Gaia Eros: Evolution of the Gaian Mythos - PART II
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Article ID: 8776
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,783
Times Read: 4,800
Author: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
Posted: October 17th. 2004
Times Viewed: 4,800
Gaia and Eros:
In his Theogony, Hesiod presents Eros as a primal force of love, born of Chaos along with Gaia. Hovering above her, he rains his arrows down upon her barren form, and fertilizes her to bring forth all life.
Consider the formation of the solar system, as we presently understand it. Visualize the swirling cloud of dust and cosmic debris, with eddies coalescing into planets, moons, etc, each in their mathematically-determined orbits. Now visualize the development of an ovary, with ova forming in their respective chambers. And overlay these concepts, and imagine stellar systems as cosmic ovaries, with planets and moons as eggs waiting to be fertilized...
Then visualize the scene of fertilization: all those little sperm, with their long tails, diving at that ovum, trying to be the first one through... Until one finally makes it, and a shock wave transforms the ovum into a zygote - and all those other sperm are now out of the running. And overlay upon that image a view of the early Earth (specifically, 570 million years ago...) as the ovum, and a plethora of long-tailed comets plunging into it as the fertilizing sperm...
Unlike sperm, which are formed continually by the millions, and have brief lifespans, ova are formed early on, and only a finite number are ever produced, to be released periodically throughout a woman's fertile life. The ova with its genetic material waits patiently during all that time - perhaps decades - for that union with a sperm before beginning the explosive process of division and multiplication of embryological development.
Once fertilization occurs, the process of differentiation and development as a multicellular organism proceeds rapidly, forming all the various tissues, organs, systems, et cetera of the body within just a few weeks. The last components to form (at around forty days in a human fetus) are the ova for the next generation...
Prokaryotic cells (without nuclei) seem to have appeared on the Earth as soon as things cooled down enough to allow liquid water to exist (at least 3.7 billion years ago) . And for over two billion years, that remained the status of all life on Earth. Nucleated eukaryotic cells (into which various prokaryotes were assimilated - such as mitochondria, chloroplasts, and most importantly, chromosomes) seem to have appeared about 1.4 billion years ago. Despite decades of research into "The Origins of Life, " no one seems to have been able to figure out just how these came into being - or duplicate any such process in the laboratory.
I think there is a significant analogy here between the microcosm and the macrocosm, which I have not previously seen noted, and which, I believe, offers an explanation of why the development of life on Earth proceeded in this manner - with billions of years seemingly stuck in a succession of two unicellular "holding patterns" before suddenly "exploding" into multicellular complexity.
For those first three billion years, the Earth was an unfertilized ovum - rich with its own genetic material, but awaiting (as Hesiod's Theogony says) "the arrows of Eros" - the "sperm" in the form of icy comets carrying another genetic component formed not on planetary bodies, but in clouds of cosmic dust.
The point at which that fertilization occurred is at the boundary between the Precambrian and the Cambrian, initiating what we call "The Cambrian Explosion" 570 million years ago. (Interestingly, there seems to have been a previous occurrence of fertilization maybe 100 million years earlier, named for the most famous outcrop at Ediacara in Australia; but this Ediacarian "proto-embryo" was apparently "aborted, " leaving no descendant issue. Perhaps the Cambrian "embryo" simply absorbed or devoured the Ediacarian one - as often happens in the womb, where polar bodies, et cetera form from an ovum, but never develop into full embryos.)
The Homeobox genes - especially the HOX Cluster - which are found in all multicellular creatures, but have no protozoan antecedents, provide a key component of this concept, as they indicate that a basic genetic template or blueprint for the future development of all living organisms has been here from the beginning of the Cambrian Explosion - but not before. And it is from that point that Gaea's true evolution began.
The single most characteristic aspect of any living organism is a discrete awareness, or sentience, through which it seeks food, avoids discomfort, pursues a reproductive strategy, and makes innumerable choices between this and that in the course of its life. Such sentience pervades every living creature - from a single-celled amoeba to a great sperm whale. And it is such sentience that distinguishes an entity from an object.
