The Via Galactica: The Way of the Galaxy
This is the Hubble Deep Field Survey and this has been called the most significant photograph ever taken.
These images offer a view looking backward in time thirteen billion years or more. The present view is that the universe is about 14 billion years old and there are some galaxies shown here that came into being 13.2 billion years ago so this is a baby picture of our universe!
By Isis Andersen
"The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually, we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land."
- T. H. Huxley, 1887
"The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the cosmos stir us - there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries."
- Carl Sagan
Anciently, humanity saw our Milky Way Galaxy as a road, a bridge, a river. Some called it the Backbone of Night. As we ride upon this sphere of earth, we are on a voyage between two worlds and so is our galaxy. As the ancient Hermetic philosophers would say, "As above so below, as within so without." As the universe and the galaxy travel toward an unknown destination, we seek to find our place in this beautiful and enchanting cosmos.
In the space of time it would take a ball to bounce once, our planet earth would move about half a mile to the east, and as our planet moves in its course about the Sun, it would travel 40 miles to the west. During the time our ball is in the air, our solar system would drift among the stars of our galaxy 20 miles toward the star Vega. Finally, during this one bounce of the ball, our planet would travel 300 miles about the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. *1
Our own Sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. It is part of a disc shaped swarm that is 100,000 light years in diameter. In our journey around the center of our own galaxy, our Sun, located 30,000 light years from the galactic center, makes its journey around that center every 250 million years. In the darkness of space between the stars, we find the building blocks of stars and of life in the form of dust and gas. As Carl Sagan would say, "we are made of star stuff and we live on the shores of the cosmic ocean."
Humanity is just beginning to venture into this cosmos, whose dimensions are so vast that we cannot use meters or miles to describe the distances. We must measure the distance in terms of the speed of light which travels 186,000 miles or nearly 300,000 kilometers per second. The light that travels from the Sun to earth takes 8 minutes to reach our planet. So we would say that our Sun is 8 light minutes from earth. In a similar manner, the distance light travels in one year is called a light year. The distance light actually travels in one year would be equivalent to 6 trillion miles or 10 trillion kilometers. The term light year therefore does not measure time, but distance.
We live on a unique and precious planet, in a solar system within a galaxy within a universe consisting of beautiful galaxies, strewn across the vastness of space. At this point, what lies before us is the mystery of the cosmos on a grand scale. Eight billion light years from earth lies the realm of the nebulae which are halfway to the edge of the known universe. We live on the edge of luminous eternity.
The universe is now thought to be between 12 and 15 billion years old. It was born out of a pinprick of energy, an explosion of vast proportions beyond human imagining. From that cosmic explosion, the universe began to expand and this expansion is continuing.
The ancient Egyptians referred to this event as the First Time. This is the time of emergence when the god Atum, the first manifest, emerged, and out of Atum was born light. Atum's light extending into the universe was called Ra. This is the indwelling light found within every atom, every particle, and every molecule. This is the light that is the light of all Suns and stars.
For the ancient Egyptians, the god Atum was simply God and Atum was the heart of the cosmos. The heart, which includes the physical heart and spiritual heart, also known as the heart chakra, was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be the seat of spiritual consciousness, intelligence, and awareness as long as it was attuned to Maat, Divine Order, Truth, and Justice. Care of the heart, keeping the heart pure, so that the intelligence of the heart could shine forth with light and wise guidance and know the true from the false, the good from evil, was of the greatest concern to the ancient Egyptians. To contemplate and meditate upon the heart and identify one's own heart with the heart of the cosmos, Atum, was an ancient practice and is still an excellent meditation. After dwelling upon one's own heart in meditation and identifying it with Atum, and by extension Ra, the indwelling light, one could come to know one's place in the universe. The final step in the meditation practice would then be to allow the peace making power of the heart to penetrate the heart chakra and the physical heart and one's whole being. From this calm space, dwelling peacefully in the stillness within, one comes into direct contact with reality.
Kabbalistic tradition teaches that we are the microcosm of the macrocosm, or as the Bible says, we are made in the image of God. Contemplating the vast and mysterious universe in which we live, rather than making one feel insignificant, is one of the best ways to begin to realize the value of each human being and of all creation. Life is precious and every breath we take is a gift. The gifts of the spirit, of history and tradition, and the light brought to all through the arts and sciences are in harmony with the Via Galactica, the way of the galaxy. They act as an inspiration and guide to all of us as we journey together and manifest the truth that we are the ever-becoming. As a wise one said, "Dost thou reckon thyself but a puny form, when within thee the universe is folded up?"
*1 This information comes via an astronomer named Chet Raymo.