Gaia, Goddess, Cosmogenesis and the Wheel of the Year
Gaia as a Name
I have long considered the practice of the spirituality described herein to be Gaian, perhaps encouraged by Charlene Spretnak’s use of the term.1 It is an Earth-based spirituality, which requires only birth, not baptism, for belonging. We are all native to Gaia; all humans are indigenous to Her. All humans can lay claim to relationship with Air, Fire, Water and Earth and to the Mystery at the Centre of it all. We do all issue forth from the same Origin – this is not just poetic flourish, this is biologically and cosmologically true. Gaia, as I understand Her, is not only Earth; She is Cosmos. Earth is that particular manifestation of Her with whom we are most intimate, and with whom all humans participate, whether conscious or not. The same Creative Dynamic2 that flourishes in Earth is assumed to be the same Creative Dynamic present throughout the Universe. Earth-Gaia is Seed and Jewel of a larger living Organism. Earth-Gaia is our Mother, but She is Daughter too, of an essential Sentience that seethes through the Universe. Inasmuch as I am sentient, and I arise out of Her, out of Earth and Earth arises out of Universe, then Universe-Gaia is alive and sentient3. She is the eternal pulse, in which each one of us flows. Gaia is Earth, is Universe, is Ultimate Mystery, is you, is me – She is multivalent. The only faith required in this spirituality is in the Teeming Abundant Creativity that has been manifesting now for some thirteen point seven billion years, and which has survived on this planet in a particular way for millions of years. This is not a flimsy track record! Perhaps, as James Lovelock has said, this is “as near immortal as we ever need to know4”; or as Susan Griffin said more poetically, “at no instant does She fail me in Her presence5.”
Essential then, to this Gaian spirituality, is the development of relationship with Earth, entering into Her consciousness, expanding awareness beyond the human-centred perspective. It requires a remembering of the “real” – the situation of “all human thought, social or individual … in the processes of body, nature and place6.” Or as Thomas Berry describes, it requires a return to our “native place”, the recovery of a feeling of intimacy with “the earth community”, which he describes as the recovery of
a sense of presence, a realization that the earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with; nor will it simply be studied or examined or made an object of any kind; nor will it be domesticated or trivialized as a setting for vacation indulgence7 …
He says it requires remembering
our sense of courtesy toward the earth and its inhabitants, our sense of gratitude, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of habitat, our capacity for the awesome, for the numinous quality of every earthly reality8.
This kind of presence is enabled by an identification of ourselves (the human) with the entire cosmic process – Gaia’s story, which is also ours; and by an identification with the cosmic powers that sustain us – such as Air, Sun, Water and Earth. Gaian spirituality involves remembering the integrity of all elemental phenomena; that we are this, we depend on this, we come from this and we return to this.
Gaia as Universe-Earth-Self: A Unity of Being
Earth-Gaia is not separate from Universe-Gaia. Earth is immersed in Universe. There is no seam that separates Earth-Gaia from Universe-Gaia … She is One. There is no ”up” and “down”. There is no “out there”. Gaia is “in here”, as much as anywhere, or She is nowhere. Gaia can be known, felt, in any single articulation of Herself – within any Self. We are IN it, Earth is IN it. Earth floats in the “heavens” – the “heavens” are where we are. This IS it. Gaia is a nested reality – many fold, but at least, Universe- Earth-Self; and inversely Self is Earth, is Gaia. Many spiritualities and most language imply that Earth is a world apart from the Heavens – and even that the Heavens are “higher’ and thus “better”. Yet we know that Earth is a Jewel in the Womb of Space – we have seen Her. We know that “Earth” is stardust – Her dirt is transfigured stuff of the stars. We know that we and all of it, are made from the same stuff – that we come out of the cores of stars, that a significant percentage of our “stuff” comes directly from the Origins, albeit recycled many times over. Spiritual language must catch up, if we are to stop killing ourselves and other beings with our words. “Higher” indicates “out there”, in “loftier” realms beyond the earth, transcending lowly earthly nature. “Deeper” indicates “within”, the depth of the earthly realm, enriched awareness of the multivalent numinous earthly nature/reality. The use of language such as “higher levels” by spiritual traditions in particular, and even by recently published ecological texts, and the worldview that accompanies it, has created and goes on creating a sense of alienation from what is here – the stuff we inhabit and where we dwell9.
In 1926 – long before the human eye had actually seen Earth from space – Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky, was able to hold a vision of Her in her “cosmic surroundings10.” He developed a hypothesis of the biosphere “as a unitary agent molding the earth’s crust as a primary geological force11” that was in relationship with the cosmic energies of radiation, particularly solar radiation12. Throughout his work Vernadsky scientifically and poetically describes an wholistic vision of Cosmos and Earth, and at times refers to humankind as a “geological entity13”. His concept of a biosphere is based on data from all Earth sciences, and because of this synthesis it is a comprehension of “the nature of the Earth on a planetary/cosmic scale14.” For Vernadsky, the biosphere is “a place of transformation” of cosmic energies15. 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 creation16 …
Vernadsky asserts that the phenomena in the biosphere cannot be understood “unless one takes into account the bond that unites it with the entire cosmic mechanism17” – the phenomena are “related to the structure of atoms, to their places in the cosmos and to their evolution in the history of the cosmos18.”
