Cosmogenesis and the Female Metaphor
Charlene Spretnak has noted that:
When a woman raised in patriarchal culture … immerses herself in sacred space where various manifestations of the Goddess bring forth the Earthbody from the spinning void … She will body the myth with her own totemic being. She is the cosmic form of waxing, fullness, waning: virgin, mature creator, wise crone. She cannot be negated ever again. Her roots are too deep – and they are everywhere1.
I propose that this may be true also for a man, who immerses himself in sacred space where various manifestations of Goddess bring forth Earthbody, where he may body the myth, the story, with his own totemic being, for She – the Female Metaphor – is the cosmic form of waxing, fullness and waning: a Dynamic that is everywhere, omnipresent. Brian Swimme has affirmed that “when he had reflected and meditated on the pre-Hellenic myths until he ‘became filled with a myth2’”, that his thinking about “natural phenomena and the entire universe were qualitatively different” from for instance, a “patriarchal, industrialized, competitive … frame of reference.” His experience led him to conclude that the myths had a very deep biological basis, that could alter our relationship to the universe, and thus the universe itself, if we allowed ourselves to be filled with them3.
Swimme and Berry have noted often in their reflections on the story of the unfolding Universe, that Western industrialized peoples have become dissociated from, or autistic to, the Earth community and the Cosmos. Berry has suggested that the only effective restoration of a viable mode of human presence on the planet is through a renewal of human intimacy “with the great cosmic liturgy of the natural world4.” He suggests that the coordination of ritual celebrations with the transformation moments of the natural world – such as the “entrancing sequence” of the seasons – gives promise of a future “with the understanding, the power, the aesthetic grandeur, and the emotional fulfillment needed5.” He suggests that such are the “entrancing qualities needed to endure the difficulties to be encountered and to evoke the creativity needed6.” Berry believes that although we – the human and the entire planet – are in a moment of dangerous transition to a new era, a moment of significance far beyond our imagination, that we are “not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future”, that we need only invoke the abundant sea of energy in which we are immersed7.
If the Universe is understood to be “a single, multiform celebratory expression” as Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme affirm in their cosmic story, then we are the very Dynamics of Creativity, and only need to invoke these powers – these “originating powers” that permeate “every drop of existence8”. As Charlene Spretnak affirms in States of Grace,
we exist as participants in the greatest ritual: the cosmic ceremony of seasonal and diurnal rhythms framing epochal dramas of becoming …
When people gather in a group to create ritual, they form a unitive body, a microcosmos of differentiation, subjectivity and deep communion9.
We may with practice – of a religious kind, as in a connecting kind – embody consciously, and grow into, our Earthly and Cosmic nature. This microcosmos – that we each are and that we may collectively express – of differentiation, subjectivity10 and communion are three faces of Gaia’s Cosmic method of Creativity, used everyday on planet Earth and throughout time and space in Her ever-transforming Cosmogenesis. In my Poetic Search, as I will describe in this chapter, I have associated these three faces of Cosmogenesis with the three faces of the Female Metaphor – the three faces that the ancients noticed reiterated all around them. The dynamic was everywhere as I will describe, and the ancients – scientists in their observation of the world, of which they felt a part, noticed its dimensions.
Gaia’s Creative Dynamics
The Moon was a sliver of light when She first appeared out of darkness, She waxed from there into fullness, and then waned to a sliver in the opposite direction, before disappearing into the darkness from whence She came. It was noticed by the women and perhaps some of the men, that the female body cycled with the Moon, waxing into desire and fertility, and waning into menstrual loss. All the body cycles repeated these faces: there was hunger, there was satiation, there was elimination. There was the urge to breathe, it waxed into fullness, there was the need to release – back into the emptiness from whence another could arise. The buds of flowers blossomed into fullness, then lost their petals, revealing seed pods from whence to begin again. The buds of leaves burgeoned out of dead looking branches, unfurled into greenery, then dropped away. Everywhere on the globe, on a daily basis, light emerged out of darkness – at dawn, waxed into the fullness of noon, then declined back into darkness. On an annual basis, the Sun’s light emerged out of the darkness of Winter, waxed into fullness at Summer, then declined back into darkness.
