At First, There Were Eight

 'While we believe that we want to know about our past, there may be forces that prevent our looking very far'. In a story from a broken future, Brian George searches among the ruins of past civilisations to decipher traces of cosmic instruction.
is the author of two books of essays and five books of poetry. His book of essays Masks of Origin: Regression in the Service of Omnipotence has just been published by Untimely Books. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, an exhibited artist and former teacher. He often tells people first discovering his work that his goal is not so much to be read as to be reread, and then lived with.

We are a sign, meaningless. We are painless and have almost
forgotten speech in exile.

Friedrich Hölderlin, Mnemosyne





Seed-city and its janitors

It was a dark and stormy night. All but one of the three moons had been swallowed by a cloud. It was a calm and blinding day. All but one of the ten suns had been taken from the sky. A soft wind searched for love across the craters of the empire. ‘If only,‘ thought the remnant2, ‘we could monetise our hunger. If only we could find more books to eat.’ Thousands of cars had been left on the overpasses, where they had stopped, quite suddenly, a number of hours, days, or years before, for who would dare to tow them? 

That so many would attempt to drink the ocean from one bottle was a mystery that none dare probe. Many thirsted. Many fought to drink what would not satisfy their thirst. False teachers had usurped the antecedence of the Eight3, leading all who followed to misread their instructions, until some scheduled but unknown interval had passed. Then, certain things were judged. An audible silence broke open in the space between two lines, a silence which rang, which terrified as it swelled. 

If the remnant were not here, neither were they there, no more than a current, no more than the wind. Few luxury products circulated. Choices, if there were such things, were somewhat simpler than before. Since the clocks had stopped, they had learned to take less for granted. How they yearned to re-establish a good relationship with their feet. Certain wanderers grew sad. Many others were perplexed. Why was this last, this most beloved sun grey? Why were the street signs now in cuneiform? Where did all the moths go, or rather why were their shadows now embedded in the sidewalks? 

That few wanderers could still read the book that no one wrote meant only that their names would be removed. No life-force; no problem. Both they and the concept of the ‘ego‘ were discarded. Several billion would be forced to reach for an alternate source of hope. Such light was said to pulse from the stone of the philosophers, but how to call it from the depths, and live? There seemed no way to strip the clichés that brought death from the incantations that gave birth to the existent. The knees of the West had long since turned to water. The UFOs fell like rain.



The return of the repressed

Sumerian votive statues from the Temple of Eshunna, 2900-2600 BC

While we believe that we want to know about our past, there may be forces that prevent our looking very far. ‘Look here,’ say Saturn’s magicians3,  ‘do not look at those shadows over there.’ How good it is to be living in the present, when the light of each city is sufficient to itself. No sun is needed to assassinate the stars. How advanced are our seismic warning apps. How lucky we are to have doctors trained to keep the dead underground. To listen to archaeologists, you would think that all major discoveries have come as a direct result of their rigorous research, thanks to their scrupulous policing of their profession, but key breakthroughs have just as often or more often come from elsewhere. Every now and then, we turn to a new page in our book, a page as insubstantial as a dream, a page that the wind flips open. 

Troy was unearthed by Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman, who insisted – to the laughter of contemporaneous experts – on following the directions Homer left in the Iliad. As if! Altamira5 was discovered by Modesto Cubillas, a hunter, and then studied by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, who was demonised by the academic community for claiming that the paintings might be prehistoric. Experts claimed that Sautuola had hired an artist to forge the paintings. Lascaux6 was discovered by Marcel Ravidat, an 18-year old out for a walk, whose dog fell in a hole. The Nag Hammadi manuscripts7 were discovered by Muhammed and Khalifah ‘Ali of the al-Samman, who stumbled upon a jar when they were digging for fertiliser. And in 1963, in the Nevsehir region of Cappadocia, an anonymous Turk – no reports mention his name – broke through a wall while renovating his basement. Stepping through, he found himself on the uppermost of the 18 levels of the underground city of Derinkuyu.

Rather than actively searching for ancient sites – by searching for where cities would have been 12,000 years ago, for example, on coasts that are now 120 feet under the ocean – archaeologists will often wait for random passers-by to bump into sites by accident. They will then invoke the mystique of the God of Archaeology. Toothbrushes in hand, they will claim the right to limit access, to retroactively control each detail of the narrative. Who knows what we might find if we took the time to look?