Earth of course does not need to be named Gaia – Spretnak refers to “Earthbody19” – but it is a name that now has large appeal in the West, due to James Lovelock and Lyn Margulis’ scientific theory named thus, first published in 1974. The name “Gaia” now not only invokes the ancient Greek myth of the Creator-Goddess, but also the present scientific inquiry. Lovelock points out that the Gaia theory is now
spurring a great deal of scientific research into the geophysiology of our living planet (and) it is also spurring philosophic conceptions of what it means to our species to be part of a living planet. Some of these conceptions stay carefully within the accepted limits of science; others have a religious bent20.
The religious bent is frequently problematic to the acceptance of the theory itself in the scientific community; but the scientific bent to this ancient religious story is most frequently beneficial to a prospective deepening of connection to the hearts and minds of a people seeking relationship with Earth. The naming of a spirituality as “Gaian” today, signifies the integration of scientific knowledge gained by humanity into the vision and metaphor of that spirituality. For Spretnak, knowing Gaia, is knowing that we are
inextricably linked at the molecular level to every other manifestation of the great unfolding. We are descendents of the fireball … glimpsing the oneness of the sacred whole21.
The Gaia theory states “that our planet and its creatures constitute a single self-regulating system that is in fact a great living being, or organism22.” Elisabet Sahtouris, evolutionary biologist, grounds her philosophy in this conception. She understands the scientific story of Gaian creation as a retelling of the ancient myth, and says that
once we truly grasp the scientific reality of the Gaian organism and its physiology, our entire worldview and practice are bound to change profoundly, revealing the way to solving what now appear to be our greatest and most insoluble problems23.
As participants in Gaia, we may understand ourselves as Gaia, holons of the Large Self, as a drop of the ocean participates in (the whole of) the ocean. I regard the concepts of holons and holarchy24 to be a crucial model for understanding a participatory universe. Harman and Sahtouris define a holarchy as “the embeddedness of living entities within each other (e.g., cell, organ, body, family, community, ecosystem, bioregion, planet, star system, galaxy, etc25.)”; and they define a holon as “a living entity or system26.” They describe the entire Universe as a vast living entity or holon, and also as “a holarchy containing smaller holons in continual co-creation27.” A most significant feature of a holarchy is that every layer/level has as much importance as any other, because they are embedded in each other – and actually the layers of simpler life forms are not dependent on the more complex, though the more complex are dependent on the simpler earlier layers. Within the context of holarchy, it may be possible to explain by physical principles how a quality of living systems “may apply all the way from the most simple single-cell life form to Gaia28.”
Psychologist James Hillman recognizes that the cut between the self and the natural world is arbitrary, and wonders whether it can be made at all – “we can make it at the skin or we can take it as far out as you like – to the deep oceans and distant stars29”. Lovelock refers to the human as Gaia30 – “She has seen the reflection of her fair face through the eyes of astronauts … ”, and speaks of a “commonwealth of all creatures that constitutes Gaia31.” In his early writings on Gaia, he did try to hold back from Her sentience:
Occasionally it has been difficult to avoid talking of Gaia as if she were known to be sentient. This is meant no more seriously than the appellation ‘she’ when given to a ship by those who sail in her, as a recognition that even pieces of wood and metal may achieve a composite identity distinct from the mere sum of its parts32.
However, in 1988 Lovelock spoke of his relationship with Gaia as possibly kin to the relationship of some Christians to Mary. He says, “What if Mary is another name for Gaia33?” and later,
If their hearts and minds could be moved to see in her the embodiment of Gaia, then they might become aware that the victim of their destruction was indeed the Mother of humankind and the source of everlasting life34.
He had explained that:
Any living organism a quarter as old as the Universe itself and still full of vigor is as near immortal as we ever need to know. She is of this Universe and, conceivably, a part of (the Divine35).
Gaian researchers, scientists who study the global metabolism, generally tread more carefully, riding a fine edge in regard Gaia’s sentience applying the principles of science yet “without postulating a global organism36.” Nevertheless, there is evidence of ambivalence; Tyler Volk speaks of Earth (not “the” Earth) and of Gaian “physiology”, implying a subject, while still using the pronoun “it”. Volk speaks of all of us as “cells within the embracing physiology of …’Gaia37‘”, yet holds back from accepting Her as an organism. He says this because Gaia “does not evolve in a Darwinian sense38”, but that leaves it open that She may evolve in some other sense. He, like other Gaian scientists, do participate in promoting an informed reverence for Gaia’s body.
The restoration of the material reality, is a restoration of the maternal reality, is a restoration of the Mother.
For so long we’ve considered the Earth as just a big dead ball of dirt. It shocks us nearly out of our minds when we discover we’re involved with something that moves … (that) the whole process is alive39.
The entire Cosmos itself has been imagined as something dead and static – the heavens as a vacuous space “out there”. Just as Aristotle storied the female body as passive matter, so the Womb of Space has been imagined. The cosmology of Earth-based religious traditions, on the other hand, have always understood Earth as Mother, and the Mother as active Creator. Starhawk writes of Goddess as
the living body of a living cosmos, the awareness that infuses matter and the energy that produces change. She is life eternally attempting to maintain itself, reproduce itself, diversify, evolve40 …
Ecologist Stephan Harding, who teaches on Gaia and ecophilosophy at Schumacher College, says that “the whole reason for gathering scientific information is to provide a cognitive basis for developing wide identification with nature”, that people love it when they “realize that the planet has life-like qualities of self-regulation41” – in my own words, people love to hear news of the Mother, that She is alive.
