The Earth

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


What if earth
Be but a shadow
Of heaven and things therein.
Each to other like,
More than on earth is thought?


 In the beginning of the world, man-beings dwelt on the far side of the visible sky. This heaven, which exists in eternity, is the prototype of the world and its lodges are like those of the Onondaga here on earth. In this deathless land a celestial girl-child was born. Instructed by her parent, the Ancient-Bodied One, she endured many trials while journeying to the lodge of Chief He-Holds-the-Earth whom she was to marry. Pleased with the manner in which she had passed all the tests he put to her, this heavenly chief sent her with gifts to be distributed among her own celestial kindred. Upon her return, he observed that she was with child and, disbelieving her assertion of fidelity, he prepared to sever the axis-tree of the universe even as she gave birth to a daughter, Gusts-of-Wind. With the severing of the world-tree, the mother's child drew back into her womb and they were both cast down into the abyss. Thus did Ataentsic, who was to become the Great Mother Earth, bear within her the heavenly-born infant whose name means Breath-of-Life. They fell for long ages steadily through the darkness until she began to perceive the blue light of endless water stretching below. On its surface swam the water bird Bittern who, seeing her body falling into the depths, decided to dive down and bear up her substance in his mouth. Other animal spirits appeared and attempted to bring it up, but it was Muskrat who succeeded, and who placed it upon the carapace of Turtle, which then began to grow, to become the solid land. Gusts-of-Wind was reborn on earth. When she came to maturity, she received the nocturnal visits of the Ruler of the Winds and, in time, gave birth to twins. They were Yoskeha, the demiurge and earth-shaper, and Tawiscara, the imitator and trickster. With their birth, the stage was set for the creative and shadowy elements of the great earthly drama which was to unfold.

 This archetypal Iroquoian cosmology is parent to a mythical series which centres around the exploits of Earth-Diver, who plunges into the chaotic abyss so that the earth rises up and forms itself out of the ocean of space. This widespread notion finds a variety of expressions among many American Indian tribes and among the Asiatic and Siberian people in general. The Samoyeds tell of seven people in a boat who observe the waters of chaos rising higher and higher and beg the diver-bird to seek the earth in its depths and bring them a piece of turf in its beak. This is strongly reminiscent of the bird sent from Noah's ark to scout the horizon and to bring back news of land. The waterfowl combines the aerial powers of the sky-world with the ability to navigate in the realm of the Mother and so becomes a unique symbol of that which can span heaven and earth. The Earth-Diver usually has to try three times before he is successful, as is the case in many Polynesian cosmological epics. The Samoans believe that in the beginning the gods lived in the sky-world which hovered over the sea. There was no land and a bird messenger, the offspring of the sky deity, was ordered to descend and find some. He was asked to collect black turf in his mouth and red clay in his feet out of which would be fashioned the future vestures of life.

 The old Icelandic Edda describes the earth as being "circular in shape and outside it is the deep sea". Some, like the Altaic people, claim that it is flat and supported by three fishes while being suspended from a rope in heaven whose adjustment accounts for all the floods and earthquakes below. Frequently the earth is depicted in symbolical art as supported upon the back of a great tortoise, which is certainly related to the Kurma Avatara of Lord Vishnu. In the Satya Yuga He appeared in the form of a tortoise in order to recover that of value which had been lost in the previous deluge. In this form He placed Himself at the bottom of the sea of milk and made his back a base for the mountain Mandara. In His next incarnation Vishnu took the form of Varaha the Boar, who raised up the earth from the waters much in the same fashion as did Muskrat or the waterfowl of so many myths. So many central conceptions describing the origin of the earth have this common expression, and these symbolical themes appear to refer both to cycles of terrestrial submergence and emergence upon this globe and to the origin of the globe itself.

 The early Hawaiians believed that the solid earth was built up from the gradually accumulated products of decay from a previous life. This idea parallels the expansive cosmogonical teachings of The Secret Doctrine which describe whole planetary chains and state that the moon is the giver of life to our globe. She is like a shadow now dragged behind the new body which is the gross physical earth. It is said that Mercury is the offspring of Soma, the spiritual moon, while the earth is the progeny of Indu - its physical reflection. But just as there are seven moons and seven suns, so there are seven earths - each an expression of a stage in the universally manifest sevenfold nature of evolution. The Vedas call the earth Prithivi, 'the Broad', who was spread out by Indra, but the name Bhumi is used to describe the earth we experience with our physical senses, and Dyaus denotes the mental earth. In Greek there are several terms for the earth suggesting that they too discriminated between several levels of manifestation. Purra describes 'the Fiery Earth', Dia, 'Divine Earth', and Gaia, 'the Mother Earth' herself. Of the seven earths of the occult tradition, ours is the fourth, the product of the older wheels which rotated downward and which, having reached the most material point of the greater wheel, will eventually rotate upward. The Stanzas of Dzyan counsel:


