What is Earthen Spirituality?
My interest in Earthen Spirituality was born out of a desire to answer a question at the end of a chain of thoughts. In the beginning there is the question why. Why do people participate in the rampant ecocide all around them? Why don’t people love the Earth? The answer I propose is: Because they are not taught that the Earth is lovable. Further, we are held in bondage by limiting and often debilitating, cultural derived basic beliefs. Unfortunately, these beliefs were formulated thousands of years ago by people unassisted by the spiritual and scientific information available today.
But I suggest that our cultural worldview is deeply destructive, physically, culturally, and psychically. Why? Because of our basic beliefs. I call for an examination and re-evaluation of some of these basic beliefs and suggest that they are based on questionable information and lead not only to alienation from our roots in Nature but ultimately to the destruction of our species and a great many other species around us. I extend an invitation to everyone to look deeply within themselves for the foundation principles that underpin their opinions and preferences; to open up their book of basic beliefs and examine it the light of its relevance to life in the present century.
Can recent scientific research and advancements help with the formulation of an Earth-based spirituality? Yes and in my book: “Planet as Self“, I offer some examples of why I think so. A partnership of effort in scientific research and the deepening of spirituality can play a huge role in our expanding consciousness of who we are in relationship to our living Earth.
The book explains how a mechanistic scientific worldview coupled with religious teachings that tell us that our life here is only something that we have to suffer on the way to heaven has alienated us from Nature and Earth energy that can give us strength, comfort and a total sense of belonging.
Planet as Self calls for an Earth-based spirituality. A spirituality based on the belief that we are living in a loving, lovable highly intelligent planet. Earthen Spirituality teaches us that we have no need to “go” anywhere to be with the powerful and sustaining spirit of the Earth.
And finally, this book helps us to realize God in Nature by revealing our total immersion in the workings of our planet, a living planet that transforms the creator’s life force into that which we can learn to love and cherish because actually, we are the planet. We have the science, we have the spirituality, we have the wisdom and we have the level of consciousness to not only survive, but share in the increasing health of Gaia.
Look and be amazed
Perhaps I’ve been mistaken in believing that Druids were pagans. Certainly the Druids that were gathered in the area of Anglesey in North Wales were established long, long before the Roman invasion and thus preceded Christianity. Their place was among those who we understand held pagan beliefs. Actually, I realise that I am not qualified to describe the difference between your typical Celtic [largely but not exclusively] pagan of the times and a fully- fledged Druid. As John Michael Greer describes, there were only 10 pages of historical data extant in 1649 that was written about pagans and much of that written by Julius Caesar.
However, this is all beside the point, my point I’m trying to reach.
Since finishing Planet as Self over two years ago, I’ve been constantly searching for a better understanding of how I describe Earthen Spirituality.
Since then I’ve discovered Starhawk and chosen a manifesto that she wrote. See: http://www.earthenspirituality.com/earthen-spirituality-manifesto/
Recently I re-discovered John Michael Greer, the American Archdruid. I suggest, from my limited understanding of how he describes Druidry, that Druids practiced the Earthen Spirituality that touches me and exemplifies the “it” that corresponds to where my consciousness has reached so far.
Whether Druids did then or do now believe that our higher self is actually Gaia and that Gaia is a living, loving and lovable being I do not know. From what very little I do know so far, it seems to be that Druids do love the Earth.
Does it really matter why? Do we all need a package of beliefs about who Gaia is to act out of this love? Surely not. I have felt love for various beings for no special reason. I’ve provided the quotes below to support my belief that John Michael Greer and the Druidry he describes are practicing the Earthen Spirituality of my vision to date.
What is the Druid Revival?
(from Chapter 1 of Druidry: A Green Way of Wisdom
©2003 by John Michael Greer. All rights reserved.
“Yet Druidry made room for monotheists, polytheists, pantheists, and more. A tradition that directed its reverence toward Nature, its disciplines toward the inner dimensions of the self, and its ceremonies toward the turning seasons had no need to impose some fixed definition on the higher realities behind these. People of many different theological opinions could all agree that Nature deserved reverence, hidden potentials of the self were worth uncovering, and the year’s cycle offered good reasons to celebrate. More than that, Druidry did not demand.”
“A tradition can be gray with the dust of centuries and still be useless, or even actively harmful, while another tradition freshly devised by some modern visionary can be a wholly valid path. Many Druids came to see this in the late twentieth century. They saw that Druidry’s relevance and power are a function of what it is, not where it comes from. As a living and vibrant spiritual tradition with three centuries of achievements to its credit, it can stand on its own, without enlisting ancient Druids to prop it up.”
John Michael Greer, Druidry – A Green Way of Wisdom
What does it mean to be a Druid today?
Above all else, Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth. It means participating in a living Western spiritual tradition drawn from many sources, including surviving legacies from Celtic wisdom teachings, but embracing the contributions of many peoples and times. It means learning from archaic traditions, from three centuries of modern Druid scholarship, and from the always changing lessons of the living Earth itself. It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favour of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.
The Druid Network of Emma Restall Orr
I’ve just finished reading a profound book written by a Druid. Living with Honour by Emma Restall Orr. It is the kind of book that you want to devour too quickly. I compromised by skimming it once through and then went back for a slow, proper read. Finally, I chose to write a sort of commentary where I write about ideas of mine coming up for me while reading the book yet again. You can find the commentary as a series of posts under the category *Pagan Ethics. So far, this writing best fits the kind of ethics I would expect to reflect Earthen Spirituality.
