A New Zoology

Prophetic Forms

In his book A New Zoology, Dr Hermann Poppelbaum refers to the strange concept of "Prophetic Forms"

"No longer can we be satisfied with constructing an image of an extinct ancestral form and giving it a place on the family-tree. We must shed light on the enigmatic relation between any novel form and those which emerged earlier. Is the forerunner something more than just the bodily ancestor who gives the matrix for the descendant. Are all forerunners direct ancestors?

This latter question, answered in the affirmative by the evolutionists of the last century, must today be answered in the negative...There are premature forms which appeared in the past at a surprisingly early period and which had disappeared long before the proper or legitimate form emerged. Berg has called them "prophetic" forms.

Nythosaurus and dog
skull of Nythosaurus (=Thrinaxodon) from the Triassic (after Broom) and of a Dog (after Wiedersheim)

The most famous and yet insufficiently appreciated example...are the Therapsida (Theriodontia). In many important respects the latter are built exactly as ii they were mammals and, since they are so different from their reptilian contemporaries, were long considered to be the earliest ancestral mammals. In the first place there is the striking likeness of the skull to some clumsy mammal of prey, let us say a crude dog. The characteristic dentition of the mammals, with incisors, canines, premolars, and molars, is present in some of the genera, whence the family name Theriodontia."

Poppelbaum then gives a list of characteristics shared by therapsids and true mammals.  He seems to be ignorant of the commonly accepted fact (which was never doubted in palaeontological circles) that cynodont therapsids evolved into mammals.

However it is a fact that mammals went through a long period of rodent- and shrew-like insignificance under the dynasty of the dinosaurs.  If cynodontian therapsids like Thrinaxodon are prophetic (rather than simply ancestral) it is in the way that they resemble Cenzoic rather than Mesozoic mammals.  As Poppelbaum continues:

"It is an "untimely" type and therefore archaic (reptilian) and prophetic (mammalian) characters are mingled in it.  Yet this mixed form did not directly "split" into two descendant sub-types.  An interval had to elapse before the followers appeared, the genuine carnivora.  This happens in the Tertiary. The pre-announced characters now have become timely. True, there are other and earlier mammal forms, in the Cretaceous; but they are less perfect than even the Paleozoic forerunners. These forerunners...foreshadow a much later period.

That is why, with Berg, we call such forms prophetic. The important thing about them is that they are pioneers and not direct ancestors. They show that an archetypal model undergoes various stages of maturation before it can physically appear. It waits until the forerunners have run their course. It impends and overhangs the stream of evolution in order to enter it at a later period."

[Ibid, p.39]

In fact the late Permian and Triassic cynodonts are direct ancestors of mammals.  A better example would be with late Triassic animals like Postosuchus and Ornithosuchus, both large thecodontian archosaurs related to crocodiles.  In these forms the skeleton and even more so the skull contain features that strongly recall advanced dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus. (so much so that it was even suggested by one authority that Tyrannosaurid dinosaurs evolved directly from Postosuchids).   Here we have directly "prophetic" forms, combining archaic (thecodontian) and prophetic (dinosaurian) characters.

Ornithosuchus skull Postosuchus skull Tyrannosaurus skull
The skulls of Ornithosuchus (left), Postosuchus (center) and Tyrannosaurus (right)
The first two are not dinosaurs, yet they are amazingly dinosaur-like

Now, a cynic would say that all that this means is that the same body-plans are selected by Darwinian evolution, as with e.g. the shark, the ichthyosaur and the dolphin.  I am not disagreeing with this; in fact I agree completely.  But I would say that in addition to this purely physical material process there is also a meta-physical process as well.  Darwinian selection refers to the objective material processes on the physical plane, prophetic forms to the realm of Meaning on the subtle (etheric, psychic and noeric) planes.

Still another slant to this theme is to consider that the early forms are not so much prophetic, and certainly not untimely, but rather innovative trailblazers, and they establish a Sheldrakean "Morphogenetic Field" that is then taken up and further elaborated and expressed by later forms.  The trailblazers, by establishing the morphic blue-print as a particular field of development, thus make it easier for the later types to build upon their foundations.  Here again we are dealing with the so-called etheric or formative reality.

Of course even the original expressions are still the result of pre-existent and timeless archetypes.  They represent the moment at which those archetypes first enter into what Sri Aurobindo calls the "Terrestrial [i.e. the Earth] evolution".  Here of course we have left not only conventional science but even holistic science behind and are fully in the realm of esotericism.

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apart from quoted material, text content © M.Alan Kazlev 2000

page uploaded 23 January 2000, relocated, last modified 23 December 2001