The darkness itself each day, was understood as an equal part the “day” – a “day” was not only the light part. We have to speak of it today as the “diurnal” day, to recall the sense that the dark part was included. It may have even been the main part – the basis of measuring time. The darkness was a time for rest, perhaps relief from the heat, perhaps a time to seek comfort from the cold – but almost always felt keenly as a time of dreams, perception of subtleties not so noticeable in the world of light. And the darkness of the sky was sprinkled with pinpoints of light in which the ancients could imagine their own forms and those of creatures: the night sky told stories. When the ancients created their own pinpoints of light – made fire, they told their own stories as well. This darkness of the diurnal day was fertile with life, a different kind of life. So too then, the death of the human must be a journey, like a long sleep, or an entry into a different kind of life. The plants grew above the Earth in the light, but the seeds sprouted in the dark, and emerged from there, and remained rooted in the dark to whence the plants would return. The darkness was understood to be the place of beginning – all things appeared to begin there – the womb, the Earth, the dead looking branch, the emptiness before a breath. Today Western science also suggests that the Universe itself seems to be mostly a sea of Dark Matter, out of which all emerges.
The triple dynamic as a whole, complexifies in the web of Life – the Universe itself is a display of these “primordial orderings” as Swimme and Berry describe them – and “the very existence of the universe rests on the power of these orderings”, which govern the universe’s arising “spontaneities11”. Swimme and Berry state that “enshrined in the Cosmogenetic Principle, is that in this universe there are entirely natural powers of form production that, when given the proper conditions, will create galaxies12.” Swimme and Berry name the three aspects/themes of Cosmogenesis as differentiation, communion and autopoeisis, yet with the understanding that each face/feature really defies pinning down to “any simple one-line univocal definition13.” Swimme and Berry supply a list of perceived synonyms for each, that do indeed overlap in their definitions, though each remains a distinguishable dynamic of cosmic evolution. Those synonyms are: for differentiation – “diversity, complexity, variation, disparity, multiform nature, heterogeneity, articulation”; for communion – “interrelatedness, interdependence, kinship, mutuality, internal relatedness, reciprocity, complementarity, interconnectivity and affiliation”; and for autopoeisis – “subjectivity, self-manifestation, sentience, self-organization, dynamic centres of experience, presence, identity, inner principle of being, voice, interiority14.” Swimme and Berry assume that “these three will undoubtedly be deepened and altered in the next era as future experience expands our present understanding15.”
This complexity and “fuzziness” of the terms for the evolutionary cosmic dynamics is mirrored in the metaphor of the Triple Goddess. “Fuzziness” is a term used by scientist and philosopher Vladimir Dimitrov, who describes that:
According to fuzzy set theory, the meaning of words cannot be precisely defined – each linguistic construct in use can be described by a set of ‘degrees of freedom’, i.e. ways of understanding (interpretation, transformation into actions) by (individuals or groups16.
And so it is for these names of the faces of the Female Metaphor. Each face has a name and distinguishable qualities, and each face can be so suitably simplified, celebrated, mythologized and embodied – absorbed and understood in a Poetic way – enabling a creative alignment of the self and/or the collective, with this Gaian Power; yet each face is “impregnated with virtual meaning that provide space for extension, elaboration and negotiation …” as Dimitrov describes in reference to “fuzzy concepts17”. Just so, is each embodied face of the Female Metaphor – a deep dynamic, a “primordial ordering” of being.
Adam McLean, a researcher who has spent much time studying and meditating upon the Triple Goddess, describes relationship/alignment with Her as releasing “such a powerful current of creative energy as few have ever experienced18.” He contends that She “remains a key to unlocking the store of ancient energies and spiritual wisdom” bound up within19. He speaks of the complexity of her guises, how She challenges our usual thinking with seeming contradictions and inconsistencies, yet he senses that She holds within Her all polarities – an integration of being that seems necessary for the “spiritual energies of the future” as he describes20.
The Three Faces of Cosmogenesis Developed
Describing differentiation, which I associate with the Virgin aspect – the Urge to Be, passionate love of every individual self, Swimme and Berry say,
From the articulated energy constellations we call the elementary particles and atomic beings, through the radiant structures of the animate world, to the complexities of the galaxy with its planetary systems, we find a universe of unending diversity… The more intimately we become acquainted with anything, the clearer our recognition of its differences from everything else… There has never been a time when the universe did not seek further differentiation. In the beginning all the particles interacted with each other with minimal distinction. But with the cosmic symmetry breaking, four branches of interactions differentiated from each other. From the thermal equilibrium of the fireball the universe sprouted into a universe differentiated by galaxies, with no two galaxies identical21.
