To ancient peoples, the world of nature was not made up of inanimate beings – or of beings less than ourselves.
Everything was alive and had a spirit and a presence.
The mountains were gods, the rivers goddesses.
The lakes, the oceans, the trees, the deserts, the forests – everything was living and conscious. Also, all the beings of the sky were alive – the sun, the planets, the moon, all the stars.
Life was present in every aspect of the universe. The sacred rocks were living entities.
All the animals – the fish, the whales, the bears, the lions, foxes, deer, all the birds, also the ants, the bees, the butterflies and all the insects.
We can see this perception still in the older (and wiser) belief systems of the world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, in the world views of Native Americans.
Because ancient peoples saw and understood the spiritual essence of all of nature, there was reverence and respect for nature. Human beings took only what they needed for survival – and nothing more. They were respectful and not greedy. They listened to the voices and to the laws of nature. They were aware of the sacred beings of life. Because of this awareness, they did not destroy the planet earth.
Today, though we consider ourselves, in the modern world, to be much wiser, we are in fact, very ignorant. We see nature through blind eyes, not recognizing the living essence, the majesty, and the awareness of nature and the earth herself.
It is through this blindness and stupidity, that we destroy nature – through greed and oblivion.
No amount of calculating carbon footprints in a futile effort to save ourselves is going to work.
We must focus, not on ourselves, but on the ineffable beauty and life of nature herself.
To put it simply, we must go back to worshipping nature – to feeling a sense of reverence for the earth. We belong to the earth. It is only by returning to that sense of the sacred that we will be able to save the earth – and perhaps ourselves as well.
“Perhaps the relevant stage is not the real world at all – but rather the world of fantasy, of art, of stories, of myth – myth is the best way to express it – this is the world of the spirit – of magical life.
“The “real” world, meaning the physical world – is not real at all – it is going, going, gone – on the way out – it is dead – a stream of images — and only the ethereal world of meanings and relevance is actually real or relevant. It continues.”
As the wise William Shakespeare wrote, in MacBeth:
Inextricably intertwined with the animals of the forest, with the rivers, the mountains, and the rocks, since time immemorial, has been the spiritual life of India, as Dr. Nanditha Krishna writes in her very beautiful book, Hinduism and Nature. The spiritual traditions of the East tend to have a kind, gentle, and reverent approach to the natural world.
The gods of the Vedas, the earliest books ever written, were all linked to nature. Indra is the god of rains and storms, thunder and lightning. Shiva lives at Mount Kailas, a great mountain in the land of snow and ice. We are all the children of Mother Earth.
God himself comes to earth in the forms of the animals. Lord Vishnu incarnates first as a fish; then as a turtle; then a wild boar; then a half-man, half lion; and only then as a human. Everything in nature is sacred. All animals and all of nature belong to god, all are in fact manifestations of god, and all, ultimately, are a sacred part of god.
Human beings are not given dominion over nature, but rather are expected to protect and care for the natural world, living in harmony with it.
As we struggle today with the reality of climate change, this is a book with many lessons for the times in which we live. Despite the grave concern that so many of us have about our destructive approach to nature – progress in changing human behavior just limps along, and so far, the destruction of the natural world seems to be not just continuing, but by some accounts is winning and gaining momentum.
Unfortunately, we tend to put climate change at the bottom of our collective list of priorities, and when we think of it at all – we think mainly in terms of benefit to humans. How many carbon footprints can we count – how much energy can we get from wind and solar? Really, this is a far cry from seeing ourselves as a part of nature – we are a long way from worshipping the trees, the mountains and the rivers, as our ancestors once did, even in Europe.
Some of us are appalled at the thought of worshipping anything at all (and this also is a western mindset). Heaven forbid that we should honor the sacredness of animals and plants. Instead, we objectify nature. We remain alienated from the earth and the beauty of all the living beings of the earth. Yet, if the earth is to survive, we will need to make an about-face. We need to acknowledge the intrinsic beauty and value of all life.
The most ancient books of Hinduism were composed in the forests, where sages and wise people lived.
