Catal Huyuk Gnosis Magazine

Gnosis Magazine Spring 1990

Volcano eruption wall painting from Catal Huyuk


The Temple City of Prehistoric Anatolia


INTRODUCTION: Academic studies are not gnosis, but can be used to help chart the way through the wilderness of the spiritual process. In modern esoteric practice intellectual study is a necessity; A century ago a lucky person encountered one esoteric school in their lifetime, today, dozens of schools advertise their wares, and no quality standards exist to separate introductory from advanced, gold from dross. ldries Shah, a skilled proponent of Sufi thought, repeatedly warns that most of what is taught and written about esotericism is actually the broken, fossilized remains of once-living schools. We study the bones of the ancient esoteric philosophies; the oral traditions, and especially the practical, experiential traditions, have been lost, or nearly so.

This is the reason that esoteric practicioners need to study the ancient cultures. We are working with the damaged and fragmentary remains of an esoteric tradition which, stretching back many thousands of years, bas taken  innumerable forms as it was adapted to the needs of culture after culture. The Vedas and the Sutras, the Torah, Bible, and Koran, cannot be understood out of context; their true, complex, interwoven levels of meaning are distorted by translation, and the world in which they were based, the agricultural city-state civilizations which dominated our planet thousands of years ago, is entirely foreign to us. We have little hope of understanding the original ideas and practices of the great spiritual teachers unless we can, at least to some degree, put ourselves in their place. Thus, the study of the archaeology and history of spiritual traditions is one of the few ways we can test the quality of our modern esoteric material. With this in mind, let us turn to the Near East, the rough northern edge of the Fertile Crescent. the cradle of civilization. The time is 8,000 years B. C.,  the place is Anatolia, the rich central plateau of what is now modern day Turkey For millennia Anatolia bas been a fountainhead of the Esoteric Tradition. And it all started at Catal Huyuk.


The City at the Center of the Ancient World

Ancient cities, as we find them today, are not impressive sights. All that remains of Catal Huyuk (Chat-al Hoo-yook), the first city, is a gullied, pitted mound, floating in a rolling plain of wheatfields. Little is left to show that this place was a primary source of Western civilization, a nexus of trade and ideas for two thousand years, the first organized cosmopolitan city-state, and arguably the source of the Great Mother Goddess religion -- the universal faith of Europe, the Near East, and the Far East before the great empires of the Fertile Crescent arose. Sadly, most of the research on this unique neolithic site has been abandoned, and thousands of pages of analysis remain unpublished. Only one acre of the thirty-two acre mound has been systematically excavated, recorded, and reported. Those excavations reveal an almost fairy-tale city of shrines and temples, of philosophy, luxury, and wealth. This was Catal Huyuk, the ancestress of all other cities, a unique Temple City that was the religious center of the first great prehistoric civilization.

The oldest layer of Catal Huyuk yet excavated (virgin soil has not been reached) is reliably carbon dated to 6,500 B.C,, and reveals a thriving, completely developed and planned, city. While no traces of a town preceding the city were found in the excavated areas, it seems reasonable to assume that several hundred years (and possibly several millennia) before 6,500 B.C. the site was occupied, found ideal, and then developed from a village into a town, and finally into a city.

Twelve successive layers of building, representing distinct stages of the city and reflecting different eras of its history, have been found. The top layers of the mound, containing the most recent buildings, are dated at 5,600 B.C. The city was mysteriously abandoned at about this time, and a new city, labeled Catal Huyuk West, was founded several miles away across the Carsamba Cay river. While Catal Huyuk West has barely been investigated, the site appears to have been occupied for another 700 years until it, too, was abandoned. After 4.900 B.C. the entire area was forsaken -- there are no traces of any later buildings or further occupation after neolithic times. Thus, the full duration of this early civilization looks as though it should be measured from approximately 7,000 B.C. to 4,900 B.C., some 2,100 years, give or take a century,  "The neolithic civilization revealed at Catal Huyuk shines like a supernova among the rather dim galaxy of contemprary peasant cultures," says James Mellaart, excavator of Catal Huyuk and premier authority on the ancient Near East.

At a time when a "big" town like early Hacilar had ten houses, Catal Huyuk was a multiracial city of 6,000 people. Mellaart maps out Catal Huyuk-style village sites stretching out over a trade network of hundreds of miles; the city appears to have been the central hub of a widespread population. At certain times of the year this rural population almost certainly congregated at the city for trade, marriage-exchange, and the religious services offered by the city's many shrines and temples.

The widespread presence of trade goods and materials from the Anatolian plateau, found throughout the Near and Middle East, reinforces the notion that traders must have regularly visited the city. We can imagine the plastered outer wall of the city's houses, a brilliantly painted natural defensive enclosure, as a spectacle for the benefit of visiting traders and tribesfolk. Surrounding the city, perhaps, were courtyards, tent bazaars, stock corrals, carnivals, fields, craftshops, and unknown marvels of artwork, ritual, and performance. The great, enclosed, mysterious, sacred city towered over it all -- the first human-made mountain, the first pyramid.

These days we live in cities of millions, and occupy single buildings that comfortably hold the population of three Catal Huyuk: it's easy to dismiss the idea of a city of 6.000 people.

But we can use our creative imagination to visualize Catal Huyuk as its inhabitants may have seen it: a technological achievement as futuristic as Disney's Epcot Center is for us, an unmatched concentration of the best and the brightest. This was a bustling place, the largest concentration of humans on the planet, and in its time there was simply nothing else like it.

The Great Mother Goddess seated on a throne, her hands on the heads of leopards. This is a characteristic ceramic statuette from Catal Huyuk.

The Great Mother of Catal Huyuk


Continued on page 2


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