If we listened, water would teach us a lot, about ourselves, our planet - the Universe itself. If we listened, we would hear the voice of the ultimate spoken clearly and eloquently through water. If we decide to listen, it should be soon since we are rapidly changing the qualities of this life-giving element - water.
At a Bioneers conference in Marin County, California, I attended the lecture,Waterworld: The Patterns of Nature given by Jennifer Greene of Maine. She spoke of the positive qualities of water from an anthroposophical point of view, emphasizing that to become effective stewards of water we must understand its true nature.
The nature of water is movement. The movement of healthy water has formative capacities. Three of the forms that the movement of water repeatedly gives rise to are the meander, the sphere and the spiral. Greene asks the question: Are these forms portraying the character of water or are they evidence of archetypal forms in the universe working on water?
Meander: If left alone, a body of water will meander. Water not only wants to meander but must. Through its circulating, wavy, serpentine movement (flow), water keeps itself alive. Water is alive. It is a living organism continuously engaged in organizing, creating and sustaining itself. Bodies of water such as rivers, streams and ponds are one single interconnected organism, which will therefore respond to changes made anywhere upon them. Water movement and water quality are found to be in direct correlation.
Sphere: Water always strives to create a sphere. The teardrop shape ubiquitous on earth is the imperfect form of the sphere created by the effect of gravity, however water always strives to be spherical.
Spiral: Water creates within itself spirals, which often develop into vortices. Within moving and flowing water is water that is spiraling and spinning. Water moves in ‘trains of vortices, streams moving within streams…ripples’. (Ausubel 1997: 219)
Greene’s remarks about water closely paralleled discoveries I had made in my own research into ancient civilizations, African Rock art, Amerindian symbols and indeed, the recurring spherical, meandering and spiraling patterns found over and over again in the large scale structure of the universe itself.
For eight years I had been researching the civilizations of Old Europe, trying to understand the worldview of the people who created and inhabited villages on the Danube (6000-3500 BCE), throughout Anatolia (7000-5500 BCE), in what is now the Ukraine and Poland (6000-3500 BCE), Greece and the island of Crete (3000-1300 BCE), the builders of the great stone circles of Britain (4500-3000 BCE). These communities’ remains indicate a people who succeeded in living together in harmony, sharing resources, and respecting the land and the beings they shared it with. What was different that allowed this way of being to prosper and flourish? Imagine living in such a place?
On the archaeological remains unearthed from these cultures are many symbols. Painted onto their pottery, incised onto the walls of their dwellings, chiseled onto local rockface and standing stones, these markings reveal themselves openly, yet remain mysterious in their meaning; becoming codes to decipher. Marija Gimbutas’ irreplaceable research provides an in depth and exhaustive cataloging of these symbols throughout several volumes of work. She viewed them as a language centered around the spiritual beliefs of the people who created them; a pre-hieroglyphic script. While compiling the information, she drew on ancient myth, folklore and continuous tradition to deepen the text.
Within this language of symbols or, the language with no words, are found the meander, the sphere and the omnipresent spiral. These repeating symbols are found not only throughout European cultures but also African Rock Art, Amerindian art, Australian aboriginal art, art the world over. Do these symbols have similar meanings throughout these dissimilar cultures? How is it that disparate cultures with no known interaction consistently engaged similar symbols?
Gimbutas believed that many of the symbols recurring in the art of Old Europe were used to express the creative aspect of the divine experienced as female - the Goddess. The Goddess’ ability to continuously create and sustain life, Her generative and regenerative aspects were recognized and worshiped. She also associated some of these symbols with water. Of the meander she wrote, “the meandering snake and continuous meander first appeared in the art of the Upper Paleolithic. From the beginning the meander was not used merely decoratively; it was a symbol, a metaphor for water.” (Gimbutas 1989: 25)
The word meander is derived from a river of the same name found in Asia Minor well known for its striking ‘rhythmical loops’. (Schwenk 1965: 15) In Modern English vernacular it is used to indicate such a movement - a wavering, rhythmical wandering, a making up of one’s way as one goes along. Drawing up silt from its bottom a little at a time, a river will meander, creating new boundaries for itself, moving itself along with its own natural flow, which is continuously changing according to the conditions it meets.
