The Image of the Cosmos
from The Feminine Universe
by Miss Alice Lucy Trent
The Sun Daughter Press, ©2010
reposted with permission from The Sun Daughter Press
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THE IMAGE OF THE COSMOS
The total nature of the world is . . . to all eternity chaos, not in the sense that necessity is lacking, but in that order, structure, form, beauty, wisdom and whatever other human aesthetic notions we may have are lacking. . . Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful nor noble, and has no desire to become any of these. . . neither does it know any laws. Let us beware of saying there are laws in nature. There are only necessities. There is no one to command, no one to obey, no one to transgress. . . Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.
The quotation above states the modern view of the universe, shared by almost every one alive today.
Certainly it is expressed more frankly – more brutally – than most people would care to put it. But this cold, void, chaotic vision of the ultimate nature of things is the underlying image of the modern world-picture. It is the foundation-stone upon which the twentieth century has constructed its view of the universe; and it explains many things about the way people in the twentieth-century West feel and behave.
For the way we see the universe is not separate from the way we see ourselves. If our cosmos is chaotic and meaningless, how can we be harmonious and our lives have true purpose? If our cosmos is cold and empty, how can we be otherwise?
Every traditional people has seen humanity and the cosmos as being radically interlinked, and maid herself a microcosm or ‘little cosmos’ – and conversely the cosmos itself as ultimately akin to ourselves. Our very word ‘world’ (wer ald ) means originally ‘the great man’, and, of course, in the earliest times, the Cosmic Maid was conceived as feminine. We and the cosmos are related in traditional thought; are of the same Essence and the same substance. We are both intelligible and we both mean the same things.
Conversely, according to the modern view, we are but an accident in the vastness of the cosmos; we might not have been, or we might have been quite otherwise. Within the infinite galaxies we are but an insignificant speck, and within the endless vistas of cosmic time, our whole history, past, present and future, is but a moment; and a moment of no special significance. Above all, we have nothing in common with the cosmos; it is alien to us, knows nothing of our values or aspirations – knows nothing at all, indeed, for it is but insensate matter, and as accidental and meaningless as ourselves.
When maid loses her significance in the cosmos, and the cosmos loses its significance about her, many other things are also lost. Until very recently maid walked in the knowledge that she was a little universe, and every move she made, each word she spoke, the clothes she wore and the things with which she surrounded herself all reflected this.
Picture the maid of the present moment, in loose and baggy clothes, striving always for the odd and the grotesque, or else for the casual and the careless. Does she not represent her picture of the universe? Aimless, accidental, chaotic, ultimately meaningless? Perhaps her shirt spells out some vulgar joke or advertises a commercial product. Why not? For what dignity can she aspire to; an accidental fleck floating for a brief moment in a world of random dust?
Her clothes are the clothes of self-mockery and demoralization. Her life, cut off from all sources of meaning and harmony, becomes an aimless wandering, spiced only by the endless artificial wants stimulated by the commercial system; and by those desires we share with dogs and cats, raised to the status of gods and stimulated by every means available to mass-communication.
And as our universe disintegrates from a unified, meaningful whole into a congeries of unrelated objects separated by unfathomable distances of cold black space, so our social fabric is unwoven, the ties of loyalty and love, of tradition and trust unloosed, leaving each individual increasingly an isolated unit fending for herself in a cold and alien world.
Many other consequences spring from this new vision of the world as meaningless and empty – not least a loss of our old sense of responsibility toward the world. For if we are nothing to the world and the world is nothing to us; if maid is not a little world, nor the world a great maid, why should we treat her with respect? Why should we not plunder and destroy her? Once the bonds of meaning and loyalty and the dance of eternal harmony are gone, even common self-preservation, it seems, will not suffice to stop us sawing off the branch on which we sit.
We may think of ourselves as animals; and of animals as mere machines programmed for survival: but when this animal survival is all, when what have always been our specifically human beliefs and motivations have been stripped from us, it transpires that we are not even very good at being animals, and do not greatly care about survival itself.
