Conversing with the Stars
I know the names of the stars from north to south … I was in the firmament with
Mary Magdalene …
Taliesin, shamanic bard of Wales, sixth century CE
To the minds of the lower races it seems that all nature is possessed, pervaded,
crowded, with spiritual beings.
E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture
We have considered in Chapter 10 how the unending conversation that is mythical narrative has constructed the universe we experience today. Unsurprisingly, we find a common pattern recurring in pre-scientific descriptions of the cosmos as perceived in diverse cultures around the world. The basic architecture is usually tripartite, consisting of an upper world identified with the sky, a middle world of mundane reality, and an invisible lower world, sensed to exist beneath our feet. We should notice here an underlying harmony, indeed a symmetry, between our bodily architecture and the perceived form of the cosmos. What is most and peculiarly apparent to members of our species, by reason of our uniquely upright, bipedal posture, is the dividing line of the horizon, defining the contrasting spheres of upper and lower visible worlds. That dividing line intersects the verticality of our characteristic stationary and locomotive modes, our possession of naturally-based axial coordinates defining a cosmic space that is the dwelling place of Mind, a mind that is neither wholly human nor wholly non-human, being formed out of continuing dialogue between human and Other. Directly contrary to the bleak apprehension of mechanistic and reductionist science, for which, in the chilling words of one of its most brilliant exponents, ‘man … is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity’ (Monod 1997: 180), the fundamental affinity of humankind and cosmos has been conceptualized in strikingly similar terms by numerous unrelated pre-scientific cultures and civilizations around the world. Thus, the Hopi Native Americans of Arizona hold that:
The living body of man and the living body of earth were constructed in the same way.
Through each ran an axis, man’s axis being the backbone, the vertebral column, which
controlled the equilibrium of his movements and his functions. Along this axis were