In the beginning was primordial chaos, a soup of the pure essence of reality, and from this arose a goddess who created order, and thus the universe and the world came into being. Myths and stories from all over the world tell similar truths about how our universe began, whether it is in the form of the Greek Eurynome who came up from the chaos, created a snake out of a whirlwind that formed as a result, transformed herself into a dove and laid the cosmic egg, or the Tibetan Klu-mo who emerged from chaos to create the world from parts of her own body, or the four Egyptian snake goddesses who, with four male frog gods, made order through their movements in the primordial morass, or many others. When these and other creation goddesses bring order out of chaos, they make different entities from the unity of chaos or their own being and calm exuberant energy into stability and harmony.
At this time of year when many think about how to make a positive start to the next twelve months, how to re-create themselves just as the universe was created, perhaps this is a good moment to look again at these goddesses and our perceptions of order and chaos. I have always thought that these stories were telling me that order naturally progresses out of chaos and that order is better than chaos. But as I have gotten older, I think maybe the message is more complex.
Is the progression from chaos to order really the way of existence? Now we are finding out more and more that our universe is actually still a quite essentially chaotic place. One primary way of creating order out of chaos is through time and space. Reality gets laid out along the track of time and it happens in regular doses like minutes and hours, up to millions of millennia. Similarly, space helps everything stay in order, each place occupied by one being only. But we now know that time and space are really space-time, and not rigid but rather bendable and all intertwined with matter and energy.
Where once we thought of ourselves as individuals separated in an orderly way into one body and soul per person, disconnected from all other beings, we have now begun to understand that we are all interconnected genetically and in many other ways. We share genes with animals and even fruits. Trees and other living beings in the forest are all connected underground by fungi, even different species, and not just communicating but also helping one another to live. While we may not be physically connected like the forest, I think we have all experienced those moments when we feel we are a part of a larger whole, whether we feel an identity with nature, or part of a human movement towards a better world, or something else.
Creation itself requires some element of chaos. One of the most essential ways to generate new and innovative ideas is to free associate, especially with other people. In other words, instead of moving slowly along well-ordered mental tracks, the more your mind wanders, energetically skips and jumps, and seeks association between ideas and things that are usually considered to be in impenetrable compartments, the more creative you will be. The more you open your mind to possibilities outside the usual order of things, the more likely you are to see both truth about your world and new ways of being in it.
Yet, order is also necessary for creation. As any musician knows, the drummer who marks out the time, who creates order out of the chaos of timelessness, is essential to harmony, to the integrity of the music, whether of a symphony, a band, or one musician. Without ordered time there would be no music, just as without ordered space there would be no dance, no sculpture, no painting. I find in these stories the enabling of a fuller creativity by creating a balance of order and chaos. For example, when we seek to create a planet where we can all live in peace, justice, and sustainability, we must welcome the uncertainty that must accompany positive change while holding fast to our ideals and values that create necessary order.
All of these ideas — space/time/matter/energy, our essential interconnectedness, and the importance of both chaos and order to creativity — make me think that the stories aren’t about the universe’s creation happening in the distant past and then ending, but rather are a description of what is happening now, all around us, all the time. Every day we emerge from the primordial chaos of dreaming, whether asleep or awake, into the order of our perception of everyday life, but then at times we consciously re-enter that spaceless and timeless place of not just chaos, but unity, passion and essentialness to be re-energized and create ourselves and our planet and communities anew. We find ways to live in both chaos and order to fulfill our own human mission of creation.
One creation story, perhaps my favorite, comes from the Canadian Athabascan people for whom the animals in the world were created by the goddess Asintmah. She arrived to find nothing but ice and snow on Earth. Our planet was empty of animals. So, she wove a blanket of fireweed blossoms and spread it across the land. She began to sing, and animal life came into being, with each species born to the beauty of her song under the blanket. To me, this story makes me think of the original force of the universe in the blanket of blossoms with living beings emerging from it, coaxed by song and by love of life, chaos and order expressed in terms of nature’s magnificence and joyful creation of animals.
Maybe next time you are feeling isolated and alone, you can remember that having been created as an individual human being doesn’t mean you are separate, but rather than you are extraordinary and unique, yet connected to all other beings as well as to the very essential of existence. When you are frustrated in your creating, you can find inspiration and guidance in the duet of both chaos and order. As our world enters a time when what we do now will reverberate down through many generations, we can realize that we must be artists with both chaos and order, knowing when to have one and when the other, in order to create our artistic masterpieces, or lives and communities, or the just, peaceful, and abundant planet we all want to live on.
Illustration: Orphic egg, James Basire, 1730–1802 (engraver), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of fireweed at Glacier Peak Wilderness: Walter Siegmund, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons