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Anima Mundi: Archaic Gaian Mythology

Gaia Eros: Evolution of the Gaian Mythos
by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

The eminent scientist and ecology-movement spokesman Rene Dubos told us: "Our salvation depends upon our ability to create a religion of nature...suited to the needs and knowledge of modern humanity." What we are birthing is a truly planetary-Gaian-mythos that invites people of all traditions in our divided world to know themselves as children of the same Mother - Gaea Herself; Mother Earth.

The creation and propagation of a myth requires more than scientific theories and technical papers. It requires a story, told not by academics, but sung by poets. This piece was inspired by a reading of Gaia Eros, a unique new book by Jesse Wolf Hardin...and what began as the seed of a short Prologue to that volume has become a full article. Wolf has the soul and eloquence of a poet, and he has moved me to tears many times with his songs and stories - both written, and as told and sung in person. He's helping weave the language of an evolving Gaian mythos.

Anima Mundi:

We have always known, in our deepest heart of hearts, that the Earth is alive. Throughout the world, even small children intuitively recognize Mother Earth. She is the oldest and most universally acknowledged religious archetype in all of human experience. Sculpted images of this primordial "Mother of all Mothers" date back at least to the Cro-Magnon Aurignacian peoples of 30,000 years ago, and are found across the Eurasian continent from Spain to Siberia. Indeed, as Wolf has pointed out, similar images have been found that push that dating back hundreds of thousands of years - to Neanderthals and even Homo erectus. The October 2003 issue of Discover magazine shows a beautiful picture of a two-inch crude prototype of the "Venus of Willendorf" carved from a piece of quartzite, pulled from a 400,000-year-old deposit near the Moroccan city of Tan-Tan. Stone tools found in the same deposit were made by Homo erectus.

The idea that all life or all consciousness is interconnected is one of humanity's most enduring spiritual traditions; indeed, it is the very essence of what is called "The Perennial Philosophy." Human groups as various as the Iroquois, the Sufis, and Western European Freemasons all incorporate it into their belief structures. References to it can be found in ancient documents of the classical world, both East and West. It is a compelling idea, spanning both millennia and the vast complexity of human cultures.

Carl Jung coined the term "Collective Unconsciousness" to refer to such a global mind; and Teilhard de Chardin described it as the Noosphere - a sheath of intelligence for the Earth, and the inevitable extension of the planetary biosphere. But the true heart of this understanding is found in the Alchemical mystical concept of Anima Mundi - "The Spirit of the Earth." This term is nothing less than a Medieval rephrasing of the most ancient and primordial thealogical premise of "The Goddess" as Mother Earth, or Mother Nature. And it is the Spirit animating Jesse Wolf Hardin's lifetime of work.

Wolf and I have always shared a deep sense of the importance of land restoration and re-sacramentalization of sacred places as ways of returning to the Earth something of the great gifts which we receive from Her. We embrace exactly the same perspective and understanding of Gaia and all Her children, and I can think of few people with whom I find myself in such total agreement on every point. For decades, we have worked separately and together as allies and coconspirators in bringing Gaia into the forefront of modern human consciousness.

A New Mythos:

"The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it. That's my main thought for what the future myth is going to be. When you see the Earth from the Moon, you don't see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come."
- Joseph Campbell

The Power of Myth

In the course of history there have been several ideas whose impact was so profound as to change forever the way we viewed the world, and our place in it. We gained a new perspective, from which we could never return to the previous viewpoint. Renaissance mariners circumnavigated the globe, demonstrating that the Earth was a sphere floating in space, rather than a flat surface. Galileo and Copernicus proved that the Earth is not the center of the universe, but rather revolves around the Sun in the company of a number of other planets. Nineteenth century geologist William Smith showed that the history of the world was not a mere 6,000 years, but over four billion. Darwin and Wallace's theory of evolution linked all living things into a genetic continuum of branchings from a single point of origin. And now we again struggle to further a new Gaian Theosophy, a new way of being for contemporary peoples.

On September 6, 1970 I had a mystical experience and vision that recapitulated the evolution and consciousness of the living Earth. I followed the thread of my own DNA like a river back to its original source - back to the first cell that ever was - and then watched it dividing and replicating back up the evolutionary Tree of Life until I felt my own presence, through the DNA molecule, in all life; and the presence of all life within me. My consciousness rose high above the Earth as I watched teeming life spread across its surface - all one vast planetary organism. The wisdom of Gaea flooded through me, and in my Vision Her eyes opened to penetrate deep into my soul. She smiled at me, and said, "Now you know Me."

