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

My Photo
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.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dao of Aldai

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “the wide diffusion of Taoism throughout the vast T’ang empire is reflected by the sizable proportion of Taoist texts discovered in the walled-up caves at Tun-huang (Dunhuang, in Kansu Province, by the Taklamakan Desert). This town in the far west of China was the gateway to Central Asia; and here Taoists came into contact not only with Buddhists of many different doctrinal persuasions but also with Nestorian Christians and Manicheans. Copies of the Lao-tzu were sent to the King of Tibet, and the book was translated into Sanskrit at the request of the ruler of Kashmir. It also reached Japan in the 7th century, as did texts of religious Taoism; reports of Taoism’s dominance on the continent may still be read in the diaries of Japanese Buddhist pilgrims. The geographic extension of the religion at this time was also represented, in the legendary sphere, by the systematic elaboration of its sacred mountains and the traditions attaching to them.” It would be odd if ‘Europeans’ (Tokarians) of Altai never encountered the Tao.
Asians, indigenous peoples and Taoists generally revere sacred mountains, where gods and heroes come from, as places of refuge, symbols of power and strength, eternal landmarks, repositories of nature, and a kind of encyclopedic reference. China’s door to the world of light-eyed, light-haired barbarians is past the end of the Great Wall, the Silk Road where it passes the Taklamakan Desert. Just north are the Altai Mountains, and Mount Altai itself, the sacred burial place of the Sythians. Here history has been brushed aside, as the West tried to brush aside China.

Shambala, Shangri-La, Isles of the Blest, Cibola, Eldorado, Hyperborea, Atlantis, Elysium, Arcadia, the kingdom of Prester John, Garden of Eden, perhaps Camelot – where blameless, beautiful people are never foul or sullied by greed (or need)… These Utopias of Myth represent unremitting realities, persistent concepts which demand reflection, and call insistently for more scrutiny. We must contextualize, put things in relative order; it’s easy to be aware of worse conditions, but we must also conceive of better ones. “Good” and “bad” aren’t as clear as we want to think, and myths arise sometimes just from being the clearest way of expressing the difference.
‘Shambhala,’ a fabulous ‘beyul’ in the Himalayas or possibly in the Gobi Desert, on a mountain isle, long ago when the Gobi was a sea, means a place incredibly difficult to approach. A “Sacred Island” in respects resembling Ultima Thule, or Hyperborea, a Tibetan lama supposedly asserted of it, “Only in some places, in the far North, can you discern the resplendent rays of Shambala… The secrets of Shambala are well guarded.” Lotus-land ‘Pemako’ is a legendary, sacred range near the border of East Tibet and northeast India, perhaps in Assam. Explorers have combed canyons of southern Tibet for such a beyul, ‘hidden land’ of bliss and nectar, where also lies Yangsang, the ultimate hidden place of immortality, reachable only by those with purified hearts and minds (like the Taoist’s Isles of the Blest, out in the great waters…).
Paradise, utopia: where there’s no need for money, gold in plentiful supply, no taxes or law courts, no crime, illness or war. People are beautiful, pleasant, happy and helpful, enchanting even. There is music, tasty wine and good food aplenty. If there is cold it does not kill and the sun warms one just right. There is work, but not too hard, sorrow but not overmuch, imperfections but only passable ones. Games to play, songs to sing, art to enjoy and minds to meet - there is no loneliness but what one chooses. No-one is made to feel left-out, insecure, unwanted or despised. No one dull or dishonorable enough to attempt to escape obligations, all find it pleasant to earn respect, and love is shared, abundantly. Did I mention streets paved with gold?
James Hilton’s Shangri-La used writings by Joseph Lock, a botanist who lived in Naxi near Zhongdian, Tibet for 27 years, until kicked out by victorious Communists in 1949. Zhongdian, 3,000 meters high, has deep blue lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and monasteries. For Tibetans, the highest peak of Zhongdian's Meilixue Mountains (6,740-meter Kawaboge Peak, its pyramid-shaped peak perhaps never reached by men) is the holiest of 8 holy mountains. Tai Shan, in northeastern province Shantung is most famous; 1st of 5 Chinese holy peaks, it was venerated as the yang source of life in official Han state religion (the name was changed by the Communists to Yuhuang Shan; ‘t’ai means superlative or exalted). Second-most revered is Heng Mountain in Hunan. Chinese sacred mountains are Taoist, Buddhist or both: there’s the HuaShan (Western Great Peak in Shaanxi, where XiWangMu is worshipped), not far from Xian (about 1000 km inland), and Mount Omei (High Eminent Peak, with a 1000 foot precipice and a foot-long, 18 pound ‘tooth of Buddha’), in Szechwan. Wutai Mountain in Shanxi has a five risings, or terraces, with at one time 360 monasteries. Each sacred mountain honors a particular holy being and certain natural aspects. Particularly Taoist ones include SongShan (Central Great, in Henan, 1500 m. high), TaiShan (‘Leading Peaceful’ Eastern Great, with a 7000 step Stairway to Heaven and a million tourists annually), and two HengShans (Bei, North Great in Shanxi, and Nan, South Great in Hunan). Chinese for pilgrimage means “paying respect to a holy pillar of heaven (mountain)”. But now not only pilgrims, but tourists, visit; Zhongdian County was even renamed Shangri-la County (in 1997). Many tour groups take a 45-minute flight from Yunnan Province's capital Kunming to Naxi, then a bus for four hours to Zhongdian. Regularly, some visitors return to tell of great wisdom and understanding, and secret knowledge carefully cherished, hidden carefully from unworthy eyes, long ago… and only sparingly revealed to those deserving (who earned it through their special efforts, including arriving at that special place). Mount Altai, where China, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan meet, at about the center of the Eurasian landmass, has always been held sacred. It’s full of mystique and spiritual promise, with recent commercial (touristic) success which threatens to disrupt if not destroy its innate value.