But even if we agree that we are better off with an intelligible cosmos, a cosmos which reflects maid herself – or rather, of which she is a reflection – that does not help us in the least, if we cannot believe it to be true.
Various people have suggested that it would be better for humanity to return to some of its earlier myths and meanings; to end the emptiness and chaos of a random accidental world. Such suggestions in themselves are pointless. We cannot choose to believe something we think to be untrue. We cannot live our lives by pretty lies. It is not in our nature.
Those thinkers who have hoped to redeem the world by myths seen through the eyes of modern anthropology or psychology have missed the point entirely. Modern psychology and anthropology set themselves above myth; seek to explain the super-human in human terms, to reduce the supernatural to an epiphenomenon of nature.
If the traditional mythic visions are true, then they are fundamental. There is no getting ‘behind’ them. If they are true, then they provide the explanations of human culture and the human mind, not vice versa. And if they are not true, then they are of no use to us or to any one.
The modern picture of the universe presents itself as truth. Not attractive or meaningful to us, but simply true. That is the force of Nietzsche’s words quoted above. This view claims to have disproved the previous view – to have relegated it to the realms of outdated fantasy. A universe made in the image of maid (or even vice versa) was a childish egocentricity of ours. Now we know the truth, whether we like it or not. The cosmos is unrelated to us except insofar as we are one of its numberless random and fleeting accidents. It has no message for us, no meaning for us. It is unintelligent and unintelligible. It just is and no more. We know this as a result of our superior knowledge. Our science has proved all other ages wrong and ourselves right.
Such is the received wisdom of the modern world. But is it true? Has the modern ‘scientific’ world-view disproved the earlier picture of the intelligent, intelligible cosmos? Because if it has not, we may be making a terrible mistake. We may be cutting ourselves loose from our psychic moorings, displacing ourselves from our natural place in the cosmos, wreaking untold psychic damage not only upon ourselves, but – if tradition is right about the intimate connexion between maid and the cosmos – upon the world about us; and all needlessly. Nietzsche saw all too clearly the psychological results of such an inner revolution:
Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns… Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is more and more night not coming on all the time?
Of course, if this new vision is simply true, there is nothing we can do about it. The older vision that gave us a place in a friendly and harmonious cosmos has been disproved. We must live with the new truth even if it empty our hearts and souls, even if it destroy the very bonds between maid and maid, kill our respect for ourselves, unstring our love of beauty and of kindness and finally quench the very will to continue living.
If it is simply true and if it has disproved the earlier vision. But has it?
The purpose of this book is to set out the traditional view of the cosmos and to show that it has not been disproved.
The traditional view? some may ask. Surely there have been many views, many mythologies, many religions before the present. Which of the traditional views are we going to present?
But we reiterate; we are going to present the traditional view, for there is really only one. It has been put forward in different spiritual and symbolic languages by different cultures, but in its essence, it is always and everywhere the same.
And we are going to examine the traditional view in its feminine form, which is far older than the masculine version of it known to relatively recent historical cultures. We shall do this for two reasons. First because it is the oldest, the primordial, form of the one great human tradition, and secondly because we believe that much of the problem of the world today, including the loss of that tradition, lies in the over-valuation of the masculine as opposed to the feminine.
We have in mind the fact that many women today are looking for answers to the questions that beset our civilization – answers that can only be provided by traditional wisdom – and yet the patriarchal forms which that wisdom has taken in the last few millennia can be alienating to the feminine psyche. Nevertheless, our message is not only for women. In a world starved of the feminine just as it is starved of the higher dimensions of mythic and symbolic truth, we believe the timeless message of the universal Feminine Tradition will come as a healing balm to all who are ready to hear it.
