Myths & Legends / The Atlantis Twins
14 August, 2014 – 14:42 Alistair
The Atlantis Twins
Plato’s story of Atlantis is perennial, it bubbles to the surface in the wake of discoveries that correspond to its detail or timescale. Rather than a product of pure fiction, it is accepted Plato wove into his potent narrative elements of real traditions to enhance the story’s credibility; such as, for example, bull symbolism and sacrifice. Precisely where we draw the line between fact and fiction in the Atlantis myth, however, is debatable. In a penetrating study of the Neolithic consciousness, David Lewis-Williams asserts convincingly that while The Epic of Gilgamesh in the form we know it dates from the 3rd millennium B.C., it contains relics that could be considered of much earlier Neolithic times. 1 In a similar vein, Lewis-Williams also analogises between elements in the Gilgamesh epic and Siberian shamanism. Accepting that Plato’s Atlantis was composed later than the Gilgamesh epic, perhaps we could examine a specific feature out of its pastiche of historical elements in a similar light.
The most curious anthropological detail of Plato’s Atlantis story concerns twins or a lineage of twin-kings who ruled over the fabled isle. Resulting from the union of Cleito and Poseidon, these five-pairs of male twins were said to be mediators between the world of gods and men. Outside the province of Atlantis, in factual history, the earliest stratum of ideas linked to the veneration of people, rather than beasts, pertain to a cult of twins. Either worshipped or feared, twins figure enormously in pervasive traditions of extensive age. A major branch of the twin cult genealogy derives from the proto-Indo-European root yemo meaning ‘twin’, from which the Vedic lord of the dead Yama, the Scandinavian giant Ymir, and the golden-age king Yima, originate. The term ‘proto-Indo-European’ designates language, it does not provide reliable dating on the age of events, mythological or otherwise, it transmits. The connotation of ‘twin’ in these instances continues to perplex most scholars, its original meaning lost in prehistory. Quite how far back in antiquity the twin cult reaches is difficult to establish, although the anthropologist Mary Settegast detects a glint of the twin motif within the Palaeolithic cave art of Lascaux, France. In her wonderful analysis Settegast interprets the enigmatic inner-shaft scene as a depiction of the First Man and Primordial Bull. 2 We explain how man and beast are considered twins in this instance and others further on.
The twins emerge as primordial human ancestors who figure as kings rather than gods. They are yet considered lords of the dead since the afterlife was created by their death and is ritually re-created in the instance of sacrifice. They appear prominently elsewhere as pathfinders, culture-heroes, as the begetters of civilisation and its wreckers. We are aware, for instance, of the adventures and exploits of the Maya hero-twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque through the Popol Vuh. (fig.1).
Figure 1. The Maya Twins
Since so much of the earlier Olmec culture has been eaten by climate and time, it is difficult to know the extent the Maya twins may have rooted from it, although Olmec sculptures of twins and of a jaguar depicted in a shamanic ritual found at Veracruz, Mexico proposes this as a likely scenario. There are numerous other twin myths found in other parts of South and North America. Looking further across the Pacific, the legendary founders of megalithic Micronesia were said to be two twin magicians, and we find a similar pair of twins named Kulabob and Manup, fulfilling this role over Indonesia and beyond. In his wide-ranging study Eden in the East, Stephen Oppenheimer sources the prevalent and multifaceted twin-theme from the Pacific Islands to the drowned Sundaland continental shelf of Southeast Asia and further links these with those occurring in Egypt and the Mediterranean. 3 From early Greek musings other than Plato we gain the idea firstly that twins, or one of them, are destined to be remarkable and apt to be founders of cults or cities; secondly, that one of them was not begotten by the mother’s mortal consort, but by a spirit, god, or supernatural ancestor.
