An edited version of this article was published in MatriFocus 2007, and I like the edited version that is published there, but here it is also in its original form. The original version has a bit more – if one wants more:
Beltane/Samhain @ EarthGaia
by Glenys Livingstone
The Sacred Reciprocity of EarthGaia
It is Beltane in the Southern Hemisphere, the season of celebrating sweet desire for being – the “glue” of the Cosmos, the primordial attractive activity that holds all form together and allows the dance of life, the composition. In the Northern Hemisphere it is Samhain, the season of celebrating the falling apart of all form – the de-composition, the magic of the space between the old and the new, the ferment seething with possibility that allows the transformation of death.
Both Seasonal Moments are times when it is said that “the veil is thin that divides the worlds”. These particular cross-quarter Moments, High Spring and Deep Autumn, just prior to the fullness of light or dark at the Solstices, have traditionally been times of high revelry celebrating a wild fertile space – one a genetic fertility, the other a trans-genetic/imaginal fertility1. This deep excitement, a deep allurement, seems to characterize the “thinness of the veils”, which is a kind of intimacy with our place. Perhaps the sacred depths – the end – of Desire is a recognition that form and formlessness, the realms of manifest and manifesting, are actually continuous … there is no seam that separates the worlds. The seams that we sense are soft, all is constantly in flux. As Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky expressed it early last century:
At each moment there are a hundred million million tons of living matter in the biosphere, always in a state of movement. The mass is decomposed, forms itself anew … Generations are thus born at intervals of time from ten minutes to hundreds of years …through death, birth, metabolism and growth … unceasingly2.
This Place, our habitat, that we live within – is dynamic. It is not a static reality. This flux that is constantly taking place is a Sacred Interchange3 , a Reciprocity, which is an essential quality of Cosmogenesis, the unfolding of the Cosmos. It is an interchange that occurs in every breath – the rushing out of carbon dioxide and the rushing in of oxygen, but that also characterises all matter at all times – constant relationship. We live within a sensuous “breathing landscape”, as ecologist David Abram has described our Place: a “field of intelligence in which our actions (and whole beings) participate4”. Our bodyminds and all bodies exchange substances with the land – the “environment” – whether or not it is obvious to an etherealised and sanitised culture that tries to flush it “away”. We are intimate with Her – the Land. Aboriginal cosmologies have never forgotten this: the exchange of bodily fluids with land is valued and significant – a participation in the very flow of life, and relationship with the ancestors5. We may still recognise this today, with the context for the exchange having become Gaian – both local and global, and perhaps further.
Biologist, Lynn Margulis, co-author of the Gaia Theory, describes the symbiosis by which she posits the biosphere evolved, and the emergent result of a continuously changing habitat:
… The oxygen we breathe, the humid atmosphere inside of which we live, and the mildly alkaline ocean waters in which the kelp and whales bathe are not determined by a physical universe run by mechanical laws; the surroundings are products of life interacting at the planet’s surface …Fundamentally, life on Earth owes its long and continuing existence to these metabolic, physiological, behavioural, and evolutionary interactions6.
EarthGaia is not a fixed environment, to which organisms must conform – She does not dictate outcomes. “Natural selection” so often understood as something imposed on creatures – a merciless law, is actually a mutual communal reality – a bonding process: and perhaps Darwin himself meant it that way. There is constant conversation between organism and environment: this Place that we live in is a constant communion, an interrelatedness of constant decomposition and renewal, a mutual receiving that never fades away – and that is essentially erotic.
Gaia-Universe, Earth, Self: A Unity of Being
EarthGaia is not separate from UniverseGaia. Earth is immersed in Her context of Universe: no seam separates Earth from Universe … She is a unity of being. There is no “out there”. Gaia is “in here”, as much as anywhere. Earth floats in the “heavens” – the “heavens” are where we are. We know that Earth is a jewel in the womb of space – we have seen Her. We know that She is stardust – Her dirt is transfigured stuff of the stars. A significant percentage of our bodyminds comes directly from Origins7 , recycled many times over. The rest is born in stars, as Earth herself is. Earth is a small seed, a cell, whole in Herself yet a small particle. And so it is for any single articulation of Herself … each being, each self. We are a nested reality. It is simply a matter of perspective.
