corners of the world.[556] 

The tradition is apparently universal. The Navajo Indian narration of the “Age of Beginnings” speaks of an ancestral land from which the inhabitants were driven by a great catastrophe. Among the occupants of this remote home, some say, were “First Man” and “First Woman.” Most interesting is the means by which the land was watered: “In its centre was a spring from which four streams flowed, one to each of the cardinal points . . .”[557] 

The Chinese paradise of Kwen-lun, adorned with pearls, jade, and precious stones, lay at the centre and zenith of the world.[558] In this happy abode stood a central fountain from which flowed “in opposite directions the four great rivers of the world.”[559] 

Four rivers appear also in the Hindu Rig Veda: “the noblest, the most wonderful work of this magnificent one [Indra], is that of having filled the bed of the four rivers with water as sweet as honey.”[560] The Vishnu Purana identifies the four streams with the paradise of Brahma at the world summit. They, too, flow in four directions.[561] 

Iranian myth recalls four streams issuing from the central fount Ardvi Sura and radiating in the four directions. Similarly, the Kalmucks of Siberia describe a primordial sea of life and fertility, with four rivers flowing “toward the four different points of the compass.”[562] 

The tradition is repeated by many other nations. The Mandaeans of Iraq enumerate four great rivers flowing from the north.[563] Just as the Babylonians recalled “the land of the four rivers,”[564] the Egyptians knew “Four Niles,” flowing to the four quarters.[565] The home of the Greek goddess Calypso, in the “navel of the sea,” possessed a central fountain sending forth “four streams, flowing each in opposite directions.”[566] 

In the Scandinavian Edda, the world’s waters originate in the four streams flowing from the spring Hvergelmir in the land of the gods,[567] while Slavic tradition recalls four streams issuing from under the magic stone Alaturi in the island paradise of Bonyan.[568] Brinton finds the four mystic rivers among the Sioux, Aztecs, and Maya, just as Fornander discovers them in Polynesian myth.[569] 

The lost land of the four rivers presents a particularly enigmatic theme for conventional mythology because few, if any, of the nations possessing the memory can point to any convincing geographical source of the imagery. When the Babylonians invoke Ishtar as “Lady, Queen of the land of the Four Rivers of Erech,”[570] or when an Egyptian text at Dendera celebrates the Four Niles at Elephantine, one might expect the familiar landscape to explain the usage. But wherever the mythical four rivers appear, they possess the character of an “ideal” land, in contrast to actual geography. 

The reason for this disparity between the mythical and terrestrial landscapes is that the four rivers flowed, not on our earth, but through the four quarters of the polar “homeland.” To what aspect of Saturn’s kingdom might the mythical rivers refer? 

For every dominant mythical theme there are corresponding signs (though this truth is still to be acknowledged by most authorities). The signs of the four rivers are the sun-cross and the enclosed sun-cross , the latter sign illuminating the former by showing that the four streams belong to the primeval enclosure. Issuing from the polar centre (i.e., the central sun), the four rivers flow to the four corners of Saturn’s Earth. 

The sign of the enclosed sun-cross , observes Cirlot, “expresses the original Oneness (symbolized by the centre),” and “the four radii . . . are the same as the four rivers which well up from the fons vitae . . .”[571] 

But if one myth identifies the arms of the sun-cross as four paradisal rivers, there are other interpretations of the cross as well, for this primal image produced a wide-ranging and coherent symbolism, as I shall now attempt to show. 

The Crossroads 
From Saturn, the central sun, flowed four primary paths of light. In the myths these appear as four rivers, four winds, four streams of arrows, or four children, assistants, or light-spirits bearing the Saturnian seed (the life elements) through the four quarters of the celestial kingdom. 

The sun-cross and enclosed sun-cross , depicting the four life-bearing streams, thus serve as universal signs of the Holy Land. 

The modern world is accustomed to think of “the four quarters” in terrestrial terms. Today we conceive north, east, west, and south only in relationship to our own position or to a fixed geographical reference point. Chicago is “west” of New York and “east” of Omaha, and to the modern mind the “four corners of the world” only serves as a vague metaphor for “the entire globe.” 

To the ancients, however, “the Four Corners of the World” possessed explicit meaning; originally, the phrase referred not to geography but to cosmography, the “map” of the celestial kingdom, laid out in the polar heaven. One of the few scholars to recognize this quality of the mythical “four corners” was O’Neill: “It results from any full study of the myths, symbolism, and nomenclature of the Four Quarters that these directions were viewed in the strict orthodoxy of heavens-mythology, not as the NSEW of every spot whatever, but four heavens-divisions spread out around the pole.”[572] 

The sun-cross , as the symbol of the four quarters, belongs to the central sun. In sacred cosmography the central position of the sun-god becomes the “fifth” direction. To understand such language, it is convenient to think of the mythical “directions” (or arms of the cross) as motions or flows of energy. From the great god the elements of life flow in four directions. The god himself, who embodies all the elements, is “firm,” “steadfast,” or “resting”; his fifth motion is that of rotation while standing in one place. 

The directions can also be conceived as regions: the central (fifth) region and the four quarters spaced around it. 

