Heralding the Coming God: Schelling’s Philosophy of the Persephone Myth

From its root there grew
a hundred blooms which had a scent so sweet that all
the wide heaven above and all the earth and all
the salt swelling of the sea laughed aloud.
And then the girl too wondered at it, she reached out
her hands to take this thing of such delight,
but the earth with wide paths gaped in the plain of Nysia,
and He Who Accepts So Many, the lord, sprang upon her
with his immortal horses, that son of Chronos with many names.
– From “Hymn to Demeter”[1]

For Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, the truth of God could be found in the mythologies of antiquity. Schelling’s philosophy of mythology explores the presence of God in the world as revealed through cultural myths and religious revelation. He primarily focused on Greek mythology, with a particular concentration on the Cabiri gods of the island of Samothrace, which he felt empirically confirmed an early image of the nature of God which he had worked out in his own metaphysical ontology.[2] The Cabiri myth, and the mystery initiation rituals associated with it have widespread connections throughout the ancient world, both within the Mediterranean and beyond. The most prevalent correlation to the Cabiri, as Schelling discusses in his essay The Deities of Samothrace, is the myth of Persephone’s abduction to the underworld and subsequent return, which mirrors both the succession of the seasons throughout the year and the cyclical development of a plant. Persephone’s story is both a metaphor and a symbol for Schelling’s God, a God who is also in an eternal, dynamic process that leads to the creation of the world in his own image.[3]

The ontology of Schelling’s God was based initially on the writings of Jakob Böhme in combination with earlier works of his own.[4] God exists as two poles, one of absolute free will and the other of necessity, and each pole can be understood through Schelling’s positive and negative philosophies respectively.[5] Schelling paints “a portrait of a God who constitutes himself as a duality-in-unity” and it is the continuous tension and harmonization of this polarity that gives God a dynamic, living, and even evolving existence.[6] Of these two poles, the pole of necessity has within it its own polarized structure, which also is in a process of tension and harmonization. First, there is the initial force that is the dark ground of all being, a centripetal potency of “pure subjectivity” that draws all things eternally into itself. The second force is one of “pure objectivity,” a centrifugal potency eternally radiating forth. The opposing tensions of these two forces are in continual struggle with each other, and can only be reconciled by a third potency, one that would not be present without the other two. This third uniting potency is love, which harmonizes and brings an unstable balance between the first two, before the third potency is overcome and the cycle begins anew.[7]

While Schelling writes that this interaction of the three potencies is in God’s “past” he also calls it an “eternal process,” indicating that it is atemporal and not subject to linear time.[8] However, God’s pole of necessity is ultimately subordinate to the pole of freedom, or pure will, which brings true balance to the tension between the centripetal and centrifugal forces within the necessity pole. The third potency of the necessity pole, love, mediates between freedom and necessity, allowing for harmony in God’s being.[9] It is through this highest principle of freedom that God is able to freely create the world in the image of God’s own being. Thus the world has the same polar structure as God, and the repeating process of tension, imbalance, and harmony echoes throughout every layer of creation’s existence.[10] The forces of centration and expansion exist in the world as the polarities of the real and the ideal, the corporeal and the spiritual. They too are brought into balance through love, which acts as the mediator between the world and the transcendent aspect of God. The pole of freedom exists in creation as human creativity and free will, in a parallel image of God’s own freedom.[11] Upon coming into relationship with creation, God’s freely created mirror, God is able to become conscious of Godself.[12] “Since nothing is outside of God, the very knowledge of God is simply the nonfinite knowledge which God has of himself in the eternal self-affirmation, that is, it is itself the being of God and is in this being.”[13] Yet not only is the world a reflection of God’s image, but God also enters into creation and is revealed historically in the mythologies and religious revelations of human culture.[14]

By investigating the mythologies of antiquity Schelling was able to perceive an intimation of the structure of God that he had worked out in his philosophy. The island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea was home to the initiation rites of the Cabiri, which reveal a sequence of gods nearly identical to those in the myth of Persephone, central to the comparable mystery rites of Eleusis.[15] While Schelling indicated there were seven, or even possibly eight, Cabiri gods, he names the first four in The Deities of Samothrace: Axieros, Axiokersa, Axiokersos, and Kasmilos. These four gods are understood to be the Hellenic gods Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and Hermes.[16]

In the most prevalent version of this myth, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the grain, and Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. While playing in the meadows, Persephone is drawn to an exquisite flower grown as a temptation by Gaia, at the bidding of Zeus. As Persephone plucks the flower, the earth gapes open and she is abducted against her will by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. In grief, Demeter flies about the earth searching for her daughter, and when she discovers that the abduction of her daughter was sanctioned by Zeus she desolates the landscape in her fury. In fear of her wrath, and to save the fertile earth from destruction, Zeus sends his messenger Hermes to the Underworld to retrieve Persephone. Yet, while she was in the realm of shades, Persephone ate six seeds of the pomegranate fruit, thus tying her forever to that domain; for whoever eats the food of the dead must remain in the Underworld. As a compromise, Zeus decrees that Persephone must spend six months in the Underworld, one for each seed, and six months with her mother in the light of the sun. So it is that mother and daughter are reunited, but only for a time, and each year the cycle continues, causing the wheel of the seasons to turn as Persephone the maiden of the upper world descends to become Queen of the Underworld each winter.[17]

While the structure of the story remains relatively similar, innumerable versions of this myth exist in which the cultural lineage of the gods is revealed through their many names and relationships to each other. The grain goddess Demeter was initially a goddess of Crete where her lover was the god Plautos, a name strikingly similar to Pluto, the Roman name of Hades.[18] Although in this myth Persephone, who was born on Crete, is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, there is another myth in which Zeus seduces Persephone and she gives birth to Dionysos.[19] Schelling writes that according to Heraclitus, Hades and Dionysos were really the same god, and in other understandings of the Greek pantheon Zeus and Hades are interchangeable as well, as both are called the “son of Chronos with many names.”[20]

In the myth of the Cabiri, Hades and Dionysos are both associated with the name Axiokersos, the third god in the sequence of Samothrace.[21] Additionally, Persephone’s Cabiri name is Axiokersa, which contains the root “Kersa,” derived from the Hebrew hrs, or Ceres, the Roman name of Demeter.[22] Thus Schelling and other sources conclude that Demeter and Persephone are really one and the same, two parts of a continuous cyclical being.[23] Demeter’s Cabiri name, Axieros, Schelling has translated as “hunger,” “poverty,” “yearning,” “seeking,” and “longing.”[24] She is the first god of the Cabiri sequence, in a continuous state of seeking and drawing all things in toward her.[25] Culturally, Demeter is an older goddess figure than her Olympian brothers, and can in many ways be considered first, the fertile ground of being out of which the harvest grows.[26]

The fourth god of the Cabiri is Kasmilos, also called Kadmilos or Camillus, and is best known as Hermes, the messenger god.[27] The name Kasmilos has roots in the word “Kadmiel” which Schelling translates as “he who goes before the god.” Hermes is the messenger and servant of Zeus, highest of the gods, and acts as a mediator between Zeus and the first three gods of the Cabiri. It is from this ranking that Schelling infers that the Cabiri must be in a sequence, from lowest to highest, all heralding the coming of a higher god, which may be equated with Zeus, or ultimately Schelling’s Christian God.[28]

The Cabiri simultaneously herald the coming of the highest God, and also constitute a symbol of the structure of Schelling’s God. On Samothrace the first three Cabiri were collectively called Hephaestos, and Schelling writes that “The creation of Hephaestos is the world of necessity.”[29] Thus the first Cabiri comprise the pole of necessity in Schelling’s God: Axieros and Axiokersa symbolize the primary ground of being and the force of centration, and Axiokersos is the force of expansion.[30]

Schelling writes “Ceres is the moving power through whose ceaseless attraction everything, as if by magic, is brought from the primal indeterminateness to actuality or formation.”[31] With Demeter and Persephone as two sides of the same goddess Ceres, Demeter represents the formless “primal indeterminateness” and Persephone, who is born from Demeter, is that same power but actualized into form.

Whereas the first of the Cabiri can be equated with the first power… in its pure, unstructured aspect in the necessity pole in God, the second Cabiri goddess symbolizes that power as transformed into the first potency, which is the foundation of a dimension, or a region, of actual being.[32]

Axiokersos, who is both Hades and Dionysos, is the Lord of the Underworld, ruler of spirits and the realm of the dead, and thus symbolizes the second potency of Schelling’s God.[33] The second potency is the realm of spirit in the creation, but as Schelling’s translator Robert Brown writes, “…the spirit world is to be fully actualized only in an afterlife which souls enter upon death.”[34]

The third uniting potency, which Schelling emphasized does not have its own constitution, is symbolized by Kasmilos, or Hermes, who mediates not only between the first two potencies but between the pole of necessity and the pole of freedom, or between the triangle of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, and Zeus.[35] The pole of freedom in Schelling’s God is pure will and balances the pole of necessity, just as finally Zeus intervenes and creates a cyclical harmony between Demeter, Persephone, and Hades.[36]

This myth, in its many forms, served as the basis of the various Greek mystery rites, from the initiations of Samothrace, the rituals of Thesmophoria or the “Festival of Sorrow,” to the Eleusinian mystery rites.[37] While some scholars believed the secret of all the ancient mystery rites was “the doctrine of the unity of god,” Schelling disagreed with this notion in part, deeming that it would be impossible for a secret monotheism to exist in deceit of a public polytheism.[38] Rather, it seems that the unity experienced in the mysteries was both an understanding of the necessary unity of the gods within the sequence of the Cabiri myth, and also the union of the initiates with the divine.[39]

Because it was forbidden to reveal what occurred during the rites, we do not have a full picture of the initiatory rite of passage. We do know that participants consumed a grain drink called kykeon, a mixture of barley, water, and mint, which was said the be the drink Demeter requested after her fast during which she desolated the earth in her rage against Zeus and Hades.[40] Also included in this drink was the psychedelic rye fungus ergot, also called Mutterkorn, or “mother grain,” in German.[41] It is likely that the mind-expanding quality of this drink, as well as the ceremonies enacted during the rites, allowed the initiates to understand the ultimate unity and contingency of the gods within the sequence of the Cabiri myth, as they herald the higher God into manifestation.[42] Even the name Cabiri seems to be descended from the Hebrew term Chabir, “which expresses simultaneously inseparable connection and magical union.”[43]

The holy, revered teaching of the Cabiri, in its profoundest significance, was the representation of the insoluble life itself as it progresses in a sequence of levels from the lowest to the highest, a representation of the universal magic and of the theurgy ever abiding in the whole universe, through which the invisible, indeed the super-actual, incessantly is brought to revelation and actuality.[44]

Like Elohim, the plural name of the Godhead in the Old Testament, the Cabiri are one, not differentiated but still distinct; so too are the potencies of Schelling’s God, each distinct with their own qualities, yet ultimately constituting a whole.[45]

The sequence of the mystery rites paralleled the sequence of the Cabiri myth, and it seems that initiates each underwent the journey of Persephone to the Underworld. Plutarch wrote that “to die is to be initiated” and even the word “to die” in Greek, teleutan, is related to the word for initiation, teleisthai.[46] Yet, like Persephone, the initiates returned to the light of day and were reunited with Demeter, an ultimate rebalancing and reconciliation.[47]

Just as the story of Persephone mirrors the cycle of the seasons, it also mirrors the growth of a plant from a seed embedded in the earth to a shoot flowering and finally fruiting. Another name for Persephone was Kore, from koros meaning “sprout;” Persephone also translates as “she who shines in the dark,” symbolizing the dormant life of the seed underground, as well as her shining presence as Queen of the Underworld.[48] Persephone’s descent is a necessary process, a cycle of death and regeneration vital for life to continue. It is as though the flower Gaia grew to tempt Persephone to the brink of Hades’ realm was grown in service of the greater need of earth’s fertility.[49] Even the symbol of this single beautiful flower carries the dynamic of the entire myth within it.

Demeter and Persephone both symbolize the first potency of Schelling’s God, but Demeter is the first potency before creation and Persephone the first potency after, just as the seed and the shoot are one plant, before and after the germination process. The world is created in the image of God, and as such has the same ontological structure as God.[50] Thus the poles of necessity and freedom, and within the pole of necessity the force of centration and physicality, and the force of expansion and spirituality, all unified by love, ripple out and can be found within every structure of the created universe. As Brown writes, “Because the potencies of being are not exhausted in whatever severally exemplifies or symbolizes them, they can recur at various levels within an extended hierarchy.”[51] The polarities can be found in the growth of plants, the cycles of the seasons, and the polytheistic pantheons of antiquity. They overlap and combine, the mythological gods intertwined with earth’s natural processes.[52]

Schelling believed that because God had entered creation, God was being revealed in a historical evolution from the ancient stories of mythology to the revelations of the religions, disclosing each potency in sequence, leading ultimately to knowledge of God as a whole.[53] The Cabiri are at the evolutionary stage of the full revelation of God’s pole of necessity, but intimations of the next stages are also present in that mythology. Kasmilos, or Hermes, is the herald of the coming God, who is both the Olympian Zeus and a God higher than Zeus. Schelling mentioned that there were either seven or eight Cabiri, and it seems that Zeus was both the seventh, as a link in the sequence, and also the eighth, as the final God who is manifested by the relationships of the first seven.[54] Each participant of the sequence is divine, as Schelling writes in one of his aphorisms: “Yet not only the whole as whole is divine. For so is also the part and the particular by itself.”[55]

As a Christian, Schelling believed that God was revealed fully in the revelation of Christ. The fallen state of the world is a manifestation of the first potency, but God acted through the spirituality of the second potency to bring new harmony and balance to creation. This manifestation of the second potency is the incarnation of Christ. The teaching of Christ is that of love, which is the third unifying principle, which leads ultimately to a full union with the divine.[56]

The polarized structure of God and the world has been in an eternal cyclical process that has also been evolving linearly through time. The Godhead is both revealed in the course of time and outside of it altogether. In the mythology of Samothrace, time is located above all of the gods, which can also be seen in the family tree of the Cabiri: Chronos, who represents time, is either the father or the grandfather of all the gods in that story.[57] Schelling also wrote, “Because the gods come forth in succession, they themselves are only the offspring of almighty time;” time is the true creator and permeates all things.[58] Yet Schelling’s God existed before time and is caught in an “eternal process,” therefore his God is also outside of time.[59] It seems that ultimately Schelling’s God is both subject to time yet also free of it, just as God has one pole of necessity and one pole of freedom.

The final question remains then, what will happen when the creation ultimately unites with God through the mediation of love? Through this process God has become fully conscious of Godself and the poles are completely balanced. As both subject to and free of time will the cycle end in harmonious balance or, like a seed planted in the earth, will a new creation germinate and sprout to a truly new florescence?

Appendix

Just as the structure of God’s being can be found throughout the creation of nature, it is also mirrored in the realm of archetypal astrology, especially as it pertains to Schelling’s own birth chart. Schelling was born January 27, 1775, at 3:00 am in Ragaz Switzerland, Germany. The most prevalent aspect in his chart is a stellium of four planets: Sun, Mercury, Venus, and Pluto. The configuration of these four planets correlates perfectly with the Cabiri myth, and thus corresponds to his ontology of God as well. Venus represents the first potency, and like the Cabiri myth relates simultaneously to both Demeter and Persephone. Venus is the archetype of beauty, as portrayed by the young maiden Persephone, and also of flowers and that which grows upon the earth. As the archetype of love, Venus also relates to the loving bond between mother and daughter in this myth. Pluto correlates directly to Hades and Dionysos, both of whom are represented by this archetype. Pluto rules the Underworld and the entire death-rebirth process, which is the primary theme of both this myth and the mystery rites associated with it. Mercury correlates to its namesake Hermes, and acts as mediating messenger, but also a bringer of love, represented by the Mercury-Venus combination. Finally, the Sun represents the Godhead, which the first four gods are heralding, the ultimate shining principle in its singularity and perfection, bringing all the other archetypes into a single conception of God.

An additional aspect of note is that Schelling’s birth chart has Saturn in a trine with the Sun-Pluto stellium, which can be seen as both the inherent structure of the Godhead, but also the prevalence of time as the true creator and that which drives the evolution of God’s creation.

Works Cited

Baring, Anne, and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. London, England: Viking Arkana, 1991.

Metzner, Ralph. Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. “Schelling’s Aphorisms of 1805.” Translated by Fritz Marti. Idealistic Studies 14.3 (1984): 237-258.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. Schelling’s Treatise on “The Deities of Samothrace.” Translated by Robert F. Brown. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977.


[1] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London, England: Viking Arkana, 1991), 370.

[2] Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Schelling’s Treatise on “The Deities of Samothrace,” trans. Robert F. Brown (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), 45.

[3] Schelling, Samothrace, 47.

[4] Ibid, 45.

[5] Ibid, 48, 46.

[6] Ibid, 47.

[7] Ibid, 48.

[8] Schelling, Samothrace, 48.

[9] Ibid, 49.

[10] Ibid, 47.

[11] Ibid, 50.

[12] Ibid, 49-50

[13] Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, “Schelling’s Aphorisms of 1805,” trans. Fritz Marti, Idealistic Studies 14.3 (1984): 250.

[14] Schelling, Samothrace, 47.

[15] Schelling, Samothrace, 15.

Ralph Metzner, Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999), 128.

[16] Schelling, Samothrace, 16-17, 56.

[17] Metzner, Green Psychology, 128-129.

Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 364-372.

[18] Ibid, 366.

[19] Ibid, 367.

[20] Schelling, Samothrace, 21.

Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 370, 383.

[21] Schelling, Samothrace, 21.

[22] Ibid, 20, 52.

[23] Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 364.

[24] Schelling, Samothrace, 18, 20.

[25] Ibid, 18.

[26] Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 367.

[27] Schelling, Samothrace, 21.

[28] Ibid, 22.

[29] Ibid, 24.

[30] Schelling, Samothrace, 49, 52.

[31] Ibid, 20.

[32] Ibid, 52.

[33] Ibid, 52.

[34] Ibid, 53.

[35] Schelling, Samothrace, 49, 53.

[36] Ibid, 49.

Metzner, Green Psychology, 128.

[37] Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 374.

Metzner, Green Psychology, 128.

[38] Schelling, Samothrace, 24-25.

[39] Ibid, 28.

Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 382.

[40] Ibid, 377, 380.

[41] Metzner, Green Psychology, 144.

[42] Schelling, Samothrace, 28.

[43] Ibid, 39-40, note 113.

[44] Ibid, 29.

[45] Ibid, 40, note 118.

