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The Sirius - Dogon Connection
If we are to see things in their right perspective, we need to
understand the past of man as well as his present. That is why an understanding
of his myths and symbols is of essential importance.
The year was 1986 ... While I lay in my tent, believing that the best thing about traveling alone in the desert was - how much one is in complete control of your own destiny ... An American president was giving the "go" signal for the bombing of Tripoli - before I awoke, a Jahad (a holy war) had been called down on all available Americans.
Just where was I ? Maybe 10, maybe 20, miles west of Rhat, a Libyan border village. I was well off the road, which was really not a road, but a camel track. I could have even been inside Libya, borders are not very noticeable in all that rock and sand.
In the following days, I was to learn that national boundaries had ceased to exist in modern Moslem Africa - the culprit was the satellite dish. A village may lack sanitation - but somewhere, hooked to a generator, there will be a satellite dish and at least one communal TV set. And someone had made a tape loop with the scene of the Libyan president giving a speech, standing amidst the ruins of his home and holding his dead child. It was played over and over again, day after day.
This was the situation when I walked back into Djanet. Curiosity attracted me to a large crowd gathered about a TV set. For such a large crowd they were unusually quiet. My Arabic was virtually non-existent, but it wasn't difficult to figure out that I was most certainly in the wrong place, at the most wrong of all times.
It should be first understood that on this final half of my journey, I used none of my suggested contacts that I have listed in this book. Now, or then, I do/did not wish to place anyone in danger, just because I was in a rather awkward situation. And, to say the least, in the following days, I learned quite a lot more about traveling in North Africa. By the time I had reached Tam, the silent crowds in front of the TV sets had acquired an unnerving muttering sound. By then, I did not look very American. At the very start of the trip, I had purchased an Arab cape (the hood was invaluable in keeping the dust, sand, and sun out of my face) at that point, my cape was most properly tattered and dirty - so was the rest of my gear - so was I ... Nature has some special natural defense systems. Everyone has observed how children, when the situation requires it, learn languages faster than adults. I now know of one situation that can remarkably accelerate an adult's language-learning skills...
By Tam, I had become a "German". My French had improved, but anyone could spot that it was not my native language. My German was minimal, but everyone else knew even less German. Actually, under normal conditions, Germans get hassled in Algeria. However, at that time, dim memories of World War II seemed to kick in, with visions of Germans shooting down American bombers. Thus, being German became the best of the Western nationalities to be ... I also learned two extra stamps to not have in your passport - South Korea & Taiwan.
Standing in the middle of Tam, wishing that my metaphysical studies had concentrated on invisibility - Fate decided my choice of directions. Right across the street was the Mali consulate. For 100 dinar, and a minimal wait, I walked out with a Mali visa. In the Sahara, if you want to hitch a ride and gather the latest information, you do not check into a hotel. You set up your tent in one of the always available campsites. In normal times, I would suggest the Zribat campsite 3 km south of Tam , quality facilities and food at a minimal price. I went to another campsite - to connect with the best available ride that I could hitch, where? where else? My ride was going right to Mali.
In retrospect, I only made one error on that day. I responded to a negative mood and chose to post some of my film home - thinking, "if I don't return, my film & research will". I should have known better, the "rather dusty German" made it. The packet containing undeveloped film, with an American address probably never made it beyond the counter.
Travel quality was dependent on having two items in abundance - for checkpoints, one needs patience and cigarettes. Normally, a couple of cigarettes per checkpoint is sufficient. However, on this part of the trip, I tripled my patience and cigarette sharing, and everything went well. No matter how drunk you may notice the soldiers are at a checkpoint - never consider alcoholic beverages as proper gifts! I can even perceive this situation through the eyes of a Moslem fundamentalist - the view of an infidel handing out free bottles of alcoholic beverages to good Moslem soldiers - that will get you instant "devil" status. Thus, thanks to Fate and international politics, I was on my way to visit the Dogon.
