PreviousBy nameBy dateNext

Of Repressed Racial Memories
and of their Effect on Human Society

Columbia University, New York City, May 19, 1965

The view from these windows—the campus with its many libraries—evokes in me nostalgic memories of the years passed here. These were years of war and irrational behavior of man. Helpless to change anything on the world scene, I spent my days in reading, in research, in thinking and in writing. I came to this country as the prospective author of a book on history and psychology. My vocation was psychiatry and psycho-analysis, my avocation history. In the preface to my first book. Worlds in Collision I said that the methods I had learned to apply to a single person, I intended to apply to the human race; like the early memories of a single person, so are the early sagas and myths and legends of a race, and, like the traumatic experience of a single person, so are the traumatic experiences of the human kind. Three times in the book I revealed my psychological approach—in the preface, then in the section called “Collective Amnesia” and finally in the epilogue. In the section on collective amnesia I said that the memory of the cataclysms was erased not because of the lack of written traditions but because of some characteristic process that later caused entire nations with their literate men to read into these traditions allegories or metaphors where actual events were clearly described. Some of my opponents used this term “collective amnesia” to claim that I had no evidence, no arguments, and that I just presented my theory out of thin air, as if, in this claimed catastrophe, everything, every memory, every literary document were destroyed, and under this pretext I was free to invent. This was not the case, just me opposite of it. Maybe I should rather have applied the term “collective scotoma” because the evidence from all ancient literature is overwhelming, only no attention was paid, not even to those literary monuments that are familiar to everyone. What book is read more than the Old Testament? Here is an example, and the reader could select similar or equally characteristic sentences from many Psalms, from many pages of Prophets, from Exodus and from Numbers,

“The earth shook and trembled? the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken. . .

Smoke. . . and fire. . . coals were kindled. . . then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered. . .” (Psalms 18)

For many generations In every civilized nation the Old Testament was read. Even the fundamentalists interpret such utterances as metaphors: who would even consider that the hills moved—clearly this was a metaphor. But I had behind me almost a score of years of work as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and I was acquainted with the phenomenon of psychological scotoma. The ancient world, not only the Hebrew world, on both sides of the ocean, left monuments in writing, whether on papyri or in clay, whether on stone, with evidence of events of an overwhelming nature. Catastrophes took place within human memory; catastrophes took place also before recorded history: the time of conscious human memory reaches back no more than 5,000 years. Preoccupation with catastrophic events on a stupendous scale was, as I said, not just a characteristic feature of the Hebrew tradition, it was in the tradition of ail ancient civilizations. Should you react a Babylonian psalm it would sound to you very similar to a Biblical psalm. Here is a prayer with the “raising of hands” to the planet Ishtar, known to us as Venus,

O Ishtar, queen of all peoples. . .
Thou art the light of heaven and earth. . .
At the thought of thy name the heaven and the earth quake. . .
And the spirits of the earth falter.
Mankind payeth homage unto thy mighty name,
for thou art great, and thou art exalted.
All mankind, the whole human race,
boweth down before thy power. . .
How long wilt thou tarry, O lady of heaven and earth. . .?
How long wilt thou tarry, O lady of all fights and of the battle?
O thou glorious one, that art raised on high, that art firmly established,
O valiant Ishtar, great in thy might!
Bright torch of heaven and earth, light of ail dwellings,
Terrible in the fight, one who cannot be opposed, strong in the battle!
O whirlwind, that roarest against the foe and cuttest off the mighty!
O furious Ishtar, summoner of armies!1

I could quote you similar passages from old Hindu or Mexican lore, and the question is: why were the planetary gods worshipped? Were there to night a clearer sky, I would have asked any one of you to point out to me the planet Jupiter; you are all highly educated men, but probably only one or two of you would be able to identity me planet. Then why was this planet, named Amon in Egypt, Zeus in Greece, Marduk in Babylonia, Ormuzd in Iran and Shiva in India me supreme deity of ancient peoples? Why were the planetary gods worshipped? There were temples built to them and some of these structures are still standing. You go to Athens to see the Parthenon or the temple of Athene and the temple of Zeus. Human sacrifices were offered to the planet in all parts of the world. Man had to appease these deities; they were described as violent; they overturned cities and mountains. Man was frightened and brought human sacrifices long past ancient times. Wellhausen describes how in the last century, in Arabia, human sacrifices were brought to the planet Venus. Actually Mohammed worshipped the planet Venus (al-Uzza) before he became a follower of the Jewish faith and founded a new version of it, the Mohammedan religion. The Field Museum published some time ago a description of the Pawnee Indians bringing human sacrifices to the planet Venus.

These are still symptoms of something that happened in the past. Mankind tries to forget these occurrences, despite the fact that there is no lack of evidence—me evidence is overwhelming. Tens of thousands of tablets with astronomical content were found in the library of Assurbanipal in Nineveh, composed before 700 B.C. and ail of them conflict with the Known elements of celestial motions. These tablets disclose a highly developed mathematics, but astronomically nothing is true—neither the length of the day, nor the length of the month, nor the length of the year, nor the position of the terrestrial axis, nor the calendar dates of the equinoxes, nor the length of the shadow on the longest day of the year. These ancient tablets are discarded as If no effort was necessary to put together tens of thousands of observations and press them Into clay, to burn or dry these tablets, store them -» was all this done on the basis of nothing? But trust this material and compare it with material from other civilizations for correspondences, and you have overwhelming documentary evidence.

