Guest lecture at Loyola University, April 2015.
A new song from Cradle of Filth offers a disturbing and prophetic vision of the future.
Violated, poisoned and unknowingly left for dead, Gaia’s is a pre-emptive, violent and justified retribution; without tears for creed or culture. — Dani Filth
(According to Metal Injection, it’s “not that bad.”)
What, if any, connection exists between “Gaia (Magnificence Edit)” and the ancient Greek goddess or the modern scientific theory remains unclear, but you can listen to the new track by Futuristic Polar Bears and Wayne & Woods on YourEDM.
Áine Órga shares the general outline of a Gaian ritual.
One question that is often raised by those who are coming to Paganism for the first time – whether naturalistic or not – is that of ritual content and structure. And this is a question that also needs to be answered by those whose practices are changing; for example, from theistic Pagan practices to naturalistic or atheistic ones. When I initially returned to ritual, I was doing something similar to what I had done for years as a Wicca-influenced theistic Pagan. But a lot of it felt empty; there were elements that I just didn’t believe in, and which didn’t mean anything to me. So I began to address this problem, and went about gradually reconstructing the content of my rituals.
Although Pagaian Cosmology by Glenys Livingstone was probably the most influential book I’ve ever read in terms of sorting out my attitudes towards divinity and the philosophy behind my…
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Author’s note: One of the things that has drawn me to Paganism is that it embraces both the divine feminine and the divine masculine. I tend to see this duality playing itself out nearly everywhere in nature. This poem was inspired by an early morning drive through the countryside in late October, just as the sun was coming up.
Gaia’s breath lingers, misty, in her hollows
On a chilly October morning;
Sighs as geese rise from her pond,
Honking and flapping.
Stirring slowly as her lover arrives over the horizon:
Sun, casting a golden flush on her curves,
Russet blush on her tree-covered peaks.
Warming, she arches to the sky
Urging her mate…
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Currently, in 2014, Gaia is not a major focus of religious thought and activity. The Gaia hypothesis or theory has been advanced by James Lovelock and others, not without controversy. This scientific conception of Gaia has fired the public imagination, leading some to criticize the idea as essentially religious or spiritual. Tellingly, most media references to a religion of Gaia come from conservative sources and are critical or satirical. More broadly, nature religions do exist but they are obscure, diffuse, esoteric, marginalized and all but invisible to mainstream cultures. This will change in the decades ahead.
Fifty years from now, the cult of Gaia will have grown substantially. In part this will be because the vicissitudes of climate change will have driven home the message that humans must live more lightly on the Earth.
As a religious movement, the cult of Gaia will manifest in many forms. The dominant established religions of the world will begin to connect to the idea and image of Gaia. In its most dilute form, this will simply be a message of environmental responsibility and stewardship. In some communities and traditions there will be a more substantial recognition of Gaia as a coherent whole, as an entity, as a sacred context, and this will be syncretized with existing theologies and beliefs. There will also be a proliferation of newer groups explicitly dedicated to celebrating Gaia. These will provide the most dramatic and interesting forms of religious expression.
These new groups dedicated to the celebration of Gaia will represent a confluence of contemporary Pagans (especially Naturalistic and Eco-Pagans), New Age practitioners, Goddess worshipers, Deep Ecologists, radical environmentalists, indigenous cultures, pantheists, religious naturalists, atheists, Buddhists and many others.
They will not always use the name Gaia. Some will refer to the Great Mother, or Mother Nature, or Mother Earth, or simply the Earth, or some other name. Some will envision an anthropomorphized goddess, while others will seek to embrace the Earth just as she is, in leaf and rock and wave, without such imagery. Yet these groups will share a common understanding and a common experience of the Earth as a sacred system in which humans participate. (Ideas about the exact role of humans in this system will differ considerably.) The centrality of this concept in beliefs and practices will be the uniting factor that defines the cult of Gaia as a recognizable cultural phenomenon.
