My standing disclaimer: none of these explorations of mine into collapse mythology is intended to be definitive or even necessarily “correct” in the academic/scientific sense of the word. What I’m engaged in here is mythmaking, or re-imagining our Western mythology in terms of our contemporary worldview. I do this because I personally cannot understand collapse as a contextless, purely mathematical, purely scientific series of events. I need it to be meaningful in some way. I also do it because it’s a hoot :)
Beginning With A Divorce…
In the Bible, wedding imagery, and marriage generally, is a Very Big Deal. This is why Christianists stubbornly insist on what they call the “sanctity of marriage” and vehemently oppose any family configuration other than lifelong monogamous nuclear patriarchy. But it’s important to set aside for a moment the history of marriage as a tool of granular-level oppression, and even those instances in the Bible itself in which marriage is defined as male-ownership/female-slavery. Genesis states clearly that this state of affairs is a result of the Fall — in other words, it did not exist before civilization and is a perversion of its original purpose.
Originally, marriage was the earthly manifestation of the physical union of Elohim (the Tao, Wakan Tanka, “Source”) with humans. Genesis 2:21-24 (NIV):
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Some feminist thinkers use this passage as an example of the inherent patriarchy of the Bible, but I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Rather, it illustrates the pre-Fall view of existence as it relates to Elohim: everything arises from Source and is ultimately one with it, in the same way woman arose from man and they are together ultimately one flesh. As above, so below.
Moreover, this short tidbit sets up what would become the linear perspective on time (as opposed to the cyclical perspective) so critical to the purpose of biblical mythology — that is, it is the story of our particular cultural lineage. Using woman as the original agent rather than man would set up a cyclical “rebirth” mythology with no beginning and no end, whereas using man as the original agent creates a starting point from which events flow forward into time and gives rise to the possibility — indeed, the certainty — of a future end to current travails and a “resurrection” of what has been lost. Cyclical mythologies offer no such jailbreak and instead chain humanity to a revolving wheel of eternal shittiness. Additionally, cyclical mythologies are inextricably tied to the stable seasonal cycles of the Holocene, cannot make sense when these are completely disrupted by climate change, and become totally irrelevant as the planet shifts into an entirely new homeostatic state. (The Anthropocene geological epoch, if you will.) I’ll have more to say about this shortly.
In any event, at the outset of Genesis humans and Elohim are “married,” that is, they live in physical union. They are literally one. When humans ate “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” they entered into a dualistic mindset which shattered that oneness. It was, at its foundation, a spiritual divorce: humans separated from Elohim and no longer lived in physical union with it. Rather, the physical manifestations of Elohim — nature and existence more generally — became problems, and this is reflected in the post-Fall state of human marriage. Genesis 3:16 (Amplified):
To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your grief and your suffering in pregnancy and the pangs of childbearing; with spasms of distress you will bring forth children. Yet your desire and craving will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.
Just as humans came to believe Elohim was an “other” to be feared, so too did woman come to see man as an “other” to be feared. And of course, one party cannot overcome a separation induced by an other. Both must come together voluntarily.
And so our mytho-cultural lineage begins with this divorce in Genesis at the outset of the Bible. The entire reason for this particular mythology, so different in its linear perspective from any other culture, is that the consequences of this divorce, this Fall, would come to an end rather than repeat infinitely. That end is outlined in Revelation, the very last book of the Bible.
But that end is not apocalypse. It is a wedding. A cosmic wedding, in fact, that restores the physical unity of humanity with Elohim (again: like the Tao, or Wakan Tanka, or “Source”) as manifest in a post-apocalyptic biosphere.
…Ending With A Marriage
I wrote recently about Revelation 20 and how it represents a cultural self-judging process in which everything non-sustainable is thrown in the “lake of fire,” while anything that serves of the purpose of sustainability is kept. Revelation 21 and 22 then goes on to describe, in symbolic language that is opaque outside an ecological perspective, something new under the sun: a just and sustainable, highly complex society. Revelation 21 and 22 (NIV version, edited here for brevity):
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
[Description of the “streets of gold” etc. edited for brevity.]
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
[Author’s dialog with the angel & further divine statements edited for brevity.]
Okay, so breaking this down…
“'[A] new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” to my thinking cannot be interpreted as anything other than profound climate shift. In other words, the planet reacts to current human activities by passing through an extremely unpleasant transition process, then restabilizes in an entirely different climatic configuration. From our perspective this is a horror beyond all horrors… but from this mythological perspective, it means the Earth has rid itself of the conditions that favored empire. It might be like someone getting completely ill from some horrible virus, then maintaining immunity to that illness for the rest of their lives. The conditions that favored that illness are forever gone, but this could not have come about without contracting the illness in the first place.
“…there was no longer any sea.” That’s hella frightening on its face, but it could also potentially mean there is no longer any need for the sea in imperial terms, for reasons which I’ll get to momentarily.
