Earth-Centered: A Theology (Part One)
by Ruby Sara
Someone in the comments area of another blog I was reading (which I have to admit I cannot for the life of me find now…ETA: found it…and it wasn’t in the comments section…what can I say – I read a lot of stuff on the internets and I get confused) recently asked a question along the lines of: “what does ‘earth-centered’ mean anyway?”
A legitimate query. I know this particular question has certainly been asked of me before. We do, after all, throw this term about with relative abandon among the Pagani. And even though one could glean a pretty solid understanding of what that means by reading a bevy of excellent articles and web sites and books on that very subject, I don’t think it hurts anyone to come back to the subject on a regular basis and parse what that term may mean to individual Pagani…like, say, me. Also, it’s a really good prompt for a lengthy blog post. *fanfare* (At least…that’s what I initially thought. Once I got going, friends, I realized that one single post was a bit restrictive, so I’ve carved up the whole into parts. The essay in its entirety will be posted as a permanent page here when it’s all said and done.)
Of course, it’s important to note that there are plenty of Pagani who don’t identify as earth-centered. Contemporary Paganism more and more seems, to me, to be distancing itself from the chestnut earth-centered definition (though a quick google search of “earth centered spirituality” will still quickly bring up a LOT of sites referencing that exact definition) and moving towards an understanding of itself as an aggregate of sometimes culturally specific (Recons and others) and sometimes inspired/constructed/syncretic (Wicca and others), polytheistic religions (many of which are based on pre-Christian European traditions, but not all). In other words, “polytheist” may be becoming more and more the first thing folks say when confronted with the Herculean and Sisyphian task of defining Paganism to others, rather than “earth-centered.” And that’s fine – in fact, it may be more accurate and encompassing. What it still isn’t, however, is meaningfully descriptive. What I mean is, it still doesn’t solve the problem of the term “Paganism” itself…a term I’ve been questioning a lot lately, specifically in terms of my own identity.
I do find myself more and more wondering why we should even bother with an umbrella term at all. Frankly, beloveds, if all I have in common with a pro-civ, pro-war anti-feminist who isn’t concerned with ecojustice and whose praxis, theology, worldview and ethical system is wholly different from mine, is that we both kinda maybe believe in more than one god (sorta), then that’s a pretty fiercely flimsy link, and you know, they’d probably agree with me (glorious consensus! Let’s link hands and sing “I’d like to give the world a Coke”).* I mean, yes, Shane Claiborne and Pat Robertson are REALLY different Christians, but they DO read the same Bible and (ostensibly) believe in the same Christ (though yeah, Christians have a hell of a lot of work to do figuring THAT out). Most definitions of Paganism that come anywhere close to being fully inclusive of most groups using the term become so vague and caveat-riddled that they’re meaningless. Which leaves us mostly with questions. If contemporary Pagans can be said to point to the radical individual, the self, as the prime (and sometimes sole) locus of authority, and we all operate on radically different notions of deity, praxis and ethics, then what’s the point of claiming the same identifier? And is community possible in such a radically postmodern, absolutely relative context? Or, if one already has a community (articulating a unitive story/theology/ethic/praxis) within a specific context – say, Asatru, or Druidry, or British Traditionalist Wicca, or Feraferia, or Natib Qadish, what’s the use of identifying further under the banner of Pagan, when individual groups may have extremely little in common with each other? It’s been noted that large Pagan rituals at festivals and other gatherings tend to be particularly Eclectic Wiccan in ritual structure – if this is problematic, do we think it’s possible to be so radically inclusive that this won’t happen anymore? And is that desirable? Is it desirable instead to create a concrete definition (unitive story) of Paganism that will inevitably exclude some groups? Is there any use to a “negative identity” (i.e. we are whatever is not that…in this case, the not that being Abrahamic monotheism I suppose, though this brings up all kinds of other sticky wicket issues…like Hinduisms and indigenous religions and other folks who may not be down with being included under the term Pagan)? I don’t know. These are questions I have…I don’t expect to have come up with any answers any time soon.
Anyway, that’s all kind of beside the point (*cough*…sorry)…the point is, I’m one of those folks that does identify as earth-centered. Absolutely and utterly so. SO, whether or not my personal earth-centered theology qualifies me as a Pagan or not, or whether it will in the future as definitions evolve (as they are wont to do in a world as fascinating as ours), I can without hesitation say that my religion rests on the belly of the Mama. And this little (er…long) bit of wordfoolery is all meant to work out maybe what exactly I mean by that.
So and sew again. I am earth-centered. Really, it’s true that a more accurate description may be cosmos-centered, as due to astronomy and space exploration I have an intellectual awareness of the Universe beyond this planet. However, I am also and first (and probably will only ever be) an embodied being on this planet, and in this context, the sun/moon/stars exist for me as part of the Mama. So in this way, I’m more than earth-centered. The Mama is simply All.** She is not the manifestation of the Divine, She is not the creation of the Divine – She IS Divine.
Oh noes, a hippie monopantheist! Hold your academic horses, please. We are far from through. I have said before, probably the best term I’ve come up with for how I believe is anarcho-mystic. A set of more familiar terms might be: a neo-animist, sometimes cultural polytheist with some monism on the side. And yeah, this changes. People are complex, notions of divinity/spirituality are fluid, and language is limited. But let’s go with the above for the nonce. (Hippie’s fine though. I don’t think I really qualify, but you can tack that on there if you like…I’m a happy Hippie-sympathizer.)
So, one could say that the monism I postulate is the Mama. Now, I have said approximately an ooptikerjillion times that I believe in Beauty, yes. Beauty First – Beauty Everything – Beauty All. Therefore, one could also say that the monism I postulate is Beauty. And authentic Beauty flowers naturally from the Mama…and vice versa (you know, just like the Holy Spirit issues forth from God…or…vice versa…or…insert thousands of years of theological acrobatics). That the two are the same and each arises from the other simultaneously…voila! The basics of a mysticism.
The animistic and polytheistic dance that I do is maybe best summed up for the moment in my previous post on gods, so I won’t go into it here. The crux of the matter is that the first point in unpacking my interpretation of “earth-centered” is the above monism – that the Earth is Divine – coupled with a corollary animism, which is a belief that the Earth is peopled with spirits and beings, human and not-human (animals/plants/rocks/sun/moon/stars/oceans/lakes/storms, etcetera ad gloria in excelsis terra), and therefore, for me, worship and praise are due the Earth in toto as well as some of these beings specifically, and relationship can be negotiated with them in pursuit of authentic harmony, making them gods. So that’s one. Seas and Thickets…I’m exhausted already.
Second would be what I call embodied theology. And within this theology of embodiment is a sensate epistemology (Mama help me, I just used epistemology seriously in a sentence…if I start posting citations in MLA style, you’re going to have to run an intervention, friends).
Embodied theology has at its heart the notion that the body is holy. That “the Flesh” is holy. That we are organic beings living in and on an organic earth, and this is beautiful. If the Earth is Sacred/Divine and issues forth from Beauty Mama, and we are of the material flesh of the Earth, then our bodies are Sacred/Divine, channels for the Sacred/Divine, mediators and communicators with the Sacred/Divine, and also issue forth from Beauty Mama. It’s a theory that drives wholly into the realm of the spectacular, that our bodies are mediators and great communicators, possessing remarkable abilities to negotiate with our surroundings and enter into relationship with them. Some would go so far as to say that the concept of soul separate from the body is an error. I’m not totally sure what I think about that, but I do believe that the body is utterly holy and wildly overlooked as a fundamental source of knowledge in our contemporary society. Spiritual knowledge, emotional knowledge, physical knowledge. This is what I mean by sensate epistemology – that one of the ways we know is because we feel and experience with our bodies via our senses (and, possibly, that “extrasensory” perception also flowers from the body, just in ways we do not understand or have forgotten). For more about all that, I can do no better than to recommend David Abram’s work, particularly The Spell of the Sensuous, which is a critical read for anyone interested in embodied spirituality. I also recommend Stephen Buhner’s The Lost Language of Plants, where he describes what he calls cardiognosis, the theory that centers on the heart as just as crucial a physical perception receiver as the brain (it bears mentioning that cardiognosis has also been used historically as a term for mystical experience). And in the same spirit, focusing on Eros and the role of the erotic/sensuous in both theology and the liberation/celebration of the marginalized body, I further recommend Carter Heyward’s “The Erotic as Power: Sexual Theology” (Chapter 5 in Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God) as well as, of course, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde (in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches).