About 2500 BCE, Troy (a.k.a Ilium) became populated by sea-faring Thracians with iron weapons and horses. It grew into a major center of ancient civilization, but after over a millennium, was destroyed by Mycenaean Greeks (about 1184 BCE), the basis for Homer’s Illiad. 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, or of Caribs); 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, particularly, worshiped Hermes (messenger god of fertility, pillars, boundaries, commerce, travel and dreams, medic and protector of livestock) as an ancestor.
Possibly related to Thracians were Illyrians, who came to the western part of the Balkan Peninsula before 1000 BCE, around the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age. 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 said 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.

Civilization, government and social organization might not have been high priorities; but it’s clear Herodotus, our first real historian and still known as one of the greatest, was incompletely informed about Thracians, and Scythians, and Hyperboreans.
Herodotus wrote of Hyperborea (the “land beyond the north wind”): “beyond the Issedones live the one-eyed Arimaspians, and beyond them the griffins which guard the gold, and beyond the griffins the Hyperboreans” Herodotus, 4.15) uses a lost Theban epic poem reputedly depicting folk along the northern edge of Continental Europe (the Black Sea was the northernmost real point cited in ancient Greek geography). Hyperboreans never had land disputes, nor ever migrated between territories, and lived in perpetual bliss. Legends associated them with the cult of Apollo (as are also Trojans, in Homer). Herodotus and other sources have Hyperboreans living on the European mainland, but in a place inaccessible by land (deserts, mountains, ice-storms) or sea (dangerous choppy waters guarded by ferocious monsters).
Herodotus states “it does seem to be true that the countries which lie on the circumference of the inhabited world produce the things we believe to be most rare and beautiful” (3.116). For him, Hyperboreans exemplified the Hellenic race’s potential: originators of everything positive in Greek society, they challenged Greeks to measure up to Hyperborean perfection. Not only Hyperborea, but also Thule, was thought to lie at the unreachable edge of the world, unapproachable but maintaining an essential relationship to Mediterranean culture, somewhat along the lines of Platonic deals (perfection as real, conceivable but not to be witnessed). Possibly, his Hyperborea had some basis in Finland, or Altai.
Another Greek historian, Pytheas, described people in Thule as barbarians (people whose language was just “Bar bar bar” as that of the Germanic/Teutonic tribes was seen to be, by Ancient Greeks) who led an agricultural lifestyle, threshed grains and used barns. These Far Northerners traded with Aesir/Thracians, who began migrating north from the Caucasus around 90 BCE, due to Roman incursions. Julius Caesar described encounters with them, and distinguished Aesir from Celts. Aesir led by Odin, a popular ruler, escaped Roman invasions by Pompeius (and local conflicts, about 70 BCE) by following trade-routes north; thousands who left the Black Sea region went to the Baltic area, then to Scandinavia. Another ‘Thracian’ tribe went along: Vanir (Vaner), perhaps earlier from Lake Van, Turkey, ancestor worshipping neighbors of the Aesir who became Danir, and subsequently, Danes. Or so goes some racialist conjecture.
Roxolani, Cimmerians, Thracians, and Swedes may all be basically the same, separated mostly by time, and as related as early Boston Puritans and 60s Height-Ashbury hippies (who surely shared many common ancestors from the late 15th century...). 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.
Fierce warriors called Vaeringar, literally “men who offer their service to another master” later became known as Vikings. Navigating with sail and oars in rivers and seas, they even crossed oceans. 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. The warriors at Troy 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, or from xenophobic fear of the strange, but it’s 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’; also, avoidance of exploitation by city-folk was perhaps construed as attempt to maintain ‘purity,’ but Greeks, Romans, Egyptians intermingled, and everybody else too (even Chinese).