Given that Homo sapiens have existed for 130,000 years – at the barest of bare minimum – it is arrogant of those in the modern West, I think, to assume that all major developments have occurred in the last 6000. Of course, we would also have to know what to look for, how to read the available fragments, both physical and as embedded in ancient and indigenous stories. For whatever reason – force of habit or peer pressure or deep-seated ancestral trauma – archaeologists will tend to regard a potsherd as hard evidence while dismissing a myth out of hand, even if this myth is supported by geological data and echoed by dozens of similar myths from around the world. 

A highly sophisticated culture may have had little use for objects, of course, and their concept of what a ‘technology’ is may have been quite different from ours. Assuming that a few of our smartphones or laptops were lucky enough to survive a global cataclysm, not only would we be unable to make a call or to Google the Wiki page for data on that culture, they would seem like little more than melted lumps of plastic and metal. What millennia of theory and research might have led to their development? What webs of energy might have made them work? Of what whole were these the parts? There would be no wall plugs, no cell phone towers, and no batteries. 

When looking at the sonically attuned chambers of the Hypogeum in Malta, at the 800-ton stones of Baalbek8, at the T-stones at the centres of the many circles of Gobekli Tepi9, at the massive, interlocking puzzle parts of the stones of Sacsayhuaman10, at the 100 to 400-yard geoglyphs of the Nazca, at the number of key sacred sites found at 30 degrees north or 30 degrees south latitude, at the heads Moai on the slopes of Rano Raraku11, whose bodies with their gnomic inscriptions  have only just been unearthed, we should probably start by acknowledging just how much has been hidden, at times by accident and at times on purpose. After all, the very word for world in Hebrew, Olam, means ‘hidden’, as well as ‘eon; a concavity of time’ and ‘beyond the edge of the horizon’. 

‘The Earth is old’, they whisper in our ears, ‘with all the senility and weakness that implies, while you are getting younger by the day. The genius of your technology will provide you with new bodies.

Saturn’s magicians cast their webs of shadows through our minds. ‘The Earth is old’, they whisper in our ears, ‘with all the senility and weakness that implies, while you are getting younger by the day. The genius of your technology will provide you with new bodies. All previous forms are toys’. Reader, let me ask you, ‘This morning, are you sure you actually woke up?’ Sleep and waking may not be binary after all. They may instead be relative. ‘Am I innocent,” you should ask yourself, ‘or have I chosen to betray some earlier state of vision?’ You should then follow up by asking how much you want to see.

Anubis, Isis and Nephtys in the Opening of the Mouth rite, tomb of Nakhtamon, XIX Dynasty



In search of a hook of asteroidal iron12

There are stairs on certain shores that lead into the depths. There are suns so black that they can strike one blind. There are factories manned by beings that are no longer human, where no light ever falls. The centuries go by. These beings eat no food. They do not get a vacation. There are skeletal birds that are searching for their wings. They find only symbols that a nameless race had carved. There is a race so old that it does not even exist, not within our frame of reference. They are not subject to the whims of the decentralised plutocracy, nor do their arts depend on complex technological methods. No, they watch from beyond the calendar, from the depths of the ocean, from the edge of the primal sphere. There were eight, say some, who launched the first line of the Ur-Text, of whom eight are left. Wed to silence, they are consummate ventriloquists. When in the mood, they put on bodies. They intervene at those moments when the next word must be spoken. 

At the edge of Aneyoshi – a village on the northeast coast of Japan – there is a marker set to indicate how high the ocean rose, to warn us of its rhythm. ‘High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants’, the slab says. ‘Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point’. At Fukushima Daiichi, the reactor rods have melted. Its toxins have spread as far as California. There are dozens of other suns still waiting to be lit, vast untapped sources of energy. A quick nod to annihilation should not be too much to pay. There are mermen, not yet born, who will point the way to Mu. There are children who must learn to use their semi-functional flippers. There are continents still waiting to be discovered in the throat, which will, almost certainly, be painful to pull out. There are teachers so fearsome that we feel no need to kill them. Why bother, when they are not even there? There are depths from which no traveller returns. A being emerges who was altered by the depths. There is a shore where rests a stone that the lightning has turned black. I use it as a pillow.

There are depths from which no traveller returns. A being emerges who was altered by the depths. There is a shore where rests a stone that the lightning has turned black.

Almost all that we were has vanished. There are laws, it seems, that block our access to deep time. The homes that we once occupied weigh nothing, yet some few scents are left. Catastrophes call from the ground beneath our feet. The gods are hungry. The dead do not sleep well, and they are not pleased that we shrug at the greatest of their gifts. We have lost touch with the role that the cosmos once informed us we should play. To step into this role that so easily eludes us, which seems as out of date, perhaps, as the Ptolemaic model of the solar system, we must take back the power we once causally threw away. We must find the weapons that are hiding in the alphabet. We must reimagine what it means to speak. 

To speak, in this context, is not simply to describe or to narrate or to analyse or to argue. No, to speak is to perform an oceanic rite, to engage in a contest with that which can destroy one, to call something from the mists of what at first appeared to be nothing. To speak is to steal fire from a mushroom, to stand the sky on an atom. To speak is to assert your vision against supposed superiors, to breathe life into the noseless statues of the Ancients, to reconfigure the features that you had earlier smashed. To speak is to plant a seed that will open into silence. To speak is to make haste slowly, to make love to the cosmos by stealth. To speak well is to dare. It is to pull the rug of nature from beneath the feet of Mercurius, to then catch him as he falls. By such methods it may be possible to seal a pact with the unknown. 


 The worlds are three; the teachers are eight

How much, reader, do you know about yourself, how much is securely tucked in the realm of ‘known unknowns’, and what shards are still waiting to be unearthed by a shepherd? Yet beneath us, the ground remembers. There are skies that have solidified and cracked. There are oceans that have turned upside down. There are urns that hold the bones of radioactive giants, of yogis so violent they can kill us with their love. There are eggs that have grown much larger than our planet. You who through these convolutions have followed me this far, who have climbed the broken stairs to a tower with no top, who floor by floor have plunged down through the flames of collapsing cultures, who have reached across dead oceans to a coast where the sun is green, you believe, perhaps, that you have read this book, but probing here and undoing blockages there, it could be that the book has read you. Fret not, the energies thus released are only the beginning. Great bliss and despair await. 

Do you not remember having read this book? Well, that is a separate issue. Such a book is fully capable of reading on its own, with no help from the living. I can empathise. Like you, I know how unsettling this can be. Be glad, at least, that your discomfort goes only this far, your sense of dread no farther. Just imagine what it was like to write a book that was not yours, to see your hand write words that were not quite your words, to cross them out then cross out your corrections, many dozens of times over, when you realised that no simple act of transcription was involved. What fun it would be to ‘channel” occult masters. You could win friends and influence people. With their higher-dimensional algorithms, they could help to market your Total Seerhood. If only you didn’t have to pass harsh judgement on your work, not once but every day, in this life and in others. 

Instead, the instructions were to actively descend, to actively ascend, to actively shrink, to actively expand, and to find some way to bring you with us, without your full consent, perhaps, without your even knowing you had come.  We, the still half-drowsy students of the Eight, were to put aside both ‘I’ and ‘We’, the career goals of the one, the mass delusions of the other. We were to jerry-rig a technology that would let the fifth element speak, to call from hiding the primal power of the word. As satellites crash, as the ocean inches up and then finally pours through subways, as the last bees buzz, as we one day note there is no glass in our towers, we will have gained some fluency in turning against time, some skill in subverting the opacity of space. We will see the remnants of the First Ones in their graves, painted red, facing east, with those small stones clutched in their hands. Why is it that they clutch those small stones in their hands? Together, long ago, we will turn with our fingers the pages of this book. 




