That worlds (also Races) are periodically destroyed by fire (volcanoes and earthquakes) and water, in turn, and renewed, is a doctrine as old as man. Manu, Hermes, the Chaldees, all antiquity believed in this. Twice already has the face of the globe been changed by fire, and twice by water, since man appeared on it. . . . Thence arises a periodical redistribution of land and water, change of climates, etc., all brought on by geological revolution, and ending in a final change in the axis. — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 2:725-6
There are many mysteries connected with the evolution of life on Gaia, our earth. This living planet has evolved through major transformations which have had profound effects on her kingdoms: most of the major species that appeared early in terrestrial evolution have disappeared, often in mass extinctions. Catastrophes can be observed in her fossil records, and we see many gaps resulting either from major cataclysms which precipitate such extinctions or simply from the absence of any fossils. Surprisingly, after such gaps there may come explosions of new diverse species from unknown ancestries. No true intermediate forms from one major phylum or kingdom to another have been discovered, and the continuity of life-forms may never be found. The fossil records cannot give us the causes of evolution, its continuity or purpose, because of the scope and nature of Gaia's catastrophes and because the latter do not originate in physical bodies.
Where then is the continuity in terrestrial evolution? The "missing link" in the evolutionary process is consciousness, that divine vital intelligent mystery of life. The causal forces of consciousness manifest as change in nature — great forces, coming from invisible realms, suddenly break through into the conditions of physical matter. The resulting destruction, followed by regeneration through new creative energies, is part of a purposeful development of beings toward perfection. Geologic periods which remain uniform for many millions of years do allow sustained evolution of species, but then dramatic changes may cause rapid extinctions, such as that of the dinosaurs.
In nature's unfolding design, critical outward transformations result from the inner forces of consciousness. The stages of life are natural imbalances brought about by life in the process of ever becoming. Birth is a rudimentary trauma, which flows into adolescence and young adulthood, both also traumatic, as are old age and death. Death results in the greatest catastrophic change from material to ethereal forms, whether in worlds, universes, the major races of mankind, or individuals. The spirit may pause for a rest before another rebirth occurs, but the divine essence flows on through countless imbodiments without interruption.
World mythologies address the origin, evolution, and destruction of worlds and universes. They recognize consciousness as the causal agency behind nature's destructive and creative activities, viewing all things as living beings, divinities, the many sparks of the one cosmic life. Among the Hindus, for example, the god Vishnu is divine spirit, the origin and preserver of life, as well as a creator (Brahma) and destroyer-regenerator (Siva). This trinity is essentially the active processes of consciousness renewing its forms and changing in accordance with new inner impulses.
We can look at motion in its highest cosmic sense as the habits of the gods. These habits, which form the basis for all cyclic patterns of every being, can be likened to our body's automatic physiology, but on transcendentally higher levels. Along the same lines, karma can be seen as the divine harmony of the one absolute consciousness. There is a constant ebb and flow of various activities of life, cosmic to human, following spiral pathways of cyclic unfolding as beings move in and out of material existence. Destruction and regeneration are essential to progress, making critical transitions to superior levels.
We might ask, what do the gods have to do with the deluges or cataclysms effecting the global changes of Gaia and the evolution of humanity? The ancient wisdom would answer, just about everything! They are the informing wisdom behind these karmic adjustments and follow the inherent universal cyclic rhythms of cosmic consciousness. These eternal cycles of life are tied to patterns of past activity, and there are as many types of cycles connected with Gaia as there are with ourselves.
One essential cycle of evolution involves transformations in the qualities of consciousness and physical properties of matter. There is a descending arc of spirit immersing itself in a flood of vitality and matter through ever more material forms. The midpoint is reached in a temporary balance of spirit and matter, followed by an ascent of consciousness and a spiritualizing of matter. The gods' essence is diffused in the vast collective evolution of the kingdoms as waves of life repeatedly following this basic cycle. The monadic entities must create the proper vehicles through which to experience conditions during this arc of descent. After reaching the arc of spirit which follows the densest point, matter is transformed and the inner consciousness is unfolded, becoming ever more apparent.