Turning to Africa, the Dogon tribe maintain a complex biological tradition of twins, one that connects the biological realm with the cosmos of which the Nommo are the primordial ancestor twins. (fig.2) The Nommo scheme emerges in elaborate rituals of marriage and birth. If a couple intends to produce twins reflecting the ideal perfected nature of the ancestors, if only one male child is born it is believed he is lacking his twin brother, who was sacrificed either in the womb or along the path of a mythic journey. Rather than glorifying in the auroch ancestry of east Africa and of the Levant, the Dogon are happy to celebrate their ancestors as fish, in line with placental formation and womb symbolism. In Bantu and other African traditions the arrival of twins can be received ambivalently. They are seen as sacred yet as monsters; as remnants of a former reign of corruption and incest they are considered of ill omen, yet when associated with the moon, as a powerful reservoir of fertility.
Figure 2. The Dogon Twins
The mechanism of the twins variegate in different regional and chronological context. There is marked rivalry, for instance, between Osiris and Set; Romulus and Remus; Cain and Abel. The battling, fratricidal twins or brothers were rife over Celtic Europe as found in the feuding Brennius and Belinus; Bran and Beli; and in the story of Diarmuid whose contesting brother was a boar under enchantment. As with the yemo genealogy, the apparent contradiction of how one twin can be a beast (usually a bull but sometimes a boar) is answered by that twin being the darker ‘Mr Hyde’ of the two, in the sense of being in tune with the more unconscious rhythms of nature. There are also tendencies present in mythological pairing suggestive of a twin relationship even without a blood-bond being specified, as with the Sumerian Anu and Dagan; the Lithuanian destroyer-creator giants Wandu and Weja; and, to a certain extent, Gilgamesh and his wild comrade Enkidu. The dynamism the twins embody is not as simple as a solitary soul in two bodies or the doubling of a single personality. They rather encapsulate two mutually opposing elements which, ideally, are balanced in a state of resolution. We could liken them to the yin and yang of Taoism, only cast anthropomorphically rather than in abstract idea and image. They do not bear upon the Hermetic androgyny, however, since both genders are male although the darker twin does correlate with the feminine in some goddess conceptions.
Although the birth of twins is by no means a rare phenomenon, historically the event was viewed either as supremely auspicious or as equally ominous. Depending on the prevailing temperament of the culture, it was the case that one, or both, of the twins would be destroyed. Even today we find some twins attracting large attention in the fields of medicine and forensics! Other than being portents of good or bad, twins were regarded as having psychic powers that could be wielded for benevolent or negative purposes. Being connected psychically in such a way provides explanation for the ideal disposition of twin-rulers, in that their sovereignty would possess, so to speak, an extended breadth.
Göbekli Tepe: Sanctuary of the Twins
The most striking characteristic of Göbekli Tepe, a site which synchronizes closely with the era Plato decided to give for the demise of Atlantis, are the twin pillars methodically stood at the centre of each circle or enclosure. Without aid of Enclosure D – the oldest and, paradoxically, largest circle so far excavated at the site – it would be challenging to discern the central T-shape pillars and those smaller pillars gathered round them as beings of human shape: but this is exactly what they are intended to be. Unlike the other circles, the two occupying Enclosure D are dressed in belts, loincloths, and talismans. They also have arms. While there has been evidence of roofing uncovered in some of the circles, the late Klaus Schimidt, former head of excavations at the site, affirms that the twin pillars should not be understood merely as supporting structures, rather than cultic monuments standing in the open, 4 implying special emphasis given to these two figures. The twin pillars therefore stand not only as the orientating architectural foundation of the site but unfold its spiritual dimension too. These mystifying ‘ancestor beings’ the T-shape pillars represent mingle in the identity of each other. In terms of gender, both strongly appear to be male. Do they embody a conception of twins?
In each enclosure these twin beings partake of an officiating role above that of their circled entourage. Their omniscience, magical, social, or otherwise, is undisputed. The beings they represent were enormously important to the group. They correspond to what we identify as ‘order’, as mediators in what was certainly a variety of tired cosmos – the mythological narrative to which has been lost and, conceivably, may never fully surface. Fig.3 shows a small sculpture from Gaziantep, Turkey, which features the same bent arms (in ‘bear posture’) as the T-shapes.
