The Universe Story as
Unfolding of the Triple Goddess
and Her Seasonal Celebration
by Glenys Livingstone
The Context: The Way the Cosmos Was
for a White Protestant Australian Country Girl
And the Great Cosmic Schoolbus, full of children to be delivered all over the world, pulled up in the outback. Red dust flew. The land was flat and dry ... well, at least that's how it looked to her. There were actually a few trees, and hills, and there was a bit of greenery, and the soil did seem to grow some crops. But comparatively speaking ... I mean, this Schoolbus had driven by, and stopped, at some fantastic places! At this place where she was supposed to get off, there were no buildings ... well, there was one painted wooden structure a house, she supposed and a couple of unpainted ones. But where were the great stone universities, conservatoriums, art galleries, observatories, ancient places of worship, piazzas, great works of art on every bridge? In fact, where were the bridges?
"No, no ... there must be some mistake," the girl thought. "Excuse me," she said to the driver, "wrong Stop."
"Afraid not," said the driver, "this is it."
"No" she said. "I don't want to get off here. I'm sure you have made a mistake. I want More than what is here."
"Listen young one," said the driver, "this is where your ancestors have come to. This is your entry point. Your ancestors are creating something new here, beginning again like their ancestors did millennia ago in other places. It doesn't look like much yet, but give it several hundred years or a bit more, maybe a millennium, and there will be a big change. You will be a part of it, in fact."
"No" she said. "I won't have that long. I will only be able to see the small picture. And I will know in my soul that I am missing something, but I won't know what. Are you sure you've got the right ancestors? Don't my lot have more books?"
"Listen, dear; this is it. I have to leave you. This is where you Enter, for whatever complex weaving that is going on."
"I will be one of the hungry children" she protested, " ... not for food. I will feel the hunger in my being. In fact, I will feel like I am not being, and for a long time I won't even know. I will feel like a stranger here."
"Almost everyone feels like that at first, but they soon adjust."
"No" she said again. "I won't adjust ... I will remember that there is More, much More. And as soon as I can, I will go away from here to find It."
"I'm sorry" said the driver. "I have to go."
The girl disembarked. The Great Cosmic Schoolbus pulled away. Red dust flew. She sat down in the dirt, a tot with waved platinum hair, and there she wept, as she remembered Other Times and Other Places ... the More. She wept and she wept in the red dirt, turning it to mud; until gradually, the visual memories blurred, and great stones rolled across entrances in her mind. She stopped crying and looked about her. A woman's voice was calling. "For me?" she wondered. The woman appeared, and picked the girl up, commenting jovially on her grubby state, and took her inside.
This is the beginning of a story I wrote for myself to understand my cultural roots. It proceeded to explain a cosmic story that the girl believed about "the manufacture" of the Universe by a Mechanic a Male Deity who was no Poet. In this Universe there was no female involved at the Creative level, and indeed all the chaos and pain of the world was her fault, the result of her insatiable innate wickedness, or at least, her ineptness and stupidity.
This deep internalized sense of being "Other" was exacerbated by a salient story of displacement in the Southern Hemisphere. That is, most of the texts and graphics explaining the Cosmos to an Australian and white child were (and still often are) drawn from the Northern Hemisphere perspective. The Moon in her phases were "backwards"; Sun's daily movement from East to West was described as being "clockwise"; the seasons in the stories were always at odds with real experience. This was never regarded as important enough to mention, but deep within me from the beginning there was scribed the cosmic essence of disregarding one's senses.
And whereas my ancestors had known a synchronicity of the Christianized calendar with the older indigenous ways for the Christian holy days had been based upon the old seasonal calendar in Australia, parts of which do have a similar seasonal articulation to the lands of our forebears, most of us with this heritage grow up with no idea that Earth has any relationship to spiritual matters. Here in the South land, the supernatural drama of God and Jesus is completely unrelated to material reality; Earth is nothing more than a ball of dirt upon which we travail. Southern Hemisphere Christianity has been a particularly barren, cerebral religion, since its rituals and holy celebrations have been irrelevant to place. While it is true that Northern Hemisphere Christianity for centuries attempted to dissociate from the pagan roots of its calendar, the church celebrations nevertheless retained some congruency with Earth's rhythms. And who knows what many of the people have actually been celebrating over the centuries? Perhaps just the names had been changed. When the people lit candles and sang at the Winter Solstice, though they called it Christmas, there remained a resonance with something earlier upon which this ritual was based. In the Southern Hemisphere, this ritual practiced in the blazing heat of Summer Solstice knew no such resonance. The Southern children of this religious practice have thus suffered a poverty of spirit, a deep divorce from Earth that few others in the history of Gaia's religions have ever known.