This is why the Pythagoreans regarded the number five as a representative of the fixed world axis. [573] The Pythagorean idea clearly corresponds with the older Hindu symbolism of the directions. In addition to the standard four directions, Hindu doctrine knows a fifth, called the “fixed direction,” the polar centre.[574] 

In China, too, the pole is the immovable fifth direction, the “central palace” around which the cardinal points are spaced.[575] And in Mexico, Nahuatl symbolism asserts that “five is the number of the centre.”[576] 

In the “ideal” kingdom of heaven the Universal Monarch stands at the centre, and all the elements of life—fire, water, air, and seed—flow from the god-king in four brilliant streams. Often interpreted as four sons of the creator, the streams mark out the four quarters of the cosmic isle, or “earth.” 

Let us consider first the Egyptian symbolism of the directional streams. According to the Egyptian creation texts, the great god, standing alone, brought forth as his own “speech” the primeval matter—or sea of “words”—which congealed into an enclosure. The Egyptians associate this pouring out of the seed or life elements with four luminous streams flowing from the central sun. The four emanations are the four “sons” of Atum or the Four Sons of Horus, each identified with a quarter of the heavenly kingdom.[577] Importantly, the Egyptians term these paths of light the “Four Khu”: they are the “words of power”—streams of creative “speech” coursing through the four divisions of organized space. 

The Pyramid Texts call these “the four blustering winds which are about you.”[578] The Four Sons of Horus “send the four winds.” In one source the four winds issue from the mouth of Amen.[579] In the Book of the Dead they are “the four blazing flames which are made for [or as] the Khu [words of power],”[580] while the Cof in Texts invoke them as the “four gods who are powerful and strong, who bring the water.”[581] 

The Egyptians also interpreted the four paths of light as “arrows” launched by the creator toward the four quarters. (In hieroglyphs, the arrow means “shaft of light.”) It was an ancient practice of the Egyptian king, on assuming the throne, to release an arrow, in each of the four directions,[582] thus reenacting the creation, or organization of the celestial kingdom. The arrow is sat, which means “to shoot,” but also “to pour out”; for the four arrows launched by the king signified the waters of life originally “poured out” by the creator, whom the king personified. Sat also means “to sow” or “to scatter seed abroad”; which is to say, the four streams carried to the four corners the creative seed of abundance.[583] By launching the four arrows the local king proclaimed himself the Universal Monarch and sanctified his kingdom as a duplication of the primeval abode. 

In Egypt the cross—as the symbol of the four directional streams—possesses two important meanings. The form , un, signifies “coming to life,” for the directional streams shone forth with the daily birth of the central sun (i.e., with the setting of the solar orb). In the form (or ), ami, the cross means “to be in” or “to be enclosed by”—in reference to the unified space enclosed within the womb of the mother goddess . 

When certain Egyptologists first encountered the symbol of the goddess Nut , they saw in it “a pictorial symbol of primitive Eden divided by the four-fold river.”[584] That conclusion would gain little credence among modern Egyptologists, yet it is much closer to the truth than the bland explanations currently in fashion. The four streams of life, emanating from the creator, coursed through the womb of Nut, the Holy Land. Thus the deceased implores the goddess, “Give me the water and the wind which are in thee.”[585] 

Another symbol of the “holy abode” is the sign [586] showing a cross of arrows superimposed upon a shield. The glyph is precisely equivalent to the symbol of Nut , for Nut, the Great Protectoress, was the cosmic shield, and the four streams of life, enclosed within the womb of Nut, were the same as the shafts or arrows of light launched toward the four corners. The land of the four rivers was that which the creator gathered together from the sea of words, his own emanation. The hieroglyphic symbol for “to collect, gather together” and for “the unified land” is , depicting the primeval enclosure (shen) divided into quarters by a cross of two flails. That the flail sign , in the Egyptian language, is read Khu, equates the flail-cross with the four streams of life (khu, “words of power”) radiating from the central sun. 

There is, in other words, a level of Egyptian symbolism that the specialists have yet to penetrate. Standard treatments of the Egyptian Holy Land say little or nothing of the directional streams, though these powers are vital to the symbolism as a whole. And one can be certain that the paths of light and life have nothing to do with an ill-defined “four quarters” of our earth, where they are conventionally located. The four winds, or four rivers, or four pathways, or four shafts of light (arrows) belonged to the lost land in heaven, and only through symbolic assimilation to this cosmic dwelling did the terrestrial habitation share in the imagery. 

A comparison of Egyptian cross symbolism with that of other lands reveals numerous parallels. The oldest Mesopotamian image of divinity was the sun-cross , symbol of the creator An, the planet Saturn. An, like his counterparts around the world, “brought forth and begat the fourfold wind” within the womb of Tiamat, the cosmic sea.[587] 

The cult worshippers of Ninurta (Saturn) also represented their god by the cross. Hence, the cuneiform ideograms for the fourfold saru, “wind,” and for mehu, “storm wind”—both of which belong to Saturn—take the form of a cross (figs. 22 and 23). The Babylonian Saturn inaugurates the day, “coming forth in splendour,” and this coming forth of Saturn means the coming forth of the four winds (as in Egypt), for the Akkadian umum denotes both “day” and “wind,” just as the Sumerian signs UD and UG, both used for “day,” occur also in the sense of “wind.”[588] (The ancient Hebrew expression “until the day blows” conveys the same identity.) 

Figure 22. Babylonian saru, “wind.” 

Figure 23. Ideogram for mehu, or “storm wind.” 

