Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tao and Chi

Taoism, the doctrine of The Way, emphasizes passive influence (like that of a catalyst), while stressing change and indeterminacy over order. It rejects rigid hierarchy, or even interest in assertive dominance. It reveres the extraordinary, for instance in appealing natural forms (mountains, trees, rocks, fossils). Taoism offers no anthropomorphic creator, law-giver or ‘intelligent design’, nor trickster nor devil, but plenty of room for light-heartedness, compassion and experimentation. It’s about power, and even governance, but more in recognition of what is real than in manipulation. For the Taoist, ego is as ephemeral, illusory and meaningless as in Zen Buddhism. To Confucian bureaucrats, Taoism was appallingly subversive and dangerous.
The Tao, both the Way and the Wayfarer, is the eternal path along which all beings travel. It’s everything while also nothing; no being made it; it itself is being. From the Tao spring all things. All things conform to it, and to it all things return. It can be compared to a vast net, which, though its meshes are as wide as the sea, lets nothing through. It’s nowhere, but without looking for it, you may see it. It offers sanctuary where all things can find refuge.
Desire not to desire, the Tao teaches, and leave all things to take their course. For he that humbles himself shall be preserved, much as the reed that bends shall be again made straight. Mighty is he who conquers himself. Failure is the foundation of success and success is the lurking-place of failure. Gentleness will bring victory to him who attacks and safety to him who defends. Whoever will strive to achieve enduring compassion and tenderness can become even as wise as a small child.
These ideas date back to prehistory, and the emergence of the Chinese as a great race with the defeat of tribal peoples (Miao) of Southern China, antecedents of the T’ai, Yao (Eu-Mien) and Hmong, among others. It was how some wise men of this early great civilization tried to explain things. We may pride ourselves on material accomplishments (things, which may be hastening our demise), but in fundamentally important ways we’ve learned little which might place us intellectually above these (and certain other) early thinkers. Their contributions stand as philosophic rivals to anything else ever presented, though some of their followers, as followers will, have gone a bit, and often more than a bit, off track.
Shen Yen Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, is a patron saint of Taoism. Reputed to have been born about 2700 BCE, he began rule as a child. He’s seen as the patron of technology: classic works on many arcane arts, including alchemy, medicine, sexual techniques, cooking, and dietetics, were all placed under his aegis. He’s credited with introducing wooden houses, carts, boats, the bow and arrow, coinage, writing and defeating Miao (Meo or Maeo) “barbarians” in a great battle, somewhere in what is now Shansi Province. That victory won him leadership of all tribes in the Huang Ho (Yellow River) basin. Huang Di may have led a tribal confederation of central plains Yangshao Neolithic tribes; legend has him ruling an area from the Pacific to today’s Gansu province, south to the Changjiang (Yangtze) River and north into Shanxi and Hebei Provinces.
He’s called the Yellow Emperor for his imperial color: that of Chinese yellow earth. Extravagant tales grew up about him, including that he lived in a magnificent palace in the Kunlun Mountains, with a heavenly door keeper who had the face of a man, the body of a tiger and nine tails. Huang Di’s said to have had a pet bird that helped take care of his clothes and personal effects. His Court introduced writing, coins, bricks, the cart, the boat, the compass, pottery wheel, sericulture, flute, 5 & 12 tone scales, mathematics, medicine and even the house. He developed military discipline, standard measurements, laws of astronomy, and the first calendar used by Chinese people. He gave a name to each family in China. One tale says he invented tea after a leaf fell into his mug of hot water; another that Lei Zu, his wife, taught the people to raise silkworms and weave beautiful silk fabrics. He’s venerated as one of the founders of religious Taoism (Tao Jiao) and the author of the Nei-jing, China’s first medical treatise. Upon death he became an immortal, carried off to Heaven by a dragon, when he was 110 years old. He’s still venerated by many Chinese; ceremonies are still performed in his honor at a pavilion that marks his grave, on cypress-covered Mount Qiaoshan in Huangling County, Shananxi Province, on the road going north from Xi’an.
When the Huang Di had subjected most local leaders, the sole exception remaining was Chiyou of the Miao tribe. The Yellow Emperor met him in battle at Zhuolu, but found Chiyou could create fog, and even cover a five mile area with it! Huang Di couldn’t defeat him, until he designed a compass chariot (a cart with a deity effigy raised above it, which always points south) to keep his army oriented. With it, China was pacified.

Lao-tzu, author of the Tao te Jing, is believed to have been a sage whose instructions elucidate the arts of life, perfection and of government. Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, with whose reign Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s universal history opens, was depicted as a ruler of the Golden Age who, unlike Lao-tzu, was always the disciple, and achieved success because he applied Lao-tzu’s precepts. An unremitting seeker of knowledge, he was thus an ideal ruler.
Shih Huang-di, born 259 BCE, in Ch’in (northwestern China), was another ‘first’ emperor. The only significant member of the Ch’in ‘dynasty’ (221–210/209 BCE), he created the first unified Chinese empire (which collapsed four years after his death), and established a fully centralized administration by abolishing territorial feudal power in the empire. He issued orders for standardization of weights, measures, axle lengths of carts, written language and laws, and built not only a network of roads and canals, but the strong links between fortresses for defense against invasion from the north well-known as the Great Wall. Shih Huang-ti was interested in magic and alchemy and searched for masters in these arts who could provide him with an elixir of immortality. After the failure of such an expedition to islands of the Eastern Sea in 219, the emperor repeatedly summoned magicians to his court.

He ordered some Taoist monks, who ran experimental medical laboratories, to brew a batch of immortality elixir, under pain of death. They took those pains. It was believed that immortal people lived on three Pacific islands, where they drank a concoction that proofed their bodies against time, so the emperor sent a fleet of ships to find the islands and fetch the philter. Many months later, the expedition’s captain returned. As he knew he faced death for failing, he told the emperor he’d actually met an immortal. But the immortal wouldn’t release the philter without the gift of many young people and craftsmen. The emperor complied, and away sailed the same canny captain with 3000 skilled and comely young people. They never returned. Legend claims they colonized Japan.
Confucian scholars strongly condemned the Emperor’s charlatanry; 460 were executed for their opposition. A continuous controversy between the emperor and Confucian scholars who advocated a return to the old feudal order culminated in a great book burning, in 213 BCE. All books not about agriculture, medicine, or prognostication, except historical records of Ch’in and books in the imperial library, were burned. Shih Huang-ti was buried in a gigantic 20-square-mile (52-square-kilometre) tomb hewn out of a mountain. Excavation of it started in 1974; over 10,000 life-sized terra-cotta soldiers and horses have been dug up: an army for the dead emperor. Most information about Shih Huang-ti’s life derives from the successor Han dynasty, which prized Confucian scholarship (and thus had interest in disparaging him and the Ch’in era). Histories showed him as a villain par excellence: inhuman, uncultivated, and superstitious. Modern historians, though, often prefer to stress the endurance of the bureaucratic and administrative structures he institutionalized, which provided the basis of all subsequent administrations in China.
So, two guys named Huang-di: one, a Taoist, established Chinese dominance over neighboring peoples. The later, a legalist (authoritarian: ‘Punishment produces force, force produces strength, strength produces awe, awe produces virtue.’), made China defensible, well, usually defensible, against outsiders. Their historical significance is unrivaled.

Taoist “masters” now perform exorcisms, faith-healings and occult rituals, having drifted as far from Lao Tzu as the Pope from the Sermon on the Mount. Groups known as Celestial Master Black Hats and Red Turbans perform ceremonies not dissimilar to those of other organized religions. These, though ancient, may not be as profound as its adherents like to believe – the root of the problem being desire for immortality.
Ko Hung (283 – 343 CE) wrote the Baopuzi (‘He Who Holds to Simplicity’), detailing methods to attain immortality… Lao Tzu cautioned against offering advice (“Give up learnedness”), clearly not heeding his own – life and Tao are full of contradictions, opposites, yin & yang dichotomy contradictions… Like no map can depict all, no guide can be sufficiently clear; one must forge for oneself! Advice easy to give when one hasn’t children…
For Taoist priests, paintings imbued with a kind of spiritual life are important, although essential only for certain functions, during which men-folk try to gain some experience of heavenly realms. A Shaman is different – someone through whom supernatural spirits can interact with people. He assists in curing ceremonies by calling ancestral spirits, and has his mentor spirit go to the spirit world to ask the cause of illness. Smoke, candles and offerings are used… a shaman creates charms and performs magic to drive away demons of ill health. Often in curing ceremonies a shaman will go into trance and become possessed by supernatural beings, as part of the healing process.

Lao Tzu wrote:

Whosoever knows how to practice restraint
Does not get into danger
And thus can last forever.
Whosoever cherishes Life
Does not know about Life.
The softest thing on earth
Overtakes the hardest thing on earth.
The non-existent overtakes even that…

An interesting observable, transmittable, verifiable truth is a good thing. No deception, sugar-coating, clinging egotism or inflation/exaggeration, only go-with-the-flow acceptance and the most subtle of influencings. No unseemly, undignified and counter-productive affectations; no greed, embellishments, obfuscation or pretense. What’s not necessary is superfluous, and less often better than more. Violence is seldom, if ever, necessary, nor imposition. Patience, ability to wait and no fear of going without sometimes are necessary emotional accoutrements to the wise. All this, indeed, is hardly taught but by some single school of thought, but is rather the creed of the spiritualist, wherever and whenever.
Taoists teach: One should take care of things that are in need of doing, and then move on to the next thing that needs to be done, without any attachment to the accomplishment. One should not bother doing things other than what needs to be done: one should not spend time bothering with wealth, power, or praise. To deviate from this is only to find obstacles and heartache.
Creating, yet not possessing. Working, yet not taking credit. Work is done, then forgotten. Therefore, it lasts forever. Achieve results, but never glory in them. Achieve results, but never boast, never desire pride. Achieve results, because this is the natural way. There is no greater sin than desire, no curse greater than discontent, no misfortune worse than wanting what one doesn’t have. He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough; meaningful eminence is achieved only in little things.

The Way resembles an empty vessel -
We turn clay to make a vessel,
But it’s the space where there is nothing
On which the vessel’s usefulness depends.
This is called the Mysterious Power.

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Diminish the self and curb the desires!
One who boasts of his own ability has no merit.
To see the small is to have insight.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course;
it cannot be ruled by interfering.
Nothing is more soft and yielding than water,
yet for attacking the solid and the strong, nothing is better.

Knowing ignorance is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness.

The Taoist sage has no ambitions, therefore he can never fail.
He who never fails always succeeds.
And he who always succeeds is all-powerful.

The Tao grew from ideas held by shamans of the Shang Dynasty (1700 - 1100 BCE); perhaps several teachers collaborated on its primary text, a short, dense book of only 5,250 words - probably the most influential 5,250 words ever written. Although earlier ascetics and hermits such as Shen Tao (who advocated that one ‘abandon knowledge and discard self’) first wrote of ‘Tao,’ only with the 6th century BCE philosopher Lao Tzu (or ‘Elder Sage’ - maybe born Li Erh) did the philosophy of Taoism gain its master teacher. Some scholars believe Li Erh/Lao Tzu was a slightly older contemporary of Confucius (Kung-Fu Tzu, born Chiu Chung-Ni). Others see the Tao Te Ching as a compilation of paradoxical poems written by several Taoists using a pen-name (‘Elder Sage’). This Tao Te Ting, Taoism’s oldest (surviving) scripture, appeared during the Warring States period when China was a chaos of rival kingdoms, between the 6th and 3rd centuries BCE. It’s sometimes attributed to Lao Tan, a mythic figure said to have lived 160 or 200 years... Classical Chinese historian Ssuma Chien attributed it to Li Erh, a custodian of imperial archives from the state of Ch’u in southern China, in the present Honan Province. Legend grew that Lao Tzu was keeper of archives at the Imperial Court. At the time, Honan was a fertile, well-watered state; “Its people make little exertion, delight in life, and neglect to store anything.” But war was a prevalent condition, and Li Erh/Lao Tan became disillusioned, saddened that men couldn’t follow the path of natural goodness.
If there was a real Taoist writer named Li Erh, it seems clear he wasn’t interested in fame. “The chief aim of his studies was how to keep himself concealed and remain unknown,” wrote Ssuma Chien. Li Erh presented his ideas in writing only because, as he was heading into retirement, the royal gatekeeper, Yixi (Yin Xi or Yin Hsi), pleaded with him to record them before he disappeared into oblivion. The book may have been written under a pseudonym, but it’s most likely that the Tao Te Ting simply recorded ancient wisdom long passed from masters to disciples. The ideas presented, which propose a way to stop warfare, a realistic path for humanity to follow which could end most conflict, became popular in the 2nd century BCE, during the Han dynasty. A series of commentaries, and commentaries on the commentaries, followed, becoming hybridized with Confucianism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. After a while, books of Tao began demarcating about everything: appropriate systems for greetings, even the proper way to clean one’s house.
The first Taoist authors, living at a time of social disorder and great religious skepticism, developed a notion of the Tao as the origin of all creation, and the force - unknowable in its essence but observable in its manifestations - that lies behind the functionings and changes of the natural world. They saw in Tao, and nature, the basis of a spiritual approach to living. This, they believed, was the answer to the burning issue: What is the basis of a stable, unified, enduring social order?
Much of the essence of Tao is in the art of Wu Wei, action through inaction. This means a practice of minimal, particularly non-violent, action, though the Taoist is not precisely a pacifist. He’ll take military action when he hasn’t seen ahead far enough to prevent need for violence in the first place. When violence seems necessary, the Taoist leader fights until he’s achieved his goal, then stops, saddened by the need for bloodshed. To use Wu Wei is to have a kind of Taoist patience - it is to allow things to unfold in their own way, in their own time. This doesn’t imply complete lack of energy expenditure - just recognition of the flow and cycles permeating the world we travel through.
The cardinal concept is that the Tao, the ineffable, eternal, underlying creative reality, is the source, end and connector of all things. ‘Te’ is the manifestation of the Tao within all things: virtue power. To possess the fullness of Te means to be in perfect harmony with one’s original nature. According to Taoism’s next great writer, Chuang-tzu (369 - 286 BCE), an individual in harmony with the Tao blends with the course of Nature’s constant change and embraces the rhythm of life and death. As is accomplished at death, so in life must the individual return to the original purity and simplicity of Tao.

Lao Tzu (or Laozi) simply means “Old Master-teacher” but indicates the most famous of Taoists and Tao Deities. According to legend, he was an older contemporary of Confucius born as an old man of about 82 years, to a minor aristocratic family (conceived by a shooting star). After developing his system of mysticism and philosophy, he rejected society. Riding off to the “uncivilized” west, he was stopped and persuaded to write down his thoughts, thus producing the Tao Te Jing. His success in personal development led to becoming one of Taoism’s most
powerful Deities. Some say he left China through the Hangu Pass in the Zhou period (6th century BCE), went to India and taught Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, and that, therefore, the Buddha was a disciple of Laozi.
As Lao Tan or Li Erh, LaoTzu is said to have met Confucius. After they visited, disciples asked Confucius how he might admonish and correct Lao Tzu. “In him I have seen the dragon that rides on the cloudy air,” Confucius replied. After another visit he said, “In the knowledge of the Tao am I any better than a tiny creature in vinegar? A less apocryphal Confucius would have seen Li Erh as a dangerous threat, as his followers saw LaoTzu. Taoism’s stress on spontaneity and harmony with nature too strongly oppose Confucian obsession with duty, form, established custom and filial piety. When Laozi was 80 (two years younger than when he was born?), dispirited and disillusioned, he set out for Tibet, to meditate close to the clouds in his final days. But at the Hank Pass border post, a guard demanded he record his teachings before leaving… It’s been said Lao Tsu believed the language of wisdom to be silence, and that, after writing his book, he never spoke another word.

Zhuangzi is considered the most important Taoist philosopher after Laozi, and the Zhuangzi one of the great classics of world literature. The Zhuangzi, a 3rd century BCE Taoist classic, is a celebration of human creativity - the language lucid, its images darkly brilliant. The ideas are seriously playful. Without question, it’s one of the most challenging achievements of literature. Thematically, the Zhuangzi offers diverse insights into how to develop an appropriate and productive attitude to life. Resourced over the centuries by Chinese artists and intellectuals alike, it’s provoked great commentarial tradition.

Early Taoist sages were often artisans, butchers or woodcarvers. These skilled workers understood the secret of talent and the art of living. To be successful with their skill, they needed inner spiritual concentration, and to be able to put aside concern with externals such as monetary rewards, fame, and praise. Artistry, like life, follows the creative path of nature, not the values of organized society.
Taoist ideas and images inspired an intense affirmation of life: physical life - health, well being, vitality, and longevity. Ancient nature-worship and esoteric arts crept into the tradition, presented as ways of enhancing and prolonging life. Some Taoists began searching for “Isles of the Immortals,” for herbs or chemical compounds that could forestall death, and perhaps even secure immortality. More and more Taoists interested in health and vitality experimented with herbal medicine and pharmacology, advancing such arts; they developed principles of macrobiotic cooking and healthy diet, as well as gymnastics and massage to keep the body youthful and strong.
As the Taoist pantheon developed, it transformed from belief that spirits pervaded nature, both the natural world and the internal world within the human body - all these spirits being, though, but manifestations of the one Tao, and came to mirror the Chinese Imperial bureaucracy in its depictions of Heaven and Hell. The head of the heavenly bureaucracy was the Jade Emperor, who governed spirits, assigned workings of the natural world and administered moral justice. The gods in heaven acted like, and were treated like, officials in the world of men; worshipping the gods was a kind of rehearsal of attitudes toward secular authorities. On the other hand, the demons and ghosts of hell acted like, and were treated like, the bullies, outlaws, and threatening strangers in the real world: they were bribed by the people, and ritually arrested by martial forces of the spirit officials. The common populace, who after all had little influence with their earthly rulers, sought by worshipping spirits to keep troubles at bay, and by supplication and bribery to ensure attainment of the blessings of health, progeny, wealth, happiness and longevity.
Taoist priests saw many gods as manifestations of one Tao. They were ritually trained to know the names, ranks, and powers of important spirits, and to direct them, through meditation, visualization and ritual, to mutual goals. In meditation, Taoists harmonized, helping reunite gods, aspects of Tao, in the unity of One Tao. But only a few educated lay believers knew much of this complex theological system.

