The formless primordial state from which the universe was created was named chaos by the ancient Greeks. This is confusing to many modern people because the common and strongest conception of chaos is confusion and disorder, as in the pandemonium produced by a crowd in panic. You must set this usage aside to comprehend the primordial state called chaos. Certainly, the unformed state is disorderly, but not in a manner relating to panic; it simply has no form or order.
Imagine the entire material universe in an unformed state. Imagine the Sun, Moon, stars, light, the earth under our feet, and all that we take for granted reduced to one essential building block; what some call the God particle. Without even light, this formless essential building block would be like nothing! Some would even describe it as the void, even though it is the essential building block of all we know and take for granted.
The dark place where nothing is formed is called by some chaos, the abyss, and the void (nothing.) It appears to be nothing, and yet it is everything. If you think this is confusing, try grasping some of the modern scientific theories on the nature of the universe like string theory. However, this concept of chaos was also expressed in China about 2600 years ago by Lao Tzu:
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1)
That which is the origin of Heaven and Earth is difficult for the human mind to conceive according to Lao Tzu. The concept of nothing being the essential building block of everything is equally difficult. Perhaps it is easier to simply accept this concept as an axiom, at least for the time being.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen 1:1-2 KJV)
Judeo-Christian scriptures present something (the earth) as formless and empty (nothing,) also. Creatio ex nihilo, or “creation out of nothing,” appears to have quite a history in myth and debate. There even appears to be debate over the Platonic primum movens (first cause) being the equivalent of the Hebrew creator God. When we delve into the details of beliefs, we can find differences and I will touch upon that a bit later. Presently, I simply want to step back for a general overview of some beliefs to find common threads.
Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism, but others have found it too compelling to leave it be. My first encounter was through Ellen Cannon Reed’s The Witches Qabala. Kabbalah (or Qabala) also garnered the attention of the Hermetics, of which The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is particularly notable. Kabbalah is complex, and I am a novice at best. Kabbalah is probably best known for its Tree of Life, but that is not the focus here.
The Tree of Life proceeds or emanates from three veils: the Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur. One online source translates Ain as “Nothing”, Ain Soph as the limitlessness of Nothing (Infinity), and the Ain Soph Aur as “limitless or eternal Light”. Once again, Creation emanates out of nothing. Another online source offers an interesting alternative to nothing (Ain) as light.
Hermeticism produced a text entitled The Kybalion by Three Initiates. This book appeared in the early twentieth century, but claims to hold ancient Hermetic teachings. The Kybalion speaks of the substance of reality:
Under and behind all outward appearances or manifestations, there must always be a Substantial Reality. This is the Law. Man considering the Universe, of which he is a unit, sees nothing but change in matter, forces, and mental states. He sees that nothing really IS, but that everything is BECOMING and CHANGING. Nothing stands still – everything is being born, growing, dying – the very instant a thing reaches its height, it begins to decline – the law of rhythm is in constant operation – there is no reality, enduring quality, fixity, or substantiality in anything – nothing is permanent but Change. He sees all things evolving from other things, and resolving into other things – a constant action and reaction; inflow and outflow; building up and tearing down; creation and destruction; birth, growth and death. Nothing endures but Change. And if he be a thinking man, he realizes that all of these changing things must be but outward appearances or manifestations of some Underlying Power – some Substantial Reality. (Chapter 4)
This substantial reality is known by the Hermetic name of “The All” in The Kybalion. Like the Tao, The All is also considered unknowable. Chapter 4 is an interesting examination of “The All” that culminates with “’THE ALL’ is Infinite Living Mind – the Illumined call it SPIRIT!” Chapter 5 discusses the mental nature of the Infinite Living Mind and states, “THE ALL creates the Universe MENTALLY, in a manner akin to the process whereby Man creates Mental Images.” Let’s back up a bit here!
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:27 KJV). Does this mean that (like us) before God spoke, “Let there be light,“ he first thought about light? The spoken word becomes an emanation of thought, or the primum movens (first cause.) Thus, the physical reality we hold so dear is an emanation of Spirit through the primum movens of the spoken word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5 NASB) And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NASB)
From Greek cosmology (chaos), through the Platonic concept (primum movens), and the unnameable Tao, to Judeo-Christian scriptures, and onward through Kabbalah to Hermetic principles found in The Kybalion, there seems to be a common thread. Hindu creation lore seems to only enhance the mystery of the mystical. A synopsis of Hindu lore can be found here. What seems unclear is whether the essential building block of the universe is something Spirit manipulates, or if it is Spirit itself.
Neo-Pagan beliefs are various as some try to reconstruct ancient belief systems, while others try to revive ancient beliefs. Revivalists believe the old ways would not have remained static over the centuries if they had not been repressed, so they are less rigid than the re-constructionists. Still others are very eclectic believing in a theosophical-like individual revelation. However, a very generalized creation concept involves a “supreme intelligence” that becomes two; masculine god and feminine goddess.
Through an act of love/desire the two deities rejoin (copulate) and all of creation was conceived. This parallels the scientific Big Bang Theory where the substance of our physical reality was held within a cosmic egg. We might perceive a separation between creators and the created, like the separation between parents and child. However, a spirit world was also created concurrently with the physical world. Neo-Pagans may believe in numerous gods and goddesses (polytheism), nature spirits, and spirits of place. Animism is a common belief. Ironically, this brings us back full circle to ancient Greek beliefs which were polytheistic and are part of the modern revival.
Spirit permeates the physical world in these belief systems, regardless of whether they are labeled monotheistic or polytheistic. The main difference between monotheism and polytheism is what is defined as a god. Monotheism seems to be populated with numerous spiritual entities, they are simply called angels or demons, instead of gods or goddesses, devas, elementals, sprites, etc. This seems trivial compared to the greater principal held in common, that Spirit permeates the physical world. Even the Judeo-Christian belief is in an omnipresent God, so I suspect the Muslims do, too.
The lengthy quote from The Kybalion above describes a physical reality in the constant flux of becoming or changing. The description also sounds like the surface of an ocean with the peaks of the waves and the low places between; “action and reaction; inflow and outflow.” The surface of the water is small considering the great volume below. Perhaps the reality of the physical world is as thin as the surface of the ocean with a much greater reality hidden behind it.
What value to truth? How do you feel about the inequities of this world that we have created together? Is it more important to fight about differences than to discover what is held in common that could lead to revelations of truth? If Spirit permeates our physical world, isn’t it time to raise our awareness to connect with Spirit by exploring the different methods available to us? Of course, that is a subject for another post.
Go to the dark place where nothing is formed. Kindle your need fire naturally, and fan its flame. Let the fire feed on the unformed. Let need give form to the formless. This is the way of Making.