For many minds today Gaian research and knowledge of the evolutionary story, furthers our knowledge of the Mother, and at once, knowledge of ourselves. The definition of self-knowledge is extended to Self-knowledge – knowledge of Gaia: scientist Mae-Wan Ho says “It is in knowing her that we shall have intimate knowledge of ourselves42.” Just as the prokaryotes, the first cells on Earth deeply effected the planet and its future, so our small organism and the many, many others effect the planet over long periods of time. This is Gaian spirituality – taking on the mind of the Universe, participating in the Dream of the Earth, beginning to “know” from within the perspective of Earth, Moon, Sun, Tree – and so on. And perhaps “PaGaian Cosmology”, as I am coming to name this perspective, may more adequately express this totality, this integral sense of Gaia as Self-Earth-Universe, extending as it does the sense and vision of “country”.
“Goddess”, as I understand the term, is the Female Metaphor for the Great Creative Principle of the Universe. As such, She is both the Matrix and an wholistic template of Being; that is, She is whole and complete within Herself, and is a complete illustration of the process of living and dying. Her three aspects are based on chronological phases of a woman’s life, but are not in any way limited to those phases. These three aspects are phases of the whole process of living and dying, that the ancients in many cultures noticed and celebrated. I contend that these three aspects were understood as a dynamic of Creativity – and witness to that is the Triple Spiral engraved in central position at New Grange in Ireland. The significance of the New Grange monument may yet to be fully understood, as our ethnocentric minds only now begin to remember the “Goddess” centred minds that built it, as well as other monuments in Old Europe, that have puzzled our patriarchal earth-alienated minds43. I propose that this Triple Spiral encoded at New Grange specifically celebrates the triple faced Female Metaphor as Cosmic Dynamic of Creativity, given that it is lit up at the moment of Winter Solstice, the Seasonal Moment that celebrates Origins and Earth-Sun creativity.
I understand “Creativity” as another name for the Mystery of Being, and it is what I understand as the essence of Being. As Loren Eiseley reflects,
No utilitarian philosophy explains a snow crystal, no doctrine of use or disuse. Water has merely leapt out of vapor and thin nothingness in the night sky to array itself in form. There is no logical reason for the existence of a snowflake any more than there is for evolution44.
“Creativity” is also a term used by process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead for “the Category of the Ultimate45” and he refers to it as threefold46. Thus, as I understand “Goddess” – the dynamic, triple-faced Metaphor – She may enable the identification of Life itself, as we witness it, experience it, and inter-act with it, with the manifestation of the ultimate Mystery at the Heart and Origin. To further this identification I have associated the three Faces of the Female Metaphor – “Goddess” – with Thomas Berry’s three characteristics of what is scientifically known as Cosmogenesis, the omnipresent creative dynamic essential to all structure and form in the Universe. Cosmogenesis is referred to by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in their story of the Universe as having three central tendencies which are “the cosmological orderings of the creative display of energy everywhere and at any time throughout the history of the universe47.”
The three chronological phases of a woman’s life in which these faces of Goddess are mirrored are:- pre-menarchal young one, menstrual mother, and post-menopausal elder; and thus they have been known as Virgin/Maiden, Mother/Creator, Old One/Crone. It will be necessary to “re-story” these terms, since women and men in our times, no longer understand them in their full integrity – diminished, trivialized and even demonized as they have been by millennia of patriarchal narrative. Whereas, in the earliest of times of consciousness, and even later, these phases seem to have been sensed as aspects of the Great Creative Process48 whereby Life continued, they had in recent patriarchal times lost their sacred essence. Indeed the Great Creative Process itself, expressed in the female as sacred, had become background. The mother became mere vessel, and “useful” in this mode. The young virgin became a prize to be taken, the older virgin became a harsh deviant to be avoided. The old one became “used up” and troublesome. Adam McLean advises that:
To find the Triple Goddess … we must go back to an early stratum of myth. Long before the ascendancy of the Christ myth, the primal myths of the Goddess had been overlaid with generations of masculine Gods usurping her place in the scheme of things, taking over her sacred centres and grasping for themselves some facet of her attributes. If we go back to the earliest myths of humankind we will find the goddess in her purest, usually triune, form49.
The re-storying of women – the Being of the female, is a preface to being able to speak sensibly of how Virgin-Mother-Crone could be a Metaphor for the Mystery of Being. It is then possible to relate these three aspects to the evolutionary cosmic dynamics – “Cosmogenesis” – as a way of deepening awareness of them in the present moment and as a way of entering into the Female Metaphor more fully, as a way of comprehending or sensing “Goddess”. The seasonal celebrations then may become a way of accessing the Metaphor, embodying “Goddess” and developing personal and cultural relationship to the Cosmos, as one joins Earth in Her annual journey of descent and return.
It seems generally clearer for me to speak of the “Female Metaphor” rather than “Goddess” since I do not wish to imply a “God in drag”. I will however, use the term “Goddess” sometimes, as I think humans do need to get acclimatized to Her expressed in this form – She has for too long been relegated to the fringes. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, a metaphor is a word or phrase used “to suggest a likeness50”. “Goddess” is a figure of speech suggesting a likeness of femaleness in the Divine, or the Divine in femaleness; few argue with that, though many do argue that “God” does not suggest a likeness of maleness in the Divine, or the Divine in maleness. The term “Goddess” does seem to evoke a different visceral impulse and visualization, which is worth noting. Some primal cultures seem to have never used an equivalent term, but neither was there any problem with a feeling for the Female as Sacred Entity: “Grandmother” spirits and ancestors were greatly revered51.
I will at times speak of many particular Goddesses with a capital ‘g’ – Demeter or Persephone for example, all of whom for me partake in the Female Metaphor; they are particular conflagrations of, are holons of, the Female Metaphor. I will use a capital “g” even for these particular Goddesses, partly for political reasons, that is, so Their Divinity is remembered; but also signifying that I am not simply speaking of an archetype of the Olympian pantheon. As evidence suggests, long before the Goddesses were colonized, married off, raped and caught in sordid plots against each other, they were faces of a Matrix and a Cosmic Power.
