(I originally published this article on author Graham Hancock´s website on May 25, 2016.)
A major discovery set forth in my new book, The Missing Link, has the potential to upend everything we learned in school about ancient civilizations and ancient religions.
During the course of my research and travels to visit the ruins and artifacts of Antiquity, I repeatedly found variations of the same mysterious “icon” worldwide. The “GodSelf Icon”—the term I use to express my discovery—is a prominent feature in most ancient cultures, as the collage below shows:
“GodSelf Icons,” a prominent feature of most ancient cultures, cast serious doubts about conventional theories of human spiritual evolution and the emergence of civilization.
I first set forth my initial discovery of the GodSelf Icon in my 2011 book, Written in Stone. Since then, I have found even more powerful reasons to focus attention on this remarkable pattern. My new e-book, The Missing Link: Powerful New Evidence of an Advanced “Golden Age” Mother Culture in Remote Prehistory, provides a more in-depth analysis of my GodSelf Icon discovery.
The GodSelf Icon is a depiction of a central figure, a forward-facing man or woman who holds in his/her hands outward from the body either a pair of animals or a pair of staffs symmetrically. These twin objects stand for opposing principles, and the central figure represents the hero or sage who combines those two opposing principles to create a spiritual balance that opens new doors of perception and creates centeredness of being.
Students of the occult will immediately recognize in this description the age-old coincidentia oppositorum (“coincidence of opposites”) concept. This is one of the central meanings of the GodSelf Icon, as we’ll see below.
The GodSelf Icon is a central feature of art and artifacts found in ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, Costa Rica, Africa, China, Cambodia, Mesopotamia, India, Crete and many other places. In almost every one of these civilizations, the GodSelf Icon can be traced back to a very ancient and formative era. The further back in time we look, the more we see the GodSelf Icon.
A clear example of this is in Peru, where the Incas were merely the latest and final culture to use the GodSelf Icon. If we look to a much deeper antiquity, we see multiple versions of the GodSelf Icon, from one side of the country to the other:
All of the pre-Inca civilizations that once flourished in Peru not only used the GodSelf Icon, but regarded this symbol as the pinnacle of their culture. These cultures include the Chachapoyas, Chancay, Chavin, Chimu, Moche, Nazca, Paracas, Sican-Lambayeque, Tiahanaco (Bolivia) and the Wari. Scholars of the New World have noted the importance of this symbol and they call this symbol the “staff god.” We find the following explanation for the “staff god” in Wikipedia:
“The Staff God is a major deity in Andean cultures. Usually pictured holding a staff in each hand…his other characteristics are unknown, although he is often pictured with snakes in his headdress or clothes. The oldest known depiction of the Staff God was found on some broken gourd fragments in a burial site in the Pativilca River Valley…and carbon dated to 2250 BC. This makes it the oldest image of a god to be found in the Americas.”
This very same Icon, with the very same “pose”, was widespread among the Old World cultures of the Eastern Hemisphere. Scholars of the Old World call the GodSelf Icon “the Master of Animals.” Here is the Wikipedia entry for “Master of Animals”:
“The Master of (the) Animals or Lord of the Animals is a motif in ancient art showing a human between and grasping two confronted animals. It is very widespread in the art of the Ancient Near East and Egypt…They sometimes also have female equivalents, the so-called Mistress of the Animals…They may all have a Stone Age precursor…”
Here are several representations of the GodSelf Icon—called Master of Animals in the Old World—from the Old World civilization of Jiroft, which is dated to Persia (late 3rd millennium BC):
GodSelf Icons from Jiroft, 3rd millennium BCE.
Despite recognizing the icon in their respective disciplines, scholars of Old World cultures and scholars of New World cultures have:
(a) failed to recognize the icon’s presence worldwide
(b) failed to understand the icon holds the same meaning worldwide
(c) failed to connect (a) and (b), and thus remain unaware that THE “GODSELF ICON” IS THE LOST SYMBOL OF AN ANCIENT UNIVERSAL RELIGION once known worldwide.
My book presents multiple comparative analyses of GodSelf Icons that stem from cultures that have long been considered alien from each other by heritage or through lack of trade possibilities.
Here is an example:
The similarity between the images above is truly striking. Not only is the overall shape a perfect match, but even the small details are a perfect match—the parallel hands, elbows, squat body, and elongated “staffs” in each hand symmetrically.
Here is a closer look:
This rock-cut image of the Egyptian god Bes bears a strong resemblance to the stone engraving of Viracocha on the Gate of the Sun in Tiahuanaco, Bolivia.
Stylistic differences aside, the ancient Egyptian master masons (in North Africa) who created this GodSelf Icon, named Bes, and the ancient Tiahuanacan master masons (in South America) who created the GodSelf image in Bolivia, named Viracocha, seem to have been working off the same basic blueprint. Each would have recognized the other’s GodSelf icon as such.
The visual similarity of these GodSelf Icons is only the tip of the iceberg. Scholars tell us that the Egyptians and the ancient Andean cultures followed the same “balance-of-duality-to-find-the-center” religion—which is precisely the teaching conveyed by, and encoded in the pose of, the GodSelf Icon:
By extending both arms and hands outward from the body, the GodSelf Icon conveys the concept of duality—an idea expressed by the twin objects depicted “symmetrically” in each hand (twin serpents, twin staffs, twin animals, etc.). Standing between the representations of duality, the hero figure marks the “center” or “balance” point, thus giving us the central message of the GodSelf Icon—to find the center between the opposites.
The GodSelf Icon has been preserved through the ages in the occult tradition, which has also retained its “balance-of-duality-to-find-the-center” meaning. I found that there exists a modern “memory” of this ancient global icon, called the Rebis, which has been linked symbolically to Freemasonry:
Rebis from Theoria Philosophiae Hermetica (1617) by Heinrich Nollius. Sun (and Masonic compass) in the right hand, Moon (and Masonic square) in the left hand. The icon has two heads. Male right, female left.
In an article subtitled Secrecy and Symbolic Power in American Freemasonry, which appeared in the Journal of Religion & Society (Volume 3, 2001), comparative religion scholar Hugh B. Urban of Ohio State University describes this figure:
“…the “Mystery of Balance” or coincidence of opposites…This is…the secret of universal equilibrium between good and evil, light and darkness…Male and female, sun and moon, light and dark—symbolized by the Masonic compass and square…all come from the same source…”
In my 2011 book, Written in Stone, I proposed an alternative history of religion, one that views ancient spirituality as a process of overcoming opposite forces within the physical (bodily) self to discover spiritual balance and inner strength. To support this idea, I pointed out how ancient cultures worldwide—and especially the pyramid cultures—all built “Triptych Temples” (a term I coined) to express this “balance-of-opposites-to-find-the-center” wisdom:
The true secret about God is that there never was an outward God in the biblical sense. The only god is you, the inner you (your spiritual “soul”) as opposed to the outer physical you (your material “body”); but you have amnesia of who you really are. Noted American Theosophist Alvin Boyd Kuhn once wrote, “Man is a god in the body of an animal according to the pronouncement of ancient philosophy…” The truth of that statement was known in ancient times and has been preserved up to the present, in defiance of religious orthodoxy and superstition, in large measure thanks to the careful safeguarding of ancient spiritual truths by Freemasons and other members of Secret Societies, which conveyed this idea using the same GodSelf Icons.
The following GodSelf Icons from modern esoteric manuscripts share the same posture. In each case the centered deity, mimicking the pose of the Rebis above, holds a solar staff in his/her right hand and a lunar staff in his/her left hand:
Left: The alchemical Mercury, from Tripus aureus (The Golden Tripod) by Michael Maier, c. 1618. Middle: From a mysterious alchemical treatise titled “The Hermetic and Alchemical Figures of Claudius de Dominico Celentano Vallis Novi From A Manuscript Written And Illuminated At Naples A.D. 1606” Right: From a 16th-century alchemical treatise called “The Rosary of the Philosophers.”
Discovering the Rebis was an important moment for me because it was clear that the Rebis is a modern version of the ancient GodSelf Icon motif. I began learning about the Rebis´ significance in esoteric manuscripts, which described the sun and moon in the Rebis´ hands as emblems signifying duality. When I applied this key to ancient cultures, their GodSelf Icons began to come to life.
The similarity of their GodSelf Icons makes it appear that ancient cultures across different continents were somehow related, even though these areas are geographically distant, so distant that any direct relationship seems impossible. Scholars who study these areas believe that these civilizations developed independently, but side-by-side comparison of artefacts and monuments from cultural centers throughout the world seem to support the idea that we are looking at two peas from the same pod. I believe that the existence of pyramids, corbeled vault architecture and mummification on different continents is beyond coincidence:
In Written in Stone, I presented evidence supporting the idea that an earlier “Golden Age” mother culture now lost to time—Graham Hancock’s “lost civilization”—may have been the common thread that united these cultures.
