Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bios and Zoë

Thinking about the arrows of the Gods, symbolic as they are of divine interaction with the mortal world, I am brought once more to a concept which must be central to any consideration of the Gods, the concepts of life.

I remember reading, a long time ago now in another city in another state in what seems a different life in Walter Burkert's book on Dionysos that the Greeks had more than one word meaning life. These were not simply synonyms, however, but conceptually different words that when used expressed different things about life.

The first word relevant to this discussion is Bios, from which we get the word stem bio as in biology. Bios is mortal life, biological life, life based in the animal and vegetable world. We know today that this life is based on things like cells, DNA, RNA, and is organic in nature, meaning based on the organic element carbon. Biological life is strictly mortal. It begins, reproduces, and eventually ends. In doing so, it also mutates and changes, improving and evolving as it interacts with the environment around it, an environment which is often very hostile to it. Biological life adapts, and that is its greatest strength.

Biological life is linked, and is reliant on, its environment. It exists as part of the very natural rules, physical laws, that make the universe itself possible because it arises from them. Terrestrial life is linked directly to the elements and conditions that the Earth provides, and it adapts to suit it, being forced to do so as it survives. Life on Earth is of Earth. It contains within it the very elements that make up the Earth, from carbon to metals and complex molecules created by geological processes long ago. The Earth gave birth to us, and we are part and parcel of it just as we are part of our mortal parents.

The planet Earth, however, is also mortal. It came into being, it exists and continues to change and evolve, and one day it will die, the internal processes that keep it going slowing down and stopping, like the heart of an animal stops. Perhaps it will be destroyed, the sun growing and engulfing it as it progresses into a new stage in its "life", because the sun too is mortal. One day it will grow and then shrink, leaving behind a simple white dwarf, and eventually even that will dim and die away, forgotten in the broad arm of the galaxy. And the galaxy too is mortal. Mother to the sun and earth, it too will eventually be torn apart by a collision with a sister galaxy, perhaps merging into one, or being destroyed as two new galaxies form around the cores that continue to grow and swallow up matter, the enormous super massive black holes.

And yes, they too are mortal, slowly leaking information in minute particles, and one day when the stars have burned out and the former galaxies are nothing but enormous black holes drifting in the vastness of space/time, they will slowly dissipate and die, and then the universe, also mortal, will settle and die a cold lonely death.

We share in that universal nature, the one thing all things in the universe have in common, their mortality.

Biological life, then, is an organic manifestation, on a small scale, of the reality of the universe, and we, who have adapted and changed to suit the environment it throws at us have grown into thinking rational creatures that can ponder this very reality.

But Biological life, the Bios, is dependent on the universe, which while mortal seems to us eternal in the same way that the universe relies on far greater things that are not actually mortal, but are truly eternal, truly immortal. We call them Gods (or God, if you have been brainwashed into thinking there is only one) and they exist as a form of life called Zoë.

Although we get the stem Zo, as in Zoo and Zoological, from Zoë, the term in a religious sense indicates life as a constant, ever present, eternal thing. The Gods are categorized not as Bios, but as Zoë, because they do not take part in the same processes of life that Bios does. We call this form of life divine, and we call the individuals Gods, which we honor, worship, or otherwise acknowledge as having an important role not only in our lives but in the very life of the universe itself.

Unlike Bios, which is self contained and individual, divine life is more diffuse, more spread out into the very universe itself, and it is not possible to think of them, the Gods, as being even limited in terms of interaction, for they overlap, merge, cross each other, combine and separate, and are, for all intents and purposes present in all things, living or not, organic or not, in various combinations.

Zoë is part of the eternal realm. The Eleventh dimension, that dimension of space which is the container of all things. It is timeless (eternal) and spaceless (infinite) and we call this realm by many names. In our religion, Olympus, Elysium, Tartarus, and Hades are names we give to different aspects of this realm. The life of this realm is, by its nature, eternal (having no beginning and no end) and infinite (having no spatial limitation) and are, here, privy to all of existence.

Unlike Bios, Zoë is vast. An individual God is infinite in form and has no need to account for time. One would even wager that the concept of time itself is likely a difficult one for such beings. One might even ask if the universe itself, molded and guided as it is by the Gods, is not a kind of experiment on their part to understand these concepts. But I tend to think they are beyond such games and could find easier ways to understand such things.

Unlike Bios, Zoë has no need to reproduce, but they do create. They have no death, but they do change. They have no need of sustenance, yet are fed by our adulation. The universe is as a laboratory of sorts, I admit, but it is also something else. Their work of art. Their child. Their most cherished creation, for it is given by them a portion of their own being, which to us seem not like people, but powerful forces, forces that act in accordance with their natures but always in balance with the other forces of nature.

That Bios seeks to understand them by clothing in flesh like its own is not so mysterious, what remains a true mystery is if, perhaps, there is a small spark of them in each of us, what happens to them when those small sparks rejoin them, become part of the whole universe again. Does my life bless that spark with something good, something wonderful, or will my ultimate gift to the Gods be my misery, hatred, and unwillingness to change. 

I think I shall endeavor to bless that spark with a little joy, a little pleasure, and a little love.

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