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Sacred Geology Column # 007

Date: 11/27/98
The Politics of Gaean Religion
Type of Entry:
An In-Depth Essay

Ricard Ely headshot

Back in the old millennium, Richard Ely, long-time friend of Enlightenment.Com , gave us some written and video material that is still well worth reading and watching. As a professional geologist and long-time initiate of various neo-Pagan and earth-based religious traditions, Richard's views combine the scientific and the poetic in a singularly stimulating fashion.


by Richard W. Ely

Table of Contents


Politics is the art of governing, not a swear word. Gaean religion is the modern manifestation of the oldest spiritual traditions on this planet, remnants of which survive in the Amazon and elsewhere around the margins of the industrialized world. These Earth-centered archaic traditions arose from the perception that the natural world is endowed with spirit, and that one can consciously interact with Nature in ways that are not purely physical. This is the path of the shaman, magic, and the way of the plant and animal powers.

Earth-centered spirituality has reawakened in the Euro-centric cultural sphere in a variety of forms, including Witchcraft, Neopaganism, Druidism, some Deep Ecologists, and the African Diaspora traditions. Collectively, these Earth-centered traditions will be referred to as Gaean religion, and the followers of such traditions as Gaeans. Incidentally, the spelling "Gaea" refers to the Greek name for the Earth Goddess, whereas the more familiar "Gaia" refers to the James Lovelock's scientific hypothesis that Earth's surface environment is controlled by the biosphere.

The revival of Earth-centered religion is part of a global fundamentalist resurgence that is a reaction against materialistic modernism, and the expression of a longing for enduring values in an era of accelerating cultural, economic, technological, and environmental change. Gaean religion is marginalized at present, but will enter the mainstream political discourse as the global environmental crisis worsens and more people reawaken to the importance of their roots. This is a true bottom-up religious revolution that will create the biggest political realignment since the American and French revolutions.

What follows is a summary of what I perceive to be some of the core beliefs of Gaean religion. Obviously, there will be many Gaeans who object to some of these beliefs, or would wish to see beliefs included that have been omitted. This is as it should be in this eclectic, ornery and opinionated group of co-religionists. Criticism and further discussion on these subjects are welcomed.

Gaean Values

The sacred texts of Gaean religion are the Earth and the cosmos, and Gaean laws are the laws of Nature as revealed by science and magic. Gaean religious beliefs center on the concept that divinity is both immanent and transcendent, that there is no limit to the sacred. Restoration of the divine feminine, as symbolized by the Triple Goddess, and embodied in Mother Earth and all people, is a paramount goal in Gaean religion. As this restoration proceeds, the sacred masculine must be honored and not be neglected, because spiritual wholeness requires all polarities to be honored.

Rather than seeing creation as a pyramid with God or mankind on the top, Gaeans map creation as a multidimensional web of relationships, and each thing, be it living or inanimate, is a node in that web. It follows that an essential aspect of Gaean religion is holism, the belief that all of reality is an interconnected whole that has emergent properties the component parts lack.

Many Gaeans either are pantheists, believing that God is identical with everything, or are panentheists, believing that divine spirit is present in everything. Belief in reincarnation also is widespread in Gaean religion, as it is in Eastern religions. In the West, belief in reincarnation was found in Gnosticism and Manichaeanism, and passed from Pythagoras and Plato through Neoplatonism to Western occultism. Followers of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions - Samaratinism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are conspicuous in not espousing a formal belief in reincarnation. However, esoteric Judaism - the Kabbalah - contains numerous references to the transmigration of souls. Belief in reincarnation also is found in esoteric Islam, as in the writings of Rumi. Reincarnation has obvious moral implications for such contentious issues as abortion and the death penalty.

Gaeans believe the human body to be sacred; it is the temple of our Self. Because we hold complete spiritual autonomy over our person, the state has no right to control our beliefs, what we ingest, or our sexuality. Community concerns in these matters rightfully enter only when our behavior harms other parts of Gaea.

