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Beltane/Samhain @ EarthGaia

The Sacred Reciprocity of EarthGaia
On the surface of it, Beltane celebrates sex and Samhain celebrates death. A great contrast, yet these events are tightly coupled in language, science, and the reciprocity of our respective holidays. The French word for orgasm literally means "a little death" — the felt experience seems similiar. In evolutionary science, the advent of meiotic[1] sex is connected to the advent of death.[2] Across the globe, we celebrate both at the same moment. It is Beltane in the Southern Hemisphere, the season of sweet desire for being. That desire is the Cosmic "glue" which holds all form together and allows the dance of life. In the Northern Hemisphere it is Samhain, the season of celebrating the falling apart of all form, the end of desire which allows death and transformation.

At these cross-quarters "the veil is thin that divides the worlds." Traditionally, both holidays have been times of high revelry and deep intimacy with our place. One celebrates a genetic fertility and the other a trans-genetic/imaginal fertility[3], becoming aware that form and formlessness actually are continuous. As Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky expressed it early last century:

At each moment there are a hundred million million tons of living matter in the biosphere, always in a state of movement. The mass is decomposed, forms itself anew…. Generations are thus born at intervals of time from ten minutes to hundreds of years … through death, birth, metabolism and growth … unceasingly.[Vernadsky, p.34]

This place that we live within is a constant interchange, a reciprocity, like a breath. We live within a sensuous "breathing landscape," as ecologist David Abram writes, a "field of intelligence in which our actions (and whole beings) participate."[Abram] Our bodyminds and all bodies exchange substances with the Earth, though the disembodied, and sanitized mainstream culture tries to flush those substances "away." Aboriginal cosmologies have never forgotten this: The exchange of bodily fluids with land is a valued and significant participation in the very flow of life and relationship with the ancestors.[McDonald] We may recognize this today in the context of the Gaian exchange — local, global, and perhaps beyond.

Biologist Lynn Margulis, co-author of the Gaia Theory, describes how the biosphere evolved into a continuously changing habitat:

The oxygen we breathe, the humid atmosphere inside of which we live, and the mildly alkaline ocean waters in which the kelp and whales bathe are not determined by a physical universe run by mechanical laws; the surroundings are products of life interacting at the planet's surface. Fundamentally, life on Earth owes its long and continuing existence to these metabolic, physiological, behavioural, and evolutionary interactions.[Barlow]

"Natural selection," so often understood as a merciless law imposed on creatures, is actually a communal reality.

EarthGaia is not a fixed environment to which organisms must conform. She does not dictate outcomes. "Natural selection," so often understood as a merciless law imposed on creatures, is actually a communal reality — and perhaps Darwin himself meant it that way. Organism and environment are in a constant communion of decomposition and renewal, a mutual receiving that never fades away — and that is essentially erotic.

Gaia-Universe, Earth, Self: A Unity of Being
EarthGaia is not separate from UniverseGaia. There is no "out there." Gaia is "in here," as much as anywhere. Earth floats in the "heavens" — the "heavens" are where we are. We know that Earth is a jewel in the womb of space — we have seen Her. We know that She is stardust; Her dirt is transfigured stuff of the stars. Ten percent of our bodyminds is original hydrogen, recycled many times over. The rest is born in stars, as Earth herself is.[4] Earth is a small seed, a cell, whole in Herself yet a small particle. And so it is for any single being, self, articulation of Her. We are a nested reality. It is simply a matter of perspective.