  1. Mnemosyne: Friedrich Holderlin, Mnemosyne, Barnaby Thieme translation
  2. On ‘the remnant’: The Anchor Bible Dictionary describes ‘the remnant’ as ‘What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe’.
  3.  On the Eight:
In Sumerian cosmology, there were the eight gods of the Anunnaki.
In Egyptian cosmology, there were the eight gods of the Ogdoad.
In Dogon cosmology, there were/are eight Nommo, or primordial teachers.
In China, there are the Eight Primordial Teachers or Immortals.
In Yoruba tradition, it is said that eight is the most important number, that all other numbers are born from eight.
In Vedic cosmology, there are eight primordial elements, as well as the Seven Rishis–or primordial sages–who originally numbered eight. The Rig Veda, Hymn 10.72, explains,
Eight sons are there of Aditi, who were born of her body. With seven she went forth among the gods, but she threw Martanda, the sun, aside.
With seven sons Aditi went forth into the earliest age, but she bore Martanda, so that he would in turn beget offspring and then soon die.
  1. On Saturn: Saturn symbolises the cosmic law of limits – the hidden harmony that works through heaviness, pain, struggle, forced discipline. It is the gateway between the temporal and atemporal, the lead that can be transmuted into gold.
  2. Altamira is a cave in northern Spain with paintings and engravings dating from circa 20,000-9,000 BC.
  3. Lascaux is a network of caves in southwest France with paintings dating from circa 15,000 BC.
  4. Nag Hammadi Manuscripts are a cache of 15 leather-bound papyrus codices found in the town of Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt. These Gnostic texts are believed to have been written in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.
  5. Baalbek–Baalbek is a large megalithic temple complex in Lebanon, the oldest parts of which are believed to date from circa 7,000 B.C. The largest of the supporting stones are 18 yards long and weigh between 750 and 800 tons.
  6. Gobekli Tepi is a large megalithic complex in southeast Turkey, with complex architecture and sophisticated carvings. The site was built and used as a ceremonial centre from circa 11,000-8,000 B.C. and then deliberately buried.
  7. Sacsayhuaman is a megalithic complex on the outskirts of Cuzco, Peru, built from large, interlocking stone blocks, the largest of which are in the range of 125-200 tons. The most recent version of the complex –circa 1,500 A.D.– is attributed to the Incas, but the site may be far older.
  8. Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater located on Easter Island, Chile, which served as the main quarry for the many moai, or monolithic statues of ancestors found around the island. There are 887 moai on the outer slopes of Rano Raraku, the largest of which weighs some 270 tons.
  9.  Hook of asteroidal iron In the Ancient Egyptian ‘Opening of the Mouth’ funeral ritual, a setep – a hook or adze – was used to symbolically cut open the mouth and eyes of the deceased, with the goal of empowering his akh, or primal spirit—to see, speak, hear, breathe, and receive offerings. Texts often refer to this setep as being made of asteroidal iron.


Dark Mountain: Issue 24 – Eight Fires

Our Autumn 2023 full colour edition is an ensemble exploration of the eight ceremonial fires of the year, celebrated in practices, stories, poetry and artwork.

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  1. Re: Schliemann and ‘Troy’. Although he was a quite incredible self-taught person in several ways, as an amateur archaeologist, his excavations at the site of Hissarlik in Turkey were immensely destructive. It is overwhelmingly likely that he actually destroyed the level that contained a city that may have been closest to what we think of as ‘Troy’ – a city that showed signs of destructive activity, fires and weaponry. He bulldozed through this level to get to a level where he uncovered the plentiful gold artefacts of a much earlier city. Artefacts he then took illegally back to Germany, from where they were again stolen by Russians, who now hold them in the Pushkin Museum. The point is, he is not some archaeology anti-hero to hold up as someone who unearthed knowledge that other pesky archaeologists want to keep hidden. I do not know any archaeologists who work as described in this piece – there are not many in the contemporary archaeology world, anyway. There is room in archaeology for both the typological experts who might be more ‘fact’ oriented, and those of us who follow more interesting interpretative paths, but ones built on the assemblages and excavation reports developed by more narrowly focused archaeologists. There are jealous gatekeepers in all academic disciplines, but increasingly archaeologists work with local communities, First Nations peoples and other people embedded in a culture to interpret findings from all angles. Some of the approach here is skating very close to pseudo-archaeology, which is itself often closely aligned to white supremacist movements and the far right, who claim that ancient knowledge is deliberately hidden. Disturbingly, and I am sure quite the opposite from what this writer wants to say, those who follow pseudo-archaeology will deny the intelligence of people of colour in building early civilisations, and will also call upon their version of the ancient past to support misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia. And those ‘random’ ‘key breakthrough’ moments that archaeology relies upon? The whole breakthrough idea smacks of romanticism and negates the thousands of hours of actual work undertaken by archaeologists both professional and amateur. It smacks of the ‘male genius’ trope, tbh.