Swimme and Berry note that although it is the endeavour of science to refer to the way in which structures are similar – stars, atoms, cells or society – the more deeply we come to know a thing – the Milky Way, the fall of Rome, the species on a particular tree in a rainforest – the more deeply we perceive its “ineffable uniqueness”. They note then that not only is each thing new and different, but that the dynamics of relationship between the new structures are qualitatively and quantitatively different. They add that,
This diversity of relatedness pertains to human knowing as well – knowledge represents a particular relationship we establish in the world … An integral relationship with the universe’s differentiated energy constellations requires a multivalent understanding that includes a full spectrum of modes of knowing22.
They find that when the thirteen point seven billion year epic of the Universe’s unfolding is viewed as a whole, with its extravagant creative outpouring, there is the revelation of the uniqueness of the creativity of each place and time, and the existence of each being.
My own Poetic translation of Swimme and Berry’s expressions regarding Cosmogenesis proceeds in the following way. When they say that the universe “at each instant has re-created itself anew”, and that this seemingly infinite power “speaks of an inexhaustible fecundity at the root of reality23”, I imagine it in “Goddess-speak”. That is, “the Virgin dynamic of unique beauty expressed and celebrated in early Spring, has layered within, the fertility that is expressed and celebrated in High Spring (Beltane), as She changes into the Mother dynamic of Summer, whose fertility rests in the Dark Interiority of the Old One expressed and celebrated particularly in Deep Autumn (Samhain).” This translation of mine is kin to William Irwin Thompson’s translation of Lyn Margulis’ description of her study of bacteria: he says that when he saw her film about bacteria, his thoughts “on the relationship between myth and science took a jump forward” as he began to understand what his Irish ancestors meant when they had spoken of “the little people” at work in the leaf mold at their feet24.
Even as Swimme and Berry define differentiation, the three aspects are constantly drawn into the equation, and again with this perception: “The multiform relatedness demanded by a differentiated universe rests upon the fact that each individual thing in the universe is ineffable25.” The sentience or interiority or presence of each unique thing/being evokes relatedness in mind-boggling complexity. To help one understand the way in which the aspects support each other, Swimme and Berry imagine:
Were there no differentiation, the universe would collapse into a homogenous smudge; were there no subjectivity, the universe would collapse into inert, dead extension; were there no communion, the universe would collapse into isolated singularities of being26.
Each aspect does not really exist without the others, yet each has its own integrity. In the case of the dynamic of differentiation, Swimme and Berry say that, to understand the Universe – the entire display – to get the full picture, we must understand the absolute freshness of each being and each moment.
Describing communion, which I associate with the Mother aspect – the sustaining, relating Context, the reciprocal Place of Being, the passionate pouring forth for other, Swimme and Berry say,
… relationship is the essence of existence. In the very first instant when the primitive particles rushed forth, every one of them was connected to every other one in the entire universe. At no time in the future existence of the universe would they ever arrive at a point of disconnection. Alienation for a particle is a theoretical impossibility. For galaxies too, relationships are the fact of existence. Each galaxy is directly connected to the hundred billion galaxies of the universe, and there will never come a time when a galaxy’s destiny does not involve each of the galaxies in the universe.
Nothing is itself without everything else. Our Sun emerged into being out of the creativity of so many millions of former beings. The elements of the floating presolar cloud had been created by former stars and by the primeval fireball … The patterns of nuclear resonances enabling stable nuclear burning was not the Sun’s invention – and yet all that followed depended upon this pattern of interconnectivity in which the Sun arose27.
So it is with any entity, with any being – we arise within a pattern of interconnectivity, the beneficiaries of the creativity of former beings, supported by everything that has gone before.
Swimme and Berry point out that a sense of relatedness is at the base of being, present even before a first interaction – that this is true in the earliest eras of the Universe’s unfolding at the quantum level of particles, present to each other in a direct and unmediated relationship; as well as in later eras as the biosphere of Earth unfolded. They give the example of an unborn grizzly bear, as being already related to the outside world in that she will not have to develop a taste for the foods bears eat, and she is already shaped for her environment and the survival tasks ahead of her; that is, we are already in relationship by the fact of our being – relationships then “are discovered, even more than they are forged28.”