Figure 3. Twin sculpture from Gaziantep, Turkey
The design of the double-face, rather like the Roman time-lord Janus, led Schimidt to question if all of the T-shapes at Göbekli Tepe should be considered the same way, as if the sense of a twin or double was inherent in each. 5 Although we do not know what idea it was the mason was shaping into his stone, it is currently an isolated example and the double-face scheme does not appear to be supported by markings on the standing pillars. What is more, the notion of twinhood appears rather fulfilled by the fact of the doubled T-shapes at the centre of each enclosure. Recently, Andrew Collins has advocated a twin relationship of a kind between the central T-shapes, in the sense of an ‘astral-double’ or doppelganger of the king, alongside other elements of African placenta tradition. 6
These beings left an enduring impression upon the builders of Göbekli Tepe. Since their powerful presence is repeated over the enclosures and stereotyped at other sites constructed and used after the burial of Göbekli Tepe such as Nevali Çori, these twins were unlikely to be individual rulers of ensuing kingships or dynasties, 7 rather than serial representations of the original ancestor twins, whether conceived as supernatural beings or not.
Figure 4. Layout of Göbekli Tepe
Given its stunning age, Göbekli Tepe reminds us that in some respects we do not change that much. We needn’t postulate a global Ice Age empire guided by clairvoyant twins to account for parallel beliefs concerning them; there does not need to be genetic cultural connections to explain this, but neither do we rule such lines of transmission out for having occurred in hidden history. Having cast our net widely in the realm of the twins and taking onboard Schimidt’s understanding of the twin T-shapes being conscripted as cultic monuments, it would be reasonable to assume similar ideas about mythical twins held sway at Göbekli Tepe. Perceiving these beings as such, we give their figures mute in a Stone Age silence a vaguely familiar voice.
Figure 5. The twin pillars of Göbekli Tepe. Credit: Alistair Coombs
Featured image: The Hero Twins are the key figures of Mayan mythology. photo by Gary Miller
- David Lewis-Willams & David Pearce Inside the Neolithic Mind Thames and Hudson: London 2009 pp154-59
- Mary Settegast Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5000 B.C. in Myth and Archaeology. Cambridge, Mass: Rotenberg Press 1987 pp106-10
- Stephen Oppenheimer Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia Phoenix: London 1998 pp447-58
- Klaus Schimdt Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age Sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia ex oriente: Berlin 2012 p125
- ibid, 112
- Andrew Collins Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods Bear & Company: Rochester, Vt. 2014 pp65-66
- Rather than structural renovation, there is evidence for a succession of leaders, or tribe, in the elision of ‘heraldry’ designs some of the pillars feature in relief.
By Alistair Coombs
coddy wrote on 14 August, 2014 – 16:56 Permalink
Everyone know they worship mushrooms turkey long ago
Guillaumé wrote on 14 August, 2014 – 17:03 Permalink
We cannot escape (but try hard to) to the fact that our ancestors were into their Astrology. We cannot (will not) view history through the paradigm which they saw their Age.
The Age of Gemini came just before the age of Taurus (Egyptian Empire) followed by the Age of Aries (Roman Empire).
Gemini is signified by the ‘Twins’ or two faces of Janus.
Gilgamesh is a story of learning and only with the key can we understand it, otherwise it simply makes no-sense as with ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
That which our civilis(z)ation calls Gods actually means Rulers.
Mercury (naturally associated planet of Gemini) (the deceiver or communicator between the Rulers (Gods)) ruled the Age of Gemini.
Seven Star Hand wrote on 15 August, 2014 – 00:21 Permalink
Twins are symbolic of dualism and like all other ancient wisdom and the symbology used to encode it is completely misunderstood by most. This article does at least link the timelines and details of Gobekli Tepe. I’ll publish more on this soon, perhaps even through this site…
Seven Star Hand http://www.sevenstarhand.org