[46] Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 381.

[47] Ibid, 377.

Metzner, Green Psychology, 144.

[48] Baring and Cashford, Goddess, 368-369.

[49] Ibid, 383.

[50] Schelling, Samothrace, 50.

[51] Ibid, 56.

[52] Schelling, Samothrace, 58.

[53] Ibid, 55, 59.

[54] Ibid, 56.

[55] Schelling, “Aphorisms,” 246.

[56] Schelling, Samothrace, 58-59.

[57] Schelling, Samothrace, 19.

[58] Ibid, 33, note 44.

[59] Ibid, 61, note 8, 48.

Poetize the Planet: Mythopoetic Expression in an Earthly Cosmology

let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs
– Drew Dellinger[2]

Humanity needs a new cosmology. The Earth needs a new poetry. As humanity’s discordant relationship with our home planet continues to wreak environmental devastation worldwide, no single solution can be put forward that can fully address the crises escalating on the Earth. The most creative answers will come to no avail if they are still trapped within the current mechanistic, reductionist worldview that initially set us so deeply out of balance. How are we, as a species, to address the issues of ecological destruction? The solutions require a creativity deeper and greater than the human alone. We must ask the Earth. As Thomas Berry puts it “…we need not a human answer to an Earth problem, but an Earth answer to an Earth problem.”[3]

Photo by Becca Tarnas

The chasm of communication between the modern human and the Earth is great, but not unbridgeable. David Abram posits that our human language is a gift originally from the Earth. “What if the very language we now speak arose first in response to an animate, expressive world––as a stuttering reply not to just others of our species but to an enigmatic cosmos that already spoke to us in a myriad of tongues?”[4] This understanding of language as initially born out of the cosmos cannot be relegated to mere projection; the Earth calls forth the human imagination in diverse ways dependent upon the characteristics of the landscape. Language transcends human creativity alone.[5]

The key imaginative language, the Rosetta stone of reconnection, must be poetic. The cosmos speaks directly to us, telling the story of its unfolding since time began, in the language of poetry. Earth poetry calls to us in the sighing death rattle of an autumn breeze among fiery-hued leaves; it radiates as the rich heat of black humus soil under the exposed skin of curious feet; it cries as the sonorous whale’s melody born through the crashing of a salty ocean wave. While many modern adults have long been closed off to this language, it is naturally available to children as they enter the world with fresh, enchanted senses: they can still read nature’s stories.[6] The Earth has an inherent poetic quality to it, as its nature is “…bound into the aesthetic experience, into poetry, art, and dance,”[7] as Berry notes. Our first task is to listen, an offering of the greatest act of love and respect to the Earth.

For humanity to once again hear the poetry of the Earth, the cosmos must be reenchanted.[8] An innovative mythic worldview is needed in which humans understand their roles within the larger Earth and cosmic community. We need a “…vision of a planet integral with itself throughout its spatial extent and its evolutionary sequence… if we are to have the psychic power to undergo the psychic and social transformations that are being demanded of us.”[9] Berry puts forth in his writings a call to the poets and artists of the world to help forge a new, mythically imbued cosmology that could culturally guide humanity’s survival into the future. “There must be a mystique of the rain if we are ever to restore the purity of the rainfall.”[10]

In his book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, David Abram explores in poetic language these themes of reconnection and identification between the human and our Earth community. Drawing on his own rich sensory experience of the Earth, he is able to perceive the stories the planet is sharing with all of us. In complementary juxtaposition, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s new cosmology, as presented in The Universe Story, also offers a meaningful, enchanted vision retold from the perspective of scientific inquiry. Both Abram’s, and Swimme and Berry’s, cosmologies present a new mythological story based on an understanding of the Earth, not as an object, but rather as an ensouled subject.

Scientific inquiry has been the driving force impelling contemporary Western culture forward. The objective stance of the scientist has unveiled vast expanses of knowledge previously unavailable to humanity. Yet this objectivity has also masked a myriad of other knowledges, deep wisdoms and mysteries that scientific impartiality cannot perceive.[11] Such a detached position has led to a belief that the evolution of the cosmos, from its first moments of flaring into being, is a sequence of random happenstance, somehow arriving at life and the epiphenomenon of consciousness upon our well-situated, but insignificant, planet. While the scientific method has revealed much that could not be disclosed by our physical or intuitive senses alone, the abstractions it produces have also taken the position of primary truth; “… as a result, more and more of us come to assume that those theoretical realms are more true, more fundamental, more real than this palpable world that we experience with our breathing bodies.”[12] Yet, it may actually be such that these scientific results are best understood when interpreted through our senses and emotions, illuminating the greater depths of scientific facts.

Swimme and Berry tell the scientifically grounded story of the evolution of the cosmos from a sensual, mythic perspective, unfolding the same science in a lyrical, poetic form that reveals those very qualities within cosmogenesis itself. From the “primordial flaring forth,”[13] to the birth of stars, the formation of the galaxies, and the supernovas that forged the elements which seeded new stars and the planets, to the emergence of life on Earth, the complexification of life, and the evolution and cultural development of the human, this story is expressed as a celebratory event. The unfolding of the universe is the celebratory event, for “…celebration is omnipresent, not simply in the individual modes of its expression but in the grandeur of the entire cosmic process.”[14] Each phase of the journey expresses the inherent subjectivity of each event, a thrilling sensuality contained within every fiber of the cosmos.

The Earthly cosmology of David Abram is first grounded in the intimacy of the senses, then moves out to encompass the tangible qualities of the land, the Earth, and finally the cosmos. Swimme and Berry begin at the macrocosmic level, while Abram begins at the microcosmic, yet their two cosmologies ultimately meet in the middle, revealing one story of cosmogenesis and the intimate experience of it in the present moment.

The Earth can be communed with in part by understanding our human similarity to the myriad of living and non-living beings surrounding us.

We can feel the trees and the rocks underfoot, because we are not so unlike them, because we have our own forking limbs and our own mineral composition… are tangible bodies of thickness and weight, and so have a great deal in common with the palpable things that we encounter.[15]

An intimacy inherently exists between all beings in the cosmos, as we each have our origin in the first ecstatic moments of the universe’s flaring forth. This relationship has continued through all time, forming the complex webs of interconnection and symbiosis that make life on Earth possible. Our bodies, like the other bodies in the environment, all partake in the gift economy of the Earth: one organism’s waste is transformed into the nourishment of another.[16] Currently, humanity has become an imbalance in this economy, taking much but returning sterile, or even toxic, waste that is of little use, and causes great harm, to the other organisms inhabiting the planet.

A common perception is that humans live on the Earth, but rather we are deeply embedded in ways our bodily senses are able to reveal to us. Take a breath of air. The air swirling around us, connecting the entire planet in its cycles, extends for miles from the surface of the land and the oceans.[17] We live deep within the Earth because we stand below the layer of air which allows Earth to be what it is.[18] Moreover, the composition of that air, so essential to life’s existence, also would not exist without the presence of life.[19] Life and air mutually create each other. “To put it starkly, the biosphere is not simply in a habitable zone but also makes a habitable zone.”[20] Furthermore, not only are we in the Earth, but the Earth is in us. From the air we breath, to the food we eat, and the water we drink, the Earth itself courses through our bodies, just as we make our course through the well-worn pathways of life on this planet.

Physical nourishment is not the only gift the Earth gives its inhabitants. As mentioned previously, language may be a property of the Earth itself, as well as emotion, imagination, and reflection. If the human has psychic capacities then such ability must lie first within the cosmos, and therefore the Earth. Consciousness, rather than an activity occurring solely within the human brain, may be an inherent quality of the Earth in which we each participate.[21]

What if there is, yes, a quality of inwardness to the mind, not because the mind is located inside us (inside our body or brain), but because we are situated, bodily, inside it––because our lives and our thoughts unfold in the depths of a mind that is not really ours, but is rather the Earth’s? What if like the hunkered owl, and the spruce bending above it, and the beetle staggering from needle to needle on that branch, we all partake of the wide intelligence of the world––because we’re materially participant, with our actions and our passions, in the broad psyche of this sphere?[22]

Just as we inhale the air, we intake conscious awareness. Most importantly, from this perspective, humans are not the only beings inhaling the psyche of the planet, but rather every living and non-living entity partakes in this consciousness, each in their own diversified manner.

Like the landscape, the consciousness of the Earth is diverse, and varies from region to region, affording various insights and ideas to the imagination that differ by location.

There are insights we come upon only at the edge of the sea, and others we glimpse only in the craggy heights. Some prickly notions are endemic to deserts, while other thoughts, too slippery to grasp, are met mostly in swamps. Many nomad thoughts migrate between different realms, shifting their habits to fit the terrain, orienting themselves by the wind and the stars.[23]

The human imagination, and its ability for creative insight and innovation, is sustained by this diversity of the landscape and the myriad of beings living within it.[24] Our ability to create and sustain our existence, to imagine the future, is wholly dependent on the creativity gifted by the Earth. If that gift is diminished, by species extinction and landscape destruction, our capacity to be fully human is also curtailed.

Enclosed in human-made cities and artificial environments, we will lose the capacity to think, dream, and create. The desire to forge a mutually-enhancing relationship with the Earth community is sustained by constant contact with the land, the ocean, forests, deserts, rivers, mountains, and the multitude of species living in these landscapes. If one is insulated from the array of life forces, then one’s desire to intimately know and respect them will dwindle and die. Such isolation leads to destruction for both the human and non-human, since something fundamental to the development of the cosmos is being constrained. As human creativity is stifled, the capacity to imagine solutions to environmental devastation is limited, unleashing a positive feedback loop that furthers ecological ruin and decreases awareness.

