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The Arch of Metahistory:
Sacred Nature

Whatever the origins of humanity in cosmic terms, its immediate source is Nature, the habitat provided by Gaia, the living planet. All preliterate traditions around the world reflect the belief that the natural world is charged with magical and spiritual power variously called mana, wakonda, dema, deva and many other names. All of these words indicate the presence of the sacred in the realm of the senses, not in some remote realm beyond human reach. Almost universally, this presence was imagined in the form of a Goddess, not a God.

In the beginning there was Isis-Hathor: Oldest of the Old. She was the Goddess from whom all Becoming arose. She was the Great Lady, Mistress of the Two Lands of Egypt, Mistress of Shelter, Mistress of Heaven, Mistress of the House of Life, Mistress of the Divine Word. She was the Unique. In all Her great and wonderful works She was a wiser magician and more excellent than any God.

- Theban sacred text, 14C BCE, Egypt.

Sacred comes from the Sanskrit root sak-, “to be powerful”. What supports something must be more powerful than that which it supports. Thus, Nature, which supports life, is more powerful than humanity, which is but one species woven into the web of Nature. Whether God creates Nature or Nature itself is God, the mysterious wellspring of life is sacred and all forms of life partake of that sacredness.

The certainty that Nature is sacred is the point of departure for all forms of human spirituality, and so it represents the founding stone of the arch of metahistory. If the arch is imagined as a bridge, Sacred Nature is the footing that has to be erected on the bank of the river from which we proceed. Life proceeds from Nature and all human activity is grounded in the Gaian habitat. All stories and scripts that encode beliefs about our relation to Nature reflect this master theme.

In the religious life of humanity, God first appears in Nature. Only later does God depart and hover outside as the disembodied creator of the natural world. Religion originates in “nature-worship” The Divine thus recognized is invariably feminine: hence, Gaia is a goddess, not a god. Long before institutionalized religions arose, the Nature Goddess was the Supreme Being. Among the Gnostics she was understood as Sophia, the Godhead of Nature. Sophia means “wisdom,” stressing the universal awareness that Nature is alive and intelligent, wise in her ways. Gaia-Sophia, all-knowing Mother Nature, appears in many guises in diverse myths and legends. Sacred Nature and the Goddess are thus identical. Indigenous cultures constantly assert that everything they know about how to live comes from direct communication with the Goddess. These scripts say: Goddess births all, Goddess sustains all, Goddess knows all.

“Animism” is the name given by anthropologists to the experience (or, if you will, the belief) that all nature is alive, animated and animating. The Goddess equated with Sacred Nature was embodied in a myriad forms and worshipped in her manifest guises, such as trees. (Clay impression, Indus Valley, c. 2000 BC)

Navigator for Psychonautics

Theocracy and Theogamy

All races are born from a single genetic matrix in Sacred Nature. The Biblical Eve has thousands of counterparts in other cultures, each one a legitimate version of the Great Mother. This mythological notion has recently emerged in scientific theory which now speaks of “Mitochondrial Eve,” the genetic mother of the entire human species. She is the biological matrix of the DNA code for all of humanity. Ancient racial scripts such as the Dynastic history of the Egyptians confer identity on the people by descent from the primordial Mother-Goddess known under various names: Nut, Mut, Neith, Hathor, Isis. In Egyptian religion the continuity of the blood-lines of the royal family (pharaohs) was constantly renewed by the Goddess Hathor. The script that asserts that the Goddess confers authority upon those who will guide society is one of the most ancient formulas of civilization. Theocracy is routinely defined by historians as “rulership of human society by the gods or their descendents,” but this definition is misleading because it overlooks the central role of the Goddess in the selection and empowerment of the king who will rule over civilization. A tremendously problematic issue in metahistory, sacred kingship links Sacred Nature to Origins in a crucial way.

Many scripts trace the ancestral origins of a race to the mating of a goddess and a human progenitor, a hero. Hence, the Trojan hero Aeneas is the son of another hero, Anchises, who mated with the goddess Aphrodite. Technically, divine-human intercourse is called theogamy: god-mating. Stories of theogamy precede stories of theocracy, upon which all ancient civilized nations were originally founded. The mytheme of theogamy is prevalent in many indigenous cultures and it was widely evident in pagan religion, but the subject matter associated with this motif (including the controversial practices of temple prostitution and sacred sexuality) came to be diabolized and forbidden when the Judeo-Christian ethic rose to dominance.

The Trojan War dates to 1200 BC, but more than 2000 years later charters written for the royal families of Europe cited Aeneas as their racial-national ancestor. To this day, many families of the European nobility still trace their ancestral lines back to mythological figures. In Japan the Emperor was viewed as the “Son of Heaven,” a human being of divine ancestry, until the last Emperor, Hirohito, was forced to renounce this claim at the end of World War Two. Among indigenous peoples, the various tribes and nations are all children of the Great Mother. The ancient Celts considered themselves to be the Tuatha de Danaan, “Children of Dana,” the primordial Mother Goddess who gave her name to the River Danube.

The scripts say: The Mother Goddess produces heroes and heroes found races, so she is the common mother of all races.