Imagine a place of exile, but freedom: a place for those of intensity too powerful for stability and the norms of home to go, for acceptance, for challenge, for liberty, abandon and self-respect. Some of us have aspects too potent even to be jealous or resentful of; their special capacity incurs distrust, even hate. In return dispassion, disinterest occurs - like the disdain and disinterest of Gods. But only from them can one obtain aptitude in pride… and only far from the mundane can one hope to really approach the profound... Perhaps great tribes we remember too little of enclosed another society of unusual temperament, once. Turks, Tatars, Mongols, Siberians, Tibetans, Uigers, Khazars and Celts, or their precursors, surrounded their area of ice-desert, and threw albinos, gays and intellectuals to their mercy. Some mutations occurred… horses were broken then tamed by huge, mean red-heads, and for millennia a society with superior weaving, herbal medicine, animal husbandry, sexual equality and social justice thrived, until the time came when the world’s two greatest war-like religions began to clash. Perhaps. Try to imagine something of the like, please, just try.
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 have 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” (Od. 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 described Scythians as longhaired, bearded barbarians of a violent and emotional nature, who drank the 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). Royal Scythes (Paralatae - something is confused here, ‘King Scythians’ of the Ukraine and Black Sea can’t all have existed as royal... But I haven’t found this discussed) sacrificed to Poseidon, he wrote, and also that Scythians didn’t use silver or bronze, only gold! He 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 has served as a major trading route ever since. Scythia was ruled by small, closely-allied elites; many Scythians left to work as mercenaries. Much wealth came from slave trade to Greece, but Scythians also traded grain, livestock and cheese for Greek luxury items. Perhaps most striking about them was the enormous amount of beautifully wrought gold they wore, apparently gold from Altai. Some accumulated wealth, but most were simple nomadic pastoralists. They dominated a 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, and flourished from the 8th to the 4th centuries BCE. Racial or linguistic uniformity seems unlikely, though lifestyle and artistic continuities between archaeological sites are clear. Their territory was constantly explored and sometimes colonized by other groups, whose own lands were overpopulated or overgrazed. But as support for even a small band of horsemen requires enormous stretches of steppe, even a slight increase in population could drastically affect social stability… Various other tribes in the steppes of central Asia back then, related in varying degrees to Scythians, had more names than we will discover, but there was cultural continuity over vast distance, and time.
Scythians traveled “for several weeks” to hold 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 were trans-shipped from Gelonus to Greece. Herodotus was right that they traveled far for important burials, just didn’t know how much further they occasionally went!
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, and became increasingly sedentary over the centuries (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. Agriculturalists growing grain, onions, lentils and millet inhabited central and northern regions of present Ukraine.
Western Scythian tribes began raising wheat for export, establishing a breadbasket for the Greeks, and 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 who worked grain fields. In spring and summer they ranged the open steppe, pasturing their herds, using saddles of 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, and 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 had to give 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 kept their love of horses, which remained a strong part of their culture, but during the 1st century BCE, ceased to play as important a part. Their descendents helped sack Rome at the end of its days of glory, but Mongolian horsemen had become successful rivals.
In 339 BCE, at age 90, King Atheas, the great Scythian unifier, was killed in battle against Phillip of Macedon. The Scythian kingdom remained strong and wealthy after this loss, but successive incursions took territory, until Scythia split into small principalities and its people were absorbed as they had absorbed Cimmerians. They fought off an expedition by 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 the 175-125 BCE migrations of Indo-European Yuezhi horse-centered tribes who came from the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang and Kansu areas), forced out by Xiongnu (Hsiung-Nu) Huns (Mongolian stock, unlike the light-eyed, blond or red-head Scythes). Before long, Goths established their Ostrogothic kingdom on the Black Sea. Although Scythians had allegedly disappeared, Romans continued to use “Scythians” to designate mounted Eurasian nomadic barbarians in general: in 448CE the emissary Priscus was led to Attila’s encampment by two mounted “Scythians”, who were clearly held as distinct from Attila’s Goth and Hun followers.
In the 19th century, Scythians became portrayed as wild and free, hardy and democratic ancestors of the Alani and all blond Indo-Europeans (which was but a kind of historical revisionism). Modern use of “Scythian” is sometimes a meaningless euphemism for “Aryan.” ‘Germanic’ invaders of the crumbling Roman Empire were from many tribes of intense individualists who preferred to fight independently, so as to become recognized heroes, and who thus would have been defeated by Roman Legions, had not Rome been crumbling from within.
Goths didn’t have stirrups, and the stirrup wasn’t in general use in Western Europe before the 9th century, but effective use of heavily armored cavalry without stirrups, in Silk Road areas, had begun long, long before. Horses were harnessed in Ukraine 6,000 years ago, perhaps with hemp rope. The bridle was developed somewhere in Kazakhstan, and horses began to give speed and mobility to people of the steppes. Wooden chariots have been found there, dating 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. 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 stirrup greatly increases a rider’s ability to control a horse, increasing its value for communication, transportation and warfare. First used around 1000 BCE, this breakthrough eventually made mounted horsemen the dominant warriors for two thousand years. Perhaps people living by the Altai Mountains on the Russia/Chinese border added a bit of extra leather to their horses' saddles to ease mounting, probably only a single loop on one side of the horse. Soon, though, 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 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 effective formations. Because of the high cost of mounted warriors, though, it took a long while for as highly organized cavalry to develop, much as it took a long time for horse-riding to reach the Middle East. For well over 1500 years, ‘Indo-European’ people from the area of Altai were able to make many successful invasive sweeps across the steppes to raid the soft, rich people of southeast and Mediterranean Europe, while never suffering invasions into their own homelands. Around 175 BCE, though, Indo-European (Sacae, or to the Chinese, Sai) tribes of Altai began to be pushed west by Mongolians. Overwhelmed by Mongol-Turkic expansion in the 4th century CE, even today their descendents 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.
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 600CE. These Alani introduced the stirrup to Europe, while raiding the remains of the collapsing Roman Empire. The mystique of far, unapproachable, ‘northern’ people spread.

