This Category, *Pagan Ethics, contains a series of posts that are a commentary on a book – Living with Honour – written by Emma Restall Orr.  My interest in Pagan ethics emerges out of a need to capture in words the attitudes and behaviour that might manifest out of a person’s love of Gaia and dedication to an Earthen Spirituality.  Emma’s beautiful book, which I at first eagerly skimmed, then read slowly and carefully and now enjoy re-reading has stimulated my thinking and inspired the comments in these posts. I obviously highly recommend the book and hope that my commentary serves the spirit of *Pagan Ethics and challenges the reader to examine their attitudes and world view toward a greater reverence for our place within and among the life of Gaia.  As my one-time friend Wolf says, may Gaia bless.


Thinking Like a Planet


“I think we tap a tremendous reservoir of power and strength when we allow that we’re entirely born of this breathing planet and that we really are nothing other than parts of Earth. That our real flesh is this immense spherical metabolism that envelopes us, that the deep, dense energy of the Earth is pulsing into us all the time. When we think of ourselves as not just earthly beings, but as Earth then we have all that wildness and all that power surging through us to meet whatever challenges come up. It doesn’t make it easy by any means. But it alters the way we feel.”

David Abram


Last post, [Post5]  I talked about fear; fear of the unknown and the fear kindled by some religions over who does and who does not get to go to heaven.  In addition to fear, there seems to have been a general discontent that’s settled over the western world.  Many would ascribe it to a separation and  alienation from Nature.  There is a lot of evidence that in the Neolithic period [in the Eastern Mediterranean, from about 10,000 to 3300 B.C.] the Goddess religion was most prevalent.  At first glance, one might just assume that people worshipped a female rather than a male God such as Ahura Mazda the lord of light and wisdom in Zoroasterism from Persia. However, the Goddess may have been an expression of Earth energy.  Thankfully, the Goddess beliefs have survived.  As Starhawk says:

“Goddess religion is not based on belief, in history, in archaeology, in any Great Goddess past or present. Our spirituality is based on experience, on a direct relationship with the cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration in nature and in human lives. We see the complex interwoven web of life as sacred, which is to say, real and important, worth protecting, worth taking a stand for. At a time when every major ecosystem on the planet is under assault, calling nature sacred is a radical act because it threatens the overriding value of profit that allows us to despoil the basic life support systems of the earth. And at a time when women still live with the daily threat of violence and the realities of inequality and abuse, it is an equally radical act to envision deity as female and assert the sacred nature of female (and male) sexuality and bodies.”

Moving on to my point, sky god religions over the last 5,000 years have all preached love;  love of the God firstly, [remember the 1st commandment] then love of others.  They have failed.  They have failed to provide a story that [1] Provides an inalienable, experiential, bonding to our undeniable source, the living Earth. [2] It is the Earth, as mother, that binds humans and all living things to her bosom.  Now, this may sound too far out for many.  But please, hold on a second.  It sounds farfetched mainly because even though our recent scientific discoveries allow us to appreciate the creative genius of Earth, our traditional, culturally blessed world view is anchored in reductionism and materialism.  Many of us feel the love of the earth, but that spirit has been attributed as coming from out there somewhere and being intangible, out there somewhere becomes a concept.  Somehow many people accept this story without evidence allowing their wishful thinking to be known as faith.  Our major religious educators are well aware of the effects of early childhood conditioning plus have become adept at preying on the inner fears of people estranged from Earth energy.

As David Abram and others attest, we are the Earth and are sustained by Earth energy.  We can experience this in many ways.  For instance, look at what we call beauty.  The beauty of sunrise and sunset, mountains, forest, the seas and the manifest fecundity of thousands of beautiful plants, animals and insects.  Gaia has a vast, sustaining circulation system which transports warmth and food through the oceans, moisture through winds, cycles such as the carbon cycle that over time sequesters carbon from airborne CO2.  Also, as Gaia Theory reveals, Gaia maintains a stable, until lately, average temperature of 12C that sustains life.  Vast numbers of people love Nature and many can convincingly describe how these loving feelings came about as they describe their experience of Nature.  Tragically, many, especially those encapsulated in huge monstrous cities where Earth energy is diminished by concrete, bitumen and smog, are unable to sense beauty I speak of.  I must look to others to speak where I do not have the talent. We have among us today those who can and do speak poetically and lovingly of the Earth.

In the words of a native Sioux, Ohiyesa:

“There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being a natural man, the Indian was intensely poetical. He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky! He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire, He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war-canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas – He needs no lesser cathedral!”

Paula Gunn Allen speaks profoundly:

“We are the land. To the best of my understanding, that is the fundamental idea that permeates American Indian life; the land (Mother) and the people (mothers) are the same. As Luther Standing Bear has said of his Lakota people, “We are of the soil and the soil is of us.” The Earth is the source and being of the people and we are equally the being of the Earth. The land is not really a place separate from ourselves, where we act out the drama of our isolate destinies… The Earth is not merely a source of survival, distant from the creatures it nourishes and from the spirit that breathes in us, nor is it to be considered an inert resource on which we draw in order to keep our ideological self-functioning… Rather for the American Indians… the Earth is being, as all creatures are also being: aware, palpable, intelligent, and alive… Many non-Indians believe that human beings possess the only form of intelligence in phenomenal existence (often in any form of existence). The more abstractionist and less intellectually vain Indian sees human intelligence as rising out of the very nature of being, which is of necessity intelligent in and of itself.”


“The earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth. They live in the four directions, north, east, south, and west.

Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.

To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economics, our laws, and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.

All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can insure balance: only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call Spirit flourish in its full diversity.

To honour the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honour the sacred is to make love possible.

To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices. To this we dedicate our lives.”

From: Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing (Bantam, 1993)


We can only begin to understand who we are and our purpose in life from the perspective of our place within the earth.  When we see ourselves, as David Abram says – “When we think of ourselves as not just earthly beings, but as Earth then we have all that wildness and all that power surging through us to meet whatever challenges come up.” – we will find the immense joy of being.  We must learn to think like a planet.