Once again, in the process of defining the one aspect – this time communion – all three aspects are drawn into the equation. They say, “… the universe advances into community—into a differentiated web of relationships amongst sentient centers of creativity29.” As I noted in the last chapter, quoting storyteller Carolyn McVikar Edwards, the Nine Sisters who stir the Cauldron “represent the Holy Trinity of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, each able to manifest all three of Her selves30.” And so it is with the three faces of Cosmogenesis … as Swimme and Berry say: “These three features are themselves features of each other31.”
The eating of food is a communion experience – it enters into the being. It is also a dissolution and a breaking down, in which the food becomes something new – it gets trans-formed into activity, thought, emotions and ideas. Swimme says that “we eat an orange, and it gets turned into poetry32!” All three dynamics are present and cannot be separated. Mating rituals – in the human world or in the world of other creatures – are communion experiences. Swimme and Berry note that the desire for relationships of true intimacy is obvious in the music and dance of the world, and in the energy given to attracting relationship – revealing something of the ultimate meaning of reciprocal presence.
Describing autopoiesis, which I associate with the Crone aspect – the Return to the Dark Sentience, the Wisdom of the Ages within, a passionate commitment to transformation, Swimme and Berry say:
From autocatalyctic chemical processes to cells, from living bodies to galaxies, we find a universe filled with structures exhibiting self-organizing dynamics. The self that is referred to by autopoiesis is not visible to the eye. Only its effects can be discerned. … the unifying principle of an organism as a mode of being of the organism is integral with but distinct from the entire range of physical components of the organism. … Living beings and such ecosystems as the tropical forests or the coral reefs are the chief exemplars of self-organizing dynamics, but with the term autopoiesis we wish to point not just to living beings, but to self-organizing powers in general. Autopoeisis refers to the power each thing has to participate directly in the cosmos-creating endeavor. For instance, we have spoken of the autopoiesis of a star. The star organizes hydrogen and helium and produces elements and light. This ordering is the central activity of the star itself. That is, the star has a functioning self, a dynamic of organization centered within itself. …With such an understanding of the term, we can see that an atom is a self-organizing system as well. Each atom is a storm of ordered activity. … A galaxy, too, is an autopoietic system, organizing its stars into a nonequilibrium process and drawing forth new stars from its interstellar materials.
Autopoiesis points to the interior dimension of things. Even the simplest atom cannot be understood by considering only its physical structure or the outer world of external relationships with other things. Things emerge with an inner capacity for self-manifestation33.
Swimme and Berry put forth the question then about the sentience of the elemental realm,
… for we now realize that where Earth was once molten rock, it now fills its air with the songs of birds. And if humans bask in an astounding feeling for the universe, and the human arose from the elements, what can be said of the inner world of the elements34?
They answer this partly, implying innate sentience, by affirming the need “to preserve the continuity holding together an integral universe” and the need to “avoid regarding consciousness as an addendum or as an intrusion into reality35.” They do also allow for an apparent “discontinuity” which enables the universe to unfold through a sequence of transformations. Their interpretation is that the universe is “a place where qualities that will one day bloom are for the present hidden as dimensions of emptiness36” – rather like the Hopi realm of the “manifesting”. Swimme and Berry affirm that, the universe is a single “multiform energy event”, that “everything comes forth out of the intrinsic creativity of the universe” – a “latent hidden nothingness of being”, and they speak of the “potential sentience” in early elemental forms37. They say:
The rocks and water and air, just by being what they are, find themselves flowering forth with sentient beings. At the very least we can say that the future experience in a latent form is wrapped into the activity of rocks, for within the turbulence of molten magma, self-organizing powers are evoked that bring forth a new shape – animals capable of being racked with terror or stunned by awe of the very universe out of which they emerged38.
In a recent interview 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 information. The point is that if humans are spiritual, then hydrogen’s spiritual. It’s an incredible opportunity to escape dualism—you know, spirit is up there; matter is down here. Actually, it’s different. You have the matter all the way through, and so you have the spirit all the way through39.