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 had twin sons named for horses. Their hunter-pastoralist society had warriors, artisans, farmers and shamans. Ethnic Caucasoids from 3000 BCE or earlier, they eventually spread their language through Western Europe, but not as a conquering minority... as the men grew to 6’6”, and women 6’0”, they were relative giants, to whom others may well have found it wise to defer! Some worked as mercenaries, royal guards and transport security; many certainly played important parts along the Silk Road.
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.”), the world’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 artifacts and bodies buried there.
A group of these Indo-European people in central Asia known as Tokarians (or Tocharians) 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) from 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 in the Tarim Basin reveal a splendid, advanced culture with colorful robes, trousers, boots, stockings, coats and hats (some like witch hats). One large tomb had corpses of three women and one man; the man, about 55 years old at death, was 6½' 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. On one corpse marks from a surgical operation on his neck showed the incision to have been stitched with horsehair.
Contact between Chinese and Indo-Europeans by 1000 BCE is evidenced by inscriptions on Shang Dynasty (17th to 11th century BCE) turtle shells, which seem to describe Tokarians. Around 1000BCE, Chinese at the upper Yellow River co-existed with the Tokarian, and some Tokarian descendents became Chinese, and even royals of the Han Dynasty. Chinese language has words from Tokarian, including many place names.
Kizil, on the northern silk route, was a city of Tokarians, 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 had independence 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 twists upward, standing on end; her breasts are exposed. Similar images of solar and wind deities were found in Persia (a wind god was important to ancients there too). The Silk Road caves 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.
Around 4000BCE wooly sheep were developed in the Near East; large-grained varieties of wheat (emmer and einkorn) had been developed, and people began following the Eurasian steppes from the Black Sea area east to Altai, northern Mongolia and almost to where Beijing is situated (and millet was the main food source). They matted rolled wool into felt while riding, to make yurts, saddle blankets and clothing. Apparently, some Chinese terms for wheels, spokes, axles, chariots and also for magic (healing, divination and drug-induced spiritualism) and holy mountains came from light-eyed Western Tokarians (whose descendents later brought Buddhism east). Clearly, some information traveled the other way too.
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 Tokarians had, but were weaving fine cloth by using domesticated silkworms, cloth the Tokarians and Turks carried west to trade. Tokarians lived in the Tarim Basin from early in 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.