In 1926 – long before the human eye had actually seen Earth from space – Vladimir Vernadsky, was able to hold a vision of Her in her “cosmic surroundings8.” He developed a hypothesis of the biosphere “as a unitary agent molding the earth’s crust as a primary geological force” that was in relationship with the cosmic energies of radiation, particularly solar radiation. Vernadsky scientifically and poetically describes an wholistic vision of Cosmos and Earth, and at times refers to humankind as a “geological entity”. He bases his comprehension on data from all the Earth sciences and for him, the biosphere is “a place of transformation” of cosmic energies. He says:
The biosphere is as much, or even more, the creation of the Sun as it is a manifestation of Earth-processes. Ancient religious traditions which regarded terrestrial creatures, especially human beings, as ‘children of the Sun’ were much nearer the truth than those which looked upon them as a mere ephemeral creation9 …
Vernadsky asserts that the phenomena in the biosphere can only be understood in the context of the entire cosmos – “related to the structure of atoms, to their places in the cosmos and to their evolution in the history of the cosmos10.”
Where in fact, do we make the cut between self and other, animate and inanimate, human and habitat, earth and cosmos. Nothing seems to be exempt from the dynamic of relationship – which is essentially an energetic flow, a preternatural fundamental dynamic, of coming into being and passing away, of singularity and yet ever trans-forming. These dynamics are our constant companions – in an everyday way, and ultimately. And perhaps the Universe Herself as a whole entity is subject to the same dynamics. Some indigenous religious traditions have stories of the whole Cosmos coming into being and passing away, and regenerating. And recent Western scientific research supports this too: “an ageless and self-renewing Universe” whose stars – even ancient ones – are “like short-lived fireflies in the grand scheme of things11.” The flux of being appears to be re-iterated at all scales.
“The thinness of the veils between the worlds”, the sentience of that space, the cyclical connection of the old and the new – the Crone and the Virgin as intimately related cosmic dynamics – is supported from a scientific point of view, and in a multivalent way: recent scientific studies indicate that organic life may be born from inorganic matter. It has been found that particles of plasma, normally considered inorganic, can undergo self-organisation resulting in helical structures that become charged and are attracted to each other, thus taking on qualities of living matter – structures that are “autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve12”. In a recent interview cosmologist Brian Swimme gave a short version of the whole story of evolution: he said: “You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.” He went on:
…The reason I like that version is that hydrogen gas is odorless and colorless, and in the prejudice of our Western civilization, we see it as just material stuff. There’s not much there. You just take hydrogen, leave it alone, and it turns into a human – that’s a pretty interesting bit of information13.
The Dance of Life: a “Trans-form” and Event-ual in Nature
Every form in this Place of Being14 – in this life that we see and touch – is a trans-form: every event is event-ual. Our GaiaEarth-Universe-Self is in reality an Event … a Trans-form. This tangible and visible dance of life – celebrated at Beltane, is clearly built on all that went before, the passing of all – celebrated at Samhain. And perhaps those who have gone before us are not so far away, as we are sometimes wont to feel … perhaps they are closer than ever, as we may receive them more deeply – in breath and in heart and mind.
The purpose of religious practice is to help us to know the deep truths we believe to be so – by speaking and enacting them we spell ourselves, strengthen those deep truths: the root of the word religion is religio meaning to bind or connect which may be understood in a positive sense of belonging. Our rituals – Poetic articulations of the Cosmos as we understand it – may recognize this, and help us play and dance it into our bodyminds.
Beltane is a celebration of the Event of Life – the flame ever dancing and changing form, and the Holy Desire that brings it into being: and yet is also a desire for immersion, for union. Samhain is a celebration of the Trans-form, the space that is a ferment mercifully breaking down the old, and the power to conceive the new – the deep desire for renewal, for creation, dreamed up in the imaginal and non-visible realms. The Sabbats mirror each other, feed each other. Both celebrate an Erotic relationship with our place, this Earth and Cosmos, a deep attraction to knowing that we are Her, and desire Her. “From all eternity the Beloved unveiled Her beauty in the solitude of the unseen. She held up the mirror to Her own face. She displayed Her loveliness to Herself. … all was One. There was no duality, no pretence of “mine” or “thine”
A Planetary Samhain Moment
We live in times of the passing of so much – it seems to be a planetary Samhain Moment. Huge transformation is afoot. Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris has used the metaphor of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly to identify the situation. She says:
If you see the old system as a caterpillar crunching it’s way through the eco-system, eating up to three hundred times its weight in a single day, bloating itself until it just can’t function anymore, and then going to sleep with its skin hardening into a chrysalis. What happens in its body is that little imaginal disks (as they’re called by biologists) begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar and its immune system attacks them. But they keep coming up stronger and they start to link with each other. As they connect, as they link with each other, they mature into fully-fledged cells and more and more of them aggregate until the immune system of the caterpillar just can’t function any more. At that point the body of the caterpillar melts into a nutritive soup that can feed the butterfly16.