Every village in India once had a sacred forest – maybe two acres, or maybe two hundred. Within the boundaries of this sacred grove, all life was sacred. Within these forests lived the gods that people worshipped. The trees and the animals were not to be harmed for any reason, though, in recent decades, many of these forests have fallen into disrepair. One of Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s foundations, the CPR Environmental Education Centre, has restored 53 of these sacred groves; and their upkeep is now being managed by local villages.
Most of one of the two great epics of India, the Ramayana, takes place inside forests, as the hero Rama travels throughout India traversing all the many different kinds of forest; there are spectacular descriptions of flowering trees and plants, and the graceful beauty of the wild animals.
Every river in India is a goddess – except for two who are male gods. Beautiful stories are told about these river goddesses. Because the river Ganges did not want to fall straight down to the earth out of fear that her great power might destroy the plants and animals below, she sought the help of Shiva. When she fell down from heaven to earth, the water power was caught in Shiva’s hair, in order to break the fall, then it fell gently down, from Shiva’s head, to the earth below. It still does today.
The land of India, north and south, is filled with sacred lakes, and sacred ponds known as “tanks”, which are artificial bodies of water, some created many centuries ago. These sacred bodies of water hold large amounts of rainfall to protect against droughts. Seeping from these ponds and tanks into the surrounding soil, the stored water is available to the plants and trees during times of water scarcity. Many of these tanks were built in times past by kings whose engineers understood the value of conserving water.
Even today, despite the deleterious effects of western influence, which is all too pervasive in India, particularly in the fields of science and education, there is a strong, vibrant love and respect for nature. There remains today, as always in the past, a profound reverence for all life – human, animal, plant, and the features of the landscape – the mighty rivers, mountains, and forests.
There is much that we in the west can learn from this great land, whose wisdom stretches back at least 5,000 years, and probably much, much farther. Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s beautifully written book, Hinduism and Nature, is a very good place to start on this journey to broaden our understanding of the earth and our place in nature.
On Friday, November 2, 2018 at 11 pm in Maharashtra, India, a tiger called Avni was shot and killed by the Forest Service, leaving her two ten-month old cubs, who are too young to survive on their own, without their mother. There has been a major outcry against this injustice in the Indian press. For details, you can google “Avni” – beware of numerous fabricated justifications (lies) being given by the authorities.
In Utah, in the U.S. (and in other states), hunting native big cats is not illegal. Every year in Utah the number of cougars allowed to be hunted is increased, despite the fact that there is no real data on the actual numbers of cougars left in the wild. This hunting season, the target for cougars has been raised from 581 to 642 – the equivalent of 61 additional, innocent “Avni’s” slated to lose their lives. (Please see the link below.)
A cougar is not a tiger and is not – not yet anyway – endangered. Not being endangered, however, is not a reason to allow the senseless killing of living animals – for the sole purpose of displaying their heads on the living room wall. Both tigers and cougars are astonishing, magnificent animals. And every other animal on earth – from the bright fish in the sea to the squirrels who are gathering their food for winter is a living, sentient being, whose life has worth and value.
Entirely apart from the consciousness and sentience of each living animal, to whom her life is as precious to her as ours is to us – we, as humans, are all connected to the world of nature.
This connectedness is extremely ancient knowledge, still alive in India – and, to some extent, in the west as well. In Hinduism, every God or Goddess is linked to an animal. The Goddess Durga, one of the forms of the wife of the great God Shiva, is also an independent, powerful deity in her own right. She is fierce, a warrior Goddess who fights and defeats evil. Durga and the tiger are inseparable.
This ferocity is also the nature of the tiger – powerful and dynamic, a mother who defends and protects her young. Or a male who represents the wild spirit of the forest.
The tiger is the essence of the wild – untamable and free.
Who would want to kill such a magnificent animal?
Paleolithic and neolithic people did hunt for survival, but not for sport.
Since the beginning of time, animals have been hunted for food by tribal people. For at least 10,000 years Native Americans lived off the land, hunting and fishing, as well as growing whatever vegetables they could. In the sixteenth century, when Europeans arrived on the shores of America, they found a land of unbelievable beauty and magnificence – filled with a vast abundance of wildlife and wild lands which had not been destroyed or diminished – which they promptly set about to demolish. This destruction continues unabated to this day, until there is not much left of the great wilderness that was once here.