The Christian right is correct in believing that political values and religious beliefs are inextricably intertwined. Because Gaean religion has no formal code of ethics, a form of moral relativism is the norm: "and it harm none, do as you will." Moral relativism holds that there are no absolute ethical truths; morality is simply a collection of cultural norms. Gaeans make their own decisions on matters of ethics and morality, tempered by the awareness of the sacredness of the Earth.

An extreme example of moral relativism is the question of human sacrifice. Today this practice has essentially been eradicated, and is considered no better than murder. In the past, numerous sophisticated cultures, such as the Mayans, Aztecs, Celts, Romans, and Carthaginians, considered it an absolute necessity for protecting the common good in times of crisis. We know better now, but upright, honest citizens see no problem in the state compelling the sacrifice of the lives of teenage soldiers to protect itself from self-created or imagined threats.

The Political and Moral Necessity of Compassion

A logical consequence of the Gaean belief that the Earth is sacred is that the enemies whom bedevil us are sacred as well, because they are part of Gaea no less than we are. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, all of them are sacred enemies. From the Gaean perspective, these men are parts of the Godhead that have forgotten their true nature. We are fully justified in using force to protect ourselves from such men, because when they harm us, they harm Gaea. Therefore, we have a moral imperative to minimize the use of force and temper it with compassion, so that healing the Earth will be facilitated when the conflict ends.

Ideally, Gaeans are people of good will who are willing to listen to contrary political opinions; every voice is part of Gaea. Some parts may be very confused, vicious and damaged, but it's all Gaea. When political programs are conceived in compassion and a sense of good will, there is much less chance that a vengeful opposition will eliminate them when it returns to power. This is why the American national park system has endured and grown, even during the Reagan and Gingritch eras, and why well-meaning programs like the New Deal-Great Society welfare system persisted for decades in spite of obvious flaws. The mean-spirited quality of 1995's welfare legislation guarantees that it will be extensively reformed when compassion becomes popular again. The swings of the pendulum of popular opinion happen because the young, with their restless search for novelty, will make sure of that. Everything old made new again is an enduring fact of human nature.

When your side gains power, it is important to remember that the pendulum will swing back some day, and that mistreatment of the opposition will only lead to retaliation when they regain power. The congressional Democrats learned this lesson the hard way in the wake of the 1994 elections. The Republicans now are taking the advanced course.

Ethical Dualism

Dualism is the belief that reality is irretrievably divided into two antithetical parts. These parts may be variously framed as mind and body, light and dark, spirit and matter, male or female, good and evil, positive and negative, above and below, or whatever pair you may choose. Ethical Dualism emphasizes warring of the opposites, and places positive value on one pole. The roots of ethical dualism lie in Zoroastrianism and its descendants, Manichaeanism and Gnosticism, which saw physical reality as the product of a divine struggle. On one side was the good, the kingdom of God , spirit and light. On the other side was evil, the realm of matter and darkness ruled by the Devil. Human souls were believed to be tiny fragments of the light trapped in matter.

Christian theology has a strongly dualistic bias and moral rigidity, identifying mind-light-spirit-male-above with the good and with God. These biases have their intellectual foundations in St. Augustine , whose youthful adherence to Manichaean dualism framed his adult intellect. Aristotle's either-or logic of the excluded middle, by way of Thomas Aquinas, was an essential aspect of Medieval scholasticism. Therefore, one is saved or damned, a Christian or a Pagan, worships either the Trinity or the Devil, a woman is Madonna or whore, and spirit is idealized over matter and the flesh. Ethical dualism is a deeply ingrained and unquestioned operating principle of Euro-centric consciousness. It pervades Paganism, leading many to advocate matriarchy over patriarchy, which is simply the other side of the same unbalanced, oppressive coin. Riane Eisler's model of partnership between the genders is an expression of Gaean values.

