A recipe for life

“Hence without parents by spontaneous birth
Rise the first specks of animated earth”
– E. Darwin, 1803

Spontaneous generation is the idea that life can arise from non living material at any given moment and one of the earliest references I found to the concept was from Anaximander in the 3rd century BC.  Not long after, Aristotle was writing in the 4th century about eels.  They troubled him as he could find no trace of their sex.  He concluded that eels “proceeds neither from pair, nor from an egg” but that instead they were born of the “earth’s guts”, that is spontaneously emerging from mud.  Aristotle believed that worm casts were actually embryonic eels boiling out of the ground.  Pliny the Elder had another idea, that eels would rub themselves against rocks and the scrapings would come to life.  Other eel theories included young emerging from the gills of fish, from dew or being created by electrical disturbances.  The reason that eels caused natural history such issues is because of their lifecycle which starts out at sea, away from the eyes of man.

Aristotle also thought that spontaneous generation applied to a few other creatures, often small, including flies and frogs, which were considered to be lower life forms.  Some were thought to be produced in putrefying mud and dung, in wood, in excrement, and dew.  Later, naturalists would claim that insects spontaneously generated out of old wax, vinegar, damp dust and books.  Even decaying larger animals were thought to generate these smaller lifeforms.  Horses were thought to be transmogrified into hornets, crocodiles into scorpions, mules into locusts and bulls into bees.  Rats were said to come from garbage, aphids from bamboo, flies from sweat and ants from sour wine.

Athanasius Kircher included ‘recipes’ for life in his 1665 book, for example, to create frogs, you needed to collect clay from a ditch where frogs have lived, incubate it in a large vessel, add rainwater and voila!

Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century tells us how to make poisonous, predatory arachnids; fill a hole in a brick with basil, cover with a second brick and leave in the sun.  To make mice, he instructs us to place wheat and water in a flask, cover with the skirt of an unclean woman, leave for 21 days and there you’ll have baby mice.  Another mouse suggestion was that they emerged from the earth and in some places you could see them fully formed as far as the breast and front feet, the rest still just mud.

To make flies, you collect fly cadaver’s, crush them slightly, put them on a brass plate and sprinkle with honey water.  You can make bees by killing a bull, putting the corpse on branches and herbs during spring and by summer you’d have your bees.  Oysters would grow from slime, cockles from sand and salamanders from fire.

Whilst all of this sounds absurd to us today, if you put yourself in their shoes, I think you’d struggle to find a better theory.  After all, caterpillars don’t have parents that resemble them, and when they die (turn into a chrysalis), they create a butterfly.  Mushrooms grow from dead logs, mould appears out of nowhere and then there are the ‘annual’ fishes of Africa and South America:

“Their lifestyle is almost magical.  They live in puddles, ponds and ditches that dry up for part of the year.  When the puddles dry up, they die.  Only their eggs survive, buried under the dried mud, waiting for the next rains.  Collect mud, add water – and presto, you get fish.  You can see why people believed in spontaneous generation.”
– Olivia Judson

Over time, the idea of spontaneous generation began to be questioned.  In 1646 a sceptic was ridiculed for questioning the idea but Francesco Redi would seek to disprove the idea that maggots grew out of raw meat with experiments in the 17th century (he still believed that living matter could create other living matter eg trees creating wasps and gallflies).  Unfortunately, his results were questioned, holes were poking in the methods and John Needham would go onto ‘prove’ via another experiment that spontaneous generation was of course real.  Needham’s experiment took gravy and heated it, then sealed the end of the flask and the idea was that nothing could survive the heat or get it as it was sealed.  When life started to form, Needham was validated in his belief.  However, he hadn’t heated the flask high enough to kill the bacteria enclosed in it so they survived the process.

Other people would work at disproving spontaneous generation including Lazzaro Spallanzani who built on the work of Redi, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur came onto the scene in the 19th century that the theory was conclusively disproved.

Ultimately, by investigating the theory of spontaneous generation, we would come across pasteurisation and the field of microbiology would be born.