By “autopoeisis”, Swimme and Berry are pointing to an interior dimension of things. It seems to me that for them, this aspect/face seems sometimes overwhelmingly associated with the Great Mystery itself – much as I have at times overwhelmingly associated the Old/Dark One with Love itself (as mentioned in Chapter 3). Yet “autopoeisis” and the Old Dark One/Crone are both only meant to be an aspect of the whole Creative Dynamic, and so they are; perhaps in both cases, the emphasis on this aspect’s centrality to Creativity is partly compensatory, given the cultural denial of it40. Certainly though, it taps the central Creativity of the All-Nourishing Abyss in a dramatic way – whether it be in the collapse of a star, or in the death of a loved one. Vision and perhaps trust are needed to comprehend such destruction as creative – creative of a larger picture than is ours to hold. When “autopoeisis” is described as “an inner capacity for self-manifestation41”, the self that is being spoken of, is the self that at once belongs and “knows42” it belongs, to the Larger Self – which is the Source of the Passion to manifest and to organize.
Loren Eiseley refers to a mysterious organizing principle, without which life does not persist –
bq. yet this organization itself is not strictly the product of life, nor of selection. Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes’ small windows or spaces the meadow lark’s song in the interior of a mottled egg43.
He speaks of the manifest world as
an apparition from that mysterious shadow world beyond nature, that contains – if anything contains – the explanation of men (sic) and catfish and green leaves44.
This organizing principle that he perceives, is the One I identify with Swimme and Berry’s autopoiesis, and the ancient face of the Old Wise Dark One.
The Three Biological Shaping Powers and the Female Metaphor
Swimme and Berry note that biological life on planet Earth is shaped by “three fundamentally related, though distinct causes45”, and they reflect that these powers further illustrate the “root creativity” of the Universe that finds expression in the three faces of Cosmogenesis46. These three shaping powers of the biosphere, of life’s journey here on Earth, are genetic mutation, natural selection and conscious choice/niche creation. I in turn find in their descriptions of these three biological shaping powers, a further articulation of the nature of the three faces of the Female Metaphor.
Swimme and Berry find in genetic mutation a biological illustration of differentiation – it is this power of mutation that gives rise to genetic variation. They describe it as a “pressure toward the future within each moment (that includes) a pressure for uniqueness47”, and I have come to identify Virgin energy – the Urge To Be – this way. They describe this dynamic with various words such as chance, random, stochastic and error, finally summarizing the quality as wild – “ a great beauty that seethes with intelligence, that is ever surprising and refreshing48.” I associate such a description with the Virgin, particularly as She is celebrated at Beltane – High Spring. I came to call this “the Poetry of genetic creation”, which is an allusion to Thomas Berry’s seventh principle of a functional cosmology, where he is stating the significance of the genetic coding process for life’s expression and being49.
For Swimme and Berry, natural selection illustrates the dynamic of communion – it is this power that sculpts the diversity, crafts it. They describe natural selection as a
dynamic of interrelatedness … that presses, always and everywhere, for a deep intimacy of togetherness … (deep into) the very structure of genes, body, mind50.
Swimme and Berry describe natural selection as a communal reality – a bonding process – wherein a species engages in finding its place in a biophysical community, and this seems similar to David Abram’s understanding of it as a “reciprocal phenomenon51” – a dialogue or conversation between the organism and the environment. The conventional and popular notion of the environment being “fixed”, and to which the organism must conform was challenged by biologist Lyn Margulis in her groundbreaking research52. These descriptions of the flux between organism and Earth, as a co-creation of place, have deepened my understanding of the nature of the Mother face of the Female Metaphor – as the Place to Be; a Place that is a dynamic point of Interchange, a vibrant Reciprocity, that is celebrated particularly at the Winter and Summer Solstices. The Solstices are points of interchange between the light and the dark, the dark and the light, where one is seeded in the other. I came to call these Seasonal Moments, “Gateways” – places of Birth, either into form or into dissolution; they are points that celebrate life’s transitions of birth and death, the holy Moments of the annual cycle that celebrate the interchange between the biological self (a singularity, be it species or individual) and existence (All-That-Is).