Celebrating the Female Metaphor (Virgin, Mother, Crone)
in Earth's Seasonal Rituals
For a few decades I have been "re-storying" the Female (as Goddess metaphor) in Her triple aspects to the Center of the Cosmos, finding Her within myself and facilitating that process in others through teaching and writing. This increasingly has included sensing and celebrating Her the Triple Goddess in Earth and in Her seasonal cycles, and as these cycles manifest in the Southern Hemisphere. I have been calling what I do "Celebrating Gaia" and "Gaian spirituality." The name "Gaia" has, for me, come to represent not only Earth, but the entire Cosmic Presence: Earth is at one with Her context.
I have adapted the Wheel of the Year of the Pagan tradition as a way of celebrating the Triple Goddess thus plumbing the Wheel's earliest metaphor, but combining it with my own experience and with Western scientific understandings. I have identified Her three faces of Virgin, Mother, and Crone with the three aspects of Cosmogenesis articulated by physicist Brian Swimme and cultural historian Thomas Berry in The Universe Story (1992, p. 71-78). These three aspects of Creativity that unfold the Cosmos are differentiation, communion, and autopoeisis. In brief, differentiation means "to be is to be different" completely new and fresh. Communion means "to be is to be related" embedded in the web of life. Autopoeisis (also called interiority or subjectivity) means "to be is to be a center of creativity" sentient space.
The "Seasonal Moments", as Thomas Berry has named the seasonal points (1994), or "Sabbats" as they are traditionally known in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, provide a pattern/Poetry that may be identified with the three-fold Creativity of Cosmogenesis and with the three phases of Gaia's annual breath: the waxing, peaking, and waning. Surely this triple-phased dynamic is Her creative formula. It is a ubiquitous dynamic, repeated everywhere: in body cycles of all kinds, plant cycles, the moon phases, and the breath in every moment. The breath is a microcosm of the whole Creative Cosmos, as it moves through the three phases waxing, peaking, and waning returning to a space from which it begins anew. This Creativity apparent in the seasonal cycle is a movement into light/manifestation, and into dark/the unmanifest. It is an awesome process of creation and destruction that is consistently creative in its overall arc (Swimme 1990, video 5); it has been so for 13 billion years according to western science, eternally according to some spiritual traditions.
Into these traditional, seasonal celebrations I have woven the conscious celebration of Cosmogenesis, the Creative Unfolding of "Gaia-Universe&Earth". The celebrations begin with Earth-Sun relationship; that is the reason for their existence, since the earliest of human times. The resulting Creativity of the play of light and dark in this Earth-Sun relationship has translated into food, and into human psyches. The creative telling of our personal stories, and how we wish them to unfold, may be folded into the seasonal moment because that is where we each interface intimately with Gaia. Throughout, there is the connection to the Larger Story, Gaia's long Cosmic Story, as our own story that we are participants in sometimes quite obviously so.
I have come to consider the participation in Earth's moments of transition, Her "holy-days," as a cultural practice that may enable us to "realize that we live in a participatory universe" (Spretnak 1993, p. 22). The practice awakens us to where we are and who we are, and fosters more responsible action. It is an "ecological psychology," a psychology that enables deep participation in our Habitat, which is personal, cultural, and cosmic.
The dark Crone phase of the seasonal cycle pairs with Autopoeisis of the cosmological process. Here we find sentience, subjectivity, interiority, the creative center. The light Virgin phase, in turn, celebrates Differentiation diversity, complexity, multiform nature, articulation. Communion the Mother phase is celebrated throughout, though particularly at the Solstices, when there is a point of interchange, a Gateway into manifest or unmanifest states of being.
There are eight seasonal points in The Wheel of the Year: Winter and Summer Solstice, Spring and Autumn Equinox, and four "cross-quarter" days Early Spring, High Spring, Early Autumn, Deep Autumn. These eight seasonal moments are known by various names; it is the Celtic names I tend to use. And surely there will be many ways of folding in aspects of Gaia's story, of enriching Pagan tradition with the knowings newly presented by science. To begin, I offer the following.
