“Often during initiation rites, Native Americans would take on a new or special name to reflect their new identity and to acknowledge that while still ordinary, the very purpose of their existence has changed. A man’s worldview is changed by his vision, and his life takes on a new or different meaning.” C.T.B. Harris, Ph.D., Emasculation of the Unicorn
The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomm's Druidcraft Tarot
“Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.” Claude Bernard
I stood on the edge of a precipice, looking into a vast chaotic confusion of nothingness. My stomach sank and seemed to fall into it. I felt like I’d lost my base, I’d lost the context which gave my life meaning. It supported me and stopped me falling in. It was the day I left my childhood behind and became an adult. Here I was standing before the raw power of a universe filled with nihilism. Events happened; stars were born and died; planets spun aimlessly around their suns; and humans committed the greatest atrocities and the greatest acts of benevolent service. All the while the universe remained seemingly unmoved, apathetic and without pity.
But then Life sparks something in me, and I feel hope and a will to live replace despair.
I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!
I looked at this nothingness with new courage, standing there and facing it. I did not try to escape from it; no running, no ignoring, no denying. I faced it and from the nothingness itself I extract my hope, meaning and infinite potential, using it as a source for raw material and transforming it through my dreams and visions, through the alchemical powers of my life-force in the depths of my being.
This day, the day I became the creator of meaning in my life, without needing the regurgitated meaning of others, was the day I became an adult. I stood for my independence. I stood for my life.
The universe is like a dying bonfire, and all stars are its embers. If it does not collapse in on itself, annihilating and restarting the universe, eventually all matter will dissolve and all energy dissipate into I-don’t-know-what (I’m no physicist!). All because of the entropic decay inherent in all things of the whole universe. But as our sun burns itself up, it sheds excess energy; scientists call it “free energy”, which is lost in space. But some of the energy isn’t lost because a little pocket of life and meaning collects it, feeding from and being energised by it. Living from it. A “little pocket” we call home; the planet Earth. Without free energy, life would not be possible in our entropy dominated universe.
I spoke at the beginning as though there was a void of nothingness around me, but that is not quite true. The living Earth, or Gaia, is context enough for us to find meaning. If we were rooted in this reality, where human existence was seen and felt as part of the planet’s ecology, there would be no such void or lack of meaning around us. Why do we feel a void around us? Why do we lack meaning from the world around us? Each breath, each step, each sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, is filled with meaning, filled with a context through which we live our lives. When we are disconnected from the wholeness of our environment then meaning can become disconnected from the process of living itself. When we replace living in a forest with living in a city, when we limit our human-nonhuman community to human-only community, when the sustenance of our lives comes from human manufactured technology and not from non-human sources, an individual can easily swim in a nihilistic void. They can become more abstracted and less responsive and sensitive to the world that they depend upon for their existence.
The life of the individual, when it matures from childhood into adulthood, does find itself in a “void” of sorts. We no longer rely on our parents or other role-models to show us the way in life, we have to find it and make it for ourselves. This reminds me of The Fool card in the tarot. The figure is often depicted stepping onto empty air, symbolizing that the next step in life isn’t always certain. Many people avoid the “empty air,” suckling on the teat of societal conventions and never growing up and some see the “empty air” in despairing terms and throw away their lives into meaningless activities (not much different to suckling on societal conventions) or even ending it completely. But that empty air isn’t empty, it is filled with the presence of life, because without it we’d die. It is our lifeline to the Earth. So the fool, leaping from solid ground into “empty” air, isn’t leaping into nothingness, he (or she) is leaping from its parents support to find its own direct connection with the Earth and everything it contains.
If, when an individual is weaned from parental dependence, they have been guided into the world well and connected with it well, empty air becomes an opportunity for the individual; they can take the next step in life knowing that they will not fall. Their feeling of being part of the human-nonhuman world is strong and also they have enough individual presence to fill any “emptiness” instead of conforming to the roles, social conventions and stereotypes of their society, being who they are, not “what they should be.” This creation of a new self-image, instead of being isolated from society, can in turn contribute to society, transforming its dynamic into something relevant in the world, becoming a healthy guidance and supporting system for future generations, one that leaves space for their individuality and sense of connection with Gaia as a whole in her human and nonhuman aspects.
Although the Earth seems to be swimming in an empty void, we certainly are not, as we can see in James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis. We have emerged within an ecological context that has been evolving for many millennia, ever since life appeared on the Earth and humans are a continuation of that. We have been gifted by this evolution with life; it is our right to live it fully. Yet also we have a responsibility to work for the continuation of life on Earth. For most organisms, this worldview is biologically innate. But for humans this needs to be learnt and we need cultures and societies that will facilitate this worldview so that deep down we all know that we are a part of Gaia’s evolution and that, through our distinctive human creativity, we can contribute and become cocreators in this age-old process alongside all other organisms.