Native American Spirituality December, 2013
I am much better informed since the time of writing Planet as Self and although I did include this quote, I am only just now appreciating just how much the European and early American settlers lost when North American native culture and Spirituality were all but destroyed. We so desperately need to listen and learn.
“We are the land. To the best of my understanding, that is the fundamental idea embedded in Native American life and culture in the Southwest. More than remembered, the earth is the mind of the people as we are the mind of the earth. The land is not really the place (separate from ourselves) where we act out the drama of our isolate destinies. It is not a means of survival, a setting for our affairs, a resource on which we draw in order to keep our own act functioning. It is not the ever-present “Other” which supplies us with a sense of “I.” It is rather a part of our being, dynamic, significant, real. It is ourself, in as real a sense as such notions as “ego,” “libido” or social network, in a sense more real than any conceptualization or abstraction about the nature of human being can ever be. . . . Nor is this relationship one of mere “affinity” for the Earth. It is not a matter of being “close to nature.” The relationship is more one of identity, in the mathematical sense, than of affinity. The Earth is, in a very real sense, the same as ourself (or selves), and it is this primary point that is made in the fiction and poetry of the Native American writers of the Southwest.”
–Paula Gunn Allen, “Iyani: It Goes This Way”
Just recently I finished a wonderful book by Robin Wall Kimmerer and wrote this review:
Robin Wall Kimmerer
2013 Milkweed Editions, Minnesota, USA
17 December, 2013
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, the feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street to a sacred bond.”
This is a book of carefully woven themes. The author has chosen Sweetgrass as the core metaphor that runs like rebars throughout the text. Sweetgrass leaves, found in the meadows and low prairies of Canada and the US higher latitudes, have a sweet, vanilla-like fragrance that is used in much the same way as sage in the American Southwest. Stalks were carefully and selectively harvested and braided into strands for wearing or burning in ceremonies. Native tribes who held homelands in the northern parts of North America before the European invasions, consider it sacred.
The reader will soon recognise how the beautifully woven themes of love of the Earth, reciprocity of the give and take of the earth’s bounty, community and the appreciation of Nature’s gifts convey – always through heartfelt experience – the vision and world-view of the Potawatomie –People of the Fire. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of a relationship to the Earth informed by modern scientific knowledge, spirit – love and respect for the Earth – and story; stories that reveal how “people and the land are good medicine for each other.”
Kimmerer, a Native American member of the Potawatamie tribe and biology lecturer, offers the reader a harmonious blend of story based on solid science and the heartfelt experience of one who has absorbed ancient native wisdom. The science aspects will amaze you and the indigenous, traditional ways of being in the world will pull at your heartstrings as Kimmerer shares the stories that reflect the moments of reciprocity between humans and other-than-human beings who know each other in ways seldom known in modern times by those of European descent.
In my reading, it came to me that it is not that we have lost our connection, for that is impossible. We are inherently “not other.” Those who feel lost and disconnected have only closed off their awareness of the Earth’s energy that surrounds and penetrates the globe –in fact extends as far out as what we’ve named the Van Allen belts that protect us from cosmic rays. I was deeply moved to read: “The land knows you, even when you are lost.” And also, in the section where Kimmerer writes fondly about the gathering of maple sap, I read: “Our stories are linked in this run of sap; our trees knew them as they know us today.” This is a profound insight; in fact, the book is profound in so many ways, yet is light and truly enjoyable to be with.
The author does not ignore the travail; the path of sadness around the U.S. federal government’s attempt to destroy the spirit of the conquered and erase all remnants of
their native language and culture. Children were forced into boarding schools and not only forbidden to speak their own language but also not allowed to speak their own names. Nearly fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation provided a legal framework to end slavery in the United States, native children were enslaved and brainwashed by the very same government.
The near total destruction of once magical lakes and tidal estuaries necessary for the survival of fingerling salmon is also not ignored, but we learn about the commitment to restoration driven by the love and respect for the other-than-human beings afflicted.
This book is never boring nor does the text get bogged down with heavy, repetitive detail. Kemmerer moves gracefully through cases of devotion to duty, joy of being and native spirituality to mention just a few. One of my favourites is her comments on language. She explains that whereas English is comprised mostly of nouns, indigenous language is mostly verbs. Thus the latter is a “grammar of animacy” and goes a long way toward understanding why English speakers have such difficulty discussing their connection with Nature. A grammar of animacy allows one to express sentiments within the bounds of spiritual reciprocity – not a Sunday spirituality but a constant acknowledgement of the total animacy of Earth and all its constituents.
The jewelled crown of the whole book for me is the section where Kemmerer tells the story of one of her graduate writing workshops. Most of the students professed to a profound connection to the land; they assured her that they loved the land. Then she asked them: “Do you think the land loves you back?” Dead silence followed the question. They were shocked and speechless. They could only respond when the same question was put to them hypothetically. After lots of discussion, one student proposed a summation: “you wouldn’t harm what gives you love.”
Until we experience that heartfelt knowing with utter certainty that the Earth is both lovable and loving, we won’t achieve the reciprocal, loving relationship necessary to fuel and sustain a life of cooperation, thankfulness and partnership with our greater selves – Mother Earth.