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Rediscovering the Cosmic Navel

Venus of Willendorf as shown at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

In “Cosmology and the Mythic Imagination,” from this month’s spotlight volume The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Campbell takes us on a stellar romp through myths of the universe and humankind’s place in it. Tethered by a mytho-numerical umbilical cord, our minds are allowed to spin off into the cosmic mystery, launched among the stars upon an Apollo mission out to the Moon, and into a vision of the universe composed of “billions upon billions of roaring thermonuclear furnaces.” (Inner Reaches, 2)

The universe purportedly has “no still point anywhere.” (3) Our modern scientific cosmology, predominantly materialistic and mechanistic, stands in striking contrast to those other conceptions of the universe from traditions both past and present that understand a deeper cosmic order at work and of which we are a part. These traditions include not only the idea of a beautiful composition of the vast array and tableau of the earth and heavens surrounding us, but also of a distinct center. This still point is the source of life. It is the center from which all life emerges and to which all beings are connected. It is thus both a point of active generation and receptive ingathering. 

The Great Goddess figurines from the European Paleolithic period tell the oldest story of the feminine principle as the source of all life. In these figurines, every part of their body communicates the mystery of nature in its generative and nourishing aspect. The belly button features prominently in both Paleolithic and Neolithic goddesses, marking the fecund still point.

In Hindu religion and myth, Vishnu dreams the universe into being as he sleeps on the giant serpent Ananta as they float in the cosmic sea. From Vishnu’s belly button grows a lotus upon which sits Brahma, the lord of light and creator of the visible world. The goddess Lakshmi massages Vishnu’s feet, “stimulating his cosmic dream.” (Campbell, The Mythic Image, 8) Also known as Padma, ‘Lady Lotus,’ she and the lotus represent the mystery of life’s emergence, phenomenal variety and ultimate return to the source.

The physician Robert Fludd (1574 -1637) depicted the creation of the universe as an alchemical process. From the fertile blackness of primordial space the four elements arise--fire, air, earth and water. The emergence of the Sun--the celestial center, the cosmic navel, the light around which all life dances--signals the end stage of the genesis of the cosmos.

In the modern era, the absence of a still point in the cosmos relates to the loss of meaning that haunts our age. It is the loss of an understanding and relationship to the principles upon which we orient our lives, trusting in their integrity and ability to confer value to our own unfolding. In the cosmological context this is the loss of what Campbell is calling the innerreaches of outer space. The question becomes one of whether we can hold a mythic consciousness. As Campbell quotes Plotinus, “not all who perceive with eyes the sensible products of art are affected alike by the same object, but if they know it for the outward portrayal of an archetype subsisting in intuition, their hearts are shaken and they recapture memory of that Original” (6).

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