Europeans, my ancestors and perhaps yours, brought with them a culture of dominance (over other peoples and nature), which is also a culture of alienation from the natural world. It’s a case of “us” and “them,” which proclaims, “I’m a human, and that thing over there, unfortunately, is just an ‘animal’ – just an object to be used for my benefit.”
We can see this thinking alive and well today in the way that the word “animal” is still being used, endlessly, sometimes to apply to anyone who is simply “other.” The word “animal” is also used for those who demonstrate disgusting or criminal behavior – despite the fact that animals are innocent beings, and no animal behaves, or thinks, like a criminal. The attribute of “viciousness” can logically apply only to humans, because it applies to malevolent intent, which animals simply do not have.
It is this malevolent intent which is the problem. Not all humans, thankfully, have this trait. And not all cultures either. It is something gone awry in the history of our race. If one goes far back to the time of the Romans, the Europeans, then pagan tribes, were worshipping trees and nature, just like other early peoples.
They had genuine spiritual traditions, really not so different from those of India, which were based on peace and harmony with nature. Not that they were entirely peaceful, they certainly weren’t, but there was an underlying premise of being at one with nature – of being part of one overall earth – of not being alienated or superior to this planet – and there was an absence of the desire to kill nature. (Sadly, western religions seem to have little to do now with their own origins, and they have, in large measure, been taken over by the western view which sees everything as a dichotomy.)
Killing a tiger, a cougar, a bear, or a wolf, is, in a way, emblematic of this malevolent intent – this destructive, evil force which has, to some extent, possessed the human race. These great archetypal animals seem to incite fear and to have a magical power within them – some sort of force, a will, which is untamed and untamable. They are hunted for no rational purpose – hunted to near extinction. No one in Utah, or elsewhere in the U.S., is in any reasonable danger of being killed by a cougar. We are in far more danger of being killed by our own cars, while we are driving them, than we are of being harmed by any of these animals.
There is something vastly irrational about the destruction that we as humans are inflicting on the earth. We have already destroyed 60% of the animals on the planet. We have turned half of the earth’s land mass into farm land, destroying forests and natural ecosystems.
With our artificial chemicals pouring into waterways, we are rapidly poisoning the ocean – as well as the air and the land. And, as we know, we are destroying the climate.
Since we are dependent on the earth for our survival, there is absolutely nothing sane or rational about these human activities. They are like a suicidal madman waving about a bomb that is about to detonate.
Yes, of course, there is an element of greed and self-centeredness in the way humans go about taking over and then obliterating all life on the planet. But this, in itself, is really not a rational explanation for the obsessive level of destruction that is taking place.
One might posit that there is some underlying, driving, unconscious force which compels us to behave in this immensely self-destructive way. We seem to want to kill ourselves.
This major isolation and alienation from nature which has taken hold of us is propelling us toward a cliff, a bottomless abyss — and seems to predetermine our will as a species, and our actions.
Yet, although this is, I am aware, profoundly gloomy, there is something else also, a certain light – which lies in the fact that not all of humanity has always behaved in this self-destructive way.
Ancient people saw themselves as part of the earth, as, ultimately being at one with the animals, the trees, the rivers, and all life. Even today, especially among those cultures and countries not altogether swept up in the falsehoods of the modern worldview, there are remnants and in some cases the reawakening of a true realization that we are the earth and the earth is us. We are all one, intertwined and interrelated.
There is, moreover, a dynamic, and growing movement, all over the planet, both east and west, to return to, and go forward with, the knowledge and vision of deep reverence for the world of nature and the sacredness of all life.
This is the great end battle. Nature, of course – even if it takes several millennia — will recover and will win, in this world or in another. The question that remains is — will we join with nature, protecting her as the earth, our mother, or will we, as a species, self-destruct? We shall see.
In the meantime, each of us can open our eyes and our hearts — and live, as best we can, in harmony and peace with the natural world and its numinous, alive, wild presence – encountered in the wonderful, fiery eyes of the tiger and in all of nature.
