The Gaia theory was first introduced in 1979 by James Lovelock in his book Gaia a New Look at Life on Earth. The basic idea is that the earth is a self-regulating entity. While the theory was a scientific one, it launched a new pantheism religion known as Gaia worship or Gaianism, whose practitioners are known as Gaians. While Gaia worship is not new and Gaia is the oldest divine being who dates back to prehistoric times, the concepts of this religion are. For example, Gaianism is monotheistic while Gaia worshipers of the past were polytheists. Central to both the Gaia theory and the beliefs of Gaian is the concept that the earth is a self-aware being that is able to self-regulate. The relationship between the earth and Gaia is that of your body and you. The Gaians believe that this is their goddess. Many of the core concepts of this fringe pagan group stem from the Gaia theory or are directly linked to it. The three core concepts of Gaianism are honor the earth, reduce human impact on the earth, and be respectful of life in all forms and of the systems that support them.
The religion tends to be much unorganized due to the nature of pagan religions. There is a very negative cultural associated with the word pagan, therefore, many pagans prefer not to state their religion. In addition, those who have not heard of the religion obviously will not follow it. Since it is not that popular not many people have heard of Gaianism. However, the most organized group of Gaianism developed from a Wicca coven in New York City. This group called themselves Gaia Group, but was created from Coven of Caerlleuad (Castle of the Moon) in August of 1983. This group saw that other Wicca groups were changing to have more future thinking outlook rather than trying to preserve the traditions of the past. The group saw this as holding them back due to the fact the negative views of Wicca are based mostly on their past practices. The group also saw the belief systems of the past as no longer relevant. In order to make the religion more universally accepted they replaced welsh traditions and gods with an ethic focused on Gaia. The group focuses on the ideals of repairing this world and the fact that we are members of a larger community. They took part in many protests and had a strong emphasis on community service. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 1998.
One of the more important aspects of this religion and theory is the idea of interconnectedness. In the Gaia theory, the basic concept is that everything is connected because all are a part of the living meta-being that is the earth. Every living thing is seen as being part of the community that keeps the earth a comfortable home for the living things. In other words, everything is interdependent. For example, methane in anaerobic environments removes harmful poisonous volatile substance like methyl mercury. This in turn allows the bacteria to succeed in the environment, but also allows other things to in habitat the area. Gaians believe humans to also be a part of this community but see the community as a spiritual community. Because we are all part of the community we need to respect life in all its form.
Stemming from the idea of community, the Gaia theory states that humans have no special rights because we are a part of the community just like everything else. Gaianism takes this a step further, and states that this means we should live as simply as possible. Both believe that we also have duties to the community, and we should not act in ways that could harm it. Harming Gaia is viewed as morally wrong and should be avoided. Everything on the earth is considered part of Gaia. Since Gaia is scared everything on the earth is sacred, therefore, nothing should be wasted and everything should be treated with kindness. In addition, humans can never fully understand how Gaia functions. Evidence of this includes how certain regulatory processes are still not fully understood.
For example, Lovelock discusses salinity of the ocean. Over time rain and rivers washed the small amounts of salt on the land into the ocean. Since the salt does not evaporate but water does the ocean slowly becomes more and more salty. Calculations based on the age of the earth and the rate of wash out reveal that the ocean should have a much higher salinity than it does. If there was the amount of salt in the ocean that there should be life would not be able to survive. There is no known explanation for the missing sodium. Because there are many other things that we do not understand about Gaia we have to be careful in our actions because we may not understand their consequences. For example, in the past we used to think that CFCs were harmless until we discovered that they were putting holes in the ozone layer which in turn led to increased skin cancer rates.
James Lovelock did not intend for people to view Gaia as a sentient being but rather as a metaphor. However, in his book The Revenge of Gaia he writes that in order to solve our environmental issues we need to develop connectedness with the planet. He says this is why he understands why people have treated the ideas as religious rather than scientific theory due to the spirituality elements of the environment. In addition, he sees this view point as positive because in the past people have regarded the planet with the same reverence that they treated God. Science has replaced religion in our life we have lost the reverence of the earth, as our view of the earth has become one similar to that we have of a machine.
There are many appeals of Gaianism. The first is discussed in Anne Primavesi’s book Sacred Gaia: Holistic Theology and Earth System Science. She discusses how in the past religion and science have always been viewed as opposites, and that to believe in one meant that you could not believe in the other. However, Gaianism is a merging of the two. There is both scientific evidence to support the religion, but it also takes faith to believe in the spirit goddess of the earth. Often Lovelock’s book is cited as evidence for the religion. Paul Harrison also discusses this in his article Gaia – Unity of Life on Earth. He states that because there is scientific evidence to support the religion it takes nothing more than common sense to become a Gaian.
Another appeal of Gaianism is people often can relate to the belief that nature has a mystical component to it. Most people have had transcendent experiences with nature. It is in these moments that people feel most connected to nature. It is not a stretch for people to believe that the planet has a collective consciousness. Since the religion is also based in science it also appeals to sensible, science embracing modern people who favor the religion over less science based ones.
