Endings and beginnings

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

— T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Today is Armageddon, again. Millerites and Mayans — whether you set your date in 1843, 2000, 2011 or 2012, the world always seems to end. Quite simply, it’s the inheritance of a faith whose cosmology hinges on a Judgment Day, final war and ultimate reckoning. It may seem odd to include the Mayan Y2K in this, but we don’t know exactly what their interpretation of the date would have been prior to contact with Christians; today’s Mayans are quite familiar with Christian culture. Heck, maybe it was a day for tech support to chisel a new calendar.

As a Pagan, I find the endlessly ending world a source of amusement and perplexity. Granted, there are some Pagan myths of the world’s end; the Norse Gotterdamerung is the prime example, but even that was the likely result of Christian contact. I tend to think of the negative second half of the Morrigan’s Prophecy in that light as well; it doesn’t seem to fit the tenor of Celtic culture, but meshes quite nicely with that of the Christian scribes writing down the myths.

The idea of the Gold, Silver and Iron ages does have resonance in Pagan culture, but it seems linked to the very human concept of “What are these kids coming to?” The impression I get from Pagan myth is that the universe is cyclic — a Day of Brahma, so to speak, in which the universe bursts outward, expends, contracts and then falls back to its original state, only to continue the same process on the dawning of the next Day.  The other concept that interests me comes from the Navajo. In Navajo tradition, humans have dwelt on four previous worlds before reaching the Fifth World, the one in which we now dwell (or, perhaps more accurately, the land in which the Navajo — the people — now reside). There are multiple worlds, universes, states of existence — and we travel between them.

Quite a few Pagan cultures seem to have multiple creation myths. In ancient Greece, for example, you have the initial creation stemming from Nyx and Eros, and then the creation of life involving Gaia and Uranus, their multiple children and ultimately to the molding of mankind at the hands of Prometheus. There is also the myth of Eurynome, the primal goddess with her serpent-consort Ophion, dancing on the surface of the deep.  While any true Celtic creation myth has been lost, hints of it remain in the Book of Invasions, in which waves of beings come to inhabit and change the land of Ireland, perhaps a stand-in for the earth itself. At any rate, creation is a complex business, involving multiple phases, deities, peoples — and unanswered questions.

Just like real life, I suppose.

The universe is a dazzlingly complex place. There isn’t just one be-all, end-all creation. Such a thing would involve agreeing on a starting point. What is it? The origin of galaxies? The formation of our solar system? The advent of the first single-cell organisms on earth, or of humans?

If the “beginning” is complex and multiple, why not the “end”? It spawns the same questions. What is the ending point? The extinction of humanity, of life on earth, of the earth itself and the sun? Of the universe, reversing course and returning to its original state? But it the Big Bang occurs all over again, is even that truly The End?

The universe and the planet herself don’t have One Beginning and One End. That’s forcing the cosmos to the template of human life, or at least one interpretation of it. Our consciousness — as far as we understand or interpret, and we don’t understand all that much — is wedged between the two bookends of Life and Death. We are or we are not, at least when considering the sense of individual self that comes with this particular incarnation. And so, we assume the cosmos must have the same bookends.

Except it’s not so simple, is it? Microorganisms feast on our corpses, giving rise to new and different forms of life. The compost of our flesh or ashes feeds the earth. Our souls go on to other things; our chi/prana/life force returns to the system. (I’m certainly no atheist, so I beg your pardon while I speak that “flaky soul-talk.” It’s what I believe.)

When we die to the world, we may think that the world dies with us — but it doesn’t; it goes merrily on its way. The earth continues the dance of revolutions, the dance that gives us night and day and ultimately the seasons. Whales migrate, birds flock, humans give birth to other humans. Another little girl giggles at the shelter as she adopts her first cat. Someone else is hired for the job left unfinished at your death, and mulls its problems and challenges over another cup of half-chilled coffee. Your country dissolves as another people invades, but those people intermarry with yours and the cities shift shape under the tides of time. A species dies off and another springs up, or fills the niche of the lost species, more adapted to this round of changes.

Ultimately, I think the end times obsession is a way to deny our mortality, our inherent temporality. Only the sinners die! We will be saved, unchanged and unchanging! But that’s not how the universe works. It’s a pretty complex place. Why would the “end” and the “beginning” be any different?

So, on today’s Armageddon, I’m going to buy some plants and contemplate complexity.

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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