Linking Cosmology with New Traditions.
By Rael Bassan
Slightly modified from an article published in Permaculture Activist #51
Celebrating Earth’s Orbital Progression in the Wild Onion (Chicago) Bioregion
The story of a new tradition motivated by permaculture concerns.
Beginnings of the story
The seed began to glimmer, when I met Jack and Judy Speer at a mutual friend’s birthday party, near the end of 1998.
I had remembered their names from the list of Illinois attendees at the EarthSpirit Rising conference in Ohio, May 1998, although I hadn’t met them there. We shared an affinity for bioregional/permacultural living and much interest in creating eco-spiritual rituals. Could we create a meaningful ritual that progressively more people on our planet could appreciate? A tradition, that could be shared by any culture possessing rudimentary scientific understanding. Celebrating the extreme points of earth’s orbit seemed an appropriate candidate for our efforts.
That meeting was the first of several that eventuated in our initial Aphelion Attunement Celebration, July 10, 1999.
The Aphelion, when Earth is farthest from the Sun, ranges from July 3, 12hr., Universal Time (UT) to July 7, 00hr., UT, during 1992-2020. During these years, the Perihelion, when Earth and Sun are closest, ranges from January 3, 00hr., UT to, January 5, 08hr., UT. Over a period of around 20,000 years, due to Earth’s top-like precession, these dates slowly rotate around our calendar year, which is designed to keep the solstice dates fixed.
In January, around the time of the Perihelion, the Earth is around 3,000,000 miles closer to the sun. This annual in-and-out movement corresponds to an orbital eccentricity of about 1.7%. Over time, our orbital dance varies periodically from almost a perfect circle (eccentricity close to zero) to slightly egg shaped (eccentricity about 6%) over a major period of around 100,000 years.
These eccentricity changes, together with shifts in axial tilt and precession movements are collectively known as the Milankovitch Cycles. All change slowly in response to gravitational pulls from neighboring planets. When the three cycles are synchronized, such that earth is most strongly tilted away when it is also furthest from the sun, less solar energy reaches the great landmasses in the upper part of the Northern Hemisphere, leading to the progressive accumulation of ice beyond the Arctic Circle. These periods of synchrony are thus strongly correlated with the onset of our continental glaciations.
Relationships to Permaculture
So we have a cosmic cycle that is closely related to planetary climate, which almost all authorities think is growing warmer. How can a ritual focusing on that cycle, be relevant to permaculture? In discussing design principles for creating sustainable culture, rituals are rarely addressed in the major publications, even though they are generally substantial components of existing cultures. Perhaps more attention should be devoted to the possibilities of permaculture oriented ritual design.
One of the many functions of ritual is to connect the individual with the rest of the universe -- linking the personal with the political, and the community with the cosmos. Ritual can also be a catalyst in motivating transformation and consequently can be a significant instrument for realizing sustainable culture.
How could we embed more meaning in this slowly changing astronomical relationship? Earth’s positional dance around the Sun requires close observation to register. We are far more aware of the changing direction of the poles, as it more closely corresponds to seasonal changes.
Some correspondences are obvious. Perihelion, when Earth and Sun are closest, would point us toward celebrating, closeness, union, communion -- what we share with other life and the universe. Aphelion, when Earth is farthest from the Sun, would correspondingly celebrate differentiation, diversity, individuation – our unique capacities, and their best use – being the best we can be.
Our first event was named an Aphelion Attunement Celebration, to indicate the need for harmonizing our individual and community activities with the universe. It was held at a circular path in a restored prairie at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. This was followed by a Perihelion Possibilities Celebration at the City of Chicago’s only Nature Center. “Possibilities” refers to the potential for global transformation, if more and more cultures shared a synchronous celebration that focused both on the state of the planet and the possibilities for realizing a desirable future. Permaculture offers a promising set of design tools for achieving that future, but so far rarely addresses the problems of facilitating the transition.
The following details of our last Perihelion will provide a sense of what we have been doing. Over the years, without deviating from the central concepts, we have experimented with just about every element of the program. Special effort was invested in crafting components to fit local site conditions, so that each celebration included an appropriate action. Art and theatre-like activities were often included. Judy Speer even created a delightful song that included bacterial voices. Active members of a number of religions have enthusiastically participated in these programs
A Perihelion Possibilities Celebration
Announcing a Perihelion Celebration of Restoration: A Spiritual Ecology Experience. 10am-3pm. Potluck lunch.
Explore the potential of a shared global event to synergize local and planetary restoration.
Celebrate the period when earth and sun are closest (the perihelion), by communing with nature and joining the growing forces of restoration.
Deep stories, songs, games and a guided meditative experience will help restore integral relationships to our planet.
This event was also at Chicago’s Nature Center, which is situated in a Nature Preserve created from a defunct Tuberculosis Sanitarium. The morning portion of the event included a story of cosmic origins by an astronomer and a discussion of restoration by the director of the Institute for Nature and Culture, who is a major figure in Midwest restoration. Lunch was preceded by seed sorting (removal of chaff) to prepare for later distribution. Local stories, removing invasive and non-native trees, and seed strewing, took up most of the afternoon prior to a meditative ending.
Our initial successes aroused a desire for additional related celebrations. These cross-quarter events were labeled Metahelions and Mesohelions, although, in public notices, they were generally called Earth Wisdom Experiences. Sometimes these were longer events, occasionally most of the weekend. They focus on balance and on choosing our future trajectories. At one of them, the Chicago Urban Permaculture group was birthed.
In addition to the sensing of the numinous, spirituality addresses other subtle aspects of existence –including the deeper dimensions of design that surround the core of collective meaning. Our ability to resonate with aspects of complex abstract relationships, such as sensing a balance between simplicity and comprehensiveness, esthetics with functionality, and especially communion and individuation is often considered a part of our spiritual capacity. Thus, holism, organicism and sustainability, are often considered part of the eco-spiritual domain.
How could these celebrations be more valuable? Perhaps they could help bring greater public attention to permaculture concerns and potential. They can increase awareness of the looming global predicaments – the end of cheap oil, and the growing stresses on ecosystem services. In a culture fueled on the newest fads, a new tradition may initially attract more media interest, with a limited public relations investment, than a design system that seems arcane to many.
Join us in exploring the mutual creation of a joint cross-hemispheric Internet linked Perihelion Celebration next year. Possibly labeled a Global Redesign Communion (GloRC) and perhaps subtitled a Perihelion Permaculture Possibilities Celebration (P3C), it would focus on the looming end of the era of cheap oil and the possibilities of realizing a quality future.
We are evaluating the potential of creating a two day event on Saturday and Sunday, January, 3-4, 2004. The longer period would make it easier to link in with other sites across the globe. Australia, the seedbed of Permaculture, would seem ripe for this type of design tool extension. We are working on developing an affiliated celebration there. Other sites would be most welcome.
The current dominance of globally transforming hard technologies and imperialist objectives, seem to call for the nurturing of equally powerful new forms of softer and more integrative ways of restructuring our relationships. Regular cross-hemisphericaly linked celebrations (perhaps through a quasi-synchronous ritualistic exchange -- timing pulse, instant message, audio, video segment…) may help empower the transition to a more viable future, which Thomas Berry named the Ecozoic Age.