In contrast to the Confucian program of social reform through moral principle, ritual, and governmental regulation, the way of restoration, what Taoists consider the “true way,” consists in the banishment of learned sageliness, of discarding most received wisdom. “Manifest the simple,” urged Lao-tzu, “embrace the primitive; reduce selfishness, have few desires.”
The Tao operates impartially in the universe. Likewise, mankind should disavow assertive, acquisitive action. Taoist life is a life of non-purposive action (wu-wei), but also a life expressing the essence of spontaneity (tzu-jan, “self-so”). Taoist philosophy can be summed up well with a quote from Chuang Tzu: “To regard the fundamental as the essence, to regard things as coarse, to regard accumulation as deficiency, and to dwell quietly alone with the spiritual and the intelligent - herein lie the techniques of Tao of the ancients.”

Chi or Qi (pronounced “chee” and meaning Dragon’s Breath) is Chinese for “the natural energy of the Universe” (though supernatural might be a better word). Tao has been said to be Chi, the smallest (and original) particle of the universe. It has special capacities, and its own rules of movement. It exists everywhere and forms everything - there are no barriers to Tao, in either space or time; it is the inner force which maintains the balance and functioning of everything. ‘Te,’ moral virtue, is the method of proper application of Tao, the expressing process of the character of Tao, and the regulation of all matters in motion. All things in the universe have their orbit, their influence; movement and all activity regulated, everything has a basic norm, which isn’t gravity, but rather, instead, ‘original virtue’: cosmic harmony &/or the power of love.

Luo Chinfeng wrote, “Throughout heaven and earth, from ancient times to the present, everything is a single chi. The chi is originally one, but now moving, now still; now opening, now closing; now ascending, now descending; circulating ceaselessly, accumulation of subtlety becomes manifest; this is the four seasons of warm, cool, cold and hot; this is the generation, growth, gathering and storing of 10,000 things.”

The original Chi, Endlessly repeated
Infinitely diverse, Ceaselessly varies
While remaining the original Chi.

Like any amoeba, or cell even. Thus Chi becomes the a priori prime mover, love, while also its inverse and contra positive – and on into reverence, pride, admiration, yearning, lust, acquisitiveness, contentment, hunger, ecstasy, satisfaction, sacrifice, competitive testing, narcissism… it seems varieties spin on into new forms; love, a force or quality reaching and solidifying, rearranged into differentiating hues, dynamics and other interactive attributes, growing, evolving, stretching, and finding Twin, reflection, yin & yang, change, differentiation, multiplicity of twins...
Chapter 15 of the Tao begins: “Tao gave birth to One, One generates the Two; Two gave birth to Three. The Three generates all the myriad things. All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace, deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths – the flowing power gives them harmony.”
Yin/Yang: everything contains within its opposite. “Difficult and easy compliment each other… Back and front follow each other.” “The corporeal is born of the Incorporeal.” “Know the glorious; Keep to the lowly.” “Restless movement overcomes cold, but calm generates heat. Peace and stillness are the Norm of the World.”
Some say Taoism views time as cyclical, not linear, and that the Taoist’s ideal society is deeply connected with matriarchy and femininity. The Tao certainly says: Nature should not be exploited by abuse. Nature should be befriended, not conquered. The idea of the “Perfect Man”, that is, one who understands the cyclical and ever changing nature of the Universe, and who acts in accordance with Natural law, is common in Chinese philosophy. The Perfect Man is the quintessential Taoist. This Ideal Person, through the naturalness of his existence, male or female, is self-sufficient, never dependent either on wealth or society.
Simplicity, oneness, and tranquility are said to be Taoism’s 3 jewels, and also known as compassion, moderation (even of moderation!) and humility.


Vasana (wassana in Thai) refers to habitual tendencies or dispositions; subconscious inclinations; a term found in Pali and early Sanskrit writings (from vas: ‘living, remaining’). In yoga practice (Yogācāra or yogachara), it denotes latent energy resulting from action, or better, actions. It’s believed a pattern becomes ‘imprinted’ in the actor's consciousness, or storehouse of understandings; accumulation of these habitual tendencies predisposes one to particular patterns of behavior (samskaras).
In short, they’re all the things that go into building individual sense of self or ego. “Vasana” can be translated as mental conditioning, minute tendencies, inclinations, habit proclivities &/or driving forces which color and motivate one's attitudes and actions. Vasanas are a conglomerate result of subconscious impressions (samskaras) formed by background experience (extending even before birth, to time in the womb, conception and even beyond). Samskaras, experiential impressions, combine in the subconscious to form vasanas, which contribute to mental fluctuations (vritti whirlpools of consciousness, waves of mental activities, thought and perception).
One might have a fearful experience, and the vasana of fear can remain for a long time (as in post-traumatic stress). Vasana influences our actions and behavior patterns (samskaras). Negative vasanas create negative samskaras and vice versa. But you can replace a negative samskara, or behavior, with a positive behavior, which will cause an internal change and ultimately an external change. For example: if you have low self-esteem (a negative vasana), a positive samskara can change your perception of yourself, so that you start behaving in even more positive ways. But you can’t permanently remove a vasana or a samskara - you only replace one with another, and the old samskaras and vasanas can come back.
Vasanas: subliminal inclinations and habit patterns which, as driving forces, color and motivate one's attitudes and future actions; tendencies and impulses; longing. Awareness of previous observations, recollections, trauma's, other states of mind, etc. The conglomerate results of subconscious impressions created through experience. Deep-seated traits or tendencies that shape one’s attitudes and motivations; impressions about action and experience that remain in the mind; latent subtle desires, innate tendencies. These experiential impressions combine in the subconscious, and thereafter contribute to mental fluctuations and subconscious tendencies which color all levels of personality: our perceptions, emotions, thoughts and deeds.
Vasana: a pattern of inclinations and subtle desires; a tendency created in a person by the doing of an action, or by enjoyment; it induces a person to repeat the action, or to seek a repetition of the enjoyment. As a subtle impression in the mind capable of developing itself into action; it’s the cause of the nature of impressions of action which remain unconsciously in the mind, producing self-imposed limitations, or forms of attachments, for instance:
• Personal strengths and weaknesses
• Predispositions
• Likes and dislikes
• Habits
• Habitual outlook
• Opinions
Vasana refers to subtle desires which, like seeds, fructify or manifest, accordingly with favorable circumstances, at appropriate times. Karmic energy created in the current lifetime, or past lifetimes, through repeated patterns of behavior can be called habit energies, or vasanas. These are like old, familiar stories: our emotions, self-images, beliefs and reactive patterns that keep us within limited contexts, experiences and configurations. Many, if not most, of us need to breakup and dissolve our old, too often dysfunctional, patterns, imprints, and habits - boundaries of the ego formed by fear, intellect, memory, and will, rather than reinforce them. As everything passes away, even your mind (a structure composed of various impressions and thoughts), it may be best to experience all you can, while you can, and break out of what limitations you can.
Some say the word vasana means impregnation, learning, processing; and that because the consciousness is plastic, it can be conditioned. If we have habit energies and patterns of behavior, that’s because of vasana. We develop those patterns during the first six years of life, and continue to enact them.

People are born with proclivities; other tendencies are reinforced. In both cases, there’s tendency to repetition, and perhaps to insufficiency of exploration. To know that people (and things) act and interact in patterns is to be better able to plan, to properly respond, and to be prepared. Our personalities (personality: the whole nature or character of a particular person, with traits, qualities and individuality) aren’t necessarily locked-in and predictable patterns of attitude and behavior; much as one can quit drinking or smoking, one can change patterns (at least somewhat) – learn a new song, as it were, use another language, live in a different way, even find oneself acting inexplicably when circumstances, or the people around, have changed. But the old melody, or ways, will creep back in – to dreams, conversation, opinions, moods. A vibration will continue to exist long after it is directly perceptible to humans!
Usually vasana is mentioned in context where meditation is espoused and recommended, but maybe internal quiet, centered harmony, is enough. That the vasana patterns start before individuality, before emergence of any “self” – as recent scientific research has shown. A protein sheath around the double helix DNA strands responds to input (emotional, mental, environmental) and determines much of DNA function, acting like a switch to turn on and off genetic cues, or expression. Epigenetics, the study of gene expression and the regulation of genetic activity, particularly methyl groups and histones attached to our chromosomes, the epigenome suite of biochemical signals that determine which genes in an individual’s DNA can be turned on or off, shows that genomes respond to environmental signals, that the epigenome is sensitive to environmental impact (including nutrients, exposure to toxins, and loving mothering). DNA is fixed, and represents only possibilities; while epigenetic changes are potentially reversible, may not be simply on or off, and involve the new concept of the meme.
The term “epigenetics”was coined in 1942 to describe the idea that an organism's experience may alter the effect of (the prefix epi means ‘on’ or ‘over’). Now, it’s defined as ‘the study of heritable changes in genome function that occur without a change in DNA sequence,’ and scientists tend to accept that epigenetic inheritance affects the action of genes in offspring, despite arising from the life experience of parents. These epigenetic changes extend, at least for a small minority of genes, beyond immediate offspring to further generations, but effects seem not to last indefinitely. Epigenetic instructions aren’t found in the DNA itself, but in an array of chemical markers and switches, known as the epigenome, which lie along the length of the double helix. These epigenetic switches and markers help switch on or off the expression of particular genes.
Nutrition and stress can affect the epigenome, but, unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic changes are reversible. Research shows that diet, behavior, and environmental surroundings can have a great impact on the health of descendants. Twins with different environmental experiences display more divergent genetic expressions than do those with similar environment and experience. A common environment results in the genes of a variety of individuals to increasingly act like each other. These epigenetic changes can be inherited. Acquired traits can be passed down the generations, despite what is taught about cutting off rat’s tails (!).

Of course, it’s not just nature versus nurture, programmed clockwork-like progression or adaptive opportunism, manipulation by, manipulation of, interconnectivity, or faithful but mostly inactive observers carried along in an unpredictable flow - we’re heavily affected by group dynamics from even before our parents were conceived, and so full of influences that we certainly react more than we decide, and are largely just part of an ongoing process. Environment, nutrition and experience of germs, viruses, etc., and also emotions. A luckier child who gets more strokes will pass on some dissimilar traits to what an identical twin not so favored will. It’s not just the sins of one’s fathers, but the fortunes of one’s antecedents, which determine much of one’s character – and even, I suspect, the emotions present at the point of conception, the time of birth, and also around the house… babies pick up on signals very hard to quantify or even describe! But, eventually, they learn some control, to make and keep to some decisions, and exert some influence.
Lawrence Harper, psychologist at the University of California at Davis, has claimed that a wide array of personality traits, including temperament and intelligence, can be affected by epigenetic inheritance, saying, “If you have a generation of poor people who suffer from bad nutrition, it may take two or three generations for that population to recover from that hardship and reach its full potential. Because of epigenetic inheritance, it may take several generations to turn around the impact of poverty or war or dislocation on a population.” Marcus Pembrey, professor of Clinical Genetics at London’s Institute of Child Health, in collaboration with Swedish researcher Lars Olov Bygren, also found strong evidence that famine in the lives of the grandparents can affect the life expectancy of the grandchildren.
Michael Meaney, biologist at McGill University, showed that some epigenetic changes can be induced after birth. With graduate student Ian Weaver, Meaney compared mother rats that licked their offspring after birth and those that neglected their newborns. The licked newborns grew up relatively calm and brave, while neglected ones nervously skittered into the darkest corner when placed in new environments. Analysis of brain tissue from both licked and non-licked rats showed distinct differences in patterns of DNA methylation (methylation: the process by which methyl, or -CH3, amino acid groups are added to compounds) in hippocampus cells of each group. The mother's licking activity apparently had the effect of removing dimmer switches on a gene that shapes stress receptors in a growing brain. The well-licked rats had better-developed hippocampi, and released less cortisol, a stress hormone; neglected ones released more cortisol, had less-developed hippocampi, and, in marked contrast to the others, reacted nervously when startled or in new surroundings. Maternal behavior had shaped the brains of offspring.
The phenomenon has also been detected in chickens, in response to stress caused by abnormal levels of light. Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden reared a group of chickens under normal day and night conditions; others were exposed to randomly varying light. The offspring of the latter group showed impaired spatial learning abilities, were more aggressive, and grew faster. These characteristics were linked to changes in the activity of genes in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland areas.

Elsewhere in the animal, activity of these genes was largely normal, but was changed in areas of the brain responsible for behavioral traits, including spatial learning. This exemplifies a fundamental characteristic of epigenetic inheritance: that even genes handed down quite normally may change in what they express, with resultant change in some behavioral trait or function.
A great implication of heritable epigenetic features is that diet and stress can influence genes of children and grandchildren. In the early 1990s the British ‘Avon Longitudinal Study’ surveyed children born to 14,000 mothers and found that, of 5,000 fathers who took part, 166 had started smoking very early, in the so-called ‘slow growth’ period before puberty (between 9 and 12). Sons of these fathers tended to be significantly overweight by the age of nine, ‘though there was no noticeable difference for daughters. This shows a significant link between fathers who smoked early, and above average weight in their sons. Although little’s yet known of how environment shapes gene silencing, there’s evidence that disturbing DNA methylation during development can bring on health problems from cancer to schizophrenia.
Histone, around which DNA winds, is important role in gene regulation. Changes in histones relate to changes in the physical state and function of chromatin (chromatin fibers form chromosomes) in cell division, and thus to transcription of genetic messages (by neutralizing charges of DNA). Genes and environment don't influence development independently. Instead, environmental influences initiate changes in gene expression. Human behavior can influence inheritance, genetically and educationally. Even very high heritability in a behavioral trait doesn’t imply inevitability. One can’t just blame genes, and abdicate all responsibility.
Epigenetic inheritance may be involved in passing down of cultural, personality and even psychiatric traits, which can be regarded as inclinations. For instance, historical events have led to “embedding” of attitudes within affected communities, attitudes which persist for generations. This phenomenon is explained in Richard Dawkins's theory of memes, according to which cultural or intellectual traits are passed down via non-genetic mechanisms. The possibility raised by epigenetics is that cultural transmission may have a genetic component. Traumas like the experience of imprisonment, slavery, forced relocation or war, can leave genetic marks on descendants of those victimized by them, and thus influence - but not force - behavior.

A meme (a clumsy new term pronounced miem) is any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation (including thoughts, ideas, beliefs, theories, rituals, gestures, practices, fads, fashions, habits, tunes, songs, and dances). Memes, cultural entities that an observer might consider a replicator propagate themselves, can move through a populace in a way similarly as do viruses. Dawkins, a biological theorist widely known for espousing atheism, coined the word “meme” in The Selfish Gene (1976), where he described how one might extend evolutionary principles to explain the spread of ideas and other cultural phenomena. Dawkins based the word on the Greek “mimeme” (something imitated), making it sound similar to “gene.” The concept of a unit of social evolution called a mneme (from Greek mneme, meaning “memory”) was used in 1904 by German evolutionary
biologist Richard Semon; the French adjective même has similarities in meaning to the Greek mīmos, from which the adjective mimesis comes. As Roman satirical poet Horace put it, “things which are repeated are pleasing” - but some of us are more inclined to like some sequencing than others!
According to Dawkins, genes aren’t the only replicators which change in an evolutionary manner. Memes replicate, spreading from consciousness to consciousness; many of the same evolutionary principles that apply to genes apply to memes as well. Genes and memes may at times co-evolve (“gene-culture co-evolution”).
One can’t view memes through a microscope in the way one can detect genes, but a meme is a recognizable pattern, one that serves as a template for its own replication. Language provides the first and most important memetic infection. Memeticians generally regard language as a memetically-evolved phenomenon. For example, even at the level of animals, many species have evolved particular sounds to convey various meanings (“danger”, “hungry”, “aroused”, “go away” or “come here”). Experiments have verified the memetic nature of these noises, showing that they don’t arise when humans raise the animals concerned: they’re not generated by instinct, but learned from other animals.
Some people understood many of these things long ago, much as many farmers hardly needed to be told of Pavlov’s dog salivation response to learned association of a bell sound to feeding. Interesting, isn’t it, how purportedly new, modern ideas can so match ancient understandings?

We have hard wiring, some software-like programming, and also some feedback-loop like self-awareness mechanisms. We must eat and sleep, and are inclined to indulge in some pleasures, but don’t have to be as stupid as we can be. Much of wisdom lies in knowing what we can change, or at least influence, and what not. What’s really important about epigenetcs is that, by showing the nexus and interactivity between genes and genetic sheath, it shows the lack of true viability to the “science” producing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). To replace gene strands with other gene strands makes an imperfectly formatted system – poorly responsive and inflexible, unable to adjust. Without gaining experience from interactivity with environs, genes cannot operate with real efficiency; GMOs cannot but gum up the whole works. Even if they were but food, and not part of our whole ecosystem, if we are what we eat, do we really want to eat dysfunctional food?

