[Chapter Seventeen: AD 854—Pope Joan]


Chapter Eighteen: 1066—The Norman Conquest and the Orbit of Halley's Comet

If by mathematical principles, or by any other definite principles,
there has ever been one great, or little,
instance of astronomic discovery by means of calculations,
confusion must destroy us, in the introductory position that we take,
or expose our irresponsibility, and vitiate all that follows:
that our data are oppressed by a tyranny of false announcements;
that there never has been an astronomic discovery
other than the observational or the accidental.

—Charles Fort, New Lands

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.
―J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Appropriation of Comet Typhon by the Successors of Halley

I have been accused on occasion, and at least once in print, of pretending that numerical analogy constitutes proof. As Jay Kinney wrote in The Inner West,

In Tarot history, any connection is fair game. For instance, because there are fifty-six filled in holes at Stonehenge and fifty-six cards in the Minor Arcana, to an occult commentator such as Stephen Franklin the two not only might be but must be connected. (Franklin, who connects the cards with astrological figures in a far-reaching argument based on Pythagorean, Hindu, and Chinese sources, would recoil at being called an occultist, but in the strict sense of the word he is one.)

How the San Francisco based former cartoonist and associate of R. Crumb—and current debunker of Masonic "mythology"—thinks he knows from what exactly I would recoil is a mystery to me. Why he fails to take account of the non-"astrological" and clearly astronomical evidence from the history of real-world and quite physical game and divining boards cited extensively in my Origins of the Tarot Deck is clear enough. It destroys his major premise, that the Tarot is fundamentally an occult device, no matter what the "strict" definition of the word occult is; and as an "occult commentator," unlike the former cartoonist, I should know what the word means. Anyone who wishes to determine for themselves whether I am an occultist or not may read my earlier work by downloading it from Appendix C.

My point, however, is that this transgression with which I have been charged, this numerical analogy, so to speak, is precisely the one used by the purportedly scientific followers of Sir Edmond Halley in regard to the orbital geometry and cyclical return of what they insist must have been Halley's Comet, though the dates that marked the supposed return of this comet have varied over the centuries, so that the current identification of the comet of 1066, observed across Europe before the Norman Conquest of England, with that of Halley has not always been the case. As Dionysius Lardner wrote in 1846,

One of the ill consequences of this exaggeration ["of their effects," resulting from the "terror the appearance of comets inspired"] is that it greatly increases the difficulty of identifying the bodies which have been described with those which have appeared in more recent times. In fact, we have little more to guide us than the epochs of the respective appearances; and, antecedently to the fifteenth century, we possess absolutely no other evidence of the identity of these bodies except the record of their appearance at the times at which we know, from their ascertained periods, they ought to have appeared.

As C. T. Whitmell (1906) wrote,

Mr. Hind says that the comet was observed in April and May, 1066, throughout Europe and China, and that a readjustment of the elements of Halley's Comet, due, say to perturbations, would lead to the conclusion that the comet, observed in 1066, was Halley's.

But more recent investigations, by Messrs. Cowell and Crommelin, throw much doubt upon the identification of Halley's comet with the comet seen in 66 A.D., and that seen in 1066 A.D.

It is not clear how Whitmell came to this conclusion, since the original paper identifies the comet of 1066 with Halley, ascribing the variation in orbital period to perturbations, which they attempt to calculate. The authors do, however, arrive at the date of March 27 for perihelion, which would seem to be out of line with the actual visibility of the comet between April 2 and June 7 of 1066. This would appear to be the source of Whitmell's skepticism, along with the rather lame suggestion that the records really aren't all that accurate. The term for the latter is fudge factor.

Charles Fort (1919) had something to say about the "perturbations" of Halley's Comet:

As to Halley's Comet, of 1910—everybody now swears he saw it. He has to perjure himself: otherwise he'd be accused of having no interest in great, inspiring things that he's never given any attention to.

Regard this:

That there never is a moment when there is not some comet in the sky. Virtually there is no year in which several new comets are not discovered, so plentiful are they. Luminous fleas on a vast black dog—in popular impressions, there is no realization of the extent to which this solar system is flea-bitten.

If a comet have not the orbit that astronomers have predicted—perturbed. If—like Halley's Comet—it be late—even a year late—perturbed. When a train is an hour late, we have small opinion of the predictions of timetables. When a comet's a year late, all we ask is—that it be explained. . . . Suppose the comet called Halley's had not appeared—

Early in 1910, a far more important comet than the anæmic luminosity said to be Halley's, appeared. It was so brilliant that it was visible in daylight. The astronomers would have been saved anyway. If this other comet did not have the predicted orbit—perturbation.

Philip Cowell and Andrew Crommelin are still quite famous for their numerical method of computing the perturbations of the orbits of comets, their method having been adapted to use by digital computers. But do not expect to find any mention of their opinion on the date of the comet of 1066 in any modern textbook. That particular datum, like many in the current work, is what Fort would call "damned."

