You keep using that word
Some years ago I read a book by a sort-of-ex-Catholic, notable feminist author about devotion to the Virgin Mary, and how terrible it was that Catholic devotion to her had lapsed so greatly since the Second Vatican Council. While I thought the author’s intentions were good and so is devotion to the Blessed Mother, I don’t think I finished the book. I remember complaining to a sympathetic listener–a co-worker? my spouse?–that the words “cosmology” or “cosmological” appeared in pretty much every paragraph.
Cosmology, Google tells me, is something that deals with the origins and structure of the universe. It may appear as a philosophy, a science, or a metaphysic, and probably as a theology, too. Cosmology is a consideration of where we all come from, and where we’re going to.
The word “kosmos” has the root meaning of order. To speak of the universe as the cosmos is to pronounce it orderly. The same root lies behind “cosmetic” and its relations; cosmetics order and ornament the body, the person.
I am still not sure why that author liked the word cosmology so much, or why she thought that, without attention to the Mother of God, Catholic theology had lost its theory of the origins and destiny of the universe. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t, not that I’m an expert.
I’m not an expert on cosmology, either. The truth is I don’t spend a lot of time wondering where we’ve come from and where we’re going to. I spend a lot more time wondering whether I can get to work on time and what I’ll be having for my next meal. Now that we’re all here, what are we going to do? What should I, as a unique individual, be doing? How can we work together as a society, as a species, to make things better for everyone?
Science, philosophy, and religion all have their own cosmologies. Every religion has its own, most of which make sense to me in context. Hinduism and Buddhism share the view that the universe never began and never will end; it simply goes through endless cycles of expansion and contraction, creation and destruction. We simply enter and leave in our own time, the way we used to enter a movie whenever we pleased and leave when we reached the point where we came in, when I was a child. Native American origin stories are not so much about things being created as about people arriving on the scene from somewhere else. The surviving lore of the Germanic religions suggests a universe with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but no one is sure how much of that is due to Christian chroniclers and their influence; has Ragnarok happened, is it still to come, or is it a Christian apocalypse shoehorned in?
From where I stand, I see a few significant pieces of information that fit together in a suggestive way.
First, science, or better yet, the sciences are continually updating our knowledge of the universe, and it seems to me that each fresh discovery makes the universe more subtle, more complex, and more fluid than we thought.
Second, many cultures share the idea of cycles, particularly cycles that can be discerned by looking at the sky. The precession of the equinoxes does not sound very interesting if you have Netflix and cable, but it is a big deal in cultures around the world. And no, we’re not in the Age of Aquarius yet, and we won’t be for another few hundred years.
Third, many cultures share the idea of what one might call divine regime change, often linked to that same precession of the equinoxes. Aleister Crowley had hold of this idea and called it the shift from the Aeon of Osiris, the Dying and Rising God, to the Aeon of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child. Leabhar Gabhála Eireann, The Book of the Taking of Ireland or Book of Invasions, tells of successive waves of beings inhabiting and shaping the island, ending with the mortal Milesians. In eir post, “The Lack of Greek Eschatology”, PSVL explores a number of stories about Zeus preventing the birth of a new deity who might replace him as ruler of the other gods, just as he replaced Kronos and Kronos replaced Ouranos. The difference between polytheistic regime change and monotheistic regime change is that the former happens repeatedly and the latter only once, and then nothing ever changes again.
Things change. The universe is less solid and more fluid than we thought. Even the gods don’t stay the same forever, and endings usher in new beginnings, even if we’re not around to see them. Personally, I’d like to think we’re all on our way to becoming gods; at least, I’m working on it.