Saturn’s four winds mark out the quarters or directions of the Cosmos, Saturn’s kingdom. Cosmological texts speak of the “furious wind . . . commanding the directions”:[589] the Sumerian im and Akkadian saru, “wind,” also signify “region (or quarter) of heaven.”[590] 

As in Egypt, the Mesopotamian four winds coincide with the four rivers of life. Instead of the simple sign , some images show four streams of water radiating from the central sun (fig. 24).[591] The best-known Mesopotamian figure of these streams is the famous “sun wheel” of Shamash (a god also identified as Saturn). Portrayed are four rays of light and four rivers flowing from the central god to the border of the wheel (fig. 15). 

Hrozny tentatively suggests that Shamash’s cross was a sign for “settlement.”[592] With this suggestion one is compelled to agree, for the first settlements, organized for a ritual purpose, imitated the heavenly abode. Each sacred territory became “the land of the four rivers” and each ruler “the king of the four quarters.” 

Geographical limitations did not prevent the Assyro-Babylonian priests from assimilating the map of their land to the quartered circle of the primeval kingdom. Thus a text reproduced by Virolleaud locates the land of Akkad, Elam, Subartu, and Amurru within the fourfold enclosure of the sun . [593] “Every land,” states Jeremias, “has its ‘paradise,’ which corresponds with the cosmic paradise.”[594] 

The land of the sun-cross lay within the primeval circle, and this fact will explain why the Babylonian sign of the four kibrati or “world quarters” (i.e., ) also denoted “the interior” or “the enclosed space.”[595] The terminology offers a fascinating parallel to the Egyptian ami ( , ), “to be in,” “to be enclosed by.” To dwell in the land of the four rivers is to occupy the Saturnian enclosure.[596] 

The same overlapping interpretations of the four streams occur in Hindu symbolism. Here the cross and the circle, according to one observer, represent “the traditional abode of their primeval ancestors . . . And let us ask what better picture or more significant characters in the complicated alphabet of symbolism could have been selected for the purpose than a circle and a cross—the one to denote a region of absolute purity and perpetual felicity, the other those four perennial streams that divided and watered the several quarters of it.”[597] 

The Hindu Holy Land lies within the world wheel, turned by the stationary sun at the centre. The spokes of the wheel, delimiting the four quarters, “have their foundation in the single centre which is Surya [the sun],” notes Agrawala.[598] 

In the ritual of the Satapatha Brahmana the spokes of the wheel become “arrows” launched in the four directions and carrying the life elements to the four corners. The arrows sent in one direction “are fire,” those in another “are the waters,” those in another “are wind,” and those in another “are the herbs.”[599] The Paippalada or Kashmirian Artharva Veda terms the latter flow of arrows “food.” The idea seems to be that of abundance or “plenty” radiating from the heart of the Cosmos (and thus answering to the four Egyptian arrows [sat] transmitting the seed of abundance to the outermost limits of the kingdom). The Hindus symbolized these shafts of light by setting afire the spokes of the sacred wheel.[600] 

A pictorial image of the four streams occurs on ancient Hindu coins depicting the arms of the suncross as arrows directed toward the four corners .

Every ancient Indian settlement reflected the primeval map of the Cosmos, its unified domain lying within the sacred circle and its four primary streets answering to the celestial crossroads. The settlement’s organization reenacted the creation. As noted by W. Muller, the Hindu sacred city “duplicates the Cosmos in wood, brick and stone: its axes [north-south; east-west] demarcate the four quarters of the universe.”[601] 

Muller finds the same concept of the quartered kingdom in Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Each sacred habitation appears as “the celestial city of the king” and each ruler as the wheel-king. “State and nation represent a quartered universe [Cosmos],” writes Muller. Every image of the sacred “settlement” reflects the image of the “world”—the circle and cross.[602] 

In China, the emperor stands symbolically at the pole, while ranged around him are the powers of the cardinal points.[603] The cosmic centre is ch’ien, from which, to use Jung’s phraseology, “the four emanations go forth, like the heavenly forces extending through space.”[604] At the ch’ien, the centre, the four she or world quarters converge.[605] 

The ideal celestial organization finds expression in the ancient Chinese hieroglyph . The sign, according to C. Hentze, denotes the contree suburbaine or settlement around a centre.[606] Is this not once more the primeval “place” sustained by the outward flow of “life” (or “arrows”) from the central god? 

L’Orange, in his studies of cosmic symbolism in the Near East, notes that the great residential cities of Ekbatana, Darabjird, and Firuzabad were patterned after the wheel of the Cosmos, with the king appearing at the intersection of the crossroads. “Wall and fosse are traced mathematically with the compass, as an image of the heavens, a projection of the upper hemisphere on earth. The two axis streets, one running north-south and the other east-west, divide the city into four quadrants which reflect the four quarters of the world. At the very point of intersection, in the very axis of the world wheel, the palace is situated, here sits the king, ‘The Axis and Pole of the World,’ ‘The King of the four Quadrants of the World’ . . .”[607] 

To this city of the wheel also corresponds the imagery of Jerusalem and Palestine. The terrestrial city and Holy Land, in more than one medieval map, appear in the ideal form of a quartered circle , for such was the image of the Eden paradise, with its four directional streams. And this is why Solomon and Hezekiah, in constructing works for the distribution of Jerusalem’s waters, sought to imitate the four rivers of paradise—even to the point of naming one stream Gihon (a river of Eden) and declaring that from beneath the temple these streams flowed out over the whole world.[608] 

The ancient Etruscans, followed by the Romans, looked to the same image of the fourfold Cosmos in laying out the plan of the sacred city. The surveyors, according to W. Muller, sought to map out the “terrestrial image of a celestial prototype,” and their division of the land into four regions—the Roma quadrata—“reflects a powerful cosmological model: the quartered earth of the Roman world image.”[609] 

It is surely significant that all of the key features of the sun-cross and the enclosed sun-cross reviewed above occur also in the Americas. Often the parallels are stunning. The Omaha Indians, for example, invoke the “Aged One”: 

. . . seated with assured permanency and endurance, 
In the centre where converged the paths, 
There, exposed to the violence of 
the four winds, you sat, 
Possessed with power 
to receive supplications, Aged One . . .[610] 

To reside at the intersection of the celestial crossroads is to “sit” (rest) at the cosmic centre, the abode of “permanency” and “endurance.” This “centre” is also the place where the “four winds” meet, for the four winds and heavenly pathways are synonymous. 