Swimme and Berry describe the third biological shaping power of niche creation or conscious choice as a biological illustration of the Cosmogenetic dynamic of autopoiesis53. Ordinarily, scientific accounts do not give niche creation/conscious choice as much importance as the other two biological shaping powers, but Swimme and Berry argue for its equal inclusion saying that at points of major evolutionary change, conscious choice becomes the primary explanation for the change. They call for more recognition of the self-organizing dynamics within all life forms – “behavior that can be interpreted as manifestations of memory, of discernment concerning questions of temperature and nutrient concentration, of a basic irreducible intelligence54.” They express that even minimal powers of this kind have resulted in primal decisions on the part of organisms which have sent the biosphere into pathways forever characterized by those decisions. As a premise to their perception Swimme and Berry argue against the conventional notion of a “fixed environment” pointing out its limitations, stating rhetorically that a species always creates its own niche. They present the example of the horse and the bison who come from a common ancestor but are now very different forms of life – the different choices made by their primordial ancestors created two different worlds, with different selection pressures constellated for each, and these shaping the genetic diversity accordingly55. They describe this dynamic of niche creation as a felt “vision” or simple thrill wherein the creature responds to this inner attraction to pursue a particular path – much like the power of imagination draws the human. I associate this energy with the Crone, particularly as She is celebrated at Samhain – Deep Autumn, drawing forth the future, conceiving the new, from Her Dark Sentient Depths. In the human this imaginative power is sometimes simply felt, sometimes “seen”, always an act of will. I came to call this “the Poetry of trans-genetic creation” which is an allusion to Thomas Berry’s ninth principle of a functional cosmology, where he is stating the significance of human language – “cultural coding”.
Whitehead’s “Threefold Creative Composition”
Process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead also perceived the Universe as including a composition of a “threefold creative act”. He describes these three as
(i) the one infinite conceptual realization, (ii) the multiple solidarity of free physical realizations in the temporal world, (iii) the ultimate unity of the multiplicity of actual fact with the primordial conceptual fact56.
I note some congruencies of this threefold composition with the Female Metaphor, as well as some points of departure. Whitehead conceives his first and the third aspects as having a unity, which is also true of the Virgin and Crone aspects of the Female Metaphor – the beginning and the end are barely distinguishable in their felt proximity to Source; the continuity of the “Urge to Return” and the “Urge to Be” may be more obvious than their continuity with the “Place of Being”. We are always returning to the Unity – it is integral with Life; and we are always being regenerated – reconceived: our bodyminds in a constant state of renewal, and both the Virgin and Crone energies inseparably allow this. We are part of some Great Cycle of Returning and Renewal, and the Manifest Reality – the Mother, the “physical realization” as Whitehead describes his second aspect – is the place of Communion. However Whitehead puts the first and third aspects “over against” the second aspect. He admits the power of the second aspect, as he describes that the “sheer force of things lies in the intermediate physical process: this is the energy of physical production57”, but his “God” is merely “patient” with it. Whitehead says that “God’s role … lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization58.” Whitehead’s point was that “God” did not create the world, that “he” was the poet of the world – leading it with “tender patience”, but the language that he uses invokes and indicates a remnant of dualistic thinking, as does his splitting of the “three-fold creative act” into this oppositional situation. The cosmology of the Female Metaphor has resonances with Whitehead’s philosophy, however he still speaks of a God as an entity as if external to creation, albeit at times also Creature and of “consequent nature” – that is, partly created by the world59.
Theologian Nancy Howell notes that Whitehead’s “philosophy of organism”, as she describes it, does provide a cosmology that radically differs from “dominant mechanistic and patriarchal worldviews”, thus providing support for the constructing of a promising feminist theory of relations, a feminist ecological cosmology60. She describes how Whitehead’s process philosophy has provided a “helpful conceptual framework” for the interpretation of women’s experiences based as it is in relational, organic thinking that is systemically inclusive of an infinite range of experience, and promotes a continuity of the human with the cosmos/nature. Howell notes that Whitehead’s philosophy promotes and reflects change, and enables the reinterpretation of many dualisms – subject/object, body/mind, reason/emotion, God/world61. Feminist theologians, for whom in general “God” remains an indelible metaphor, find the reinterpretation of the last mentioned dualism particularly hopeful. Howell describes that “the genius of Whitehead’s metaphysics” is that “God and the world” truly affect each other, create each other, receive from each other – are “truly in relation62”: Howell is thus confident that this metaphysics feeds “a feminist vision of mutuality”.