The following is a comparison of the years given successively, between 1835 and 1850, by Lardner (1835), based on the work of Halley, and Hind (1850), upon the work of which the currently accepted modern scheme is based, for the return of Comet Halley. The reader should note that the alternative date for the return of Halley, as implied by Lardner's chronology, of AD 1080 agrees with the observation of a comet made in China beginning on August 10 of the third year of the Epoch of Yuen Fung and reproduced in Observations of Comets, from B.C. 611 to A.D. 1640, by John Williams (1871):

Appearances of Halley's Comet according to Various Authorities,
Aligned with the Appearances of Typhon/Seth

Typhon/Seth (5 orbits) Edmond Halley
[Lardner, 1835/1846]*
Lardner [Interpolated]* Hind, 1850 ["Modern"]*
Year Period (years) Year Period (years) Year Period (years) Year Period (years)
208 BC       [205 BC]   [240 BC]  
    [130]   130 BC 75 [164 BC] [76]
102 BC 106     [54 BC] 76 [87 BC] [77]
AD 5 106     [AD 21] 74 11 BC [12 BC] [75]
111 106     [97] 76 65/66 [AD 66] [77]
217 106     [172] 75 141 [75]
        [247] 75 218 77
323 106 [323]   323 76 295 77
    [399] 76 399 76 373 [374] 78 [79]
429 106     [475] 76 451 78 [77]
535 106 [550]   550 75 530/531 [530] [79]
642 107     [626]1 76 608 [607] [77]
748 106     [702] 76 684 76 [77]
        [778] 76 760 76
854 106     [854] 76 837 77
    [930]   930 76 912 75
960 106 [1005] 75 1005 75 989 77
1066 106     [1080]1 75 1066 77
1172 106     [1155] 75 1145 79
1277 105 [1230]   1230 75 1223 [1222] 78 [77]
    1305 75 1305 75 1301 78 [79]
1382 105 1380 75 13802 75 1378 77
    1456   1456 76 1456 78
1487 105 1531   1531 75 1531 75
1593 106 1607 76 1607 76 1607 76
1698 105 1682 75 1682 75 1682 75
1803 105 1758 (predicted) 76 1758 76 1758 76
        1835 77 1835 77
1908 105     [1910] 75 [1910] [75]
            [1986] [76]
  average=105.75   average=75.5   average=75.5   average=76.7

*Square brackets in these headings identify the source of entries that appear in brackets below and are not parenthetical.

Red: Years of near synchronization of the orbits of Halley and Typhon.
: Year when Typhon was confused with Halley's Comet by the followers of Halley.

1Observed in China.
2By 1860, the year after his death and in the revision due to Edwin Dunkin, Lardner's History of Astronomy had fallen into line with orthodoxy, giving the year 1378.

I have already suggested that the comet of 1066 was most likely not Halley. The comet for AD 323, listed by Lardner, may also not have been Halley, but Typhon. We see here a tendency to see as Halley any bright comet round about the time when Halley is supposed to have returned, thus reinforcing the myth of Halley as the "Great Comet." The comets of 1380 and 1910 were clearly not Typhon, though their close alignment with the return of Typhon would suggest some level of synchronization of the two orbits. The date of 854 that we have interpolated into Lardner's list would also suggest the synchronization of the two orbits, Typhon closely approaching the earth five times in the period it took Halley to return seven times to the inner Solar System. It may even be that Halley only appeared in the skies of the earth sometime shortly before 930 and that the sightings of 854 and 323 exclusively refer to Typhon.

As for Hind, once his sequence, with minor modifications, was agreed upon, it was easy enough to extract references from the Chinese annals that supported that sequence. As Fort points out above, "Virtually there is no year in which several new comets are not discovered ...." This transformation of the orbit of Halley and its attendant identification of Halley with the comet that foreshadowed the fall of Harold II in 1066 was so important to the orthodox scientific belief system that Hind's identification of the comets of 1378 and 1301 with Halley went so far as to contradict the identification by Sir Edmond Halley himself of the "great" comets of 1380 and 1305 with the comet named after him. Apparently no one is immune to the scientific normalization process, even its own saints. Interestingly enough, the late Wesley C. Salmon, former professor of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, in his paper, "Explanation and Confirmation: A Bayesian Critique of Inference to the Best Explanation," delivered at a conference sponsored by the University of Haifa in 1998, uses the five dates, 1305, 1380, 1456, 1531, and 1607 in his analysis of the prediction by Halley of the return of the "Great Comet" in 1758, apparently completely oblivious of the fact that modern astronomy had as early as 1850 substituted the comets of 1301 and 1378 for the two used by Halley. Salmon points out, as part of his argument, that there were only "about 25" great comets between 1607 and 1976.