I have collected only a fraction of the existing evidence, and again only a fraction was I able to put into Worlds in Collision so as not to overburden the book. Furthermore, evidence comes not only from folklore and from ancient literature and historical texts, but also from archaeology, geology and paleontology and it is presented in Earth in Upheaval. In the field of archaeology I would Just mention that Professor Claude Schaeffer, the renowned archaeologist, excavator of Ras Shamra came to the very same conclusions as I, without knowing of my work. The description of the catastrophes, though not their cause, is given in his book Stratigraphie Comparée (Oxford University Press) printed in French; Schaeffer’s conclusions correspond exactly also as to the number of catastrophes, their probable relative dates and the fact that the Middle Kingdom In Egypt, which is the Middle Bronze period of the Middle East, was terminated, together with the trade and civilisation of the entire area, in cataclysmic events—populations were decimated, in other places annihilated, the climate changed too. I would not go at any length into this area, because 1 wish to continue on the theme that I offered 13 this colloquium.

At the beginning of the Christian era, the expectation of the end of the world was very clear The New Testament is full of these expectations—of the Doomsday. “The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved and elements shall melt with fervent heat. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new Earth” (2 Peter III, 12).

You find references to the paroxysms of nature in many Greek and Roman authors. The whole of historical and philosophical literature is full of them—in the teachings of Heraclitus and Democritus and of the stoics in general; there are also clear indications that the so-called secret learning of Pythagoras’ school which was never put in writing, was preoccupied with this very subject. From generation to generation all were preoccupied with that happened and what might happen. The fear was not abandoning man even when the memory of the ancient great disturbances that affected man so strongly was already going into oblivion. In the first century B.C. you find two friends, Cicero and Lucretius: Lucretius knew of the catastrophes and wrote of them, and traditionally he is the prophet of doom. Cicero claimed that the planets are gods, they revolve in inalterable orbits, and nothing could happen to them—they will never move from prescribed paths and they should be worshipped as gods, anybody expressing a sceptical word about them, their orderly nature, should be called to criminal court, for a great offense.

Astrological beliefs go back to the time of the Babylonian observers astrologers, who wrote what must happen if this or that planet occupied this or that position, approached this or that star. Astrology goes back to those very ancient terrifying experiences.

Men had to watch what was going on in the sky« But, at the time man refused to believe that events like this could ever happen. We wish to believe that Mother Earth has a perfect past, we wish to believe that we are on an earth and fixed in space* No theory in the history of science caused more opposition for a longer period than the Copernican theory, and it was not the church groups that c^me up with opposition at first, it was the scientific groups which did not-wish believe we live on something moving,

The original opposition to Darwin came from the feeling that in» stead of the permanency of the species creation with no changes in 6,000 years, with no cataclysmic events intervening—all of which is a traditional but wrong interpretation of the scriptural texts—Darwin claimed slow variations in living forms, accumulating to great changes in eons of time. The opposition Darwin initially met was not so great and strong as you generally believe or read in books. Actually, very soon the scientific world accepted the Darwinian theory in toto and rejected the catastrophism of the founders of geological and paleontological science, Sedgwick, Murchison and Buckland. The scholarly and popular concensus accepted Darwin most of all because his theory predicted a safe future for more eons to come. Actually, Darwin finished his book The Origin of Species in saving that the safe motion of the planets, the stable organization of the solar system, is what gives us faith in a safe future and in a slow and uneventful progress of evolution and this is what men like most. But did not Darwin, a young naturalist, graduated from Cambridge with a bachelor’s degree in theology, observe the immense heaps of fossil bones in South America and write that, in order to destroy all these forms of life, from Patagonia, the Cordilleras of the Andes, up to the Bering Strait, nothing less than the shaking of the frame of the entire globe must have liken place? In subsequent years Darwin believed he found an explanation of the frightening record of stones and bones but the explanation could not explain the phenomenon itself and other phenomena which he would not even tackle. In his Origin of Species he stresses that the destruction of the species is enshrouded in mystery, and claimed blank intervals in the geological record: What appears as results of great upheaval was but accumulation of natural extinction during the lacunae in the records He evaded dealing with the fact that so many forms of life which do not belong together were found in many places under conditions that defy this explanation of blank intervals and incomplete geological records. My Earth in Upheaval starts with the description of finds in Alaska, on the shores of the Tanana river, tributary to the Yukon, but also in many other places: gold-digging machines slice through “muck” hundreds of feet deep miles long to reach gold-bearing gravel: the “muck” consists of multitudes of animals, torn limb from limb, of species extant end extinct alike, forms that do not belong together, and similar finds were made in many other places of the world. Also understandable only as the effect of tidal waves are the finds on the New Siberian islands, composed of splintered trees and of bones of innumerable mammoths, rhinoceroses, horses and buffaloes, finds known to Darwin in his time. Certainly animals like the rhinoceros do not belong inside the Polar circle. The co-author of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Wallace, described the Siwalik Hills at the foot of the Himalayas filled to the brim with bones of strange animals, of extinct forms, together with others still surviving. In other places animals were found from tundras and from jungles, all heaped together, ostriches, crocodiles and tropical snakes with polar bears, seals and arctic foxes. Geologists, biologists and evolutionists know of these finds but they turn away from them, because there is no explanation. This phenomenon, of trying to forget or not to read the ancient texts in their literal meaning, not to look at the geological or archaeological and paleontological records, this phenomenon is known to the psycho-analyst in his private practice—a repression of what is most unpleasant: traumatic experiences are forgotten but then the person acts strangely.