Christianity views both the theory and the religious movement as a threat and for very good reasons. Gaianism views Christianity as negative because central tenets of the religions are in conflict. The traditional Christian view is that God gave humans dominion over the earth and responsibility for its care. Gaians believe that no group of organisms has special privileges over others, therefore, there is no way something can have dominion over another. In addition, humans, should not be trusted with dominion over nature because we cannot begin to understand how Gaia works, therefore, we will not know what actions could potentially harm her. James Lovelock opposes the western religions because he says that they do not give guidance for how we need our relationship with Gaia to be. However, he does state that we are moving to a state where churches will be able to move towards a place where they can incorporate the ideas of Gaia. But Christianity still attacks the religion and historically was the direct cause of the loss of the original worshipers of Gaia as it forced the people to convert or be killed. The last known traces of Gaia worship were wiped out in the 15th century.
Gaianism also blames Christianity for the current state of the world. This is because it sees Christianity as the cause of the current global crisis. The Bible was used as a mechanism for the ability to take advantage of the earth’s resources. People thought that God wanted them to develop land and use natural resources as much as they could. Christianity got us into the current state of affairs and the current belief systems are a clear obstacle to solving the global crisis. In addition, some Gaians would say that Christianity is the main obstacle to the religion taking hold. As common as the percepts from Christianity are in the modern age it is hard to get people to be open minded to the religion as it directly opposes what people know.
Both the theory and the religion state the Gaia is currently in an injured state due to our actions as humans. Therefore, it is our responsibility to restore the system. If there becomes too much pressure on Gaia she will perish as she can only sustain so much stress. If that were to happen then all life would suffer as the regulatory systems of the earth would stop working. Lovelock makes strong cases for the fact that Gaia regulates the following; climate, atmospheric composition of gases, ocean salinity, cycling of elements through the biosphere and atmosphere, pollution, pH of surface waters, ozone layer, and, volume of ocean waters. In addition the parts of the planet are compared to that of a body with some being more vital than others, for example, the heart. Certain natural areas are more important for Gaia to use to regulate the earth. These areas include the rainforests, mangroves, and wetlands. If we destroy these areas than her ability to regulate the earth will diminish. In fact there is already evidence of this with the coastal flooding that occurred in the New Orleans area during hurricane Katrina due to the removal of coastal wetlands which prevent flooding. According to Harrison we were not always this disease of Gaia and we can return to the harmony we once were in with the planet but it will take lots of will power to get there.
Gaians regard the earth as a mother figure and view her as looking out for them and their lives in ways that they might not even understand. The idea of mother earth stems from the fact that all life comes from a single primordial form and the fact that she is responsible for maintaining life just like a human mother is. This form could only have arisen if the conditions for life were met. Therefore. Gaia must have had a key role in insuring that the earth was suitable for life. This is different from the Gaia theory of James Lovelock because he states that Gaia came into being at about the same time as life. He uses the evidence that the earth was not self-regulating before then.
Gaians believe that by being connected with nature they will be closer to Gaia. There are several different methods that they may use. The first, is of course, to spend time outside in nature and get to know nearby green spaces. Similar to the ideas of Wicca, when you spend lots of time in one area you develop an intimate relationship with the land. Mindful observations and awareness help to heighten the relationship with Gaia. Others believe that learning about the earth, and how its different parts connect is a method of worship. They reflect on the wonders of the goddess and begin to see that it is not possible to understand the goddess.
There is strong evidence in support of the Gaia theory as a scientific one. For example the earth has been shown to be extremely stable but is comprised of unstable systems. Lovelock describes many of these and shows how they would prove the existence of Gaia. The strongest evidence he says for his theory is the climate of the earth. Life first appeared roughly 350 million years ago and since than the climate has been very stable. But factors that affect climate like the output of heat from the sun, surface reflection of the earth’s surface, and the composition of the atmosphere have all changed. He then discusses how using the biosphere (the system of living things) and accelerating and decelerating processes Gaia could have regulated climate.
Many religions fall to offer hope to people who live in such a wounded world. Gaianism, however, does offer hope to its believers. In the past, the earth has undergone huge natural pollution problems and was able to overcome them. The most extreme example has to do with early life forms. Originally the fuel for life was carbon dioxide and oxygen was a waste product. Due to the large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere these unicellular organisms had a population explosion. They produced massive amounts of oxygen which almost wiped out all life. However, Gaia was able to help the planet by creating organisms which used this oxygen instead of carbon dioxide as fuel. Gaia is also able to withstand human caused pollution, as well. For example, following nuclear fallout in certain areas it is remarkable how quickly life comes back to those areas. In fact, the rate at which this happened occurred much faster than was predicted. These examples illustrate the fact that Gaia is able to adapt to big changes so there is still hope.
Gaians believe in a strong connection with human communities. Since everything is connected and equal all people are connected and equal. Community service is important to them as it is a social justice issue. Everyone’s quality of life should be the same since we are equal. In addition, there is also a focus on educating children of the natural world since that is lacking in schools. While the focus of these programs is on nature some have accused them of trying to spread their religion into schools, most notable in Melbourne. Gaians defend their programs stating that the very nature of the religion is not to spread it. It is about a personal relationship with the earth, not self-promotion.
While James Lovelock, did not intend for his theory to become the religious one it did. However, this is to his benefit because the goal of the theory was to encourage more eco-centric ways of thinking. The beliefs of Gaianism outlined clearly support an eco-centric way of thinking and hope to fix the wounds of the earth created by other ways of thinking. The religion is also growing in popularity and the theory is also spreading. The ideals of honor the earth, reduce human impact on the earth, and be respectful of life in all forms and of the systems that support those life forms are coming back into our culture through Gaianism.
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