“Archetype” is a word frequently used to name/describe the Female Metaphor, though it is much less often used to describe other Deities. I prefer not to speak of Her as “archetype”, as this tends to connote a “mindstruct” – something “merely” cultural – and what I wish to convey is the sense of Her as a “physic” of the Universe. Some who use the term “archetype” do appear to mean just that, that is, “archetype” as a “physic”. Joseph Campbell’s view is that “archetypes” arise not so much “from the mental sphere of rational ideation52”, as from the single psychophysiological source common to all humans – the body53. In that sense archetypes arise from “bioenergies that are the essence of life itself54”. For Campbell, archetypes
are biologically grounded and at once the motivating powers and connoted references of the historically conditioned metaphorical figures of mythologies around the world … (and) … are, like the laws of space, unchanged by changes of location55.
This would seem to be the sense in which I mean the Female Metaphor, and at home with the Cosmogenetic Principle which I will speak of later. However, in general I feel that the word “archetype” confuses the fundamental sense of the Triple Face Dynamic as I wish to convey it. The evolutionary cosmic dynamics – Cosmogenesis – are not culturally induced phenomena, nor is the cyclical dynamic of the Triple Goddess Metaphor. The Cosmogenesis in which we find ourselves is at once completely physical and manifest, as well as “intra”-physical and unmanifest – it is not “meta”-physical and separate, it is intrinsic with the physical. Physicist David Bohm speaks in terms of “implicate” and “explicate” orders, wherein the “explicate” (or “manifest”, as I have termed it) is “a special and distinguished form contained within the general totality of all the implicate orders56” (or “unmanifest”, as I have termed it). In this way Bohm develops a way of speaking about a “universe of unbroken wholeness57” which is how I understand the physics of the Female Metaphor.
Similiarly, some common Pagan language that is used today does not communicate the actual physics of the Universe that it aspires to celebrate, or is at least unhelpful to the changing of our minds; for example, at times Light and Dark are spoken of as being in a battle58, where at Winter Solstice, the celebrations are languaged as marking Light’s “victory over the darkness of winter59.” Other Pagan sources say it is Dark’s victory – Starhawk, for example, says that at Winter Solstice, “darkness triumphs60”. Either way it is being storied as a battle, which in actual fact the Sun is not engaged in. I do not think that these expressions conjure a desirable or insightful story about the Light and Dark phenomena caused by Sun’s relationship with Earth. This kind of language does not do this ancient Earth-Wisdom tradition justice for our time, and perhaps it never did amongst those who observed, studied and reflected upon, and taught the Earth Wisdom. Our language needs to fit our understanding of the Universe, needs to fit us (humans and all beings) into – story us into – the Universe, as our minds know it.
Language is important to this work of re-inventing and re-storying. I have already noted some of my reasons for capitalizing words that would normally be in small case. I realize that there is argument for not capitalizing at all – any of it, the female metaphor herself: in which case, the base line is that it is all sacred, and nothing further needs to be said. However, the cultural reality is that all is not sacred, and that is a point that this work is speaking to. Thus I persist with the re-valuing of certain words by capitalizing as one method that goes in hand with the entire process of re-inventing, and opening those words up to the possibility of expressing a multivalent reality which is at once the Divine at all those valencies. The word “Divine” itself may also be problematic for some, as it may seem to imply anthropomorphic form: I think it need not be so, but agree that “Sacred” may be a better choice when possible.
In general, I like when possible to avoid “the”, in front of “Source” or “Goddess” or “Mystery”, since “That/She” is not an object. Just as those who do use “God” understand that “the” God, would seem to refer to a signifier of Divinity rather than referring to Divinity itself. I don’t know that it is always possible to abandon “the” – this is an experiment, but the attempt may help us to change our minds.
Sometimes I may use the term “the Mother” to refer to the “Female Metaphor”, as I mean “Mother” in the sense of Ultimate Creativity or Creator of All. One could also choose, as archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has done, to refer always to this Ultimate Creativity as “the Great Goddess61”, however in our present cultural story I feel the meaning would not be clear. I will also try to be clear when I am referring to Ultimate Creativity, to the One, the “She-Who-Is-All” and when I am referring only to the aspect/face of Mother in the Triple Dynamic. I develop discussion of the complexity of the separation of the Three from the One, towards the end of Chapter 3.
I frequently use terms like “we” and “ourselves”, to speak of “humans”, and sometimes to speak of “women”. It will be clear as to which category I am referring, and I do understand that the experience of individuals and cultures within these categories are by no means monolithic. There are however some recurrent patterns that I refer to. In the case of using “we” for “women”, I use it sparingly, and refer to the experience of those whom I have known both personally and via written word.