He does things for which he has no explanation. If he Has an explanation, it is mostly a rationalization, not a true explanation. Mankind forgot the paroxysms of nature to which his ancestors were exposed. If it is necessary to rediscover the past of only a few thousand years, and such effort causes violent opposition, then we have in the human race a syndrome that requires a psychoanalytic approach. The human race certainly behaves irrationally in every respect, in every field. Here is a religion of love and men were brought to the stake and burnt alive in the name of the religion of love. The fires of the Inquisition were burning when America was discovered, and the aborigines of the New World also sacrificed human beings to planetary gods. Most ceremonials of all religions go back to those catastrophes: if we look into the ceremonials of the Hebrew religion, whether it is Saturday, the memorial of the Exodus also a symbol of the seventh age, or Passover, also a memorial of the Exodus amidst plagues and of Mount Sinai rumbling and of the dark shadow of death that covered the desert for a generation. Almost every ceremonial in the Hebrew religion and likewise in every other religion goes back to these unusual events.

I have a predecessor in Nicolas Boulanger, born in 1722, who lived only to the age of 37, a contemporary of Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, and to me by far the greatest among them. He left six volumes and one theme is in all of them, actually what I am telling you. He was not a religious man, almost the opposite of it. He was a contributor to the Encyclopedie of Diderot, and wrote for it the entry on the Deluge; one idea occupier? his mind in all his work, the ancient catastrophes. About them he says: “We still tremble today as a consequence of the deluge and our institutions still pass on to us the fears and the apocalyptic ideas of our first fathers. Terror survives from race to race. . . The child will dread in perpetuity what frightened his ancestors. We shall there see the origin of the terrors which throughout the ages have alarmed the minds of men always possessed by ideas of the devastation of the world. There we shall see generated the destructive fanaticism, the enthusiasm which leads men to commit the greatest excesses against them-sieves and against their fellows, the spirit of persecution and intolerance which under the name of zeal makes man believe that he has the right to torment those who do not adore with him the same celestial monarch, or who do not have the same opinion he does about His essence or His cult.”

There is in our heritage fear and of hatred of man for man reaching from ancient times to our own days. He perhaps prepares his own annihilation because we are living in a time when man has technologically advanced so far that he is entering the Space Age, soon free to leave the limits of this ball of rock on which he travels. But, morally he has not advanced enough and so he is in the perilous state of toying with something that may cause the destruction of this planet, after it won in the contest for survival of the fittest among the celestial bodies.

Zdanek Kopal, a cosmologist of repute, wrote not so long ago: “Suppose however, and we cannot rule it out” when, at some time in the future a nervous hand will trigger the fateful button the world gets engulfed in a nuclear holocausts When it is over, such life as may have survived its immediate impact will find itself condemned to a lingering death by induced radioactivity of air and water, which may take thousands of years to subside, and against which there is no defense. If so, may not the only chance of the survival of life, that precious creation which took nature hundreds of millions of years to develop, be to transplant it, at least temporarily, to the moon before Mother Earth may become habitable again? And is it not symbolic that space rockets, the potential version of Noah’s Ark, have come into being at just about the same time as a silent answer to the nuclear threat to life? “

It is a very desolate picture, but it can happen, you cannot deny the first part of it, if it could happen that the first Secretary of Defense, a man of great ability, lost his composure from overwork and ran out unclad into the street in a Florida town crying that this country was invaded by the communists: a nervous finger on the push-button and the nuclear war may start out of some error. We are in a state of great peril, because man is a victim of amnesia. He does not know what causes him to act as he does. I mentioned religion, how irrational he is there, I could mention international politics, how irrational he is there.

As a psychologist I undertook the task of trying to analyze the entire human race. It made me transgress into so many fields. The human race in the state of amnesia, playing with thermonuclear weapons, is a frightening figure. The solar system, seven billion miles across has intelligent life only on earth. If man destroys the civilization he attained and, in radioactive degeneration, sinks into barbarism, the million years’ long history of his effort to rise from the slime, will be terminated and it would be better had it never been initiated.


  1. The Seven Tablets of Creation, tr. L. W. King.

PreviousBy nameBy dateNext