Another place and people, far away from Altai, seems also to have largely been forgotten: the continental shelf holding Southeast Asia and Indonesia, the Sunda Shelf. It was huge during the last Ice Age; with arctic ice held much more water. Lands now submerged supported many people. 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.
One of the most interesting human adaptations, and perhaps the most recent physical one, resulted from some folk settling where most others had no interesting in going at all. About 8000 years ago, antecedents of the Tokarians, living north of the Baltic Sea, close to the extensive ice cap (at that time quite large and extended southward) changed coloration, achieving much lighter hues. Hair became brown, flaxen and reddish, while eyes not only brown but also blue, gray, hazel or green. The eye-color variation can be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals have but little variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes; clearly, a genetic mutation resulted in an inability to produce brown eyes, a condition with similarities to albinism. The new, rarer colors engaged visual attention more than did more common colors; a slight advantage in seeing in low light conditions would have been an advantage to a hunter whose survival depended on spotting game at a distance on a cloudy winter day; and a blonde woman may seem rather more young and fertile (than dark-haired women), and light eyes make it easier to judge pupil size (pupils dilate with interest).
Around 40,000 years ago, as the grip of the Ice Age loosened and temperatures briefly became warmer, humans moved into Central Asia, and amid the bountiful grassy steppes, 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 don’t give dark-skinned individuals enough Vitamin D, resulting in children getting rickets, but at northern latitudes, lighter skin is a genetic advantage. Dark-skinned north latitudes people like the Inuit obtain much Vitamin D from fish and sea mammal blubber. The strong sun in southern latitudes sets off a process where skin takes protection from our natural sunscreen, melanin, making skin dark. When people moved to the North, their need for melanin was reduced. Sunlight helps synthesize Vitamin D, needed for strong bones; some people in the Steppes lost pigmentation, facilitating this. Also, there was genetic advantage in that light-sensitive blue eyes allow people to see better when it is dark much of the year, and often gloomy even when light, as is frequently the case in the far north.
In Survival of the Prettiest, psychologist Jerome Kagan shows that children with pale pigment, in particular children with blue eyes, are more likely to be shy and inhibited than dark-eyed children. They are fearful of new situations, hesitant in approaching someone, quiet with a new person, and likely to stay close to their mothers. 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 bands 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. You can find 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, mutations occurred... Someone thought to try using hemp rope to catch a horse, and eventually to ride one, and a new source of power arose...

Beneath Tarim’s bleak desert plains lie immense oil fields, with an estimated 18 billion tons of crude (more than the known reserves of the United States). Will economics add to the problems politics and academic pettiness have already created, further inhibiting study of this marvelous ancient Isle? Destroying evidence of what I just suggested, here?
In 50 CE, the Later Han (Chinese) government allied itself with some ‘Hsiung Nu’ tribes. Forty years later it sent troops across the Gobi desert to attack the northern Hsiung Nu. This resulted in massive migrations of Hsiung Nu 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 CE) 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. In the 11th century, Kiev controlled the largest state in Europe, and was a larger city than London or Paris, into the 12th century.
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. 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 the second century BCE Celtic Druids produced coins (Chinese had done so 500 years earlier), marking the beginning of European money economy. In the first century BCE they began to etch Greek and Etruscan letters 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, and many must have recognized valid reason to mistrust civilization! Consider:

‘Labor saving’ devices, arts, specialization
Economic & political co-ordination
Cities, protection from much danger
Increased quality of life for some
Organized education
Entertainment and hauteur

Class & gender division, marginalization of youth and aged
Oppression of 50+% of population Violations from jealous greed
Soil depletion
Population overload
Pollution, filth, disease
Alienation, 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. Four thousand 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 such pride anticipates fall.

