Gift of Tiamat
A Ritual for the Winter Holiday Season

created by Connie Barlow in 1996

NOTE: Tiamat is the name that Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry gave to the ancestral star who created all the complex elements that now circulate in our bodies and through Earth. They named the star Tiamat in their book, The Universe Story. Recently, scientists have concluded that the complex atoms in our bodies actually derive from upwards of 20 ancestral stars who flared forth and exploded as supernovas, seeding this part of the galaxy with carbon, nitrogen, calcium, iron, and so on, before our own star, the Sun, was born. So the single star Tiamat that is central to this ritual must now be understood as a symbol for a whole community of ancestral stars that bequeathed a diversity of atoms to our solar system.

This annotated version of "The Gift of Tiamat" was performed Christmas eve 1997 in a family setting. To use this ritual for your own family or other gathering, just print out the entire script and distribute the oratory parts to the participants. There are 5 places for a narrator (which can be either a single person for all or distributed to 5 people), plus there are 4 "characters" who can prepare by dressing up in costume. Kids love being the characters, but must be old enough to read. Any number of people can participate, as well, by becoming, in turn, an element, a planet or star, a creature, and an aspect of mind. The script below gives a sense of what actually happened in 1997, when this ritual was performed in a family setting on Christmas Eve.

PARTICIPANTS: 2 girls (age 10 and 12) and five adults (their father, his girlfriend, one uncle, and two aunts--all baby boomer ages)

LOCATION: family living room, in front of the Christmas tree, with a constructed altar on a bench. We sit in a semicircle on the floor facing the altar and tree. The girls go up to the altar in turn to place a drawing and light a candle when each of their parts comes up. When each of the adults narrate, we each stay sitting in the circle. All seven do rise in turn, spontaneously, to participate in the "I am ___________" creation, which follows each of the four parts. We remain seated in the semicircle to sing the Tiamat song at the end of each act. This year we also had simple musical instruments to accompany singing.

2016 UPDATE: Dec 2016 BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Warrington, PA) adapted the core of this Tiamat Ritual into a script (with congregational "responsive reading" participation) that was used as their Intergenerational Solstice Celebration on Sunday morning. The adaptation is thanks to a member of the congregation, Dawn Star Sarahs-Borchelt. Click to access the script (which includes all aspects of the service) and the church bulletin used by each congregant.

PREPARATIONS IN ADVANCE: Barlow and the two girls make costumes, construct an altar by the Christmas tree (with candles to light in sequence and drawings of the four major events to be told). Barlow helps the two girls divvy up the four parts (Great Star Tiamat, Prophet of Planetary Futures, Spark of Life, and Magic of Mind) among them, and helps them rehearse their parts. She will distribute the 5 narrator slots to all the adults (the last to herself) at the beginning of the ritual, keeping them face-down until each is to be read. Barlow also helps the girls to decide on what chemical element, planet, creature, and dimension of the mind they wish to be ahead of time, and how to talk about each, as the children prefer to have time to think about things and rehearse, whereas the adults enjoy the spontaneity of being asked to think of these things during the ritual and to create on the spot.

In the beginning was the Great Radiance.
All light, all sound, all matter came into being
in a blinding flash that was the Great Radiance.
This was the birth of Space.
This was the birth of Time.
This was the Creation of the Universe.
We know this is so
because science tells us this is so.
And so tonight, during this darkest time of year,
we gather together to tell the Great Story,
to sing and celebrate our luminous story of Creation.

After the Great Radiance, matter and energy
were drawn into Galaxies, as the Universe expanded.
The galaxies swirled into great spirals
as the Universe expanded.
In each galaxy, billions and billions of stars were born.
Flaming into existence, billions and billions of stars were born.

Tonight we will tell the story of one very special galaxy.
We will tell the story of the Milky Way Galaxy.
And we will begin with the story of one star,
one very special star in this very special galaxy.

I am the Great Star Tiamat
Behold! Behold!
I was among the first generation of stars
born to the Milky Way Galaxy.
I am a very special star.
For I am the Great Star Tiamat.
Behold! Behold!

Before me there was only hydrogen,
only hydrogen gas throughout the whole galaxy.
But in my core, in my flaming hot core,
I forged all the heavier elements.

I forged iron and silver and gold and titanium.
I forged oxygen and nitrogen and sulfur and sodium.
I forged sulphur and phosphorus that now swim in the sea.
I forged calcium and carbon and everything in thee.

But gifts are to be given, and so in my prime
I went supernova for the very first time.
Out of my burning body came elements galore.
And so the galaxy became so very much more.

You and you and you and you and you
are the elements tonight.
Now tell us who you are
and why you bring us delight.

EACH PARTICIPANT CHOOSES AN ELEMENT AND RISES TO SPEAK OF IT, using the format that begins and ends with "I am oxygen." Example: "I am oxygen. Without me you could not breathe. I am oxygen."

TIAMAT SONG, ELEMENTS VERSION. The Tiamat song is sung (three times, the last two with musical instruments accompanying), with the last line performed by me pointing in turn at each person to say their element, and then we all close with the phrase, "and trace elements." See page 302 of my book Green Space Green Time for the music. The elements shown in this version of the Tiamat Song below are the ones chosen this year by the seven participants:

Gift of Tiamat, out of the stardust we are born.
Gift of Tiamat, out of the stardust we are born.
Carbon, oxygen, copper, nitrogen, silver, sodium, iron
and trace elements.

Out of the ashes of Tiamat
out of the stardust of that great supernova,
rose a new star, a much smaller star,
but a very fine star indeed.
This was Sol, the Sun.
And around Sol swirled more of Tiamat's gifts,
more stardust that gathered and gathered
into nine planets.
Nine planets now gracefully circled the sun.
Oh what would the future hold for them?
Oh what would become of them?