Self as Illusion

Like other things, we’re but temporary phenomena. Numbers may not be, but they aren’t tangible. There may be other concepts as durable, but I think not many. But the idea of some essence of a person lasting past death is popular.
What would that essence be? For me, it’s hard to imagine it caring about a name once used – and as I study history and the world, I learn that for many individual lifetimes of people, there was no lasting name attachment. One was called one thing as a baby, another as an adolescent, and something entirely different when established in regular occupation with skills others might wish to call on.
A ‘self’ has been suggested to merely comprise a collection of memetic stories, or memes… and it may even be that there is no memory until memes – for instance words – are received.

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Science and the Knowledge of Good and Evil

One of the heresies (at least related to, if not the same as, a Gnostic one, in which the ‘God’ of the Old Testament was not the true God, and one must ‘escape’ the material world in order to achieve salvation), or teachings, which the Catholic Church tried to eradicate, purported that we’d been deceived into getting things backward or upside-down. Jehova kept us blind; the snake/devil/seducer who suggested Eve eat the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was freeing us. Supportive of this, in the King James Bible, is Genesis 2.16-17: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But, as the story continues, we find that Adam did not die when he ate thereof, as he surely might have, had he eaten of some other trees – leaping easily to mind are hemlock (Conium maculatum, the poison of which is concentrated in its seeds) and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna, with cherry-sized, highly poisonous black berries). Maybe these trees existed only outside the Garden of Eden, but still…
And, do we really know ought of good and evil? We experience, sense, them – but the variety of opinions and responses varies so greatly, one must really wonder. To “eradicate” a heresy – was that good or evil?
And science – has it made us more “pure of heart”?
Where now the carrier pigeon and ivory-billed woodpecker, and what’s happening to the frog, salamander, bee, lightening bug and lady bug? Most certainly, we are not as healthy, any of us, anywhere, as the American ‘Indian’ was purported to be, upon ‘discovery’!
Socrates is said to have taught, “Know thyself” – but this is hardly taken in the Biblical sense (Fuck thyself), but to suggest instead a parallel: to understand activity beyond the self and its body, one must first look inside to find… what? Conflicting impulses, perhaps? Endurance within change? The original Tao?
In Buddhism, it is but suffering is bad, and to be escaped. But what about evil intent? Arrogance? Stupidity?
What are we to make of the Swiss effort to ‘re-create’ a ‘big-bang’ ‘singularity’ for $8 billion, ‘science’ at work for what, while more and more corn goes to make ethanol and for half the human population, at least, life remains as Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan: with “continual fear, and danger of violent death”, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short”?
And, especially, what are we to make of the USA, the whining of pampered fools who can’t take criticism and “success” rapidly ruining everything for everyone? Knowledge must be seen as good, or we risk eating poisons. But has technology made us better as people? I must greatly doubt it.
Seems to me that science, like religion, has mostly been useful, and used, to maintain, or perhaps re-establish, pecking orders, for keeping people “in their place” and useful to their privileged “betters” – perhaps the most evil of us all. Or at least with hearts as black as the belladonna cherry! Surely teaching can have been, or become, used to produce better results than I so far have been able to discern.

Dream memory

Most likely it happens to others as it does to me: sometimes in a dream, there’s a kind of memory of, or flashback to, a previous dream, and other times, while awake, I find myself experiencing the sensations of a dream from long ago – maybe a dream remembered in another dream, maybe a more singular dream. Sometimes I cannot readily discern if the feelings called up are from a dream or from real life, at least for a couple minutes (or so it seems – the actual time may be shorter).
This may seem insignificant to many, but to me is indicative of something quite important: our involvement in matters un-measurable. It’s a sign of involvement in more than can be directly perceived, in matters, things or processes science cannot touch, cannot even pretend to investigate. For memory should be of matters of the tangible, or at least of ordered events (and most dreams we can’t even remember at all), but clearly there is more to it that only that. Which may be all we need to know to achieve the caution amoral sociopaths fail to observe.
OK – maybe dreams are just another electro-chemical process or reaction, but memory of dream as an event seems transcendent – not like Alfred North Whitehead’s nexus of nexus (verbal slight-of-hand misdirection trickery, of which there’s always quite a lot: denial of denial, negation of negation, belief in belief… a special advisor for speechwriting to President Richard M. Nixon once told me, “I can’t say that I don’t think what you’re doing is not wrong.”), but like a jump between contexts, verifying that there indeed are other contexts, as less materialistic people have always believed. We know our perceptions and words to be inadequate for dealing with matters before birth (or conception?) and after death, smaller than atoms or larger than galaxies, and that time and gravity present us with conundrums neither verbal gymnasts nor mystics are likely to settle; why don’t we accept that there is more involved in our living reality than what we can call material? We certainly should…


Archaeological preconceptions

Amazon Books sends e-mail ads to about all it can, and I recently got one listing a book about Cahokia and Amerind mound builders. I noted mention of a community of 20,000, then deleted the ad. Later, I got to thinking about this supposed large community settlement, an anomaly among millions of Amerinds across over ten million square miles of territory. Yes, there were Pueblo peoples – from a very different climatic zone, far away, and a very large permanent assemblage of Aztecs where Mexico City is today. There likely were large communities of Caribs (and others living by the Caribbean and gulf of Mexico), of whom there may have been tens of millions alive for over half a millennium, surely with some awareness of, if not contact with, Mississippian Culture and others of that great river. 20,000 doesn’t amaze me, and I suspect that at times there were assemblages of considerably more.
Of the “Macro-Algonquian linguistic phylum that inhabited the east side of the lower Mississippi River”, who may have had villages with structures three stories tall, Britannica says, “The Natchez, allied in general culture to other Muskogean tribes, were a primarily agricultural people. They made clothes by weaving a fabric from the inner bark of the mulberry, excelled in potteryขmaking, and built large temples—similar to those of the Creeks—of wattles and mud set upon eight-foot mounds. Their dwellings—built in precise rows around a plaza or common ground—were four-sided and constructed of sun-baked mud and straw with arched cane roofs.”
Fine, as far as it goes, I suppose. But I can’t help thinking of the Steppe People, from Hungary to the Altai Mountains, including Scythians and Khazars, who built cities, sometimes, but didn’t stay in them during summers – and much preferred to wander. Very much as Amerinds preferred to wander. It was a good idea too, for health, for preservation of the natural environment, and for psychological outlook (particularly in regards to social structuring).
It’s easy to understand that other “white” people, given their ever-popular blinders, are quite unlikely to have realized the many preconceptions involved in their speculations about life in the Americas before Columbus. Tribes were long taken as fairly permanent fixtures with “chiefs”, defined “hunting grounds” and codified standards for conduct. But it occurs to me that things may well have been much more fluid than that, with lots more travel and exchange of ideas than has generally been recognized. And what may look like a city to us, might indeed have been something of a very different nature, with different utility and even rapidly changing – or perhaps better said, alternating - occupants.
In some “Pueblos” there may have been fixed abodes, and in others not, I don’t know, but in general, it stands to reason to see North American natives as having moved about a good deal, and ‘cities’ to have usually been but temporary abodes. I wonder if Amazon will ever have a book about that.

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Differentiation and Trade

As life in general (and everything, all things, even) proceeds thru cycles of patterns, human activity involves general patterns too, not only with individuals, but with families, clans and even dynasties. Societies emerge and decline, interact positively and negatively, and succeed or fail to the extent they do largely in accordance with interactive patterns. An isolated society in stasis won’t long last – for only change in patterns nurtures strength. Limited diet and repertoire of activity are quite surely indicative of decline. An engaged society will encounter new hostilities, diseases, challenges and perhaps satisfactions, but even the best go into decline, regardless of laws or belief. Some societies are more open, fun-loving or uninhibited, while others more restrictive, demanding and organized – but all engage in things which in retrospect seem unwise (much like individuals).
Much as most people aren’t very innovative, most societies aren’t either. All may innovate, but it must be taken as relative: a few will always be more so, in any comparative aspect, than the rest. Some are more courageous and daring, others more careful and discreet. Sometimes one attribute works out better, other times another. Life involves testing, experimentation, and also maintenance of some control (at least if it is to last!).
It’s my intention here to examine some large extents of human society and interactivity, over time and space, which haven’t received extensive examination in our histories (due both to eventual lack of success in extended power struggles and lack of records – however much more would be known were there more interest). Assumptions and suppositions will be necessary here, perhaps essential even, but I think can be justified in terms of adherence to perceptible pattern. At the end I intend to speculate some, but my approach is to inquire, not posit or declare any more than I feel clear (to any, at least, who choose to investigate more than just superficially).
Three particular instances of extensive, but closely related, geo-political/cultural influence, each of a period of approximately a millennia (mostly between 800 BCE at the earliest, to 1350 CE at the latest) have greatly interested me, so after analysis of each, I will endeavor to compare them and test if any sense of previously unrecognized pattern emerges.
First is the Scythians, who had a rich, powerful empire for several centuries, from the 4th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. They were among the earliest people to master horse riding, if not the first, and not only achieved astounding mobility, but successfully resisted invasion by Darius the Great of Persia (perhaps the most powerful ruler to date), between 519 and 513 BCE. Darius had been in Egypt with Cambyses II (eldest son of Cyrus II the Great, founder of the Persian Achaemenian empire); rulers of the Angkor Empire of Cambodia (and indeed, the name Cambodia itself) may have descended from Cambyses (who’s claimed to have disappeared in a sandstorm while trying to invade Libya).
Cambyses leads us on to the second group, or cultural entity, Srivijaya. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the “earliest Vedic literature listed the Kshatriya (holders of kṣatra, or authority) as first in rank, then the Brahmans (priests and teachers of law), next the Vaisya (merchant-traders), and finally the Sudra (artisans and labourers).” Gautama Buddha, more likely from the “India” area of southeastern Persia than from Nepal, was Kshatriya, as seem to have been the builders of the Srivijayan Empire. Srivijaya, Britannica says, was a “maritime and commercial kingdom that flourished between the 7th and the 13th century in the Malay Archipelago. The kingdom, which originated in Palembang on Sumatra, soon extended its influence and controlled the Strait of Malacca. The kingdom’s power was based on its control of international sea trade. It established trade relations not only with the states in the archipelago but also with China and India.” Which should be interpreted to mean, it disrupted direct trade between China and India.
The other group has no direct relation to the first two; its influence may have been curtailed, though, by the last immigrants to North America via the Bering Straight. The Anasazi “Ancient People” - perhaps the earliest builders of permanent housing in the Americas - may have had influence from the Chiapas area of southern Mexico to the Mississippi River, to the Hopewell area (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, southern Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and New York) and to parts of the Rocky Mountains and California. Britannica, once again, “Trade routes were evidently well developed, for material from as far away as the Rocky Mountains and the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic are found in Hopewell sites, and articles identified as manufactured by the Hopewell Indians are found in localities as far distant.”
Much that I will be positing about these civilizations will be found controversial, or less, by many – but for me, what is interesting is simply a viable way to explain things, and I don’t find much alternative to what I present here.

About 2500 BCE, sea-faring Thracians with iron weapons and horses populated Ilium (a.k.a Troy); it became a major center of civilization, then after over a millennium, was destroyed by Mycenaean Greeks (about 1200-1250 BCE; the basis for Homer’s Iliad). Greek historian Herodotus wrote (in 440 BCE) that Thracians were the second most numerous people in the world, outnumbered only by (East) Indians (he’d never heard of China); also that the Thracian homeland was huge. Clearly, though, Scythia was bigger; he may have lumped the two together, considering Thracians civilized Scythes. Around the Black Sea, he wrote, are “the most uncivilized nations in the world,” where lived a “ruddy and blue-eyed people” given to “tipsy excess”, who enjoyed warfare and looting, and worshiped Ares, Dionysus and Artemis. Their kings, in particular, worshiped Hermes (messenger god of fertility, pillars, boundaries, commerce, travel and dreams, medic and protector of livestock) as an ancestor.
Possibly Thracians and Illyrians were closely related; Illyrians inhabited much of the Balkans for the next millennium, using iron and bronze swords with winged-shaped handles; they kept horses, and developed bits, harness and equestrian accoutrements, including trousers, which were later adopted by neighboring folk… It’s claimed 12,000 or them, Trojans, fled north across the Black Sea to the Don River, and established Sicambria, a kingdom with fortified capital Aesgard or Asgaard (about 1150 BCE). It’s also claimed that Odin, chief god of Vikings, was originally the Thracian, or Aesir, leader who ruled that Sicambrian kingdom, at Asgard, in the first century, BCE. Herodotus described the values of Thracians:
To be idle is accounted the most honorable thing,
and to be a tiller of the ground the most dishonorable.
To live by war and plunder is of all things the most glorious.

