The Human Cosmos – a Secret History of the Stars by Jo Marchant
Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, United Kingdom - Sept 2021
Review by Bev Smith
God of the Galaxies
The new book that I am reading “The Human Cosmos – a Secret History of the Stars” reminds us ‘that the life we have led is not just an earthly existence but a cosmic one. Our innate relationship with the stars shaped who we are – our religious beliefs, power structures, scientific advances and even our biology’. So goes the blurb of Jo Marchant’s revelatory treatise.
Long before the birth of Christ, humans understood that the cosmos that created us, as we created it, in which internal experience and external reality were inextricably entwined.
After Northern Hemisphere discoveries of Neolithic sites, explorers established that people looked to the spirit world. And found a connection to the moon, sun and stars.
February, 1954 American biologist Frank Brown, discovered something so remarkable, so inexplicable, that his peers essentially wrote it out of history. He discovered that oysters removed from the ocean, kept in brine inside a dark room continued their feeding activity in time with the tides from their home beach.
The oysters gradually shifted their feeding times later and later. Brown realized the oysters had corrected their activity according to the local stage of the moon; instead of matching the East Coast swell. He had isolated these organisms from every environmental cue. And yet, somehow, they were following the moon.
Closer to Aotearoa’s history is how Englishman James Cook learned from Polynesian navigator Tupaia who retraced the voyages of his ancestors. They followed the stars.
The Writers of the New Testament story of the birth of Jesus focused on heavenly bodies; the star, leading shepherds to where the new born Jesus lay – immortalizing an event that brought forth one of the most momentous changes in Christian history.
The hymn ‘God of the galaxies spinning in space’ sets the scene for us.