This helps clarify then that the cosmology I am describing in this book goes further than a “feminist vision of mutuality”. Howell still speaks of this “God” as a separate entity: to my mind this is still a “meta”-physics, not the “intra”-physics of the cosmogenetic dynamics of which I speak. Howell comes closest in her language to this “intra”-physics where she notes Rita Nakashima Brock’s metaphor of “God/dess as Heart, the present divine erotic power63”. Brock appears to have made the connection, the transition to an integral cosmology, where Whitehead’s metaphysics comes up short. As mythologist Joseph Campbell points out, “ ‘God’ is an ambiguous word in our language because it appears to refer to something that is known”; elaborating that “in religions where the god or creator is the mother, the whole world is her body. There is nowhere else64.”
The Spirochete as an Example of the Female Metaphor
The spirochete is a bacterium – one of the earliest forms of life on the planet. It is a prokaryote, a cell without a nucleus – of the kind that has been swimming around on Earth for four billion years, and with which Life proceeded to build further. The work of biologist Lyn Margulis on the earliest of life forms – bacteria – has been ground breaking and has changed the way Life may be perceived65. In her general theory of evolution, the spirochete – an ancient single rod bacterium that has neither head nor tail – is seen as the fundamental building block of life’s unfolding. Many other later developments of Life – such as axons attached to neurons, spermatozoa attached to ova – Margulis saw as “a variant of the biological architecture of the attachment of the spirochete to the larger cell of the protist66.” The spirochete, fundamental to the biosphere, moves randomly in a wave-like motion in its viscous aqueous medium seeking nutrition. William Irwin Thompson uses the spirochete to begin his story of the evolution of consciousness, and points out three factors associated with the spirochete dynamic – “the meat” or the rod of the spirochete, “the motion” or wavelike pattern, and “the waves it makes in its liquid medium by writhing in space67.” These three factors associate very well in themselves and in their developing complexity, with the evolutionary cosmic dynamics of Cosmogenesis and the Female Metaphor; at the simplest layer of perception, the materia/meat is the Mother, the wavelike motion of the materia is the Urge/Virgin, the waves created in the liquid that ripple out in search of nutrients are the Crone/the Transformer.
Further, Thompson notes that even at this level of biological development, we encounter the factor of “distinction” – between one end of the rod that may have found food and thus becomes still and “listens” and “sucks”, and the other end of the rod that may not have yet encountered a strong presence of food and continues to writhe68. I find this factor of distinction kin to the primary distinction of light and dark – manifest and unmanifest – which is a major distinction in the Female Metaphor, and celebrated in the Wheel of the Year. In the case of the spirochete, the emergent property of the distinction between one end’s activity and the other end’s stillness, is “directional motion”; in the case of the light and dark parts of the Metaphor, the emergent property is ongoing creativity.
All this fires my poetic imagination, as it did Thompson’s when he saw Lyn Margulis’ film of the bacteria69, although mine specifically sees the ancient Triple Metaphor and the triple-fold cosmic dynamics at play. A further development to the first simple layer of perception of the three distinct factors of the spirochete is this: within the materia/meat of the rod – the Mother – is another whole depth … which is Sentience/Crone, and with its own differentiated entities – Virgin. And the wave in the liquid – associated with the sentience/interiority of autopoeisis – is also a communion, and also establishes a new relationship. The motion itself – the Urge – can only exist in the materia, or at least can only be seen/manifest there. At this time in scientific research, its manifestation remains a mystery. The Urge to writhe responds to feedback or presence in the liquid medium, either in the form of nutrition or of other spirochetes – its flagellating movement comes into synchrony with others after a period.
There is the question of explaining the stilling and “listening” of one end. Contemporary science favours a chemical explanation, while Thompson’s “poetic imagination” entertains the theory that the stilling occurs when the spirochete receives back an echo/sonar wave from the “Other”, though he suggests it may be “an interesting interaction of the two on the membrane of the bacterium70.” My poetic imagination sees the Reciprocity between the unmanifest and the manifest – Dark and Light – as celebrated in the Wheel of the Year.
Beneath or within the form of the spirochete is another whole world, wherein the “microtubule” is the primary form, and the distinction is no longer the two states of writhing and stillness, and the emergent property is no longer directional motion, “but the single quantum state”, as Thompson describes. By shifting one’s threshold of perception, one may comprehend a different reality, ”an emergent property of coherence71”. So it is with the Metaphor, and Her embodiment in the seasonal cycle of light and dark, when one shifts one’s threshold of perception.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2005
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1 Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.143.
