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
Photo credit: Planet Earth / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0