The story of an advanced “Mother Culture” in remote prehistory was first set forth by the Greek Philosopher Plato, who called it “Atlantis.” According to Plato’s account, the peoples of this Mother Civilization were not technologically advanced but spiritually advanced. As Plato explains, the Atlanteans grew weak due to their materializing tendencies, weak enough that they began to lose touch with the inner divinity that granted them their power:
“For many generations…they obeyed the laws and loved the divine to which they were akin. …they reckoned that qualities of character were far more important than their present prosperity. So they bore the burden of their wealth and possessions lightly, and did not let their high standard of living intoxicate them or make them lose their self-control… But when the divine element in them became weakened…and their human traits became predominant, they ceased to be able to carry their prosperity with moderation.”
As Plato saw it, the Atlanteans were sophisticated because of their identification with their own “divine” nature, rather than their “human” traits.
In The Missing Link, I put forth the idea that the GodSelf Icon is a memory of this divine nature in man—a way to remember the divinity within the body.
In ancient Greece, the story of Demeter and Persephone, one of the foundational myths of Greece, is closely related to this idea. The Greek gods descended in large part from Demeter, goddess of the harvest, who preceded most of the Olympians, and whose oldest images are represented by GodSelf icons.
Demeter, Goddess of Harvest, depicted as a GodSelf Icon, Roman, Augustan period.
Demeter’s young daughter Persphone strayed one day from her home in Arcadia (heaven) while picking flowers in the green fields. Suddenly, Persephone “fell” into the Underworld; Hades below had made the ground open to swallow her. Overcome with sorrow, Demeter searched for her daughter ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die. A desperate Demeter pleaded with the Supreme God, Zeus, to free her. Zeus concluded that if Persephone had not eaten of the fruit of the lower world, she could return to Arcadia. But if she had, she would have to live a part of each year in the Underworld with Hades. Persephone had indeed eaten a pomegranate while in the Underworld, condemning her to return below for a fraction of each year. Persephone’s time spent in the underworld is thus linked to Fall and Winter, and her return to the upper world with Spring and Summer.
To interpret this myth correctly, it’s necessary first and foremost to understand that the myth does not describe anyone or anything external to you. The myth is all about you. It simultaneously describes the dichotomy of your immortal spiritual condition and your mortal human condition. Demeter symbolizes your soul (the divine element in you, as Plato would say) while Persephone symbolizes your body (the human trait, according to Plato). Demeter, your soul, is eternal, powerful, wise and divine. Persephone, your body (who is the offspring or “child” of Demeter just as much as your body is the offspring or “child” of your soul), is naïve, unwise, playful and blissfully ignorant; as such, Persephone is subjected to, and indeed becomes a victim of, the pull and passions of material earthly existence.
As evidence of this Demeter/Soul vs. Persephone/Body interpretation, the myth clearly compares and contrasts the higher world of heaven where Demeter resides with the “underworld” or lower world of earth, where Persephone eventually resides.
The myth teaches that we’ve fallen from Heaven down to the Underworld (earth), just like Persephone. We have eaten – and we continue to eat – the fruit of this lower world, with its myriad seeds. When we die, we leave this place and ascend back to the source. But, having eaten of the fruit, the soul will necessarily gravitate back down again because, in the words of Socrates, “it is always full of body when it departs, so that it soon falls back into another body and grows with it as if it had been sewn into it.” This is the cycle of reincarnation, a central teaching of the Mysteries. It is an almost endless cycle that will continue until, after learning “the lessons of material/earthly life” we cease to identify with the material bodies we acquire during incarnation and begin to find our true inner Self – the soul.
According to Plato, Socrates said that the key “lesson of material/earthly life” is to recognize that earthly existence is made up of “pairs of opposites,” which imprison the soul in the body by preventing it from knowing itself. To elucidate this idea, Socrates uses a certain “pair” of opposites, namely, “pleasure” and “pain”:
“…every pleasure and every pain provides, as it were, another nail to rivet the soul to the body and to weld them together. It makes the soul corporeal, so that it believes that truth is what the body says it is. As it shares the beliefs and delights of the body, I think it inevitably comes to share its ways and manner of life and is unable to reach…a pure state; it is always full of body when it departs, so that it soon falls back to another body and grows with it as if it had been sewn into it. Because of this, it can have no part in the company of the divine, the pure and uniform.”