Burland relates that the symbol of the Mexican god Xiuhtechuhtli—the “Old, Old One,” the lord of the central fire at the pole—was “a white cross of the Four Directions in the black background of the night.”[611] 

The Inca Yupanqui, writes Nuttall, “raised a temple in Cuzco to the Creator who, superior to the sun [solar orb], could rest and light the world from one spot.” This central sun was represented by a cross.[612] 

Indeed, the sun-cross is a symbol of the primeval god throughout the Americas—from the Inca of Peru to the Eskimos of Alaska. Wherever the New World symbolism can be examined in sufficient detail, one finds that the cross possessed the same significance as in the Old World. 

The best authorities tell us the native American sun-cross depicts the “four winds”—conceived as visible, even violent flows of life and energy from a central or stationary god. (That is, the winds are just the opposite of the incongruous abstractions to which they have been reduced by so many mythologists.) The four winds are the “breath” of the sun-god (as in ancient Egypt), bearing the seed of life from the centre to the four corners. Thus the Mayan Ik means at once “wind,” “breath,” and “life.” Like the Egyptian streams of sat it is “the causer of germination.”[613] 

In Mexico, Quetzalcoatl, “god of the Four Motions,” was represented by the sun-cross, and this symbol explains his title, “Lord of the four winds.” According to Nuttall, the cross “had a deeper meaning than has been realized, for it represents life-giving breath carrying with it the seeds of the four vital elements, emanating from the central lord of life, [and] spreading to the four quarters . . .”[614] 

Also noted by Nuttall is the use of the cross in Copan, where it “is associated with a figure in repose, occupying the Middle, and four puffs of breath or air, laden with life-seeds, emanating from this.”[615] 

Just as the Egyptians personified the four emanations as four “sons” of the central god, so did the Mexicans. From the supreme god Ometeotl issued the four Tezcatlipocas, “the primordial forces which were to generate the history of the world.” The four sons corresponded to the four quarters of the world.[616] 

The same powers—central god and four emissions—were represented by the five Tlalocs, who, like the Mayan Bacabs and Chacs, “were set at four cardinal points and at the centre of the heavens.”[617] From his dwelling at the world summit Tlaloc sent forth the waters of the four quarters, often symbolized (as in Egypt and India) by four vases. The gods who transmitted the waters to the four corners were the same as the gods of the four winds.[618] 

But there is an even more striking parallel with Old World symbolism: the four streams of light and life were interpreted as arrows coursing in the four directions. In the Nahuatl language the word tonamitl means at once a “ray or shaft of light” and “the shining arrow.” According to the chronicler Ixtlilxochitl, it was a native custom, on consecrating a new territory, “to shoot with utmost force four arrows in the direction of the four regions of the world.”[619] Thus did the priests sanctify the land as a renewal of the primeval kingdom, in exact accord with the ancient Egyptian practice! Consistent with the global iconography of the central sun, the American Indians revered the sun-cross and enclosed sun-cross as emblems of the unified domain, the Holy Land. Among the Mexicans “the cross and the circle” are a “native symbol for ‘an integral state,’” writes Nuttall. Illustrating this symbolism is the famous Mexican Calendar Wheel, displaying four principal and four secondary rays (or “arrows”), signifying the four quarters and their four subdivisions. This wheel of Time, states Nuttall,[620] portrays the ideal habitation, and the prototype lay in heaven, not on earth. The wheel is “as clearly an image of the nocturnal heaven as it is of a vast territorial state which once existed in the valley of Mexico, and had been established as a reproduction upon earth of the harmonious order and fixed laws which apparently governed the heavens.”[621] 

From the center of the ancient Inca city of Cuzco, four roads radiated in the four directions. At the intersection of the crossroads rested a golden vase from which a fountain flowed. Thus did the four roads imitate the four paths or streams transporting the waters of life to the four quarters. The Mayan Book of Chilam Balam offers the following map of northern Yucatan:[622] 

Roys reports that this map—adapting actual geography to the primordial ideal—“is fairly typical in Maya documents.”[623] Here again is the Roma quadrata, the celestial Jerusalem, or Egyptian Neter ta, the Holy Land. 

The Delaware sacred text called the Walum Olum records the primeval dwelling of the Great Spirit by the image . This was the nation’s ancestral homeland, they say.[624] 

A group of anthropologists, on examining the Walum Olum, reported that the four points on the circle “indicate the four quarters of the earth.” By “earth” they obviously meant the terrestrial landscape. But if the quartered circle refers to our earth,[625] then the dot inside certainly is not the sun, in spite of the steadfast opinion of solar mythologists. 