The Wheel of the Year
WINTER SOLSTICE / YULE, June 20-23 in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the darkest point, the peaking of the Dark. The light cycle begins; it is "born," if you like. The Origin of all manifestation is celebrated. The Primeval Fireball, the Great Origin, is echoed in the beginning of Sun's "return" at this seasonal moment. We also celebrate the explosion of Tiamat, the Grandmother Supernova of our Solar System. This is a time, too, to celebrate any birth, including the births and rebirths in our psyches, imaginations, and minds.
EARLY SPRING / IMBOLC, August 2 in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the time to celebrate the continued birthing, the rushing away of the Fireball, the continued rippling forth of Creation. It is understanding the difficulties, the resistances that even Gaia-Universe has encountered, and how such difficulties have served the Unfolding of the Story as we know it. Imbolc celebrates Gaia's rush to diversity, differentiation. As celebrants, we honor and commit to this creative principle in our own lives, our own selves. The "Urge to Be," as I name the Virgin aspect, is celebrated at this turn of the Wheel. The first stirrings, the tender beginnings, are nurtured. It is a time of commitment to each individual, beautiful presence that is part of the whole. This cross-quarter is dedicated to Brigid in my tradition, from whose name the word "Bride" comes. It is a celebration of the Self, a "bridal" commitment to Being.
SPRING EQUINOX / EOSTAR, September 20-23 in the Southern Hemisphere. Now the light reaches a new level of power. At this Seasonal Moment, light and dark have come into balance, with the light about to grow yet stronger. Eostar/Equinox is celebrated as the joyful return of the Lost One and we have all been lost, individually and collectively. The story told at this time is the return of "Persephone" (an image of Beloved Lost Daughter), with Wisdom gained. Her emergence from the Underworld may be understood as a collective experience of emergence into a new era, the Ecozoic Era that Swimme and Berry speak of (1992, pp. 253-54). Eostar/Equinox reminds us of the creative balance/edge that has fostered life's evolution for billions of years. Cosmologically, this is the curvature of space-time. We celebrate, too, the innate balance and harmony, the "Persephone" Seed, that enables each of us to step into the power of manifest Being.
HIGH SPRING / BELTANE, October 31 in the Southern Hemisphere. The light is still increasing; the flowers are turning to fruit; fertility is the agenda. The Virgin face is morphing into the Mother. Beltane is a celebration of mating and desire, the deep awesome dynamic that brings forth all things and allows the Dance of Life. Beltane is the time of the dance around the pole, the "Novapole" in the Southern Hemisphere, as this season celebrates the centrality of Allurement/Desire in the Universe Story. The Charge of the Goddess says She is that "which is attained at the end of desire" (Starhawk 1989, p. 91). Brian Swimme writes that "the unity of the world rests on the pursuit of passion" (1984, p. 48). In this celebration, individuals may come to sense their participation in this Desire, and to enjoy it. Beltane is also a good time to celebrate the advent of meiotic sex, which was an evolutionary move that advanced all three aspects of Cosmogenesis (Swimme and Berry 1992, p. 108).
SUMMER SOLSTICE /LITHA, December 20-23 in the Southern Hemisphere. Light reaches Fullness in our part of Earth. The breath peaks. We celebrate the ripening of the Sun, in the fruits, in the grains, in us. In that peaking, the dark part of the cycle begins the dark is "born," if you like. That is, the fullness of Life, the fullness of our Creativity, our individual Passion, is not ours to hold. It is given over to the Larger Picture, passed on. Like the grains and the fruits , we are Food for the Universe in our daily acts, as well as ultimately. Summer Solstice celebrates Origins again; this time our return, the return of all manifestation to the unmanifest. It celebrates the fulfillment of the purpose of the breath, of this life the Gift of it the Giving Away of it. Traditionally, Litha is celebrated as the Bliss of Union of the Goddess and God, the Beloved and Lover, the maturing of Love: distinctions dissolve in the peaking of such Passion. We celebrate Gaia's Teeming Abundant Creativity and how "She gives it away, She pours it forth," as we say in the ritual. We recall that this is what Mother Sun does, this is what Earth does, and this is what we may do with the abundant Creativity that ripens within us. This cosmology assents to and nurtures a concentration of Being, which innately demands to be poured forth; it creates a generosity within, since abundance is its very nature. We celebrate the innate Generosity of the Universe, for which Sun may be our model.