A particularly troubling aspect of ethical dualism is the way that the other is treated. In the mind of the ethical dualistic, the parts of the psyche correlated with the rejected polarities become other and are identified with the personal shadow. Once the psyche is divided in this manner, there is a strong psychological need to project the rejected shadow material upon others. This lot naturally has fallen to other races, particularly dark ones, the other gender, foreigners, subversives, and other religions.

A fixation on purity is characteristic of ethical dualism, as in the Nazi obsession with racial purity. Because contamination with the other gender is seen as especially corrupting, homosexuals and bisexuals are singled out for special attention. The collapse of Soviet hegemony temporarily left the American right without an appropriate demon to project their shadows upon; homosexuals and environmentalists have become the new targets of choice. One of the frequent charges leveled against Greens is that they are Pagan Earth worshippers sacrificing people's livelihoods on the altars of their religion. As Gaean religion continues to grow, more and more of these shadow projections will be directed at us. It is important for Gaeans to remain conscious and not play this game with those who revile us, for they are part of Gaea as well.

Reclaiming the Center

If ethical dualism is the root of the problem, then reclaiming the Center is the solution. The Center is a moral reference point that we all hold in common; it controls the balance of power and occupies the midpoint between opposites. The Center is the common point where all political and social dualities intersect. The political extremes are characterized by fanaticism; the Center is the place of moderation and justice. Metaphorically, the Center is the heart of the Tao, the divine fulcrum; it mediates the dance of Yin and Yang. The Center is the symbol of the Self, the archetype of wholeness in Jungian psychology. Opposites become complements where the Center is held, because the Center creates a bridge across the gulf between them. Instead of two opposing forces there is a continuum: black and white become the rainbow.

If one thinks of politics as a multidimensional system, then we can refine our thinking by considering several values continuums at once. In addition to the traditional Left-Right continuum, also consider the collectivist-individualist and reactionary-progressive continuums. It is helpful to imagine these as three mutually perpendicular Cartesian-coordinate axes.


Communist-Socialist-Democrat-Centrist-Republican-Capitalist-Royalist. This is the classic Left-Right duality mapped as a continuum. The essential difference between Left and Right is not collectivism; there are many anarchists on the left, but rather the source of each side's moral authority. The Left represents the lower classes: the underdogs, the economically downtrodden, ordinary people, the masses, and thus draws its moral authority from below, from the material plane, as in dialectical materialism. The Right represents the upper classes, the economic and social elites, and draws its moral authority from above, from Royalty in the old days, from God in Heaven, and from the rules and traditions handed down to us by our forefathers.

Anarchist-Libertarian-Centrist-Communitarian-Authoritarian. This is the collectivist-individualist continuum; it maps the tension between complete personal freedom and complete control of behavior. The cliché "one cannot cry fire in a crowded theatre" epitomizes the limits on free speech. The essence of this injunction is that one cannot recklessly or deliberately lie in such a way that other members of the community are harmed. Libel laws are based on this premise. The laws against the public dissemination of Nazi ideology in Germany are based on the realistic possibility that such groups could constellate into a viable political force if allowed to propagandize unchecked. Attempts to ban hate-speech on American campuses arise from the belief that such speech damages the community by encouraging racist behavior.

Pornography is viewed by many as a form of speech that causes collective harm, although there is no consensus for this opinion. The anti-pornography crusade is an outgrowth of the Puritan tradition that considers most forms of sexuality to be inherently sinful. Thus, any display of overtly sexual material by default is believed to be socially harmful and therefore can be forbidden.

continuum defines attitudes toward the direction and the rate of social change. Reactionaries want a return to discarded political values; progressives want innovation and experimentation. The rate of change is slowest at the Center, fastest at the extremes. Both ends of this continuum are radicals. Radicals go to the root of a problem; they foment revolution, which is an overturn of the existing political order.