In the 8th and 9th century CE, various Scandinavian tribes began to expand their trade and colonies across Europe. 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 took Judaism as their monotheism of choice. 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. Citizens of Kiev migrated north, then Poles, Lithuanians and Teutonic Knights encroached into the territory.
In 1237, Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, captured and destroyed every town from Kiev to Moscow. His Tatars ravaged Poland and Hungary, and destroyed many if not most elements of the self-government by representative assembly which had developed in Russian cities. Batu established his capital at Sarai on the lower Volga (near modern Volgograd, in 1242), and founded the virtually independent Khanate known as the Golden Horde. Tatar customs, law, and government dominated. The region of Kiev was depopulated from massacres; surviving locals fled west. In 1240 a Swedish army landed at the Neva River. Prince Alexander Yaroslavevich led a Russian army against them, and so completely defeated the Swedes that he became known as Alexander Nevsky (‘of the Neva’). Two years later Teutonic Knights advanced, and Alexander was able to route them too. Faced with active threats from the west, Alexander chose to submit to the Golden Horde. The other Russian princes also paid tribute, as vassals under Tatar rule. Moscow had exceedingly favorable geographical position in the center of Russia, on principal trade routes; in 1263 Alexander Nevsky gave it to his younger son, Daniel, progenitor of a line of powerful Muscovite dukes who worked closely with the Khans. As Mongol favorites, they were able to annex surrounding territories. In the mid-14th century internal dissensions weakened the power of the Golden Horde, and Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy successfully revolted, in 1380 defeating the Mongols at Kukikovo. 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.
Some strong mystic belief holds that enlightenment came from the North, contrary to how the world was populated from the South; there’re even beliefs in some kind of origin in the far North, before a subsequent gradual migration southward. There’re similarities here to the many cultures posited as coming from Tibet, the Altai Mountains, and Mongolia (perhaps seemingly unlikely cradles for population booms, but places perhaps also safer from disease, invasion and maybe even other threats).
Shrouded in myth and legends, the Altai Mountains were peopled by Scythes, Huns, Turkic tribes, Mongolians, then Russian settlers. Writer Voltaire referred to Genghis Khan as a Sythian! “Altai” comes from the Mongolian ‘altan’, which means ‘golden’; they are 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 included in the list of World Heritage Sites; they connect to two mountain reserves, the Katunsky and the Altaisky State Nature Reserves. The Altais are one of nature’s most marvelous gems, amazing in diversity and beauty, with 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; a pleasing touch is lots of cedar, no mosquitoes, and cannabis plants common, growing wild. The Scythes used cannabis, which often dries to a gold, and were themselves golden too, often with gold/blond hair.
Artist Nicholas Roerich, famous for expeditions to Central Asia and the Himalayas (1925-1928 and 1934-1936), was fascinated by Altai. His interest partly involved scholarly theories about the origin of Eurasian cultures, partly occult beliefs. Ostensibly artistic and academic in nature, his expeditions were also directed toward creation of a pan-Buddhist state to include southern Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet. Roerich wanted to find the legendary land of White Waters (Belovodie) and build a new country there. Roerich may have been inspired by writings of the Third Panchen Lama (1738-1780), who explained that a physical journey to Shambhala could only take one so far. To fully reach the fabled land, one needed to perform extensive spiritual practices; the journey to Shambhala is primarily an inner quest! This explanation, however, didn’t deter intrepid adventurers such as Roerich from trying to reach Shambhala by trekking. In 1929, though, Roerich was instrumental in promulgating the Roerich Pact, an international treaty for the protection of world cultural monuments like the World Heritage Sites, helping protect much of Altai.
Beluha Mountain, considered a sacred place, has locals who believe the region is that Belovodie, where a new civilization will start, to replace our old. Historical researches suggest many civilizations started from the region: archaeological finds at Ulalite paleolithic site (in the town of Gorno-Altaisk) are (reportedly) over 800 thousand years old! Hominids may have lived at Altai long before Pithecanthrope in Java. Going between caves and burial mounds, one can see much of man's development from Stone to Bronze to Iron Ages. The population today is a mixture of indigenous people and Russian settlers, some of whom lead the life of Old Believers who live by strict rules, very much isolated from the modern. In remote villages one can see wool being spun by hand, and hear traditional Altai throat singing (an strange but interesting vocal technique).
Classical Chinese Taoists revered Wu Yue (or Marchmount) sacred mountains, but now tourism, with karaoke, cable cars and generally unchecked ‘development’ threaten these traditional places of sanctity: at Huashan (Lotus Mountain) in Shaanxi Province, hotels and bars occupy spaces once Taoist temples and grottoes. Local legend tells of long-ago visiting officials renouncing power, even empire, and reminding folk that ultimately ‘only mountains and rivers remain’, but meanwhile desperate farmers turn to grave-robbing, and the sacred is profaned. Today, even mountains and rivers are not only threatened, but sometimes destroyed, and Altai, too, is becoming a popular tourist, and ‘spiritual’, destination.
To reiterate some, and also simplify a bit, it would be good if our society would learn to recognize:
1. Indo-European culture has existed twice as long as our historical records indicate.
2. Early civilized Europeans revered a central (to the land mass they lived on, not to their culture) but fairly inaccessible (for most) mountain there.
3. Advanced ancient Chinese thought discouraged vainglory, taught life-strengthening techniques, and revered sacred mountains.
4. The ‘forgotten’ Eastern Europeans brought Chinese silks to ancient Western Europe (Rome).
5. The ancient Europeans of Altai aren’t much in Chinese records either.
6. 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.
7. Tocharians may have had good reason to not want fame among outsiders.
8. 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).
9. Their mountain remains central but generally inaccessible, and can become a symbol of hope.

