Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jan 28th - Feb 3rd, 2005

The Dogon

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      The Dogon are a tribe of about 100,000 in the West African country of Mali who have been culturally and topographically insulated and isolated from the outside world for centuries. They are believed to have migrated from the north (Libya?), and to have had contact with the ancient Egyptians. According to research, their astronomical legends date to at least as far back as 3200 BC, possibly even further. As a result, the Dogon have become something of a time capsule of the past, preserving their own heritage long beyond that of the tribes around them, many of whom have long ago come and gone.

      Probably the chief claim to fame of the Dogon is that their tradition speaks of a companion star around Sirius. The Dogon were first studied by French anthropologists who initially made contact in 1931, and then studied them for the next 30 years, culminating in a detailed report between 1946 and 1950. The priests of the Dogon confided with the scientists that Sirius, which is 8.6 light years from the Earth, had a companion star which was invisible to the naked eye. They also said that this invisible star moved in a 50 year elliptical orbit around Sirius, that it was small and incredibly heavy, and that it rotated on its axis. Even though Sirius was not examined through a telescope until 1862 and was not photographed until 1970, the traditions contained in their legends all later turned out to be true, with this smaller star logging in as a white dwarf. Dogon Crocodile

      The details surrounding what astronomers now call Sirius A and Sirius B were striking, even drawing the attention, observations and comments of Carl Sagan years later; but what draws my attention to these people is their creation myth. Creation myths are generally authored by the position of the Vernal Equinox. For agricultural traditions, the Earth is made anew each spring, and the mythological record seems to draw its essence from the constellation through which the Vernal Equinox is passing, 'in illo tempore', in that time. The Dogon Creation Myth, like many other ancient traditions, speaks of a world of duality.

Nommo Twins       For all of the peoples who consider themselves part of the Mande (the Dogon among them), twins incarnate the ideal of perfection, recalling the mythic times when the first living creatures were pairs of twins of the opposite sex. In the beginning, God created the universe from the infinitely small. This "seed of the world" exploded and formed the "egg of the world". One of the twins of this union emerged prematurely and basically botched things up royally, trying to steal creation for himself. The myth of Mercury, ruler of Gemini, would thousands of years later wind up stealing things on the first day of his birth. God (known to the Dagon as Amma), wished to start his creation over again by creating new pairs of twins 'in the sky' (italics mine). The whole process continues, with twins marrying twins, and then twins marrying each other's twins, etc. It is world born of twins, intermingled with twins, and looking to reproduce twins.

      We know the Dogon had a record of heavenly observation. They used several calendars, and the apparent solstitial and equinoctial positions of the Sun were formerly measured by sightings made by the use of three altars of 'the union.' An observer placed a small staff vertically at the top of the altars and used a known landmark on the horizon to observe the rising sun. This was the "measure of the direction of the moment", and marked the position of the Equinoxes and Solstices, our celestial authors of the time of the twins, and the constellation Gemini from 6,000 to 4,000 BC.

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