But although our focus will be the feminine, nonetheless, we shall hold ourselves free to draw on tradition in whatever form we may find it; on the sacred cosmos of the mediaeval West as much as on more ancient forms: for all, as we say, are but dialects of the same language and all are speaking the same truth.
Let us return then to the question we posed a few moments ago. Has the traditional view of the cosmos been disproved and superseded by the modern view?
Obviously we must begin by asking: what is the traditional view?
The form of it most immediately accessible to the modern West is that generally accepted throughout the Classical and Mediaeval periods, up until the Copernican revolution of the seventeenth century
According to this system, the earth stands at the centre of the universe. The earth is a round ball, and beyond it are a series of concentric spheres, transparent and crystalline. Governing each of these spheres is a planet, which is essentially a god or an angel. The first of these spheres, travelling out from the earth, is the Sphere of the Moon, then comes the Sphere of Venus and so on out to the seventh sphere, the Sphere of Saturn. Beyond this is the Sphere of the Fixed Stars and the very Heaven-world itself.
Now, is this view of the universe true or false? C. S. Lewis, who expounds the traditional image of the cosmos very lucidly in his book The Discarded Image, and is clearly highly sympathetic to its beauty and harmony, nevertheless feels himself compelled to admit that it is based on what he terms “exploded astronomy”; on a false, or as some would say ‘pre-scientific’ understanding of the nature of the physical universe.
This, of course, has been the general consensus of the educated modern world since the seventeenth century, held equally by those who wish contemptuously to sweep aside ‘the errors and superstitions of the past’, and those like C. S. Lewis who may regret the passing of a more humane and intelligent cosmos, a more poetic and profound vision, but can see no intellectual possibility of reinstating it. For both alike, whether for better or worse, it is, as C. S. Lewis names it, the discarded image.
And they are wrong. The image should never have been discarded. The reasons for which it was rejected were false reasons. The entire process was based on a very simple but very fundamental misunderstanding, and Western maid was alienated from her cosmos, her world drained of depth and significance as a result of an error of interpretation and a confusion of levels.
The traditional image of the cosmos was not based on “exploded astronomy”, because it was not based on astronomy at all. It has nothing in common with astronomy in the modern sense of the word – which is to say, with attempts to understand the physical universe on a purely physical level.
This is in fact perfectly clear from the traditional writings on the cosmos. The sublunary realm – that is, the world below the Sphere of the Moon: our Earth – is the realm of material things; the world of change and decay; in other words, the physical universe.
Everything in physical manifestation, that is, everything comprehended by modern astronomy and by modern science as a whole – from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the furthest galaxy countless light-years away – is part of the first circle of the traditional cosmos. As soon as we reach the very nearest of the celestial Spheres, the Sphere of the Moon, we are already beyond the material world and beyond everything recognized by physical science.
To say that traditional cosmology has been “exploded” by modern astronomy is on the same level of non-sequitur as the statement once encountered in popular atheist pamphlets: “As a doctor I can assure you that there is no life after death.” A doctor may reasonably claim a greater knowledge of the workings of the human body than a layman. On questions that transcend the physical realm he has no greater claim than any one else; and to assert his knowledge in one area as a guarantee of his speculations in another is nothing more than a clumsy sleight-of-hand.
It is true that the supplanting of the traditional cosmology was less consciously dishonest than the atheistic doctor’s rhetorical fraud. It was based more on genuine confusion than deliberate deception, but the effect was much the same.
With the increasingly materialistic consciousness of the modern world, it was rapidly forgotten that the study of the cosmos could ever have been about anything but physical matter. It was assumed that traditional science was trying to do the same things as modern science, but doing them badly. It was no longer recognized that the ancient wisdom has aims altogether different from those of material science, and that even when it superficially appears to be, it is not actually studying the same things. [note 1]
It is true also that most of the ancients did imagine the physical cosmos to be much the same as the metaphysical – that is, they failed to draw sufficient distinction between the subtle structure of the cosmos and its outward physical symbols. It is also true that they knew a lot less about the practical details of the physical universe than does modern science. Both these deficiencies are due to the fact that the purely physical level of being was not of very much interest to them and their main concern was with the higher truths that the phenomena of the material world symbolize.
