Natality: Cosmology

Gabriola_Haven totempoleThe Paradigm of Natality opens possibilities for new beginnings.  In practising Natality, we midwife hope by bringing to light an alternative way of being.  Natality has eight cornerstones. In this section, we explore cosmology.

Cosmology contributes stability and groundedness by evoking a shared symbology to express the sacredness of the whole.  Cosmology deals with concepts of time, space and place.  A culture’s ethical codes are embedded in its origin stories, performed in ceremonies and represented in signs and symbols.

The paradigm shift to Natality reclaims cosmology to fill the great void left by the loss of cosmology in the necrophilic paradigm resulting in cosmological uncertainty, a disorder with symptoms of anxiety, insecurity, alienation and confusion over values.

Cosmology lies intertwined with and beneath culture.  Culture is specific to place and experience and thus relatively transitory, whereas cosmology lives on for much longer once it is established in the myths, legends, instincts and traditions of people.  It is deep knowledge that is lived, embodied and often not articulated in linguistic form.   Cosmology survives for millennia (Wolfstone, Mnajdra, p.3).  Transitions from one belief system to another require a long process of change. Remnants of old beliefs are retained in myth and custom in spite of new technologies and cultural changes (Haarmann, 2007, p. 176). Cosmology is embedded in stories (myths), ceremonies and rituals, signs and symbols.

Freya Mathews (1991) defines cosmology as depicting the big-picture structure, origin and evolution of the real world (p.11) that provides the context for thinking about social structure, ethics and personhood (p.43).  Mythology is the oral narrative derived from cosmology to answer a culture’s existential questions: Who are we? From where did we come? Why are we here? Cosmology differs from metaphysics which attempts to explain any abstract, possible and ideal realms which may exist (p.11).

Figure 1: Egyptian Cosm17IMAGE_EgyptianCosmology_MotherSkyology indicates an Earth god and a Sky goddess.   The sky is Nut’s body, stretched from horizon to horizon. Geb is the Earth, lying beneath her. During the day, Nut and Geb are separated, but each evening Nut comes down to meet Geb and this causes darkness. If storms come during the day, it is believed that Nut draws closer to the earth.

Colonial  economics imposed a utilitarian view that nature has value only as a commodity.  Colonial religions attempted to rupture a colonized culture’s identity with its cosmology of time and place; however, ironically,  the colonizers were the ones that lost their cosmology when the male sky God was replaced by money.

What happens when Western culture loses its cosmology? Mathews describes “cosmological uncertainty” as a disorder with symptoms of anxiety, insecurity, alienation and confusion over values (Matthews, 1991, p.47). Without a cosmology or mythic structure, anthropocentric cultures do not have the capacity to engage in life as an organic totality.  “We stand radically in need of cosmological rehabilitation” (p.47):

A culture deprived of any symbolic representation of the universe and of its own relation to it will be a culture of nonplussed, unmotivated individuals set down inescapably in a world which makes no sense to them, and which accordingly baffles their agency. What are they to do in this world to which they do not belong? … Vocationless, such individuals must sink eventually into apathy and alienation, or into the mindless and joyless pursuit of material ends (Mathews, 1991, p.13).

Similarly, Thomas Berry worries that humans become destitute when they are alienated from the world and from the maternal source of our being (Berry cited by Taylor, p.149).  The paradigm of Natality is a call to agential intra-action in order to heal themselves of the dis-ease of alienation by beginning the journey toward at-homeness with our planetary world and our cosmos.

17IMAGE__cosmology Grace M. Jantzen (b. 1948 in Saskatchewan), rejects transcendental theisms and seeks a religion of immanence that holds Nature as sacred; however,  I suggest that restoring the sacred can be achieved by reclaiming cosmology, thus precluding the need for religion in a paradigm of Natality.  Many indigenous cultures have living cosmologies but no formal, text-based systems of religion; they also do not hold to  a secular/sacred dualism.