Link to Salt Lake Tribune article about cougar hunting:
Industrialization, like oil, coal, fracking, uranium, and copper mining are prioritized by legislation passed in the U.S. Congress, going back to the General Mining Act of 1872. One might be under the mistaken view that the job of the BLM is to protect the land and the wildlife that live there, but this could not be farther from the truth. Coal heaps line some of the roads through BLM lands. Coal trucks spew giant dust clouds visible a mile away. Because of coal, waterways are contaminated with mercury. They are also clogged by the feet of grazing cows, who, by the way, drink the polluted water, and then are sold for slaughter, later to become someone’s dinner. This is tragic for the cows, and for the lands and wildlife on 155 million acres of government land, where their feet trample delicate native plants, young saplings, streams, creeks, and wild bird habitat – destroying the natural world. The cattle industry is, as well, one of the leading factors tipping the earth towards death by climate change.
In among these lands are still to be found thousands of sites sacred to Native Americans – these, despite efforts to protect them, are being vandalized. Burial grounds are ridden over by ATV’s and petroglyphs defaced.
State and federal wildlife agencies which one might hope would be caretakers for the wilderness, instead seem to manage wildlife with a view towards eradicating wild carnivores: coyotes, cougars, bears, and bobcats, meanwhile focusing on growing to record numbers deer and elk herds, so there will be more for hunters to kill.
How did all this come about? It is not only the ancient peoples of the Americas, Asia, and Africa that felt a kinship and a reverence for the wild animals around them.
If one goes back far enough in European history, to pagan times, one finds that there was a widespread reverence for the land, the earth, and the animals. There was worship of the World Tree. Serpent goddesses were revered in Crete. In Finland, for example, Ukko was the ruler of the sky and thunder. In this far northern country, there was a goddess of the forest, a goddess of the moon, a goddess of the wilderness, and countless nature spirits. The most sacred water bird was the swan. Throughout Europe, in pagan times, the gods and goddesses of nature were worshipped.
In the Eleventh Century, Christian missionaries entered Finland, and, as they did throughout the world, embarked on a crusade to purge the country of the original faith. Remnants of the old ways carried on, however, here and there, and even today, the ancient religion has been brought back and is still practiced by some. (This perversion of Christianity, by the way, had nothing to do with the original Jesus Christ, who loved nature, and, to commune with God, was known for going up into wild areas of the mountains to pray.)
By the time of the advance of European civilization across the globe in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, the worldview of regarding nature as something to be subdued and conquered had become fully entrenched. Slavery, genocide, and colonialism – brutality to human beings – went hand-in-hand with brutality towards nature and the philosophy that nature was created solely for the benefit of humans and had no worth of its own. The influence of this worldview is still widely prevalent today and is ensconced in American law and practice with regard to wild lands. Exploitative and utilitarian forces remain in control, and regardless of the known impacts of climate change and the destruction of wild species and their habitat, nothing changes. Despite a vast array of conservation laws that have been passed and measures that have been put in place by good people who do care, American wild lands and wild species are still, perhaps more than ever before, being exterminated and systematically destroyed. It seems that our basic intentions, as a society, to dominate and harm nature, do unerringly find a way to override or bypass any conservation legislation. We may feel that this is not true, but it is happening.
All over the world there are megalithic monuments with alignments to the Winter Solstice. At the moment of the Winter Solstice a beam of light from the sun strikes the deepest recesses of an underground sacred temple, as at Newgrange in Ireland or Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland.
In the New World, at Chaco Canyon in new Mexico, the Sun Dagger at Fajada Butte marks both the Summer and Winter solstices, as well as other important celestial alignments.
The significance of the Winter Solstice is that this point in time every year marks the darkest time of the year; the death point if you wish, and at the same time, the return of the light. It is the time, when the sun, having reached the moment when the days are the shortest, returns, and the days begin to grow longer.
The light returns, and with it comes the promise of spring and summer, the rebirth of the world.
This is also the message of Christmas – and for that matter, it is a message in many religions, not only Christianity. At the hour of greatest darkness, the light returns, having conquered the darkness.