The degree of truth in that is certainly uncertain, but civilized refinement, government and social organization were clearly not the highest priorities. At any rate, Herodotus, our first real historian and still known as one of the greatest, was not really well informed about Thracians and Scythians, although he visited both, and not just briefly, but for years.
Roxolani, Cimmerians, Thracians, and Swedes may all be basically the same, separated mostly by time, and about as related as early Boston Puritans and 60s Height-Ashbury hippies (who surely shared many common ancestors from the 15th century and before...). People move, times and names change. Historian Jordanis, notary of Gothic kings, wrote in 551 CE that the Daner were of the same stock as the Svear, both taller and fairer than any other peoples of the North. Certainly armies invaded, conquered, got fairly much wiped out, or left and didn’t return, but despite the legend of the Amazons, it’s unlikely that women, young and old, moved en mass with any great frequency. Only when there were great empty areas, I suspect, did entire populations move, or change.
Fierce warriors called Vaeringar - literally ‘men who offer their service to another master’ - eventually became known as Vikings. They navigated with sail and oars, in rivers and on seas, and even crossed oceans; often they hired out as mercenaries and served far from home. Arabic diplomat Ibn Fadlan, from visiting along the Elbe River in the summer of 922 CE, described them: “Never before have I seen people of more perfect physique; they were tall like palm trees, blonde, with a few of them red… Every one of them brings with him an ax, a sword and a knife.” Concepts of “racial purity” for these peoples are absurd, not only because inbreeding weakens, but because during pillage there was rape; during negotiations, arranged marriages, and times of hardship, which certainly often occurred, demanded flexibility.
Trojan warriors, even according to Homer, weren’t mono-ethnic; there were many “related” peoples. But Northern and Eastern Europe kept distinct from Greco-Roman culture: they were often enemies, and trade competitors - with secrets to guard. That we know little of the “barbarians” isn’t only because of ethnocentrism, although it’s partly that, for sure, or from xenophobic fear of the strange, either, but is also from strategic self-protection, and ‘real-politick’. Weaponry accessory like rudimentary stirrups and maritime capacity was best not traded! Greeks and Romans were widely despised by the less “civilized”; avoidance of exploitation by city-folk was perhaps construed as attempt to maintain “purity,” but Greeks, Romans and Egyptians intermingled, and everybody else too (even Chinese).
Turks, Tatars, Mongols, Siberians, Tibetans, Uigers, Khazars, Celts and their precursors tended livestock; perhaps well before 2000 BCE horses were tamed by huge, mean red-heads with light eyes. For millennia a society of these people enjoyed superior weaving, herbal medicine and animal husbandry, with a high degree of sexual equality and social justice. They were basically nomads, although they kept clan bases and repeatedly used the same areas to produce their food.
The earliest nomads of the steppe north of the Black Sea mentioned by ancient historians were Cimmerians. The Cimbri, a Germanic tribe living on the Jutland peninsula, and Cimmerians, Eastern European Celts, have been mistakenly associated, but may have both been absorbed into Thracian culture. Between 2000 and 800 BCE Cimmerians occupied the lower Danube, Caucasus Mountains and Russian Steppes; the first inhabitants of Ukraine we’ve a contemporary name for were Cimmerians. Homer tells of people, perhaps Cimmerians, living in perpetual, smoky gloom, “enshrouded in mist and perpetual darkness which the sun never pierces” (Odyssey X:508; XI:14). Warlike horse nomads mentioned in Assyrian documents of the 8th century BCE may have been Cimmerians. They raided south, ravaged Anatolia and elsewhere, then later, ultimately, were defeated by Scythians.
Herodotus portrayed Scythians (Skythians) as longhaired, bearded barbarians of a violent, emotional nature, who drank blood of enemies, enjoyed cannabis-laced sweat baths and worshipped Hestia (Tabiti, the Hearth Goddess), Zeus and his wife Earth, and below them Apollo, Aphrodite, Heracles (an ancestor, on whom Hercules was based), and Ares (War, they only one to whom they gave altars and statues). He wrote that Royal Scythes (Paralatae) sacrificed to Poseidon (something is confused here; ‘King Scythians’ of the Ukraine and Black Sea can’t all have existed as royal... any more than all royals could have lived in just one area of an extensive cultural hegemony… also, there seem to have been other groups of Scythian royalty, in Persia and Afghanistan… though I haven’t found this problem discussed much). He wrote that Scythians didn’t use silver or bronze, only gold (!) and described Scythia as extending a 20-day ride from the Danube in the west, across the steppes of today’s Ukraine to the lower Don basin (the Don’s always been a major trading route since). He wasn’t exaggerating - the area of influence, or empire, even, was larger.
Scythia was ruled by small, closely-allied elites. Scythians traded grain, livestock and cheese, often for Greek luxury items, and much Scythian wealth came from slave trade to Greece. Many Scythians left to find work as mercenaries, in Persia or elsewhere. One of the most striking things about them was the enormous amount of beautifully wrought gold they wore, apparently gold from Mount Altai, far off in lower Siberia. Some accumulated wealth, but most were simple nomadic pastoralists. It seems clear that they dominated a much larger area than Herodotus thought: archaeological evidence of them is geographically quite dispersed. Scythia may have stretched from the Danube through Bulgaria all the way to the borders of China: excavations near Altai, particularly at Pazyryk, suggest Scythian origins in Siberia, well before 1000 BCE.
Scythians harvested hemp with a hand-reaper, the curved knife we still call a scythe, after them. They flourished from the 8th century BCE into the time of the Roman Empire, finally succumbing to the closely related Sarmatians after 100 CE. Racial or linguistic uniformity seems unlikely, although lifestyle and artistic continuities between archaeological sites are clear. Scythian groups include the Budini of the northern shores of the Black Sea; the Dahae “robbers” of northeast Iran; Massagetae and Sacae a bit further east; the Gelae of northwest Iran; Haraiva “noblemen” of the area around Herat, Afghanistan; the Saka of Ukraine and many others, including Tocharians (Yuezhi or Kushans)... Their territory was constantly explored and sometimes invaded by others, whose own lands were overused or invaded by others still. As even a small band of horse requires enormous stretches of steppe for grazing, even a slight increase in population drastically affected social stability. Various peoples in the steppes of central Asia, related in varying degrees to Scythians, had more names than we can discover, but there was certainly much cultural continuity over vast distance, and time.
Scythians traveled “for several weeks” for funerals. “The burial place of the Scythian kings is in the country of the Gerrhi, near the spot where the Bosthenes (Dneiper) first becomes navigable.” Recent digs in Belsk, Ukraine uncovered a vast city believed to be the Scythian capital Herodotus called Gelonus. The uncovered city’s 40 square kilometers exceeds the size Herodotus reported. Its location allowed domination of local north-south trade; craft workshops and Greek pottery abounded. Many slaves, from many places, were trans-shipped from Gelonus to Greece. Herodotus was right in his claim that they traveled far for important burials, he just didn’t know how far they occasionally went - sometimes, apparently, 3000 kilometers!
Scythians and other steppe people relied on the horse and wagon for mobility, living in their wagons or stout felt tents (yurts), and subsisting often on horse’s milk and blood. They hunted, fished, and gathered, then became increasingly sedentary (towards 300 BCE), tending cattle and making cheese. They kept no fortified towns, and were more an alliance of tribes than a nation. Called nomads, they mainly inhabited the north coast of the Black Sea and rivers flowing into it, as agriculturalists growing grain, onions, lentils and millet.
Western Scythian tribes raised wheat for export, establishing a breadbasket for the Greeks, with themselves as middlemen between Romans and Scandinavian tribes. East Scythians remained pastoral nomads; amongst them the Royal Scythes, who may have ruled over other people (Scythian or not) who worked grain fields. In spring and summer they ranged the open steppe, pasturing herds.
Their saddles had two quilted, stuffed cushions sewn to a cover, with a small gap between them. Each cushion was reinforced to keep the front and rear of the saddle higher than the middle. Straps were attached front and rear (of the cushions); wooden spacers kept the cushions apart, a middle strap went over the centre of the saddle, a felt pad was sewn underneath, and all was covered with a decorative saddle cover.
Herodotus described the Scythian men’s costume as open tunics with padded and quilted leather trousers tucked into soft boots; later this became the style in Western Europe. In fighting, the Scythes used bows and arrows from horseback, and guerrilla tactics. Herodotus said they rode with just saddlecloths - possibly the cushions with spacers came only later - and that he much admired Scythian philosopher Anacharsis, who visited Athens in the 6th century BCE.
Persians under Darius the Great invaded Scythia, 514 BCE, reportedly with 700,000 troops; in a strategic retreat the Scythians harassed the advancing enemy, avoiding full-out battle. Herodotus, again: “blocking up all the wells and springs” and “stripping the country of all green stuff,” they attacked supply lines, made night raids (their cavalry was superior), and attacked “whenever they found them at a meal.” With no cities to plunder, nor any army they could meet and defeat, Persian interest died; they gave up the invasion. Scythians continued to rule from the Don River to the Carpathian Mountains of central Europe. Their city at Kiev, situated on lucrative trade routes between the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and between Vaeringian Norsemen and Greeks, dealt in many things including slaves, iron, wine and herbs, and prospered. Some tribes kept their nomadic ways, but by the 4th century BCE most were farmers. They still loved horses, which remained a strong part of their culture, but from the 1st century BCE, horses ceased to play as important a part. Scythian descendents helped sack Rome (after 400 CE, at the end of its days of glory), but by then Xiongnu Mongolian horsemen had become successful rivals pushing against their eastern flank (or perhaps rather better said, that of their European successors).

From the Urals to Kazakhstan, north of the Caucasus Mountains, about 5000 years ago, an “Indo-European” language was used by worshippers of a Zeus/Odin ‘god of clear skies’ who’d twin sons named for horses. Their hunter-pastoralist society had shamen, warriors, artisans and farmers. Ethnic Caucasoids from 3000 BCE or earlier, they spread their language through Western Europe, but not as a conquering minority… their men were often as tall as 6’6”, and women 6’0” - relative giants, to whom many found it wise to defer! Some worked as mercenaries, royal guards and transport security; many certainly played important parts along the Silk Road, and the language they used affected that of others.

In Shanshan County, to the east of Urumqi (Ürümchi), capital of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) Province, as far as possible in China from any seaport, the Silk Road (starting from Xian) takes its Northern Route. The trade route split, offering alternatives for caravans to pass the arid, terribly dangerous Taklamakan Desert (the name means, “Go in, and don’t come out.”), Earth’s second largest desert (673,000 sq. km). To the east is the great Gobi; to the west the arid Tarim Basin, which drains mountains to the north. Since early exploitation by foreign archaeologists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the area of Subeshi (Subeixi), situated to the east of the famous Silk Road town Turpan (Turfan), has revealed amazing details of ancient inhabitants and their ways of life. Extremely dry conditions preserved amazingly many artifacts and bodies buried there.
A group of these Indo-European people in central Asia known as Tocharians, or Tokarians, are vividly displayed in ancient wall paintings at Kizil and Kumtura (near the modern Chinese city K'u-ch'e, in the Tien Shan Mountains north of the Tarim Basin); they appear as aristocratic Europeans, with red or blond hair parted neatly in the middle, long noses, blue or green eyes set in narrow faces, and tall bodies. The Yuezhi, depicted in striking painted statues at Khalchayan (west of the Surkhan River in ancient Bactria) made from about the 1st century BCE, also have long noses, thin faces, blond hair, pink skin, and bright blue eyes.
The over 100 amazingly well preserved European corpses ranging from 2,400 to 4,000 years old found so far in the Tarim Basin reveal a splendid, advanced culture with colorful robes, trousers, boots, stockings, coats and hats (some very like witch hats). One large tomb had corpses of three women and one man; the man, about 55 years old at death, was about six feet tall and had yellowish brown hair going to white. A woman close to six feet tall had yellowish-brown hair in braids. Items with the bodies included fur coats, leather mittens, and an ornamental mirror; the woman held bags with small knives and medicinal herbs. At Cherchen, on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, the mummified corpse of a 3 month old infant was found, wrapped in brown wool, its eyes covered with small, flat stones. By its head was a drinking cup made of bovine horn and an ancient ‘baby bottle’ made from a sheep’s teat cut and sewn to hold milk. One corpse showed marks from a surgical operation on his neck, the incision sewn with horsehair stitches.
Contact between Chinese and Indo-Europeans like Tocharians is proved by inscriptions on Shang Dynasty (17th to 11th century BCE) turtle shells, which well-describe Tocharians. Around 1000 BCE, Chinese at the upper Yellow River co-existed with the Tocharian; some Tocharian descendents became Chinese, and even Han Dynasty royals. Chinese language includes Tocharian words; many Chinese place names are of Tocharian derivation. Kizil, on the northern silk route, was a city of Tocharians, including Yuezhi (Yueh-chih), who emigrated from northwest China. Their Kuchan Empire lasted from the 1st to 3rd centuries CE. Kirzil, Kusha and other kingdoms of eastern Central Asia were independent until Chinese conquest sometime around 600 CE. At Kizil, a wind goddess painting has her upper torso emerging from clouds, hands holding a scarf flowing behind, her mouth open as if to blow wind, her hair twisting upward, standing on end, and her breasts exposed. There’ve been similar images of solar and wind deities found in Persia, where a wind god was also important to ancients. The Silk Road caves (particularly at Dunhuang) aren’t natural, but dug; the painting style and much iconography in frescos differs markedly from Chinese tradition and bears striking resemblance to similar things in Turkey as well as Persia.
Early Chinese historians mention a great variety of races in the area of China’s north-western border deserts, as far back as the Han Dynasty (2000 years ago). The area was an important trade route for many peoples, connecting different cultures. People farmed and traded in the oases, others visited for trade, and occasionally warfare. After Eurasians first tamed wild horses 6000 years ago, at some point they slid bits into horse mouths, and themselves onto their backs. For the first time, humans were able to swiftly travel great distances, an accomplishment so exhilarating and adrenalin-charged that extensive wanderlust was inevitable. Some headed east across the grassy steppes of Asia, toward Europe. Perhaps, four thousand years ago, a few rode into river valleys of the Tarim Basin, and stayed. ‘Cherchen Man’ was buried with a dead horse and a saddle atop his grave and clothing which shows a state of high culture at a time when Greeks and Romans hadn’t yet arrived in Greece and Italy (from somewhere to the northeast). The Chinese hadn’t yet learned to use metal, as Tocharians had, but were weaving fine cloth by using domesticated silkworms, cloth the Tocharians and Turks carried west to trade. Tocharians lived in the Tarim Basin from the 1st millennium BCE to the end of the 1st millennium CE (especially in the kingdoms of Kucha and Agni), but until quite recently were largely forgotten.
In 339 BCE, at age 90, the great Scythian unifier King Atheas was killed in battle against Phillip of Macedon. The Scythian kingdom remained strong and wealthy, but further incursions took territory. Scythia split into small principalities, then its people became absorbed, as they’d absorbed Cimmerians. They fought off Alexander the Great (c.325 BCE), but after 300 BCE were driven from the Balkans by Celts. In southern Russia they were displaced (in the 1st century BCE) by a related tribe, the Sarmatians (supposed descendents of Amazons); part of their empire became Sarmatia (where some tombs contain both Sarmatians and Scythians). They were displaced from Central Asia by migrations of Indo-European Yuezhi horse-centered tribes who came from the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang and Kansu areas) around 175-125 BCE. Then the Xiongnu (Hsiung-Nu) Huns (Mongolian stock, mostly unlike the light-eyed, blond or red-head Tocharian Scythes who once inhabited part of Mongolia) came, and not long after, Goths set up their Black Sea Ostrogothic kingdom. Although Scythians had allegedly disappeared, Romans continued to use the term ‘Scythians’ to designate mounted Eurasian nomadic barbarians: in 448 CE the emissary Priscus was led to Attila’s encampment by two mounted “Scythians”, clearly seen as distinct from Attila’s Goth and Hun followers.

In the 1800s, Scythians were portrayed as wild and free, hardy and democratic ancestors of the Russians, Alani and all blond Indo-Europeans (which was largely a kind of historical revisionism, or racial fantasy). Modern use of “Scythian” has sometimes become a meaningless euphemism for “Aryan.” “Germanic” invaders of the crumbling Roman Empire were from many tribes, usually of intense individualists who preferred to fight independently - so as to become recognized heroes - and who would thus have been easily defeated by Roman Legions, had not Rome been crumbling from within.
As with horse-tribes of the American Great Plains, mobility was essential to Scythian life; without it, sustenance was insufficiently available. Goths didn’t have stirrups, which weren’t in general use in Western Europe before the 9th century, but effective use of armored cavalry without stirrups, in Silk Road areas, had begun long, long before. Horses were harnessed in Ukraine by 4,000 BCE, with hemp rope. The bridle was developed in (or near) Kazakhstan, and it was then that horses began to give speed, mobility and power to people of the steppes.
Wooden chariots have been found in the Steppes, and dated to around 2,000 BCE. Ritual horse burials similar to those in ancient Ukraine have been excavated in the Tarim Basin, and remains of wagon wheels found there. Wagons were used in Ukraine by 3000 BCE; remains of wagon wheels have also been found in 5,000-year-old burial mounds on the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan. The earliest wagons, though, weren’t necessarily pulled by horses.
The stirrup greatly increases a rider’s ability to control a horse, increasing its value for communication, transportation and warfare. First used around 1000 BCE, they made mounted horsemen the dominant warriors across a huge area, for 2000 years. Perhaps people living by the Altai Mountains on the Russia/Chinese border had added a bit of extra leather to their horses' saddles to ease mounting, maybe at first only a single loop on one side of the horse. Then someone created a saddle with two, and by the 7th century BCE, mounted archers along the Silk Road were using metal stirrups, enabling them to greatly improve shooting accuracy. Not long after, heavily armored horseman could stay in saddle while wielding massive swords. Before military horse use, tactics were apt to be of the melee sort: one horde confronted another, and after an onrushing charge, the entire conflict dissolved into individual combats. Foot soldiers were much cheaper than horse, and Roman legions’ infantry became quite efficient, with each person subordinating himself to the needs of the group while using quite effective formations for both defense and offense. Mounted warriors being expensive, it took a long while for highly organized cavalry to develop, and it took a long time for horse-riding to reach the Middle East. For well over 1500 years, ‘Indo-European’ people from the extended area around Altai were able to make many successful invasive sweeps across the steppes to raid the soft, rich people of China and then southeast and Mediterranean Europe, while never suffering invasions into their own homelands. About 175 BCE, though, Indo-European (Sacae, or to Chinese, Sai) tribes of Altai were pushed west by Mongolians; overwhelmed by Mongol-Turkic expansion in the 4th century CE, their descendents still form an ethnic substratum of contemporary Kazakhs (especially the ‘Saks’ - Sacae/Saka, Sacks, Saxons: same root); Afghani light eyes may not come from Alexander’s armies, but from Sythian/Yuexhi/Tocharians – or, perhaps, both!
Mounted archery began early in the third century; by 317 CE all of China north of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) was overrun by nomadic peoples from the steppes. The Alani, a tall, blonde people, were pushed west from the steppes by Turks (not yet from Turkey), about 600 CE. These Alani introduced the stirrup to Europe, while raiding the remains of the collapsing Roman Empire, pushed west by Huns about the time the Visigoth Aleric sacked Rome (first attacking in 408, then seizing it in 410 CE). The Alani settled in France and North Africa, and the mystique of far, unapproachable, ‘northern’ people spread.