Feminist Theology – Thealogy – Poetry
This re-storying is not feminist theology. When at first I began I thought it may be a “thea-logy”, which is a term thought to have been coined originally by Naomi Goldenberg in 197962. Thea-logy is a study of Goddess. Some may prefer to call such a study, Sophialogy63. It is generally about relating with our Earth/Universe/Context; it is not simply “theology spelled with an a”, as Barbara Walker points out64. Generally, thealogy speaks of our Place as sacred, and frequently, though not always, with an understanding that “Goddess” is immanent in this place, not an external Deity. However I find the term “thea-logy” to be cumbersome, and still seeming to indicate participation in “belief” in a Deity. I wish to be clear that what I am speaking of, is not a Deity: this is therefore not “theology” nor even “thealogy”. It is a cosmology: what I am speaking of and with is Cosmos – a Place. Thomas Berry has preferred to be called a “geologian” or “cosmologist65”, perhaps for a similar reason: he is speaking about a place, not a deity – as such has been understood by “theology”. Earth-based religious traditions and Goddess traditions speak of this Place as sacred. “PaGaian” cosmology is a way of speaking about this Place: it implies a metaphor and a practice. It is a synthesis of “celebrating Gaia-Goddess-Cosmos” … a metaphor that one is IN. Thus I like to name the process of this synthesis as “Poetry”. I feel that all “theology” and “thea-logy” was meant to be Poetry – what else could it be in its attempt to describe matters of an ultimate nature. Yet it seems to me that most of what has passed for theology has ended up actually a description of a dead butterfly pinned in a glass case, not one that is alive and flitting about the garden – a dynamic moving being. Cosmos is a Place, dynamic and moving, alive and changing, which is indistinguishable from participatory selves, which remains ultimately mysterious and indefinable; thus ultimately only able to be spoken of metaphorically. This then is Poetry.
Joseph Campbell has said that the best things can’t be told since they transcend all thought; the second best things are misunderstood, since they are the thoughts that refer to what can’t be thought about; and the third best things are what we talk about66. Campbell described life as a poem, and that we participate in a poem67. He recalled the Gnostic texts, saying that “one problem with Yahweh … is that he forgot he was a metaphor. He thought he was a fact68”. I do not name Great Mystery – the “She” of whom I speak – as “God”. In terms of human history, “God” is a recent name for the Mystery, or Source-of-All. A couple of millennia ago, the Greeks hesitated to use “God” as a name for Source-of-All lest the people became confused, as to whether the term was referring to Zeus69 – their morphic god. Indeed in the minds of most, still today, I think “God” does precisely that; the image – the Body – invoked in the mind still looks the same even though it is not known as Zeus. The people tend to forget that “God” is a metaphor.
Even feminist theology can speak at great length about female metaphors for Divinity, and not once use or develop the term “Goddess”, or sometimes not even use the female pronoun. Feminist theologians frequently do not perceive “God” as invoking Maleness, yet “Goddess” isperceived as invoking Femaleness, and this for some to whom feminist theology speaks, seems to be too dreadful a thought, and reveals an acceptance of “Goddess” as being an invocation of “Other”. “God” can quite happily incorporate the maternal – “God” is frequently addressed as “Mother” – but there is nothing radically different about this incorporation; the Gods of recent human history have always done this, though they have left menstrual abilities alone.
On occasion feminist theology advises us to grow out of maternal metaphor altogether70 – a move that I feel participates in a denial of the body. It falls into the hands of the patriarchal mind that would have us deny Earthbody, along with female body, and the sensuous processes of Life – as Charlene Spretnak well describes in her book States of Grace71. Most feminist theology, as important as it is for women and men within the Christian paradigm, generally continues to be within that paradigm; and that is not what I am doing here. I am invoking an earlier human orientation to Mystery, something more primal to being, more organic, more dynamically essential to Life, more ubiquitous – that can be known in our bodyminds, in Earth, in the Cosmos. I feel that there is no longer the time to speak to the problem, as so many good minds still do; addressing issues with the “old guard”. I suppose it still needs to be done – it does serve to identify and analyze the problem. I am glad that it is not my work. I feel that the hour is late, the urgent and sacred yearnings of the Earth call for real change, we must get on; we cannot be held up at the gate entertaining the old rules. I wish to be part of the re-creation – actually do something new, in the sense of actually changing the reality, situating us in a new Realm/Place.
Further to the case for naming what I am doing as “Poetry”, is that the Earth tradition in which I have been nurtured, was in its origins, an oral tradition, which relied on its poets. It may be noted that the first among the attributes praised in the Great Goddess Brigid was Her function of poet – along with physician and smith-artisan. It would appear that Poetry was considered a critical discipline in which to engage – it was the way in which the culture was passed on, the transmission of the sacred stories, the cosmology of a people told, the bearing of a tradition. The poetic imagination may also allow for the ever-new that is innate to something that is alive. William Irwin Thompson speaks of the poetic imagination as a capacity to sense/intuit and to be more than one can know, a capacity that is important to scientific endeavour “because we are more than we know72.” Poetry thus allows also for the bringing forth of a world, as well as the bearing of a tradition – using what is there yet allowing the sentience within it to reveal ever-new valencies. I am an inventor, a mythmaker, who has received/taken remnants of her indigenous religious heritage, and newly available parts, and spun and woven new threads, fabrics and stories73. When I became bold enough to assume such a task – out of a sensed necessity, I had long been encouraged by the words of Monique Wittig where she describes the attempt to remember an earlier mode of being, for which it is said “there are no words” and therefore perhaps “it does not exist.” Wittig says, “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent74.”
I do not regard this work as “feminist discourse”, and I speak more of this later: rather I regard it as “PaGaian concourse”- perhaps that is another name for Poetry. This work may be regarded by some as feminist, and I have regarded myself as feminist, but I do think that this process ventures into new territory – that includes all the hard work done by feminism. The new territory is in the realm wherein we humans no longer primarily or simply engage in more talk and analysis, but we dare to attend sincerely and primarily to the complexity of actual relationship with, and comprehension of, our embodied engagement with our Earth-Universe-Gaian context.
