You would be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree with the notion that the earth is the source of all life. And if you do find such a dolt, introduce them to a farmer who will give them a nice long lecture. But leap from an empirically confirmed reality to the notion that the earth is itself a divine spirit is something quite different. But the more immediate and requisite question is this: Is the earth actually alive. Is it in any sense of the term an organic life form to which we can even consider attributing any sense of divinity?
We can start with what was already discussed in brief in a previous posting. As a natural history discourse, the biblical creation story is highly flawed. Yet the specific details not withstanding, there was still the more fundamental point that the source of life is the divine creative spirit. In the biblical creation story that spirit is the abstract idea of god. But in the real world that which brings forth vegetation and ultimately all life is the earth, and that realization, however foreign and out of place that may seem to folks who’ve grown up with the western conception of a creator god in heaven, is what enables us to make that leap in good faith.
But wait, how is the earth magical? Life itself is magical and life begets life. In her book, Earth Path, Starhawk talks about frameworks. Magic is itself a framework. And we see the world through frameworks as it is impossible to do otherwise, unless, of course, you prefer a life of total chaos. We do not see the world as it truly is but only through a frame that enables us to make sense of it.
According to Starhawk,
Magic teaches us to be aware that we are viewing the world through a frame, [magic] warns us not to confuse it with ultimate reality or mistake the map for the territory. Moreover, part of our magical discipline is to make conscious choices about which frame we adopt (page 30)
Starhawk further points out that in choosing a framework we are making choices and choice implies values. Thus, the criteria to chose one frame of reference over another has to do with what ultimately has the most value. When the Christian existentialist theologian, Paul Tillich, explains that “faith is the state of being ultimately concerned,” he’s pretty much saying the same thing but in language more suitable to a Christian framework. This leads us to the obvious conclusion that there is no framework that is ultimately and absolutely true. Of course, if your religious predilections lead you to believe in an absolute law giver and authority up in the sky, the ides that there is no absolute truth is simply incomprehensible and utter nonsense. Belief in the absolute is comforting for many, it simplifies things and allows believers to avoid so many incongruities. But, life as lived on earth is full of incongruities which an absolute framework keeps them from even seeing.
So, how do the rest of us make ethical choices? How do we determine what actions, what decisions are good for the whole? This is where your frame matters. For some folks, their framework is based on self interest. How an action or decision directly affects them is their sole criterion. It’s not that they have a selfish disregard for the their action might affect others, that they don’t give a damn. Rather it’s totally outside their frame of reference. On the other hand, those of us on an earth based path, take nature as our frame. The earth itself is not an inanimate hunk of rock, but is very much alive.
Just like your flesh is not simply a sheath covering your muscles, bones and internal organs, the earth too is built up of layers. While your author is by no means a geologist, from my reading I’ve leathered that at the very center of the earth is the inner core, an extremely hot (estimated to be some 9,3000 ºF). The inner core is, in turn, surrounded a somewhat cooler liquid outer core, a viscous layer of iron that rotates ever so slowly beneath the mantle. Scientists believe that there is convection between them, itself a kind of rudimentary life process. The mantle rides immediately above the core and is composed of numerous elements bound together into the form of silicate rocks. Because of the temperature differences between the outer core and the earth’s crust, there is a convective material circulation in the mantle as well.
Immediately above the mantle is the upper most layer or crust. The earth’s crust is the thinnest layer of the four with an average thickness of only around 30 to 35 kilometers (19 to to 22 miles). The crust is actually comprised of numerous teutonic plates that quite literally float on top of the denser magma. These plates are in very very slow, but nevertheless, constant motion, allowing the heat to escape from the earth’s interior into space. On a geological scale, this slow movement is responsible for the phenomenon of continental drift. Plate movement is also responsible for volcanoes and earthquakes.
The earth’s crust has yet another distinction separating it from the layers beneath. Only within and atop the crust do we find actual cellular life.
In biology, the minimum definition of life is the cell. But neither is the cell a single homogeneous mass. It is actually comprised numerous component pieces, various organelles, et cetera, which contribute to the overall function of the cell. From respiration to reproduction, they contribute to the cell’s life cycle. But in and of themselves, none of those essential organelles are considered alive. The complexity of the cell and its self sustainability is the minimum definition of life.
I briefly suggested above that the movement of the earth’s, their interaction as well as the convection currents of heat energy, are very much like rudimentary life processes. Further more, those processes are self sustaining. With that, I’m going to take a leap of faith and further suggest that their combined complexity suggests that the earth, similar to a plant or an animal cell is definitely alive.
Pertinent to those of us who follow an earth-centered tradition, can we attribute any kind of divinity to the earth? To answer that we have to first define exactly what we mean by divinity
I will explore the major implication of that last notion in my next posting.