Conquest in the Afterglow of the Comet

The comet, terror of kings,
which burned soon after your elevation,
foretold your doom.
—William of Poitiers, Gesta Guillelmi

Chronology of the Norman Conquest of England



Year AD





Brother Elmer of Malmesbury Abbey observes Halley's Comet



Birth of Edward the Confessor

ca 1005


William becomes duke of Normandy



Macbeth, the "Red King," becomes king of the Scots



Edward becomes king of England



Harald becomes king of Norway



Eustace II becomes count of Boulogne



William of Normandy visits England



Godwin "restoration"



Earl Godwin dies. Harold Godwinson (later Harold II) becomes earl of Wessex



Macbeth dies. Edward the Exile returns to England from Hungary, immediately dies or is murdered. His young son becomes heir apparent to the English throne [Bridgeford]



Earl Harold defeats King Gruffydd of Wales



Harald of Norway makes peace with the Danes, sets his sights on England [Bridgeford]



Earl Harold sails for France in hopes of freeing his brother and nephew, is captured by Guy, count of Ponthieu. Freed by William and under duress, Harold purportedly swears to William on the bones of French saints that William is to succeed Edward [Bridgeford]

1064 or 1065


The still unfinished and later torn down original Westminster Cathedral is consecrated

December 28, 1065


Edward the Confessor dies

Night of January 4, 1066


Edward buried in St. Peter's Abbey. Harold II becomes king of England, as a result of which William of Normandy prepares to invade England

January 6, 1066


Life of King Edward, written at the behest of Queen Edith, queen of Edward and sister of Harold, begun by a Flemish monk

Shortly after death of Edward

Comet Typhon, with three tails, over England, culminating the week of April 24, mistaken by Brother Elmer for a return of the comet of 1005

February–May, 1066


William obtains support from Pope Alexander II



Completion of Norman fleet

July, 1066


Harold excommunicated



Battle of Fulford. Harald Hardrada of Norway defeats the English

September 20, 1066


Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold of England defeats Harald of Norway, but the army of Harold is severely weakened

September 25. 1066


William "the Conqueror" of Normandy sets sail for England

Night of
September 28, 1066


William lands at Pevensey

September 29, 1066


Battle of Hastings. William of Normandy defeats Harold of England. Harold dies

October 14, 1066


Coronation of William

December 25, 1066


Bishop Guy de Amiens writes the Song of the Battle of Hastings

ca 1067


William unleashes a reign of terror in the north of England



Embroidering of Bayeux "Tapestry," including image of Typhon



Edith dies



Halley's Comet observed in China



William dies



Eadmer writes Historia Novorum Anglia

ca 1100

  William of Malmesbury writes Gesta Regum Anglorum ca 1125

Brother Elmer of Malmesbury Abbey, as he is quoted by William of Malmesbury (1847), claims that he has seen the comet of 1066 before:

Thou art come! a matter of great lamentation to many a mother art thou come! I have seen thee long before; but now I behold thee in thy terrors, threatening destruction to this country.

Modern commentators have suggested that Elmer was claiming to have seen Halley, which they associate with the appearance of 1066, in the year 989, which they believe was the previous appearance of Halley. Clearly Elmer must have been quite old at the time to remember a comet from 989 (77 plus 5 or 6 more years for the development of childhood memory equals at least 82 or 83, quite a remarkable figure for the Dark Ages). I would suggest that it is more probable that what Elmer saw earlier was, in fact, Halley, but in 1005, and what he saw in 1066 was our long-feared Typhon-Seth, now sporting three tails as it was even then decaying into a stream of meteors. The comet of 1005 was observed by the Moslem armies in Spain (Condé, 1854), though Jivanji Jamshedji Modi informs us in Asiatic Papers, Part II (Bombay, 1917), of  Chambers's disagreement with its anonymous identification with Halley's Comet in Volume 61 of the Edinburgh Review from April of 1835, an identification later repeated under his own name by Dionysius Lardner in his Popular Lectures on Science and Art, Volume 2, of 1846. Charles Fort mentions the same article in New Lands, though incorrectly assigning it to Volume 66, in which,

... An investigator who searched old records for appearances of Halley's comet, and found something that he identified as Halley's comet, exactly on time, every seventy-five years, back to times of the Roman Empire.... It seems that he did not know that orthodoxy does not attribute exactly a seventy-five year period to Halley's comet. He got what he went looking for, anyway.

It appears to the present author that Lardner was well aware of the orthodox opinion in this matter, but that he remained steadfast in his identification of a much more regular pattern to the appearances of Halley, relying much less on the "perturbations" so extensively used by Hind, Chambers, and their cohorts and so thoroughly demeaned by Fort. Lardner was supported in his position by E. Henderson in a letter to the Mechanics' Magazine on August 22, 1835, that appeared in the issue for August 29.


[Chapter Nineteen: 1487—Leonardo in the East]


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