If humans treat the Earth and its multitude of abundant life as inert objects, then their inherent subjectivity becomes veiled, and even violated. The opportunity to commune with another ensouled being is lost. As Abram writes,

When I talk of the aspen or the granite outcrop as a determinate object, I push into unconsciousness my direct experience of trees and rock ledges, contradicting my carnal awareness of them as ambiguous beings with their own enigmatic ways of influencing the space around them, and of influencing me.[25]

When we objectify the world in a merely instrumental way we deny ourselves even the possibility to encounter it as a meaningful subject. Once we choose to no longer speak to the Earth, to sing to the sunrise or hum to the cradling arms of an oak, to whisper to a chipmunk or call to a robin, then they will no longer speak to us, either. Even if they do, we will have lost our ability to hear them.[26]

To open up such communication is to take a risk, stepping out of the stability of our everyday human interactions and into what is initially an utterly foreign language. Yet what is most key in all communication, whether between human, animal, plant, river, or soil, is honesty.[27] The words do not have to be directly translated because the intonation and body language, that which all universe beings share, will carry the message, if we can surrender to trust it. Abram writes that he learned to sing when confronting an animal which he had startled, and which might potentially be dangerous if it felt threatened. The song was both relaxing to his own tensed nerves, and communicated that sense of safety to the animal before him.[28] In another situation, when faced with hundreds of curious but angry sea lions, Abram began to dance, offering the sea lions a gift of his humanity portrayed through the animal expression of his body. Mesmerized by his movement, the sea lions were calmed from their initial fury at unexpected intrusion.[29]

Such communication can be opened between humans and plants as well, although on a subtler level due to the greater genetic difference between the two biological kingdoms. Yet the doorway can be opened once again by finding the similarities, rather than focusing on differences, between the plant and the human. If one stands in a forest and listens attentively to the sound of wind through the tree branches, different dialects can be discerned between tree species, and even individual trees. While some might argue that this is not the trees speaking, but merely the wind passing through their branches, then we must be humbled to realize that the same thing is occurring with our own voices when we speak or sing. It is the air vibrating our vocal cords, just as that same air is vibrating the trees’ leaves and branches.[30] Furthermore, it is that same air that is cycling around the planet, uniting the globe as a single being.

The cycling of carbon dioxide around the globe takes approximately a year to complete. In that time each molecule we breathe is circled to distant lands that we may never see with our own eyes. Yet our breath, which has shaped our speech and kept us alive, is distributed worldwide. It has been calculated that every growing leaf on the Earth, within a year, will contain a few dozen of the carbon atoms we exhale in every breath.[31] The words we say, the poetry we speak, are crystallized within every leaf on the planet. We are listened to in a way almost impossible to imagine, indicating the power of our communication. We need to “…take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than merely human meaning and resonance.”[32] There is an “…uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world’s unfolding.”[33]

Children are born into the world with this ability to whole-heartedly commune with the natural world. Indeed, for the very young child there is no separation between her sense of self and her surroundings. It is only with a growing awareness of her body that the child is able to perceive a quality of otherness in her environment.[34] Yet, by emerging slowly from this embedded matrix, she is still able to communicate with the Earth, holding a fascination and sense of awe for all she encounters. Berry believed these encounters are essential for children, “… for it is from the stars, the planets, and the moon in the heavens as well as from the flowers, birds, forests, and woodland creatures of Earth that some of their most profound inner experiences originate.”[35] A child who is able to interact with, and explore fully, the Earth community of which she is a part will be able to grow into an adult with an understanding of her place in the universe, and a vision of the interconnected web that is the Earth, her home. “Only after such an unimpeded childhood does a grown woman know in her bones that she inhabits a breathing cosmos, that her life is embedded in a wild community of dynamically intertwined and yet weirdly different lives.”[36] It is just such an individual who will be open to the poetic communication of the universe, who will participate in its imagination and creativity to devise a mutually-enhancing relationship between the human and the Earth.

It is easy for the rational mind to dismiss the whispered stories of trees and the radiant breathing of the moon as projections of the human mind. No great truth is truth if it cannot be contradicted in some way. A sense of trust must be built between the isolated human and her environment. As that bridge is formed, what first seemed to be arrogant projection is really a deep perception. We are perceiving the similarities that draw connection between the human and the Earth, only to realize they are one and the same: “…our manner of understanding and conceptualizing our various ‘interior’ moods was originally borrowed from the moody, capricious Earth itself.”[37] The human experience of emotions and consciousness are only qualities of the human because they are first qualities of the Earth, and prior to that the cosmos.

Two hundred million years ago, the first mammals flourished into existence as the next stage of the planet’s unfolding. Mammals developed an emotional sensitivity to the cosmos, impressing upon them the wonder and awe of the universe in a new way.[38] It was out of the mammalian line that humans evolved, perceiving the great mysteries of the deep world as the archetypal, enchanted patterning of myth. In the opening to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes: “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation.”[39] These inexhaustible cosmic energies may be the very same energies creating the consciousness of the Earth, in which we all participate.

Myths are the underlying stories that subtly guide the course of a culture’s manifestation. To discover a new myth to guide Western culture, and ultimately the planetary culture, toward a harmonious relationship with the Earth, the dialogue must be opened between humanity and the local landscape in which each human being finds herself. Each landscape inspires different emotions, ideas, and stories, causing the universal, archetypal energies coursing through Earth’s consciousness to take diverse, concrete form in different localities. “For the symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source.”[40] Myth, like air or water, is a global, or universal, phenomenon saturated with the qualities of the local, as can be perceived when the local landscape is communed with.

The cultures living in the greatest harmony with the Earth are the indigenous oral cultures spread across the planet. Although each indigenous culture is as radically varied as the landscape in which they live, certain similarities connect their ways of life. Primarily, an oral culture is inherently local, grounded in the region in which they have culturally developed.[41] It seems to be no coincidence that at the same time that the Earth’s ecosystems are unraveling, the planet’s indigenous cultures and their array of languages are also rapidly facing extinction.[42] The diverse languages of the Earth are bound up into the land, and as the land is lost so are its poetic expressions.

The cultures that are causing the greatest environmental destruction carry a noble lineage of writings on religion, spirituality, philosophy, science, poetry, and story that are grounded in a deep reverence, care, and understanding of the Earth. These writings are easily available to nearly everyone in these cultures, yet the demolition of the natural world continues. Abram came to the realization that such a disconnect occurs because these ideas and stories are written down, “effectively divorcing these many teachings from the living land that once held and embodied these teachings.”[43] Without the rich qualities of the landscape engaging every physical sense, these stories lose their sensual depth and cannot impart the full wisdom of the land which inspired them. Only if experienced in the landscape which first spoke the stories can the tales fully convey their meaning.

“Can we begin to restore the health and integrity of the local Earth? Not without restorying the local Earth.”[44] As the consequences of the ecological crises become dire, the importance of learning to hear the innumerable voices of the Earth becomes critical. Each voice in every region is telling a unique facet of the universe’s unfolding, which must be heard and retold, inspiring the creativity to find a mutually-enhancing, self-renewing, sustainable path into the future. The true myth of the universe’s journey, from the eternal unfolding of the primordial flaring forth, to the ever-fleeting present moment, must be spoken as story, as the great myth of our time. This story must carry the voices of all the local inhabitants so that new relationships can be formed between them and each new generation of the human being. Children should be able to carry their wonder of the natural world into their adulthood in a mature, reverent form.

“We know of no other place in the universe with such gorgeous self-expression as exists on Earth.”[45] Humans participate in that self-expression through our own creative self-expression: through our myths and stories, our music, writings and art, our innovation and traditions, and our conscious participatory way of being. It is through these expressive gifts that humanity will be able to step fully into its niche in the Earth community.

The new myths we will tell each other will express a tale of renewal, rejuvenation, and reconnection. The ancient cosmologies of the world were based in celebration of seasonal renewal, the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. The new story of the universe honors the irreversible changes unfurling in the course of the evolution of the cosmos. The sharing of that story brings about a reconnection between humanity and the cosmos, in itself a form of renewal. The mythology of the future is spiralic, a celebratory tale of transformation within the cycles of a living, breathing cosmos. The myth is like the Earth itself, continuously circling the sun while simultaneously hurtling forward on an unknown journey across cosmic time and space.

Bibliography

Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010.

Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1988.

Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Berry, Thomas. The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.

Crist, Eileen and H. Bruce Rinker, ed. Gaia in Turmoil. Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2010.

Dellinger, Drew. Love Letter to the Milky Way. Mill Valley, CA: Planetize the Movement Press, 2010.

Swimme, Brian and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.


[1] Credit for this title must be given to Matthew David Segall, who created the phrase at Esalen Institute in conversation with poet Drew Dellinger, regarding Dellinger’s poem “Planetize the Movement.”

[2] Drew Dellinger, “Hymn to the Sacred Body of the Universe,” in Love Letter to the Milky Way (Mill Valley, CA: Planetize the Movement Press, 2010), 30.

[3] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 35.

[4] David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010), 4.

[5] Abram, Becoming Animal, 32.

[6] Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999), 15.