Another place and people, far away from Altai, seems to have as largely forgotten as the Tocharians and their descendents: the continental shelf holding Southeast Asia and Indonesia, the Sunda Shelf. This was huge during the last Ice Age; when artic ice held much more water. The lands now submerged supported many people, and Sundaland was a leader in the Neolithic Revolution (the start of agriculture): stones were used for grinding wild grains there as early as 24,000 ago, over ten thousand years earlier than in Egypt, Syria or the Fertile Crescent! In Southeast, and perhaps South, Asia, many plants were domesticated long before. Because of the gradual flooding of their lowland, Sundalanders migrated to China, India, Madagascar and possibly eventually Mesopotamia, spreading their discoveries, including agriculture. Then, much later, another migration, most likely of another nature entirely, brought people from China, India and Persia to Southeast Asia…
Around 40,000 years ago, as an Ice Age receded and temperatures briefly became warmer, humans first moved into Central Asia. Amid the bountiful grassy steppes, they multiplied quickly. Africa may have been the cradle of mankind, but Sundaland and Central Asia were its nurseries. 35,000 years ago, groups left Central Asia for Europe, but returning cold temperatures left them isolated. Descendents of survivors became paler. Around 20,000 years ago, some Central Asians moved into Siberia and the Arctic Circle. To minimize exposure to cold, these people developed stout trunks, stubby fingers, and short arms and legs, but not light skin.
Low UV levels in northern latitudes give dark-skinned individuals insufficient Vitamin D; their children get rickets. In the far north, lighter skin is a genetic advantage. Dark-skinned northern people like the Inuit obtain Vitamin D from fish and sea mammal blubber. Strong sun in southern latitudes sets off a process where skin takes protection from melanin, a natural sunscreen, which makes skin dark. When people moved far north, their need for melanin was reduced. Sunlight helps synthesize Vitamin D, needed for strong bones; Steppes people lost pigmentation, facilitating this. Also, light sensitive blue eyes allow people to see better when it’s dark much of the year, and often gloomy even when light, as in the far north.
As Nancy Etcoff explains in Survival of the Prettiest, psychologist Jerome Kagan demonstrated that children with pale pigment, particularly children with blue eyes, are more likely to be shy and inhibited than dark-eyed children. They’re fearful of new situations, hesitant in approaching someone, quiet with a new person, and likely to stay close to mother. Brown-eyed children are bolder. Kagan speculates that fear of novelty, melanin production and corticorsteroid levels share some of the same genes. It’s only blue-eyed males who are particularly shy, though; blue-eyed females show no difference.
When people migrated to northern Europe they were faced with the problem of keeping up body temperature. Mutations increased the efficiency of the sympathetic nervous system, upping the level of norepinephrine and raising body temperature. Unfortunately, this produced more reactive nervous systems, and in certain circumstances, more timorous temperaments. Other ‘disorders’ may also be seen as winter-adaptations: promiscuity, sensitivity to touch but not pain, strong primary bonding but aggravated aggression towards outsiders, empathic affinity for dogs and horses, absence of abstract thinking. High levels of norepinephrine inhibit the production of melanin in the iris as well; blond hair, blue eyes and shyness may be a biological package.
For groups seldom as large as 100 individuals, with inter-tribal interactions rare, the reproductive cost of being shy around strangers was small. But we can see, encapsulated in this, that in Paradise, too, for all that is good there is also compensatory sacrifice. Usually grey skies make sunlight a great joy; but where it is too hot, sunlight is not. Winters change activity patterns. Angels in Heaven may be bored; perhaps they tell tales of Hell. There’s always a trade-off!
Big, long North European noses moisten and warm air going to the lungs; Asian eyelid-folds protect against dry sandy desert winds and wind-driven snow. Countering this kind of ethnic splitting-apart is melding through inter breeding; along the Silk Road from the -istans to China, one finds a continuum of physical feature change. There’s neither where the European look ends, nor where the Asian look begins. Perhaps, although it hasn’t been suggested before, small communities of people migrated far from Sunda across mountains and deserts to the west side of Altai, to the eastern end of the steppes way north of Tibet, north of the Kunlun, the Taklamakan and the Tian Shan Heavenly Mountains, to places uninhabited by people to fight with, places only the strong could reach and survive in, where wild horses were as plentiful as bison (buffalo) in the American Old West... People developed independent thinking, and maybe mutations occurred... Someone thought to try using hemp rope so as to ride a horse, and a new source of power arose...
In 50 CE, the Later Han (Chinese) government allied itself with some Xiongnu/ Hsiung Nu/Hun tribes. 40 years later it sent troops across the Gobi desert to attack the northern Xiongnu. This resulted in massive migrations of Xiongnu into central Asia and Russia; eventually they reached Europe and Rome, and became known as Huns. Chinese military expansion pushed some Chinese all the way to the Caspian Sea, in their efforts to control inner Asia and the immensely valuable Silk Road, long the richest trade route ever known. Kings of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) adopted language and customs of central China, but, depending on the Silk Road, became a center of cultural exchange and learning. Here, the enduring liturgies of religious Taoism were compiled and systematized (by K’ou Ch’ien-chih). 4th century HsiungNu Huns pushed west, conquered, then expelled, the Goths - further destroying Scythia. Riding short ponies, often staying in saddle for days, they were excellent warriors, accurately shooting arrows and using lariats to rope enemies while at full gallop. Huns held the territory of Ukraine and Bessarabiya (now mostly in Moldova), until defeated in 451. Then came the Avars, followed by the Magyars, and the Khazars, who remained influential until about the mid-10th century, and seem to be the antecedents of most red-haired Jewry.
5000 years ago the world already had 100 million people. Of over 10,000 dialect groups, the average had 10,000 speakers; only a few language groups involved above 100,000 speakers. Inter-regional trading systems were beginning, and history. There was an obsidian network from Melos to Lake Van (Turkey), salt trade throughout Central Europe and elsewhere; there were copper and beer routes (of the Bell Beaker folk) and amber routes from the Baltic and North Seas to the Mediterranean. But rampant, pandemic diseases from crowding weakened population centers, and only influx of frontier, nomadic-pastoralist societies, putative enemies, made maintenance of emerging citied civilization possible. Not long ago historians and antiquarians were still attributing the rise of humanity to the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (Tigris and Euphrates) area, and anything else, even China, was neglected. But some cultures may have left little of physical, material culture behind… while still greatly influencing what we are today (especially in language), and perhaps providing hope for a world apparently strangling itself. Early Iberian Peninsula colonies worked copper, which they found good for trade, but were destroyed suddenly about 2000 BCE. At this time beer-trading makers of bell-beakers lived in what is now Holland and Germany.
Alcohol played a major role in Western European warrior cultures; mead and beer from barley and wheat were quite popular (Scythes drank wine, in addition, apparently, to inhaling cannabis smoke). In the 2nd century BCE Celtic Druids made coins (Chinese had done so 500 years earlier), beginning Western European money economy. In the 1st century BCE Greek and Etruscan letters were etched on pottery. How law, religion, philosophy, theater, literature, and other social institutions grew, and how society attempted to remedy growing social inequalities and resentment of injustice became increasingly important, as citied civilization grew… In prehistoric times, artwork and literature was produced, too, but people were preoccupied with other activities, things necessary to sustain their lives; art consisted of simple drawings, and literature usually took the form of oral stories passed down between many generations. With increases in civilization, more people began to have time for art and literature; some made them their primary occupation. Literature spread with trade, and fascinating issues absorbed minds with time to investigate them.
But even illiterate nomads weren’t usually stupid; many must have recognized valid reason to mistrust civilization! Consider: Against the advantages of civilization, including ‘labor-saving devices, specialization, arts, economic and political co-ordination and cities with protection from the elements and attack, plus increased quality of life, organized education, entertainment and hauteur (for some!) - place these disadvantages: class and gender division, marginalization of youth and the aged, oppression for half the population or more, violations from jealous greed, soil depletion, population overload, pollution, filth, disease, alienation, restriction of freedoms and almost total submersion of instincts…

Finns and Lithuanians may be Tocharians’ closest descendents (at least linguistically); they may have migrated from between the middle Volga and the Urals. 4000 years ago nomadic hunters and fishers settled and became the North-European branch of the Finno-Ugric people (split from Hungarians in the south – ‘Ugric’ refers to the ancestors of the Hungarians, whose language is also Finno-Ugrian). Finns left traces of settlements along the southern coast of the Baltic about 500 BCE. A rock base beneath Finland, part of the Finno-Scandian shield land mass, is the oldest and most unyielding stone known. Finland means ‘land of fens and swamps’ as in most places there is but swamp and lake, bog and marsh. Finns also call themselves and their country “Suomi” (soo-wah-mee), ‘suo’ meaning bog or marsh. The West Siberian Plain has marsh too: the Vasyugan Swamps, a vast sphagnum bog in the world’s largest plain, mostly about 180 m (600 feet) above sea level. The Volga, the most important Russian river, navigable for almost its entire length, was the focus of early Russian trade routes, with many trading posts, fortresses, and towns developed along it. That there was overland trade is clear, but the harsh climate prevalent in most of Russia, resulting from high latitude and absence of moderating maritime influences, with winters long and generally very cold, and summers short (high mountains along the country’s southern boundary block tropical maritime air-masses from the south, the Arctic Ocean is frozen right up to the coast through winter, also inhibiting ameliorating influence from relatively warm ocean waters; warm influences from the Pacific don’t reach far inland) limited exchange. The gloom pervasive in the area is known as ‘pasmurno,’ dull, overcast, dreary weather with featureless, overcast skies, particularly during winter.
Pasmurno, bogs, inaccessible icy mountains, giants: certainly puts me in mind of Homer’s Cimmerians and Herodotus’s Hyperborea. The eastern end of the Steppes is a land of incredible geographical and climatic diversity (Altai is near two vast deserts, the Taklamakan and Gobi), between vastly divergent, communicatively estranged civilizations, and with a very old traditional culture of great accomplishment, superior and disdainful. Altai people who traversed great distances, had gold, were easy to be envious of… Theories like that of a ‘Movius line’ separating the world of our Western histories from that of China and Sundaland through reference to a new technology (Acheulean as opposed to Oldowan stone tools) which failed to cross that line, may arise from recognition of different attitudes and arrangements among different peoples. Diversity is part of the human condition; we take pride in our individual strengths and specialties! People empowered by co-operative systems and successful adaptations to local nature might neither need nor want ‘cutting edge technology’ from painfully stratified, guild-oriented foreigners (threatening exploitation and expropriation). People carried large rocks to knappers at Olorgsailie in the Great Rift Valley because artisans there had made themselves mighty: they made useless, showy examples of their skill, and did not teach it to just anybody! Unfortunately, secrets are part of power, and lust for power (and its rewards) is like a frenetic virus, regularly undermining human ‘progress’. The Greeks of Herodotus wanted to compare themselves against the Hyperboreans, wanted to advance, wanted slaves… and also taught how pride anticipates fall.
In the 8th and 9th century CE, various Scandinavian tribes began to expand their trade and colonies across Europe and even east past Russia (ending then at the Urals). Vaeringians began to establish trade settlements with the Slavs, along the Neva River and Lake Ladoga, building trading posts with fortifications. According to Russian tradition recorded in the Primary Russian Chronicle, internal dissension and feuds among the Eastern Slavs around Novgorod became so violent that they voluntarily invited a Vaeringian prince, Rurik, to unite them (in 862 CE). Muslim and Christian missionaries came to Rurik’s court to debate the merits of their religions; legend has it that Islam was rejected because of forbidding alcoholic drink!
South Ukraine was then ruled by Khazars, an ethnically uncertain people (or peoples) who had fixed (stone) abodes for winter, but were nomadic pastoralists in summer, and who took Judaism as their monotheism of choice (in the 740s CE). In 880 CE, Oleg, successor to Rurik, took Kiev and unified the region, establishing the State of Rus (the name derived perhaps from Viking ‘ruotsi’, meaning oarsmen, or from ruotsi, the Finnish name for Swedes, or from Rukhs-As, the name of an Alanic tribe of southern Russia… some believe it means light or shining, as Vaeringian marauders were called "the shining ones”). Rus Kiev became the center for trade between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire, but began a decline in 1054, when territory was divided among princes. Subsequent princes divided land among sons, and Russia became a group of petty states almost continuously at war with one another. Greater decline resulted from the sack of (Christian) Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204. Many citizens of Kiev migrated north. Poles, Lithuanians, and Teutonic Knights then encroached into the territory. Muscovite strength grew, expanding west and southwest to the Dnieper River, north to the Arctic, and east to the Urals; Ivan the Great (Ivan III Vasilyevich, 1462-1505), fully expelled the Golden Horde and made Moscow the dominant power of northern Russia.
Most of the area had relatively poor soil which couldn’t support much population until industrial development in the 19th and 20th centuries. The region’s forests offered some security to agricultural settlements, which were periodically raided by fierce nomadic horsemen from the vast grasslands to the south. For more than 1,000 years before 1600 these horsemen were more formidable than soldiers of the settled agricultural communities. Only with muskets and artillery did Russians turn the tables on the nomads.

Shrouded in myth and legends, the Altai Mountains, peopled by Scythes, Huns, Turkic tribes, Mongolians, then Russians, remain powerfully mysterious. Writer Voltaire referred to Genghis Khan as a Scythian! Altai comes from the Mongolian “altan”, which means golden; they’re golden not only because of mineral wealth (gold and other ores, precious stones, gems), but even more for their natural beauty. Two regions of the Altai Mountains, Teletskoe Lake and the Katunsky Mountain Range, are World Heritage Sites; they connect to two mountain reserves, the Katunsky and the Altaisky State Nature Reserves. The Altai area, one of nature's most marvelous gems, amazing in diversity and beauty, affords broad views of steppes, luxuriant varieties of taiga thickets, laconic tundra, deserts and severe, snowy peaks stretching nearly 2000 km from north-west to south-east, and forming a natural border between the arid steppes of Mongolia and the rich taiga of southern Siberia. Both climatic zones contain striking diversity; there’s lots of cedar, no mosquitoes, and cannabis plants common, growing wild. The Scythes left cannabis, which often dries to a gold color, in burials, and were themselves golden too, often with gold/blond hair!
The Scythians and Tocharians had ample gold - gold from Altai the Golden. Despotism, religious intolerance, objectionable rules and regulations, falsehoods and boring self-important people may not have been a big part of the picture. Intoxicants were enjoyed, but few grew fat and lazy - all participated in work and none lorded it above others (well, maybe the ‘Royal Scythes’...). That’s the way I want to picture it, anyway, to believe mankind’s lot can actually be sometimes good, uncompromised by evils like exploitation, discrimination, assassination or mandatory service to government. Those who wanted to attend council attended with an eye to the common good and the healthy future of a worthy society. Greed, deceit, lust and one-upsmanship were easily, commonly found unnecessary... and ugly. While beauty was there to prefer.
It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to posit ancient Thracian Vikings or Tokarians, somewhere far off in the dreary, cold northern bogs, though hardly lacking contact with other peoples. Suppose people there are neither enlightened nor ignorant, but fairly normal, freedom loving, family protecting, lovers of barter who hope not only to improve their own, but also their descendents’, condition. They’ve experience of cultural variety, and revere gods of wisdom, of courage, of healing and of adventure. In their past has been change; in their future they expect, but do not desire, more. Benefiting from the Silk Road, they have goods in abundance, awareness of great thinkers thoughts, and an enviable position they must carefully protect. What would their ethos have been, what principles, ethics and values would they have cherished?

Legend has the Khazars meeting to decide which monotheistic religion to take as their own. Might not an earlier people, perhaps east of the Urals, have similarly met, to discuss what form of social system they would subject themselves to?
Rules of behavior depend on subordination of the individual to:
- family/clan (ancestor worship, familial loyalty, the need of youth to respect the wisdom of age)
- class (dependency obligations related to wealth, financial obligations, peer pressure)
- religion (a charismatic preacher, powerful god or deeply held conviction; desire to be in accord with something both transcendent and good)
- community (territorial or occupational affiliations, essential extended networks)

While potential forms of rule are of 7 kinds:
1. Democracy (“We stand divided” bro against bro, brothers against father, nuclear family against extended, family against clan, clan against tribe, trader vs. priest
2. Communism (socialism, rule by committee and judges, institutional bureaucracy)
3. Property elitism (plutocracy; who controls the most controls the most)
4. Militarism (autocracy, rule by the strong makes strong)
5. Religious (rule by the wise, most learned, scared and superstitious)
6. Anarchistic (rule by convention, threat of ostracism, matriarchy)
7. Royal (aristocracy, rule by bloodline, in association with merit from distant past)

Each form has subsidiary alternatives: incorporation of parts of another, or several of the other six, forms of institutionalized limitations (but who guards the guards?), and fraudulent, obscurant variations (legalism). Each has problems, and always there is longing for clearer answers than we have. But even dreams and fantasy come from experience.

To simplify just a bit, it would be good if our society would learn to recognize:
1. Indo-European culture has existed twice as long as historical records indicate.
2. The earliest civilized Europeans lived near China, not Western Europe.
3. They revered a central (to the land mass they lived on, not to their culture) but fairly inaccessible (for most) mountain there.
4. Advanced thought in ancient China discouraged vainglory, taught techniques still seen as life-strengthening, and revered sacred mountains
5. The ‘forgotten’ Eastern Europeans brought Chinese silks to ancient Western Europe (Rome).
6. The ancient Europeans of Altai aren’t much in Chinese records either.
7. Events don’t inevitably move to betterment; our present style of life is neither stable nor sustainable, based as it is on greed, vainglory and the physical.
8. Tocharians may have had good reason to not want fame among outsiders.
9. Tocharian quality of life may have been as good as any – there are healthy, happy, intelligent people who still prefer to live their way (especially in Tibet and Mongolia).
10. Their mountain remains central but generally inaccessible, and can become a symbol of hope.

The above presents major points of what’s known about a lost society, which valued different qualities than our own. Surely, for them respect was earned, not bought. One’s place depended on physical performance, not what one inherited or manipulated. One didn’t “salute the uniform” or even vote; things weren’t about pretense, indulgence and conceit (or, at least, so I like to think). Was their wisdom unsuccessful in that it became esoteric and arcane? Or are we unsuccessful, in failing to find respect for what might help preserve us, and help earn us the right to live without fear?
Tocharian YuehCheh Saka (Yue-zhi Afanasyevo Yamnaya) Kuchans had light coloring; some, clearly, green eyes and red hair. At least some had “witches hats” (Herodotus describes Bactrian Sacae in Book VII, 66: they wear “tall pointed hats set upright on their heads”). Later, in Medieval Europe, red-heads with green eyes were burned as witches. Why the fear? Why the disconnect between newer cultures of “divine-right” kings with patrimony, and “nomadic”, artistic people who chose leaders based on capacity and had transsexual shamans rather than priests... Records have been obliterated, both in China and the West. Why? Clearly, because of fear.
Fear of what? Fear of that greatest loss of all, the loss of that strongest addiction, power. Power that the Taoist Immortals knew as illusion. Herodotus wrote of Scythians encountering Amazons who’d escaped from capture by Greeks. These Amazons had stolen Scythian horses, and had to be pursued. After battle, Scythian warriors found their enemy to be women, and made an interesting plan. Young men, about equal in number to the Amazons, were sent to camp near them, follow where they went, and slowly, camp ever closer. The idea was to get babies by them. Though of different languages, “the two camps… united, and the Amazons and Scythians lived together.” “The men could not learn the women’s language, but the women succeeded in picking up the men’s” (Herodotus 4.118).
Herodotus wrote that subsequent “Sauromatae” (Sarmatians) settled 3 days north of Lake Maeotis; progeny spoke corrupt Scythian and girls couldn’t marry until after killing an enemy in battle.
For over half a millennia after Herodotus, Sarmatians ruled from the Urals to the Don, Bulgaria and the eastern Balkans. The Hsiung-nu Huns, coming from somewhere around Altai, completely overwhelmed what remained of them, after invasion by Goths from southern Scandinavia. Somehow, their history was ignored as much as that of China, India and Africa, even by their fellow Europeans, and I can’t help but wonder why, and then look for explanation!
It’s hard to accept that people were very different in much earlier times: some people, even without education, much experience or exposure, would still speculate, while others wouldn’t. Some would be conscientious, or habitually worshipful, and others, perhaps those of unfortunate history, or perhaps of too fortunate background (in ways) would lie and cheat at almost any perceived opportunity. Always, a few will have been inclined to try new things, while most will have been much more reticent. Conflicts, confusions, and various forms of self-satisfaction are part of the human condition, and have been as long as we’ve walked, talked, smiled, frowned, made plans and mourned the newly dead who were familiar.
There may have been simpler times, but I doubt it. Childhood is simpler - but have societies really had childhoods? Certainly, difficult times - due to our follies and excesses, mostly - may be right ahead, and have occurred, from time to time, for others, but that too is just part of the normal nature of life.
Some mention the “wisdom of the ancients” and others call that nonsense, forgetting, perhaps, how many great teachings, stories and insights have been handed down, for how long. Sermons attributed to Buddha and Jesus, the writings of Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and Hesiod, the works of Archimedes, Diogenes and Euclid, the Bhagavadgita, Tao-te Jing, the Mayan calendar, the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)… these were not produced by simple, childish minds.
Many have been the early feats in agriculture (especially in irrigation and storage), animal breeding, sailing, ceramic and ornamental design, weaving and even medicine. A list of corresponding modern follies would hardly be hard to enumerate. The very idea of the dumb barbarian is fairly barbaric. We haven’t been blinded by science, but by the vanity implicit in the idea of “progress”!
As implicit in the idea of an idiot-savant, with strengths and corresponding weaknesses, everything involves what gets seen as imperfection. There is not even any real class of “better” people, although having a bicameral legislature with an upper house geared to protect elite interests does have some sense. When elite interests gain too much power and influence, though, any social system will fail.