The Scythians and Tocharians had gold - gold from Altai the Golden. Despotism, religious intolerance, unfathomable or objectionable rules and regulations, falsehoods and boring self-important people may not have been a big part of the picture. Intoxicants were imbibed in and 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.
But even two and a half millennium ago, the great playwright Aristophanes was warning in his “Birds” that, should a Utopia be built, it must fend off undesirables who would want to come reap benefits, and would drag things down. Like Isaac Azimov’s “Foundation” library, to endure, it must be carefully, discreetly hidden.
It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination, though, to posit an ancient town similar to early Kiev or Moscow, inhabited by 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, home protecting, lovers of barter who hope not only to improve their own, but also their descendants’, 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)

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, association with merit from distant past)
Each form has subsidiary alternatives: incorporation of parts of another, or several of the other 6, 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.
The above presents major points of what is 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 what one could physically perform rather than inherit or manipulate. One did not “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 love without fear?
Let’s fantasize: people of the ‘posmurno’ bogs to the east of the northern Urals, before much horse-riding: isolated, out on their own. Maybe they were ancestor worshippers but with community values, matriarchal, ruled by convention and some democracy, with non-rigorous cohesion, independence and self-determination. What kind of morality, and social conventions, might they have promoted as norms among themselves? Perhaps, among themselves, and when more under the influence of women then alcohol, their code was something like the following (adapted from ethics.htm):
1) Be tolerant of any lost on their path: ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy and greed show a lost soul.
2) Try not to seem to others as lowly as they may seem to you.
3) Don’t speak too badly of others, everyone makes mistakes; mistakes can be forgiven, but ugly thoughts lend to illness in mind, body and spirit.
4) Be as truthful as you can. Honesty shows one’s will, intent and comprehension
5) Take nothing unearned, unless clearly gladly given, from any person or group. Similarly, respect nature.
6) Respect privacy and the personal space of others. Touch no intimate property, whether personal or sacred, without at least implied permission.
7) Make a conscious decision about who you want to be, and how you’d prefer to react to likely situations. Be as responsible as readily possible, for all the actions you can be.
8) Don’t let others make your path for you. It’s your road, yours alone. Others may walk with you, but no-one can walk for you. Be true to yourself, remembering, you can’t do for others what you can’t do for yourself.
9) Treat guests considerately and with honor, while not expecting the gratitude you’d prefer shown in return. Earn rapport you can depend on with your neighbors.
10) Honor Influence beyond our understanding, alone or with others, when you can, without any asking.
11) Avoid force; don’t even try forcing beliefs on others. Refuse to allow others to force anything on you.
12) Limit your selfishness; avoid hurting the hearts of others. Pain’s poison easily debases you too.
13) Share good fortune with others, but participate in only small, humble charities.
14) Question authority. Really. Keep asking until there are replies with a bit of useful sense!

