Of Repressed Racial Memories
and of their Effect on Human Society
Columbia University, New York City, May 19, 1965
The view from these windowsthe campus with its many librariesevokes
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
approachin 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 evidenceme 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 trueneither 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; Schaeffers 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 eventspopulations 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 expectationsof
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 themin 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
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 interveningall of which is a traditional
but wrong interpretation of the scriptural textsDarwin 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 bachelors 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
practicea 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 Noahs 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.
- The Seven Tablets of Creation,
tr. L. W. King.