The cult of Gaia will further be characterized by a radical feminist, anti-authoritarian sociopolitical stance; a critical perspective on global capitalism; and an emphasis on direct action for political and social change. Yet the orientation of these groups will not be exclusively external by any means. Above all they will be marked by a holistic view and what might be called an ecocentric consciousness. As people cannot awaken to Gaia without development of such consciousness, the cult will support the interior growth of celebrants in an integral fashion. The cult will meld politics and spirituality and reunify science with religion, blending secular modernity with Pagan revival.
As sea levels rise, as extreme weather events become commonplace, as various forms of ecological crisis become more severe, as the age of cheap petroleum draws to a close, there will be much fear, confusion and upheaval. People will seek new answers to the oldest questions of humanity, new expressions of ancient experiences. Insofar as it provides a relevant response to these developments, the cult of Gaia will swell accordingly and play a central role in shaping humanity’s future.
In response to a prompt from Christine Kraemer and Rhyd Wildermuth
This great essay by Jassy Watson includes two amazing paintings by the author.
Toby Tyrrell, author of On Gaia, finds in favor of a coevolutionary hypothesis, the notion that life and the environment are “somehow coupled.” This hypothesis is equivalent to what James Kirchner labels coevolutionary Gaia.
A brief review of the literature
Peter Ward writes that coevolutionary Gaia is “already viewed as true,” that it is “virtually no hypothesis at all.”
In a similar vein, Arthur C. Petersen holds that the weaker formulations of the Gaia hypothesis are really just “basic assumptions,” from the view of Earth systems science.
Kirchner holds that coevolution between biota and environment “is not original or unique to Gaia,” tracing the idea back to 1844 — long before James Lovelock published the Gaia hypothesis. Kirchner calls coevolution a “fact,” one that is so widely recognized that “it would seem odd to call it a hypothesis.”
What’s in a name
One question that seems to remain is that of nomenclature. Are the weaker forms of Gaia worthy of the name Gaia at all?
Tyrrell doesn’t think so. He writes that attaching the coevolutionary hypothesis to the name Gaia “only generates semantic confusion,” as this form of the hypothesis haven’t been used in any major Gaian publication. Clearly, Tyrrell has not read Primavesi’s Sacred Gaia, which concentrates on a coevolutionary model, but in fairness her theological work would seem to be outside his scope.
If Tyrrell’s work is well-received in the scientific community, the name Gaia may fall from favor as a label for any credible model of how the Earth works. But the Gaia hypothesis is notable for being known and discussed well outside of the scientific community.
This question of naming would seem to be a matter of poetry rather than strict scientific nomenclature. Lovelock originally wanted to call his idea the “Earth feedback hypothesis”; the name Gaia is credited to the novelist and poet William Golding. It’s doubtful that Lovelock’s work would have captured the public’s imagination without this poetic license.
We might do well to inquire into the overall value of the name Gaia in the context of our modern understanding of the Earth and our relation to it. As a metaphor, Kirchner says, Gaia is “unusually rich, colorful and evocative.” In a splendid recent essay, Michael Ruse writes that “even if Gaia is not literally true, it is a metaphor worth cherishing.” The name Gaia has increased general interest in a holistic view of the Earth and its systems. Gaia can inspire feelings of gratitude, reverence and mature responsibility. That is positive.
But the name Gaia may also confuse people. The powerful image of the ancient mother goddess may lead to muddled thinking and a complacent mindset. People may lose sight of a weaker coevolutionary model and gravitate toward the stronger homeostatic and teleological models. People may think “Gaia will protect us” though the evidence does not support such hope.
It is possible to hold an image of Gaia that is both resonant with ancient wisdom and consonant with current scientific thinking. But is this an esoteric exercise limited to an intellectual elite? Can such an image capture the popular imagination?
What do you think? If you have any thoughts on the subject, please leave a comment.
“The Gaia Hypothesis: Can It Be Tested?” by James W. Kirchner
Sacred Gaia : holistic theology and earth system science by Anne Primavesi
“Earth’s Holy Fool?” by Michael Ruse
“Models and Geophysiological Hypotheses” by Arthur C. Petersen in Scientists Debate Gaia: the next century