There is a parallel to this in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, founded by the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster), which sees the world as an arena for the struggle of the two fundamentals of being, Light/Good and Darkness/Evil, represented in two antagonistic divine figures: Ahura Mazda on the side of good against Ahriman on the side of evil.
“… the phenomenal world exists of a pair of conflicting opposites: light/dark, truth/falsehood, health/sickness, rain/drought…life/death, heaven/hell.
—Karigoudar Ishwaran, Ascetic Culture: Renunciation and Worldly Engagementedited
This duality was personified in the primeval “Creator” deity of the Persian religion, an “androgynous” figure named “Zurvan,” depicted in the center below:
The androgynous figure of Zurvan, Luristan, Persia, c. 7th BC
The so-called “god of time and eternity,” Zurvan, is described by scholars as the “neutral father” of the “good” god Ahura Mazda and the “evil” god Ahriman. These twins are born and emanate from either side of him, as shown in this image from an ancient silver plaque. With his children representing the two opposites, Zurvan is “centered” between them, facing forward.
Zurvan’s neutrality between opposites is personified here by his striking the GodSelf pose. He appears to share an arm with both Ahura Mazda (good) and Ahriman (evil), and he is said to be passing along one flame in his “good” hand and one in his “evil” hand.
But Zurvan is neither good nor evil; he is the eternal being between these two temporal opposites. He is neutral. Zurvan is for this reason referred to as the god of light and darkness, good and evil, right and wrong, and so on. In fact, those aren’t his arms, though they appear to be. They are the arms of his two lower halves—his left and right sides, good (Ahura Mazda) and evil (Ahriman), that appear to be emanating from him, like the twin male and female faces that emanate from the Buddha.
Zoroastrianism emphasizes high moral standards, with salvation achieved by he who strikes the balance and realizes that he is neither good nor evil; rather, he is the eternal being temporarily experiencing these terrestrial apparitions here in the material realm. Ahura Mazda is not a personal god like the God of the Bible, but more of a template that encodes wisdom pertaining to the physical and spiritual constitutions of every man and woman. Zurvan is also a model that the masses should strive to follow. Worship is centered on this idea, not on a personal relationship with God.
The GodSelf icon was an important part of the vocabulary of religious and political expression in ancient times. Artists who depicted Alexander used the GodSelf Icon pose, perhaps as a message for posterity, telling us exactly how he became so powerful:
Images of Alexander the Great striking the GodSelf Icon pose.
Religion for the ancients was not a homogenizing force as it is for most believers today. Your purpose as a spiritual being is not to obey the dictates of an age-old set of rules, nor to pray in prescribed sentences at certain times of the day, nor to sit with a massive group of other like-minded people nodding heads at the time-worn platitudes of a priest. Instead, the GodSelf Icon calls upon us to develop our talents to the fullest, to meditate about and act upon our individual purposes (our Will), and to become the greatest exemplars of our highest purposes. We are not sheep to be herded by priests; rather, we are independent self-sufficient spiritual beings who have a purpose that transcends our bodily functions and social needs.
The Missing Link builds on the case I made in Written in Stone, to show that one of the most important symbols in human history has been overlooked and misunderstood. What’s more, that symbol, properly appreciated, is as powerful for people today as it was for our Stone Age ancestors. In fact, one of the spurs to my interest in ancient civilizations was my chance acquaintance with the Freemason movement. Freemasons consciously imitated past symbols in a way that stressed spiritual concepts. I feel immensely grateful that they did so in a manner that preserved something of the past that would otherwise have been completely forgotten.
Richard Cassaro’s new book, The Missing Link, explores the meaning, transformations and propagation of the ancient world’s most important religious icon. His first book, Written in Stone, is a wide-ranging exploration of hitherto-unknown connections among Freemasons, medieval cathedral builders and the creators of important ancient monuments, in support of his theory that a spiritually advanced mother culture, lost to history, is behind many of the world’s architectural and artistic traditions.
Prior to the publication of Written in Stone, Cassaro enjoyed a successful career as a U.S. correspondent, professional journalist, and photo researcher for Rizzoli Publications, one of the world’s leading media organizations. Cassaro, who is a graduate of Pace University in New York City, has examined first-hand the ancient ruins and mystical traditions of Egypt, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Sicily, France, England, India, Peru and Spain; he has lectured on his theories to great acclaim in the United States, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Peru.
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