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This book, Sacred Symbols of the Dogon , is the second in a series—it follows a volume titled The Science of the Dogon: Decoding the African Mystery Tradition , which examines the cosmology of a modern-day African tribe called the Dogon.
Although The Science of the Dogon focuses primarily on the tribal myths and cosmological symbols of the Dogon, it also documents many consistent resemblances between Dogon mythological keywords and symbols and those of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language.
Examples presented in The Science of the Dogon and summarized in the early chapters of this book demonstrate the consistency of these resemblances and show they are rooted in key symbols shared commonly by both cultures. In some cases, likely identities can be established between Dogon and Egyptian words based on common pronunciation and meaning explicitly defined for each word in its respective language.
The Science of the Dogon also demonstrates a consistent relationship between key drawings within Dogon mythology and the shapes of specific Egyptian glyphs. Although we might speculate indefinitely about the theoretic symbolism that might apply to an Egyptian glyph, the meanings of the corresponding mythological shapes are well known to the Dogon priests, their definitions clear and specific in the Dogon tradition.
So apart from any broader discussion of Dogon tribal myths, the suggestion is that these definitions, which have been well preserved in Dogon myth and language, might provide an alternate point of entry for the interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
This premise of a relationship between Dogon and Egyptian symbols and languages defines the central theme for this second volume— Sacred Symbols of the Dogon. What first draws our attention to the Dogon of Mali are the many intimate details of a complex cosmology—extensively defined in myths, symbols, rituals, and drawings—that describe the efforts of a tribal god named Amma to create the universe and the matter it contains. This cosmology is part of a larger Dogon tradition whose defined purpose is to document the successive stages of a mythological process of creation.
What had gone unnoticed prior to The Science of the Dogon were the many consistent resemblances between the descriptions of the Dogon myths and actual stages in the formation of matter as defined by modern-day science. The Science of the Dogon demonstrated in many different ways that the Dogon descriptions of these processes are scientifically accurate. They correctly define the key components of matter from atoms to quarks to the vibrating threads of string theory—all in the proper sequence, each with its appropriate scientific attributes and many supported by explicit tribal drawings that often replicate pertinent scientific diagrams.
Even from a more traditional viewpoint, Dogon mythology may have great relevance to studies of the ancients because it stands at the crossroads of several important traditions.
The Dogon share many common elements of culture, mythology, and language with ancient Egypt, and they observe many of the same religious traditions and rituals as ancient Judaism. Likewise, the stories of Dogon mythology gravitate around a rich set of classic themes and symbols that are already familiar to us from other world mythologies and religions—the spiraling coils, clay pots, and primordial serpents that reappear again and again among the myths and stories of ancient cultures.
Key elements of Dogon mythology bear great resemblance to those found in other cultures, including those of ancient Greece, Sumer, India, and China, some Polynesian cultures such as the Maori of New Zealand, and even the Olmec and Mayan cultures of the Americas. Among all of these cultures, the Dogon are of particular interest because they survive to this day as a cohesive society—still seemingly observant of some of the most ancient traditions and yet also able to express those traditions in coherent, modern terms.
Although we as modern researchers are not in a position to pose direct questions to an ancient Egyptian priest, we are quite able to converse intelligently with a modern-day Dogon priest about subjects that may relate directly to Egyptian culture and language.
Surely it would behoove us to pay close attention to what the Dogon priests may have to say about symbols, rituals, myths, and language, because their insights could potentially open a new window for us on an ancient era of Egyptian mythology and culture that, in many other respects, has long since passed from view.
The many compelling aspects of Dogon life that recall those of ancient cultures suggest that we should view the Dogon as a kind of modern remnant of a very ancient tradition—almost as a living artifact of times long past. We should be clear that it is not the purpose of this study to trace a direct or indirect lineage between Dogon and Egyptian cultures or to endorse any larger psychological mechanism by which two unrelated cultures might adopt a similar set of symbols, words, or rituals.
Rather, our primary focus should be on what is, not how it came to be. As a general rule, for the purposes of these discussions, if two different cultures assign the same mythological meanings to a similarly-shaped symbol, we will consider both references to be to the same symbol—no matter that the two cultures might be separated by half a world in distance or five thousand years in time. Likewise, if both cultures assign the same set of meanings to similarly pronounced words, we will consider the roots of these words to be common to both cultures.