It is not only rivers but also streams and ponds-any body of water- that must have a movement, a flow in order to be healthy. In this flowing, rhythmical pattern of movement, the water is able to maintain health as well as revitalize itself. This wisdom informs the design of Flowforms. Flowforms are sculptures-fountains-designed to move water in ways that mimic its own natural flow, forcing water through meandering spherical, and spiralform shapes. The installation of Flowforms in polluted and troubled bodies of water has initiated purification; jump-started their natural capacity for regeneration.
The need for movement, flow, is true not only for bodies of water but for all of life. We now understand that life requires an energy flow. Something that is alive creates and consumes energy in a flowing, moving, rhythmical way. Flow, everything must flow, move, turn, change, dig the silt up from its depths and recreate itself in each and every moment. In Earthdance, Elisabet Sahtouris emphasizes that a “live planet needs not only a great deal of energy but also flowing matter such as atmospheric gases and water to move things about.” (Sahtouris 2000: 38)
Jennifer Greene showed us, using her drop picture method, what simple detergent does to water. The water without detergent when dropped onto the slide displays a beautifully radiating and emanating circular design while the one polluted with detergent remains flat, dull, uneventful-no energetic tendril, no intricate design. It has lost its form producing capacities.
Dams stop the natural flow of a river, forcing it into a straightened pattern. Currently dams, diversions or canals fragment 60% of the world’s largest 227 rivers. (World Resources Institute 2000: 106)
Theodore Schwenk, precursor to Jennifer Greene and author of, Sensitive Chaos, laments, “a straightened river looks lifeless and dreary. It indicates the inner landscape in human souls that no longer know how to move with the rhythms of nature.” (Schwenk 1965: 15)
~ = flow
Planets, seeds, eggs, the sphere as a symbol or a form is present everywhere. Traditionally spheres are symbols of unity, interconnectedness, depictions of wholeness. Interesting to me are the spherical forms humans have created through the ages to serve as ritual space.
Throughout Europe we find the repeating occurrence of stone circles, especially concentrated in the British Isles where over nine hundred remain. Often comprised of hundreds of stones, these temples took generations to create. Many of them consist of concentric circles – a circle within a circle within a circle. The outer circle was often an earthen hill, with a neighboring, parallel ditch. The inmost circle was the Center, the Holy of Holies, and was reserved for ritual use.
During ritual, community members would participate with the powers of the Universe. To interact with and possibly transmute these transcendent energies it was more effective to have them contained within this space, spherical in form. The created and bordered off spherical form possessed the ability to assist or direct the influence these powers had over the physical world. The circle served as container, within which these powers, when harnessed became heightened, accentuated, amplified.
Physicist Mae Wan-Ho informs us that “an organism arises when the loop of circulating energy somehow closes on itself to give a regenerating, reproducing, life cycle within which energy is mobilized, remaining stored as it is mobilized.” (Ho 1998: 80) The circular form serves as the loop for the closing off of energy required in order for processes or organisms to arise; the circle allowing for necessary circulation.
In the creation of the cell by the early earth we find another example of the requirement for contained space. The cell could not be created until it had a membrane, a system whereby the cell could close itself off to external influence. The membrane acts as a filter screening carefully and intelligently what it allows in while preserving the integrity of the Center. Until a cell had a distinct boundary between outside and inside it could not become an integral whole. Its energies were constantly dispersed into the environment that surrounded it. (Swimme & Berry, 1992: 87) The invention of the membrane out of fatty liposomes found in the early sea allowed the cell to maintain itself while interacting with the outside world. Similarly the earth’s atmosphere offers a protective shield or boundary to the planet, allowing it to bring forth a wide variety of life forms, while acting as a screening device for UV radiation and other harmful cosmic substances. Without the protective circular embrace of the atmosphere the planet would not be able to sustain life.
The stone circles created the same such boundary between ritual space and the everyday. Within the circular form potent energies could be captured and enhanced at certain times. The circle provided the community or tribe with a solid center safe from external influences. We find the rounded form again in the kivas of the American southwest, the rounded Neolithic temples of Malta and Gozo.
