Q. In spiritual writing there are usually references to ‘aeons of time’. Are these measurable units of time or veiled references to something else?
A. Spiritual material can sometimes sound poetic, relying on older interpretations of words, especially ones that are vague to begin with or have a more current use. Aeon, also spelled eon, is a perfect example – with a twist.
Human beings are impatient by nature, and somewhat obsessed with measuring time. Every second counts – we expect answers more quickly than ever before, get updates from our smartphones while standing in line, and change browsers if a webpage takes too long to load. In ancient times news traveled more slowly and an aeon or period of time, could mean many things.
The original meaning of ‘aeon’ included longevity, a vital force or being, and a generation or age. It was a graceful and generous reference to timelessness rather than to time itself. An aeon could be someone’s lifespan or a reference to eternity. Old-world philosophers used ‘aeon’ to describe the world of ideas they believed exists beyond the physical world, and religionists used it to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, or immortality.
In astronomy and cosmology an aeon is described as the period (of time) between “successive and cyclic big bangs”, roughly equivalent to 109 or one billion years (abbreviated AE). Earth’s history as measured on the Geologic Time Scale is divided into four aeons. We can generally assume that aeons are made up of long, indefinite periods of time.
Today, we think of time as traveling horizontally – from the present moment toward a future. But ancient teachers spoke of a ‘time before time’ and of worlds of wonder [ideal and symbolic] that existed ‘before the beginning’. These measureless periods were hosted by ‘beings of depth and profundity’. I am told these words are obscure references to mathematical operations.
Personally, I prefer the old-world meanings because they make no attempt to cage time, shorten it, or flatten it down to a three-dimensional model. I once read that aeons were bestowed upon those who knew how to live with vital force, while eras and ages fell, like blankets, upon those who slumbered through life. I guess ‘wake-up calls’ were as popular then as they are now!