In the Beginning . . . Something Changed

The Creation has fascinated me since childhood, growing up with a mainline midwestern Protestant Sunday School education and a closet agnostic physicist/engineer father. Our dinnertable discussions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged to infinity and back, to the edges of the Universe and back, and to what we could know. To me, it all has to make sense together or something is amiss. The Creation – biblical and astrophysical – is where it comes together.

I didn’t have the vocabulary for it, then, but now I do. Mixing an omnipotent deity with the discipline of scientific inquiry opens a door to chaos – which has its value in the intensity of discussion that ensues. And there are lessons to be gleaned, even when disputants slam the door and walk/run away.

Our view of the sky in any direction is, in this picture from right to left, straight down the middle

He said, “This Big Bang thing is rubbish. You can’t get something from nothing.

Dad wouldn’t have let me get away with an assertion of “can’t” nor of “impossible”, which may be one reason an assertion like this from a friend might keep me awake at night. Sigh.

So, what do we know and what can we know about the Beginning of the Universe?

Between Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes (1979), which fascinated me then, and the vast trove of information now available online, I have tried to bring myself up to date and distill the essence into simple concepts.

Because no one was present in the Beginning to observe and record, we rely on physical observations we can make today repeatedly to construct a model describing what appears to have happened. We then challenge that model with the observations we have made. We continue coming up with new observations, tweaking the model, and challenging it again – until some unsought observation surprises us and we revise or scrap the model and apply all the old challenges again. The current iteration is called the Standard Model in particle physics.

The most recent calculated age of the Universe is about 13.8 billion (1.38 x 1010) Earth years. At that point, something changed in the conditions at hand, and changes continue today. We call that point “the Beginning“.

We don’t know exactly what the conditions were prior to the change – that is, what changed? If nothing was present, then some further step is necessary to provide the Something that changed at the Beginning.

On one hand, the Universe’s origin was incomprehensibly small, on dimensions much tinier than the smallest known subatomic particles, and it was completely transformed over an immeasurably brief period, much shorter than any observable time scale. On the other, the densities and temperatures were extraordinarily large, far exceeding anything existing in the present-day Universe.

Center for Astrophysics (Harvard & Smithsonian) Accessed 11 September 2023

Whatever was present responded to the change by disintegrating into fragments exploding in all directions, thus allowing the temperature to fall and space to be filled with particles carrying matter and energy moving away from its center. The cloud of fragments was so dense that particles collided and interacted with each other, changing characteristics and direction, and moving along to collide again.

As a visual approximation, Prince Rupert’s Drop could stand in for the primordial Something, in which case snipping its tail would be the change — filmed at 100,000 frames per second: Mythbusters and Prince Rupert’s Drop video

Those earliest particles included photons, electrons, neutrinos, and quarks, among others. Together they carried all the mass, energy, charge, spin, and force for interaction that make up the Universe today – the jury is still out on what carries the force of gravity, though of course it’s there.

It could be said that process of expanding, encountering, changing, and moving along continues today. The Universe is much larger now; the temperatures and densities are much lower; and gravity slows the speed of expansion by drawing particles together.

The Big Bang usually refers to the disintegration in all directions of that which changed. Often the literature speaks of it as involving the bigger pieces, the composite particles that resulted from encounters among elementary particles, and even atoms and molecules resulting from more complex encounters. Some articles refer to it as Inflation or Cosmic Inflation.

In a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, the Universe grew by a factor of 1026, comparable to a single bacterium expanding to the size of the Milky Way.


Whatever it was called, by 10-33 seconds after the Beginning, the explosive expansion was complete and the Universe contained a mixture of elementary particles, composite particles, protons and neutrons composed of 3 quarks each, and some atomic nuclei composed of protons and neutrons. The temperature had fallen with the expansion, but it was still too hot and crowded for electrons to stay with any atomic nuclei they encountered.

The more I learn about All That Is and about all we have learned about how it came to be, the less need I see for an external omnipotent Power to do anything more than provide the primordial something and, maybe, to give it a push to start. All that is here, now — the Gods that are real, personal, and important to us — have been with us from the Beginning.

Casting the Circle/Creation Myth

A lesson and ritual for a group of newcomers (specifically incarcerated men) which was developed originally to satisfy an assignment in Survey of Chaplaincy, a course presented by Patrick McCollum at Cherry Hill Seminary in 2005.  The Creation myth and the attributes of the directions are adapted from McCollum’s book Courting the Lady.


Standing in the center of the circle of newcomers, beside altar with wand in hand:


Nothingness, piled upon Nothingness, gathered in the center which is also the whole of everything, which is Nothingness.

The Mother formed Herself from the Nothingness. She looked around. (look around, ending up facing East)

She was Alone – All One. In Her loneliness She screamed.

Lazra meck, Her scream, the light of darkness, went away from Her (walking toward the East, wand extended and searching)

Until it realized it was separate from Her and moving away from the only Other that there was. (stop moving)

Here – this place of realization, this enlightenment, this first place, we will call East. Here we celebrate illumination, light, the element of Fire.

Here lazra meck began to seek the path back to the Mother. (begin walking toward South, tracing the circle with the wand)

bringing the illumination, the fire – in a shining arc –(stopping at South)

until the light takes on form and substance, and becomes solid. Here, this place of solidity, we will call South. Here we celebrate form and substance, matter, the element of earth.

Again lazra meck continued seeking the path to the Mother (begin walking toward West, tracing the circle with the wand)

heavy now with substance and illumination, yet incomplete (stopping at West)

until it found itself churned in the cauldron of creation, the womb of the Mother, and coming to birth in the waters of life. Here, this place of birth, of life, we will call West. Here we celebrate Life and the element of water.

Alive now, lazra meck continued seeking the path to the Mother (begin walking toward North)

living substance, illuminated, yet incomplete (stopping at North)

until it found the Mother’s gift of spirit, of soul, the anima, and became a complete and independent being, alive, aware, and determined. Here, this place of inspiration, we will call North. Here we celebrate Spirit and the element of air.

Complete and independent, lazra meck still longed to rejoin the Mother (begin walking toward the East)

and chose to continue the search (stopping at East and turning toward the center)

until lazra meck recognized a place it had been before and from there (walking inward, embracing wand)

retraced its path and reunited with the Mother.

addressing newcomers

In our circle, in our sacred space, this is the center of the Universe. Very small actions here can lead to major changes in the outside world. We take particular care with what we say and do here – one way of thinking of it is that what we do comes back to us, three times over, but not necessarily in the ways we predict it will. (One good reason for a Witch not to turn someone into a frog)

We will learn more ways to make magic, to do it effectively, but for the first try, we’ll start with the basics. The first step is Intention. What do you want to do, and why?

Here in sacred space today, each of you will have the opportunity to do one small bit of personal magic, with the rest of us helping. Think about it for a minute. What would you like to change in your life – something that could happen in the next week or so? If what you want is something big – I hear what you’re thinking, and remember, we’re starting small here – maybe break it down a little and pick a manageable piece. State your intention or request to yourself. Look it over to make sure it’s not going to hurt anyone else or yourself. See if it’s something you can ask the Mother for.

When you’re all ready, I’ll ask you to come up one at a time to the altar. While the man at the altar states his intention – or makes it a prayer to the Mother – the rest of us will focus our attention on supporting his magic. At the altar, state your intention or request quietly. The rest of us really don’t need to hear what it is. We will trust you that what you are asking is intended without harm, and we will focus our intention on your request.

We’ll start with the East and move around the circle the same direction we cast it.

(when all have finished)

The focus and intention of a community is stronger than that of any individual. By all working together, by supporting each other, we can each have more success in our personal endeavors than we could separately. Even when we don’t know what the other guy’s needs are, just by focusing our intention on supporting him we can make a difference.