A century ago, the road to Timbuktu would have been the road to death for any Westerner. Yet, in that summer of '86 , heading south, away from Tripoli, seemed to be the best direction to go ... By the time I reached Timbuktu my mind had re-focused back on the research. I noted that Fate had placed me on the same path that a very special Berber tribe (known then as the Garamantians) had used in their migration in the 2nd century AD . The Romans were excellent historians when it came to documenting their victories. After the Roman destruction of Carthage, the Empire was hungry to expand south into Africa. And there in the path of Empire was the Oasis of Djado (in the region of the Hoggar Mountains), the homeland of the Garamantians. Here is where I really began to identify with them - for them, it was another matter of being in the wrong place, and the wrong time was 19 BC. Those special Berbers found themselves facing General Balbus and his elite , full scale army of the Empire. Berber/Tuareg warriors are the world's best (then & now) but the odds were totally against them . After being conquered by the Romans, the subdued Garamantians suffered two centuries of being picked on by every passing tribe, tourist, or whatever. In the 2nd century AD the remnants of the Garamantians began a migration to the south. It was a quest for a safe haven. After reaching Timbuktu they traveled to the Southwest to their present home on the south bank of the Upper Niger. They then blended into the native population by intermarriage, and changed their tribal name to the Dogan.
As Dogan, they quietly multiplied, from retreating remnants, to full tribal size and with their villages built in pairs along the Bandiagara Plateau, half on the steep slopes of the escarpment, they found and created their safe sanctuary ... Their era of obscurity ended when a field research team of two eminent French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, came for a visit from 1946 to 1950. The field researchers had not meant to stay quite so long. Initially, they had just come to document an African tribe with a rather unique belief system linked to the star Sirius - a belief unusual for an apparent "primitive" tribe, but not totally unique, since the ancient Egyptians also linked a lot of their traditions and the oldest portions of their belief systems to Sirius. As their research expanded, the French anthropologists discovered they were studying a religion rooted in a complex and extensive amount of astronomical information. It is so complex & extensive that I have seen the Dogon religion described as a theology whose source could have been a discarded log book from a star ship - one that departed some 10,000 years ago.
At that time the French researchers stayed on solely because of the very complexity of the Dogan's religion. The Egyptians focused on the star Sirius. The Dogan tradition was involved with the Sirius star system - Sirius, and Sirius B and Sirius C (B & C, are definitions used by later researchers, used now, for the sake of Brevity). The Dogan tradition involves an extended series of rituals to honor Sirius B's 50 year orbit cycle about Sirius (A), thus making Sirius B visible (WITH an exceptional telescope, controlled by someone knowing precisely when & where to look) once every 50 years. And Sirius C is on an outer orbit, permanently on the far side of both A & B. The Dogon traditions only tell of one planet, but with a study of their legends, one can assume there is more and that the Dogons knew that the three Sirius stars are suns like ours. The three Sirius suns collectively make up a solar system unique in the universe . The Dogans look up at the sky and see one star - but have a symbol of three circles in their tradition, for a solar system of three suns with overlapping orbits. Remember this symbol, it will return.
The full Sirius system is important to the Dogon. Ironically it is the unseen portion of the system that is linked to the essence of their religion. Sirius C , translated from the Dogon language (and then into English) is called the "Sun of Women". A rather unique factor about the Dogon belief system are the legends elated to Sirius C and the planet that orbits about that sun. The Dogan have a symbolic drawing of this planet as it orbits Sirius C. It should be noted that the Dogon tradition 54 includes a full awareness that planets orbit suns , a knowledge that contains a rough awareness of our solar system. The Dogon legends even includes information about our moon, which they describe as "dry and dead" - information shared in the 1940s. Not bad for a "primitive" people. ... The planet that orbits the Sun of Women has a unique name, the "Star of Women". I do not believe "star" is so much a translation error as it is the Dogan way of designating the importance of the planet. There are two symbols for the Star of Women , and these will also return again.