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.’” ‘ This makes sense once it is paired up with the Genesis take on cities: they are evil cesspools of vile corruption. In Genesis, cities flow naturally from the Fall and much of the Old Testament recounts the difficulties of various righteous, nomadic shepherds when faced with cities or city-folk. Genesis describes in very plain language how the Fall led to Cities which led to empires and false religions that justify and perpetuate them. Remember how Cain slew Abel? Cain’s first act, after God kicks him off the farm, is to go and build a city. Cities are founded by those who murder the innocent — and we know this is literally true.
But here we have a city “coming down out of heaven from God.” This is a city that is not founded on the murder of innocents, is not separated from Elohim. Indeed, as Elohim’s “bride,” this city is about to enter into physical union with it — just as humanity had lived in physical union with Elohim prior to the Fall. This city is in total, profound harmony with Nature (Elohim, the Tao, Wakan Tanka, “Source”) and is in fact indistinguishable from it. Oneness is restored.
“‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'” This is not to say that individual human beings now live immortally in indescribable bliss, as religious tradition would have it. It means that when a perspective of Oneness is restored, so too is the perception of eternity. Death becomes a transition, not a full stop; and the deep pain and grief and loss of separation, that unshakable angst that life in civilization imparts to its victims, will cease “for the old order of things has passed away.”
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” This is another one of those verses that Christianists use to justify their bigotry, and that anti-Christianists use to prove that Christianists are bigots. But forget about that for a minute and look more closely.
Every item in that list is practically unheard of, or even completely unheard of, in pre-conquest societies. These are characteristics of the self-domesticated, and of rulers of work to keep the self-domesticated masses in their place.
Of particular interest to me is the inclusion of “those who practice magic arts.” The original Greek word used here is pharmakeus. From Wikipedia:
Pharmakeia φαρμακεια is the Greek word for pharmacy, which is the practice and making of medication and vitamins. It also refers to the making of spell-giving potions, or alchemical potions (or elixirs) believed to have transforming powers, such as the power to extend life, boost energy, or enhance the mind. It also refers to any substance used to poison someone, to prevent or treat disease (or, for that matter, to cause it), or to gain control of someone’s behavior.
In other words: the psychopharmaceutical industry. They are sorcerers dispensing potions to gain control of our behavior. The word could conceivably be extended to include the advertising, PR and psy-ops industries all together. It has nothing to do with religions or faiths of any kind.
“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.” I’m fascinated by how much attention is given here to the fact that it is light all the time, and there is no night.
Here is something this short passage causes me to ponder. If the Earth heats up as it appears it will, the Arctic and Antarctic will be just about the only habitable zones on the planet. At the top and bottom of the globe, the sun shines for months at a pop. That’s not to say there is literally “no night,” or that the sun and moon cease to shine; just to say that the cycles of day and night, and of the seasons, no longer affect the daily lives of those who live in the “New Jerusalem.”
Moreover, if humanity is relegated to the Arctic and/or Antarctic, the sea becomes irrelevant because there is nowhere to go, no one to visit, and nothing to bring home. “[T]here was no longer any sea” could potentially be ascribed the meaning “there was no longer any seagoing.”
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” If this isn’t a description of a permacultured city in a seasonless environment, I don’t know what is.
Overall, it makes total sense to me that whatever remnant makes it through the climate transition will end up at the poles; once there, in this entirely new and (to us) alien environment of months-long days and months-long nights, with practically no seasons to speak of, that these people would assess the horrible stupidity and evil that caused this new state of affairs. That they would vigorously shit-can anything that even smelled of empire-mongering and that they would rebuild a city — because I don’t think the “city” bell can be un-rung — based on the hard-learned fact that you can’t foul your own nest without consequences. On the fact that everything is connected, is One, and that human joy and happiness matter in a very literal, physical way to the health of the ecosystem.
What is so striking to me is the vast difference in perspective between our position here at the brink of climate collapse, and the perspective offered by the mythology. To us, climate collapse represents a deep and profound existential loss. But in our mythos, it is “…but the beginning [the early pains] of the birth pangs [of the intolerable anguish]” preceding the establishment of a complex society that is just and indefinitely sustainable. Relegation to the Arctic and/or Antarctic — if my exercising in ascribing this meaning is acceptable — is not a horrific tragedy, it is the glorious cosmic establishment of “a new heaven and a new Earth” in which “the former things are passed away.”
For myself, I cannot face climate collapse and all that entails and still maintain my sanity in the absence of this hopeful vision of the future. I use the word “hopeful” here very carefully. What this understanding imparts to me is not “hope” in the sense that Derrick Jensen defines it: “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.” It is, rather the knowledge that while I can do very little about current circumstances, these very circumstances are what is necessary to make humanity’s return to Oneness possible. It is knowledge that while the trainwreck cannot be stopped, it is more than possible to begin planning for what comes after the wreck, and after the dust has settled. It means I personally can work to contribute to the future survival of whoever does survive, and the foundation of the society they will create. This is real and meaningful hope you can sink your teeth into, hope that is neither blind nor naïve.