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Rediscovering the Cosmic Navel

BY Safron Rossi December 20, 2020

Venus of Willendorf as shown at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. Bjørn Christian Tørrissen 2020. CC.

In “Cosmology and the Mythic Imagination,” from this month’s spotlight volume The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Campbell takes us on a stellar romp through myths of the universe and humankind’s place in it. Tethered by a mytho-numerical umbilical cord, our minds are allowed to spin off into the cosmic mystery, launched among the stars upon an Apollo mission out to the Moon, and into a vision of the universe composed of “billions upon billions of roaring thermonuclear furnaces.” (Inner Reaches, 2)

The universe purportedly has “no still point anywhere.” (3) Our modern scientific cosmology, predominantly materialistic and mechanistic, stands in striking contrast to those other conceptions of the universe from traditions both past and present that understand a deeper cosmic order at work and of which we are a part. These traditions include not only the idea of a beautiful composition of the vast array and tableau of the earth and heavens surrounding us, but also of a distinct center. This still point is the source of life. It is the center from which all life emerges and to which all beings are connected. It is thus both a point of active generation and receptive ingathering. 

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Vishnu, Lakshmi and Ananta. 1830-1850, Mandi, Northern India. Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Great Goddess figurines from the European Paleolithic period tell the oldest story of the feminine principle as the source of all life. In these figurines, every part of their body communicates the mystery of nature in its generative and nourishing aspect. The belly button features prominently in both Paleolithic and Neolithic goddesses, marking the fecund still point.

In Hindu religion and myth, Vishnu dreams the universe into being as he sleeps on the giant serpent Ananta as they float in the cosmic sea. From Vishnu’s belly button grows a lotus upon which sits Brahma, the lord of light and creator of the visible world. The goddess Lakshmi massages Vishnu’s feet, “stimulating his cosmic dream.” (Campbell, The Mythic Image, 8) Also known as Padma, ‘Lady Lotus,’ she and the lotus represent the mystery of life’s emergence, phenomenal variety and ultimate return to the source.

The physician Robert Fludd (1574 -1637) depicted the creation of the universe as an alchemical process. From the fertile blackness of primordial space the four elements arise–fire, air, earth and water. The emergence of the Sun–the celestial center, the cosmic navel, the light around which all life dances–signals the end stage of the genesis of the cosmos.

Robert Fludd. The end of the First Book of Macrocosmic Principles. 1617, Oppenheim Germany. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In the modern era, the absence of a still point in the cosmos relates to the loss of meaning that haunts our age. It is the loss of an understanding and relationship to the principles upon which we orient our lives, trusting in their integrity and ability to confer value to our own unfolding. In the cosmological context this is the loss of what Campbell is calling the inner reaches of outer space. The question becomes one of whether we can hold a mythic consciousness. As Campbell quotes Plotinus, “not all who perceive with eyes the sensible products of art are affected alike by the same object, but if they know it for the outward portrayal of an archetype subsisting in intuition, their hearts are shaken and they recapture memory of that Original” (6).

Safron Rossi, Ph.D., has spent her life steeped in literature, religion and mythology, fields in which she holds her degrees. She is Core Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute in the Jungian and Archetypal Studies program. For many years she was Curator of the Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, and Marija Gimbutas manuscript collections at Opus Archives and Research Center. Safron edited Joseph Campbell's Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (2013) and co-edited Jung on Astrology (2017). She has published articles in Jungian, archetypal, and astrological journals, and she has lectured across the US and in Europe, South America, and Australia. Safron is also a consulting archetypal astrologer. Her work in this area can be found at  

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Cosmology and the Mythic Image (Audio: Lecture II.5.4)

Our gift to you this month is an audio lecture download. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

How do you talk about the universe, the big bang of creation, light years, archetypes, mythology, and the heliocentric universe in one lecture? Campbell pulls from many sources and blends them into a wonderful telling of a view of the universe, then ends with a story of Indra Purana, much to the audience’s delight.

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In what we think we know of the interior of the atom, as well as of the exploding stars in millions of spinning galaxies throughout an expanding space that is no longer, as in Newton’s view, ‘always similar and immovable,’ the old notion of a once-upon-a-time First Cause has given way to something more like an immanent ground of being, transcendent of conceptualization, which is in a continuous act of creation now.

-- Joseph Campbell

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WICCA/Pagan – Yule

Derived from names of Odin as Jólnir, Yule One and jólfaðr Yule Father, the heathen holiday was reformulated during the Christianization of Northern Europe in association with Yule Tide. In present day, native-faith groups such as Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið celebrate Joláblót.

CHRISTIAN – Christmas Eve-Day (12/24 – 25)

          St. Stephen’s Day (12/26)

Orthodox – Feast of the Nativity (12/25

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Myth Resources

Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Within every woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women. But she is an endangered species. For though the gifts of wildish nature belong to us at birth, society’s attempt to “civilize” us into rigid roles has muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés unfolds rich intercultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories, many from her own traditions, in order to help women reconnect with the fierce, healthy, visionary attributes of this instinctual nature. Through the stories and commentaries in this remarkable book, we retrieve, examine, love, and understand the Wild Woman, and hold her against our deep psyches as one who is both magic and medicine.

Dr. Estés has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and life-giving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.

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Inner Reaches of Outer Space, The

Developed from a memorable series of lectures delivered in San Francisco, which included a legendary symposium at the Palace of Fine Arts with astronaut Rusty Schweickart, this book–the last Campbell completed in his lifetime–explores the space age. Campbell posits that the newly discovered laws of outer space are actually at work within human beings as well and that a new mythology is implicit in this realization. He examines the new mythology and other questions in these essays.

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“King, Warrior, Magician, Lover is the bestselling, widely-heralded, Jungian introduction to the psychological foundation to a mature, authentic, and revitalized masculinity. Dive in with eyes, mind, and heart alert and wide open.”

– Andrew Gurevich, Editorial Advisory Group, Joseph Campbell Foundation

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