It is natural for a culture to be relatively ignorant of the things it considers unimportant. If the ancient world was deficient in questions of material physics and astronomy, the modern world is at least equally ignorant in the areas of metaphysics and spiritual truth.
It is important to understand that our perception of the universe is mediated through the five physical senses. In theory, those five senses could be multiplied many times over. There is no limit to the number of senses we might, in principle, possess. It follows, therefore, that the portion of the cosmos prehensible to those five senses is only a tiny portion of total reality. If our senses were multiplied, we should be blasted by the terrifying immensity of the Universe: overwhelmed, crushed and shattered by a multi-dimensional vastness too terrible for us to tolerate. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”.
This little safe and sealed portion of the cosmos that has been allotted to us – this world of the five senses – is in itself an act of mercy, a manifestation of the kindness of our Great Mother. Goodness and kindness are woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, and Nietzsche’s vision of an empty, cold, meaningless universe is a foolish rejection of that goodness based on a profound misunderstanding of our place within the nature of things.
Imagine a tiny creature who spends her entire life on a table in a room. The surface of that table is a map of the world. The table, and indeed the whole room, represents the world of the five senses. This creature was taught from the beginning that the map on the surface of the table is a picture of the world, and that by studying it she may know the world and herself. Now imagine that one day this creature forgets the original tradition and decides to learn more than the map shows her. She makes telescopes and other instruments and soon she finds that she can see to the far ends of the room. She learns many things that were not included on her map of the world. She learns about tables and chairs, about the carpet and even, in the far distance, sees the window and the door, though she cannot quite be sure what they are.
Now she scorns her map and believes that she knows far more about the world than her credulous ancestors who believed in it. She has discovered countless things they never dreamed of.
But what she does not know is that beyond this room are other rooms, beyond all those rooms another house and then dozens of other houses in the same street and hundreds of other streets in the town, hundreds of other towns in the country, and hundreds of other countries in the world – and not only countries, but vast seas, forests, deserts, Arctic regions, underground caves and inconceivably more. And all these things are shown on the map on the surface of the table; the map that she now believes to be ‘obsolete’ because of her new and superior knowledge gained by looking round the single room of that portion of the universe visible to the five senses.
Certainly she knows some things unknown to her ancestors, but they are a quite random assortment of things – just the things that happen to be in that particular room; and of those only the ones that are near enough for her to see clearly. They make no particular sense, of course, because they are a random selection, and so begins the Nietzschean vision – the assumption that, because the limited selection of reality available to our five senses is random, so the universe itself is meaningless and without pattern.
This Nietzschean vision, when faced squarely by a mind as courageous as Nietzsche’s does have something of the vast, terrifying quality of the vision we should see if our senses were multiplied to the point where we could see everything. Nietzsche himself went mad and ended his days in an asylum. Most lesser minds remain sane because they do not really face up to the full implications of what they believe.
Nevertheless, this vision is not – not remotely – the experience we should have if the kindly limitations of the world of the five senses were stripped away from us and we could see the totality of the cosmos in all its vicissitudes rather than that tiny compartment of it which is the physical world. Nietzsche and all those who believe that modern science has shown us ‘the universe as it is’, are still living on the charity of our Great Mother; still resting in the enclosing protection of Her hand, shielded from the real Universe as It Is, the least glimpse of which would destroy them. Even as they boast of their rejection of tradition and ridicule the ancient map which She provided for us, they still live on the same table, in the same room in the same warm, comfortable house, sheltered from the terrible winds of the total cosmos.