Why do I seek to reclaim cosmology, but not religion?  Like Cavarero and Braidotti, I do not propose a new religion that replaces God the Father with Goddess the Mother; however, it is important to deconstruct patriarchy in order to re-member the ancient matriculture that preceded patriarchy.  I advocate the reclamation of cosmology – the telling of origin stories of time, place and space – to create collective expressions of our consciously imaginative participation with nature.  The paradigm of Natality does not seek to replace one gendered system of domination with another, but to build a world without systems of domination.  Building a culture of natality embraces egalitarianism and thus disrupts patriarchy and its essentialist assumption that male domination is normative.  Reclaiming cosmology is not reclaiming past mythologies, but framing new myths, rituals signs and symbols that embrace science while addressing its empirical bias.  It is consciously creating a new cultural imaginary embedded with ethics.  In particular, this new cosmology will address the flawed thinking of the Anthropocene which resulted in anthropogenic climate change and it will provide a new symbology for engaging with nature in a relationship of reciprocity.

Like Freya Mathews, I look to indigenous cultures for insight on recovering cosmology.  Indigenous peoples perceive the land, in all its massive materiality, as the source, the ground, and the womb, of life.  It is sacred under the aspect of the Great Mother, the great body from which all life springs and on which all life depends for its sustenance.  The land as ‘Mother system’ includes the geomorphic attributes as well as the organic features – all are revered in a philosophy that is far deeper than the intrinsic value and self-realizing systems of Deep Ecology.  In the context of an organic participatory relationship with the cosmos, ‘flourishing’ means cultural as well as physical and material wellness, where cultural wellness is “richly fulfilled in emotional, imaginative, artistic, intellectual and spiritual life” (p.156).

Cosmology and matriculture are interconnected concepts.  Matriculture refers to cultural systems that venerate the maternal as a first principle based on the fact that all natals are born of a mother; it recognizes that the power to generate life is critical to cultural continuity (Cavarero, 1990; Simpson, 2006).  Women’s role in creating life and art is interwoven in a culture’s thinking, living and being; it is expressed in art, cosmological narratives, metaphor, ritual and ceremonies that celebrate a reciprocal relationship with a primordial mother. “Matriculture” is a stronger concept than ‘matricentric’ and differs from ‘matriarchy’ in that it does not presume the subordination of men, but rather a partnership between the sexes (Passman, 1993, p.185). Reclaiming matriculture disrupts the essentialist notion of universal patriarchy.

Cosmology contributes groundedness by evoking imagination and a shared symbology to express the sacredness of the whole; without a cosmology or mythic structure, humans cannot engage in life as an organic totality (Latour, 2011, p.7; MacAuley, 2010, p.332;  Arendt, p.264; O’Sullivan, 1999, p.185; Mathews, 1991, p.13; Mies & Shiva, 1993, p.267; Dei, 2010, p.78).  Viewing the world as animate, agentic and powerful, natals re-animate themselves as members of an ecological community (Plumwood, 2010, p.45; Barrett, 2011, p.128; Abram, 2005, np).  A cosmology of animate earth expands the notions of equality and freedom by acknowledging the rights of nature, i.e., buen vivir (Andean), ubuntu (southern Africa) and mino bimaadiziwin (Anishinaabeg) (Martinez-Alier, 2014, p.43).

A philosophy and cosmology that includes nature is urgently needed because the converging ecocrises point to a “misalliance between humanity and its world” (Mathews Panpsychism). Restoring the sacred can be achieved by reclaiming local cosmologies as the source of meaning and ethics for the land we inhabit, thus precluding the need for a formal, institutionalized religion in the Paradigm of Natality.  I take as a model those indigenous cultures that have living cosmologies and philosophies and that look to their origin stories for an onto-ethico-epistemological framework (Simpson, Dancing 40).  Reclaiming cosmology occurs when we re-inhabit the land where we reside and learn the local stories of the world’s becoming and discover where we belong in those stories.

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MB_Petroform_Sun_CreatorCultura de Natalidad, a culture of Natality, celebrates imagination and creativity in the work of many artists and scholars. Just follow the links.

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