As a founder and catalyst of the Neo-Pagan religious movement, I wrote my revelation in the form of a theological premise deeply influenced by science. TheaGenesis: The Birth of the Goddess was published in 1971 as a lead article in Green Egg Magazine as well as many other journals.

Then, in 1972, James Lovelock, an atmospheric biochemist residing in England, published a Letter to the Editors titled Gaia as Seen Through the Atmosphere in Atmospheric Environment. This was Lovelock's first published reference to the notion, and the first use of the name "Gaia" (introducing his unique, and now accepted, spelling) as a scientific reference to Earth's planetary biosphere. In later writings, Lovelock came to refer to this concept as "The Gaia Hypothesis." Its slow acceptance by the scientific community is in marked contrast to the immediate widespread acceptance my own writings found in the Neo-Pagan religious community, and the enormous impact the idea had in that venue.

The crucial distinction between my "TheaGenesis" revelation of Gaea and Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis" is in our direction of approach. I came to the realization of Gaea from the inside out - from microbiology, embryology and paleontology. Lovelock, on the other hand, approached Gaia from the outside in - from atmospheric biochemistry and systems analysis. He analyzed and noted a remarkable homeostasis of atmospheric composition and surface temperature over the past three billion years, and concluded that this could only be attributed to a biospheric regulatory mechanism. In Lovelock's version Gaia is viewed more as a metaphor or allegory than as an actual entity. This approach posits a Gaian superorganism as a cooperative aggregation or "colony" of discrete components. Whereas Wolf Hardin, others and I regard the entire evolution of life on Earth as literally the embryology of a single vast living Being - one replicating continuum of DNA and protoplasm, beginning with the first living cell, and its fertilization.

My Brother, Wolf:

I first encountered Jesse Wolf Hardin in the mid-70s through his inspired and inspiring essays and artwork - a powerful voice (and pen) bringing Paganism and a Gaian ethos into the radical environmentalist movement, helping to further the evolution of a contemporary land ethic. As an artist myself, I was particularly taken by his magickal shamanic drawings, in which intertwined forms of animals and people emerge from mystic landscapes like jungle vines. Wolf is credited with helping to bring the spirituality and environmentalist communities together, inspiring church congregations to get more active "for the Earth" while injecting a spiritual component into environmental groups, events and publications. He conveyed a deepened sense of environmental activism and Earth stewardship to the Pagan and New Age communities, where he became a primary voice of deep ecology.

I finally got to meet Wolf in person in 1986, when he came to Ukiah, California, on a Deep Ecology Medicine Show concert tour which I helped sponsor through the Church of All Worlds. As I listened to his songs and stories, I recognized a kindred spirit. In those days he was known as Lone Wolf Circles, and I was known as Otter. As fellow animals, we sensed an immediate rapport. Wolf came to visit my lifemate Morning Glory and I at our home ("The Old Same Place") on the Rushing River, where he developed a relationship with my rehabilitating great horned owl, Archimedes.

Then in 1992, having resurrected Green Egg Magazine after an 11-year hiatus, I recruited Wolf to write and illustrate a regular column called Circling Home. I wanted all our readers to experience as much of his magick as we could fit into our pages.

At the July 2002 Starwood Festival, Wolf and I were both speakers, and we shared a booth where I sold my sacred statuary, and he sold his books and tapes. We had not seen each other in six years, and had a lot of catching up to do. We talked for many hours over several days, and I got to witness again his impassioned and spellbinding presentations to audiences. I was just in the process of putting together a proposal for New Page Books for a Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, and we discussed at great length the importance of providing a responsible mentorship for the next generation of shamans and wizards now feeling "the Call." Out of these discussions grew the idea of convening the legendary "Grey Council" of mages and sages, wise ones, elders and teachers. Beginning with the two of us, the Council soon grew to a couple dozen members, forming a review and advisory board of committed teachers to create a program of apprenticeship in Wizardry for the Grimoire. Throughout the project Wolf was a major contributor, and the work is greatly enriched thereby. My personal admiration for the writer and his work is unbounded.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

Bio: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a founder of the Church of All Worlds, the first legally recognized NeoPagan church in the U.S., past publisher of the acclaimed magazine Green Egg, and author of Grimoire For The Apprentice Wizard (New Page, 2004). His sculptured mythic art is known far and wide, and an edited version of this essay make up the Prologue to the book Gaia Eros (New Page, 2004) by Jesse Wolf Hardin.


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