True sentience may be distinguished from the type of so-called "artificial intelligence" attributed to, say, computer programs, by its possession of the following attributes: Agenda, Interest, Curiosity and Caring. The lowliest bug has its own little idiosyncratic agenda. It investigates its world with intense interest and curiosity, and it makes continual choices based upon its preferences. And most importantly, things matter to it; it cares. It cares whether it lives or dies, whether it eats or goes hungry, and whether it reproduces. It hides from predators and defends itself when attacked. It actively hunts for food and mates by seeking and following interesting clues. And if it's a mother, very likely it protects its young. And this sentience drives the very heart of evolution.
The more complex the organism, the more attention seems to be focused on organs of perception and sentience. Nineteenth Century paleontologist Othniel Marsh (1831-1899) articulated this observation in the form of Marsh's Law: "Any evolutionary line of warm-blooded animals exhibits over time a steady increase of relative brain size" - and therefore of consciousness. If we are willing to posit Gaia as a single vast planetary organism, we cannot avoid the acknowledgment that such a complex organism must perforce also possess a concomitant global awareness, sentience, indeed - consciousness.
If we accept the unity of all Earthly life as a single vast superorganism, the assumption of a planetary sentience is as inevitable as the recognition of sentience among ourselves and other living creatures. The intrinsic spirituality found among all peoples, no matter how remote or isolated, is rooted in an apprehension of a coexistent and pervasive realm of Spirit. This universal animism, pantheism and religious theology among all human cultures supports the thesis of sentience existing at scales beyond that of the human individual, just as our individual consciousness operates at a vaster scale than that of our component neurons.
But this is the arena where consideration of the Gaia Thesis in the scientific community has come up against a wall. The Great Divide between the so-called "Physical Sciences" and metaphysics that was created at the establishment of the Scientific Academy in the 1660s mandates that any consideration of sentience in Nature is taboo. Even in the realm of human consciousness, the field of Psychology has been strongly affected by Behaviorism, which refuses to acknowledge even the sentience of the scientists themselves!
Thus, in order to receive any serious consideration and scientific acceptance of his "Gaia Hypothesis, " it was necessary for Lovelock to downplay and even disregard any implications that his "Gaia" may have any sort of collective sentience or intelligence. This crucial omission of what is, after all, ultimately the most relevant aspect of the entire thesis, was not necessarily of Lovelock's own choosing. In personal correspondence with me, he made reference to Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit paleontologist who embraced a similar view from a Christian perspective. Now for the first time we have a chance to be part of a growing "New Nature Spirituality:" an insightful Gaian sensibility recombining Spirit, science, feeling and action. And we have books like this one to help illustrate, as Wolf puts it, "the connection, the awakening, the way back home."
We stand on the threshold of a new Age. After half a billion years of evolution, we have arrived at this magical moment. Gaia floats mighty yet vulnerable amidst the starry heavens. She calls to us, and touches our human hearts, and we know we are part of a self-aware mind capable of contemplating its own existence. And now, having seen Herself through our satellite eyes, She is awakening to consciousness.
The Wheel is turning again, and the Goddess is reemerging. As in the ancient myths, Persephone is returning from the Underworld, to bask in the sunlight of a new dawn. She is beginning to awaken; Her eyelids are fluttering. In Her twilight sleep, Her dreams are coming to life in us, and many, many of us are spontaneously hearing Her call in our hearts. Just as the billions of neurons in our brains link up synergistically, just so shall we participate in the Awakening of Gaea Herself - and our full Apotheasis.
These are dark and troubled times. We who are attuned to the cycles of Nature and the rhythms of the Earth often feel overwhelmed by the escalating environmental crises. The atmosphere's ozone layer is compromised; global warming is dramatically changing our climate; and the destruction of the rainforests and the pollution of the seas are causing worldwide droughts. The challenges we face are so vast and the politics of greed and corruption so complex that it will truly take a miracle to transform such global destruction.
But miracles are what our magick is all about. Our hope and intention is that books like Gaia Eros will inspire others to join in this heroic mission of Earth Ministry, and that a new generation will feel the calling, and take up this path of service to all life, as Champions of Gaia. Thus will our myths and magick manifest in reality in our daily lives, improving and blessing the world.
So Mote It Be!
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Bio: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a founder of the Church of All Worlds, the first legally recognized NeoPagan church in the U.S., past publisher of the acclaimed magazine Green Egg, and author of Grimoire For The Apprentice Wizard (New Page, 2004) . His sculptured mythic art is known far and wide, and an edited version of this essay make up the Prologue to the book Gaia Eros (New Page, 2004) by Jesse Wolf Hardin.
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