Journal

Four Ways / Understand the Universe

Our third ‘way’ is in many respects the night time or flipside to ‘Observe to Orientate’, and here we take a broader look at the firmament above us and consider how we relate to this abode of the Gods, paying close attention to the primary constellations, the Milky Way and other major star groups.

In the Indo-European ritual year, the four old Gods were Heaven, Sky, Earth and Sea, [1] with the sky above split into two. In the history of human civilisation it was the pre-ancestral entities of the Earth and Sky that generated the world through their sensual and intense embrace. [2] The night time was when the Gods had ‘their’ day, with the primary celestial bodies, planets, constellations and the Milky Way being the Gods in embodiment. [3] Numerous enigmatic examples exist where the hermetic maxim ‘as above, so below’ became encoded in the landscape, forming what has become known as ‘sacred geographies.’ [4] The goal was the marriage of earth, humankind and the sky, through active participation within the event. [5] By shifting ones observation point the horizon was able to act as a mediator between the skyscape and the landscape.

The interplay between celestial light and ritual landscapes could also take on a more subtle and arcane form through the use and manipulation of ‘dark light’ and shadows, created by the setting sun across monuments and within sacred architecture, harnessing the liminal power behind this transcendent phenomenon.

The centrality of the world tree being interpreted as the Milky Way is at least 6,000 years old. [6] The Milky Way has been described as polysemous, resembling both a road, a river when it hugs the horizon, or a tree when it extends vertically. And as a celestial river it also played a symbolic role in the journey of the afterlife with boat burials in the late antique period, 400-600 A.D. The idea of journeying through the perilous night, traversing the great underworld and the realm of subconscious before proclaiming renewal and the reality of the new day rising in the East is the story of great sun gods personified for thousands of years.

The solstices were considered the time when the borders between this world and the Otherworld, the conditions between the living and the dead, and with the gods – became “transitory and permeable, and therefore susceptible to be crossed in both directions.” [7] These ‘conditions’ were heightened at the solstices because the path of the sun, the ecliptic, crosses the Milky Way forming two celestial gates, portals, where the descent and ascent of souls was believed to occur.

The Christian apostle, St Peter, is believed to stand guard at these heavenly gates, a religious ideal that followed the Egyptians, who also viewed the celestial afterlife with the same regions of space, the ‘Street of Stars’ that is the Milky Way. [8] However, this magico-religious tradition was even older and known to hunter-gatherers from the Palaeolithic era 21,000 years ago. [9]

Due for publication in 2022, ‘Four Ways’ by Jeremy Taylor and Mark Offord is a series of active and transformative techniques designed to enhance our relationship with place, helping us regain and rediscover our lost ritual landscapes and skyscapes.

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References

  1. Lyle
  2. Dimitriadis
  3. Therkorn
  4. Ruggles
  5. Silva
  6. Ogier, Kuper
  7. Barillari
  8. Latura
  9. Hancock