The book, Arctic Home in the Vedas, was first published in 1903. Written by the Indian philosopher Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920), the work was an analysis of the texts of the Rigveda and Avesta. A mathematician turned astronomer, historian, journalist, philosopher and political leader of India, Tilak had come to the conclusion that many of the hymns comprising the ancient texts came not from India or Iran but from the ancient polar region. He noted that descriptions of the long months of darkness, the protracted daybreak, the movement of the sun along the horizon and the position of the pole star directly overhead, corresponded best to descriptions of the sky at the North Pole.
Scientists estimate that Indo-European tribes inhabited the polar region sometime between the end of the Ice Age (10,000 BC), and around 7000 BC, when an abrupt drop in temperature caused the tribes to abandon their frozen land and disperse across Europe and Asia. In the myths of various Indo-European peoples, Tilak found descriptions of the polar sky and recollections of the tragic loss of a God-given land. Yet why did Tilak speak only of the tribes that resettled in Europe and Asia? What about the Americas? Many native North and South American tribes share similarities with Europeans in terms of their external appearance and blood type. In their myths we can also find recollections of an ancient polar homeland. Foremost among them is the Popol Vuh, a collection of mytho-historical narratives, or religious text, from the Maya and Quiche people of ancient Central America.
The Endless Night
In the tropics a twenty-four hour period can be naturally divided into spells of light and dark—day and night. In contrast, a striking feature of the Mayan holy book is a description of a very long night lasting many days. All events described in the first, second and third chapters occur “during night.” The sun, it was said, had not been created yet. Epic heroes Hunahpu and Ixbalanque carried out all their heroic deeds “in the darkness of night.” All people, heroes and even Gods wait impatiently for the coming of the sun, but it never appears. Over the world an endless night prevails.
This is perfectly understandable, when one recalls that time passes differently in the kingdom of God than in the world of men. This notion can be found in the holy myths of many different peoples, including the Mayans. If 24 hours on earth is made up of day and night, then in the world of gods, day and night can stretch out over a year. One widespread myth concerns a man who ends up in the world of gods. It seems to him that he has spent three days there; however, upon returning home it turns out that he has been there for three years (or even three hundred years—a typical epic exaggeration). A day in the world of the gods covers a whole year. It seems entirely plausible that such a myth could have developed only in the vicinity of the North Pole, where dark and light periods divide not the day but the year into two parts. Night at the poles, after all, when the sun is completely hidden goes on for months.
During the polar night only one thing lights up the dark sky—the northern lights. In the Popol Vuh a character called “Vucub-Caquix” announces himself as “the true sun for the whole world.” The real sun, however, is not yet created. Vucub-Caquix simply has feathers that shine brightly in the darkness. So he is the “false sun” and thus is killed. Is it possible that this character with his feathery glow is actually a mythical representation of the northern lights—a false light in the polar night?
In Guatemala, where the Quiche live, and in other regions of Central America, dawn breaks into day very quickly. The sun rises vertically from the horizon and quickly fills the skies. However, in the Popol Vuh we come across a completely different description of dawn, where the holy men prepare themselves for the event, waiting a long time for its coming. The Popol Vuh text is concerned not only with the longing to break the melancholy of the long night but also with the hope of dawn. When called, all the tribes gather to “await dawn.” Almost the entire third chapter of the Popol Vuh describes this expectation of dawn and the people’s hope of seeing the first light. “Dawn is drawing closer,” the Gods warn. But the people and priests fear that dawn will not come and they will never see the “birth of the sun.” In the end the sun rises. Within the religious plan, the event provokes genuine awe in all living things. The beasts, seeing the dawn, stand on their hind legs and growl from happiness. Rejoicing breaks out. Together they sink to their knees and begin to sing.
Such expressions seem quite foreign to the tropics where the sun rises regularly every morning. Such a developed cult of the sun, uniting feelings of happiness between men, animals and birds, could only appear, we could plausibly conclude, where the coming of light, after a lengthy night, represents a great event. The Popol Vuh gives us a clear picture of this long night, the fear of the sun not appearing, the tense expectation of sunrise, and also a picture of the long dawn when sunrise finally “flares up.” Such a picture, however, can be related to only one region—the North (or South) Pole. There seems no other way to explain the deeply religious experience of the coming of the sun, without reference to Tilak’s polar theory. A routine daily occurrence seems unlikely to incite such happiness and religious ecstasy. The cult of the sun, in all likelihood, arose in Polar Regions where the rising of light was most appreciated.