In this case, the experts possessed the answer without recognizing it. The text itself identifies the sign with “the place where the Great Spirit stayed.” To this statement the commentators add: “Concentric circles or a circle with a dot in the centre means divine or hallowed.”[626] Combining the two statements one obtains a clear-cut definition of the sign as “the divine or hallowed place where the Great Spirit stayed.” Denoted is the quartered, primeval land, of which the terrestrial Holy Land was but a symbol. 

As a final example, I note that the sun-cross and the life-giving streams are recalled even in Hawaiian myth. Here the creator Teave is the “Father-Mother” from whom “life coursed to the four directions of the world.”[627] From the cosmic centre and zenith, Teave organized the celestial “kingdom” with his “flaming cross of shining white light,” “the first and foremost Cross of God.”[628] The “Primordial Lord of the Sun” (Teave) transmitted the life elements to the four corners through the agency of four assistant gods: “. . . The blood of life pulsated from the infinite and coursed to the north, east, south, west, via the Four Sacred Hearts of God, the deities Tane, Tanaoroa, Tu, Rono.”[629] 

The widespread traditions of the primordial kingdom and the four life-streams reflect a consistent memory. On every continent one finds a compulsion to organize the native land after a cosmic original, defined by the enclosed sun-cross . The focus is the primeval ground occupied by the great father—whose home is the “earth” brought forth in the creation legend. By superimposing the map of Saturn’s Earth onto the local landscape, the ancients consecrated their native territory as a likeness, or a renewal, of the celestial abode.

The Four-Eyed Or 
Four-Faced God 
In the ancient Egyptian Heb-Sed festival, the king ascends to the throne of Osiris, where he is deified as the great god’s successor. To certify his authority as Universal Monarch, he launches four arrows toward the four corners, then assumes his throne, turning to the four cardinal points in succession.[630] 

By facing the four directions the king repeats the feat of the great god; for the Universal Monarch, occupying the steadfast centre (or fifth region), ceaselessly turned round about, sending his rays of life through the four divisions of unified space. 

The classical historian Diodorus tells us that when the name Osiris is translated into Greek it means “many-eyed”—“and properly so; for in shedding his rays in every direction he surveys with many eyes, as it were, all land and sea.” To Osiris, Herodotus compares the Greek Dionysus—a god who, in the Bacchic Hymn, shines “like a star, with a fiery eye in every ray.”[631] 

By facing the four directions and by sending forth the four directional streams, the Universal Monarch becomes the god of four faces or four eyes. “Homage to thee, O thou who hast four faces,” reads a line of the Pyramid Texts.[632] Osiris, as the Ram of Mendes, is the god of “four faces on one neck.”[633] 

The Hindu Atharva Veda speaks of the “four heavenly directions, having the wind as lord, upon which the sun looks out.”[634] This, of course, can only be the central sun, who is Brahma, a god of four faces. The myths also attribute four faces to Shiva.[635] The central sun Prajapati takes the formof the four-eyed, four-faced, and four-armed Vivvakarman, the “all maker.”[636] Agni, too, faces “in all directions,”[637] as does Krishna.[638] 

Chinese myths recall a four-eyed sage named Ts’ang Chieh, a legendary inventor of writing (i.e., the Universal Monarch).[639] The old Greek god Argos, in the Aigimios of Hesiod, looks “this way and that with four eyes.”[640] Macrobius tells us the great god Janus was sometimes represented with four faces, in allusion to the four quarters of the Cosmos.[641] 

Among the Tarahumara in North America, the cross represented the god Hikuli, “the four-faced god who sees all things.”[642] The “Central Lord” of Mexican ritual, represented by the cross, is “He who looks in four directions.”[643] 

There can no longer be any doubt that the four-eyed or four-faced god is Saturn, for the sun-planet appears in Babylonian myth as Ea (Sumerian Enki)—a god of four eyes that “behold all things.”[644] The Phoenician El—Saturn—has four eyes, as does the Orphic Kronos (Saturn). The Chinese Yellow Emperor Huang-ti—identified as Saturn—is also four-eyed.[645] The four-eyes, or four faces, become intelligible only in connection with the five regions—the polar centre and the four divisions ranged around it. 

The Foundation Stone 
Residing at the immovable centre of the Cosmos, Saturn was the stone or rock of foundation, the prototype of the cornerstone (situated where the four corners meet— ). The four beams of light which radiated from the Saturnian stone appeared to sustain the world wheel at its “four corners” , so that, in many myths, the life-bearing streams are synonymous with the “four pillars of the world.” 

In the mystic traditions reviewed by Manly P. Hall (Masonic, Hermetic, Qabalistic, Rosicrucian, etc.), the planet Saturn looms as the elementary power of creation. The planet-god “was always worshipped under the symbol of the base or footing, inasmuch as he was considered to be the substructure upholding creation,” states Hall.[646] 

The writer is, of course, thinking in metaphysical terms, and when he speaks of “creation” he doubtless means something much different from the “creation” discussed in the foregoing sections. Yet his summary, when stripped of metaphysics and solar terminology, accurately conveys an age-old idea: “The solar system [read: Cosmos] was organized by forces operating inward from the great ring of the Saturnian sphere; and since the beginning of all things was under the control of Saturn, the most reasonable inference is that the first forms of worship were dedicated to him in his peculiar symbol—the stone. Thus the intrinsic nature of Saturn is synonymous with that spiritual rock which is the enduring foundation of the Solar temple [read: dwelling of the central sun].”[647]

In the earlier symbolism of the Foundation Stone, there is no hint of solar associations, and the stone is not a “spiritual [invisible] rock,” but the shining center around which the created earth, or Cosmos, congealed. 