Cosmogenesis – an Introduction
Central to this cosmology is Swimme and Berry’s articulation of Cosmogenesis and its three “governing themes75”. Brian Swimme is a scientist who tells the story of the evolutionary unfolding of the Universe with a feeling for its sacred nature. He and Thomas Berry offer an interpretation of the human in the Universe and Earth community, drawn from empirical scientific knowledge. Scientist E.O. Wilson has said that “the evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have76” and describes the story of the universe as a grand narrative that may utilize archetypes, use poetic form, charge people’s souls to the critical task of participation and “inspirit” the material explanation of the world77. Swimme is a storyteller with that capacity. Thomas Berry, academically trained contemplative priest, co-author of The Universe Story and mentor of Brian Swimme forges “a partnership between the sciences and humanities” that humbly takes into account and includes the wisdom of indigenous peoples and the wisdom of women78. Swimme and Berry’s cosmology is recognized as in keeping with the latest discoveries in astronomy, physics, complexity studies, and evolutionary theory. Connie Barlow describes in Green Space, Green Time, how Swimme and Berry’s work catalyzes meaning-making that may actually make a social, political and cultural difference.
Amongst the broad range of influences upon Swimme and Berry’s cosmological interpretations is Alfred North Whitehead’s “process philosophy” which was an extrapolation from the quantum physics of the 1920’s. Whitehead included in his philosophy a “Threefold Creative Composition” which I noted earlier, and later describe as resonant with the three faces of the Female Metaphor and hence with Swimme and Berry’s three faces of Cosmogenesis. Swimme and Berry’s articulation of the three is a development of Thomas Berry’s fourth principle of a functional cosmology (See Appendix A). The three themes are offered as an interpretation of three fundamental principles of reality inductively drawn from empirical scientific knowledge. The three themes are not equations, nor are they laws like unto the laws of thermodynamics79. Swimme notes specifically some of the scientists whose work he and Berry draw on for the development and understanding of their three aspects of Cosmogenesis80.
Cosmogenesis, in brief, is the ongoing creative activity of the Universe, the unfolding of the Universe – referring to the form producing dynamics of the Cosmological Unfolding. Generally it refers to large-scale structures such as galaxies and stars, but a more inclusive understanding is justified:
What we observe is that forms and structures in the universe arise, evolve in interactions, achieve stable if nonequlibrium processes, and then decay and disintegrate. The Cosmogenetic Principle simply states that the evolutionary dynamics involved in building the structures that appear in our own region of space-time permeate the universe as well81.
Certainly in their discussion of the three dynamics, Swimme and Berry cover the full gamut of creative manifestation – from particles to biological life to stars. They later describe how the three biological shaping powers of mutation, natural selection and niche creation “are further illustrations of the root creativity of the universe” that they have identified with the Cosmogenetic Principle82. They consider their articulations of the meanings associated with these dynamics as a beginning, “a prologue for later treatments as our direct experience of the universe’s development extends throughout space and time83.”
In the background to this Cosmogenetic Principle, is a principle called the Cosmological Principle defined by Einstein, and it has been essential for the entire Western scientific research enterprise on the planet today. That principle states that every point in the Universe is the same as every other point84 – basically that hydrogen in this part of the cosmos can be assumed to be the same as hydrogen in some other part of the cosmos. This is not something that can be proved but it is assumed as a reasonable principle. Swimme and Berry note that this foundational principle of cosmology came out of a context early this century, that believed we lived in a static cosmos – a context that was ignorant of the evolution of the Universe as a whole. Now that science recognizes that we live in a cosmogenesis, a developing evolutionary reality, which appears to have had a thirteen point seven billion year story, that principle of Einstein’s is being extended to the Cosmogenetic Principle:
Even though our knowledge of morphogenesis and cosmogenesis is in its infancy, we are assuming that the heightened scientific investigation of these dynamics will make the cosmogenetic perspective entirely ordinary in the next centuries85.
This Cosmogenetic Principle states not only that every point in the universe is the same as every other point, but in addition, that the dynamics of evolution are the same at every point in the Universe. What that means, amongst many other things, is that the same Creative principle that gives birth to the Universe, pervades every drop of it with the same creative potency – that the Centre of the Universe is everywhere. Thus it is here as much as anywhere.
Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have stated that this omnipresent Creativity will be characterized by three features “throughout time and space and at every level of reality” – differentiation, communion and autopoiesis86. These three have been summarized as follows: differentiation – to be is to be unique; communion – to be is to be related; autopoiesis – to be is to be a centre of creativity87. Swimme and Berry call these three features, “cosmological orderings of the creative display of energy everywhere and at any time throughout the history of the universe88.” They say these three refer to the “basal intentionality of all existence89” and importantly, they are “beyond any simple one-line univocal definition90”. They are highly complex, interconnected and ongoing processes. The three features themselves are features of each other, for example:- a “multiform relatedness” – communion, is demanded by a differentiated universe, and that rests upon the fact of each individual thing’s infinite creative depths – autopoiesis91. This book itself, as with any creative work, as it progresses, is ordered, structured and organized by these features. I refer to how this has characterized my process in this work, in the concluding chapter.
