Just as I predicted, the question of “what does it mean to be Earth-based, anyway?” is loping off on me as I cling on and try to rein it in. I’ve been reading and thinking about your comments and comments I’ve gotten elsewhere, about the speakers I heard on Thorn’s podcast (my love for Orion Foxwood just grows and grows), and trying to go deeper into my own head and heart in search of an answer.
The word “Earth” can mean a lot of things, and to someone like me who has spent her whole life exploring Western esoteric systems, it has some meanings that might not be shared by those who aren’t in the same habits of thought. I think of “Earth” and I don’t just think of a particular planet – I think of concepts like the Kingdom and Emepedocles’ Earth and Plato’s Earth and the Earth that we call on from the North, the great bear in the mountains, and midnight. I think of the Hecatoncheires moving in the guts of the Earth and throwing mountains around. I think of the gnomes and the dwarves and the fairies in the hollow hills, I think of Capricorn and Taurus and Virgo, I think of a downward-pointing triangle. I think of what RJ Stewart calls the planetary consciousness. I think of the rising light below, and the star within the stone. So I realized, after writing that last post and thinking more about the topic, that one reason it runs away from me is that (as seems to happen to me a lot) I bring in all these unspoken concepts that seem simply obvious to me but really aren’t obvious at all. When I talk about Earth I’m talking about the planet, but I’m also talking, at the root of things, about the phenomenon of material existence. Maybe it’s distracting to bring Earth-as-planet into things at all, though it seems silly to leave it out. For all practical purposes, the substance of reality and the flesh of the Earth are the same thing – when we go live on Mars we can discuss that again. Suggestions to change the term to reflect the universal nature of material manifestation – “nature-based”, “cosmos-based” – lose the rich esoteric vocabulary behind the word “Earth.” They look flimsy to me. “Cosmos” and “Nature” don’t get me to Falias.
Rather than describing what it was about the religion, or spiritual path, or philosophy (depending on the terms the speaker was most comfortable with) that made it earth-based, many of those who answered my question talked about the fruits of such practice – the feeling of being connected with all things, of feeling woven in to the fabric of existence, and how that feeling translated into their actions and sense of belonging in daily life. Some of this was really beautiful, some was the same old unexamined cliches*, some of it made me think in new and different ways, but coming at the question from that direction didn’t help me much in answering what it means for a religion to be earth-based. What makes the various flavors of Paganism earth-based? What would make them not earth-based? Kullervo’s initial question included the thought that Hellenic polytheism wasn’t earth-based and therefore had little in common with other modern Paganisms such as Wicca or Druidry.
One of the things I thought upon reading that was “How can anyone claim Hellenic polytheism isn’t Earth-based?” We’re talking about a religion that had a holy festival around the rotted corpses of sacrificed pigs, after all. Hesiod said the Earth was the source of all the Olympian gods, the base of everything. That seems pretty clear to me – it’s over-simplified and Hesiod is hardly the be-all and end-all of Hellenic creation myths, but I’m not thinking of anything that contradicts this view, either. Many of the Hellenic gods are described in various sources as having been born from the earth and are described as being within various earthly things – Dionysus living within the grape, Demeter within the plowed fields. This is entirely compatible with the way I see the gods as well – born from the Earth, not from beyond it; not creators but in-dwellers; woven into the fabric of existence. This also seems entirely compatible with the ideas about gods I’ve also found in the modern Pagan religions – I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if those ideas are the direct descendents of Hesiod and others, via the classically educated occultists that informed the 20th-century incarnations of druidry, Wicca, and other more obscure variations of modern paganism.
I’m not really ready to defend that particular thesis, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to see all of these – Wicca and Druidry of various flavors, reconstructed religions such as Hellenismos and Asatru, occult tradtions such as Thelema – as modern descendents of the same grandfathers, that early 20th century romantic impulse to dig up the roots of the old religions. Those roots still unites us, and our gods didn’t make the world; the world made our gods.
(Caveat – having written this, I feel sure that someone is going to think “I believe in a creator god/dess and I’m still Pagan, so you’re all wrong!” I might be, and if you are that person I would love to hear more about your creator and how he or she fits in with your paganism – I’m also fairly ignorant about some branches of the Pagan tree and if someone wants to jump in and describe how your tradition or personal practice has a god creating the earth rather than the other way around, I’d love to hear it. Especially if you have that concept and still consider your tradition to be “earth-based.”)
*Edit to add: I don’t have anyone in particular in mind with this line – all the things I talk about here, the beauty and the originality and the cliches, generally came all tumbled together in various posts and comments and private emails – I’m referring to more than just the blog comments on the last post. I appreciate everyone who took the time to respond.