Greene tells us of water’s incredible ability to capture and contain cosmic moments by opening itself to a local impression then closing itself around and holding the impression within until opened again. As in ritual space and the cell membrane, here we find again the idea of opening to a moment and then containing it within. Meditation, prayer, trance, creative artistic endeavor can be seen as captured moments, impressions gathered in the container of intentionally created space.
The opening of water can happen by simply shaking it. It is advised that water should be shaken before it is imbibed. Here we see water displaying the capacity toward memory. The trouble with water is that it lacks the ability to choose what it allows itself to be exposed to. It is open and accepting of everything. Taking impressions from whatever it comes into contact with. This in itself could be an argument as to why water should be guarded over, protected.
It also offers the opportunity for meditation on our part to consider the way we live. What are we choosing to open and expose ourselves to? What impressions are these things leaving on our being? How can we retain the integrity of our centers?
The desire to flow or meander combined with the striving for spherical can only lead to one outcome – the spiral. The meander caught up within the dynamic form of held spherical space begins to spin. Captured and spinning within this contained space the powers and energies of flow become intensified, concentrated so thatgreat creations and transformations may occur. The spiral is the primary creative form of the Universe continually generating, regenerating – bringing forth new evolutionary processes. We find the spiral form in the shell, the bark of trees, the unfolding of plants and in air patterns.
Even the heart, rather than a pump, is a spiral circulating our blood and bodily fluids in a rhythmical sustaining pattern. In the galactic realm, it is the great spiral galaxies that are creative, still actively engaged in birthing stars and planets.
The “atom itself seems more and more like the vortex or whirlpool … continually self-creating by taking in and spitting out matter/energy while holding its form.” (Sahtouris 2000:254)
Gimbutas interprets the spiral as the Goddess’ energy and asserts that the placement of the spiral is important not for decoration but as an “enhancement of that energy”. (Gimbutas 1989: 279) We find spirals spreading, swirling, coiling and uncoiling over the breasts of the Goddess, along her womb or buttocks. “The energy inherent in the continually moving forms awakens dormant life power and moves it forward.”(Gimbutas 1989: 27)
On Malta the spiral image sprouts into plants, transformed into something physical, concrete. The Goddess’ spiral energy depicted as necessary–vital for anything’s growth. “The spiraling force affects the germination and growth of trees and plants.” (Gimbutas 1989: 282)
In samples of water from a stream in Germany, Greene noticed that the macro invertebrates found in different parts in the stream reflected the formative activity she had detected in her drop pictures. In the part of the stream where the water was more pure, where it was able to form and hold vortices, she found more highly differentiated life forms.
All around us life processes uncoil, unfold, unfurl as they blossom into being, becoming–as they make their journey toward the realization of potential locked deep within. A fern, fetuses, leaves, waves, larvae, seeds, and children. A human life also uncoils, unfurls–the journey taken is spiralform indeed. Gimbutas interprets the spiral as the spinning energy of the cosmos, as cosmic evolution, that transforms that which has encountered its whooshing force. “Whirling signs seems to ensure the smooth transition from one phase to the next, from one cardinal direction to another.” (Gimbutas 1989: 295)
In the Chaco Canyon in present day New Mexico in the American Southwest circa 900-1295 BCE lived what have come to be called the Anasazi people. Here again is evidence of a society that supersedes our expectations of knowledge or quality of life in early people. In Chaco Canyon are the remains of a large complex of buildings skillfully built into the canyon complete with underground Kivas and above ground ritual areas. Many of the buildings are multistoried. A sophisticated irrigation system was discovered as well as an enormous amount of pottery. The Anasazi found wealth in turquoise, which they mined and processed. The civilization thrived there nearly a thousand years. Though the complex was large enough to support 3000 inhabitants, no more than one thousand lived there at a time. This has led many to interpret it as ritual center traveled to at certain times. Surrounding the complex is an intricate system of wide and clearly defined roads. The roads raise a large question for the simple reason that the Chacoans possessed not the wheel or the horse.
