As the seasons and the years pass I have watched with a deep sadness how shadows have fallen over our world, how it has grown in divisiveness, and more recently the miasma of fake news, the distortions of social media and conspiracy theories that have become a denser and distracting darkness. And while our ecological crisis has become more tangible, fires, floods, climate refugees, our civilization appears still addicted to the old story of economic growth, despite the simple truth that our present way of life is unsustainable. Watching our world burn—although we have been offered a growing awareness of oneness, of the interdependent nature of all of life—our governments have been drawn more into isolation, people into tribalism, social and racial inequality and injustice growing.
Grieving for a beauty and wonder being lost, like the wildflowers vanishing from our meadows, for years now I have been haunted by ancient memories of an earlier time, before what we think of as “the Fall,” when the worlds of light and the powers of creation worked together in sacred relationship.1 It was a simpler time, when humanity was still young and the Divine was a tangible presence in the air around, like the first sweetness of Spring. There was a knowing present then that has now become deeply hidden—a knowing of the sacred purpose of creation, of its beauty and wonder. And this knowing was coming alive, speaking to human beings in all the myriad voices of the world around, in the streams and storms, in the cries of the birds and the animals, in the first language of life.2 It was the joy of life communing together, and we were a part of it all, part of its songs and dreams. This is what I remember.
So much was given at this time, when the soul of humanity and the soul of the world were bonded together, and the Earth showed her generosity. The land was pristine and its sacred nature known and praised. It was a time of beginning, the time of the “Original Instructions,” when the servants of light began their work of awakening the world. It was then that the sacred names of creation were first given to human beings, first to the shamans, healers and keepers of the sacred ways—the names of animals that evoked their power, the names of plants that revealed their healing properties, the names of rivers and mountains that ensured that the world was kept in harmony and balance—and through them humanity and the created world came into a new relationship and sang together. There was a purity of intention in this relationship between humanity and the Earth and all its myriad creatures; their partnership had a sacred purpose. Together they would work to awaken the magic and light hidden within the physical world,3 and that light would serve a higher purpose. This was the beginning of the covenant between humanity and creation—how the natural world was the first book of divine revelation.
Now our culture just holds this as a myth: Adam in the Garden of Eden, giving creation its names.4 But for me it has always been more personal, like a song I vaguely remember, that carries the distant melody of another time. This memory is of an innocence before the Fall, but it is also a memory of a primal relationship with creation that is now demanding my attention. The Earth is calling, crying out, and as this memory returns to me I know that there is another way to be.
We cannot return to the innocence of this earlier time, but this bond between humanity and creation remains, hidden beneath all the debris of our culture, the inner and outer wasteland we have created. The mystery and power of the names remain, the primal magic woven between the world of light and the world of creation. And we can reconnect to this magic, this awakened relationship with the Earth and its interior worlds—it needs to be reclaimed. It needs to be remembered. The magic that belongs to the real wonder and mystery of creation needs to be reawakened, reconnected to its source in the light.
When I remember those earlier times of walking the Earth with the power of the names, there was such joy and love in this communion with creation. In my first experience in this life of “waking up,” when I was sixteen, I found myself again in the garden of creation, with the sunlight reflecting off the waters of the river near where I lived. There was even a small walled garden, full of flowers, where I would spend many of my free hours. It was an awakening into the Earth’s beauty and wonder, its fragrance and light, and those first weeks of awakening still remain with me, like the memory of a first love. Years later, when I was given my first full experiences of oneness, it was also in nature, walking in the hills of Northern California, again in the sunlight, this time with the waters of the Pacific nearby.
This primal beauty of creation has been calling to me for many years, reminding me of a time when the world was younger and unspoiled, before the darkness and the troubles came. And now I need to return to this inner quality, this note that belongs to a deep love for the Earth. I need to live this link of love within my heart and soul and body, otherwise I will become stranded in the wasteland of our present increasingly toxic civilization.
This is the grief that haunts me, this passing even more poignant than loss of species, wildflower meadows we may never see, choruses of birds we may never hear. A grief that does not belong to our sanitized lives; it is vast, and it cries with the names of creation that have been forgotten, of rivers that once ran with magic, and memories older than the mind. I can never forget the wonder of the first dawn, of the awakening of the songs of existence, of the ways the worlds were woven together. I do not ask to remember, but neither can I dismiss these echoes of what has vanished, like the ancient forests clear-cut by centuries of “progress.”