The presumption is that two truly unrelated cultures should not sustain consistent similarities of words, symbols, myths, and mythological meanings. When they do, some degree of relationship is reasonably inferred—whether it is one of common origin, borrowing, or diffusion by some other method.
It is not necessary to prove that Dogon society is as old as ancient Egypt; rather, it is sufficient to observe that the rituals and traditions sustained by the Dogon are known to date from a period as early as BCE and that the Dogon define and discuss these traditions using words and symbols that bear a close resemblance to those from the same remote period of Egyptian antiquity.
Similarities between Dogon and Egyptian culture manifest themselves at nearly every level of comparative study. They can be found in the simple pronunciations and meanings of individual words, in the parallel acts and phonetically similar names of equivalent mythological gods, and in the nearly identical forms of many key mythological symbols. We often find direct correspondences between the ritual practices of the Dogon and Egyptian religions, their agricultural methods, and the shared elements of their ritual structures.
Parallels between these two cultures extend even to the guiding principles around which their civil bodies were established—in deliberate pairs, one designated as Upper and the other as Lower. Such correspondences between the Dogon and Egyptian systems are so pervasive that, when in doubt, one might reasonably assume that if a given practice exists among the Dogon, it most likely also existed in similar form with the ancient Egyptians.
Although it is the similarity of Dogon and Egyptian culture that drives our initial comparisons of their myths and symbols, it is often the subtle differences between cultures that illuminate those comparisons. For example, the Egyptian hieroglyphic language may seem forbidding and obscure, especially when compared to the Dogon language, which employs far fewer words and is documented in terms of an alphabet rather than pictographic glyphs. Yet many important mythological concepts in each of these languages are formed from similar root words, pronounced in similar ways, and carry similar sets of meanings.
So when we are faced with a complex or uncertain Egyptian word or concept, we find that we often can gain insight into its meaning by looking to corresponding words in the more accessible Dogon language, whose meanings have been clearly and overtly defined. A similar approach can be taken with the study of Dogon and Egyptian myths and symbols.
If the surviving text of an Egyptian myth seems fragmented or obscure, we find that there may well be corresponding episodes in Dogon mythology that can provide us with clarifying details. Like many ancient religions, the Dogon tradition includes both public and private aspects. The details of Dogon cosmology present themselves first through a body of exoteric myths fireside stories known to most Dogon tribe members that describe in a general way the efforts of the god Amma to create the sun, the Earth, the moon, and the spiraling galaxies of stars and planets.
These story lines run parallel to a more detailed set of esoteric myths those known primarily to the Dogon priests that lay out the hierarchy of a complex cosmological system in an intricate system of symbols, signs, drawings, and keywords. The innermost details of this system are carefully sheltered from public view and are revealed only to potential initiates of the religion—candidates who have been carefully screened by the Dogon priests.
Above all else, the salient quality sought in a potential initiate to the Dogon religion is that he or she demonstrates an abiding curiosity about the religion itself, a quality that is most often expressed by the persistent asking of questions. In truth, the Dogon priests are obliged by tradition to faithfully answer any orderly question posed by an initiate. Over time, this priestly obligation became the cornerstone of an instructional dynamic in which knowledge would be divulged to an initiate only after the candidate asked the appropriate question.
In this way, for learning to progress between a student and a priest, it became the implied job of the student to ask the next question. Much of what we know about Dogon mythology and culture comes from the studies of two French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, who lived and worked among the Dogon in Mali for many years, from the s through the mids.
Over the years, Griaule—in his role as an anthropologist—came to be regarded as a close, trusted friend of the Dogon tribe, and he was prone, both by profession and by nature, to ask persistent and penetrating questions. This finished anthropological study of the Dogon religion, compiled by Dieterlen after the death of Griaule in , ultimately came to include contributions not only from the priests of the Dogon but also from those of three other closely related tribes, all of whom share similar cosmologies and traditions.