In 1926 — long before the human eye had actually seen Earth from space — Vladimir Vernadsky was able to hold a vision of Her in her "cosmic surroundings."[5] art piece, sun over landscape, with butterfflyHe developed a hypothesis of the biosphere "as a unitary agent molding the earth's crust as a primary geological force" that was in relationship with the cosmic energies of radiation, particularly solar radiation. Vernadsky scientifically and poetically describes a holistic vision of Cosmos and Earth, and at times refers to humankind as a "geological entity." For him, the biosphere is "a place of transformation" of cosmic energies. He says:

The biosphere is as much, or even more, the creation of the Sun as it is a manifestation of Earth-processes. Ancient religious traditions which regarded terrestrial creatures, especially human beings, as 'children of the Sun' were much nearer the truth than those which looked upon them as a mere ephemeral creation.[Vernadsky, pp.iv-9]

Vernadsky asserts that the phenomena in the biosphere can only be understood in the context of the entire cosmos: "related to the structure of atoms, to their places in the cosmos and to their evolution in the history of the cosmos."[ibid.]

Where in fact, do we make the cut between self and other, animate and inanimate, human and habitat, earth and cosmos? Nothing seems to be exempt from the dynamics of relationship, the energetic flow of coming into being and passing away, These dynamics are our constant companions — in both an everyday and an ultimate way. Perhaps the Universe is subject to the same dynamics. Some indigenous religious traditions have stories of the whole Cosmos coming into being, passing away, and regenerating. Recent Western scientific research supports this too: "…an ageless and self-renewing Universe" whose stars, even ancient ones, are "like short-lived fireflies in the grand scheme of things."[Than] The flux of being appears to be reiterated at all scales.

The thinness of the veils between the worlds, the sentience of that space, the cyclical connection of the old and the new are supported from a scientific point of view, and in a multivalent way — for example, recent scientific studies indicate that organic life may be born from inorganic matter[6]. Particles of plasma, normally considered inorganic, can undergo self-organization resulting in helical structures that become charged and are attracted to each other, thus taking on qualities of living matter — they are "autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve".[WorldScience] In a recent interview, cosmologist Brian Swimme gave a short version of the whole story of evolution. He said:

You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.… 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.[Bridle]

The Dance of Life
The tangible and visible dance of life celebrated at Beltane clearly grows from the dissolution, the dance of death and transformation at Samhain. The veils are thin, and globally it is all one dance. Perhaps those who have gone before are closer than we are sometimes wont to feel, as close as the taking in and letting go of breath — we may receive them more deeply in heart and mind.

The purpose of religious practice is to help us know in our bodyminds the deep truths we believe to be so. We strengthen those truths by speaking and enacting them, spelling ourselves. The root of the word "religion" is religio, meaning to bind or connect (in a positive sense of belonging).

The Sabbats mirror each other. Both celebrate an Erotic relationship with our place, this Earth and Cosmos, a deep attraction to knowing that we are She, and that we desire Her.

From all eternity the Beloved unveiled Her beauty in the solitude of the unseen. She held up the mirror to Her own face. She displayed Her loveliness to Herself…. All was One. There was no duality, no pretence of 'mine' or 'thine.'[Jami][7]

A Planetary Samhain Moment
We live in times of the passing of so much  — it seems to be a planetary Samhain Moment. Huge transformation is afoot. Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris has used the metaphor of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly to identify the situation. She says:

If you see the old system as a caterpillar crunching its way through the ecosystem, eating up to three hundred times its weight in a single day, bloating itself until it just can't function anymore, and then going to sleep with its skin hardening into a chrysalis. What happens in its body is that little imaginal disks (as they're called by biologists) begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar and its immune system attacks them. But they keep coming up stronger and they start to link with each other. As they connect, as they link with each other, they mature into fully-fledged cells and more and more of them aggregate until the immune system of the caterpillar just can't function any more. At that point the body of the caterpillar melts into a nutritive soup that can feed the butterfly.[Sahtouris]

Then drawing upon the story of Gaian Unfolding, of how we ourselves as multi-cellular bodyminds morphed into being, Sahtouris draws an analogy between this great leap — of single cells evolving into co-operative bodies, to the present challenge of us multi-celled humans evolving into a "multi-cellular" type global body.[Sahtouris] art piece, skeletal hand emerging from cloak, holding large shining pearlShe believes we are ready to make this great leap into a co-operative global body in harmony with other species and our Earth as a whole: that the "rapidly oncoming Hot Age may well be the evolutionary driver pushing us into co-operation." She says, "There will simply not be enough time and resources for both war and cooperative survival: we will be forced to choose."[Alberti]

It seems that our times call for the casting away of the old in a radical way. At Samhain we can become conscious of participation in the evolution of consciousness, to fashion a myth/story that will be of service to our time. And at the same time, the concurrent Moment of Beltane may make us conscious of what we most deeply desire, conscious of Desire itself as a power of the universe[8] — as a Holy Lust for birthing the new, a Holy Lust for ongoing Creativity.

The magic of both Moments being celebrated at the same time on EarthGaia is new in our time — Her whole body is the sacred site for these stories[9] that we tell.

Notes

  1. meiotic — pertaining to meiosis: cell division by which eggs and sperm are produced
  2. An explanation of this by Elisabet Sahtouris can be found in the "From Protists to Polyps" chapter of her (online) book <http://www.ratical.org/LifeWeb/Erthdnce/chapter8.htm accessed 10/27/2007> or by Ursula Goodenough in the abstract of her article, "The Sacred Depths of Nature: Excerpts," at <http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0591-2385.00298?cookieSet=1&journalCode=zygo accessed 10/27/2007>
  3. Beltane celebrates a fertility based in biological conception, whilst Samhain celebrates a fertility based in imaginal conception. Thomas Berry uses the term "trans-genetic" to describe the passing on of cultural information. I mean it to describe conceiving the new with our imaginations.
  4. For a full poetic and scientific version of the cosmic unfolding, see Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, NY: HarperCollins, 1992.
  5. 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).
  6. Webster's dictionary definition of "valence" is "relative capacity to unite, react or interact". By "multivalent" I mean "many different possible interactions" across apparent boundaries. Another example would be the phenomena of particles emerging into a quantum vacuum, or the birth of new solar systems out of supernovas.
  7. This is similar to the Creation story of the Faery tradition of Witchcraft: see Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, SF: Harper & Rowe, 1988, p.31-32.
  8. Brian Swimme refers to Allurement as a "power of the universe" in "The Powers of the Universe" DVD series, 1994.
  9. I acknowledge the inspiration of Rachel Pollack, The Body of the Goddess, Element Books, 1997.

References

  • Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous, NY:Vintage, 1996. p.260.
  • Alberti, Anna. Interview with Elisabet Sahtouris, Caposervizio Salute e Società, Redazione di Marie Claire ITALIA, in relation to Sahtouris' position on the World Commission for Global Consciousness and Spirituality.
  • Barlow, Connie (ed.). Quote from Lynn Margulis in From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994, p.237.
  • Bridle, Susan. "Comprehensive Compassion: An Interview with Brian Swimme", What Is Enlightenment? No. 19, p.40.
  • Jami, Sufi poet 1414.
  • McDonald, Heather. Blood Bones and Spirit, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, p. 20-21.
  • Sahtouris, Elisabet. After Darwin - Reuniting Spirituality with Science in Order to Form a New World View <http://www.ratical.org/LifeWeb/Articles/AfterDarwin.html.accessed 10./27/2007>
  • Than, Ker. "Greatest Mysteries: How Did the Universe Begin?" LiveScience, August 13, 07. See <http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070813_gm_universe.html accessed 10/27/2007> This article was brought to my attention by "rosewelsh" on pagaian.org forum.
  • Vernadsky, Vladimir. The Biosphere, London: Synergetic Press, 1986 (1929)
  • WorldScience. "Alien Life… from Dust Particles?" August 14, 2007. <http://www.world-science.net/othernews/070814_dust.htm accessed 10/27/2007> Quoting research published in New Journal of Physics, August 14, 2007. This article was brought to my attention by "rosewelsh" on pagaian.org forum.

Graphics Credits

  • connection, © Gretchen Small. All rights reserved.
  • belief, © Gretchen Small. All rights reserved.
  • this pearl, © Gretchen Small. All rights reserved.
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