Early inhabitants of the (southeastern) tip of mainland Southeast Asia may have derived from occupants of Sundaland, or arrived from the north or west, but we don’t know - and perhaps it doesn’t much matter. Ideas of distinct Asian “races” are not only old-fashioned, but fully discredited. A few words adopted from Mon-Khmer into Malay and Thai indicate the extent of cultural overlap: Pra Prom (Brahma, พระพรหม), Tehwada (Deity, เทวดา), rahm (dance, รำ), khlong (waterway, คลอง), and salop (fall down สลบ).
We too often try to make things more cut and dried than they are – but even France and England separated by water not so easily crossed and often quite at odds with each other are mixed in both blood and language. Many people are bi- or multi-lingual, exogamy is both common and wise, and trade both regularly and frequently found desirable. The nation-state is artificial and not all that tenable; the idea, too, that there is but one God, or one universal standard of justice, or even a victor from war are ideas best accepted for as naïve as they truly are. As long as we continue to couch our discourse in ham-strung terms of less-than-dubious viability, we not only restrict progress in addressing problems, but simply forestall achieving reasonable, tenable solutions. We must stop pretending that God speaks English, pretending that the Bible is His absolute word, and that truth is somehow inherent in the language we use. It’s simply not so, and we know it. We defeat ourselves by childishly wanting to win.
Prehistoric mainland Southeast Asia had very sophisticated cultures for the time; the first cultivation of rice and the first casting of bronze occurred there, as did brilliant innovations in irrigation. But a lack of records, and so far mostly rudimentary efforts at archaeology, limit our knowledge of them. We do know that Indian influences were important by the 1st century CE, and that religious sojourners and traders from both Chinese and Indian had visited the coasts of present-day Cambodia and Vietnam, by at least two millennium ago. The earliest written records are almost entirely in Chinese.
In Southeast Asia and south China, rice is the cornerstone of society and civilization. In north China, it’s wheat, in Mongolia meat. In the subcontinent of South Asia things are more complex, equally ancient but more richly diverse, and culturally of extraordinary significance. Between the 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE, two great Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata (which contains the incomparable Bhagavad-Gita), joined the ancient Rigveda and Upanishads as influential, important literature. The Buddhist Tipitaka was also produced, in Pali. Groups of worshipers of Shiva, the destroyer and restorer of the universe, formed extended religious societies: first Vaishnavist, Saivist, and Yaksha cults, then Buddhism and Jainism. These local devotional associations became missionary by 2nd or 3rd century CE, and Theravada Buddhism took strong root in Sri Lanka.
The Buddhists and Jains made use of artificial caves for religious purposes, which allowed for recent spectacular finds along the Silk Road, and new understandings. Hinduism and Buddhism had immense impact in Southeast Asia, contributing to written and cultural traditions. Around the beginning of the Christian era, Indian merchants brought Brahmans and Buddhist monks east by sea; these spiritual devotees became patronized by local chiefs seeking stronger magic to support their rule. Civilizations in Southeast Asia adapted Hinduism and Buddhism to distinctive local cultural features, but the core framework is essentially Indian.
At first called Funan, the southeastern tip of Southeast Asia, by the 500s CE, was called Chenla. Rulers sent occasional tribute to Chinese emperors, and in the 500s, an Indian Brahman named Kaundinya had sufficient influence to change many institutions to follow Indian models. Some think Funan and Srivijaya were largely the same territories, but it’s clear that these weren’t nation-states; there were no borders, decentralization of power at the time was a logistical necessity, and there was then, and has remained, an important difference between inland people and people in areas of good harbor.
The name Srivijaya may come from Sanskrit for “radiant excellence” - or from that of an early colonizer. Legend claims a Prince Vijaya was banished with 700 followers, put on a ship and driven away from somewhere in India. Landing at Ceylon, Vijaya took a local wife, then later brought women from the subcontinent for himself and his followers. The legend may exaggerate a rivalry and split within a merchant community – or, considering the Chinese model, commercial and royal interests may have been the same. Estimates for this colonization range from 500 BCE to the 300 CE; Tamils say they were there much, much earlier. At any rate, Vijaya may have been of Kamboja heritage, and Kambujas may well have gone from Sri Lanka to costal Southeast Asia. Ancient Kambojas may have evolved into a distinctive group in the Hindu Kush, along one of the great caravan routes (as attested by the ancient Buddhist text Petavathu, or Commentary). As necessary for survival along the “Silk Road”, Kambojas were both warlike and a community of traders. They kept livestock, including, very early on, cattle – and most likely had a not-so-distant relationship to Tocharians and Scythians.
Another legend has it that King Adityavamsa of Indraprastha (near Delhi) was displeased with one of his sons, Pra Tong, who’d done wrong, and so drove him away. The fleeing Pra Tong, after many adventures came to the Cham area at the southeast tip of the Asian continent, perhaps just sufficiently west to be removed from areas of Chinese trade. He overthrew the Cham ruler and took a bride “of marvelous beauty” (supposedly daughter to a Naga-raja semi-divine serpent, which has direct parallels in Scythian legend). Pra Tong built a city and changed the name of the surrounding country to Kambuja. Thus, the Kambuja/Kambojas of Cambodia could be descendents of Scythians who became Persian rulers (the “Khom” rulers of Angkor have been said to derive their name from that of Cambyses II, who conquered Egypt in 525 BCE).
A name used in youth is often not the name used during regency; the name Cambyses may have been chosen for dynastic purposes, to refer to the derivation of a clan - and its greatness. Cambyses II had a brother named Bardiya but also called Smerdis. Their father, Cyrus the Great, rebelled against the Medes then created a huge empire (Persia, Babylon, parts of Greece, Sogdiana, Bactria…). Much disinformation about Cambyses has been disseminated, including that he died in a sandstorm while leading an army to attack Libya; he may well have been named for a cultural cradle, a valley either in or near the Hindu Kush, or perhaps in the Caspian region, northern-most Armenia, bordering on the Caucus Mountains – and those using the name were honoring a homeland, not a king. Some ancient Buddhist texts (the Manorat-purani, Kunala Jataka and Samangavilasini) call the Kamboja home the ‘birth place of horses’. Horses seem to have been domesticated by Scythian-related people, who could have lived both north and east of the Tigris-Euphrates “cradle of civilization” and adjacent Persia (where records go back past 800 BCE).
During the 7th century, Cham ports of eastern Indochina attracted trade; to redirect flow back to Srivijaya, a ruler (termed, perhaps inappropriately, king or maharaja) named Dharmasetu raided Champa (South Vietnam) - surely, to his mind, as reprisal. A Chinese Buddhist monk, I-Tsing or Yijing, on his way to India to copy sacred texts, visited Srivijaya in 671 CE. For six months he studied at a Buddhist temple there. He recommended that anyone wanting to study in India should stay in Palembang for a year or two to learn “how to behave properly”. In the 8th century, a city called Indrapura, by the Mekong River, was temporarily controlled from Palembang (in Sumatra). Srivijayans dominated many areas around present-day Cambodia until Jayavarman II severed links - with no known repercussions.
The Srivijayan empire controlled the Strait of Melaka (Malacca), which was almost essential to trade between China and India. It suppressed piracy along the Malacca strait, greatly facilitating trade, but didn’t destroy non-Srivijayan competitors. Instead it used them as secondary sources for trade. Srivijaya’s wide influence in the region used a mixture of diplomacy and conquest, and ultimately operated like a federation of port-cities. Besides the southern centre of power in Palembang, Arab, Chinese and Indian sources imply, Srivijaya had a northern power centre, maybe Kataha, now known as Kedah, on the western side of the Malay peninsula, and maybe Ligor, now called Nakorn Sri Thammarat, in Thailand. An inscription from the Thai lower peninsula, the “Wiang Sa” (dated 775 CE) has been translated “Victorious is the king of Srivijaya, whose Sri has its seat warmed by the rays emanating from neighboring kings, and which was diligently created by Brahma, as if this God has in view only the duration of the famous Dharma.” Unfortunately, I don’t know what term was translated as ‘king’!
The Srivijayan empire controlled the important Strait of Melaka (Malacca) which facilitated trade between China and India. It suppressed piracy along the Malacca strait, greatly facilitating trade, but didn’t destroy non-Srivijayan competitors, instead using them as secondary sources for trade. Srivijaya’s wide influence in the region was a mixture of diplomacy and conquest, and ultimately operated like a federation of port-cities. Srivijaya ruled parts of Sumatra, Western Java, Sri Lanka, western Borneo, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, the Philippine Sulu Archipelago and Visayas islands and the Malay peninsula north past the Kra Isthmus; it traded with Arabia, the Pala Empire in Bengal, other parts of India, to Madagascar and along Africa’s east coast, among the Spice Islands and the ports of south China, especially Canton (Guangshou/Kuangchou) and other ports of the Guangdong/Kwantung provincial area (Macao is there). Of great commercial importance to Srivijayan traders were also the Fujian (Min) Kingdom, with Fukien (“Happy Establishment”) Province (Min Sheng), plus the ports Amoy (Hsia-men/Xiamen) and Fu-chou (Fuzhou/Foochow “Happy City’). These ports became important under the Sung Dynasty (beginning about 960, but in the south only after 1127); but trade with Srivijaya went on for hundreds of years before that. A formidable sea power until the 13th century, Srivijaya had hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of soldiers, but it didn’t remain a formidable sea power much longer. Srivijaya may have had a capital city, at Palembang (in Sumatra), but the area is a long strip of swampland difficult to excavate - perhaps a clearer picture will be achieved later. At any rate, we do know that Srivijaya was one of the richest kingdoms of its time. As early as 500 CE, Srivijaya was a flourishing power; it dominated the coasts of the straits of Malacca for approximately 640 years!
Early Khom (Angkor) civilization also wasn’t colonial, but was tributary; a reconstructed stupa in Chaiya, SuratThani (south Thailand) is a Srivijayan heritage. In the early 11th century, through 20 years of raids by the Chola (Cola) king of Coromandel India, Srivijaya lost control over China-India trade, went into decline, and disappeared about 1400, when Ayudhaya was becoming important. Islam had come to Sumatra; Srivijaya’s last prince founded Malacca Sultanate in 1402; he converted to Islam in 1414.
Modern Indonesians, even those of the Palembang area central to Srivijaya, had almost entirely forgotten about it, until interest from foreign scholars occurred in the 1920s; when French scholar Georges Coedès published his discoveries and interpretations in Dutch and Indonesian-language newspapers. As Arab merchants gained dominance over the area, reasons to remember the past became disparaged - an instance of history relating only to the interests of power. There’s still much confusion, as with referring to Srivijaya as a kingdom, when “polity” or “federation” would be more appropriate. It may have had no ruling monarch, just princes and a ruling caste. It involved manufacturing, religious, commercial and political centers, for at least several centuries, of which there are both Arab and Chinese records. The Khmer called it Melayu; others other names - which added to confusion and obscurity… but the different nature of the polity was likely the gravest danger to memory of it. Hinterlands remained under local chiefs, often organized into a network of allegiance through marriages, but trade relationships were primary, and the basis of federated interactivity. Cultural diversity within the areas of trade and influence of Srivajaya would have been conducive to trade, in quite many ways strengthening it, and so might well have been politically encouraged and otherwise fostered - although piracy certainly wasn’t, but rather greatly suppressed. It later returned, in strength, until suppressed by British Raja James Brooke in the mid 1800s.
Coedès says (Inscriptions du Cambodge Vol. I, p 149) that ancient inscriptions referring to what became Cambodia read Kambuja or Kamvuja, rather than Kamboja, a Sanskrit word. Kamboja, an Indo-Iranian tribe which moved into northwest India perhaps 2000 years ago, developed the Kshatraya caste and eventually the Srivijaya maritime empire (maybe half a millennium later). Caravan trade between India and Mon Dvaravati took place in early Buddhist times. Then sea trade, using large vessels, began, covering most of the southern coast of Asia west of China, with significant trade in horses by 1000 ago. Persian records mention an embassy from Sri Lanka to Emperor Anusharwan (ruled 531 to 578 CE), bringing ten elephants, 200,000 pieces of teakwood and seven pearl divers. Precious metal and stones, spices, (especially cloves, nutmeg and cardamom), lead, other cheaper metals, aloes, sandalwood, camphor, foodstuffs, jute, wax, livestock, animal parts (including, but not limited to tusks, horn and hide), textiles and medicinal goods were traded (among other things, most likely including talismans, opium, betel, knives and mirrors, though shipping records aren’t available). From SriLanka they traded with Ligor, Lavo and Lopburi in what became Siam, and founded the inland city of Kambojagama, southeast of Mon Haripunjaya (surely on an old caravan route).
Eventually, the Kamboja/Srivijaya trading community produced an adventurous chieftain who converted a commercial settlement into an organized political State which developed into the empire of Angkor. The –varman ending to rulers at Angkor is a Kshatriya surname which links them to Aryan Kambujas. This suggests that the nature of kingship and magic used to support it derived from very ancient, probably Mesopotamian, sources, but the secrecy of necessity shrouding the subject forestalls much effective analysis.
What I find most significant here is a departure from trade to engaging in conquest and settlement, which apparently most traders had not found much of a temptation. That the events related supposedly occurred centuries before the rise of Srivijaya need not concern us much, as maritime trade had already been going on for half a millennia, and colonization remained unusual until the arrival of Europeans (Chinese settlement was not colonization, but immigration). Maybe the “Scythian Brahman” Pra Tong simply didn’t much like to sail! It seems unlikely though, that he was a Brahman - but rather of Kshatriya lineage, from Gujarat/Saurashtra.
It’s also been suggested (by P. C. Bagchi in ‘India and Central Asia’, p 117) that the Kambojas who set-up a colony in Indo-China were nomadic people from Central Asia who reached Mekong basin via Tibet, but this makes the 790 CE inscription attributed to Jayavarman II, founder of Angkor, about breaking ties with “Java” (most likely meaning Srivijaya or at least its port on the island of Sumatra) even more mysterious than it already is. One explanation that readily leaps to my mind is that Pra Tong found speakers of his language already there, and used them to overthrow the Cham. He does seem unlikely to have been able to bring forces of sufficient strength on his own! Then, subsequently, old-style trade arrangements remained until another Kshatriya/Kamboja prince decided to embark on the path of empire…
At any rate, the art of Angkor is of Indo-European/Persian derivation, as is the nature of Southeast Asian royalty and the mystical nature of its sovereigns. That a racial and cultural distinction between rulers and ruled has been obfuscated seems merely politic.
Perhaps Srivijaya was the result of insecure younger sons of Indian Lords, princes with chips on their shoulders, inferiority complexes, or at least a dominant urge to prove themselves by gaining great wealth and power, going out to win and show of those back home whatever they could. It would be difficult to prove, certainly, but when one considers the advantages Roman rulers gained by keeping large armies of the disaffected and domestically useless, and keeping them far from home, it’s easy to think India might have done likewise. India, invaded by Alexander of Macedon, was hardly oblivious to later Roman reality. If profit was the driving force, one must wonder at the extreme difficulties undergone to obtain it - not only would aboriginal peoples have been difficult to trade with originally, but establishing viable markets back home would not have been very readily accomplished, originally, either.
Italy had more coastline than other Mediterranean countries - as would contribute to maritime proclivities. India also has extensive coastline - 3,533 miles (5,686 kilometers) for 1,222,559 square miles (3,166,414 square kilometers) of land - about as third as much coastline in relation to total landmass as China. China’s coastline is about 8700 miles (for 3,696,100 square miles/9,572,900 square km), but much of that coast is coldwater - it has the greatest contrast in temperature between its northern and southern borders of any nation. China has over 100 bays, large and small, and some 20 deepwater harbors, most ice-free throughout the year - but it had much less lucrative nearby trading potential than did India. Korea, the Philippines and Japan could hardly vie for economic interest with Ceylon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Persia, Arabia, east Africa and Madagascar, in early trading times has. Indians may have had more incentive for maritime activity, and certainly Srivijaya became thalassocratic - meaning it had “naval or commercial supremacy over a large area of sea or ocean,” but need to access the Malaysian area is unclear to me - it seems rather more a matter of choice.
The well-paid soldiers of the ancient Indian empire of King Asoka (an army reputedly of 9,000 elephants, 30,000 cavalry, and 600,000 infantry) would have required a considerable financial outlay, and been hard on the economy. Trade with northern parts of the subcontinent helped Southern Indian states, and vice versa; then overseas trade became a major economic activity. When Roman trade declined, Southeast Asian trade commenced. Much earlier, Babylonian builders used Indian teak and cedar (in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE). Buddhist Jataka literature mentions trade with Baveru (Babylon). After the decline of Babylon, merchants from southern Arabia apparently continued trade between India, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Regular seasonal monsoon winds enabled ships to go straight across the Arabian Sea. Indian merchants sought Southeast Asia’s spices and semiprecious stones, using wealth from India’s east coast, the most fertile area of the subcontinent, and Srivijayan rulers founded monasteries at Negapatam (India). But first, they must have established two-way trade with many different peoples of differing interests and inclinations – which would have required some very adventurous spirits!
The Colas (Cholas), by far the most important dynasty in the subcontinent at the turn of 1st millennia CE, took interest in Southeast Asia, and a naval campaign led to conquest of the Maldive Islands, the Malabar Coast, and northern Sri Lanka. Cola gained control over trade with Southeast Asia, and also with Arabia and East Africa. Spices were sold on, at a high profit, to Europe. Through a spectacular naval campaign against Srivijaya in 1025, Cola gained access to South China; throughout the 11th century sent trading missions to China. Srivijaya had never colonized in the manner of later Europeans; Cola didn’t either.
They instead only maintained strong trading stations – inland peoples may have been seen as useful for providing manpower, but certainly not as worth ruling, otherwise. There’s a parallel with early European trading in Asia: ports and “factories” were maintained, but colonization was not part of the early picture. Except, that is, to the Khom (Cam or Krom) who decided to rule the Khmer, and become god-kings.
Do we know Srivijayan or Angkor rulers descended from residents of India? No, not precisely; but we know their dominant cultural influences came from there, or at least through there. It’s also apparent that they’d no real land base - there’s no local society they seem to have grown out of. But the first great rulers in Cambodia seem to have arrived with an idea of their destiny to rule with greatness, and be remembered.
What greatly interests me here is a parallel with early European trading in Asia: ports and “factories” were maintained, but colonization was not part of the early picture. Due to cultural differences and strong racist sentiments, rule wasn’t seen as desirable. But to encourage distinctions may have been as important as to find distinctive products. Spices came only from particular places, but though people weave all over, uniqueness in weave has often been found of great value. So too with ceramics and even blade making. Some people just do some things better, and that contributes to trade.
Earlier, and later too, due in large part to cultural differences and strong racist sentiments, rule wasn’t seen as desirable. Srivijaya existed only for trade; when it lost its monopoly, new avenues for trade arose, new wealth arose, and new opportunities. Angkor, then Ayudhaya, seized onto a new model for wealth generation: taxation.