Applying this cycle to our earth, we see that Gaia was at first ethereal, astral, and gaseous. On its descent into matter it became rocky and solid. In the early astral conditions forces and substances behaved very differently than they do under present physical conditions. The qualities of matter and consciousness were in another dynamic phase. The seeds of life flowed out of latency in the beginning of this active stage or round. At such a time the relatively astral animals differentiated rapidly with many complex changes in forms, making new species. These materialized and became the major families of plants and animals we know today. The amazing process of producing new species, not to mention families, phyla, or kingdoms is not seen today. And the continuity even in the plastic forms and rapid alterations of early prototypes into modern species will never be found in stone, although it is seen in the orderly progression of the development of animal and human embryos.* Though fossil records showing major changes from the first prototypes to the current, specialized physical bodies may be lost, the inner memory remains in each monadic center of consciousness. These consciousnesses move on to new species or kingdoms in order to learn to express other kinds of intelligence and qualities. The past evolution of nature's kingdoms also remains as part of the collective memory of Gaia's higher consciousness.
* Because the human embryonic stages cover the entire spectrum of forms including the plant and animal kingdoms, man figures into the creative process. The ancient traditions place humanity as the oldest kingdom which played an important role in the development of the biological forms of the lower kingdoms. In this respect mankind is also considered as a "Noah" and an "Ark" of a lesser type, along with the gods.
The whole earth has changed radically since 18 million years ago when self-consciousness awakened in mankind. Great global changes of lands, oceans, and all life are mentioned in the world's mythologies. One legend based on such events is the destruction of Atlantis. It is inevitable that Gaia responds to the thoughts and other emanations of humanity and the various kingdoms of nature which tend to build up cumulative effects, creating stresses and imbalances that need release. The spiritual forces of Gaia respond on inner levels, resulting in huge elemental changes — a purification of her outer body. New continents are born out of old ones emerging from a rest at the ocean bottoms, and oceans change their places, providing fresh beginnings for both water and land, and consequently animals and plants. We know the explosive power of volcanoes, the forces of storms and winds, great tidal waves, floods, droughts, sudden freezing and glaciation, and so on. There are also diseases, famine, or sterility that drastically affect populations.
There is in the universe as well as in Gaian metabolism a constant interplay of polar forces of consciousness, some allied with matter, others agents of spirit. Out of this blending and tension there is a general movement toward perfection. Esoteric accounts often record the passing of vast cycles and great changes in astronomical terms relating to the motion of the planet and the zodiacal records. The tilt of Gaia's axis and her rate of rotation, like the beating of a heart, may be regular, or also have variations leading to extreme fluctuations at certain times. Ancient records say that at such times the earth tilts and wobbles. These disturbances are part of life's renewal and tie in with human cycles or yugas, the greatest cataclysms occurring during the kali yugas.
Humanity has already passed through several global karmic adjustments at the middle of the previous third and fourth root-races. Through it all, certain representatives of mankind, animals, and plants were saved by the Noahs or Vaivasvata Manus from their fiery cataclysms and watery deluges. Noah is a generic term for many hierarchies of beings connected with humanity's and Gaia's inner life. H. P. Blavatsky refers to Noah as "the septenary Host of the Elohim, and is thus the Father or Creator (the Preserver) of all animal life" (SD 2:597). Such figures represent also the spiritual compassionate protectors and sages said to have led the new mankinds to safety in fresh lands after global catastrophes. The present fifth root-race, for instance, moved to rising lands of Central Asia before the great destruction of its predecessors, the fourth or Atlantean root-race.
Looking at the Biblical Genesis and other more ancient stories, one can see connections among humanity, Gaia, the seven solar gods or Elohim, and the many Noahs. The gods play a collective role as divine consciousness, the impersonal karmic agency which maintains harmony while initiating patterns of growth. Our humanity and the kingdoms of nature, as part of Gaia, are sustained and protected in the ark, the solar boat or egg, by the intelligent guidance of the gods at her spiritual heart. Many myths worldwide speak of gods casting the seeds of life in a new cycle and assisting their growth and evolutionary forms. They become the kingdoms of nature, diffusing part of their sevenfold consciousness within all entities. There are always gods as the guardians of life or restorers of karmic balance. The Titans and Kabiri of Greece and Asia, the Hindu Prajapatis, Pitris, and Manus, and the Hebrew Elohim represent the same universal concept of the builders and architects of worlds: the progenitors of mankind and the lower kingdoms who guide and protect them from beginning to end over huge cycles. So it is from within outward that divine consciousness rules the heavens and the earth.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1995; copyright © 1995 Theosophical University Press)