In the time before time the history of our world was written, when life was sung into existence, and the angels were given their places to guard and protect—that was when the ley lines, the energy patterns in the Earth, were formed, when the levels of magic were created, when the inner and outer worlds began their great divide. And now, thousands of years have passed, so many tides have come and gone, and we stand in the time of the great forgetting, when humanity is furthest from the Source. Yes, there have been eras of darkness before, terrible destruction, but never such a forgetting—we have forgotten that our world even has a history that was written before the beginning. This is why we stand at a door never before opened, at a crossroads never before reached. And now how many of us are left who remember, even as we all carry the scars of what has been forgotten, the great sorrow of generations?
I remember so well when it was not like this, when the colors sang in the air and magic was not a mystery but a way to live. Yes, there were years of hardship; there have always been times of hardship—that belongs to the ways of nature, the barren years as well as the bountiful, drought as well as rainfall. But this present time of forgetting is something else—not a chapter written in the book of life; it was noted only as a symbol of what might come to pass, a distant possibility. And yet this is now what is all around us, is the story of today.
What is it that I am witnessing, and what does it mean to be present at this time when the wells run dry and the air is toxic? And where are those who hold the balance of the worlds—the rainmaker sitting in his hut holding an inner equilibrium, the monk whose prayer beads and mantras keep the worlds in tune? What do we even know of these things when we cannot begin to grasp the significance of this moment—this time when even the existence of the inner worlds has been written out of the pages of the present civilization? Yes, a few essential things remain, like joy and love and the beauty of the stars or a sunset. But where are the dreams to guide us, the teachings to follow? Even spirituality has become just another commodity to be sold in the marketplace. Of its deeper truths there is hardly an echo.
Remembrance is both a blessing and a curse. It would be so much simpler just to live the moment as it is, knowing nothing of what has passed, to believe that what we experience now is all that there is, like a child who knows only city streets and has never seen a meadow of spring flowers or a forest golden in the fall. Yet love and laughter remain; tears and heartache keep the soul alive. And in our hearts there is a seed of a future that returns to the beginning, to when the Source ran free and the names of creation sang in the wind.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
Could it be that back in the very beginning, before the division, before all the power plays, before even the misuse of magic that damaged so much, the relationship with the Divine was simple companionship, friendship, and love?5 That we walked together, feet touching the ground, hearts singing the songs of creation? This was the time of naming, when “God taught Adam all the names, all of them,” and the world came alive through this pure magic. It was the time when rivers and trees sang their true nature, and everything was alive with divine presence. Maybe this is what is called the Garden of Eden, but then it was just the way things were.
More and more I am drawn back to this ancient, ancient memory, like a distant heartbeat. There is a sense that then the “friends of God” were friends with God, in this time before the Fall. There was this companionship with an Other who is not other, this friendship with the Divine and all of creation, as a simple song for which I now need the words. And there is a tenderness in this remembrance, which also feels like a reunion, a touching.
I often wonder at the meaning of the fact that when I first awoke in this life, that Summer when I was sixteen, I found myself back in the garden, with the light sparkling on the waters of the river and flowers alive in colors I had not known existed. Was this first experience both a foretaste and a memory, a door opening into another world that had always been present, even if long forgotten?
That time was a prayer without words, a prayer because all of creation was alive with light, and I could sit and see it all, the water flowing around my hands as they dipped into the river. Was this how it was in the beginning, Earth as a prayer that came alive with its naming? As I have said, these ancient memories haunt me, memories of a time long, long before any religion, any need for a form of worship, because everything was this simple essence, this light upon light—the Divine, creation, and those of us who walked the Earth then, who knew what it meant to be truly alive. Was this the most ancient form of companionship—creation, Creator, and human beings, hand in hand? When it was all one sacred being coming alive, like the very first dawn?
And so now, after a spiritual journey that has taken me far beyond this outer world, into the formless and beyond, experiencing the substance that underlies everything that is and is not, what we may call Reality though it has no name—after knowing this Reality that is imprinted in every cell and every starfish, I return to this simple garden with something like the longing for a first love I never fully knew. Here is where it all began, in this life and I also sense many, many lifetimes ago. This is the “in the beginning” of the story, when the Divine did not have to be looked for, when there was a friendship that embraced everything. Then all was known in its true sense, and every blade of grass, every person, and every dream knew where it belonged. And here, in this world, where human and divine could meet and speak of the wonder of what is, spirit and matter did not know any division.