Genghis Khan claimed he conquered only as civilizations around him had become weakened through “haughtiness and their extravagant luxury” - that came from trade. Srivijaya existed only for trade; when it lost its monopoly, new avenues for trade arose, new wealth arose, and new opportunities. The realities of trade both made and broke the inland empire of Lanna - much as Genghis’ neighbors became corrupt, so did his descendents. Had they not become substantial in wealth and commercial importance, had they not misused their potential, less disruption would have ensued, and many local people would have had many more babies. What is really for the best is not always clear - maybe even to those with the best information!

In 790 CE a young prince of Cambodia who claimed descent from rulers of Funan (part of Cambodia which was the 1st important Hinduized kingdom in Southeast Asia, two millennia ago) broke ties with “Java,” most likely meaning Srivijaya on Sumatra, and had a record of this inscribed on stone. As king, this Jayavarman II conquered northward along the Mekong River valley and in 802 became chakravartin (an ancient Indian conception of world ruler), with his capital at Siem Reap. He forged Kambuja-desa into an empire with ‘Khom’ (or Kram, or Khawm) relatives and Brahman priests ruling subject states in present-day Laos and Thailand. Over the next four centuries, subsequent rulers built the vast temples of Angkor. These royals were far removed from ordinary people, living as gods (deva-raja), observing only some ritual obligations. After Jayavarman II's death, the capital was moved to the north shore of Tonle Sap, and the first Cambodian temples of stone (rather than brick) were built. The capital was then moved back near Siem Reap, to Angkor, the name of which derives from the Sanskrit word nagara, meaning “city”. Ambitious building programs followed, utilizing large pools of labor; in time there was but one master for every hundred slaves, totally undermining stability.
Suryavarman I (ruled c. 1004–c.1050), an innovative and demanding usurper with links to royal families in what became Isan, the Lao area of Siam, subjugated many areas that had become semi-independent, and constructed the now controversial border-line mountain-top temple Preah Vihear. He more than doubled the number of Kambujan/Khmer cities, and increased both foreign trade and bureaucratic control. By this time, T’ai peoples were entering the northern areas of Khom control.
Suryavarman II, monarch about 1113-1150, built the temple complex of Angkor Wat, still the largest religious structure in the world and one of the most beautiful. It was an astronomical observatory and teaching center, dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu, with bas-reliefs running for nearly a half mile: 18,000 carved scenes depicting events in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The elegant carvings, including hundreds of graceful statues of angelic dancers (apsaras) adorning the temple, and its reflection in the moats that surround it, afforded Angkor Wat an awe-inspiring air; in the 12th century, when its towers were gilded and its many moats well-maintained, it must have been captivating, spell-binding and awe-inspiring, indeed. One inscription refers to the kingdom as “shaded by many parasols,” a metaphor for a multiplicity of rulers (and perhaps for the tiers of jungle canopy). Inscriptions also state that hundreds of thousands of people were involved in the building. Clothing, tools, houses, and oxcarts in the bas-reliefs closely resemble those in the Cambodian countryside today.
Jayavarman VII built extensive irrigation systems with waterways for small boats, bridges, many temples, and inscribed markers throughout greater Angkor. He promoted Mahayana Buddhism while patronizing Hinduism and local ancestor cults; several larger-than-life-size statues of the monarch depict him in meditation. After he died about 1220, the empire weakened, and T’ais, precursors to the Siamese, grew stronger: in early 13th century powerful enough to throw off Angkor’s domination. In mid-13th century, T’ai armies raided into Angkor territory, but Angkor remained a glittering, cosmopolitan, cultured city so impressive to Chinese visitor Chou Ta-kuan, who arrived there in 1296, that he left an account of a bustling city where the king went forth in splendid pomp and ceremony. In this longest, most detailed description surviving of the Khom capital, Chou mentions Theravadan monks there, monks of the more orthodox and austere school flourishing west of Cambodia, whose practice contrasted sharply with the lavish, elitist rituals of Hindu Brahaminism and Mahayana Buddhism. Soon after Chou’s visit, Theravada Buddhism gained royal patronage; conversion of the majority of the population followed that of most of the elite, who, quite typically, were intermarrying with neighboring elites. Disadvantaged by this were high-ranking priestly families, overseers of building and maintenance at Angkor’s temples and palaces.
Recorded T’ai attacks on Angkor occurred in 1353, 1369 and 1389; undoubtedly there were others, and thousands of Cambodians were taken away to serve T’ai masters. After a major, destructive attack in 1431, the Khom capital was totally abandoned. Rebellion, internecine dissensions, intermarriage and intrigue with T’ais contributed to this downfall. A new capital was built to the south, in Phnom Penh, in 1444. The temples of Angkor became covered by tall kapok (bombax ceiba) trees, the roots of which wedged between stones until much that was built tumbled apart. Forgotten for 400 years, Angkor might have completely disappeared but for French naturalist and photographer Henri Mouhot, who noticed the ruins in 1858 during a zoological mission. Mouhot died of “jungle fever” in 1861; France took control of Cambodian foreign affairs in 1863 and made Cambodia a colony in 1884. In the 1990s, Angkor was restored, becomming one of the world’s foremost tourist destinations.
In 1350 a new T’ai kingdom with court modeled on Angkor was designed; this first Siamese/T’ai port and capital city was plotted on a slight elevation where the ChaoPhraya, LopBuri and PaSak Rivers met the mangrove swamps of the sea, and named Ayudhaya after the home of legendary hero Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu). Monks from Sri Lanka were invited to come teach, and Ayudhaya reigned as the T’ai capital for 400 years - amalgamating Malay, Arab, Cantonese, Brahman, Mon, Khom, Khmer, T’ai and Burmese people and traditions. That Thai cultural traditions in music, dancing and marriage ceremonies had the same roots as Cambodian ones remained obvious just a generation ago, while people from the other ancestories mentioned (with the exception of Khom) remain quite in evidence. Much elite, Khom culture from Angkor came to the now more prosperous, more secure T’ai/Siamese royal court, giving it much of its ritual, while many Khmer (farmers and slaves) moved to Phnom Penh or on past to coastal areas with more commercial possibility. The tiny Cambodian/Khmer kingdom that followed obtained material goods primarily from trade, as opposed to (more traditional) rice cultivation, and shunned large public works.
Ramkamhaeng (born about 1239, died 1298), 3rd king of Sukhotai, the first major Tai state, inherited a kingdom of only a few hundred square miles about 1279. Over two decades, by diplomacy, shrewd alliances, and military conquest, he gained power and influence as far as LuangPrabang to the north and internationally active Nakhon Si Thammarat to the south. He didn’t directly rule most of the area, but may have exercised a kind of suzerainty over local rulers newly united in Theravada Buddhism and rebellion against Angkor (to which he’d paid tribute). Much believed of Ramkamhaeng comes from a stele with inscribed date corresponding to 1292; it portrays him as a patriarchal ruler whose justice and liberality were accessible to all his subjects. Sukhotai nurtured Siamese-T’ai civilization, developing distinctive arts and expressions, and bronze sculpture of an especially high level. Ceramics, based on techniques borrowed from China, were successfully produced in Sukhotai, perhaps with influence from Yunnan, for international trade (often by sea). Ramkamhaeng’s kingdom was built upon the personal power and magnetism of an exceptional ruler; when he died, vassals broke away. Save for colorful local legends, Ramkamhaeng was all but forgotten until 1834, when Prince Mongkut, who became King of Siam in 1851 but was then a Buddhist monk, reportedly stubbed his toe on the famous stele as he walked through a field.
The populace of central and southern Thailand, people who invaded Sukhotai in 1374, was still largely Mon. Mon people, apparently immigrants from western China, settled in the ChaoPraya River basin about the 6th century CE. Their early kingdoms were Dvaravati (to the south) and Haripunjaya (in the north: founded 675 CE and now called Lamphun). By 825 the Mon had firmly established themselves in southern and southeastern Myanmar, founded cities at Pegu and coastal Thaton, accepted Theravada Buddhism as their state religion, and adopted Pali script. About the same time, southward-migrating Burmans took central Myanmar, establishing the kingdom of Pagan. In 1057 Pagan defeated a Mon kingdom, capturing Thaton and taking 30,000 Mon captives to Pagan. This was culturally decisive for the Burmans, as Mon captives included Theravada Buddhist monks who converted the Burmans; Pali soon replaced Sanskrit as the language of their sacred literature.
Pagan fell to the Mongols in 1287; the Mon retook much of their territory and over 200 years of brutal warfare between Mon and Burmans followed. Mon Haripunjaya was conquered by the Khom/Khmer in the 10th century, but perhaps due to distant Mon connections was able to regain independence and wealth, until incorporated into Lanna (north Thailand), in 1281. Inland Lanna was largely Lawa, Lua and T’ai; by the early 11th century Tais had migrated from south China into the ChaoPraya area, perhaps without significant resistance from disorganized, fragmented Mons. Similar beliefs and background may have facilitated this relatively peaceful merger, or there may have been fighting now forgotten, perhaps even by King Ramkamhaeng. At any rate, Tai power only grew to internationally significant importance after 1400, when the nation-state began to attain importance outside of Europe and China.
Whereas Burmese, Siamese and Khmer characteristics share many similarities, inland peoples in the countries dominated by the racial groups just mentioned, island peoples, the peoples of Vietnam, Bangladesh, China and Korea are very different. The Mongols were able to assert authority over vast territory and many very different peoples, but only for just over 150 years. The extensive British empire, on which ‘the sun never set” lasted only about as long. But Srivijaya lasted at least 640 years, perhaps because they found value in diversity, and tried neither to assimilate nor homogenize.

Some Hopi “Indians” claim the Serpent Mounds of Ohio mark a visit from ancients of the Southwest, visitors who influenced the development of the Seven Civilized Nations of the US northwest. And that “Malibu” had an original native meaning of “no place left to go,” indicating that it was for the old and tired who’d visited everywhere else. They see their tribe as carrying wisdom others didn’t have, due to a more intimate connection with the spiritual world (or something like that, anyway…)… There’s an enduring belief that Pueblo Indians guided others in their development… That there had been migrations of the clans, from which other tribes began their descent. Pueblo people had gone around seeding other kinds of tribal personalities, for some kind of future protection… Perhaps, in their opinion, the best that could be, was already there, but development of new forms of uniqueness had value. Hopi just keep some good stuff for themselves… especially knowledge of physical energy centers (beyond obvious major observable manifestations, like the anomaly of magnetic versus true north), and other dangerous knowledge and power, especially dangerous for the insufficiently prepared, whether emotionally or culturally.
Our behavior might really be made understandable with better understanding of how we differentiate, and yet remain the same. Much of our history has to do with things way beyond the ken of most, and maybe even beyond special, shamanistic individuals - but maybe not.
The fascinating Narration of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1542) shows various tribes in a way similar to the various kinds of mental patients depicted in the 1960’s Philip K. Dick classic, Clans of the Alphane Moon. Dick’s science-fiction tale hinges on an associative tendency among varieties of mental patients, leading to kinds of empowerment. It suggests availability of unacknowledged avenues for survival in the face of great odds. Was tribalism based on a preference for individualized predilections, distinction for distinction’s sake, as much as on physical and historical happenstance? Perhaps it involved a natural tendency to develop a specialty? Personality types interact in somewhat predictable patterns, perhaps map-able in tendencies, like ‘The Laws of the Motion of Gasses’ by the 16th century Frenchman Lavoisier (beheaded by the revolution for wealth). Like gas molecules, we spread out to fill available space, leaving no area, or archetype, open and unused.
Lavoisier showed that gas will spread evenly to fill available space… and perhaps people of a similar mien, isolated, will diverge just like gasses, spreading out, though in people’s case in variety, in character divergence, to fill each possible niche of the human range of character type, emotional proclivity, humor or whatever. The gases don’t diversify, they just spread out, but people can spread out in emotional range, and diversify (at least somewhat). Suppose you take 50 seminarians… 50 guys pretty much the same – then put ’em in some isolated place, where they’re able to make do and survive. They’re gonna change. One will become more of a clown, another, the heavy or policeman. Some will do more work than others, some are gonna be more artsy. Some will act like bosses, some will be more sexual, some less; some popular, some rejected. Some will become overly assertive, some overly meek. Get rid of the class cut-up, and another troublemaker pops right up to take his place! It’s like in Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies.
Faces suggest a range of personalities, a similar variety of characters and habitual tendencies… even between widely different cultures separated by great space. The more some things change, the more others stay the same. The meekest of a really warlike group might still be more warlike than the most aggressive of a peaceful people, and one of a group of thieves will be more trustworthy than the others.

Clan rivalries were a trying ground for the human condition - something most shamans might miss recognizing, for the sake of their necessary orientation to clan survival, but still, the jockeying for position has been part of reality, and had consequences.
Mathematician Kurt Gödel, a close friend of Einstein’s, showed how any method of organizing thought, any system, not only includes at least one internal contradiction, but also incidents which, though clearly part of the organizing, or system, can’t be really be accounted for (at least not mathematically, or within the system). Human tools for grappling with reality are inadequate to the task or sorting everything we’re faced with; there’s more involved than we can possibly conceive. The spiritual aspect to this is, that directions people go in hardly involve just choice – we move along in syndromes. This is something I’m sure many a Shaman understands, or understood, though, like me, in non-mathematical ways. They at least realized we have tendencies we can’t reverse.