 The worlds were evolved from the One Element in its second Fire-Mist or Akashic stage which emerged from the latency of its primary condition in nirvana. Of the seven elements, first one manifested leaving six concealed, then two leaving five, three leaving four and so on until all seven small wheels were revolving. This overall process pertaining to the earth chain has its analogue in the evolution and final formation of the seven elements on our earth. Of these there are only four with which we are familiar, the fifth still being only partially understood. In the Sanskrit they are referred to as the Five Maha Bhutas which correspond to the five senses or tanmatras. They are Akasa (Aether), Vayu (air), Tejas (fire), Apas (water), Pritbivi (earth), and they correlate with Sabda (sound), Sparsa (touch), Rupa (sight), Rasa (taste), and Gandha (smell). Each of these paired correlates represents descending steps on the ladder of spiritual involution into matter and the vastness of cosmic evolution may be understood in terms of their unfoldment. It is said that "the Earth, such as we know it now, had no existence before the Fourth Round". During the First Round, millions of years before our geological earth, the globe was fiery, cool and radiant, as were its ethereal men and animals; luminous but more dense and heavy during the Second; watery during the Third, and so on, each Round expressing the gradual solidification of the elements. After each, the earth sloughs her skin as do the other six earths. Thus she is like a serpent who sheds in seven sevenfold cycles her old worn-out clothing, by reason of which she is called Sarpa Rajni, the Queen of Serpents.

 On all these planes "the abodes of Fohat are many". On that of our earth "he places his four fiery Sons in the four circles of the Equator, the Elliptic and the two tropics - to preside over the climates". Another seven sons are placed to preside over the seven hot and cold lokas at the two ends of 'the Egg of matter' called our earth. The seven polar lokas refer to the seven coadunated globes while the four circles relate to the Fourth Round and the geophysical condition which predominates during its cycle. The poles on each globe are storehouses and liberators of the electromagnetic forces which are breathed in and given off by the earth in conjunction with the sun and other members of the solar system. They are like safety valves, conducting positive and negative forces of great magnitude that would otherwise rend the earth apart. In the Chinese tradition they were always related to the yang and yin; the Northern expressing the light-giving and positive principle of yang, while the Southern gathers round it the darkening forces of the passive yin. According to the writings of Huai-Nan Tzu, "The combined essences of heaven and earth became the Yang and Yin, the concentrated essence of which became the four seasons, and the scattered essence of the four seasons became the myriad creatures of the world." The great cycles of Rounds affecting the earth chain thus set the stage for the process of interplay between the dual heavenly and earthy forces operating throughout the interconnected septenate earth. The seasons are minor reflections of vast cycles of heat and cold, expansion and contraction, vulcanism, inundation and continental shifts. The geophysical records which chronicle millions of years of such spectacular activity are but a latter-day re-enactment of a great involutionary drama that took place long ages before.

 Scientific theories regarding the physical origin of the earth have altered little since the last century. There is the general notion that all of the planets in the solar system are part of the sun which spun off into space when the latter was struck by a rapidly moving star. Some have thought that there were pairs of planets; sets of two antipodal bodies incurved in opposite directions around the sun. They speculate that the star captured one of each pair, leaving the nine globes we now know. There is also the theory of a contracting protostar which suggests that the planets were formed of the gaseous mass rotating around the protostar nebula. The idea here is that interplanetary space was virtually swept clean of gases which became concentrated in the evolving planetary bodies. In the absence of interstellar gas, it is thought that the earth was bombarded by powerful ultraviolet radiation from the sun and that the material at its centre was heated up and compacted. When considering the nature of matter, most people tend to think in terms of solid material, but even the materialistic inclination of scientific investigation cannot fail to recognize that all forms of matter as we know them evolved out of relatively ethereal particles in space whose movements resulted in concentrated conglomerates. The major difference between modern science and ancient wisdom lies in the fact that while the former consolidates its ignorance as to the origin of space substance and the intelligence of its movement, the ancients, as in the Onondaga legend, recognize a noumenon ("on the farther side of the visible sky") which is archetypal to all phenomena and is suffused with divine intelligence.

