by Geraldine Charles
I want to be young in wonder again,
To hold a single seed to the sky and marvel
that it owns the energy of a star
Rose Flint, Prayer to Live with Paradox.1
I want to celebrate something I often take for granted: the opportunity for an endless “summer”; a life of delight, discovery and exploration. I rejoice that Goddess requires no strict rules of belief, imposes no dogma, burns no heretics.
No article of faith enforces an assumption that, for example, the world was created in October 4004 BCE as Bishop James Ussher calculated by adding up the ages of the Old Testament Patriarchs, while just seventeen years earlier in 1633 Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for supporting the theory that the Sun, not Earth, is the centre of the Solar System, which went against official doctrine.
Any smile at such ideas fades when we recall that even without rummaging through history’s wastebasket we can find similar beliefs right now, and it’s interesting to note that Ussher’s work is today used to support Young Earth Creationism, most of the supporters of which believe that the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis is to be interpreted literally.
I’m free to peer through the microscope and the telescope, to enquire into the beginnings of Earth’s igneous and metamorphic bones, to muse on the nature of black holes, those collapsed giant stars without which none of us would be here today, for without the heavier elements created in their explosive ends as supernovae life as we understand it wouldn’t be possible.
Free to wonder at evolution; at how tiny changes can multiply and differentiate into the incredible variety of living things on our own planet alone; who knows what we may find elsewhere in the universe? And free to speculate about billions of years of unfolding creation, in the wonders of planet Earth, Her plants and creatures, Her oceans, rivers, deserts and mountains. Free personally to dismiss the idea that all this fascinating and joyful diversity was created not by a jealous and frankly dodgy deity but by a Goddess who is far more interesting - and yet paradoxical, for despite Her immanence, Her presence in every seed and every star and even in me She is also unknowable, transcendent, creator of a universe that sprang into being from – apparently – nothing at all some 13.8 billion years ago.
Einstein wrote: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. Substitute the word “spirituality” for “religion” and I have the tiniest dawning of an understanding – our minds can encompass matter and of course data, information, is simply a form of matter, while spirit is neither – and what a dull and mechanistic place the universe would be without it!
But what was the driving force, the motive behind the mystery of creation? The only answer I can come up with is Love – or more specifically, Eros, often thought to mean just sexual desire – but how, without that, would much of life recreate itself, and would it even matter if consciousness and spirituality were absent?
Eros is more than an idea, for according to the Orphic Creation Myths (in which he was more often known as Protogonus, or “First Born”) Eros was hatched from the World Egg and without him no other deities could exist. Interesting that many modern depictions of the Universe show it as pretty much egg-shaped!
As far as I know, however, no ancient philospher seems to have adequately tackled the question begged by that Cosmic Egg – precisely where did that come from? Who laid the egg?
Consciousness is sometimes a mixed blessing, and it is hard to be celebratory when seeing how much of our world has been damaged and destroyed by us. Are we just a blot on the landscape? But if we assume the consciousness of beauty and wonder to belong only to humans (which is by no means certain) then who would be here to adore the creation of Goddess, and could beauty and wonder even exist as concepts? Could this mean that there is hope for us, despite our seemingly being bent on self-destruction?
Imagine two scenarios: in the first, a group of pre-humans is in trouble. Driven away from their source of water by another band, something makes one of their number suddenly conceive the idea of a weapon; a missile. He throws a bone into the air, where it becomes a spacecraft.
In the second scenario, which is based on a true story, a bonobo chimpanzee named Kuni saw a starling fall to the ground, hurt. Kuni picked up the bird and climbed to the very top of the highest tree around. She swayed dangerously in the breeze but held on tight with her feet, opened up the bird’s wings and tossed it into the air. The starling flapped a little, but fell again. Kuni descended from the tree and stood guard over the bird, allowing no other bonobo to approach, until finally the starling recovered and flew away.2
You may well recognise the first scenario from the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey3 where the bone thrown into the air becomes the spacecraft Discovery One. Even when I first saw the film, half a century ago, I was disappointed to see all our technological know-how assumed to derive from a weapon.
Together with the more aggressive chimps (pan troglodytes), kindly bonobos (pan paniscus) are our closest relatives and both creatures are thought by some to share a common ancestor with humanity, while Jeremy Griffith, an evolutionary biologist, has suggested that the bonobo may even be a living example of our distant human ancestors.4 More recent research suggests that altruism may be one of the driving forces of evolution5, so maybe it’s time to remake the 50-year-old movie. Which scenario shall we use as the new movie’s first scene?
I know which I’d choose.6
First published in the Glastonbury Goddess Temple Newsletter, Beltane 2018.
1 Rose Flint, Prayer to Live with Paradox, in “Mother of Pearl”, PS Avalon, 2008. You can also read it here.
2 http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/winter2011/features/kindness.html accessed 18/3/18
3 2001: A Space Odyssey, MGM, Stanley Kubrik Productions,1968
4 Jeremy Griffith, The End of the Human Condition, WTM Publishing and Communications, 2016
5 Frans B.M. de Waal, Putting the Altruism Back into Altrusim: The Evolution of Empathy, in “The Annual Review of Psychology”, 2007
6 To show the full story of Kuni climbing the tree and then standing guard would maybe add a couple of minutes to the movie - but the shot of the starling flying up could substitute well - and let's face it, in our early experiments with spacecraft there were many falls back to earth!