Sirius C ( the Sun of Women ) is described by the Dogan as "the seat of the female souls of living or future beings" . Its symbol contains two pair of lines that are relevant features of a Dogan legend. They believe that Sirius C "sends out two pairs of beams" - and that the beams represent "a feminine figure". The legend has an addenda that seems to underline the fact that the subject at hand is not astronomy - "It is the only star which emits these beams" ... I must step out of context to share some most relevant examples. A great many of the most ancient of Egyptian temples , such as the temple of Isis at Denerah, were created so that the light of the helical rising of Sirius would travel down the main corridor to place its red glow upon the altar in the inner sanctum of the temple - when that light reached the altar, the beam of light from Sirius was transformed into Sothis , the Star Goddess. In a manner of speaking, the same belief system was involved in the Greek Temples, such as the Parthenon, which were oriented to receive the beams of light from the Pleiades into their inner sanctums, where the beams were then transformed into seven women ... Research is currently in progress , to validate a similar transformation. As the beams from the Pleiades entered Egyptian temples of Hathor , and became the 7 Hathors/Kittikas, female judges of mankind. All of this was researched and recorded (from Mali, to Egypt, to Greece) decades, even centuries, prior to the first utterance of that classic phrase, "Beam me up Scotty".
Within the Dogon tradition, those pairs of feminine figures beamed down from the star/sun/planet of Women to their original home near the Hoggar mountains , bringing many aspects of civilization to the ancestors of their tribes.There is one last Dogon symbol, collected by the French researchers, that is most relevant. The equilateral cross within a circle represents the whole system of the Sun of Women and Star (planet) of Women.
In 1950, the two French anthropologists returned home and published their ethnography of a quaint African tribe , with a very complex mythology linked with mythical knowledge about unseen stars. The report received proper respect for its scholarship and was beginning to gather dust in the academic stacks ... Then Fate stepped in. One of the researchers just happened to glance at another scientific paper, an astronomical report. Some astronomers had been researching fluctuation in the movement of Sirius and had concluded there was a probability of one or more celestial bodies with sufficient gravitational pull to be one or two stars with overlapping orbits ... The rest is history. Though a history limited to insiders ... The only conclusion for the "how" the Dogon had such information in their mythology - was way beyond the academically approved answer. The event has been recorded in several books such as : The Sirius Mystery, by Robert Temple & The Sirius Connection by Muarry Hope. Equally unacceptable were insider hints that it was the Dogon information about the 50 year cycle of Sirius B that allowed the United States Naval observatory to be correctly positioned to make the first photograph of that star in 1970.
Now, let us return to that strange ancient rock painting in the Jabbaren area of the Tassili. The painting was so strange that it had even confounded Douglas Mazonowicz of course he did not have Fate pushing him South, all the way to Timbuktu and beyond.
Look at the paintings and remember the Dogon legends and symbols. What do you see? I see : (1) a set of three circles, symbols of the three star, Sirius Star System ; (2) five circles in the shape of an equilateral cross, the symbol of the planet, the "Star of Women"; and two strange circles.
Even on the Dogon's ancient, home turf, one could consider the possibility of a coincidence. Until you look closer at the two strange circles. Or, at least, at first glance they look like two circles, each containing a pair of figures. The large circle is truely special. Ancient rock artists did not waste paint , every brush stroke had purpose. The artist of this work spent extra time (and a great amount of skill) to paint curved lines so the circle would be perceived as a circular globe - which then makes the figures appear to be floating in the middle of the ball. The smaller circle contains no dimensional art, however it contains something more relevant. Please note those sets of double strokes, the Dogon symbol for intergalactic beam travel.
There are other features of the general scene - a human standing to the side, with hands raised in awe or greetings. Time and extended study in the field (would you believe that I am now anxious to return - though I would first double check the mood of the current American President) all the parts will be fully understood ... For now, it was important to give you a double reminder of two prime symbols.