 Confining itself to the purely phenomenal plane, modern science conjectures that the geochemical separations of iron, nickle, etc., took place during the earth's melting period, which lasted 1,000 million years. The mantle then began to solidify and the outer five hundred miles cooled to the freezing point. Radioactive elements separated from the silicates in the lower crust and acted as a source of vulcanism and diastrophism (mountain building). The period involving the formation of the crust, which is about forty miles thick, is called the pre-Cambrian and it is thought to date back about 6,000 million years. This was followed by the Paleozoic (during which trilobites flourished) which began around 600 million years ago; the Mesozoic (the reptilian age) dating back 220 million years; and the Cenozoic (age of mammals) which commenced some 70 million years ago. The age of the various strata is ascertained through the disintegration rate of radioactive minerals, the complexity of fossil remains (assuming a progression from the simple to the complex) and the degree of metamorphism. This last involves measuring the amount of compaction, cementation and development of constituent minerals that has taken place. In other words, the degree to which mud has been transmuted into schist. Throughout this encompassing process of evolution there were periods when geosynclines formed great troughs that cradled immense oceans. These were invariably followed by periods of uplift when there was vulcanism, folding and faulting which elevated sediments and intruded them with igneous rock. These intrusions were accompanied with gases and the folding and heat of the volcanic action produced new minerals. Thus the periods of oceanic calm acted as incubators, while those of uplift resulted in evolutionary change. The cycles were accompanied by profound climatic changes and as the earth continued to pass through them, the intervals became shorter in time and more localized. The wheels whirling within the Great Mother Wheel began to become specialized and multiplied in their more tenuously synchronized function.

 The atmosphere surrounding the earth is made up of gases found throughout space, but they are compounded with sub-elements exuded from the life-forms on the globe itself. The air staying in contact with the earth's surface will slowly develop properties of the underlying area causing highly predictable winds and seasonal movements. The subcontinent of India offers the most clear-cut example of the influence of climate upon life in the world as a result of the interchange of heat and cold between land and ocean; six months of dry weather followed by six months of wet. The monsoon cycle suggests a rhythmic movement like a breathing in and breathing out of the globe; the winter solstice marking the impulse of heaven while the summer marks that of the earth.

 Like the living organism that it is, the earth is charged with telluric electrical currents which course through it and relate to the sunspot cycles, the polar aurora and the general electromagnetic field of the globe. Its gravity in terms of weight is fundamentally due to the nature and structure of the rocks beneath its surface. This material increases in density and while the sun releases an enormous electrical charge which sets up a magnetic field that extends out and electrifies the earth, terrestrial magnetism is dependent upon the presence of sufficient metal (iron and nickle) to act as a magnet, Geophysicists, using seismic, sonic, magnetic and coring methods, believe they can identify the material composing the crust (40 miles), the mantle (1,800 miles) and the core (3,950 miles to the centre) of the earth, and if the geothermal gradient assumed is correct, the centre of the earth may be well over 7,000° F in temperature. This is intriguing, for the temperature of the earth fell steadily from Eocene times until it reached the optimum levels for glaciation in the Pleistocene. Astronomical and surface changes affecting the earth's temperature are variations in orbital eccentricities, polar wandering, continental shifts, mountain building, vulcanism and more internal radioactive heat flow. But the intense heat at the centre of the earth remains a mystery to scientists who ask whether it is the initial heat of the globe. It seems there was greater fluctuation of solar radiation in the distant past, that during the low periods glaciation took place in cycles of around 250 million years. When one realizes that the centre of origin of all volcanic activity is at most 450 miles beneath the earth's crust and that all the dramatic activity observable on the globe consists of superficial phenomena - like blisters on the surface of the skin - it is easy to see why the core remains an enigma. We feel confident that our spectroscopes can identify the nature of substances on and around other planets but the information we receive is altered by the earth's own atmosphere, and we may well be assigning familiar labels to substances and conditions we have not yet, in any way, experienced. So too with the core of the earth whose great heat, powerful magnetic qualities and even weight, may not be the expression of iron and nickle, but of an intense fiery state which is only analogous to fire as we know it upon the surface of the globe, and whose properties could be ascertained and measured only by instruments of a far subtler nature than those we have contrived on the physical plane.