If all that seems dangerously compromising, an old Quaker saw might help: ’Neither take advantage of others nor allow yourself to be taken advantage of.” Reserve is considered good manners; it is hardly necessary to pretend to be Lady Bountiful. It’s fun to be generous, but also easy, and wasteful, to be foolish. ‘Easy come Easy go’ means things given freely are also tossed away easily. One’s instinct to protect oneself is hardly wrong.
Was not elusive Cibola (Cebolleta?) most likely the place of some more civilized, ethically competent people, like the Anasazi? Perhaps some tellers of tales were thinking of seven Hopi Pueblos: Awatovi, Walpi, Mishongnovi, Shongopovi, Shipaulovi and Oraibi? Or maybe others, say Wupatki, Taos, Acoma, Laguna, Jimez? It may or may not be fantasy that “Japanese Taoist Buddhists” (whatever that means) traveled to Arizona in search of the center of the earth, ‘where earthquakes were unknown,’ and formed the Zuni tribe… but it is not fantasy that Pueblo peoples chose to live in inhospitable places, where they could follow their beliefs without trouble from less advanced, less respectful, folk.
De-legitimization of paradise myths has been crucial for advancing industrial civilization, which has substituted for ancient beliefs in a lost Golden Age the idea of brutish origins and continual progress. Among traditional peoples, the paradise myth fosters feelings of security and stability; the cultural equivalent of memory of loving parents and happy childhood. The newer evolution-from-barbarism myth instead conveys sense of primal insecurity, well serving the purposes of a civilization that must continually disrupt existing social bonds in order to rebuild society in a way that serves the interests of the spoiled, power-addicted elite.
Even today, some Amazonian people are still able to live out life as if in a fantasy of philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau, or the primitive, Parisian painter of jungle scenes, Henri Rousseau, or the Tahiti-loving Paul Gauguin… Tahiti remains a fantasy archetype (a la Marlon Brando), and of course there’s NYC (“if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…”), Jamaica, Baja California, Oaxaca or Mazatlán, St-Tropez on the French Riviera, Crete, the “Holy Land”… Shambala might be Sikkim, the Hunza beyul or pastoral bliss in inaccessible areas of the Tibetan plateau (Xanadu is now said to have been found by Mt. Abora on the Tibet/Nepal border). Arcadia, after all, is just a name for countrified, old-style (conservative, boring) bliss… Could Eden have been something like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, before the Tower, and fall?
Thule as island lands northwest of Europe, Hyperborea as trading oases between the Taklamakan and Ukraine? Kiev or Tocharia as the paradise of Prester John? Elysia, or Elysium, seems like Walhalla, a bit of Atlantis and Camelot - each an archetype constructed for the exploration of ideas, which, it seems, is what the others, in big ways, became too. How about the Canaries as the Isles of the Blest? Where Guanche people whistled to each other, perhaps so as to never need to come too close together?
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 BK 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 learned was but 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.
I repeat: “Imagine a place of exile, but freedom - a place for those of intensity too powerful for stability and the norms of home, to go, for acceptance, for challenge, for liberty, abandon and self-respect. Some of us have aspects too potent even to be jealous or resentful of; their special capacity incurs distrust, even hate. In return dispassion, disinterest occurs - like the disdain and disinterest of Gods. But only from them can one obtain aptitude in pride… and only far from the mundane can one hope to really approach the profound... Perhaps great tribes we remember too little of enclosed another society of unusual temperament, once.”
This may have been the case with Amazon man-killers, who clearly must have been rejects from society, unable/unwilling to perpetrate their community (at least in the normal way). The story of the Amazons may be archetypal: of a distant land organized oppositely from one’s own… Perhaps Amazons mated with men of another people, kept resultant female children and sent males away, but this hardly seems likely. Herodotus clearly believes that Sarmatians were descended from real Amazons; also that the differences between Scythians and the Sarmatians who succeeded them (4th century BCE), were more understandable because of this information. According to Britannica, “unmarried Sarmatian females, especially in the society's early years, took arms alongside men,” unlike Scythian women. Maybe Herodotus had something... he usually did. But he seems to be speaking of a society of exile expatriate refugees, ‘special’ people unwilling, perhaps unable, to stay in their home society.
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 cannot help but wonder why, and then look for explanation!

Maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that LaoTzu, when leaving China through Hangu Pass after producing the “Tao Te Jing”, looking like Merlin or Gandalf the Grey, he was heading home...



Post a Comment

<< Home