[7] Ibid, 17.

[8] Berry, The Dream of the Earth, 21.

[9] Ibid, 42.

[10] Ibid, 33.

[11] Abram, Becoming Animal, 73.

[12] Ibid, 75.

[13] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), 17.

[14] Ibid, 264.

[15] Abram, Becoming Animal, 46.

[16] Ibid, 62.

[17] Tyler Volk, “How the Biosphere Works,” in Gaia in Turmoil, ed. Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker (Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2010), 30.

[18] Abram, Becoming Animal, 99.

[19] Ibid, 101.

[20] Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker, “One Grand Organic Whole,” in Gaia in Turmoil, ed. Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker (Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2010), 4.

[21] Ibid, 16-17.

[22] Abram, Becoming Animal, 123.

[23] Ibid, 118.

[24] Ibid, 128-129.

[25] Ibid, 63-64.

[26] Ibid, 175.

[27] Ibid, 169.

[28] Ibid, 161-162.

[29] Ibid, 164-165.

[30] Ibid, 171.

[31] Volk, “How the Biosphere Works,” 30.

[32] Abram, Becoming Animal, 172-173.

[33] Ibid, 173.

[34] Ibid, 38.

[35] Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009), 133.

[36] Abram, Becoming Animal, 42.

[37] Ibid, 153.

[38] Swimme and Berry, The Universe Story, 10.

[39] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 1.

[40] Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1-2.

[41] Abram, Becoming Animal, 268.

[42] Ibid, 265.

[43] Ibid, 281.

[44] Ibid, 289.

[45] Swimme and Berry, The Universe Story, 263.

The Unmanifest Realm: Potentials in Myths, Dreams, and Past Lives

Visions and dreams reside in a realm beyond our waking conscious mind, and pour forth into our lives at key moments through the portals of sleep and non-ordinary states of consciousness. This realm could be referred to as the unconscious, a domain greater than us, in which our egos participate to create our fuller Self.[1] It could also be the Underdream, a current of the cosmos and the earth, in which we swim each night once we fall asleep.[2] This realm might be compared to the unmanifest realm of physics, the realm in and out of which all material particles vibrate constantly as they exist in time and space.[3] It is the archetypal realm that speaks to us through myth and symbol; as Joseph Campbell wrote, “…myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation.”[4]

During our five-day course Nature and Eros, I was given the opportunity to work deeply with my own dreams and visions in a natural setting; it was an atmosphere where we were able to sink into the silence, a silence so pregnant that at last we could hear the full chorus of our dreams sing forth. The pivotal vision with which I worked during this time was a past life memory, which had been surfacing over the last few months leading up to this retreat. The memory was brought to the forefront of my consciousness by one of the dreams I experienced during the course. Working with our facilitator, Kerry Brady, I was able to reconnect with, and fill in more of, this past life experience to help incorporate my understanding of it into my waking life.

I have had a hazy awareness of my past life traumas since a young age, when I experienced severe night terrors that would leave me screaming and unable to recognize anyone around me. Bill Plotkin writes that “The earliest remembered dreams of our lives, the ones from early childhood, say age three to five, represent especially clear and portentous glimpses of the Underdream.”[5] Stanislav Grof describes past life memories as

…sequences that take place in other historical periods and other countries and are usually associated with powerful emotions and physical sensations…. Their most remarkable aspect is a convincing sense of remembering and reliving something that one has already seen (déjá vu) or experienced (déjá vecu) at some time in the past.[6]

Knowing that I carried these memories, I began to explore them recently to reach a better understanding of the experiences that have informed my psyche this lifetime.

In the memory, I am a woman in Mexico several centuries ago. The central moment of the memory is the sensation of my body dropping from a scaffold and hanging by the neck from a rope. For the last few years I have had intense pain in just that area of my neck. Grof points out that, as past life memories surface, “…incomprehensible emotional and psychosomatic symptoms now seem to make sense as karmic carry-overs from a previous lifetime.”[7] It is dark and raining in the memory, and the rain and my tears drench my long hair, which is hanging in my face. I understood that my execution was a martyrdom in relation to Christianity, but whether I was a Christian or was executed at the hands of Christians I do not know. Among the dark figures surrounding me one is especially clear, a man kneeling in the forefront who I could strongly sense was the same soul as my beloved partner this lifetime, with whom I only recently became connected. Such recognition of others is a frequent aspect of past life recollections. Grof writes that

…it might suddenly seem that a certain person in one’s present life played an important role in a previous incarnation, the memory of which is emerging into consciousness. When this happens, one may seek emotional contact with a person who now appears to be a “soul-mate” from one’s karmic past.[8]

During the Nature and Eros course my past life vision was dominating my mind one morning following a series of intense, vivid dreams. Many of the dreams took place in a harem, or whore house, in Mexico or Polynesia that was ruled by a tyrannical white man. The native women were treated horribly, and were abused and mutilated. One woman hung herself, although she took on the form of a pink crab when she did so. I witnessed this hanging from the same visual angle as in my past life experience. The emotional quality of this dream triggered a need to process my past life memory while I had the support and knowledge offered in this retreat.

I recounted my experience with Kerry while she asked me where in my body I felt it. I seem to carry the physical pain of the event in my neck and throat, but the emotional pain I carry in my jaw, which is the hardest to release. I came to recognize that the knowledge of my execution must have come suddenly, with little time to assimilate my approaching death. I felt the panic of those last moments, but the hardest part was after my body had dropped, knowing the action of my death had been completed, but my soul and life force had not yet departed my body. I felt the helplessness and sadness of those moments, and I kept repeating, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know this would happen.” I could see my partner kneeling before me, possibly my beloved in that lifetime also, and felt such pain at leaving him behind.

With Kerry’s assistance I moved to lying flat on my back, which finally allowed the tension in my neck and jaw to relax. An image came to me of looking at my body lying in a field of wildflowers, my body melting into the Earth. There was deep comfort in that scene. The manner of my death was unnatural, but my body was laid to rest like all others and was able to dissolve back into the Earth.

I honored the suffering of my former self, and also felt gratitude: her sacrifice allowed my soul to incarnate into my present life and body, to enter into such a good, nourishing womb and family. After lying for some time on the ground, I decided to go to the flower garden on the property where our retreat took place. I wanted to feel held in a womblike space, safe once again amongst the flowers of my final vision. Carl Jung’s archetypal interpretation of this image is that “The flower is in fact like a friendly sign, a numinous emanation from the unconscious.”[9] Coming into this blossoming garden gave me a sense of healing and wholeness, a unity with my surrounding earth environment.

My sense of being embedded in a womblike unity transcended that of the physical womb in which I was nourished this lifetime for nine months. It had a feeling of cosmic wholeness without any physical boundaries, perhaps a realm between incarnations. Could this place be the same realm from which dreams come? If so, it is a realm of infinite potential, comparable to the unmanifest realm, or quantum vacuum, of physics. According to Brian Swimme, this vacuum is not a place in the physical world, but rather pure, underlying, generative creativity. The unmanifest realm contains all that exists and all that could potentially exist. Elementary particles manifest from this place, then vanish back into it. The whole of the physical world constantly vibrates in and out of the unmanifest realm.[10]

Our waking conscious, for the most part, takes place in the physical, manifest world; however, in sleep our consciousness transcends our bodies and enters this realm of pure potential. Like physical particles, our consciousness may vibrate between realms as well, pulling narratives from our waking lives into the unfolding stories of our dreams. Our dreams tend to carry a thread of our own personality throughout, but in ways unexpected or contrary to our waking selves. Jung describes the dream realm as the unconscious, which “…remains beyond reach of subjective arbitrary control, in a realm where nature and her secrets can neither be improvised upon nor perverted, where we can listen but may not meddle.”[11]

Dreams are one form of communication between this realm and our waking conscious. According to Plotkin, “every dream is an opportunity to develop our relationship to soul, to who we are beneath our surface personalities and routine agendas.”[12] Because we lose the control that we have while awake as we dream, we remain open to the truths that dreams can reveal. By accessing this realm I was able to recover my final memories of a life that ended violently; but this death also allowed my soul to completely enter the timeless place between lifetimes.

Painting by Becca Tarnas

On the final night of Nature and Eros I slept with the plant mugwort under my pillow, which is said to stimulate dreams. When I awoke the next morning I felt positive energy coursing through me in a way I have never felt after a dream. Much of the dream took place in rich, green gardens, echoing my experience the day before in the flower garden. A symbol also emerged from the dream, shaped like the glyph for the planet Venus, but with two long leaves on each side. The symbol represented the “Metaphysics of Mythology.” This was not a term with which I was familiar, and I could find no definition in my research, so I began to create my own definition.

A metaphysics of mythology would be an understanding and knowledge of the fundamental nature of cultural stories and beliefs pouring in from the archetypal realm of potential. Myths and dreams are two different storytellers sharing the same life-forging narratives with our souls. Joseph Campbell, whose work with mythology implies a metaphysics of the subject, compared these two languages of the unconscious: “Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche.”[13]

Myths are the translators of dreams, and the symbols of dreams are the messengers from our unconscious, from the unmanifest realm, the realm between lifetimes. Dreams are the mediators on behalf of our souls between the personalities of our current and previous lifetimes. They carry our soul narratives between the waking realms, whether it is between day to day in our present life, or between this lifetime and our past lives. As Plotkin writes, “Each dream provides a snapshot of the unfolding story and desires of the soul, and a chance for the ego to be further initiated into that underworld story and those underworld desires.”[14] In this case, Plotkin refers to the underworld as the place of soul, to which we descend to uncover our true purpose in this lifetime.