 A sublime re-enactment of the formation and dissolution of the earth can be watched in quiet repose upon the rim of the Grand Canyon. The observer rests upon the Kaibab and Toroweap layer which dates back 270 million years. Beneath this are vast horizons of Coconino, Hermit and Supai sandstone and shale which overlay Redwall and Mauv limestone and Bright Angel shale. Gazing at the latter's green band, he is looking into the substance of 600 million years ago. Below this is 'the Great Unconformity' under which lies in silent and eternal repose the Vishnu and Brahma schists - dark and highly convoluted, due to intense heat and pressure. The eye rests here at this 6,000 million-year-old substratum and feels the abyss of timeless origin anticipating. Living temples rise up out of the canyon depths bearing names of Shiva, Osiris, Isis, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster and Solomon. Like witnesses rising nearly six thousand feet to the Jewel of the outer rim, they endure and chronicle the ages upon their flanks. They tell the story of the strife and beauty that has unfolded upon this earth, and in the evening, when the darkness rises up along the canyon walls, they slowly merge into the night of non-being, leaving behind only the abyss.

Our days on the earth are as a shadow.

I Chronicles

 The ancient Egyptians asked the question: "Did the sun come from the abyss and create the whole world or was He the result of the separation of heaven and earth?" The theme of the separation of heaven and earth is universal and it describes the fall of the Mother into the abyss and the manifestation of the world. So, of course, the physical sun was the result of the separation and, in a mysterious sense, represents the offspring (son) of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. The Kamchadales reflect this idea in their belief that the earth was lowered down from heaven, being created out of the body of the son of Kutku (God). One of the most beautiful enactments demonstrating the relationship between heaven and earth was to be found in the Hako ceremony of the Pawnee Indians. This was directed to the Sky Father and all the celestial powers and the terrestrial powers of Mother Earth. The highly symbolical imagery involved the use of the feathers of the eagle who soars as the highest messenger, and feather-down represents the clouds of heaven and the winds or breath of life. An ear of maize was used as the symbol of the earth, daughter of heaven and earth who brings forth and sustains all life. The corn was painted blue because the power in the earth comes from above, just as the power of the Father ritually gave child to the mother and completed the renewal of all life.

Goddess Demeter, or Earth - whichever name you choose to call her by.


 The Great Mother gives life but she is also the cavernous mistress of death. As Tepeyollotl in Mexican symbology, she is depicted as a spotted jaguar monster who leaps up to swallow the setting sun. Her darkness is like that of Kali and other earth goddesses who devour their children and smear their mouths with blood. But she is also the virgin mother Astarte, Ishtar, Aruru, Ninlil and Demeter. Her thousand names are chanted by all who pray, "Hail thou Mother of men; be faithful in God's embrace, filled with food for men." She is Jörd, 'the Flesh of Ymir', and because of her magic strength, newborn children were laid upon her to draw from her vitality. In Scandinavia the mid-wife did this and she was called Jördemoder ('Earth Mother'), while in many cultures women giving birth lay themselves upon the soil to ensure the strength of themselves and their infant. Truly the earth is Dharti Mai, 'the Mother who supports'. Her cleansing powers are believed in by every Hindu housewife who daily polishes her brass pots with sand, and her ability to strengthen was clearly appreciated by the Troopers in the Battle of Kampti who took courage by casting dust over their heads.

 The Book of Genesis states that "while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease". The Votiaks have a saying to the effect that "when souls vanish out of the earth, it will no longer produce vegetation". Comparing these two perspectives, one is struck with the emphasis upon effect and then upon cause, while occultism emphasizes that man appeared at the head of sentient life as a soul (the real man) who then became the living and animal UNIT "from which the cast-off clothes determined the shape of every life and animal in this Round". From this point of view, the soul of the earth is intimately linked to and expressive of the soul of man and it is, as the Votiaks say, only the soul which gives life and formation to the earth.

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth.


 The most sublime metaphysics of this or any age penetrates the hidden core of the earth and traces every crumbled fragment of the walls of the Grand Canyon. In the sacred teachings of the ancient civilizations, carefully preserved and handed down by Masters of Wisdom, all this and infinite space containing life beyond our ken is encompassed. The intuitive mind can read the symbolism of their timeless imagery and make the necessary correlations with more mundane modes of exploration to unlock some of the doors of the globe's mystery. It is taught that, after the failure of the Pitris to create, the Spirit of the earth (lower astral light) stepped onto the stage of creation. She awakened blind matter which then united with the astral Spirit causing the Lunar Pitris, who created the shell of man, to point toward the abyss and say, "Let the Earth exist, just as the abode of the powers has existed." Ontologically prior to this activity was the primary emanation of the Logos which impregnated the cosmic egg and brooded over its Divine Idea which was Chaos. Out of this emerged the Soul of the World (Anima Mundi) whose lowest astral light is the Spirit of the earth, the protyle of matter making up the globe.

