In a previous post, I wrote about the Creative aspect of Gaia/the Cosmos, as I observe it in my spiritual practice. Paired with this Creative aspect is the Destructive.
The Destructive aspect of Gaia is a very powerful concept to me. Despite the negative connotations of the concept of destruction, I see it as not only a necessary component to life and existence as we know it, but the core of fertility and possibility from which all creation must spring.
Each of the sections below correspond to their opposite or complementary aspects within Creation, so it may be useful to read the two articles concurrently.
The unmanifest of the dark
The Destructive aspect at its core reflects our experience of the dark – the darkness of night, of winter, and of death. It represents the necessary curtailing of the creative impulse, but also the seed of existence from which the creative unfurling happens.
The “unmanifest” is a term I have borrowed from Glenys Livingstone.¹ I find it to be an extremely evocative way of describing all that is latent, or not yet come into being. It represents everything that will be, but also everything that will not be – the infinite possibilities that will never become manifest, at least not in our understanding or experience of the universe.
In my personal creation myth, the unmanifest dark is what came before. My dualistic conception of Gaia has a somewhat chicken-and-egg dynamic to it, and is certainly cyclical – the dark and light are not really separate entities or even experiences, but two ways of understanding what is. But when I think about the beginning of Cosmos, I think of the Dark. I think of the emptiness before exhalation, the unimaginable nothingness before time or consciousness.
Death, chaos, and autopoiesis: the infinite wisdom of the dark mother
We experience throughout our lives a constant decay towards death. As I see it, the Creativity of our physical manifestation and our personal consciousness moves gradually back towards reintegration with the All – our bodies will return to the earth, our consciousness submits to the collective unconsciousness that we pass on to our descendents.
I see this process of death to be inherently tied in with the entropy or the laws of thermodynamics. I understand entropy as the way in which the universe tends towards chaos. The universe started out smooth and ordered at the big bang – as a singularity – and has (despite its self-ordering tendencies) tended further towards disorder or chaos ever since.
To me, the dark of Destruction perfectly represents this tendency towards disorder. But something interesting arises from this tendency to disorder. (I will add a disclaimer that I am not a scientist, and my scientific reading has been minimal at best so far. Creative license, and all that.)
Information is best stored within disorder. Think about it – a sequence of numbers that repeats frequently contains very little information; you (or a computer or other system) don’t need to be told very much in order to keep repeated that pattern to infinity. But a completely disordered sequence contains an awful lot more information, because it cannot be summed up in a simple algorithm. This is, to my best understanding, how DNA works.²
So within this dark chaos, within this tendency to disorder, I see this ever-increasing possibility for information. And I characterise this as the infinite wisdom of the dark mother. Whenever I contemplate how DNA or autopoiesis (the innate ability of a life-form to re-create itself) works, I think of the complexity of this dark mother archetype.³
Universal sameness and the collective unconscious
Another core duality I consider is the way in which everything within the Cosmos is different and unique, yet connected and the same. In the same way that all humans have a common human ancestor, and all life-forms have a common much more distant ancestor, everything within the Cosmos itself originates from the big bang – when all matter and energy was one.
It is perhaps easier to see ways in which we are unique from others and from all the other matter in the universe, but I find it very moving to consider the ways in which we are inextricably interrelated. This can be understood on many levels; from the strictly molecular, to the question of free will and whether we really have autonomy over our actions, or if we are dictated by the entirety of our environment.
This ties in too with the concept of the collective unconscious. This is a term that gets bandied around out of context quite a lot, but in its original conception by Carl Jung, I find it to be both fascinating and highly relatable to the human experience. I see the collective unconscious as the Dark we have inherited from our ancestors. In terms of the Light, we inherit from our ancestors our genes, our appearances, and conscious stories, memories and collective histories. But in the Dark of the collective unconscious lies a whole world of hidden inheritance, which I suspect is just as rich if not more than that of which we are consciously aware.
Gods and archetypes
As an aspect of the Morrígan, or an archetype that is closely related to her, the figure of Badb (or Badhbh in modern Irish spelling) is very powerful to me. She is very explicitly a crone figure, representing death and metamorphosis. She also manifests as a black crow, and is frequently associated with the battlefield.
The Badb represents to me Jung’s Dark Mother archetype; those parts of the archetype of the mother that we find dark and disturbing.4 She is the serpent that eats its own tail, the sow that eats its own young – the inevitability of the cycle of destruction and creation in order to beget life. She is the holder of the infinite wisdom that lies within disorder and chaos – the deep sentience that lies even in the pitch dark of Her cauldron.
Shiva and Kali
Deities such as Shiva and Kali represent to me unstoppable destruction and the inevitability of death. They are the chaos of destruction, the necessity of death to bring about new light. These deities remind me to revel in the fact of my mortality; to dance in the face of death. It is our mortality that allows us to live and experience life as we do – as meaningful, and urgent, and beautiful.
Shiva in particular also reminds me to accept change and metamorphosis, and not to try to stand in the way of destruction. In the same was that we must eventually submit to death, we must submit to change and external circumstance in our daily lives. We must accept that this change may be painful or inconvenient, but that it is necessary for metamorphosis and growth.
The cycle of descent into the underworld and return to light. Persephone reminds me of the interrelatedness of the all, and that we as creatures of Creative Light can and will descend into the dark of the unconscious, the dark of the unmanifest.
Persephone represents the balance between light and dark; the ability to move from Creation to Destruction throughout the cycle of the year. Hecate fulfills a similar metaphor for me. These liminal deities offer us the key to tapping into our own intuition, our deep selves.
Deities of the underworld
Deities like Osiris, Hades and Hel remind me of my ancestors and the collective unconscious. These deities guard the underworld of the ancestors, and so to me they are the guardians of the collective unconscious within my own psyche. They stand at the gate of the underworld, protecting me from the overwhelming realm within. Equally, if I wish to tap into this part of my psyche, I must approach these guardians and pass through the gates.
As stated previously, the Creative force of Ganesha reminds of me of the ancestors I knew, and the conscious memories and collective histories that have been passed on to me. But the Destructive force of the guardians of the underworld represents mystery, the unknown. They represent the shadow self, and everything within us that is unconscious or dark.
Special mention: The Morrígan
Like Gaia, the Morrígan to me encapsulates the entirety of the cycle of the Cosmos. She has been a constant throughout my spiritual development for the past ten years. When I first started practicing Paganism, I read somewhere that I should adopt either two patron deities, male and female; or five, two male and three female. And although I came across various deities that interested me, the only one who really struck a chord was the Morrígan.
It would have been logical then, perhaps, for me to choose her as my overarching symbol of Cosmos. But although I do see her as transcending the dark of Destruction, she is a deity who is overwhelmingly concerned with the Dark. Also, despite some tenuous suggestions made by various authors or scholars, there are no explicit creation stories associated with her.
But although I acknowledge the Morrígan primarily as part of the Destructive aspect, she does to me represent something more overarching, something more like the whole of the mother archetype rather than just the dark aspects. She has never slotted in easily into my spiritual system, but she remains important to me; and this is something I will discuss further in a future post.
1 Glenys Livingstone, Pagaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. (Lincoln, NE : iUniverse, 2005)
2 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: the search for the origin and meaning of life. (London: Penguin, 1998)
3 Brian Swimme, The Universe Story : from the primordial flaring forth to the ecozoic era. A celebration of the unfolding of the cosmos. (New York: HarperOne, 1994)
4 C. G. Jung, C. G. Four Archetypes; Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970). (contained in Collected Works Vol. 9 part 1)