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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has spent the last ten years living in Shanghai and Beijing, China. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at


Ritual Enactment, Morphogenesis, and Evolution

Joe Corbett

Participation in the actions of the gods through ritual re-enactment is participation in the nonlocal morphogenetic fields.

Mircea Eliade said that the spiritual life of human beings can be summed-up by the myth of eternal return, the participation in the original act of creation by the gods through ritual re-enactment of the gods themselves, which are the archetypal patterns of our psyche. It is through the ritual act that the gods can be invoked, for the archetypal patterns of ritual are themselves the past actions of the gods, the divinity within. In the re-enactment, in the repetition of those archetypal patterns, the divine is made manifest, and humans are made participants in the cosmic creation.

Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade

The act of ritual itself is the spark of creation, which, when carried-out faithfully to the established patterns of the ritual, brings into being the presence of the divinity. Each ritual act, properly enacted in a series of ritual acts as if sequentially coded, is a renewed initiation of the creative spark, an act of god, a re-enactment of the manifestation of divine form ex nihilo.

However, just as in the children's game of pass-the-word-on, each new generation of ritual enactments not only faithfully replicates but also slightly alters the form and meaning of the ritual, which has the effect of potentially deforming the ritual into an unrecognizable monstrosity, losing the meaning (and the presence of divinity) to posterity. On the other hand, the other potential in this mutational process is that the ritual pattern is kept new and relevant and alive to those who perform it if they are able to adapt the new form and meaning to their actually existing circumstances and environment.

In this context, it is interesting to note that just as DNA must faithfully replicate past patterns (or bio-molecular habits), so too must it gradually mutate and be adaptable to present environmental conditions in order to prevent the species from becoming ossified and dead to its environment. DNA, too, must faithfully replicate but also adaptably renew and regenerate the gods through participation in and reinterpretation of the original act of creation in an ever changing environment.

Rupert Sheldrake says that the forms of life and the universe are all generated out of the habits of past processes (and practices, or rituals) that have become the shapes of present forms. These process-practices are non-local, i.e. quantum, fields of energy that become the habits of the universe, its archetypal or morphogenetic patterns, through repetition over time, gradually consolidating all the forms of manifest being. Existence itself is, in a sense, generated and maintained out of the eternal return of the divine act of origination (the archetypal god or ritual pattern) in the present. Manifest being comes from participation in the morphogenetic fields of various god-forms, or archetypal seed patterns.

The myth of the eternal return, then, what Eliade says is the central theme of human spirituality, is a mytho-ritual manifestation of the principle of morphogenesis: a repetition of the past in the present as a habitual-ritual act of creation and invocation of the divine-archetypal form. The spiritual life of human beings is essentially an intimation of the process of morphogenesis whereby the past process of origination is brought into the present through habitual-ritual re-enactment of the divine-archetype, and particularly the archetype of cosmo-genesis, the universal creation ex nihilo.

If this much is true, then perhaps evolution itself, as the bio-molecular repetition of past processes into the present, is essentially a morphogenetic phenomenon, a quantum field of action; and eternal return, the central spiritual theme in human life, is a mytho-ritual enactment not only of morphogenesis but of evolution as well, a repetition of the creative origins of our being with ever so slight and adapted variations over time. Participation in the actions of the gods through ritual re-enactment is participation in the nonlocal morphogenetic fields consolidating and uniting the archetypal forms of our being, which in turn is participation in our own evolution as beings of the past in the eternal present.

If anything, there does appear to be a seamless link between the habits of the universe, the spiritual activity of human beings, and the evolution of life.

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