 This was not a single event but a continually repeated process affecting all the movements of life through all planetary chains in the universe. The ordinary mind is too limited to grasp the immensity and complexity of the cycles that revolve through cycles within the Knots of Fohat, but it can grasp the order of involution from the laya state to the protyle and finally to concretized matter.

 Shankaracharya stressed that spirit and matter are one and that their seeming separation into dual forces is mayavic. In the realm of maya, a gradual transmutation of a spiritual into a physical condition takes place. Words like pneuma ('spirit' and then 'gas') in the Greek, and geist ('ghost' and then 'gas') in the Germanic tongue, indicate man's linguistically expressed awareness of this transition. But even in the physical condition, every atom of Prakriti contains Divine Life or Jiva and is the vehicle of that Jiva, while every Jiva is, in its turn, the vehicle of Parabrahm. Upon investigating the nature of the elements, one learns that hydrogen and oxygen have spiritual origins, while nitrogen is an earthborn cement which unites other gases and fluids. This means that nitrogen is an effect of various interactions between more causal elements which took place during the formation of the earth. Before the gases and fluids become what they are now on earth they were like interstellar ether, before that they were even more rarefied.


 If man is truly the microcosm of the macrocosm, then the real man finds only his clothing here on earth. The mantramic intonation of the Rig Veda echoes this idea in several places. It says, "From his navel came aerial space; the sky evolved from his head; from feet - earth; from ears - directions. Thus the worlds were regulated." This points to the Divine overbrooding Being that all men truly are. It harkens to the Arhats of the Fire-Mist who are said to be at one remove from the root-base of Their Hierarchy, which is the highest on earth and our terrestrial chain - being called 'the Ever-Living Human Banyan'. When men on earth experience moments of pure Buddhic perception they participate in the unified Wisdom of this Great Being. As man gains a more pervasive realization of his true identity, the creative transmutation of the earth will be quickened and will grow toward her true form, to be fulfilled only towards the end of the Seventh Round.

 The Vishnu Purana records that when all these conditions have been expressed and when the earth nears exhaustion at the end of a thousand periods of Four Ages (a complete Day of Brahma), Vishnu will assume the character of Shiva the Destroyer and reunite all creatures to Himself. He will enter the Seven Rays of the sun and drink up all the waters of the globe. Fed by the moisture, the Solar Rays will dilate and set the world on fire. This is called Naimittika Pralaya and results in the destruction of all form, but not of substance, which will wait for a new dawn. The entire process whereby Spirit is transmitted into the matter that we know on the earth is played out in reverse. The quiet meditating man at the rim of the Grand Canyon who witnessed the coming into formation of all the temples and chasms with the first glow of Aurora's hand now sees the world swallowed gradually into the mouth of darkness. The last and grossest element is the first to go and it, along with the sense of smell, is swallowed by water which is then, along with the sense of taste, swallowed by fire. Fire is then, together with its tanmatra of sight, swallowed by air which is, in turn, swallowed along with the sense of touch by Aether, so that only Akasa exists. Only the Arhats of the Fire-Mist exist and along with them, the Word. All the earthly senses man uses are gone and only Mahat and Buddhi remain as the seed for new earths that are yet to be born.

 When seen from this cosmic perspective, the earth, as clothing, becomes a sacred temple in which men can worship the Living God. Every growth upon her flanks is sanctifiable by man, who can make of her either a true bride of heaven or an embodiment of hell. The projected ray which is man took on the clothing; layer by layer it thickened, and men forgot their origins. Heaven and earth became estranged and intercourse between them seemed to stop. But there was a handful of primordial human beings in whom the spark burned - the custodians of the Mysteries. Some remained in their Kumaric condition, and these Elect were the germ of a Hierarchy that never died. "The inner man of the first only changes his body from time to time; he is ever the same knowing neither rest nor Nirvana, spurning Devachan and remaining constantly on Earth for the Salvation of Mankind." Man comes to know these things slowly, very slowly throughout the ages, and he can only know them consciously as an awakened mind while in a body given him by this Mother Earth. She is sacred and justly revered as a Mother - not because she is green or gold or merely productive. Only through her sacrifice are the vestures built wherein are learnt the lessons of the soul, and only through gentle refinement of them can man give back what has been given to him.

O Great Mother, our Earth,
Let us walk upon thee softly
And gently cultivate thy soil.
Sensitive to thy signs and seasons,
We are grateful for thy fruit
And would raise thee up to our Father
Who is in Heaven.