The Egyptians knew the Foundation Stone as the Benben. Frankfort writes that the “first piece of solid matter actually created by Atum in the primeval ocean . . . was a stone, the Benben; and it had originated from a drop of the seed of Atum which fell into the primeval ocean.”[648] More precisely, one should say that Atum was the seed and the seed was the Benben stone—the first thing to stabilize at the cosmic centre. “Thou [Atum] didst shine forth as Benben,” recalls a Pyramid Text, in connection with the first phases of creation.[649] 

Atum, or Re, is the “Great Seed,” and this aspect of the god is conveyed by the term ben (from which the word Benben was produced): ben signifies “to beget.” But the same word means “to go round”: the Benben is the steadfast seed-stone, which, turning round about, moved the wheel of the Cosmos. 

From Atum, the Benben, flowed the four streams of life, demarcating the four quarters or corners of the cosmic dwelling. It is thus vital that ben signifies “corner,” while the hieroglyphic sign for “corner” is .[650] Since the stone of foundation lay at the center, the “corner” of the ben cannot have originally meant the corner of a square or rectangular edifice—even if later generations came to conceive it as such. Denoted is one of the four “quarters” converging on the central stone . This meaning is suggested by another sign— , apt, signifying “division of the holy abode.” The sacred edifice is divided into four quarters or corners defined by the angles of the ben . Also relevant here are the sign ses— , “to divide,” and the common sign of “the holy abode”— , nut. The “four corners” meet at the Benben (Atum), the Foundation Stone. 

“Go to the streamings of the Nile [that is, the heavenly waters] and there you will find a stone that has a spirit,” stated an old alchemical source.[651] Clearly, the tradition refers to the Foundation Stone, the central source of the four streams radiating life to the inhabitants of the celestial kingdom. 

This quality of the central sun persists in Hebrew and Muslim imagery of Adam, the Heaven Man. The Nassenes esteemed Adam as the “rock” and “cornerstone.”[652] Writes Jung: “The stone is indeed of supreme importance, because it fulfills the function of Adam Kadmon as the ‘capital stone,’ from which all the upper and lower hosts in the work of creation are brought into being.”[653] 

The theosophic Zohar declares, “The world did not come into being until God took a certain stone, which is called the foundation stone, and cast it into the abyss so that it held fast there, and from it the world was planted. This is the central point of the universe, and on this point stands the Holy of Holies.”[654] 

Patai summarized the tradition: “In the middle of the Temple and constituting the floor of the Holy of Holies, was a huge native rock which was adorned by Jewish legends with all the peculiar features of an Omphalos, A Navel of the Earth. This rock, called in Hebrew Ebhen Shetiyyah, the Stone of Foundation, was the first solid [i.e., stable, stationary] thing created, and was placed by God amidst the as yet boundless fluid of the primeval waters. Legend has it that just as the body of an embryo is built up in its mother’s womb from the navel, so God built up the earth concentrically around this Stone.”[655] 

Is this not the same account as that recorded by the Egyptians, who say that Atum, the masculine Foundation Stone, came to rest at the cosmic centre, and that the created “land” or “earth”—the womb of the mother goddess—congealed around the central god? 

Hebrew and Muslim traditions locate the Foundation Stone in the paradise of Eden. The Arabic term for the stone is es-Sakra—“the Rock.” Thus the Mosque of Omar—known as Kubbet es-Sakhra, “Dome of the Rock”—bears on its western facade the inscription: “The Rock of the Temple—from the Garden of Eden.”[656] The legends relate that the Foundation Stone conceals beneath it all the world’s waters and winds: “All sweet water comes from under the Holy Rock,” notes Wensinck; “thereafter it spreads over the earth.” A Muslim text states that “all rivers and clouds and vapours and winds come from under the Holy Rock in Jerusalem.”[657] This can only mean that the four rivers of Eden, which water “the whole earth,” have their origin in, or under, the Foundation Stone. 

Though the stone belongs to the centre, it is, like the Egyptian Benben, a cornerstone, for one reads in Isaiah, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold I lay in Zion [i.e., Jerusalem] for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.”[658] The center is the intersection of the four corners. 

That the Foundation Stone stood at the source of the four directional paths is the consistent theme in all of the ancient architectural plans reviewed by W. Muller—from Europe to Southeast Asia. When the Roman augur marked out the four directions of the sacred city he sat upon a stone—which denoted the center, the intersection of the north-south and east-west axes.[659] (One naturally thinks also of the lapis niger or black stone of the Roman Forum, signifying the centre of the world.) 

The map of ancient Ireland shows four provinces—Connaught, Ulster, Leinster, and Munster—surrounding the central province of Mide (“the Middle”), where was situated the Aill na-Mircann, the “Stone of the Divisions.”[660] This basic pattern occurs also in the original plan of Nimwegen in the Netherlands: at the intersection of the “four streets of the world” stood a great blue stone.[661] A similar stone stood at the symbolic centre of Leiden, from which four main streets radiated in four directions.[662] 

At the center of the sacred Hindu dwelling, where the directional paths meet, stood the Foundation Stone, considered as the fixed point from which creation began.[663] In Thailand the Foundation Stone of the royal palace, lying at the intersection of the crossroads, was the “corner-stone of the land.”[664] 

Nor can one ignore the identity of the Foundation Stone and the planet Saturn. Arabic thought often identifies the Foundation Stone of Eden/Jerusalem with the sacred stone of the Kaaba in Mecca.[665] (Tradition says that Adam himself sat upon the Kaaba stone, and that “forty years before Allah created the heavens and earth the Ka’ba was a dry spot floating on the water and from it the world has been spread out.”[666] It is reported that in the pre-Islamic period the statue of a god Hubal stood inside the Ka’ba above the opening of a well. The well symbolized the central source of the world’s waters, and Hubal was the planet Saturn. 