My integration of my past life memories is the first leg of a journey that I imagine will take me a lifetime. The initial step was learning to bear witness to the suffering of someone who is both myself and an other. Part of my soul journey this lifetime is to connect with the previous journeys of my same soul, and to assimilate those lessons left by past experience. These experiences come to us in the language of dreams and myth, which we can slowly learn to read by understanding the role they play in our development as individuals. Ultimately these languages connect us, during sleep and between lifetimes, to the same place: a realm of infinite creative potential teeming with the possibilities of all that we are, have been, will never be, and someday will eventually become.

Bibliography

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.

Grof, Stanislav. Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Jung, Carl Gustav. The Portable Jung. Edited by Joseph Campbell. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1976.

Plotkin, Bill. Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003.

Swimme, Brian. Nature and Eros lecture. Tunitas Creek Ranch, CA: September 9, 2011.


[1] Carl Gustav Jung, The Portable Jung, ed. Joseph Campbell, trans. R.F.C. Hull (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1976), 329.

[2] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), 134-135.

[3] Brian Swimme, Nature and Eros lecture (Tunitas Creek Ranch, CA: September 9, 2011).

[4] Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 1.

[5] Plotkin, Soulcraft, 135.

[6] Stanislav Grof, Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), 162.

[7] Grof, Psychology of the Future, 162.

[8] Ibid, 162.

[9] Jung, The Portable Jung, 349.

[10] Swimme, lecture.

[11] Jung, The Portable Jung, 329.

[12] Plotkin, Soulcraft, 129.

[13] Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 14.

[14] Plotkin, Soulcraft, 129.

Loch Ness: The Ecology of Myth

Introduction

Myths and legends have surrounded the deep, cold Loch Ness of the Scottish Highlands for centuries, evoking fear, wonder, curiosity and obsession in the hearts of locals, travelers and readers alike. (Figure 1). Tales of the Loch Ness Monster are famous worldwide, but there are other stories of water beasts far older than that of Nessie, reaching back at least fifteen hundred years, and perhaps much further. The loch has certain properties, such as great depth and low visibility, that give it an air of mystery which might have inspired some to wonder what nameless creatures could hide beneath the waves. Humans have lived near Loch Ness for millennia, since the end of the last glaciation 10,000 years ago. They have hunted in the forests, tilled the fields, and built homes on the loch’s shores. Urquhart Castle was built on the loch’s edge due to the strategic view it offered of the expansive body of water. Myths of various water beasts have been persistent in Highland lore throughout history, but it was not until the 1930s that the legend of one particular monster in the loch began to develop. The increase in monster sightings coincided with the construction of a road on the northern shore of Loch Ness, which opened up the area to tourists and other visitors interested in the Highlands. Whether the Loch Ness Monster truly exists, or is a long-upheld mythological tradition, is still impossible to answer, because the loch itself is not easily explored and hides its secrets well.

Figure 1 – Map of Loch Ness

Creation Myth of Loch Ness

There is a legend of the creation of Loch Ness, which was passed down in Highland tradition, and finally recorded in 1914 by William Mackay in his book Urquhart and Glenmoriston. In this myth, there is a bountiful and fertile valley sheltered on all sides by high sylvan mountains. The valley was fed by a pure spring with the powerful property to heal any disease, a blessing bestowed to those who dwelt in the vale by Daly the Druid. Daly laid a protective stone over the spring and he commanded that it should be replaced immediately following the drawing of any water. He said, “The day on which my command is disregarded desolation will overtake the land.”

For many years the people followed the Druid’s advice and were diligent to replace the stone each time they drew water from the spring. One day, a woman went to the spring and left her child at home to play near the fireside. Just as she had finished filling her pail with water she heard her child cry out and knew he was in danger of being burnt. She rushed back to her home and saved the child, yet in her panic neglected to cover the spring once more. To the dismay of the people living in the valley, the spring overflowed and began to rapidly fill the long, narrow vale. The people retreated into the mountains and lamented in Gaelic: “Tha loch ‘nis ann, tha loch ‘nis ann!” meaning, “There is a lake now, there is a lake now!” and the hills and mountains echoed back their sorrowful cry. The loch has remained in this same valley, and to this day is known as Loch Nis (Witchell 12) (Figure 2).

This story demonstrates that Loch Ness has been a subject of fascination for the people living near it far back into history. The idea that a former civilization lies inaccessible beneath the waters is just one of the many unanswerable questions regarding what is invisible in the loch. The origins of the loch in human history have become the subject matter of legend. However, the actual origins of Loch Ness predate human habitation of the area.

Figure 2 – Aerial view of Loch Ness

The Great Glen Fault and the Last Glaciation

Loch Ness is located in the northernmost section of the Great Glen of Scotland, a large mass of land situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea (Bridgland 5) (Figure 3). The loch lies near the Great Glen Fault, one of three fault lines in Scotland. The Great Glen fault is the most active of the three and is the main source of most tremors and earthquakes in Britain (18). It is possible that early human settlers might have attributed such tremors to the rumblings of a hidden monster rather than to the fault line.

Figure 3 – Map of the Great Glen

During the last glaciation over 10,000 years ago, Scotland was covered by 4,000 feet of ice. Nothing but the tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, which is 60 miles to the southwest of Loch Ness, was left exposed (Witchell 9) (see Figure 3). The glaciation smoothed out the sides of the Great Glen and created landforms such as the long, thin double-basin of Loch Ness, the largest lake in all of Britain. (Bridgland 19, Jones et al. 38, Witchell 9). Strone Point, a strategically positioned spit on which Urquhart Castle was later built, was also exposed by the glaciation (Bridgland 19) (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – Strone Point and Urquhart Castle

Without the great weight of the glaciers, the landmass of Scotland rose slowly by a few millimeters a year. Fjords once connected to the ocean were eventually cut off and became inland lakes. Over time these isolated lakes lost their salinity due to rainwater, tributary rivers, burns and streams. Certain marine species, such as salmon and trout, were trapped in these lakes and evolved to survive in the new freshwater environment. This evidence of other adapted animals has inspired theories regarding the ancestral origins of the Loch Ness Monster (Bauer 11).

The Landscape

The long, narrow body of Loch Ness progresses in a line of “unbroken straightness” which is “unquestionably beautiful” to behold (Baddeley 230). Altogether the loch is 24 miles long, and yet a mere mile and a half wide (See Figure 1). Its depth is, as of yet, unknown; the deepest humans have ventured is 820 feet in a submarine, yet sonar testing suggests the loch may be 975 feet or deeper (Figure 5). In its entirety the loch is approximately 263,000 million cubic feet in volume, making it the largest in Great Britain (Witchell 10, 9). The London paper published a piece on Loch Ness in 1652 describing it as

a standing water called Lough Nesse, which hath a property never to freeze, and is foure and twenty miles long, and in some places is two miles, and in others three miles broad, and lyeth betwixt the Highlands so that she will doe excellent service by preventing the Highlanders to make their passage that way, which is frequented by them (qtd. in Bridgland 110).

The Highlanders were a great source of fear to the English, who saw them as savages, comparable to the “Red Indians” of the Americas (Bridgland 124). The aforementioned property of Loch Ness to never freeze is due to its depth and volume. The heat generated by the loch throughout the winter months is equivalent to burning two million tons of coal, and keeps snow from settling on the ground in the immediate area. This helps keep the surrounding land, which is often plagued by cold mist, storms, and few hours of sunlight, much warmer than if no lake were present (Witchell 11).

Figure 5 – Cross-section of Loch Ness

Rich woodlands of birch, hazel, oak and pine lie on the western side of Loch Ness (Baddeley 230, Bridgland 21) (Figure 6). The Ruisky Forest is known for its enormous trees; some specimens of birch have reached nine feet in girth on occasion (Tranter 121). The area is home to a variety of large or rare animals, such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which is the largest bird in Britain, and the red deer (Cervus elaphus), the country’s largest known animal. The elusive Scottish wildcat (Felis sylvestris grampia) still can be found on occasion in the Highland woods, which was also home to wolves (Canis lupus) until the last was killed in 1743 (Witchell 11-12).

The woods surrounding Loch Ness rise to approximately 1,000 feet up the hills before giving way to heather moors, peat bogs, and bare rocks (Barron 233, 50, Tranter 121). Rosy hued hills give way to mountains, which rise more than 2,000 feet on each side of the loch. The River Ness issues through a gap in the mountains at the north end of the loch (Baddeley 150, Witchell 9). The foothills are close to the shore on the eastern side of the loch and the area is dominated by scree, which are small mounds of loose stones (Baddeley 230). For the most part, the shores of Loch Ness are quite steep and drop sharply off into the water (Witchell 11). Although humans have lived in the Highlands for thousands of years, the land directly surrounding the loch has been developed slowly and much of the original woodland remains (Witchell 11).