The Wheel of the Year – the Seasonal Ritual Celebrations
The ritual celebrations of Gaia as I have scripted them are based in the religious practice of the Old Western European Goddess tradition, wherein there are eight annual Earth holy days or “moments of grace” as Thomas Berry has often termed the seasonal transitions. These eight “holy days” are traditionally known as “Sabbats”, and they were originally taught to me by Starhawk, both directly and in her book The Spiral Dance. Since I first began to celebrate them in the Southern Hemisphere, I have always done so at the correct dates for this location. I have adapted the celebrations significantly, re-languaging them for myself and for different groups of people, and as my understanding deepens and changes. It is my experience that the ongoing ritual celebration of these Seasonal Moments/Sabbats, couched in the participatory metaphor described in this book, enables women and men to actually experience participation in Gaia, identification and relationship with Her. The Wheel of the Year is a yearlong celebration of the Mystery – the light and the dark, which weave through our lives, and through all of existence. The annual Wheel is an expression of the dance of form and dissolution, that eternal dance in which we participate. It is an embodiment of the Creative Principle, the Triple Goddess, like a yearlong breath. The seasonal Wheel manifests how Gaia breathes in my part of the world, and the purpose of joining in that breath is in the hope of enhancing one’s journey into the awesome Creativity that She manifests, to unfold this deepest identity.
The Western Way
Caitlin and John Matthews define two paths that form the “prima materia” of the Western Way – the body of teaching and knowledge dating from the “Foretime” in which the ancestors of Western Europe “first began to explore the inner realms of existence92.” Those two paths are the “Native Tradition” and the “Hermetic Tradition”. The “Native Tradition”, also known as the “Old Religion93” because it is the earliest religion/spirituality in the West, is defined by Matthews as “more intuitive, earth conscious, Goddess-oriented”, and they define the “Hermetic Tradition” as more focussed on “the pursuit of knowledge, oneness with the godhead, superconsciousness94.” They say that Native Traditionalists see Deity “in terms of elemental forces”, while Hermetic Schools shifts focus “from ‘God out there’ to God within the self95.” I have learnt initially, about the Western Way from Starhawk’s teaching of it. She is truly grounded in the Native Tradition, but there is no sense in which I have ever understood from her, that Deity in the elemental forces is separate from Deity in the self. It appears to me that Starhawk is part of the regeneration of the Western Mysteries that Caitlin and John Matthews also see their work as evoking. They encourage, as Starhawk does, a time
for the symbols and systems to be regenerated by an influx of new yet ancient material, arising from within the group-soul and hereditary memory of ordinary people96.
Women particularly, and some men as well, of Goddess-centred spiritual tradition, have known deep stirrings and intuitions that are now forming the basis of a new era, a new branchpoint, as a new picture and sense of the Cosmos and the nature of humanity begins to be felt – in the crumbling of the old. A new story, grounded in ancient material yet with new “parts”/metaphors, and which is multivalent, is possible: enabling broader participation in human celebration of existence.
The Wheel of the Year in Stone
My ancestors built great circles of stones that represented their perception of Real Time and Space – cosmic calendars. They went to great lengths and detail to get it right. It was obviously very important to them to have the stones of a particular kind, in the right positions according to position of the Sun at different times of the year, and then to celebrate within it.
I have, for several years now, had a much smaller circle of stones assembled, representing the Wheel of the Year. I have regarded it as a “Medicine Wheel”. I was assisted in the idea for this by Sedonia Cahill, when I participated in a guided meditation that she led, in which she had participants visualize our own circle of eight points97. I had already been celebrating some of the Sabbats, and felt a desire to construct my own circle of eight stones, in which I could sit in meditation. I did so, and I felt it as “medicine”. My wheel of stones is a portable collection, that I can spread out in my living space, or let sit in a small circle on an altar, with a candle in the middle. Each stone/object (some are not stones as such) represents a particular Sabbat, and is placed in the particular direction. I have found this assembled circle to have been an important presence. It makes the year tangible and visible as a circle, and has been a method of “changing my mind” – my feeling about space and time. My stone wheel has been a method of bringing me Home to my indigenous sense of Being, though I did not language it that way for some time. I simply knew I needed to do it. Abram writes that “medicine wheels” found on the high plateaus in the Rocky Mountains,
enabled a person to orient herself within a dimension that was neither purely spatial nor purely temporal – the large stone that is precisely aligned with the place of the sun’s northernmost emergence, marks a place that is as much in time (the summer solstice) as in space98.
The stone circles represent an understanding of, and the creation of, space-time unity, a Larger Picture of where we are, and who we are.
My understanding of sacred awareness is awareness of all that is involved in the present moment. The Wheel of Stones has offered to me a way of experiencing the present as “presence”, as it recalls in an instant that
That which has been and that which is to come are not elsewhere – they are not autonomous dimensions independent of the encompassing present in which we dwell. They are, rather, the very depths of this living place – the hidden depth of its distances and the concealed depth on which we stand99.
The Wheel of Stones, which may capture the Wheel of the Year in essence, locates the participant in the deep present, wherein the past and the future are also contained – always gestating in the dark, through the gateways. This is all continually enacted and expressed in the ceremonies of the Wheel of the Year. At Autumn Equinox, there is descent of the Beloved One to the underground for Wisdom, at Spring Equinox, She returns bringing with Her the presence of the underground. At Samhain/Deep Autumn, the future is conceived and gestates in the seething fertility of the Void. At Beltane/High Spring, the fertility of Life is accelerated, whipping into a “froth” of passion, that may be returned through the gateway of Summer Solstice, dissolving into the concealed gestating depths. At Winter Solstice, the concealed depths are birthed back into form.
Participation in the Wheel of the Year process may be a re-identification with the entire cosmic process – the time-developmental, as well as the seasonal-renewing processes – thus healing our estrangement from our place, returning us to presence to the Universe.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2005
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1 Charlene Spretnak, “Gaian Spirituality”. Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991
2 I capitalize this term here because I am implying or offering another name for the Divine.
3 This is not meant to be an axiom of logic. It is stated thus because its metaphoric base here is “family’ or “nested realities”.
