“This, in essence, is the hypothesis that Lovelock and his close collaborator Lynn Margulis were to call “Gaia.” The idea significantly modifies the central Darwinian paradigm of modern biology. Competition – natural selection at the species level – becomes much less important than the overall integration of living things within a symbiotic global network. The basic unit of evolutionary survival becomes the biomass as a whole, which may select species for their capacity to enhance the liveability of the planet.” Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

There can be said to be three interpretations of Gaia; scientific, theistic and philosophical. The science, which I have described briefly, is basically about looking at the Earth physiologically, as a body, and the practical implications of that. But I’m not a scientist, so although I take an interest I can only explain it up to a point. Theistic Gaia is the view that the Earth is sentient, and is literally seen as a single living being. Not something I believe in, but the image is interesting and certainly useful in a poetic sense.

What really interests me is a Gaian-based philosophy. This stands somewhere between science and theism, using scientific ideas and mythological images as a model that we use to view the world and as an ethical guide.

For a while we have had a view of evolution as something competitive and the Earth as an arena in which this biological struggle is played out. Although science is not meant as a tool to give us meaning or ethics, anything that gives us a view of the world, whether myth or science, also gives us a sense of meaning and ethics. Sometimes it is obvious though mostly it is subtle.

The view of competitive evolution has become a tool to legitimise a “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself” attitude. In this view the Earth is a resource and the world is seen as a hierarchy of power where the strongest preys on the weakest. And to some extent this is true, if you see the relationship between some species, and individual organisms of the same species, you will see there is a competitive, even violent, relationship. However, in the same way the classical view of physics breaks down in quantum mechanics, the localised competition of species breaks down in the broader ecological view. Each species fulfills a role in the bigger ecological system; any competition is just one aspect of a cooperative network.

Can the body’s major organs compete with each other? Can the heart win or lose against the lungs? Of course not, they are major organs and are completely and utterly interdependent with one another. However, minor organs or biological features can compete. A species of fish whose ancestors got trapped in a cave system lost their eyes because there was no need for them. The digits and claws of whale ancestors have eventually receded to be replaced by more useful flippers. The long grasping digits on the feet of our tree climbing ancestors have been reduced to small stumps on the end of our feet. But these minor “competitive” adaptations are relative compared to what is going on in the whole body.

We can use this analogy to look at the Earth. It too has major organs, species or certain groups of species that cannot be replaced. For instance, I remember in a biology class being taken out by my teacher with the class and being asked “Can plants live without animals or can animals live without plants?” No one answered plants, and yet that was the answer. Most plants, because they get energy directly from the sun, are self-sufficient, so if the animal kingdom inexplicably disappeared many photosynthesisers would be able to survive. Not so with animals.

There is, what I consider, to be a myth about humanity as the “dominant species”. We might have become very powerful and intelligent but that’s a very superficial dominance. Let’s put it this way, prey do not depend on predators but predators depend on prey, the foundation of a building does not depend on the upper floors but the upper floors depend on the foundation. This echoes a fairly Taoist principle and gives a different spin on Jesus’ “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

We owe our existence to the almost omnipresent microbial lifeforms, like bacteria, that were the first life-forms to exist and surely will be the last ones to exist. When Gaia was young this was, and still is, the basic components, “major organs” or major organisms, that sustain her existence. Without them nothing larger, like humans, could exist.  So it really does turn the concept of dominance on its head. We owe our existence to life-forms that are smaller, simpler and far less intelligent than us, which is humbling really.

We are left with an image that humanity is an interesting but unimportant contribution to the Earth’s evolution. We are left with the principles of respect, humility and cooperation. A good starting point for how we might conceive a Gaia-based philosophy. But this philosophy isn’t just for individuals to choose, as one philosophy amongst so many to pick and choose from; it is the context of all other philosophies. In a sense all organisms are gaian by default. All organisms derive their evolution from a long history where biological traits are developed within an ecological context. To defy this context is to upset the balance and threaten your own existence. Only humans need to make a mental effort to align with gaian-based principles.

This philosophy is something that has to be built into the structure of society itself, a structure that operates with respect, humility and cooperation to the home it depends on for its existence. We cannot go on thinking and acting the way we do, seeing Earth as a resource to be used and abused in service of commercial consumerist philosophy, and other humans and other nations to be viewed as opponents to be beaten in some never-ending economical and fashion-driven race. This cannot work anymore, there needs to be a reform in human civilisation and I think we are waking up to realise it now.

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“Do we really want to be the bureaucrats of the Earth? Do we want the full responsibility for its care and health? There can be no worse fate for people than to be conscripted for such a hopeless task – to be made forever accountable for the smooth running of the climate, the composition of the oceans, the air, and the soil. Something that until we began to dismantle creation, was the free gift of Gaia.” James Lovelock

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.” R. Buckminster Fuller

Just remember this, Gaia has been evolving without conscious and intelligent intervention long long looooooooooooooooong before humans arrived on the scene. If we weren’t so troublesome we’d be considered as an interesting afterthought, adding a conscious quality to an unconscious evolution. Just because we are the “conscious aspect” of Gaia that does not mean we need to start running the show. As I said before, Gaia’s been getting on fine without us AND we still haven’t learnt to run our own show, let alone Gaia’s. We’re treating our planet badly, we’re treating each other badly, and if we carry on down this route then we’ll end up being our own worst enemy.

First things first, we need to recognise our emerging global civilisation as an integral part of Gaia, that we depend on her and our only means to survive is to cooperate with her by aligning every aspect of human culture, society and civilisation with the living Earth. We need to do this by aligning with each other. You and me we have to admit we live on the same planet, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide anymore, and have no choice but to cooperate and coordinate with each other. Right?

Easier said than done, I know, but its worth our survival isn’t it? We’re in for a stormy nightmare, but if we really value this planet, the life on it, and humanity’s participation with it we can do it. Altogether now; Yes we…. you know the rest Obama 😉

But even if we achieve this we should never think we can run the show, all we can do is to add a conscious element to an unconscious evolution, as an enhancer not a controller. But wouldn’t it be beautiful if we used our arts, sciences, religions and cultures, not only as something to enhance human life but the living Earth as well. Hold that vision strong and clear in your mind; it’s our compass, our orientation, that will guide us along that long and hard road we have ahead of us for harmony to be restored .

“If life on Earth were suddenly to cease, all the hundred-plus elements that make up the surface, oceans, and atmosphere would react until no more reactions were possible, and a state close to chemical equilibrium was reached. The planet would become a hot, waterless, and inhospitable place.” James Lovelock

One thing that I often use for tag in my blog is the word Gaia. This is a loaded word so it’s best to really be clear in the way I use it. I don’t mean a conscious entity that is embodied in the Earth itself that so many people associate with Gaia. Rather I think of the scientific idea that was first set out by James Lovelock in his Gaia Hypothesis and later explored in the Earth System Sciences.

Let’s start with an experiment. Find a small object, say a penny, and hold it between your fingers above the ground. It is now in an energy rich state. Now drop that penny and watch it fall to the ground where it bounces, rolls, flips and/or slides to the ground and finally stops any movement. It is now in an energy poor state, no more energy is able to be extracted from it, unless the floor develops a hole where the penny can continue falling.

Here’s another image of energy rich and energy poor. Think of a car; the fuel that goes into it and the exhaust fumes that come out of it. The fuel is energy rich, ready to be transformed into kinetic energy. The exhaust fumes are energy poor, no more energy is able to be extracted for the car’s movement.

James Lovelock once worked with NASA to investigate if there was life on Mars. At some point he came up with the idea that perhaps the atmosphere of Mars could show signs of life by virtue of interacting with it. Mars’ atmosphere is energy poor, with chemicals comparable to a car’s exhaust fumes, whilst the Earth’s atmosphere has an energy rich chemistry. If the Earth had not developed lifeforms it would have fallen (like the penny) to the same fate as Mars, a dead, lifeless rock incapable of supporting or even developing life.

Somehow the collective action of life on Earth stops entropy from make the Earth irreversibly lifeless and keeps it inhabitable. Free energy from the Sun’s own entropic decay is “collected” by life through photosynthesis. This energy is exchanged with the environment, like the atmosphere, and with other organisms, where it takes on energy rich qualities in a balancing way that means that life can live on the Earth.

In a way it’s like having a system of organisms attached to your exhaust fumes that aborb those chemicals and, using the Sun’s energy, turn them into energy rich fuel that goes back into the car to power it, or another system of organisms that use the Sun’s energy to keep that penny in the air to stop it from falling to the ground, with the added bonus that by doing so it makes the existence of life possible.

That is a very simplistic explanation leaving out many details, which doesn’t do the theory any justice at all. I could talk about homeostasis, chemical equlibrium, disequilibrium, Daisyworld, the albedo effect, glacials, interglacials, the Milankovich effect, global warming, climate change, greenhouse gases,  defining life, neo-darwin evolution, Gaian evolution and other facts and theories that James Lovelock has woven together to create a compelling picture of the Earth’s life. All I want to do is introduce one aspect of it from which other aspects can be explored. My reference for this is James Lovelock’s Healing Gaia, though there’s plenty of other books about it, and lots of information on the internet. Just do a search of any of the terms I used above.

Gaia theory as a whole is just scientific theory, yet it is gaining credibility all the time, especially within Earth Systems Sciences. Parts of it have been proved and parts of it have yet to be proved.  So far it is the best image we have of the Earth as a self-sustaining system, an image that is being confirmed, modified and updated all the time by scientific research. But from this theory we can grasp a feeling of the world around us and how we fit in with it. Personally I have no doubts that Gaia Theory has something to it, that somehow the Earth is alive in some sense, that somehow it is an interdependent system and that there definately are consequences to our actions within it.

“We do not live on the Earth, we are a part of how the Earth lives.” David Richo

“You go to Nature for an experience of the sacred… to re-establish your contact with the core of things…The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in Nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of humanity.” Will Unsoeld

“Paradoxically, turning attention to the inner life can make us acutely aware of the beauty and fragility of the earth. Since our collective habits of behaviour appear to be leading toward annihilation, recognition of our capacity for conscious evolution has become an increasingly compelling necessity. Spiritual awareness of our relationship to the whole earth can no longer be considered the prerogative of a few introverted individuals. Although it may take a leap of faith to believe that a radical shift in human consciousness is possible, this global mind change may be necessary to shift our collective trajectory from self-destruction to self-renewal.” Frances Vaughan

I have spoken of three functions of ancient Druidry and have put them into a relevant form for modern times, but what I have not really gone into detail about is Druidry as a nature-based spirituality. We could say, maybe, that Druids were ecologists and environmentalists. But considering the times they were living in, everyone in their cultures had to have some basic ecological knowledge of some sort, so it could not be seen as a druidic “function” but a basic fact of life for everyone. Today, whether we are into Druidry or not, this is something we should all have, we should all be familiar with ecological knowledge, of the fact that we are part of an ecological system and that it is the very basis for our existence. Locked away in our cities we are disconnected from where our food comes from, where our oxygen comes from, where our water, gas and electric come from, even where out money comes from! We are so familiar with a world which is so human dominated we forget just how embedded we are in the living systems of the Earth, how much we depend upon them and how much we affect them.

It’s important for our eco-starved species to once again gain an ecological perspective that pervades every aspect of our activites on, or more appropriately as part of, the Earth. Humanity and every aspect of its evolution should find a way to evolve with the Earth’s evolution and also creatively contribute to it. The development of a holistic intelligence is one that can only grow as a part of nature, the work of politics and relationships also includes our relationship with nature and the journey of the spiritual life is a part of nature not apart from it. Nature is such a fundamental part of Druidry that each of the functions I have described can be better understood if we put the suffix “eco” on each; ecoeducation, ecopolitics and ecospirituality. In such a way we recognise that ecology isn’t just one of many subjects but the entire context of our lives. An important resource for modern Druidry’s worldview can be found in the scientific developments of the Gaia Hypothesis and Earth Systems Science and the implications they have for every aspect of our lives.

Such a fundamental part of human life is ecology that I’m reluctant about treating this as a separate subject, because our various activities, like spirituality, education and politics, do not stand apart from nature, but can only exist because of nature. Each of the functions of Druidry can be envisaged as pillars of Druidry; The Three Pillars of Druidry. Or better yet, trees; The Three Trees of Druidry. The fourth “pillar” or “tree” is nature, but it does not stand separately, it itself is the Three Trees and also the sky above them and the earth below them. The “function” of ecology or environmentalism, must be so fundamental to the other three functions that it pervades them, their growth and their evolution, as it should with the whole of human existence. Leaving this subject last and apparently separated from the others signifies the human psyche’s split from nature. Something that a nature-based path like Druidry can facilitate in this modern world is the healing of the human consciousness in relation to nature.

“Often during initiation rites, Native Americans would take on a new or special name to reflect their new identity and to acknowledge that while still ordinary, the very purpose of their existence has changed. A man’s worldview is changed by his vision, and his life takes on a new or different meaning.” C.T.B. Harris, Ph.D., Emasculation of the Unicorn

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomms Druidcraft Tarot

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomm's Druidcraft Tarot

 

 “Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”  Claude Bernard

I stood on the edge of a precipice, looking into a vast chaotic confusion of nothingness. My stomach sank and seemed to fall into it. I felt like I’d lost my base, I’d lost the context which gave my life meaning. It supported me and stopped me falling in. It was the day I left my childhood behind and became an adult. Here I was standing before the raw power of a universe filled with nihilism. Events happened; stars were born and died; planets spun aimlessly around their suns; and humans committed the greatest atrocities and the greatest acts of benevolent service. All the while the universe remained seemingly unmoved, apathetic and without pity.

But then Life sparks something in me, and I feel hope and a will to live replace despair.

I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!

I looked at this nothingness with new courage, standing there and facing it. I did not try to escape from it; no running, no ignoring, no denying. I faced it and from the nothingness itself I extract my hope, meaning and infinite potential, using it as a source for raw material and transforming it through my dreams and visions, through the alchemical powers of my life-force in the depths of my being.

This day, the day I became the creator of meaning in my life, without needing the regurgitated meaning of others, was the day I became an adult. I stood for my independence. I stood for my life.

The universe is like a dying bonfire, and all stars are its embers. If it does not collapse in on itself, annihilating and restarting the universe, eventually all matter will dissolve and all energy dissipate into I-don’t-know-what (I’m no physicist!). All because of the entropic decay inherent in all things of the whole universe. But as our sun burns itself up, it sheds excess energy; scientists call it “free energy”, which is lost in space. But some of the energy isn’t lost because a little pocket of life and meaning collects it, feeding from and being energised by it. Living from it. A “little pocket” we call home; the planet Earth. Without free energy, life would not be possible in our entropy dominated universe.

I spoke at the beginning as though there was a void of nothingness around me, but that is not quite true. The living Earth, or Gaia, is context enough for us to find meaning. If we were rooted in this reality, where human existence was seen and felt as part of the planet’s ecology, there would be no such void or lack of meaning around us. Why do we feel a void around us? Why do we lack meaning from the world around us? Each breath, each step, each sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, is filled with meaning, filled with a context through which we live our lives. When we are disconnected from the wholeness of our environment then meaning can become disconnected from the process of living itself. When we replace living in a forest with living in a city, when we limit our human-nonhuman community to human-only community, when the sustenance of our lives comes from human manufactured technology and not from non-human sources, an individual can easily swim in a nihilistic void. They can become more abstracted and less responsive and sensitive to the world that they depend upon for their existence.

The life of the individual, when it matures from childhood into adulthood, does find itself in a “void” of sorts. We no longer rely on our parents or other role-models to show us the way in life, we have to find it and make it for ourselves. This reminds me of The Fool card in the tarot. The figure is often depicted stepping onto empty air, symbolizing that the next step in life isn’t always certain. Many people avoid the “empty air,” suckling on the teat of societal conventions and never growing up and some see the “empty air” in despairing terms and throw away their lives into meaningless activities (not much different to suckling on societal conventions) or even ending it completely.  But that empty air isn’t empty, it is filled with the presence of life, because without it we’d die. It is our lifeline to the Earth. So the fool, leaping from solid ground into “empty” air, isn’t leaping into nothingness, he (or she) is leaping from its parents support to find its own direct connection with the Earth and everything it contains.

If, when an individual is weaned from parental dependence, they have been guided into the world well and connected with it well, empty air becomes an opportunity for the individual; they can take the next step in life knowing that they will not fall. Their feeling of being part of the human-nonhuman world is strong and also they have enough individual presence to fill any “emptiness” instead of conforming to the roles, social conventions and stereotypes of their society, being who they are, not “what they should be.” This creation of a new self-image, instead of being isolated from society, can in turn contribute to society, transforming its dynamic into something relevant in the world, becoming a healthy guidance and supporting system for future generations, one that leaves space for their individuality and sense of connection with Gaia as a whole in her human and nonhuman aspects.

Although the Earth seems to be swimming in an empty void, we certainly are not, as we can see in James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis. We have emerged within an ecological context that has been evolving for many millennia, ever since life appeared on the Earth and humans are a continuation of that. We have been gifted by this evolution with life; it is our right to live it fully. Yet also we have a responsibility to work for the continuation of life on Earth. For most organisms, this worldview is biologically innate. But for humans this needs to be learnt and we need cultures and societies that will facilitate this worldview so that deep down we all know that we are a part of Gaia’s evolution and that, through our distinctive human creativity, we can contribute and become cocreators in this age-old process alongside all other organisms.