Figure 6 – Woods around Loch Ness

Early Human Settlement

Very little is known about the first inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. They migrated in log canoes and hide-covered boats up the coasts of Britain approximately 10,000 years ago, not long after the end of the last glaciation. Evidence has been found, in the form of high concentrations of shellfish remains, along coastal areas where early humans traveled (Bridgland 19). There is also more recent evidence dated to 5,000 b.c.e. of hunter-gatherers living in the area. A hearth, along with flint, shells, and red deer bones, were all excavated from a site in Inverness, the city just north of Loch Ness (Figure 7). Another site with shellfish debris and red deer antlers was found in Muirtown, just across the River Ness, which date to approximately 4,000 b.c.e. (20) There is some evidence, such as hazelnut trees growing in a greater concentration than usual, that early hunter-gatherers managed some of the woodlands around Loch Ness as a food source. After 3500 b.c.e., when agriculture was developed in Britain, early farmers cleared some of the woodland near the loch. Little evidence remains of these farmers except a few objects made of stone. Three stone axes were found in 1892 near Loch Ness that date to the beginning of agriculture in Britain. They were most likely used to clear the woodland to create agricultural fields (21) (Figure 8).

Figure 7 – Flint tools and fragments

Once agriculture commenced in the Highlands, the farmers began building settlements, but still very little was built on the shores of Loch Ness itself. The exceptions to this were structures built for their strategic view of the loch, such as Fort Augustus on the south end and Urquhart Castle close to the north end (see Figure 1).

Figure 8 – Stone axe

Urquhart Castle

Jutting into the loch from its seat on Strone Point, Urquhart Castle is arguably the most beautiful structure near Loch Ness (Bridgland 5) (see Figure 4). The castle was a stronghold for over a thousand years and was originally built as a Pictish fort. Little is known about the Great Glen of Scotland from the 1st millennium c.e., because the inhabitants did not keep written records of their history. The first written account of the area was compiled in the 2nd century c.e. by Ptolemy of Alexandria, but many aspects are inaccurate (25). Sir Thomas Urquhart wrote in the 1650s that the castle was founded by his ancestor Beltistos Conachar in 554 b.c.e., but the eccentric Sir Thomas also claimed that he could trace his lineage back to Adam and Eve, and much of what he wrote has been dismissed. An Irish nobleman named Conachar did, however, receive Urquhart Castle in 1160 c.e. as a reward for fighting on behalf of the king of Scotland (47). The Durward and Comyn families controlled the shores of Loch Ness in the 13th century, and were each successively rewarded possession of Urquhart Castle for services to the Scottish crown (52). Alan Durward built the castle into the largest stronghold in the Highlands in the 1230s, and it was further improved by the Comyns after Durward’s death in 1275 (53-54). Its size and strategic position on the loch made it a covetable stronghold for many lords over the centuries (62). The English captain, Edmund Burt, described Urquhart Castle in the mid-18th century as having

a pleasant and romantic situation, commanding a most agreeable view of Lochness, almost from the one end of it at Fort Augustus to the other at Bona, and also of the lands woods and hills surrounding the loch on the south east and north (qtd. in Bridgland 124).

The woods near Urquhart, renowned for their deer, were kept as hunting grounds for the nobility in the castle (Bridgland 69). Some timber was harvested, however, and sold in Inverness. Urquhart became a nexus for trade in the 16th century, and goods from the surrounding area were gathered there before being shipped down river to Inverness, from which they were further distributed. In addition to timber, the furs of beaver, fox, and pine marten were sold, as well as salmon and trout catches from the loch. The trade created constant water traffic between Strone Point and the River Ness (71, 69).

In addition to castle fortresses, Highlanders used another defensive structure particularly associated with lochs to guard against attack. These are crannogs, a structure within the loch built on either stilts, or an artificial island, or sometimes a combination of the two (Figure 9). Crannogs were linked to the mainland by a causeway which could be removed if need be. Some lochs in the Highlands contained many of these, but Loch Ness is so deep only one was built on the human-made island Eileen Muireach, also named Cherry Island (Bridgland 24). The Loch Ness Monster has been sighted off of this crannog, and there is the possibility that the crannog has even been mistaken for the monster (“A Guide and Tour of Events and Places Around Loch Ness”).

Figure 9 – Crannog

Highland Myths and Monsters

Although Loch Ness is believed to be home to the most famous of Highland monsters, this creature is by no means the only one in Scottish lore. An ancient tradition in the belief of monsters and spirits dwelling within Scotland’s lochs includes denizens such as water-horses, kelpies, and water-bulls, among others (Tranter 79, Bauer 159). For centuries the animal believed to live in Loch Ness was called the ancient name Each Uisage, Gaelic for water-horse (Holiday 88). Parents told their children not to play near the shores of Loch Ness for fear of another mythical creature, the water-kelpie (Bauer 2). A kelpie is traditionally known as a sly creature that lures weary travelers from their paths into bogs or lakes where they subsequently drown (Witchell 13).

Oral traditions within the Highlands, and in many other locales around the world, speak of giant sea serpents. Celts, Vikings, Irish Picts, and even Native Americans told tales of malevolent sea monsters that would prey upon unwary seafarers (Bauer 12). Located only a mile or two from Loch Ness, on the grounds of Balmacaan House, are Neolithic carvings of giant sea serpents drawn by early human settlers (Holiday 134). Ancient ritual and symbol stones carved by Pictish inhabitants of the Highlands also depicted serpents and other monsters. It seems there was widespread belief in the Great Glen of large and mysterious loch inhabitants, for multiple bodies of water even bear the name Loch na Beiste, Lake of the Beast (Tranter 79).

The earliest records available referring to monsters in Loch Ness were written by Celtic missionaries who traveled through the Scottish Highlands spreading Christianity in the 5th century c.e. (Tranter 79). The most prominent of these was Saint Columba, who is said to have encountered a water monster in the River Ness (Bauer 159). The tale is recorded by the abbot Adamnan of Iona in his most famous work Vita Columbae, or The Life of Saint Columba, which he wrote sometime in the 7th century c.e. (Barron 51).

Fourteen hundred years ago, in the year 565 c.e., Columba saw in Loch Ness the aquatilis bestia, as Adamnan named it (Holiday 2). In one version of the story Columba came across a group of Picts burying a man bitten by the monster. Columba placed his holy staff upon the man’s chest and brought the man back to life. A different version tells of a Pict who was killed by the monster while swimming. Seeing this, Columba ordered one of his men, Lugne Mocumin, to swim after him. Mocumin did so without hesitation; when the monster reappeared, Saint Columba made the sign of the Cross, saying, “Thou shalt go no further nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” In terror the monster retreated immediately and Mocumin’s life was spared (Witchell 14). The third story of Saint Columba and the monster is one in which a peaceful agreement was made between the two. The aquatilis bestia willingly towed the Saint’s boat from one shore to the other, and in thanks Columba granted it freedom within Loch Ness for eternity (Witchell 14).

Mention of the Loch Ness Monster reemerged in written history in 1520 when Fraser of Glenvackie supposedly fought and killed the last dragon left in Scotland, yet it was also said that he was not such a hero as to have defeated the Loch Ness Monster (Witchell 15). Despite such stories, many locals living near Loch Ness are adamant that there never has been a tradition of monsters or mythical creatures living in Loch Ness (Bauer 160).

The Modern Monster Myth

From reigning of the Water-horse

That bounded till the waves were foaming,

Watching the infant tempest’s course,

Chasing the sea-snake in his roaming.

– Sir Walter Scott (qtd. in Holiday 1)

The story of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as Nessie by Highland locals, was unknown outside of Scotland until fairly recently. Not until near the end of the 19th century was there any widespread mention of this particular monster, and the first official sighting was published in newspapers in 1933. To this day the existence of Nessie, or a group of Nessie-like animals, has never been officially proven (Bridgland 7).

Reasons for the recent mention in history of so large a creature may be related to the inaccessibility of the area to large numbers of tourists until the 19th century. As fear of the supposedly savage Highlanders decreased, tourists from southern Great Britain traveled through the Highlands to see the lochs and castles (Bridgland 124). The tourism of the time focused on spectacles such as Urquhart Castle rather than the beauty of the landscape. A guide to the Highlands published in 1889 described Loch Ness as such:

… after entering Loch Ness at Bona Ferry, we have Aldourie House, an old baronial mansion, on the left. On the right the hills are of a ruddy hue, and, as we proceed they gradually develop into mountains, but there is nothing specially noteworthy until… Glen Urquhart slopes down to a pleasant bay on the right hand, and the old fragmentary ruin of Urquhart Castle acquires from its position on the promontory a strikingly picturesque appearance (Baddeley 150)…. We pass perhaps the most picturesque bit on Loch Ness––the fine but fragmentary ruin of Urquhart Castle, standing on an almost isolated rock which projects into the lake (231).

Interest in the loch itself, and what might live within it, was not inspired until improvements were made in 1933 to the A-82 Highway, a 23-mile road running along the north shore of the loch (Tranter 79) (see Figure 1). A screen of trees was cleared, offering a better view of the water, which might explain the increase in monster sightings that year (“Loch Ness Timeline”). There have been over a thousand sightings of Nessie; in 1934 alone there were over twenty sightings, all on warm, calm days (Bauer 169, 160) (Figures 10 and 11). The locals do not disregard the possibility of Nessie living in the loch, and according to Nicholas Witchell it is a “real issue for which so many people have been fighting for so long” (124-25).

Figure 10 – Surgeon’s photo of Nessie

The diver Duncan MacDonald was commissioned in 1880 to examine a ship that had sunk at the southern end of the loch off of Fort Augustus (see Figure 1). Not long after he had been lowered into the water he began sending desperate signals that he wanted to be pulled back up. When he emerged he was pale and shaking and refused to speak of his experience for days. Finally when he did speak he said that, as he examined the sunken ship’s keel, he had seen an enormous animal lying on a shelf of rock next to the ship. He said “It was a very odd-looking beastie, like a huge frog.” From then on he never dove into Loch Ness again (Witchell 17-18).