In the tradition reconstructed by Hildegard Lewy, the statue of Hubal filled the same purpose as the stone. When the stone was removed “a statue of the planet Saturn [Hubal] had served in its place as the visible symbol of the planetary god to whom the Ka’ba was dedicated.”[667] 

But the Meccan stone, as affirmed by numerous accounts, symbolized the very rock which the Hebrews called Ebhen Shetiyyah—the Foundation Stone.[668] The Mohammedans, writes Lewy, “were fully aware of the functions of the sacred stone of Mecca and Jerusalem. The sacred stone of Jerusalem represented the same god [Saturn] as the Black Stone of Mecca.”[669] 

The Foundation Stone is thus an indispensable ingredient in the symbolism of the four life-bearing streams. The stone denotes Saturn in his character as the steadfast support of the turning Cosmos and the source of the radiating life elements. 

The Four Pillars Of Heaven 
There is an aspect of the four streams which seems to defy nature and reason: they are called “pillars.” 

The Egyptian Four Sons of Horus appear as four supports holding aloft the womb of heaven (Nut). But the standard analysis of the four pillar-gods, by dispersing them to an indefinable “four corners” of our earth, deprives them of their concrete aspect as life-streams flowing from the central sun. When the great god identifies the Four Sons of Horus as the spirits who “have sprung from my body and who shall be with me in the form of everlasting judges . . . ,” it is clear that the four powers occupy a particular place.[670] Thus the Pyramid Texts locate Atum-Re at “the place of the four pillars,”[671] and this “place” is doubtless the womb of Nut, the Holy Abode . The four streams are conceived as four pillars radiating from the immovable Foundation Stone to sustain Saturn’s Cosmos at four cardinal points. 

The Hindu Satapatha Brahmana, in setting forth the ritual of the world wheel, extols the great god Vishnu with the words: “O Vishnu, with beams of light thou didst hold fast the earth on all sides.”[672] The four primary rays of the Hindu central sun constitute the pillars of the celestial dwelling . (The connection is implicit in the English word beam, which means both a ray of light and a fixed support.) 

So also do the four winds serve as pillars. The Ethiopic Book of Enoch reads: “I saw the treasures of all the winds: I saw how He had furnished with them the whole creation and the firm foundations of the earth. And I saw the corner stone of the earth: I saw the four winds . . . : these are the pillars of the earth.”[673] In architectural representations of Eden’s four rivers, they too appear as pillars.[674] The Mayan Bacabs, who personify the four directional streams, are the four props of heaven. Similarly, in Hawaiian myth, the life elements radiate to the four corners of heaven by means of the four spirits, Tane, Rono, Tanaoroa and Tucalled “the Four Male Pillars of Creation.”[675] 

On our earth no one has ever seen a beam of light, a wind, or a river serving as a pillar, yet this is the extraordinary function of the four paths of light and life flowing from the creator. As spokes of the world wheel , the streams appeared to “pillar apart” and to steady the revolving enclosure. 

Symmetrical Elaborations Of The Sun-Cross 
In the course of many centuries the sun-cross often acquired complex and symmetrical associations, as schools of myth and theology combined various interpretations of the four streams in formal systems. These evolved systems often identify each quarter of sacred space with an element, colour, season, or representative animal. 

An early example of this tendency is the assignment of a different substance to each of the four paradisal rivers. While Marco Polo journeyed to the court of Kublai Khan he was told the legend of an old ruler called the Sheikh of the Mountain. The sheikh was distinguished for his possession of the world’s most beautiful garden, containing the best fruits of the earth. Through the garden passed four conduits, one flowing with wine, one with milk, one with honey, and one with water. The sheikh proclaimed his garden to be paradise.[676] 

Hindu literature describes the four rivers of paradise as flowing respectively with milk, butter, honey, and wine.[677] Similarly, Strabo relates the report of Calamus that the first race of men enjoyed a blissful land in which “corn of all sorts abounded as plentifully as dust does at present; and the fountains poured forth streams, some of water, some of milk, some of honey, some of wine, and some of oil.”[678] 

In a corresponding manner each river receives a different color. The four rivers of the Chinese polar paradise Kwen-lun possess a remarkable feature: one is blue, another white, another red, and another black.[679] Each of the Hindu four rivers has its special colour.[680] The Kalmucks of Siberia describe a primordial sea from which four rivers flowed “toward the different points of the compass,” each issuing from the mouth of a different animal and identified with different colours: “The eastern river contains silver sand, the southern blue jewel sand, the western red jewel sand and the northern gold sand.”[681] 

In developing the symbolism of the terrestrial kingdom, the ancients borrowed from the imagery of the celestial, assigning a different colour, element, or season to each geographical “cardinal point.” Of course the celestial prototype, the sun-cross , does not itself suggest which terrestrial direction should be associated with “fire” and which with “air,” or whether one special direction should be linked with “blue” and another with “red.” Thus there seems to be no single pattern of the symbolism from one land to another. 