How long does cultural and linguistic divergence take? Much less than the 1200 to 1400 years available if Anasazi architecture, or, for that matter, any architecture north of Mexico, is to be taken as a significant marker of important cultural events. Before the building of enduring structures (especially the houses Pueblo peoples were named for), we much assume a different culture (or set of cultures). After the adoption of the horse by Natives of North America, divergence, especially of Shoshonian-related speakers, seems to have taken place quite very rapidly, with distinctive new cultural traits becoming not only firmly established, but important as culturally identifying traits, in well under 300 years, and maybe under 200.
We know that perspectives and goals in early historic times, and among widely divergent cultures - like many in Papua New Guinea, the Upper Amazon and the Artic regions - are very unlike those of anyone able to read this. We also now know that we can’t correlate archaeological remains from preliterate times with linguistic groupings – at least with any surety, without outside reference… Not only has politics (and religion) often gotten in the way, but changing technologies and outlooks, particularly of the future and past. Language and culture can change substantially in a couple centuries.
What people are called can change quickly and repeatedly: witness Alsace-Lorraine, now French, then German and back again, repeatedly (switching four times between 1871 and 1945). A Turk could be almost anything: European, Central Asian, Steppes nomad, Kurd, Christian, Islamic, Caucasian, Middle-Eastern, modern, rustic, part of a power-block or not…
But the varieties of human form and culture are always found fascinating by many and may be revelatory of our intimate, and deep, psyche. By investigating human variety, we investigate ourselves. And surely, too, there is power in finding to what extreme degrees the individual can be remolded.
We tend to think in terms of divergence, as in my example from Lavoisier, but convergence is important too. Most cultures we recognize (English, French, Russian, Egyptian, Thai, Indonesian) have certainly resulted as much from convergence as from divergence, and maybe much more so. It seems to me likely that only small groups can markedly diverge, and any large grouping involves much convergence.
Hopi language is of the Uto-Aztecan family; Hopis and Aztecs surely have shared ancestry, despite the great differences in the two cultures’ characteristics. The violence of Meso-Amerind - Incan, Toltec, Aztec - societies hardly rivaled that of other peoples of empire: European, African, or Asian… those sacrificed in ceremony were far fewer than those sacrificed in war; it’s inarguable that there was less “collateral” damage! The vast extent of travel and trade that went on, with many a rise and fall, and change of location, also change of lifestyles, indicates that there were usually many men who were not just bullies and thugs…
Couldn’t tribal variations have been manipulated, even seeded? This didn’t need to involve ‘goldenmen’, or anything supernatural - though in thinking about issues of Anasazi influence, I find myself wondering how much was ever really possible within a single life. Perhaps there had been a rare few, once sexually attracted in contravenance to tribal taboos (yet remaining tribally loyal) who found, through their quietly illicit behavior, ways to better provide for increased tribal strength, people who brought home new realities of enduring value. That there had been folks traveling and learning from others very important things, secrets or not, without really proving or showing themselves, yet occasionally achieving at least some close intimacies, however they did it, is a fun idea, but doesn’t seem likely enough to be a good way of understanding human history and evolution, at least to most...
Perhaps some few of the most advanced people who lived and experienced things outside of the norm, encountered other, similar, non-hostile potential transcendentalists: people likely also involved in furnishing a bit of mercantile value, people who’d already somewhat abandoned their ideological home base, which likely would involve total tribal self-containment, or at least self-sufficiency. A person whose face wasn’t recognized would have been met with a preponderance of suspicion, without appropriate surrounding circumstances (as remains much the case). With meetings of this kind happening occasionally anyway, there may have been establishment of meeting places, pre-arranged times, signs and signals, with in effect a guild arising, as would help satisfy more intelligent warriors.
To some it was likely a religious thing, to others a matter of chance, but to me the extent of amazing ‘coincidence’ - like the way our moon size and distance makes for perfect eclipses, and how in any extensive population a familiar variety of facial characteristics exist, and other manifestations of personality range - means there has been much more at work than mere chance. Taoism doesn’t require a ‘creator’ and neither do some other thought and belief systems that don’t leave things so haphazard and unhelpful as to limit hope that our thinking and action can produce good result.
Some variety is essential for the good-health necessary for reproductive success within dangerous environments. It’s natural that the strongest, most endowed, will seek elsewhere, outside the clan and tribe, despite how this might produce Romeo and Juliet (Montague and Capulet) type scenarios. Only those surviving not only the heartbreak and the opprobrium, but also the stress and confusion, could be available for initiation into the outside sharing that might bring new wisdom, strengths and flexibility.

The majority of humans become genetically expendable while still young, before what we consider middle age. Having undertaken cagey, self-protective habits in response to ingrained suspicions from experience of pain, there tends to be either resistance to forming new sexual liaisons and taking subsequent responsibility, or a series of repetitive habits (as invite early demise).
Trouble inspires protective instincts and sometimes introversion; thus there’s a genetic expendability to most who fail to have good luck, to exercise, and to enjoy superior nutrition. As for the good luck and nutrition part, that could involve pain too - for the body not to wear out quickly there must be vast variety of stimulation and reception, making contact with the greatest possible of variety, being tested by, and nurtured by, as much as possible - ‘though such may not be the case for many yet considered by others extremely fortunate.
We’re programmed to replicate early, recombining in order to produce successful combinations which can live long and prosper, exerting influence into many lives, as well as distributing seed... There must be much testing before the status of dominant breeder can be achieved.
For many, throughout history, this kind of thought may have been comforting, although perhaps in the manner of a horror movie. Perhaps inadvertently (though perhaps not adequately) instructive, only chance could provide whomever with the ability to survive alienation. Yet chance allows some success.
History involves lots of great leaders who were also healers; people with an unusually larger sense of what appropriateness in individual or tribal place involved: Sequoia, Geronimo, Tecumseh, Seattle, White Cloud… The stories of Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Christ, Mohammed, Gandhi, Saint Francis, Joan of Arc and Peter Abelard all show shamanistic attributes; the most recent may have been a woman, if, as I choose to see it, Isadora Duncan merits level with Nefertiti and Catherine the Great. Modern “Western” society, though, has scant little closer than Rasputin, the psychological philosophers Freud and William James, and Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman). After Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca took on his Shamanistic role, he failed to translate it into anything much back home… the Haitian liberator Toussaint Louverture (annointer of the Duke and Duchess of Marmalade) is another dignitary with surviving importance in the imagination of his people. Among the impoverished of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and among all tribal peoples, Shamanism remains visible, though Yacatecuhtli, Lord of Guidance Claimed by Merchants, does not.

Hopi pueblos, some still lived in, may date from between 1150 and 1200 CE, a time when snowy mountainous areas became much more attractive than old homes on newly drought-stricken plateaus. Homes which for centuries had nurtured extensive civilizations - with paved roads, astronomical observatories, irrigation systems, secure granaries and substantial communities with permanent structures - had become untenable, with the areas around them denuded of trees. Certainly these old homes were only reluctantly abandoned, yet relocation proved extremely valuable not much later, when the rugged ascent to mesa tops aided in defense against physically larger invaders. Had they not settled in easily defensible spots, hostile to the unfamiliar, then, after the Athabascan migration from the north got going, those ancestors to the Navahos, when they arrived (only a few years before the Spanish), would surely have annihilated them.

The ancient Meso-American merchant god Yacatecuhtli, the “Lord Who Guides” - a long-nosed god with bundled staffs and an elaborate woven fan in one hand - was a deity for those who traveled between cultures…
Ancient traders of the area seem, to those who’ve investigated sufficiently, to have of necessity become spies and agents for lords of rival empires, lords the jealousies of whom the traders must certainly have needed to stay most carefully aware. Despite their knowledge of themselves as ‘traveling lords,’ their wealth and even influence was of necessity kept well disguised. No rivalry with their royal ‘masters’ could ever even be suggested (without disastrous results, destabilizing at best!). Despite often being wealthier than the richest nobles, Pochteca devotees of Yacatecuhtli yet traveled difficult, dangerous terrain - on foot, hauling trade-goods on their backs. Because they already undertook extremely great risks, a strict code of honesty had to be adhered to amongst themselves; but only amongst themselves. They neither competed, nor needed to. Compounded in their code of honesty was a directive to display respect for others, especially when bargaining with them. Humble in appearance, often they held the real, most important powers, so much so that the places kept for paying respect to, and asking things of, ‘the knowers of things’, were located at their places of public business, the main markets.
Other than the Market God ‘Knower of Things,’ their Gods were strictly their own. Their relation to them was direct; while traveling, they submitted to no other priests, acknowledging none as holier than themselves. Little else may have been theirs to control, overtly, but only they governed the rules of their religion, and their markets. There were other markets, garden markets, for instance, and local crafts markets, and other market gods, which were not theirs, or even based on theirs. But over anything foreign, they were the masters. Coming under, and living by, their own special laws, they respected their own amorphous nation, which existed invisibly to outsiders, while within other nations. They decided things in their own way, creating impact as they thought best for themselves.
Oztomeca, hereditary Puchteca based in Aztec society, who “went disguised in local garb speaking the local language” wherever they traded, exchanged militarily useful knowledge, in addition to trade goods. They had private social clubs and houses often quite luxurious on the inside, in their own neighborhoods; they observed their own feast days. Those who had more direct power, and greater physical might, though, Oztomeca and other Puchteca of direst necessity gave every appearance of humbling themselves before.
From the California deserts to southern Colorado and the hills of east Texas, then way south, even past Panama, the Oztomeca and other Pochteca traded among empires and tribes whose only other approved form of intercourse involved war. For them, distant future planning had a meaning it couldn’t for others, and they, perhaps, were the first to see various tribal groups as kinds of repositories… Certainly conspiracy and some successful premeditation seemed to have existed among them, with planning suggestive of other more extensive planning, perhaps even regarding things yet to come, things perhaps still not fully apprehended by us in the modern world.

One might wonder why ancients didn’t aspire more toward nation, law or even permanent-structure building, that their human contributions might be developed on, to the advantage to progeny - until one begins to see more clearly how the violence of Meso-Amerind (especially Aztec) societies didn’t disrupt food production or trade, had clear religious overtones and little “collateral damage”.
Travel and trade persisted; despite many a rise and fall, frequent changes of location and lifestyle, trade and interchange of ideas went on more than sporadically. Despite all difficulties, travel and trade have always been part of human life as we conceive it (even though “Sir” Henry Morgan Stanley found incredible difficulties moving through the territory of any African tribe’s neighbor, into that of a third tribe… having to negotiate at length every 30 miles or so, to travel on)… If Pueblo people might be related to Tibetan or Mongolian, and Gypsy to Tuareg, Indian Aryan to European Aryan, why did people yet look to racial, cultural or national propensity or guilt, as if one group could really be worse than another? Was it ever really a matter of choice? Perhaps there might have been something to be done about it, in the way lessons instilled from fear caused some to stop doing kinds of harm others had always done. And perhaps Pueblo clan leaders just preferred to live simply, and maybe die in Malibu.
Perhaps some Pueblo shaman dwelt on how people were different but the same, were often reasonable yet too often too easily influenced. And meditated on how natural it was for them to differentiate into ridiculous, rivaling subsets, even to have “hidden agendas.” It was best to just acknowledge, with a bit of humor and pleasure, that the way to maintain dignity in the face of the ongoing murder of so much in this world remained, for some, to live where no-one else wanted to be (high on a desert mesa-top).
What if more modern groups with influence and power are working nefariously to increase that influence and power? Might they not be engineering negative situations, geared to contain people, exploit their feelings and activities through fear, insecurity, guilt and other negative emotions? Is it hard to believe that social factors have been engineered, arranged like Pavlovian conditioned reflexes? Why not believe in corporate conspiracy? Didn’t those guys have “think tanks” they hired?

The quite frequently amusing and informative Wikipedia says: “The ancient Pueblos attained a cultural ‘Golden Age’ between about 900 and 1130. During this time, generally classed as Pueblo II, the climate was relatively warm and rainfall mostly adequate. Communities grew larger and were inhabited for longer periods of time. Highly specific local traditions in architecture and pottery emerged, and trade over long distances appears to have been common.” “After approximately 1150, North America experienced significant climatic change in the form of a 300 year drought… The contemporary Mississippian culture also collapsed during this period. Confirming evidence is found in excavations of the western regions of the Mississippi Valley between 1150 and 1350, which show long-lasting patterns of warmer, wetter winters and cooler, drier summers. In this later period, the Pueblo II became more self-contained, decreasing trade and interaction with more distant communities. Southwest farmers developed irrigation techniques appropriate to seasonal rainfall, including soil and water control features such as check dams and terraces. However, the population of the region continued to be mobile, abandoning settlements and fields under adverse conditions.”
And, “Evidence also suggests a profound change in religion in this period. Chacoan and other structures constructed originally along astronomical alignments, and thought to have served important ceremonial purposes to the culture, were systematically dismantled. Doorways were sealed with rock and mortar. Kiva walls show marks from great fires set within them, which probably required removal of the massive roof - a task which would require significant effort. Habitations were abandoned, tribes split and divided and resettled far elsewhere. This evidence suggests that the religious structures were deliberately abandoned slowly over time. Puebloan tradition holds that the ancestors had achieved great spiritual power and control over natural forces, and used their power in ways that caused nature to change, and caused changes that were never meant to occur. Possibly, the dismantling of their religious structures was an effort to symbolically undo the changes they felt they caused due to their abuse of their spiritual power, and thus make amends with nature.”

We may well be very unlikely ever to know if tribal diversification was intentionally influenced by human groups (shamans, pochteca, traveling groups of mound-builders or whoever), but that hardly means we shouldn’t imagine it, to explore ideas about how our societies (and their problems) might have developed. Although there’s a human propensity for divergence (as mentioned: 50 seminarians on a desert isle developing increasingly differentiated personas, with gravitation towards all social niches), there’s also a grouping tendency (the 50 seminarians coming together in the first place). Stoics, Skeptics, Cynics; Essenes, Sufis, Anabaptists; Surrealists, Dadaists, actors, folkies, hippies, anarchists (and ‘non-conformists’), fundamentalists, IRS agents… People with uncommon ideas thus find company, acceptance, and possibility of some insulation from hostile others. They can suffer their ostracism together, as part of a group – and so with less detriment, be it physical injury, psychic pain or whatever form of trauma or stress. These communities need not necessarily engage in a lot of physical proximity (with Jewish peoples it seems they often both did and didn’t). And, of course, within each group will always be found many variations, and will be leaders, followers, whiners, care-givers, the more studious, the more athletic, the more ‘spiritual’ and the more unstable.
Perhaps through balance between attractive and aversive tendencies and feelings, we are able to attain some sufficient sense of dignity, respect and head-space. And maybe that’s more what life’s about than winning, finding things out, being right or righteous, or even attaining kinds of immortality (through children, fame, passing wisdom on, or creating art). I’m sure we do partake of some kind of involvement beyond what we can directly perceive, and that what is most important with that is not what is important to us here).

On 15 Feb., 1898, a “mysterious” explosion sank the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor, killing 260 US seamen. Through the war that followed, the US acquired territories in the western Pacific and Latin America; Hawaii, Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico became outright American colonies. The Spanish fleet in the Philippines was destroyed at cost of only seven American seamen wounded. The war was over by 17 July; on 10 December, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the US, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines for compensation of a mere 20 million dollars. US foray into empire had begun, despite centuries of evidence demonstrating the economic folly involved (only 65 years after Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” the Spanish treasury was bankrupt, despite, or perhaps because of, massive infusions of stolen gold); ensuing slogans like “free trade” and “fair play” didn’t mean the USA would provide meaningful rule of law for what it conquered, annexed and kept, or even exploited manipulatively without absorbing.
Filipinos immediately began fighting US forces; Filipino leaders refused to accept US sovereignty, and years of warfare resulted. Captured Filipinos had to dig their own graves before getting shot; villages were burned completely down, and other atrocities abounded (Go Team! Beat some sense into those little brown hearts and minds!). A puppet government was installed, thousands of “militant” natives were killed, the USA used tactics including scorched-earth, torture and starvation, and murdered about 200,000 civilians. As Tacitus remarked on the Roman style of warfare and subjugation, “They make a desert and they call it peace” (revised to “It may be necessary to kill half the Filipinos in order that the remaining half be advanced to a higher plane of life.” Reminded that the people he wanted to “Christianize” were Catholic, President McKinley responded, “Exactly.”) Wealth went into the hands of a petty few, a gross trade imbalance prevailed, as did slave-like conditions for workers; corruption became a dominant Philippine characteristic. At the end of WWII, frequently promised independence was at last proclaimed, but the US retained military and naval bases (with 99-year leases and virtual territorial rights) and equal rights with Filipinos for US citizens (read, corporations) in the exploitation of natural resources. American business firms retained special status, much as they’ve had in most of Latin America (especially United Fruit Company, from 1899).
Since then, there’s been an element of coercion to US involved international trade which the Romans could ever only aspire towards. The resultant extensive homogenization has had an undeniable plus in fostering useful standardization, but that means little in the face of another consequence: the almost probable extinction of all hominids.
The mercenary nature of American “empire” has regularly, if not constantly, incurred resentment and resistance, and despite the building of fortresses designed to last 100 years, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, does not appear likely to last the 150 years Britain’s did. No tyranny lasts forever, and while the United States has led the global proliferation of weaponry, it is becoming increasingly harder to try to monopolize violence. Empire set more on dominance than exchange can no more last than can rule of over 99% by less than 1%. And the greater the extent of inflexible authoritarianism, the more inevitable its collapse.
Government’s purpose having become to defend property, and to defend the rich from the poor, we already no longer have a country, let alone an empire, in very real, and important, ways - we have but a global corporation masquerading as a nation, and that corporation isn’t a trading partnership, but merely a method of wholesale robbery of no purpose other than to assuage tender egos afraid to recognize what their sub-consciousnesses know to be true: that they don’t really know how to win, have nothing further to gain, and scarce little ahead but death.
We no longer have citizens, only debt-slaves, consumers, performers and the ‘homeless’. Few get to make decisions of any meaning at all, any more… When we stopped seeing things as the trade-offs they always are, we gave up much hope for a meaningful future. But things always change…