2 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.xvii.
3 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.xvii.
4 Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p.19
5 Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p.18-20.
6 Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p.20.
7 Thomas Berry, The Great Work, p.175.
8 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.78.
9 Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.145.
10 Swimme and Berry have at an earlier time, named the “autopoeisis” face of Cosmogenesis as “subjectivity”. By time they wrote The Universe Story they had changed the name to “autopoeisis”.
11 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.72.
12 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.70.
13 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71.
14 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.71-72.
15 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.72.
16 Vladimir Dimitrov, “Fuzzy Logic in Service to a Better World: the Social Dimensions of Fuzzy Sets”, in Complexity, Organisations, Fuzziness, p.3. of “Introduction to Fuzziology” – http://www.zulenet.com/VladimirDimitrov/pages/IntroSocialFuzz.html
17 Vladimir Dimitrov, “Fuzzy Logic in Service to a Better World: the Social Dimensions of Fuzzy Sets”, in Complexity, Organisations, Fuzziness, p.5.
18 Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.12.
19 Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.17.
20 Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, p.12.
21 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.73.
22 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.74.
23 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.74.
24 William Irwin Thompson, Gaia: A Way of Knowing, p.7. He says that when Lynn Margulis spoke of bacteria laying down the iron ore deposits in the Gunflint formations of Ontario, he saw dwarves at work in the mines.
25 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.74.
26 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.73.
27 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.77.
28 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.77.
29 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.77.
30 Carolyn McVikar Edwards, The Storyteller’s Goddess, p.152.
31 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.73.
32 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 4.
33 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.75.
34 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.76.
35 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.76.
36 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.76.
37 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.76.
38 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.76-77.
39 Susan Bridle, “Comprehensive Compassion: An Interview with Brian Swimme”, What Is Enlightenment? No. 19, p.40.
40 The imaging by Swimme and Berry of autopoeisis as the place within, of direct contact with the cosmos – may suggest that the other two aspects are not. This would be an incomplete comprehension or expression of the other two aspects. Upon reflection, these other two aspects cannot be separated out from autopoeisis, and do also contact directly, simply in a different way; that is, the urge to differentiated manifest form and the weaving into relational being are as integral with the Larger Self as the creative centre.
41 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.75.
42 This “knowing” is meant in the broadest sense – not only referring to the human reflective knowing, but also to other ways of “knowing” by other beings and entities.
43 Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey. p.26.
44 Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey. p.27.
45 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.125.
46 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.132.
47 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.133.
48 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.126-127.
49 See Appendix A.
50 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.134.
51 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, p.247.
52 Margulis refers to the work of Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky and philosopher of science Karl Popper, saying that: “the activities of each organism lead to continuously changing environments. 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.” Cited in Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences, p.237.
53 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.132.
54 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.132.
55 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.136-138.
56 Alfred North Whitehead, “God and the World”, in Ewert H. Cousins (ed), Process Theology, p.91.
57 Alfred North Whitehead, “God and the World”, in Ewert H. Cousins (ed), Process Theology, p.91.
58 Alfred North Whitehead, “God and the World”, in Ewert H. Cousins (ed), Process Theology, p.91.
59 Charles Hartshorne, “The Development of Process Philosophy”, in Ewert H. Cousins (ed),Process Theology, p.53.
60 Nancy R. Howell, A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics, p. 13-14.
61 Nancy R. Howell, A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics, p. 22.
62 Nancy R. Howell, A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics, p. 31.
63 Nancy R. Howell, ??A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysic??s, p. 32, quoting Rita Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power, p.46.
64 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p.48-49.
65 See Connie Barlow (ed), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences, p.47-66, and also Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, Ch.6 particularly p.100-103.
66 referred to in William Irwin Thompson, Coming into Being, p.18.
67 William Irwin Thompson, Coming into Being, p.21.
68 William Irwin Thompson, Coming into Being, p.22.
69 William Irwin Thompson, Gaia: A Way of Knowing, p.7.
70 William Irwin Thompson, Coming into Being, p.23.
71 William Irwin Thompson, Coming into Being, p.26.