But why is it not possible for us to see the total cosmos? Precisely because in our present state we are too weak to see it. Maid has the capacity to see the Whole; that is, to see the Absolute and the Infinite – to see the Divine, in which the total cosmos has its being. But seeing the Divine is precisely what humanity – and our present phase of humanity more than ever before – has strayed from. Opening us up to the total cosmos now would be to expose us to a massive overload of contingency – something like the Nietzschean universe multiplied countless millions of millions of times: an endless multi-dimensional chaos from which our souls could find no protection.
This is not because the universe is chaos, but because seen by one who had not attained true spiritual realization, it would necessarily appear so.
This gentle, protected, three-dimensional world is both a shelter and a school provided for us by universal Love. It gives us a safe world in which we may move closer to true spiritual realization and may also learn about the total cosmos in its true nature by studying the map that lies before us.
What is the map? In our little parable we know that the closed room is the universe prehensible to the five senses, but what exactly is the map? The map is the cosmos as presented directly to our unaided senses in this human life: the cosmos where the sun rises and sets, where the blue sky is a canopied dome above us and where the seven planets move in their spheres – the Sun, the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn. As with every map, we need to know what its signs and symbols mean before we can read it properly, and this knowledge, or wisdom, has been handed down from the earliest times.
Similarly, we must interpret only what actually belongs to the map. It is no good trying to read meanings into fly-specks or ink-stains that may be on it. For example, modern science has ‘discovered’ three extra planets – Pluto, Neptune and Uranus – and modern astrologers have incorporated them into their map of the cosmos. But these planets are not part of the immediately-visible cosmos presented to us by Divine providence. [Note 2] Nor are they really new discoveries. Certain ancient Sumerian seals, for example, depict the solar system with these extra planets, but Sumerian cosmology did not incorporate them into its fundamental world-picture.
Of course, it matters little what modern astronomers or astrologers do in this respect, since both have already lost the knowledge of the visible cosmos with its seven planets as an image of the totality of being, and both are unaware that what, from within the closed and protected world of the five senses, appears to be simply another star called the Sun is actually divine Being itself seen through the ‘covering’ of the physical world.
It is not only in the dimension of space that the traditional and providential ‘map’ of the cosmos presents itself to us, but also in the dimension of time. And since an understanding of the traditional concept of time will enable us to acquire a firmer grasp of the entire subject, we shall now proceed to examine the traditional doctrine of the Cycles of History.
1. It should be borne in mind – especially in view of the traditional centrality of the Supernal Sun, or Solar Mother, which we shall encounter throughout this book – that the heliocentric (sun-centred) view of the cosmos also corresponds to a very apparent metaphysical symbolism. Indeed, geocentricity (earth-centredness) is only valid from an earthly perspective. Dante is following tradition when he teaches that from the Heavenly perspective (or, in Platonic terms, in the Intelligible rather than the sensible cosmos) the earth (or material plane) is no longer the centre, but the outer rim of being. And there are metaphysical reasons that the very lowest perspective – that of modern materialism – should reflect (within its own limitations) the very highest.
Copernicus, in arguing for a heliocentric cosmos, was putting forward an essentially theological or metaphysical view based on a Renaissance revival of the philosophic Solar Theism of the Classical world. He was by no means the prototype of the material scientist that modern popular mythology has attempted to make of him. Nor did he for one moment suppose that he was putting forward something new, but cited authoritative references from the ancient world for the heliocentric view. It is one of the ironies of history that his work should have served ends so far from his intentions, and in breaking down the traditional view of the cosmos, should have paved the way for the very antithesis of all that he believed in. A century later, the Church could only reply to the rising tide of cosmic demythologization with a short-lived attempt to suppress heliocentrism, for it (and Europe as a whole) had lost the intellectual foundation necessary to integrate it into the spiritual economy of the West.
2. Though these ‘outer planets’ do possess a significance related precisely to those tenebrous influences which lie outside or beneath our cosmos. Insofar as such influences begin to pervade the human sphere in the Dark Age, these planets may play a rather dubious role in Terrestrial astrology.