Then drawing upon the story of Gaian Unfolding, of how we ourselves as multi-cellular bodyminds morphed into being, Sahtouris draws an analogy between this great leap – of single cells evolving into co-operative bodies, to the present challenge of us multi-celled humans evolving into a “multi-cellular” type global body17. Sahtouris believes we are ready to make this great leap into a co-operative global body in harmony with other species and our Earth as a whole: that the “rapidly oncoming Hot Age may well be the evolutionary driver pushing us into co-operation”. She says: “there will simply not be enough time and resources for both war and cooperative survival: we will be forced to choose18.”
Samhain is an excellent Seasonal Moment for becoming conscious of participation in the evolution of consciousness, for fashioning a myth/story that will be of service to our time. It seems that our times call for the casting away of the old in a radical way. Samhain ritual processes may facilitate such possibility.
Beltane is an excellent Seasonal Moment for becoming conscious of what we most deeply desire, for becoming conscious of desire itself as a power of the universe19 – as a Holy Lust for birthing the new, a Holy Lust for ongoing Creativity. Beltane ritual processes may facilitate such integrity.
The magic of both Moments being celebrated at the same time on GaiaEarth is new in our time – Her whole body is the sacred site for these stories20 … what may we sing up?
© Glenys Livingstone 2007
1 On the surface of it, Beltane may celebrate sex and Samhain may celebrate death, and in the evolutionary story the advent of meiotic sex is connected to the advent of death. See Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, NE: iUniverse, 2000, p.134-135, and Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.143-149. More can be made of this link between these Sabbats: orgasm has been termed “a little death” in French. Both are an intimate relationship.
2 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, London: Synergetic Press, 1986 (1929), .p.34.
3 I associate this term with the Mother dynamic/aspect of Goddess.
4 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, NY:Vintage, 1996, p.260 , brackets mine.
5 See Heather McDonald, Blood Bones and Spirit, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, p. 20-21.
6 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), ?/From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences??, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994, p.237.
7 This is hydrogen and it accounts for ten percent of your bodymind right here and now.
8 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.6. Elisabet Sahtouris questions whether Vernadsky really did perceive Earth as a whole live entity (Earthdance p.118), and refers to Scottish scientist James Hutton, as having such a view in 1785 (Earthdance, p.69).
9 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.8. and all previous quotes in that paragraph from The Biosphere also.
10 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.9.
11 Quoting Ker Than, LiveScience staff writer. Seehttp://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070813_gm_universe.html. It is called the ekpyrotic theory. This article was brought to my attention by “rosewelsh” on pagaian.org forum.
12 http://www.world-science.net/othernews/070814_dust.htm Research published inNew Journal of Physics 14th August 2007. This article was brought to my attention by “rosewelsh” on pagaian.org forum.
13 Susan Bridle, “Comprehensive Compassion: An Interview with Brian Swimme”, What Is Enlightenment No. 19, p.40.
14 I mean this as a name for the Sacred – the Mother aspect of Goddess.
15 Jami, Sufi poet 1414. This is similar to the Creation story of the Faery tradition of Witchcraft: see Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, SF: Harper & Rowe, 1988, p.31-32.
16 Elisabet Sahtouris, “After Darwin – Reuniting Spirituality with Science in Order to Form a New World View”: http://www.ratical.org/LifeWeb/Articles/AfterDarwin.htm
17 Elisabet Sahtouris, “After Darwin – Reuniting Spirituality with Science in Order to Form a New World View”.
18 Elisabet Sahtouris, interview with Anna Alberti, Caposervizio Salute e Società, Redazione di Marie Claire ITALIA, in relation to Sahtouris’ position on the World Commission for Global Consciousness and Spirituality.
19 Brian Swimme refers to Allurement as a “power of the universe” in The Powers of the Universe DVD series, 1994.
20 I acknowledge the inspiration of Rachel Pollack, The Body of the Goddess, Element Books, 1997.