"The correct analyses of myths and of
mythical thought, of symbols and primordial images,
especially the religious creations that emerge from
Oriental and 'primitive' cultures, are, in my opinion,
the only way to open the Western mind and to introduce
a new, planetary humanism."
- Mircea Eliade ( 1976)
My research interests are very diverse,
but the dominant theme is the history of cosmology,
in which 'cosmology' is defined in the widest sense
as knowledge about the structure, workings and origins
of the natural world on all levels, from subatomic particles
This includes the history of science
proper as well as what may be called traditional
cosmology - prescientific conceptions of the world
defined more by cultural tradition than direct observation
and logic. Of special interest to me are the
earlier or more archaic belief systems, such
as premodern astronomy and global mythology.
One long-term project concerns the
emergence of planetary astronomy, primarily in the
ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world. Another
is the mapping of cross-cultural motifs or 'archetypes'
in myth, especially in creation mythology.
These subjects are of an interdisciplinary
character, combining aspects of the history of science,
the history of religions, art history, comparative mythology,
archaeology, anthropology and several other fields on
the humanities side with geology, astronomy, physics
and other sciences.
'Traditional information' refers
to any ideas or practices that were passed on collectively
within one or more societies, often imbued with a sense
of sacrality and veridicality. Myths and legends, rituals,
designs and images on portable objects (such as pottery,
religious statuary and costumes) or fixed on the ground,
on natural walls or in architectural monuments (such
as petroglyphs, geoglyphs, stone circles, pyramids,
stūpas and cathedrals) are replete with
references to the natural world and its past. This traditional
information is often available to us directly, for example
in the form of extant archaeological ruins, artefacts
or oral tradition. Another repository from which it
can be retrieved is that of written historical records.
These frequently contain observations of the sky or
the landscape and interpretations thereof.
As far as the celestial aspect of nature is concerned,
such traditional information has been the subject of
disciplines variously labelled archaeoastronomy, cultural
astronomy, the history of astronomy and other sciences,
and the history of ideas or of religion, depending on
geographical and chronological scope. Geomythology addresses
any geological and indeed palaeontological implications
and applications of the cultural and historical data.
The study of historical information about
the natural world is useful in a variety of ways. It
is of interest in its own right, facilitating our understanding
of past cultures and their outlook on the world. This
is especially felt in cases where recent discoveries
in science shed fresh light on historical data that
had previously been inscrutable. On a deeper level,
a study of historical information about the realm of
nature also helps to clarify the nature and origin of
religion as a whole.
Conversely, historical sources have much
to contribute to modern science, as they can complement
the scientific reconstruction of the past, specifically
the recent history of planet Earth. Areas that stand
to gain much from historical input include reconstructions
of the sunspot cycle and other aspects of solar activity;
appearances of aurorae, comets, meteor showers, meteorites,
the zodiacal light and so on; extreme weather events
and climate changes following the Last Glacial Maximum;
past earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; changes in
biodiversity; and changes in human consciousness and
Apart from the occasional publication
of articles in journals, often peer-reviewed, I am in
the process of producing a series of volumes on the
origins of myth, two of which have so far appeared.
The remaining volumes - about five in number - have
been completed in draft, including the illustrations,
but still need to be prepared for publication. A small
number of other monographs are in the works,
notably one on the widespread symbol of the ouroboros
or 'tail-biting serpent' and one on the zodiacal light
in traditional cosmologies.
I would also love to set up a free publically
accessible and multilingual database of primary sources
on cosmological traditions, with an emphasis on
myths of cosmic creation, structure and destruction.
Such a resource does not currently exist and would provide
a useful service insofar as the original sources of
myths are generally difficult to identify, often involving
old chronicles, missionary reports or anthropological
diaries, or other publications that few people are able
to access or read. The many thousands of research
notes that I have already gathered in the course
of my research over the past 22 years would provide
an ideal starting-point for the project.
Unfortunately, these planned activities
are now contingent on the availability of funding.
Without exaggeration, I feel that the hard-won material
I have already amassed or composed is too valuable to
disappear into obscurity with me. I will be happy to
discuss this further with anyone able to see the value
of this type of work and to make a difference.
Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs