In the beginning… The Narrative from Science
As an animist and material being, the story of my ancestors starts at the beginning of our universe nearly 14 billion years ago. The current leading theory is called the Big Bang, in which our universe expanded from a singularity back at the beginning of time. Materialistically, this is when the first building blocks of our entire existence came into being. Over time, sub atomic particles condensed into atoms, molecules, and in time stars, planets and galaxies.
Animistically, I also have to wonder if this is when the first spirits/people started to work in the universe. From a scientific perspective, matter is not a life form. It takes a certain level of complexity before we reach the point that biology recognize something as a life form. And no, the material present at that early time could not be scientifically defined as living. Still, this does not deny that sub-atomic and atom particles do some very interesting things. Two hydrogen and an oxygen gets you water, which is essential for all life forms we know of.
I have debated with my self (and others) for some time if those earliest particles could be a really simple form of life. Once, in one of my classes, my teacher said that atoms have a drive to make themselves “happy”, by either filling or emptying their outermost electron shells. They deliberately seek out other atoms to make bonds with, and therefore make themselves “happy.”
It is not a far jump from making bonds, to forming relationships. Relationships and connections are the one of the foundations of animism. Even in these early particles, we can see the create connections and bonds. And by the time you get to something more complex, like ourselves, those bonds and connections have become very interesting indeed.
It is amazing to think about that some of those particles from the beginning of time may well be in my body right now. They have moved through stars and galaxies and time to end up somewhere in my body at the here and now. I cannot express the sense of joy and awe that that thought fills me with. To know that I am spiritually and materially a descendant of the beginning of times. It is humbling to think about, and is the first step on a long ancestral journey.
To me, that point of beginning represent something akin to a seed, from which the whole of our known universe grew. I have always enjoyed the metaphor of trees, the Tree of Life, the World Tree of Nordic myth, the shaman’s tree, all of them in some form. Well, at the point of the Big Bang we see that seed taking root, from which would expand and grow the whole sum of our universe.
Fast forward a few billion years, and you see another outgrowth from this seed in the form of the star we call Sol, our sun. It came into being, a descendant of other stars, and from it came the little world we call Earth. And on this little world, after another billion or so years worth of formation, fire and oceans, came into existence a life form from which we all are descended.
The entire tree of life, every plant, animal or other creature that has every lived or is currently living can trace it descent from that first little being (or group of beings). That too is rather humbling and awe inspiring. To know the very basics of what I am today started all those billions ago. To know I can trace my spiritual and literal ancestry back to that little creature, and back to the beginning of the universe, that fills me with a wonder that is hard to put into words.
This means that the fires of our young world, Sol, and all the stars of the universe back to the beginning of time might be counted among my ancestors. The implications alone at this level are staggering beyond count. It means that every tree that grows or creature that crawls or flies, is in a very literal way part of my family tree. Maybe there is a reason some Native Americans and other people sometimes referred to trees as kinfolk, “brother” or “sister”, or “father sky.” Maybe because there is a very real connection there, even if it is more at the level of “great to the nth degree great cousin.” We still share that common connection, even if our lines have long since diverged in kind, form and type.
The fact is that these days our family tree is really diverse and complex, and in some ways many of our distant relations are all but alien to us now. It is hard on an intellectual level to picture myself in the place of a tree. I would need entirely new conceptions to even be able to cope with something like that. I mean, how can I wrap my mind around not being able to walk? How would I deal with having to grow and age in the same spot year after year. It makes my human brain hurt, but trees and plants seem to pull it off just fine.
The fact that we are connected to everything could also be meant to imply that every time we fell a tree, kill an animal, or destroy a habitat we are in a very real sense, killing a member of our own family. And as much as it pains me to admit, year after year our family tree on this planet gets a little smaller. The rate of species lost is pretty staggering these days.
That fills me with a deep sense of regret and guilt, because like every other human on this planet, I am implicit in this.
I could go on and on about the other forms of life that are counted among my kin, but this would take up far too much space, so we move forward in time to a few million years ago when the first hominid ancestors started to roam the planet.
And that is where we will pick up next time.
Thanks for reading!