  2. Hi Larissa,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and think about and comment on the essay. I suspect that we might disagree on less than you imagine. My writing style does leave me open to a wide range of both interpretation and misinterpretation. This is, to some extent, by design. My background is as a poet, essay writer, artist, and spiritual explorer, and this essay—which may be closer to a prose-poem in certain parts—is intended less as a series of linear arguments than as a memory prompt, as a cosmological catalyst, as a deliberately ambiguous challenge to each reader to probe the edges of their vision. Such boundaries are cultural as well as personal, of course. Just as we can’t stare directly into the depths of our own subconscious, our view of the landscapes of deep time may also be partially or wholly blocked.

    As I write in part two of the essay, “For whatever reason—force of habit or peer pressure or deep-seated ancestral trauma—archeologists will tend to regard a potsherd as hard evidence while dismissing a myth out of hand, even if this myth is supported by geological data and echoed by dozens of similar myths from around the world.” While archeologists, like other academics, may be subject to particular types of peer pressure, sometimes intense, we are all, I think, subject to the force of habit, to felt but unacknowledged ancestral trauma, and to hard limits on our ability to see, simply by being part of the present moment, by the media’s scattering of our attention and blunting of our intuition—by being who and where and when we are.

    You write, “There is room in archaeology for both the typological experts who might be more ‘fact’ oriented, and those of us who follow more interesting interpretative paths.” And, “There are jealous gatekeepers in all academic disciplines, but increasingly archaeologists work with local communities, First Nations peoples and other people embedded in a culture to interpret findings from all angles.” There is nothing in either of these statements with which I’d disagree. Far too often, though, until quite recently, there has been an obsessive focus on the minutia of methodology, on the classification of material objects, and a disregard of the traditions of local communities and the knowledge embodied in ancient myths and texts.

    For example, while the Mayans, Hopis, Hindus, Yoruba, Ancient Greeks, and many other cultures speak of previous ages and vaster time cycles and previous world destructions, few archeologists have approached such stories as more than colorful fantasies. If this were not the case, in 1963, when the topmost layer of Gobekli Tepe came to light, archeological surveyors from the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago might not have dismissed the site as rubble from a Medieval graveyard. The site was then more or less forgotten for 30 years until excavations began in 1995. As Heraclitus says, “If you do not expect the unexpected you will not discover it, for it is not to be searched out and is difficult to apprehend.”

    Even after excavations began, when the true age of the site became clear, there was still a reluctance to wrestle with the implications. With the length of what we take to be “civilization” having doubled overnight, the general tendency was to refer to Gobekli Tepe as the “world’s first temple,” rather than asking, “What else might we have missed?” Since then, Karahan Tepe, Nevali Cori, Cayonu Tepesi, Cafer Hoyuk, and a dozen or so other sites have been unearthed, some as much as 2000 years older. I say this not to insult the discipline of archeology or the integrity of its practitioners but rather to call attention to the sheer amount we have forgotten.

    And this brings us to Heinrich Schliemann and the discovery of Troy (or, as you say, some earlier city underneath it). I didn’t intend to argue that Schliemann was a hero or that his methods of excavation were sound. Since modern archeology more or less began with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and Lord Elgin’s theft of sculptures from the Parthenon in 1801, it would be shocking if they were. No, as with the other figures and events sited in part two of the essay, my point was that amateurs, farmers, hunters, shepherds, people renovating their basements, random passersby, and accidents had more to do with our unearthing of the distant past than is generally acknowledged. If Schliemann was significant, it was because, unlike most of his more educated contemporaries, he was foolish enough to take Homer at his word.

  3. I sense its more than just the doctors who are trained to keep the dead underground. Though they are likely more proficient at it than attorneys, for example:-)

  4. Yes, I imagine lawyers would tend to see the dead as squatters and would petition the cosmos to evict them to increase the property values of certain areas. :–)

  5. The author of this essay, Brian George, has written an interesting new piece, in response to (and incorporating) the commentary he received here. It makes for a provocative meta-commentary on the same issues of archaeology and deep time, as well as the nature of online discussion and the creative process. That piece links back here, which is I why I thought I’d provide a reciprocal link, so interested readers can follow up.


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