Wherever appropriate, Griaule and Dieterlen chose to include alternate versions of myths and minority opinions about key passages within the myths, intending that the study reflect a true consensus of Dogon thought relating to the episodes of their cosmology.
The Pale Fox can be a difficult volume—not because of any fault in its clarity but because its structure may have been deliberately designed to reflect many of the deep enigmas of the Dogon religion itself. It is possible that at the time of its composition, Dieterlen found herself in an intractable dilemma—caught between the ethics of a professional anthropologist and the moral obligation of her colleague Griaule as a Dogon initiate.
Professionally, she was required to report the many intimate details she had learned about the Dogon religion, but as a caretaker of privileged tribal knowledge she may also have felt morally bound to uphold its mysteries.
Her thoughtful solution to that ethical quandary may have been to compose an anthropological study that was carefully designed to safeguard its own inner secrets and that, like the Dogon religion itself, offered answers only to the most persistent of questioners. And so it is within this context that we find several key Dogon drawings—some of which Dieterlen herself describes as fundamental to a correct understanding of the Dogon religion—distributed widely among diverse chapters of the study, often labeled in generic ways, and sometimes tucked away unceremoniously in the body of an appendix to the book.
This dictionary includes comprehensive entries that define each of the words of the Dogon Toro dialect. One discovers as they work with Dictionnaire Dogon that a key Dogon word often carries two levels of definition—one appropriate to its meaning in common usage, and one appropriate to its mythological meaning. These same definitions are often found as multiple word-entries in an Egyptian hieroglyphic dictionary, pronounced in a similar way.
This attribute, common to both languages, allows us to draw likely equivalencies, and sometimes outright identities, between Egyptian words and their Dogon counterparts, based on consistencies of pronunciation and meaning.
Before we begin, there are three major aspects of this study that might elicit an immediate objection from the knowledgeable reader. They documented what they characterized as a secret Dogon cosmology, preserved as an esoteric tradition by the Dogon priests and shared with a few select Dogon initiates. According to Griaule and Dieterlen, this cosmology is founded on an aligned ritual structure called a granary.
They reported that the details of this cosmology are largely unknown to the average Dogon tribesperson and are held as a closely guarded secret by the more informed Dogon priests.
In correspondence to me, Belgian anthropologist Walter Van Beek referred to the classic plan of the Dogon granary as a chimera known only to Griaule, and rather than allowing the possibility that Griaule might have, in good faith, documented a legitimate but well-kept secret tradition to which Van Beek and other researchers might not be privy, concluded that Griaule or the Dogon priests must have fabricated the cosmology.
This evidence is presented by Adrian Snodgrass of the University of West Sydney, Australia, who is a leading authority on Buddhist architecture and symbolism.
I, myself, required fifteen years study of comparative mythologies before becoming aware of the match.
So, in the absence of direct evidence that Griaule was specifically aware of the intricacies of the Buddhist symbolism, any suggestion that he could have fabricated his Dogon cosmology is specifically contradicted. It seems far more likely that Griaule faithfully reported a legitimate tradition that was honestly conveyed to him by his Dogon informants and that modern Dogon contacts have simply lied to later researchers to protect a longstanding, important tribal secret. The next aspect of this study that might elicit an objection involves the use of an unproved—albeit promising—concept such as string theory as a basis of comparison with the symbols of Dogon cosmology.
The justification for the use of string theory is perhaps best understood in terms of a brief analogy. Imagine that you are a high school student hosting a first-time visit from a. Upload Sign In Join. Home Books Science. Create a List. Download to App.
Ratings: Rating: 4. Length: pages 4 hours. Scranton also pointed to the close resemblance between the keywords and component elements of Dogon cosmology and those of ancient Egypt, and the implication that ancient cosmology may also be about actual science. Sacred Symbols of the Dogon uses these parallels as the starting point for a new interpretation of the Egyptian hieroglyphic language.
By substituting Dogon cosmological drawings for equivalent glyph-shapes in Egyptian words, a new way of reading and interpreting the Egyptian hieroglyphs emerges. Scranton shows how each hieroglyph constitutes an entire concept, and that their meanings are scientific in nature. Related Categories.
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Sacred Symbols of the Dogon: The Key to Advanced Science in the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
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