EARLY AUTUMN /LAMMAS, February 2 in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the feast of the Bread, the Harvest of Life, the cutting, the releasing of the breath, the waxing dark; the time to celebrate dissolution, the return to Source. Like Imbolc, its polar opposite on the Wheel, it is a time of dedication this time to the Larger Self. It is the time for "making sacred," which is the meaning of the term "sacrifice." It is not a self-abnegation, it is a fulfillment of purpose, a fulfillment of the Passion that is in you just as the fruit fulfills its purpose in the eating. This Seasonal Moment celebrates the beginning of dismantling, de-structuring, and there are many such moments in the evolutionary story that could be so remembered; perhaps even our present ending of the Cenozoic Era, as Swimme and Berry describe the ongoing extinctions and planetary destruction (1992, pp. 241-50). Gaia has done a lot of this de-structuring; it is in Her nature to return all to the "Sentient Soup." We recall the Dark Sentience at the base of Being. In Swimme's terminology, this is the "All-Nourishing Abyss," the Mystery at the base of being. The All-Nourishing Abyss is both generative and infinitely absorbing a Power out of which particles spontaneously emerge and into which they are absorbed (1996, p. 100). We image this Power as the Great Receiver, the Old Compassionate One, complete forgiveness, Transformer, Depth of Love.
AUTUMN EQUINOX / MABON, March 20-23 in the Southern Hemisphere. Light and dark again come into balance, this time with the dark about to strengthen. We express thanksgiving for all that has been gained, and accept the losses that have been involved in the gain. Traditionally, the loved One is lost; the Seed goes into the ground. The loved One descends into the fertility of the dark, for the gaining of Wisdom. We are the loved One; and we, as the Mother, grieve. Yet we hold hope in the Creative balance, in the sacred Thread of Life that continues beneath the seen in the unmanifest, and that has eternally done so. The Seed, the "Persephone," which is ritually planted, represents that very perdurable balance which has brought forth the entire evolutionary story. In Greece, Autumn Equinox was the time for celebrating the Great Eleusinian Mysteries, with the initiates gaining Sight and Knowledge of the immortal process of Life and Death. Mabon is the Seasonal Moment for recognizing the loss of every moment of existence an awareness that every moment dissolves and is never repeated, thus honoring the Story of Gaia-Universe as irreversible and nonrepeatable. It is also then true that every moment is totally new. We grieve the Loss, and we celebrate the Moment. We give thanks in a harvest feast.
DEEP AUTUMN / SAMHAIN (pronounced SAUW-en), April 30 in the Southern Hemisphere. This cross quarter (known as "Halloween" in Christian times) is a journeying yet further into darkness into the Transformation of Death and therein the conception of the new. The need for such journeying is poorly understood in our times, as we are divorced from the generativity of the Dark. Here we find the face of the Crone moving into the fertility of the Mother; it is the Seasonal Moment for conceiving the new, for re-solution. Deep Autumn is traditionally the New Year. It is a celebration of the "Space to Be," the Womb from which all may manifest again and afresh. We participate in the continuing unfolding. We are co-creators of that unfolding. Samhain is a time for celebrating the Becomings, the unimaginable More that Gaia has become, and will yet become. It is a time for remembering the ancestors creatural, plant, and human out of whom we and the present have arisen. It is also a time for imagining what it means to be the ancestors of the future, to know that we are free to conceive Much More.
Click HERE for a diagram of the Wheel of the Year (in PDF).
A Taste of the Deep Autumn Ritual
In all of our Sabbats, we begin by "creating the sacred space." For the Deep Autumn / Samhain Sabbat, we create sacred space by remembering our elemental origins; that we are, in truth, billions of years old, and that there is nothing we have not been. In the ritual, each participant recalls something of their individual transformation journey "old selves" each has been. We remember by way of the children's game of "going in and out the windows." At the conclusion of this "game," when each has shown old selves, the celebrant greets the participants as "Great Ones" who have "come through so many changes" É "as Gaia Herself has done." Each participant is then presented with a gingerbread snake, which is "symbol of life renewed," and blessed with the invocation: "You are More, much more." Reading from the poetry of Robin Morgan (1976, p. 84), the celebrant invites all to consume their gingerbread snakes in three parts; first, imagining their old selves, then remembering the ancestors, and finally by naming the old cultural stories in whose transformation we wish to participate. After meditating on these "endings", a ball of golden thread is passed around, with the chant: "Free to radiate whatever we conceive." The "conceptions" are spoken, the thread is cut. The participants are offered apples to eat the "fruit of never-ending renewal" (Walker 1983, pp. 48-50).
