Yes, I used ‘center’ as a verb. Not as centering yourself, but as, what do you focus on as primary, place in the spot of importance- what do you center?
I am thinking here of Penny Billington’s Celtic Cross, which is modeled from the western neopagan elemental/directional correspondence orientation. This model centers Spirit, which is surrounded by earth, air, fire, and water, around the compass points. I have recently learned of another such cross, and found it interesting to compare them, in terms of what each centers, or places in the spot of primary importance and focus.
This other cross is from Traditional Chinese Medicine and is comprised of its five elements. In this system, spirit is not centered, because it isn’t considered an element, so it won’t appear anywhere on this cross. This system conceives of elements very differently, in that what the western system calls earth is divided out into three different Chinese elements. This already gives this way of viewing the world a different feel, perhaps a more grounded sense, being so ‘earthy’ in its orientations, to our minds.
The Chinese cross is laid out this way, with these ideas- water is at the bottom, corresponding with winter and seed gestation time; wood is to the left, corresponding with spring and sprouting/greening time, really referring to the plants on the land; fire is at the top and corresponds with summer and flowering time; metal is on the right and corresponds with autumn and the precious metals and jewels underground, and Earth is at the center, corresponding with late summer harvest and fruit and seed-making time. The idea here is that each element ‘births’ the next around the cycle, but at each turn, there is a return first to the center, the place of transition and grounding. So not only is Earth centered as the element of significance, it is returned to regularly in the cyclic flow of growth and development; it is centered-ness itself.
What can this tell us about the worldviews at play here?
A system and worldview which centers Spirit speaks of valuing, and centering, transcendence, of cycling around through the elements in order to leave them behind, of ultimately valuing a shedding of them. It infers that Spirit is greater than the physicality represented by the tangible elements, and presents a hierarchy of being. This does seem to be a thread in western culture’s worldview, and indeed this Classical model comes to us from medieval Alchemy, which was all about transforming the profane physical into the pure spiritual. It is somewhat ironic now that the traditions of Druidry and Wicca, allegedly earth-based, center such a system which actually professes the opposite sentiment.
Conversely, a system and worldview which centers Earth speaks of valuing the immanent, the grounded, and the powers of fertility and sustenance. Traversing this wheel doesn’t speak of trying to leave anything behind, because it flows back to the center at each turn; the cycle exists to carry us continually. I admit to not knowing the age of this system, but my understanding in general is that TCM itself is thousands of years old. My guess is that it predates Buddhism, which emphasizes transcendence as opposed to immanence, which seems to present yet another contradiction, since the Chinese have embraced this religion which seeks to end earthly incarnations for a purer existence of spirit. This system does not include spirit as an element at all though, which speaks again of valuing immanence- instead of spirit being a separate element from the tangible, physical elements, it is called chi, and is considered an inseparable part of all the physical elements. This then is a non-dualistic system and worldview, differing sharply from the western worldview which is inherently dualistic, placing the spiritual and the physical in separate realms. Dualism was favored first by the Church, then later by Scientific Enlightenment thinkers and scientists like Rene Descarte, who gave us the Cartesian worldview of the earth and universe as a machine, dirt and earth as inert, to be used and abused as we pleased. We know now that the soil is actually alive with microbes and fungi which support life, and we have seen what consequences come of living life through a dualistic lens. Separation leads to destruction.
I offer gratitude to the ancient Chinese who created their system and worldview, and to the Chinese people today for keeping it alive, that I might learn of this worldview and benefit from it. It strikes me as more in tune with indigenous mind than the western system. It makes me wonder what my own deep ancestors would have made of such a dualistic worldview; I cannot help but think that they, like other indigenous peoples of the world, would have rejected it and seen the folly in it. And it makes me wonder what, if they had some version of an elemental cross, it might have looked like and conveyed.