After my personal migration to the south and considering all the years of intense research that had gone before me, I expected to be nothing more than an observant tourist. However, I could not help but observe two rather unique features. (1) For a tribe seeking to hide from the world, it is indeed strange that the prime village (today, there are 700 Dogon villages with a total population of 250,000 ) was built in the overhang of one of the most obvious landmarks I have ever seen. The Dogon call it "the Sacred Mound", - that is not a good physical description. The mound is a giant natural finger of white stone that rises ,at least, 500 feet above the surrounding area. (2) Even more obvious, the village beneath an overhang of the "mound", is a virtual duplicate of several Anazazi pueblos at Mesa Verde in Colorado. Nearly half of the other Dogon villages bear a resemblance to the same architectural style.
Then I had the opportunity to view a dance , one that I have since studied photos of from another expedition to verify my initial reaction. I should first point out that I had observed this feature around the world, in a number of other tribes whose ancestral roots were matriarchal, but either migrated to a patriarchal zone, or became surrounded , even merged, with patriarchal tribes . The oral mythology of such tribes usually remains intact, to some degree. However, if their myths involve public dances, even if they originally depicted female individuals, the honour of being the dancer quite often goes to the men of the tribe. The Dogon dance in mention is danced by men - wearing artificial female breasts. A number of these dancers also perform on stilts (offering the possible theme of the higher importance of the depicted individual - it also held the possibility of someone who could fly above all others). It was difficult to verify in the crowd of dancers, but at least among the dancers on stilts, they performed in pairs. What really stood out, and would not have been that special to the original French researchers, were the masks worn by the dancers. The masks were made of cowrie shells, (the world- wide Yoni symbol - representing the "divine vulva" - from the Solutrean period, some 20,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptian sarcophagi were decorated with such shells. Today, the Dogon masks of gray cowrie shells have been shaped into the form of a rather alien face, with dark angular holes for the eyes, bringing to mind other faces.
Some departing Mali travel suggestions ... The government is well aware of the Dogon's tourist potential. Do not try to buck their system. Start in Bandiagar, with a meeting with the Mali Tourist Organization (SMERT) and rent an official SMERT guide, if your French is lacking, you will need one ... Then if you need extra help, see if you can contact Mamadou, he used to hang out around Le Conseil in Bandiagar. If your French is fluent, you are in for a treat. The Dogon have maintained and continue to practice their religion. With the exception of patriarchal encroachment, their traditions are all intact. And the younger Dogans speak French ... I hope you have noted that in every area of this journey, French is second to the native language. If you want to travel, French is still the international language.
While in Mali, why not include Timbuktu, if for no other reason than to annoy your well-traveled friends. But don't expect much. This may sound cold, but I believe even SMERT would agree, there is not much there now. The glory is in their past - still alive is only the mystique of the name, Timbuktu. If you really want the dubious pleasure of experiencing a camel ride, you should do it in Timbuktu, SMERT manages camel rides to nearby Tuareg villages for only about $15. By the way, the miserable beasts are not in Timbuktu for the tourist trade, they are truly still in use. Twice each year, salt caravans depart from Timbuktu across the Sahara. Each caravan contains some 3,000 camels. The caravans depart in March & November, the Tuaregs know the seasons, those are the two times to travel the Sahara. A final travel thought on Africa. If all this has tempted you to travel to the West Coast of Africa, do not be tempted to travel much further south. Whole new problems are surfacing in Africa. Please look at the map, you would be heading in the direction of Zaire - the country with a river by the name of Ebola. If the name does not remind you of the problem - you are not sufficiently current on Africa to make such a journey.
Once I was out of Africa, I paused only to visit Dublin to have a rough outline of my Ogham research reported by a respected writer for a major newspaper, it was printed in The Irish Times on Monday, August 11, 1986. It is a researcher's form of copyrighting.
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