The “Night Sun”
The main narrative of the Popol Vuh tells of the journey of the twins Hunahpu and Ixbalanque in the underground kingdom of the dead, Xibalba. They want to meet their father there and to take revenge on Gods of the underworld for his death. It is the most tragic and dramatic part of the story, and also the most mysterious. Hunahpu must become the sun and his brother the moon. The time spent by the sun god, Hunahpu, in the world of the dead represents the mystery of the “night sun.” Many people believed that at night the sun god went to this underground world and became the “sun of the dead.” Here Hunahpu must pass a set of challenging tests in order to earn the right to turn back into the sun and a god. The Popol Vuh describes the initiation ceremony conducted for a person in the world of gods. Hunahpu must not only pass all tests, but also conquer the gods of the kingdom of the dead to become the god of the living and be born as the sun.
This description of Hunahpu’s stay in Xibalba corresponds to the description of the yearly cycle of the movement of the sun at the North Pole. The basic layout of the polar myth can be described as follows: God the Creator makes the universe out of darkness and chaos and then retires from the world. To replace himself, he sends his son to the world —the sun god who was born on the day of the spring equinox. This god of light grows up and ascends to the heavens, reaching maturity on the midsummer day. But then he grows older and tired, his powers diminish and he dies on the autumn equinox. His death is connected with his desire to go back to his father. In the end, the sun god meets him in the underworld, the kingdom of night, on the winter solstice. On this day the divine creator lets his son in on the secrets of the night, endowing him with new powers. After this the sun god comes back to life on the spring equinox. Traces of this myth can be found in Rigveda, and Avesta, as well as the Popol Vuh.
Hunahpu and Ixbalanque are twins. In the mythology of the Mayans they represent the astrological sign of Gemini. The Popol Vuh informs us that Hunahpu left the underworld, rose above the earth and became the sun, interrupting the duration of the night. From an astrological point of view, this myth seems to mean that on the spring equinox the polar night ceases and the sun appears, and this happens during Gemini. As is well known, now the sun appears in the constellation of Pisces on the spring equinox, but it wasn’t always like this. In different historical periods, sunrise occurred in different constellations (Leo, Taurus, Aries, and, in the future, Aquarius). We can establish that the “era of Gemini” was born when the equinox occurred during this constellation’s alignment with the sunrise. This occurred sometime between 6650 and 4350 BC. It is also possible to establish that the myth of Popol Vuh about the sun god Hunahpu appeared 6500 years BC.
Popol Vuh informs us that the people who for so long awaited the coming of the sun settled first in the ancient town of Tulan-Zuiva. It was exactly here, we learn, that God came to the people, bringing them religion. The long night had reigned in the region where Tulan had been built. The people, though, had been happy with a collective belief and common language. Then one day the terrible cold came. Snow and hail fell from the sky, water iced over, fires died out. After this the people left their ancient town and moved to warmer areas. But, as a consequence, their speech changed. The single, common language was broken up, and soon they could no longer understand each other. This is, of course, very similar to the description of the construction of the tower of Babel in the Bible. Ancient Tulan, which died away after this huge drop in temperature, seems to have been the old polar motherland of the Indo-European tribes. Other peoples have preserved this memory of Tulan as well. The Greeks and the Romans believed in the existence of a polar continent “Ultima Thule.” The Celts asserted that in the far north they had at their disposal the town of “Thalias.” The French philosopher Rene Guenon argued in his book King of the World that ancient Tulan was the old polar motherland of the Indo-Europeans and perhaps the whole of humanity.
By researching and reconstructing the text of the Popol Vuh, and applying Tilak’s polar theory, we can see that the myths of the Quiche tribes likely could not have arisen where these people live today. Maybe Indo-Europeans and the Mayan ancestors did both indeed come from the North Pole.
Sergey Teleguin is a Russian professor of Philology and leading advocate of the idea that the city of Tripura (Triple City) in Vedic tradition was the original inspiration behind Plato’s city of Atlantis.