The Transformation Journey
of the White Protestant Australian Country Girl
Sometimes inside her, the girl ached for poetry. It did exist somewhere, didn't it? ... once upon a time? But she could not remember clearly. Her mother did read her "once-upon-a-time" stories, called "fairy tales," that sometimes implied Other Worlds. But often the stories just seemed a more extreme version of what she experienced here.
The "once-upon-a-time" stories gave clues to other possible places and characters in the Universe. They seemed to contain bits that the mother did not want to tell. The mother would falter as she read, and then proceed as if making it up.
The girl wondered, What did the wolf really do to Little Red Riding Hood and the grandma? What other horrible things were possible that she had not yet imagined? Her mother would have spared her the whole tale if she could have, it seemed. The girl felt her mother's wish for more hopeful tales, tales of a better world. The mother had an ember in her heart that longed for a world that she could embrace, one that she could even just dream of ... if something would help her imagine it.
How did the girl begin to remember the Other Times and Other Places? How did she take the Cosmos of her childhood and lift it from her soul? Where did the alchemy begin? Where was the seed? What voice whispered to her? The girl was always listening for Something Else, because she felt the hunger, and she remembered the ember of desire in her mother's heart.
Stories did leak in stories of a change sweeping the world outside. These stories came mostly threaded in music. From a long way away, Other Times and Places filtered in É just little bits here and there.
The girl scraped and licked up these stories as she did the remaining cake mix from a bowl. It was like a tapping on the stones that had rolled across entrances in her mind the day she sat weeping in the dirt. She heard It, the More, beckon. She could not have refused.
There was also the communion of the land and the sun and the stars. The land and the sun were more ancient than any story she had heard told in this place; and the stars held infinity in their embrace.
The girl thought about this.
Another crack in this Cosmos came when the girl experienced the Creative Force of Life within her own body. Eventually, the girl carried a child within her, and she knew tangibly the power of the Universe. Yes! The power of the Universe was in her, too. They had lied.
The girl went away. She went a long way away. She traveled light years from her mother's womb. Where, she wanted to know, was her Mother? The girl traveled deeply into herself, into her deep space. She pulled in the anchors, she trusted herself to the ocean and the wind and the stars. She found other maids also seeking their Mother. Together they would create the map.
The Form, the Shape that they sought was not in any Atlas. Her gaps had been covered up, her hollows filled in, her name blanked out. She lay buried, silent, but with a detectable visceral pulsation. So they would dig out the hollows and the gaps with their hands. They would roll away the stones. They would utter her Word. They would Dream the Other Times and Other Places, expanding and transmitting the echoes that dimly resonated within them. Soon they would vibrate visibly, audibly with the Song, and beam the radiant enlivening Vision from Her re-awakened eyes. There was More much More.
The girl had become a transmitter for her bloodline, beaming in the new colors and textures, sending on the ripples. Indeed, this was her part her part in the complex weaving that the Schoolbus driver had foretold. She did not belong there; this was as it should be. Her passion to run, to leave, was the Wisdom ... yet always with her mother's hunger for better tales to tell in her heart.
Editor's Note: This essay is adapted from Glenys Livingstone's doctoral thesis, "The Female Metaphor Virgin, Mother, Crone of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as a Catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change," University of Western Sydney, 2002. In 2005, her book Pagaian Cosmology was published. It can be purchased, or read for free, online at http://pagaian.org. Glenys lives with her Beloved in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, lectures casually in Ecological Psychology, and facilitates seasonal ritual celebrations for various groups as well as for her own community.
Berry, Thomas. 1994. "The Universe Story." Keynote address to International Transpersonal Association Conference. Killarney Ireland.
Morgan, Robin. 1976. Lady of the Beasts. NY: Random House.
Swimme, Brian. 1996. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos. NY: Orbis.
______. 1990. Canticle to the Cosmos. (Video series). CA: Tides Foundation.
______. 1984. The Universe is A Green Dragon. NM: Bear & Company.
Swimme, Brian,and Thomas Berry. 1992. The Universe Story. NY: HarperCollins.
Spretnak, Charlene. 1993. States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age. CA: HarperCollins.
Starhawk. 1989. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. NY: Harper and Row
Walker, Barbara G. 1983. The Woman's Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. CA: Harper and Row.
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