Figure 11 – Nessie near Urquhart Castle

Most reports of Nessie sightings have been similar, describing a large animal with a long neck and small head, between 20-30 feet long and sometimes with flippers on the side when that portion of the animal is visible. Many disbelievers of the myth speculate about what this creature could be, ranging from giant eels to escaped circus elephants (Jordan) (Figure 12). Some believe that when the River Ness is high, animals may come in from the North Sea such as seals, otters or even small whales (Bauer 160) (see Figure 3).

Figure 12 – Elephant

Author F.W. Holiday has drawn a connection between Nessie and the giant marine Orms, or sea serpents, which the Norse called Sjø-Orm, and which inspired the serpentine form of their ships (120). Roy Mackal, a professor at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, theorizes that the monster is descended from an embolomer, a giant primitive amphibian thought to have lived 270 million years ago (Witchell 142). This theory matches Duncan MacDonald’s description of a large frog.

The most popular belief of what Nessie’s species might be is an evolved descendent of a plesiosaur. The plesiosaur was a marine, fish-eating dinosaur living in the British Isles but thought to have been extinct for the last 70 million years (Witchell 141) (Figure 13). A breeding population of plesiosaurs may have become landlocked in Loch Ness once the land rose after the last glaciation (Bauer 162). The most common descriptions of Nessie closely match the way scientists believe plesiosaurs once looked: a long neck and small head, larger body and flippers on either side. However, it seems unlikely that a group of plesiosaurs survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 165 million years ago. Even if they did, it is even less likely that their descendants also survived during the glacial cycles in Europe up until 10,000 years ago (“Loch Ness Timeline”).

Figure 13 – Plesiosaur

Although no animals have yet been proven to live in the loch, Robert Rines and Peter Scott, of the Academy of Applied Science (aas), gave the animals official species protection in 1975 under the name Nessiteras rhomboptyryx, meaning “wonder of Ness with the diamond-shaped fin” (Bauer 25). In June of 1975, the aas took a series of photographs with a high-quality, camera suspended deep into the loch. The camera was able to penetrate the murky water somewhat, and it seems its regular flashing attracted the attention of a large animal at last. Nicholas Witchell’s book The Loch Ness Story was published a year before these findings, but he released a second edition in which he describes the experience of viewing some of these photographs:

The animal was facing almost head on to the camera. Beneath the body were two clearly definable appendages. The skin looked very rough and potted, even at this range (which had been estimated at thirty to forty feet), and was a red-brown colour (Figure 14).

…The picture that came on to the screen was, without a doubt, and I make no apology for the continued use of superlatives, the most remarkable animal photograph ever taken….

It was the head of the creature, in close-up detail from a range of only eight feet…. The head occupied the left-hand section of the frame and was more or less in profile: the open mouth of the animal showed what appeared to be teeth inside it; a prominent, bony ridge ran down the centre of the face into a thick, hard-looking upper lip, one on either side of the central ridge. Most remarkable of all, there were two clearly defined stalks or tubes protruding from the top of the head (149) (Figure 14).

Figure 14 – Body-neck photograph

Reproductions of these pictures are of very low quality, which leaves them open to skepticism. The pictures provide proof to those who already believe and further reason for doubt to those who do not believe. Part of the fascination with the Nessie myth is that it never has been proven and is difficult to do so. If affirmative evidence were to be found it is likely interest in the subject would fade.

Figure 15 – Gargoyle head photograph

Ecological Inspirations of Mythology

What aspects of this particular loch might inspire and perpetuate such a myth as the Loch Ness Monster? A feeling of mystery and gloom is embedded within the landscape, from the heights of the flanking mountains to the depths of the cold loch. Edmund Burt described the mountains surrounding Loch Ness as having “stupendous bulk, frightful irregularity, and horrid gloom, made yet more sombrous by the shades and faint reflections they communicate one to another” (qtd. in Bridgland 124).

The loch itself has many qualities which might inspire myths of monsters lurking beneath its dark waters. It can flood its shores easily, making it dangerous during times of high rainfall. The catchment area is large enough that the level of the loch can rise quite rapidly (Witchell 11). As an example, Loch Ness is recorded to have risen nine feet between 1843 and 1847, and in 1849 it rose four feet in just one day and flooded the adjacent land (Jones et al. 44).

Loch Ness is oligotrophic, which means that it is deficient in plant nutrients yet has high oxygen content in the depths (Jones et al. 43). The waters have a low pH value, and the acidity combined with its steep banks do not allow for significant plant growth (Witchell 11). Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have been attributed to a floating island or a vegetation mat, however, this is unlikely due to the loch’s unfriendly conditions for plant growth (16). The floating island could possibly have been the single crannog built in the loch, but such a mistake is doubtful.

The waters of Loch Ness are acidic because a large quantity of peat debris is washed down from the bogs above the tree line by the tributary rivers. The peat particles are suspended in the water fifty feet below the surface, making the water opaque and apparently quite eerie for divers. Although the surface temperature of the loch varies with climate conditions, the waters below fifty feet, at the line where visibility is limited, remain a constant temperature of 42°– 44° Fahrenheit year round (Witchell 11). Sediment accumulation has been increasing in Loch Ness since 1820, when the Caledonian Canal was constructed (Jones et al 44). The canal connects Lochs Ness, Oich, and Lochy, and runs for 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea (Witchell 21) (see Figure 3). Sediment deposits from the canal have further decreased visibility in the loch, as have higher erosion rates from afforestation. In the 1980s, land near the loch’s shores was plowed and planted with tree plantations, causing topsoil to erode into the loch (Jones et al. 45).

Many people drawn to the myth of the Loch Ness Monster speculate on why, if there is a breeding population of large animals, no carcasses have ever been found. There is a local saying about Loch Ness: “the loch never gives up its dead.” Due to its great depth and cold, the loch claims dead bodies and sinks them to the unknown depths of the lake bottom (Witchell 146). This feature of the loch is one that might inspire fear and curiosity as to earlier inhabitants of the Great Glen; all evidence of the past lies inaccessible on the lake floor.

The suggestion has been made that Nessie, or the population of Nessie-like animals, has been killed by pollution in the loch (Bauer 165). Nine sewage works empty into Loch Ness and have slowly been adding excess nutrients and causing eutrophication in the loch over the last few decades (Jones et al. 38). The existence of the Loch Ness Monster has never been proven to the world, but if the chance were lost due to human negligence it would be a great loss to science and mythology both. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has been upheld by its uncertainty and its roots in oral tradition, and there is the hope that it will be carried into generations of the future as well.

Conclusion

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster, and of so many other mythical Highland creatures, stems from the human imagination and the inspiration provided by a mysterious landscape. The conditions of this landscape were created before humans were even present in the area. The glacial cycles and the rising land formed a steep, cold freshwater lake; centuries later that process inspired the idea that an enormous animal might have been trapped within the lake. The only observers of the loch were those living in its direct vicinity, from the early hunter-gatherers to the nobility of Urquhart Castle and the tradesmen of Inverness. The isolation of the Highlands kept sightings of Nessie to a minimum until the 20th century when the myth exploded into a worldwide fascination. Whether there is, or was, a Loch Ness Monster is not the question to ask of this landscape, but rather why this landscape inspired the myth. The gloom of the mountains, the eerie invisibility in the water, the unknown depth, and the fact that all dead bodies sink to the bottom all offer reasons to believe more lies beneath the waves than is known. Loch Ness is an ecological system perfect for the creation of a myth.

Works Cited

Baddeley, M.J.B.. Scotland (Part I); Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands. London: Dulau & Co., 1889.

Barron, Hugh (ed.). The County of Inverness. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985.

Bauer, Henry H. The Enigma of Loch Ness : Making Sense of a Mystery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Bridgland, Nick. Urquhart Castle and the Great Glen. London: Batsford, 2005.

Holiday, F.W. The Great Orm of Loch Ness. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1968.

Jones, Vivienne J., Richard W. Batterbee, Niel L. Rose, Chris Curtis, Peter G. Appleby, Ron Harriman, and Adrian J. Shine. “Evidence for the pollution of Loch Ness from the Analysis of its Recent Sediments.” The Science of the Total Environment. 203(1997): 37-49.

Jordan, Mary. “Elephantine Theory Stirs Misty Waters of Loch Ness.” The Washington Post 8 March 2006 Web.7 May 2009. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/03/07/AR2006030701434.html>.

Shine, Adrian. “A Guide and Tour of Events and Places Around Loch Ness.” Loch Ness & Morar Project. 2000. 1 April 2009 http://www.lochnessproject.org/explore_loch_ness/tour_guide_Loch_Ness.htm

Shine, Adrian. “Loch Ness Timeline.” Loch Ness & Morar Project. 2000. 1 April 2009 <http://www.lochnessproject.org/adrian_shine_archiveroom/loch_ness_archive_ti meline.htm>.

Tranter, Nigel. The North-East: The Shires of Banff, Moray, Nairn, with Easter Inverness and Easter Ross. London: Hodder and Stougton Limited, 1974.

Witchell, Nicholas. The Loch Ness Story. Revised. edition. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1975.