Suggested Reading:

Horse: Animal Dreaming


Horse: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

The horse as a symbol of personal power chimes really strongly with my feeling about the chariot card, a horse, in the wild unknown tarot deck.  We also saw the horse as a sign of actual power for nobles and wealthy people.

Adding an Australian element, there is a free roaming horse called the brumby, emphasising the wild, untamable nature of the animal.

As I said in the introduction to these cards, there are some which I’ll already have covered in a lot of detail so there will be some shorter posts.

Horse: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

And so we come to the final earth card, the horse.

We often think of horses as domesticated but there are still wild horses out there and without humans, they are very much a pack animal.  In the wild, they are vulnerable to predators and being part of a group means there are more eyes to spot danger.  When danger is approaching, they run as a herd but those out front or at the back are more vulnerable – those of us who are lagging behind or are too ahead of our times?

Even the horses we “keep” today are not truly domesticated.  We have not subdued them, we have harnessed their talents but they are still free spirits.  We have not and I suspect will not conquer the horse, instead, we work alongside it, respectful of it’s wild and independent nature.  After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Horses have been around for a very long time and the ancient ancestors of the horse we know today was the size of a spaniel.  As we have utilised these majestic beings for our own uses we have bred into them the characteristics we need.

Our relationship with the horse has had a huge impact on human civilisation and goes back many thousands of years.  Being able to ride horses let us experience the wild freedom of the horse.  It allowed us to travel much further than before and much quicker.  We could carry more with us when we travelled and our hunting range expanded and we could visit other groups of humans more easily.  The horse allowed us more capacity for exploration.

It is because of this, and because of their physical traits, that the horse is associated with travel, with moving forward, with journeying and stamina.  These are strong creatures with a vitality and driving force which propels you onward.

Horses are associated with nobility and wealth and have, in various cultures, been a status symbol, with the rider literally being elevated above most of us.

The most highly evolved part of their brain is the part which deals with muscle control and this is important as horses have different combinations of leg movements for the different speeds they go at.  By using a particular sequence of steps to trot, a different sequence to canter etc they are choosing the most efficient tool for the job.

Horses communicate though body language and will cut through any facade you are wearing.  You may look confident and sure but the horse will know if under that mask you’re really scared.  It is perhaps this ability to almost see into your soul that led Celtic myths to associate the horse with clairvoyance.

Myths and legends

Other beliefs around the horse include the idea that horse hair contained magical properties.  Linked to the horse and journeys, is a belief that the horse can not only help us travel in this world, but also help us travel to and through otherworlds.

I imagine we are all familiar with the horseshoe as a sign of good luck, but did you know they were fastened to the hoof with seven nails which is a lucky number.

In India, horses are associated with death and funerals and at the opposite end of the spectrum, Freudian symbollogy associates them with the libido.  In Chinese astrology we see the traits of the horse once more as an active, energetic and boundless creature.

The Gaul goddess Epona was linked with horses and was worshipped across Western Europe, although due to an aural tradition we know very little about her.  We also have the myths about Macha and the Welsh goddess Rhiannon, both related to horses.

In England we have a few white chalk horses laying large on hillsides and can often be traced back to the Celts.


I don’t intend to go into any detail here but I felt it was important to mention unicorns.  These are believed to be a spiritually evolved horse with their horn, their link to the spirit, protruding from their third eye which is associated with insight.

Wild Unknown Tarot Deck

We see the horse in both the Chariot and the Five of Cups; two very different cards.

The chariot is very definitely my inner warrior and for a while she kept showing up.  She reminds me that I don’t need to be in fight mode all the time, part of being a good warrior is about taking time to get your body and mind in shape.  She took a while to show up, because I had completely depleted her and she was recuperating elsewhere.  Now she’s one of the cards that I go to when I need to channel strength, will power, direction, focus and clarity.  She is the very embodiment of moving forward, pushing on and facing challenges.

The five of cups on the other hand is about loss and grief.  The horse is looking down into the darkness and can’t see the light and the cups above her.  Pain and sorrow are an inevitable part of life and we must allow ourselves to feel these emotions.  But the horse is a reminder that we also need to keep moving, not get stuck and swallowed up by these feelings.