Interestingly, it is also the message of Jesus’s death and resurrection. The moment of crucifixion is followed in three days (actually a day and a half according to the Biblical account) by the resurrection, as life overcomes death.
Winter itself represent cold, darkness, and death. It is the time when nothing grows and every being that can, takes shelter or hibernates, waiting for a change of seasons and the return of spring. In warmer lands, the rainy season, or even the sun-baked, dry season may represent the time when one seeks shelter and waits, for a more propitious time – for a change of the seasons.
Though today the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21 or 22, the festival of Mithra, who was the god of light in ancient Iran, was celebrated from December 17 to December 24. The Romans adopted these dates for a festival to their god Saturn, which lasted several days and ended on December 25 – a date then later adopted by Christians as the birthday of Jesus.
When or what time of year Jesus was actually born isn’t relevant in this context. The symbolic meaning has a significance that lies beyond the historical dates.
Life is cyclic. Life follows death, and death follows life. Both are two sides of the same coin. In the darkest hour, when there seems to be the least hope, the light returns, and a new age begins.
Photographer: Rhion Pritchard / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.” / Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales, which has an alignment with the Summer Solstice.
In the Introduction to his very fascinating book, Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization, published in 2002, Graham Hancock presents the theory that the worldwide myths of a Great Flood, which are told in every corner of the world, will soon be accepted as established scientific fact. He contends that between 17,000 and 8,000 years ago, the earth underwent a series of tremendous cataclysms, which transformed the planet. Modern humans who, according to science, had already existed for around 200,000 years, had been around long enough to have evolved a high civilization, which was destroyed during these cataclysms. The remains of their extremely ancient cities are now to be found submerged under the oceans.
At the end of the last Ice Age, the enormous glaciers which covered much of the land masses of the earth, melted, causing sea levels worldwide to rise many meters. Since then, as now, humans tended to concentrate their populations on the seashores, when the glaciers melted and the seas rose, these cites were submerged, and their existence forgotten, except in myth and legend.
In recent decades, many of these ancient ruins under the seas have come to light. As a diver, Graham Hancock has explored many of them himself – and these explorations form the topics of Underworld. They are controversial; in some cases, it is unclear whether they are natural rock formations or whether they are manmade. When the ancient ruins are clearly manmade, not natural, often their dates are very much in dispute.
His first example is the ruins found in the Bay of Bengal, off the east coast of India, near Nagapattinam, which were investigated by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in the early 1990’s. The investigation was headed by well-known and widely-respected marine archaeologist T.C.S. Rao, who Graham Hancock interviewed several years later.
In the Bay of Bengal, five kilometers out to sea, at a depth of 23 meters, lies a horseshoe shaped manmade structure, surrounded by walls that are one meter thick and two meters high. There are at least three structures there, perhaps more. 23 meters is over 70 feet deep. According to oceanographers investigating underwater ruins on the other side of India, off the western coast, 10,000 BCE would have been the date for ruins found there at the Gulf of Kutch at 60 feet below the surface of the water. The water level would be the same on both coasts of India, so the Bay of Bengal structures must also extend back to around 10,000 BCE. These structures off the coast of Nagapattinam are incredibly old – far older than any traditional dates for the beginning of civilization.
Underworld is a lengthy and complex book, filled with many details. In it Graham Hancock also writes about his dives around the rock structures known as Yonaguni off the coast of Japan. It has not been definitely determined whether or not these are manmade. He also writes extensively about the ancient temples of Malta – and about a number of other sites around the world which, it seems, are “impossibly” old.
Since Graham Hancock wrote Underworld eleven years ago, the body of evidence that there were extremely ancient civilizations, far older than any we could have imagined just a couple of decades ago, has only grown and grown. The case for high civilizations which once existed, the ruins of which sank beneath the waves, is gaining strength as every year passes.
To find Graham Hancock’s Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization on Amazon, click here.
Top photo: Sharon St Joan / the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram, on the Bay of Bengal.
Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Waters of the Bay of Bengal at Mahabalipuram.
Third photo: Berthold Werner /Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.” / Malta, Tarxien temples, altar. Believed to have been built between 3150 – 2500 BCE.