and so I thank the Earth
for giving me the things I need
like the Sun and the rain
and the apple seed.
The Earth’s been good to me.
At the local Montessori school, the little grubs sing the above song before tearing into their PBJ’s and apple slices. The Spotted Opossum gets it stuck in her head frequently and – like everything else that comes into her head – shouts it out loud over and over.
I’m fine with that. The Earth has been pretty good to us. Without the Earth, we’d all be having a really tough time right now. I have, of course, provided the wee grrrl with the image of earth-mother/sky-father, among other possible ways of imaging the Great Mystery and that seems to make sense to her, but the culture in general and our local piece of it stresses the sky-father part of that duality to the total exclusion of the earth-mother, so I’m quite happy to have her school provide a little ditty that encourages the sprats to remember the Earth.
One of the many books on my need-to-read-again list is Gaia: The Human Journey From Chaos To Cosmos, by Elisabet Sahtouris, an easily readable little book that explain how our planet became the incredibly complex, life-sustaining place that it is. This is the book that turned me on to the Gaia Hypothesis, in very brief the notion that our planet, Earth, Terra, Gaia, is a living entity and that the many life-forms that live on Earth are parts in a greater whole. Some scientists have criticized that premise because the ability to reproduce is one of the defining characteristics of living things and there is no evidence that our planet has reproduced, i.e. given birth to another life-sustaining planet. To that objection I respond, Go fuck yerseffs, ya literal-minded gits. No sensible person believes that the third rock out from Sol is alive in the same way a person or frog is alive. No one is suggesting that Gaia is floating around in the Kozmic Sea thinking “I think I’ll make it rain in Virginia today.” The Gaia Hypothesis does not suggest that Earth is a conscious being, but that it is a totality which has, factually and demonstrably, evolved from a noxious, violent blob of conflicting forces to the stable, life-sustaining beauty that we now pollute. The Gaia Hypothesis is not a religion; it is a way of thinking about the Earth. I would argue that it is a better way of thinking about the Earth than the old way which held that the Earth was a thing that existed for no other reason than to be conquered, used, exploited and paved by human beings, possibly the only thing that Western science and religion have agreed on in the past five centuries.
Many peoples, probably most, have believed in the life-loving nature of Nature. The exploitive and destructive idea that the Earth is a thing is an idea whose time should never have been and hopefully, people will stop thinking that way soon. It’s bad for the planet and it’s bad for people. As a firm believer in the Gaia Hypothesis, I can assure you that I never feel alone. When I go out into the National Forest, especially, I have the warm and wonderful sense that I am a small part of a magnificent and madly complicated whole.
Some scientists have objected to the Gaia Hypothesis because it’s named for a Greek goddess, Gaia/Gea/Ge, the Earth Mother. Right. All the fucking planets are named after goddesses or gods, you assholes. So are most of the months and days of the week and elements for fuck’s sake. No one is saying that people should start worshipping the Earth, running around naked, singing endless songs whilst twirling around Maypoles like those goofballs in The Wicker Man – well, actually, I would really love to live on Summerisle, especially if I could engage in certain pagantics with a young Britt Ekland – but it isn’t mandatory or anything. Scientists, man. How ‘bout you guys stay in your labs, torturing mice or whatever, and let those of us with creative minds blather on about big picture stuff like how human beings can and should live happily and peaceably in this, the best of all possible worlds.
That is not to say that personifying the Earth is a bad thing. I am 100% in favor of personifying natural processes, emotions, planets and states of being and naming them for ancient gods, goddesses and other beasts and beings. vast pantheons of unseen forces have always populated the Collective Unconscious, giving people inspiration, comfort, strength in times of need and good ol’ healthy fear. When there were monsters in the night, there were reasons to bond together. Fear is fine. I watched Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory with the little girl recently and got to vicariously relive the thrilling terror of the boat ride, which is just as important and wonted as the fantasy of unlimited candy.
All the goddesses, gods, et al. are metaphors, personifications of energies. That only becomes problematic when people start thinking that their metaphors are facts. Yes, I am referring to the big three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Metaphors are not facts. The gods of other people are not devils. Personification is a perfectly good and useful tool for making abstractions intelligible.
Gratitude is good. We are entirely dependent for everything on forces that we did not create and cannot maintain. We should, humbly, appreciate the planet that allows us to live. We should act as stewards of the planet, not as destroyers. Certainly, we must have as much information about our Earth in order to be good stewards, to balance our own needs and desires with the needs and desires of other species and with those of the Earth itself/herself. I was kidding earlier about scientists. We do need them to learn all that can be learned about the Earth, so we can thrive. I stand by my assertion that there are people better suited for big picture abstractions than microbiologists and chemists, but I should add that religious folk, especially those who are partisans of the Big Three, have no business making claims about natural processes. Where I live, the Creation vs. Evolution debate continues to be debated in public forums. That’s just dumb.
So. We live on a living world. Or it is as if we live on a living world.
I highly recommend Dr. Sahtouris’ book. I also recommend watching Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory again, especially if you can share it with a child who has never seen it. And I recommend The Wicker Man, the 1973 original, not that fucking abortion from 2006, but I wouldn't advise sharing that one with a minor.
And yes, the song is wrong: the Earth did not give us the Sun. It was the other way ‘round.