4 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences, p.42
5 Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature, p. 219.
6 Charlene Sprenak, The Re-Surgence of the Real, p.4.
7 Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, p.2.
8 Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, p.2.
9 An example of recently published ecological work that calls for a change of metaphor, yet still falls into the use of “higher” meaning “better” in his text, is David W. Orr, The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics and the Environment in an Age of Terror; see Chapter 6.
10 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).
11 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.iv.
12 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.1.
13 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.2.
14 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.4.
15 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.7.
16 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.8.
17 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.10.
18 Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.9.
19 Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.144-145.
20 in James Lovelock’s Foreword to Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.xiii.
21 Charlene Spretnak, “Gaian Spirituality”. Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991, p.17.
22 Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.xvii.
23 Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.7.
24 Originally they are Arthur Koestler’s terms. See Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences p. 89 -100. Ken Wilber also describes the terms inA Brief History of Everything, p.20ff.
25 Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.
26 Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.
27 Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxiii.
28 Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxii. It is worth noting that a holon itself could be said to exhibit qualities that I identify with the three dynamics of the Female Metaphor and Cosmogenesis – agency, communion, and self-transcendence. See Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.51-53.
29 James Hillman, “A Psyche the Size of Earth” in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Roszak, Gomes and Kanner, (eds), p.xix.
30 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.19.
31 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.19
32 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.3.
33 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.41.
34 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.42.
35 Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.42. Lovelock actually uses the word “God”, by which I assume he means “the Divine”. I translate it in the text for the sake of continuity of my point.
36 Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.ix.
37 Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.viii.
38 Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.ix.
39 Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.135.
40 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.228.
41 Cited in Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.216.
42 Mae-Wan Ho, “Natural Being and Coherent Society” in Gaia in Action, Peter Bunyard (ed.), p.305.
43 See Paul Devereaux Earth Memory p.34 and 120-124, Michael Dames The Silbury Treasure, Claire French The Celtic Goddess p.22. See Appendix F for more detail. See alsohttp://gofree.indigo.ie/~thall/newgrange.html
44 Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey, p.27.
45 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p.28.
46 I describe more of this in Chapter 4: see “Whitehead’s ‘Threefold Creative Composition’”.
47 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.72.
48 I capitalize this term as I mean it as another name for the Absolute, for the Sacred.
49 Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.12-13.
50 Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language, p.1420.
51 Hallie iglehart Austen refers to this in her discussion of “Language” in The Heart of the Goddess, p.xxi.
52 Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p.11.
53 Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p.12.
54 Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p.13.
55 Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p.19.
56 David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p.xv.
57 David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p.xv.
58 Which is also the story told in many other religions, in various ways.
59 Vivianne Crowley, Celtic Wisdom: Seasonal Rituals and Festivals, p.40.
60 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.182.
61 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.316.
62 Cited in Carol Christ, The Rebirth of the Goddess, p.184 fn5.
63 Coralie Ling, “Sophialogy and Croning Rituals”, What’s God Got to Do With It?” CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS, Kathleen mcPhillps (ed.), p.83-90.
64 Barbara Walker, Restoring the Goddess, p.27.
65 Mark Matousek, “Reinventing the Human”, Common Boundary Vol 8 No 3, p.31.
66 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.49.
67 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.55.
68 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.62.
69 Dr. Joanmarie Smith CSJ, “Hen, Homemaker and Goddess” in PACE 14 issue D, p.2.
70 Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is, p.235.
71 Charlene Spretnak States of Grace: the Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age, p.122-127.
72 William Irwin Thompson, Gaia: A Way of Knowing, p. 8-9.
73 As the process of invention and methods of qualitative research are described by Norman K.Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, p.584.
74 Monique Wittig, Les Guerilleres. NY: Avon Books, p.89.
75 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.66-79.
76 Quoted in Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.23, from Edward O.Wilson, On Human Nature, p.201.
77 Cited in Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.24-28.
78 Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.53-54. See Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p.176-195.
79 Larry Edwards helped me to clarify this.
80 In a personal communication (email 27/10/02) Swimme noted for example, G.G. SimpsonThe Major Features of Evolution p.243, and Karl Ernst von Baer as quoted in Stephen Jay Gould Ontology and Philogeny p.61, for differentiation; Jeffrey Wicken Evolution,Thermodynamics and Information: Extending the Darwinian Program p.8 for communion; and Ernst Mayr The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritancep.533, and E.O. Wilson The Diversity of Life p.8, for autopoiesis.
81 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.67.
82 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.132. I provide a description of these three biological shaping powers and my association of them with the Female Metaphor in Chapter 4.
83 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71.
84 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.66.
85 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.129.
86 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71.
87 This summary definition of the three aspects of Cosmogenesis is on the editorial page of issues of Original Blessing, a newsletter published by Friends of Creation Spirituality Inc., at 2141 Broadway, Oakland, CA., 1997. The Editor in Chief was Matthew Fox.
88 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.72.
89 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71.
90 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71.
91 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.74.
92 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.2.
93 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.22, and also Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.16.
94 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.3.
95 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.3-4.
96 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.15.
97 This was at a workshop at the Mind-Body-Spirit Festival in Sydney, 1995. In the meditation we each made our own imagined journeys around the circle. I learnt from her that there had perhaps been a lot of cultural exchange between the indigenous peoples of North America and the Celts.
98 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, p.189. Note that Abram is speaking from a Northern Hemisphere point of view: in the Southern Hemisphere it is the sun’s southernmost emergence that would mark the place of the Summer Solstice.
99 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, p.216.