But the tendency toward such formalization was universal. Both the Mexicans and the Zuni identified the four directions with respective colours and “elements” (air, water, fire, earth), though the specific relationship differed, as indicated below:[682] 

The Maya, on the other hand, connected the east with red, the north with white, the west with black, and the south with yellow. Throughout North America, according to Alexander, the directional gods were associated with respective colours, though there “is no uniformity in the distribution of the colours to the several regions.”[683] 

Buddhist symbolism shows four rays radiating from the heads of Makasukha to the four corners, each ray associated with a colour,[684] while the Chinese developed the following associations of the directions: 

Taken alone, these varied connections tell us little, for such developments are largely a matter of local innovation. What is important for our analysis is the unanimity with which the ancients conceived their land as four quarters around a centre, identifying the quarters with the primal life elements which all traditions describe flowing from the central sun in radiant streams. 

Moreover, there is one aspect of the elaborated symbolism of the four quarters which deserves closer attention—namely, the connection of the planet Saturn with the centre around which the four “elements” or colors or seasons are ranged. In the specific associations of the Chinese directions indicated above one recognizes no correspondence with a “general tradition.” For example, the Chinese identification of the center with the element “earth” or with the color yellow fails to coincide with any world-wide pattern. Surely it is significant, however, that in China the center, the element “earth,” and the colour yellow all belong uniquely to the planet Saturn—a startling fact which agrees with the equally startling placement of Saturn at the pole, the cosmic centre in Chinese thought. [685] Saturn is Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, his residence the Central Palace from which the four directions radiate. 

This character of Saturn prevails in the Chinese symbolism of the five visible planets. Saturn is placed at the centre, while Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are spaced at the “four corners” around Saturn. Nothing in the present orbits of the planets would suggest Saturn’s location at the centre of this system. In fact, as the outermost visible planet, Saturn would seem the least worthy of such distinction. 

But originally, Saturn was the polar sun, the central source of the directional streams, and it was only to be expected that the other four planets, like the four seasons, four colours, or four elements, came to symbolize the powers of the four quarters, their symbolic location possibly being decided by the element with which each planet was identified. As to the “center,” Saturn could be the only choice. The order was: 

This cosmological system receives extensive treatment by Leopold de Saussure.[686] To the Chinese, he reports, Saturn corresponded to the sacred centre, around which the cardinal points ranged; symbolism of the terrestrial centre mirrored the symbolism of the celestial pole. The other four planets were equated with the four seasons, elements, and colours, the entire system having its origin in the concept of the four divisions of heaven, to which the polar centre, Saturn’s domain, was added as the “fifth.” 

What is even more extraordinary, the location of Saturn at the polar centre—with the four quarters dispersed around him—was not unique to China. De Saussure finds the same system in Iran. Iranian cosmology connects the five planets with five regions of space, the centre being fixed at the celestial pole. Placed at the pole was Kevan, the planet Saturn, precisely duplicating the station of the Chinese Saturn. Here is the system: 

The reader will note that the directional connections of the four peripheral planets do not correspond to the connections in the Chinese system. What is vital is Saturn’s central station as the source of the four emanations. “The planet that the Chinese consider as the symbol of the emperor [i.e., Saturn] is associated, in Iran, with the Great One in the Middle of Heaven, which is to say, with the celestial pole; it bears the name . . . of Kevan and it is precisely identified by the translators with Saturn.”[687] 

After reviewing the stunning concordance of the Chinese and Iranian symbolism, de Saussure concluded that the Iranian system must have been borrowed from the Chinese. Later, however, following correspondence with the Iranian scholar Junker, de Saussure changed his opinion; for Junker pointed out that the same idea—the polar centre surrounded by four heavens-divisions—prevailed in the older Babylonian and Hindu systems. Therefore, concluded de Saussure, “the division of the universe into a central region and four peripheral divisions [and] the assimilation of the terrestrial sovereign to the celestial pole . . . occurs not only in Chinese cosmology—which is particularly rational, symmetrical and well preserved—but also in Babylonian, Vedic [Hindu] and Iranian cosmologies.”[688] 

Most surprising of all, however, was the discovery by de Saussure and Junker that when the principles of the five regions are applied to the oldest enumeration of the sun, moon, and planets in Babylonia, Saturn acquires the central (polar) station.[689] “In the most ancient Babylonian series [of planets] based on the number five,” states de Saussure, “the planet Saturn is placed, as in China, in the middle.”[690] The polar Saturn, presiding over the central region and surrounded by the powers of the four quarters, thus occurs in the earliest formal astronomy. 

To summarize: The imagery of the quartered kingdom centers on the sign of the sun-cross , depicting Saturn sending the seed of life in the four directions. Ancient mythmakers interpreted the radiating streams as four beams of light, four winds, four rivers, four paths of arrows, or four pillars of the Cosmos. 

But the heaven-dividing streams eventually passed into an expanded symbolism, relating each direction to an element, season, colour, or planet. In such elaborate and symmetrical renderings of the quartered kingdom, one recognizes the arbitrary influence of innovation. But the root idea remains consistent from one land to another, and when such symbolism is subject to scrutiny, Saturn looms at the cosmic centre—the “fifth region,” the immovable pole around which the directional elements, seasons, planets, etc. are ranged.

VII: Temple, Crown, Vase, Eye, And Circular Serpent

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