We recently received a letter from a reader in North Carolina. She asked some very profound questions about evolution, and we wanted to share our answers with you: January 4, 2010     Dear Natalie, You asked, “Why are there so many pre-human variations from a spiritual point of view? Why was this necessary?” and “When did something change on a spiritual level on the evolutionary timeline?” Those are very provocative questions, Natalie. Obviously you’re interested in more than a scientific lesson on the whys and hows of evolution. It sounds to us as though you’re interested in hearing our speculations on the whys of the spiritual evolution of human consciousness. So, here goes… First, why was it spiritually necessary for human beings to go through a variety of physical forms? We’re going ramble for a while. Please bear with us. Are you familiar with Siouan mythology? The Lakota people believe that every creature on earth has a perfect form in the Above World. So, for example, all the buffalo in this world descend from the perfect Ta Tanka (buffalo bull) who is a special friend to the Sun. Buffalo Above sits in council with the Sun every night to discuss the happenings here in the world. And all buffalo, and other creatures, strive for the perfection of their “Above form.” In his sacred vision, Black Elk was told by the Grandfather to: “Behold the earth!” So he looked down and saw it “lying yonder like a hoop of peoples, and in the center bloomed the holy stick that was a tree, and where it stood there crossed two roads, a red one and a black. From where the giant lives (north) to where you always face (south) the red road goes, the road of good,” the Grandfather said. “And on it your nation shall walk. The black road goes from where the thunder beings live (west) to where the Sun continually shines (east), a fearful road, a road of troubles and of war. On this you shall also walk…” After Wounded Knee, Wallace Black Elk prophesied that, “Real soon, now this is a turning point. The hoop, the sacred hoop…will come back again. The stake here that represents the tree of life, the tree will bloom, it will flower again, and all the people will rejoin and come back to the sacred road, the red road.” We suspect that humanity, and all other creatures, go through a variety of forms as they veer back and forth from the red road to the black road in their struggles to attain the perfection of those “Above.” Why is it necessary? Each form probably teaches us something fundamentally important for the next evolutionary stage of consciousness. From a scientific point of view, we know that environmental stress spurs evolutionary development, and this relates to your second question: “When did something change on a spiritual level on the evolutionary timeline?” If possible, that’s an even more difficult question to answer. We can tell you the approximate moments in time where evolution took giant leaps toward making us who we are today. For example, between two million and five million years ago the second and third pongid chromosomes merged, giving us twenty-three pairs (or 46 chromosomes), rather twenty-four pairs like chimpanzees. Second, some time around 1.8 to 2 million years ago, at the point where homo habilis shifts to homo ergaster, the brain becomes substantially larger. Then around 200-250 thousand years ago “mitochondrial Eve” and Y-chromosome “Adam,” the first anatomically modern human beings, were born. Lastly, around 78,000 years ago, art first appears at Klasies River Mouth site and the Blombos Cave in South Africa. It’s simple: stones engraved with lines, and the creation of beads for decoration—but it’s artwork nonetheless. It is probably no coincidence that the sudden appearance of artwork occurs simultaneously with the explosion of the supervolcano, Toba, in Indonesia. The best scientific guess is that after centuries of “volcanic winter” the number of human beings alive in the world got down to a few hundred–meaning we almost ceased to exist. Was artistic creativity spiritually necessary for the survival of humanity? Maybe. Art suggests abstract thought, or imagination. In the dire circumstances in which they found themselves, perhaps that creativity gave them the ability to dream of a hopeful future. It may even have allowed them to develop a storytelling tradition. They certainly would have needed to pass on information to their descendants, even if it was only where to find food, water, and shelter, as they traveled through the utter devastation left by Toba. For just a moment, let’s talk about mythology, about stories. We think storytelling was a singular moment in the spiritual evolution of human beings. Why? Because stories act as vehicles for self-transcendence. They allow listeners to move beyond themselves into a timeless realm where they can touch the sacred—however they conceive it. We live at the corner of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, home to the Shoshoni and Arapahoe nations. When we’re sitting around a fire listening to a Shoshoni elder recite the story about the struggle between Wolf and Coyote in the beginning time, we are always forced to come face to face with our own doubts, or confusion about what constitutes evil. In the stories, Wolf represents the forces of good, order, and tranquility. Coyote, on the other hand, represents evil and chaos. It is Coyote who, against Wolf’s wishes, insists that death be final. Up until that time people died but then came back to life after two days. Coyote wanted people to die forever–until his own son, Magpie, died. Then he went to Wolf and said “Raise my son after two days.” Wolf didn’t answer for a long time. Finally he said, “You, Coyote, said that people should die forever. If it weren’t for you there would be too many people now.” Coyote caught a crow, one that belonged to Wolf, and tore it to pieces in agony, then he buried his son, and sang all night. The struggle over the necessity of death is perhaps one of the greatest spiritual puzzles. The story of Wolf and Coyote allows the listener walk in Wolf’s shoes, then in Coyote’s, and back and forth…until it makes some kind of sense. We know that at some point along the evolutionary path human beings became “religious.” Interestingly, religiosity seems to be hard-wired in the species. We are religious beings, whether we want to be or not. Some of the studies that have been done on atheists who insist on wearing the same pair of socks to play baseball because they’re lucky, are fascinating. Apparently even atheists have a built-in supernatural perspective on life. When did that happen? We suspect it occurred in the very beginning. Perhaps when the second and third chromosomes merged. So. Back to your question. Did something change on a spiritual level to cause these grand physical evolutionary leaps? Or did the leaps cause grand spiritual awakenings? It could be both. The only thing relatively certain is that the leaps helped humanity to survive and, perhaps, to continue the search for perfection that guides us toward fulfilling our spiritual destiny. We hope that Wallace Black Elk is right and human beings choose to follow the sacred road, the Red Road, that leads us in that direction. Best Regards,     Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear