By Sharon St Joan
In his remarkable book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods, Andrew Collins paints a portrayal of the possible cosmic significance of these great mysterious circles of stone pillars, in southeastern Turkey, whose origins go back nearly 12,000 years into the past, to the time of the ending of the last great Ice Age. They are believed to be the oldest megalithic structures in the world.
Obviously, no one today can know for sure what the builders of Gobekli Tepe intended or what they were thinking.
On some of the stone circles, imaginative depictions of animals are carved on the right sides of each of the great pillars – only on the right side, with no carvings on the left. Andrew Collins makes the point that these seemed to be designed for circumambulation – as devotees would have walked clockwise around the great circle, they would have been able to view all the carved animals; whereas, if they walked counterclockwise, they would have seen no carvings. In Hindu and Buddhist temples today, circumambulation is always clockwise. In Islam, on the other hand, during the hajj, pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba in a counterclockwise direction. Collins notes that sun dials, and later clocks, were designed to reflect the movement of the sun, and to go clockwise.
A century or so ago, it used to be thought that the Greeks invented the zodiac, dividing the sky and the seasons into 12 segments. There were many much earlier cultures, however, who used this division of the sky into 12 segments.
Andrew Collins states that, by at least 2400 B.C.E., and probably long before, the Indus Valley civilization had divided the celestial horizon into 12 parts, and they were using an instrument made of shell to mark off 360 degrees on the horizon. Some of the great enclosures of Gobekli Tepe are divided by their pillars or columns into 12 parts, though there is no evidence that these ancient builders were thinking in terms of a zodiac. Perhaps they were, or perhaps they weren’t. We may never know.
The placement of two large pillars in the center of the Gobekli Tepe enclosures suggests an axis mundi or world axis – portrayed in spiritual traditions throughout the world.
Seen as the cosmic tree or the cosmic mountain, the world axis is the line linking the earth, the heavens and the underworld – or the many worlds or levels, depending on the views of the particular culture. In Hopi and other southwest Puebloan traditions, the sipapu is the point of connection between the worlds and the point of emergence from the previous world into this earthly world. It is not a mountain, but a straight line, with openings from world to world. It is believed by many Hopis to be located in the Grand Canyon, the place of creation, where people emerged into this world from the previous world which was underground.
Collins points out what seem to be a number of celestial correspondences between the stone pillars and the stars, and he mentions that the Sabaeans, who were star worshippers living in the city of Harran, right near Gobekli Tepe, are known to have held an annual celebration, the Mystery of the North, during which they revered the northern direction as the source of life. These people, living around 8,000 BC were most likely the direct descendants of the people of Gobekli Tepe, who may have passed on to them their worship of the direction North.
They are not unique in their reverence for the North. Apparently, the Yazidis (or Yezidis) – the much-persecuted people who were in the news two years ago, stranded on a mountain top, in imminent danger from Isil forces, also turn to the north in prayer, as do the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. The Brethren of Purity, an Ismaili sect, do the same. All these peoples may have had their cultural views passed down to them from their Neolithic ancestors.
Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus. Though the name Cygnus means swan, the constellation is perceived just as often to be a vulture, as a swan. During the years prior to 9500 B.C.E., the time of Gobekli Tepe, Deneb was a circumpolar star that never set; it was the North Pole star, the position that Polaris occupies today.
Perhaps the builders of Gobekli Tepe were archeoastronomers who aligned their tall, elegant structures to the heavens, possibly with a particular worship of the northerly direction and the North Pole star.
© Sharon St Joan, 2016
Andrew Collin’s book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods is available on Amazon, click here.
Top photo: Erkcan / Wikimedia Commons / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.” / The sculpture of an animal (perhaps a fox) at Gobekli Tepe, close to Sanliurfa.
Second photo: Wvbailey / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Image of sipapu (small round hole) in floor of ruin of kiva at Long House ruins in Mesa Verde.”
Third photo: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Ruins of ancient Ma’rib, the capital of the Sabaeans, in present-day Yemen.