Humanity Above Nature

When racial-national scripts become explicitly sexual, the male national heroes, or “founding fathers,” become more important than the Goddess who mothers them. Though the role of the Sacred Nature Goddess may be minimized, the Goddess is always present in the background. In indigenous societies tribal identity is based on matrilineal descent, often in the form of identification with magical totemic ancestors (plants, animals, i.e., sacred forces in nature). These ancestral bonds are rigorously preserved over the millennia. The vast spectrum of tribal groups around the world all share a universal reverence for other species in nature and recognize spiritual powers in animals such as the lion, eagle, bear or jaguar. The interspecies bond was profoundly ruptured in Judaeo-Christian religion that makes humanity superior to all other creatures. The story of human-species dominance is told in Genesis where the creator god, Jehovah, gives his progeny Adam dominion over all the creatures of the earth.

This shift produced what scholars call the desacralization of nature. The script says: humanity appears in the natural world but is superior to it. The vital bond between humanity and Sacred Nature is replaced by a devotional bond between humanity and the Creator God, outside and above nature. In the course of human history, the master theme of Sacred Nature has undergone a massive shift from participation in nature to domination of it. The consequences of this monumental shift emerge under the second master theme, Eternal Conflict.

Due to a seemingly innate antagonism between the sexes (which no single myth explains) scripts often mingle these two master themes. In the Bible Eve is the troublemaker who causes both Adam and Eve to get thrown out of Eden, i.e., alienated from Sacred Nature. This script is rather twisty because it makes Woman, the embodiment of Nature, the cause of a rupture from the natural world. In the Gnostic version of the Fall, the twisty serpent who tempts Eve to acquire forbidden knowledge is presented as a benefactor rather than an evil interloper. The Gnostic version of the Fall is a rare example of a direct and deliberate inversion of a script. (Basic Reading: The Gnostic Gospels.)

Most scripts on the theme of Sacred Nature give superiority to the feminine, but some religious texts were composed with the intent to eliminate the feminine component from Divinity. The Hebrew Goddess Hokmah, identical with many pagan Goddesses such as Astarte, Asteroth and Elath, was originally the wife and co-equal of Jehovah. By the time most of the Torah (Old Testament) texts were written, a few hundred years BCE, Her role in the religious life of the ancient Hebrews was virtually obliterated. The purpose of this script change was to endorse patriarchal authority and promote monotheism. Scholars have labored arduously to understand the actual role played by pagan goddesses in ancient Hebrew culture. (This effort has been named “Goddess reclamation”)

Within Goddess-based religion, a vast spectrum of divinities, male and female, comprise the sacred dimension of the natural world. Imposition of monotheistic belief went hand in hand with the repression of the Goddess. Over a period of hundreds of years, the gradual waning of awareness and belief in the power of Sacred Nature (desacralization) prepared the way for monotheistic belief in a remote omnipotent deity.

Nature and Nurture

Religious beliefs converge with familial scripting when Mother Earth is described as the parent of all living creatures, all species. This view of the earth implies an innate human ability to feel reverence toward the natural habitat — a sentiment partially recovered in the environmental movement. Except in the case of native-mind cultures, reverence for the earth as mother has been largely diverted to the human realm. (The term “native-mind” denotes the outlook of indigenous peoples who see their values reflected in the habitat of which they are natives. It is interchangeable with indigenous.) In many families the mother is still a matriarch and held to be the mysterious source of life that sustains the whole family, even though her role and influence may be crippling to the psychological growth of individual family members. Likewise, the bond to Sacred Nature can become pathological and degenerate into blind superstition and sinister games of power. Taboos around incest and menstruation indicate how humanity can slip out of harmony with nature into fearful obsessions.

Incest belongs to the mytheme of Sacred Nature because it represents the risk of binding the human family to the Mother Goddess in an unhealthy and regressive way. Concern about incest is present in most ancient and tribal mythologies, with taboos to prevent it from becoming too overwhelming. In the ancient cult of Cybele priests castrated themselves in honor of the Goddess. This practice recalls a religious-sexual-familial pattern of great interest in modern psychology which is full of case studies of men who are emotionally castrated. The parallel is odd because it appears the modern male is castrated due to lack of a vital connection with Sacred Nature, while in the ancient cult castration was symbolic of dedication to its feminine embodiment, the Goddess. The mythemes carried in any script or ritualized form of behavior can mutate, and their meanings can be reversed.

Catholic priests, who renounce sex, are symbolically imitating the devotees of Cybele, but they do it in dedication to a male father god, not a goddess. The motif of castration is constant even though its application varies as the script varies.

Religious-familial stories that follow the patriarchal model represent the father as the supreme deity of the family, a harsh judge who rewards his children only when they follow his rules, and punishes them severely when they don’t. The religious script, “God gives commands,” translates readily into the familial script, “father knows best” Since father as male deity represents an authority beyond Nature, this story conflicts with the one that says, “mother” (nature) nurtures all.

In indigenous societies, the family remains closely related to Nature as the source of survival. This dependence generates a set of scripts in which the familial interactive patterns do not consume the family members, or obscure each member’s primordial bond with the natural world. The identity of the family group and the individuals within it are both reflected in active rapport with Nature — in participation, to cite the key anthropological term for this relationship. In modern life a family dedicated to conservation and exploration of nature would be acting to restore the primordial bond. Such a family would operate from scripts that say “nature provides inspiration” and “nature unites humanity.”

Suggested reading: Sacred Nature

Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat compares indigenous views about Nature to the ideals and assumptions of modern science.

Inanna, by Diana Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer recovers in vivid erotic language the mystique of the Goddess central to all pagan and indigenous societies.

Voices of the First Day by Robert Lawlor presents a deep and far-reaching evaluation of the worldview of Australian Aborigines, heirs to a 40,000-year-old cultural tradition in which all aspects of spiritual and practical experience are based on symbiosis with Sacred Nature.




Sacred Nature
Moral Design

Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.