Embodied theology is not reductionist. It does not follow for me that because the body is the holy/organic mediator/communicator/perception receiver for the human animal (i.e. body as priest…um, whoa…!!!), that there exists nothing outside our perception, or that Science is now god, or that there is no consciousness after death. The fact is that, in addition to the miracle of our senses, we also experience sense-defying moments, and our brains and hearts and muscle are more complex than we know – the world is an orgasmic complexity teeming with potential, beauty, life and amazement – this should open doors, not close them. The Mystery remains. The Mystery deepens.
There are a number of concepts and ideas that flower from the notion of holy embodiment. Issues of sexuality, body image, dress, (the specter of plain dress rises up before me…I promise, peeps, I will address this again one of these days…I’m easily distracted, what can I say), authentic emotionality, body politics…these things spring easily to mind, as do issues of body modification, nutrition, global hunger, radically holistic notions of health, etc. Questions arise: does asceticism ever have a place within an embodied theology and if so, where and how? And many more – there is a rich wealth of theological explorations within this discipline…much to be grokked.
And…*collapses*. There we have it – this is at least the beginning for me of what it means. To be earth-centered. Perfect? Hardly. Consistent? Nope. For example, where does my relationship with Our Lady of Guadalupe fit in to all this? Not sure. Other than that the fact that any religion born of and from and by and for the earth will by messy. Gloriously so. Rich and gorgeous. Terrible and awesome. Ugly and delicious. For ever and ever.
Of course, this is all interesting in the theoretical, but possibly even more important is the question of how these ideas play themselves out on the ground. And so we come to ethics and praxis. What does it mean to me to *live* an earth-centered religiosity? What does it look like to live an embodied theology? These will make up the next post (or posts) in this rambling leaky boat of thoughts. Stay tuned. And stay fiercely beautiful, beloveds, as you are so wont to do.
*Indeed, you may have garnered, I am unapologetically and squarely set on the fringy, radical left. I don’t believe in centrism, I don’t believe in bipartisanism. And I don’t believe in governmental politics, politicians or parties. I vote, yes. I vote issues, even though I believe that voting is ultimately a joke. But when I vote – I vote morals and emotions. I am anti-civilization, anti-patriarchy, feminist, pro-queer, anti-racism, pro-indigenous rights, anti-colonialism, anti-war, ecoradical, pro-permaculture, pro-bioregionalism, and anti-technology. I am that merry anarchist of the night. Also, and this is important to note, as I have in the past, what I don’t do anymore is argue with folks about it on the internet. So friends, if you do think I’m a tragic moron, I’m cool with that. This is my blog, so I feel free to be freaky me here, because that’s the nature of this space, but I don’t debate politics if I am not sitting in front of someone IRL.
**Yes, I gender the Earth. This is of course, totally silly. The Earth has no gender. Gender being a construct and a deeply, historically problematic one at that. I firmly believe that it would do Paganism a lot of good to seriously examine the deeply entrenched gender essentialism that informs our theologies. However, I also realize that for me, I gender my deities because it helps me relate to them (and for poetic purposes, which are arguably even more important)…whether this is a function of my own deeply ingrained essentialism is a maybe, but that’s also the way it works for me at the moment. Suffice to say, those that articulate the Earth in differently coded gender language than I do get no argument from me.