“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
In 1994, the Czech poet-president Vaclav Havel stated during a speech about the state of the world that “We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us….”
“The Universe” is essentially a word invented to contain everything people can imagine, defined or undefined. Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe. Esoteric or spiritual cosmology concerns itself with our place in the universe and the nature of reality beyond its physicality, including understanding and explaining why everything came to be. It does this primarily by using historical, mythological, religious, and esoteric literature and traditions of creation and the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind.
Importance of Cosmology
Cosmology is an important aspect of the creation myths of religions that seek to explain the existence and nature of reality. In some cases, views about the creation (cosmogony) and destruction (eschatology) of the universe play a central role in shaping a framework of religious cosmology for understanding humanity’s role in the universe.
Anthropologists tell us that in almost all traditional cultures, a cosmology is what gives its members their fundamental sense of where they come from, who they are, and what their personal role in life’s larger picture might be. Cosmology is the picture of the universe that a culture agrees upon and the stories that explain our sacred relationship with it. They may not be correct by modern scientific standards, but they had the power to ground people’s codes of behavior and their sense of identity.
Ancient Greek cosmology started with the myths, but soon expanded to include elements of philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. They created a cosmology that enabled a person in our western culture to look up on a clear night into the cathedral of the sky would have seen huge, transparent spheres nested inside each other, encircling the center of the universe, the earth. They identified the planets with the Ancient Roman gods Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, which many believed were divine enough to influence people’s lives. Immediately outside the sphere of the fixed stars lay Heaven. The Hermetic axiom, “As above, so below”, captured their understanding of life. The universe is the macrocosm, the great ordered whole, and man is its miniature reflection, the microcosm. The hierarchies of church, nobility, and the family were divinely sanctioned-they mirrored the cosmos itself. Everything was in harmony and had a place.
Is it a wonder that Galileo, Kepler and the other proponents of a heliocentric system caused such turmoil when they tore apart the existing cosmology that the earth was the center of the universe? Science created an image of the universe as empty space, vast distances, no center, no purpose, no place for God, and no obvious implications for human behavior. Blaise Pascal wrote, “engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I am terrified…. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.”
The three competing cosmologies in western civilization today are
- The cosmos is created and ruled by a Distant Patriarch. (View held by Abrahamic Religions)
- The cosmos is a Grand Machine. (View held by Science)
- The cosmos is a manifestation of a spiritual intelligence.
Wiccans share the last view. In this cosmology, all of creation is the expression of a spiritual intelligence, i.e. God/dess, in a sacred journey to discover and actualize its possibilities through an ongoing process of becoming. God/dess is viewed as greater than the universe as well as the universe is viewed as contained within God/dess, a concept religious scholars refer to as panentheism. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.
Many esoteric teachings exist with highly elaborate cosmologies. Common themes include emanation, involution, evolution, epigenesis, planes of existence, hierarchies of spiritual beings, cosmic cycles (e.g., cosmic year, Yuga), yogic or spiritual disciplines, and references to altered states of consciousness. Each of these themes provides multiple strategies for those interested in growing spiritually and in balance with the universal laws.