Later it all began to change, and that is the story of human evolution, the myth of the Fall, the beginnings of religions as a way to reclaim part of what had been lost. It was also when earth magic began to change, ceasing to be a simple celebration—a calling out or singing of its own name—as, gradually, over millennia, the spirit withdrew into the inner worlds and heaven and earth grew separate. And much spiritual work also withdrew, away from the Earth and the patterns of creation, often to a place of retreat from the world. Something within creation also became hidden; a light became lost. And so an ancient friendship, a familiarity with the Divine, became covered over and distorted. We then had to find ways to return, devise practices to reconnect with the light within us. And the patterns of distortion that covered the Earth became stronger and stronger, until today we find our self in a world that has lost its way, that is spinning more and more out of balance.
Looking at this world today we see darkness more often than light. The primal song of creation, when the rivers and the mountains touched us with sacred music and meaning, has almost faded away. Instead there are the noise, the pollution, and the distortions of the wasteland we have created with our greed and desires. But this is not how it was in the “Original Instructions,” the ancient wisdom given to us in the early days.
And those instructions are still present, if we know how to look, how to remember. If we dare to return to this deeply human way to be with the Creator in Her creation, with our feet touching the ground, its magic can come alive again. Then in our praise and thanksgiving the worlds of light and the world of matter come together. We are both heaven and earth, born from stardust and soil. If we can only remember that, the bond of love between the two can once again come alive within our hearts. This is the prayer and the promise that have held me here in this world.
In this memory of how it was in the beginning, this story that belongs to the Earth, is also my own story. This is the thread I have been trying to follow, the thread woven through lifetimes and across oceans. And in this story more and more I am left with my simple human self. That is why I like to dig my potatoes from the ground, potatoes that I can bake for my dinner and have with melted butter and cheese. Somewhere deep inside I do not understand why it had to go so wrong, why we had to forget and abandon the old ways, the ways of respect and reverence for the Earth and the Divine, for all that is sacred, and why the magic within creation had to become hidden. And yet I am also a part of this culture that has forgotten—that was my childhood in middle-class England, until a Zen koan awoke me in the garden, with the flowers and their fragrance and the sunlight and the river.
And now, over half a century later, as an old man sits in his garden, watching the seasons, the colors in the garden changing as Summer turns to Autumn, I know that this primal awareness is like a seed of consciousness that we need for a new story, for a new way of being with the Earth. We need to return to the beginning, to the moment when magic was fully alive, when we were present in an animate Earth with all of our senses awake. This moment being outside of time is not so far away, waiting in a land we have dismissed and forgotten, that our rational selves have censored. How this seed will flower and flourish, how a new story will manifest, belongs to the mystery of evolution—how a new era can be born. But now it needs our attention, holding it in our hearts, our imagination and dreams. And we can nurture this seed with the grief for what we have lost.
- In Sufism the world of light is called “the world of divine command” (‘âlam al-amr)—in contrast to “the world of creation” (âlam al-khalq) that we experience through the senses and the veils of the ego. In the world of divine command everything bows down before God. It is the domain of angels and other beings of light who only know to bow down before God, and can only enact God’s power and divine will. The world of light exists outside of time and space, and is accessed through the divine consciousness of the Self.
- David Abram describes how “for the Inuit, as for numerous other peoples, humans and animals all originally spoke the same language.” He quotes an Inuit woman: “In the very earliest time, when peoples and animals lived on earth … All spoke the same language. That was the time when words were like magic … Those who are recognized as shamans or medicine persons most fully remember the primordial language, and are thus able to slip, at will, out of the purely human discourses in order to converse directly with the other powers.” From The Spell of the Sensuous, p. 87–88.
- The light hidden within the created world is what the alchemists called the lumen naturae.
- Genesis 2:19 “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”
- The awakening of magic was part of the story of creation, when human consciousness first appeared. The natural magic of the Earth allowed us to experience the wonder and mystery of creation, how all of creation embodies a divine purpose. It can be seen, for example, in the cave paintings in southern France whose animals have a shamanic dimension. Tragically, this early magic began to be misused for the purpose of power, and this started the split between the worlds, the world of light and the physical world of creation, which is imaged in myth as the Fall, a loss of innocence. I sense a calling to return to this primal relationship, awakening this magic that is still present, although mostly hidden, within creation. The magical relationship between the worlds is a part of our heritage which we have mostly forgotten, although we still speak of a “magical moment” when the numinous energy of the inner comes into our outer world.