The early Celtic Christians had a fascination with the similarities between the human being and the universe as a whole. The human being was understood as a microcosm, meaning a miniature cosmos. This idea stretches back to ancient Greece and is common throughout the ancient and medieval Christian world but the Celts gave it their own unique spin. The most common understanding of the elements of creation being present in the human being is in the form of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water. The Celtic texts, however, do not imagine the components of nature within us as being simple atoms of irreducible elements. Rather, they describe humans as having things like clouds, flowers, and the light of the world within us. Often, these elements were linked to the days of creation named in Genesis. Take for instance this passage from a medieval text titled The Creation of Adam,
“These are the seven components from which Adam was made. The first was of earth, the second of sea, the third of sun. The fourth was of clouds, the fifth of wind, and the sixth of stones.The seventh was the light of the world.”
Note how the sentence structure follows the pattern of the Genesis story. There are seven days and seven elements. Of these seven two sets of three are followed by a mysterious seventh. The Genesis story follows this same pattern, days 1-3 are mirrored in days 4-6 and day 7 is something completely different from the rest. This text is making a subtle statement about the similarity of the human being and the universe. The same pattern created both and the same light is the essence of both. The text goes on to explain each of these elements and how they are part of Adam’s nature,
“Let us continue. The first part, formed from the earth, was the trunk of his body. The second part, formed from sea, was his blood. The third part, formed from sun, was his countenance and face. The fourth part, formed from the clouds, was his thoughts. The fifth part, formed from wind, was his breath. The sixth part, formed from stones, was his bones. The seventh part, formed from the light of the world, that is, the Holy Spirit, was his human soul.”
The seventh part of our creation reflects the eternal sabbath of the seventh day of creation. The eternal sabbath is the human soul and it is the Holy Spirit. The same light which is the light of the world is also the light of our hearts. Because both the human being and the cosmos are unique reflections of this divine light, both share many similarities. The universe is an image of God from a different perspective than the human being but both reflect the same truth and therefore we can learn about the universe by understanding the human being and we can learn about the human being by understanding the cosmos. The same blueprint is used in the creation of both.
While modern science might disagree with the ancient Celtic idea that our bones are made from the stones of the earth and our thoughts are made from clouds, one has to realise that this is poetic language. No one in any period of time actually thought that bones are made of rocks. They ate meat and knew full well that the cow bones they made soup with were not the same as the stones they built their monastic cells out of. Rather than being a naive and ignorant science, this teaching is a poetic attempt to understand the relationship of humanity with the earth. Peoples around the world have observed that veins and rivers follow a similar pattern. They noticed that heat, water, and air are essential to human existence as well as all life on this planet. Indeed, the life of the planet itself does actually resemble a human body. The rocks uphold mother earth like our bones give structure to our sinews and muscles. Rivers and oceans transmit the power of life like our veins do, circulating water from the ocean like a heart. The wind moves through our atmosphere rejuvenating the planet just like the air in our lungs and the breath from our nostrils shows that we are alive. The Earth requires a very specific temperature and too much hot or too much cold are as disastrous in an ecosystem as a higher fever or hypothermia are in a human being.
The same patterns of creation exist in all things and there is a common blueprint which we all draw from. To understand this blueprint is to draw nearer to God. The blueprint for all of creation is Christ, who was the first thought in the mind of God. Every creature (which means anything that has been created) came into existence through Christ, exists in Christ, and is sustained by Christ. This is why every creature follows the pattern of creation in one way or another. While all creatures are created by the same blueprint, there is of course great diversity in the expression of this essential pattern. In The Creation of Adam the Celtic monks who wrote this text reflect on how the various combinations the natural world within us make us unique individuals,
“If in someone the part that is earth is dominant, then that person will be indolent. If it be the sun, they will be attractive and vivacious. If it be the clouds, they will be irresponsible and lustful. If the wind dominates, they will be severe, both thieving and grasping. If it be the sea, they will be likeable and placid, and will be beautiful. If it is the light that is strongest, they will know their own mind, and will be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and divine scripture.”
Again, this is very poetic language. We cannot prevent a person from stealing by removing the wind in their head in any literal sense. But we can see that just like the ecosystem around us we can become unbalanced. The natural world in which we live is an interconnected web of harmony and so too is the human being a dynamic interplay between various elements. The various elements of nature contribute to our well being but the most essential is the eternal light of Christ, the inner sabbath lying in wait in the hidden wealth of nature, which allows us to know our own mind as well as the scriptures of the bible and nature.
This way of understanding the human condition can also be seen in the Evernew Tongue, a popular and profound apocryphal text that survives in multiple medieval manuscripts in the Irish language. The elements of the human being described in this text are similar to those described in The Creation of Adam but offer a few other insights as well.
“Firstly, there is the material of wind and air. This is what gives breath in human bodies. Then there is the material of heat and burning fire. This is what makes the red heat of blood in the human body. Furthermore, there is the material of the sun and the stars of heaven. This makes the shine and the light in the human eye. Then there is the material of bitterness and saltiness, which forms the bitterness of tears, the gall of the liver, and great anger in people’s hearts. Then there is the material of stones and the clay of the earth, which binds flesh and bones and limbs together in people. Then there is the material of flowers and the beautiful colors of the earth, which gives variety of complexion and pallor in the face, and color in the cheeks.”
In the Evernew Tongue, the elements include things like flowers which give us colour and conditions like saltiness. The salt in our tears is the very same as the salt in the ocean. We share colour with the flowers. There is something about our eyes which seems to contain the stars. There is not a clear line separating humanity from the rest of creation. The same elements and qualities which we see in the other creatures around us are present in us as well.
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