I know what will become of them!
For I am the Prophet of Planetary Futures.
Behold! Behold!
I know what will become of the planets circling Sol.
For I am the Prophet of Planetary Futures.
Behold! Behold!

Nine planets all made from the gifts of a star.
Nine planets all circling how lovely they are!
And let there be moons and asteroids, too.
Comets and dust clouds quite more than a few.
They each circle the sun and dapple the sky.
They swoop and they sweep and they teach us to fly.
Some are gigantic, while others are small.
But each is quite lovely, to each and to all.

You and you and you and you and you
are the planets tonight.
Now tell us who you are
and why you bring us delight.


TIAMAT SONG, PLANETS VERSION. Note: The seven participants chose these: Saturn, Mars, Mercury, Earth, comet, Planet X, Pluto. So the song ends with those, plus thephrase, "and the asteroid belt."

And so the nine planets circled the sun.
Each and all were magnificent in their own special way.
But one planet, one planet of the nine,
had very special powers, indeed.
Because in its great waters, up from the depths,
perhaps in one little tide pool
there arose a spark that changed the universe.
And this spark would grow and grow
on this one little planet.
It would transform and evolve,
mixing and matching the particles of stardust
into a most wondrous thing.
What was this mysterious spark?

I know what that mysterious spark was.
For I am the Spark of Life.
Behold! Behold!
I arose upon the Earth.
And out of me came all living things.
Behold! Behold!

Out of the plumes of volcanoes
and sloshing through the sea.
I gathered up the stardust
and I turned it into thee.
I first made a microbe
who then made two, then four.
Then eight, then sixteen,
and soon very many more.

I transformed into vision;
I evolved into flight.
I grew fiercesome teeth;
and then I prowled the long night.

I sent plants reaching skyward,
to catch the gift of the sun.
I made animals slither
and then I made them run.

You and you and you and you and you
are the creatures tonight.
Now tell us who you are
and why you bring us delight.


TIAMAT SONG, CREATURES VERSION. The creatures chosen this year were: mosquito, rutabaga, monkey, cottonwood, dolphin, bear, cheetah. The final phrase is, "and microbes galore."

And so came the sharks and the fishes of the sea.
Yes, out of this first tiny spark of life, came everything
that now glides and sings and struts and sways.
Trilobites came and trilobites went.
Dinosaurs came and dinosaurs went.
But through it all, something mysterious was growing.
Something that would give birth to satisfaction and bliss.
It would yield curiosity too, and intention and will.
What was this mystery?

I know the great mystery.
For the mystery is me.
I am the Magic of Mind.
Behold! Behold!
I know whence comes frustration and fear.
I know of satisfaction and bliss.
For I am the Magic of Mind.
Behold! Behold!

Mind was lurking in the first inkling of life.
Mind was what led to longing and strife.
Mind drove a fish to seek out the land.
That same mind later enticed Ant to dig into sand.
Then one day Mind made a very big turn.
It began talking, mind to mind, and it started to learn.
It wondered how the Universe had come into being.
So it invented science to explain all it was seeing.
It invented art and story and music galore.
Mind invented poetry and candles and very much more.

You and you and you and you and you
are all that Mind is tonight.
Now tell us who you are
and why you bring us delight.


TIAMAT SONG, MIND VERSION. The mental elements chosen this year were: philosophy, dreams, sports, love, fluteplayer, emptiness, creativity. The final phrase we add on is "and the whole human race."

[Note: while some of the spontaneous risings would generate murmers of assent and awe, some were also humorous. The person who spoke of creativity got the biggest laugh because he rose and said "I am creativity." But then he blanked out on anything to say about it, so after a silence, simply closed with the standard, "I am creativity" and sat down.]

And so Mind tells the Story of the Universe.
Mind tells of the gift of the Great Star Tiamat.
Mind invents the Prophet of Planetary Futures.
Mind celebrates the Spark of Life.
And Mind contemplates its own mystery:
the Magic of Mind.

To close our little ritual, let us evoke silently,
in our own minds, whatever is greatest within us.
What is bursting to radiate out into the New Year,
like the supernova of Tiamat?
What is circling like planets around our own Soul?
What can be kindled into a spark that enlivens our World?
What does Mind wish to bring forth?

RING BELL OR CHIME for silent meditation

FINAL SONG. After an amount of silence begin to sing Silent Night, while distributing slips of paper with the new version(s) of words on it, so that after the first standard verse, all can begin to sing the new verse or verses:

Silent night. Holy night.
All is calm. All is bright.
Planets gracefully circle the sun.
Stardust cycles through every one.
Life abounds upon Earth.
Life abounds upon Earth.

It is easy to create more verses to the tune of Silent Night, verses that reflect back on the Tiamat Story. You may wish to work with the children earlier in the day to help them create new verses themselves, then write those on paper to distribute to all participants. Or, you can keep singing, choosing among the follow new couplets for lines 3 and 4 above, keeping the beginning and ending the same:

Radiant beams from primordial stars,
Swirled into planets like Venus and Mars.

Carbon, nitrogen, and calcium,
All were born inside ancestral suns.

Death and recycling of millions of stars,
Brought forth planets and all that we are.

Silver, gold, and titanium,
Forged in stars before Earth had begun.

Flaring forth across heaven above, Supernovas made all that we love.

Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn, and Friends
Dance elliptics for worlds without end.

Billions and billions of stars we can say
Spiral around our own Milky Way.

Icy-tailed comets revisit our Sun.
Scientists hope to know every one.

Humbled humans beneath the night sky,
Our minds race to find reasons why.

Peace and harmony bring happiness.
Nature's splendor rekindles our bliss.


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