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
sex is connected to the advent of death.
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,
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
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
"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
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.
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."
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,
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: "
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
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
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
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]
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]
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
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
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
that we tell.
pertaining to meiosis: cell division by which eggs and sperm
- 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,"
- 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.
- For a full poetic
and scientific version of the cosmic unfolding, see Brian Swimme and
Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, NY: HarperCollins, 1992.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Brian Swimme refers
to Allurement as a "power of the universe" in "The
Powers of the Universe" DVD series, 1994.
- I acknowledge the
inspiration of Rachel Pollack, The Body of the Goddess, Element
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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