I recently read the book The Origins Of The World’s Mythologies of E.J. Michael Witzel. In this book Witzel gives the world insight in the theories that he has developped over 20 years time which answer his quest for the original mythology. This approach was completely unknown and the job is by far not finished. It raises tantalizing questions though.
The African Eve
Witzel uses different sciences for his theory. Mostly genetics, linguistics, archeology and comparative myth. He calls his own approach “historical comparative myth”. Genetic scientistists have found out that the complete human population of the earth, are descendants of one single mother. This does not mean that at some point there were only two people, but simply that other lines did not make it. This first mother is called “The African Eve”, since she lived in nowadays Africa. There is also a stemfather. In his book Wirth explains how this discovery was made and how the method works.
Like I said, it has been discovered that “Eve” lived in Africa. Tracing back genetic lines, genetic scholars can tell how people spread over the earth. They ‘left’ Africa (descendants, not all of them of course) some 65.000 years ago (the “Out Of Africa” theory) and from then on different paths can be traced. Scholars know where the closest current ‘relatives’ (‘undiluted’ so to say) and through what stages other peoples became as they are. I asume that not all questions are answered, but here you have the rough scheme. Quite a thing to say, not? Now interesting questions are (of course), what language did “Eve” speak and did she have a religion of some sort?
I do not know if many linguistics are interested in the findings of their genetic colleagues, but linguistics are on the hunt for the original language. They may not say it like this, but what linguistics are after, is comparing different languages and thus discovering families of languages. When they find such a family, they will reconstruct (parts of) that language so that they can use this reconstructed language to further investigate the languages in this family. Several decades ago linguistics came to language families like Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic. Some scholars keep finding similarities, so the families become larger and we now have families like Nostratic which includes my three examples of above and many more families. With the growth of the families and the consequental decrease of numbers of language families, the question of course arises if there could perhaps have been a single language as source of all languages. Whether linguistics ask this question or not, Witzel surely does!
Scholars in the field of comparative myth either use the same families as linguistics or happened to come to the same conclusions, but fact is that you will find the same families in myth as in language. I had not so far ran into comparative myth authors that surpass the division of Dumézil, but Witzel does that and he races forward too!
Following the trail shown by genetics and linguistics, Witzel set out to compare mythologies (and not just elements of mythologies like most comparitive myth scholars) as far distant in time and space as possible to find similar themes. These themes are categorised (quite like, and using, the classification and maps of Yuri E. Berezkin and thus a picture occurs of what themes are present where and when and this can be compared to the data given by the other fields of science. Through this method Witzel reached much more encompassing families than those that can be found in linguistics. His book mainly focusses on “Laurasian” mythology, because this is what he thinks he can reconstruct best with the currently available data, but he also gets glimpses of “Gondwana” mythology (the only other family in his scheme) and even finds “Pan-Gaean” themes, which would be the core family. Now the Gondwana type of mythology was the mythology of our “African Eve”, Laurasian mythology developped later in the current Middle East from that Gondwana mythology. With more data, Witzel is sure to one day be able to reconstruct Pan-Gaean mythology. Would that -then- the “prisca philosophia”?
Because I always read a few books at the same time, I found something very interesting in this regard. In the book The Bushmen Way Of Tracking God, the scholar Bradford Keeney describes how he came in contact with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and became one of their primal ‘medicine men’. According to both Witzel and Keeney, these Bushmen (Witzel calls them “San”) are direct descendants of the “African Eve”. The Bushmen themselves claim to possess the original spirituality in a 65.000 year tradition. Because they fear their way of living will soon end (diamonds have been found in their parts), they asked Keeney to teach the world their original way of tracking God. The book is a very personal account of the author, his contact with the Bushmen, his N|om (I think this is to be pronounced Ntum)-wives and the way he and the Bushmen jump into the N|om river. N|om is somewhat comparitive to “Chi” and “Kundalini”, a sort of ‘divine power’. The ‘method’ of the Bushmen is completely different to anything we would call “spirituality”. The Bushmen laugh about books, teachings and especially meditation. Being able to recieve “arrows of N|om” requires satire, laughter, absurdity and most of all: spontaneous body movements or “shaking”. Once filled with N|om they can use the force to many uses; tracking lost people (of which the Bushmen are known masters), healing people, but also tracking God and tapping into Divine ‘knowledge’.
Eve’s prisca philosophia
As a Traditionalist I believe that some sort of knowledge/experience (by lack of a proper word, Seyyed Nasr would call it “Grace” or “al-barakah”) that inspired humans in the very beginning, but on the other hand is also revealed in more recent times thus starting new “orthodox” religions. The Bushmen would probably laugh about the entire concept of religion and especially philosophy in the modern, Western sense, but could it be that the are “filiated” (to use the term used by Guénon) to the first Revelation of (current) humanity? If that is so, does their ‘method’ work for all of human kind like they claim and is the ‘original path’ easier than later Revelations which (for the largest ones) involve holy books and a large organisation?
I surely find the discussion about orthodoxy and the way science now seems to confirm certain hypotheses of ‘spiritual schools’ interesting. So what if Witzel or a follower some day (either or not with help of the Bushmen) is able to reconstruct the first mythology, are we any closer to God? I suppose we would still need the Bushmen for the ‘technique’, but I still wonder if that would be any better, or fitting, than later paths just because it stems from the time when humanity was still in its infant stage.
Let me know what you think.