The Fatje Butte is a cliff face in the Chaco Canyon incised with two spirals upon which precise daggers of light fall at certain moments of importance throughout the seasonal year including solstice, equinox and particular lunar cycles. (Sofaer at Al. 1979)
Thanks to Ned Eddins for permission to use the photographs above
Three deliberately cut and precisely aligned rock slabs that create patterns of light at specific and very precise times accomplish this phenomenon. The clocking of the exact moments of equinoxes and solstices is an achievement remarkable enough but what intrigues me is that they chose the spiral form as the symbol onto which their carefully captured and focused sunlight should land. They could have chosen any shape, depiction, image – petroglyphs abound in this canyon, yet they chose the spiral.
Chaco Canyon is not unique in focusing an intense form of the solstice sun onto the image of a spiral. At the passage tomb in Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland, the light of mid-winter solstice is captured through a rectangular opening above the linteled entryway to a tunnel that leads to the inner chamber. At the exact moment of mid-winter solstice the inner chamber of the tomb is illuminated by this deliberately captured light, revealing elegantly incised depictions of the spiral and the triple spiral that utterly fill this chamber.
“Such symbols are necessary at critical moments…when life powers are at stake.” (Gimbutas 1989: 295)
Early people believed that they must participate at these times, at equinox and solstice when the veil between the worlds is thin, when the life powers are at stake. One way to request for the continuation of these life powers would be to place a spiral, the symbol of the numinous generative life force of the Universe, at locations determined to be sacred. The intensely focused light of these cosmic power moments landing on the spiral may have been seen as an energizing of this force, promoting its renewal throughout the coming year or season.
Many native people when asked about the petroglyphs have stated that it is the Shamans who create them while in trance or people who have been on a vision quest. Some say the spirit people have created them.
So too the San people of South Africa have said of their rock art that these are symbols from the spirit realm, depictions “of the world behind this one we see with our eyes.” (Devereux 1994: 165)
Researchers have compiled a list of images or form constants that are repeatedly encountered by people who have ingested hallucinogens or dropped into a trance state. The symbols recur worldwide and include the meander, the concentric circle and the spiral.
Science has determined that certain forms or patterns exist and recur over and over. These forms are archetypal generative forms that give rise to the physical world around us. These images posses and communicate a superconscious language, which early people interacted with in ritual. Placing these symbols at locations perceived to be where the two worlds meet would have been an act of great power.
Could we think of the Universe as a vast river meandering, creating itself as it goes along? With its meandering setting things spinning, whirling into being, like water being changed by all that it encounters, changing all that is encountered by it. Could we think of the Universe as a body of water which, though it spreads itself across great distances is still one single organism? As in the river flowing downstream, in which each piece of gravel and silt collected on its way through time has a part to play as well as a say in the direction of that body of water–so too the presence of each atom, each element, every organism play a role in creating and sustaining the Universe. The sphere, the meander and the spiral creative forms in this generative process.
It could be argued that these are simply metaphors, symbols used to convey an idea, a thought. True indeed. We must not forget however that language itself is a metaphor; words but symbols devised to describe the world around us. I have yet to encounter a word (in English) that conveys the range of depth and meaning expressed by the spiral. What one word would we use to say, ‘the sacred generative force at work in the universe, available to us at every moment, present in every fraction of space’? I cannot think of one.
©Theresa C. Dintino
Ausubel, Kenny. 1997. Restoring the Earth: Visionary Solutions from the Bioneers.
Tiburon, CA: H.J. Kramer
Devereux, Paul. 1994. Shamanism and the Mystery Lines. St Paul: Llewellyn
Gimbutas, Marija. 1982, 1992. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press
______________. 1989. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row
______________. 1991. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. HarperSanFrancisco.
Ho, Mae-Wan. 1998. The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms. Singapore;World Scientific
Sahtouris, Elisabet. 2000. Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution. San Jose iUniverse.com
Schwenk, Theodor. 1965. Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air. London: Rudolf Steiner Press
Sofaer, Anna, and Volker Zinser & Rolf M. Sinclair. 1979. A Unique Solar marking Construct. Science 206: 283-291.
Swimme Brian, and Thomas Berry. 1992. The Universe Story. HarperSanFrancisco.