An addition to the three continuums described above, the Indulgent-Lenient-Compassionate-Strict-Severe-Brutal continuum is a measure of the collective behavior of a political party or a social movement, and has little to do with other political values per se.

The Nazis are an interesting group to map out. Stereotypically they are considered a rightwing party because of their opposition to Communism. Originally, they were called the National Socialist German Workers Party, National Socialism for short. "Blood and Soil" was their archetypal slogan; they were a collectivist, populist movement that energized the German people. Therefore, the Nazis map out as leftists because they drew their authority below, from the land and the people. However, they would not have gained power if they had not been funded by the wealthy industrialists who saw them as a hammer to crush Bolshevism, so there is a rightwing dimension to Nazism. This was the secret of the Nazi's unstoppable takeover of Germany : it was a popular leftist movement funded by the right. Once in power, trade unions were outlawed, and most of the leftist trappings disappeared.

The greatest difference between Nazism and Russian Communism lay in the realm of spirituality. Otherwise, both were brutalist-leftist-collectivist-radical movements. Communists were required to profess atheism, whereas the Nazi inner circles practiced a strange blend of Norse Paganism and Western occultism. The Nazis were actively hostile to Christianity, and planned to replace it with a religion based on Norse Paganism and Hitler worship, with Mein Kampf as the sacred text. This is the source of the pungent animosity between Hitler and Stalin.

Seen in a certain way, World War II in Europe consisted of two simultaneous religious wars. On the eastern front it was between atheism-materialism and Occult Paganism, on the west it was between Occult Paganism and Christianity-Judaism. German Christians were the willing tools of the Nazis; nearly all of their leaders collaborated, and average Christians were seduced by Nazi propaganda. World War II served very well to fulfill the myth of Armageddon. The official good guys won; now we can we quit and go home?

Today in the United States , the same dialectic divides the traditional Left and Pagan Greens. Fortunately, the relationship has been tempered -- by mutual compassion from the bloody murder of World War II -- to contempt and dislike. Leftists tend to think that spirituality is stupid, irrational, and potentially dangerous. Pagan Greens tend to think the orthodox Left is hopelessly negative and clinically depressed.

Rethinking Taxation

The tax system has become one of the most divisive issues in American politics. Gross inequities abound, with corporations and the wealthy paying a declining proportion of the total burden, and the middle class and the poor paying more. In the face of extraordinary social and environmental problems, local and national politics is gridlocked by conflicting demands to simultaneously reduce taxes and maintain popular social and environmental programs.

In the midst of all this, it is important to remember that people will do almost anything for money, even the right thing. Tax policy has an unavoidable and powerful influence on group behavior, because taxes are an economic disincentive. To ignore this fact is foolish and counterproductive. The tax code in general should be structured to encourage socially desirable activities, and to increase the price on undesirable ones. The decisions as to what are undesirable activities should be made democratically.

The following material should be kept in mind when rethinking the tax code in Gaean terms:

1. Simplicity is a virtue because it saves money, increases the likelihood of compliance, and reduces opportunities for public distrust.

2. Taxes are disincentives to conduct the taxed activities. Wherever possible, taxes should be focussed on areas in society where there is general agreement on the need for inhibition. Sin taxes on pollutants, tobacco, alcohol, and gambling are popular examples. Modest taxes on virgin raw materials and carbon-based energy would do much to encourage recycling and reduce global warming.

3. There should be no preferences in the tax code for the exploitation of raw materials or the development of natural lands. Consider the absurd situation we have where tax subsidized irrigation water is used to grow surplus crops that are in turn subsidized. Or using taxes to build logging roads in the National Forests in areas that would otherwise be uneconomic.

4. Tax rates should be kept low enough that a black market is not created.

5. Every line item in government budgets should have an identified revenue source, and appropriations should not exceed revenues except in times of war and economic recession. This breaks the problem of balancing the budget down into manageable increments.

6. Taxes should be logically connected to the programs that they fund. Ideally, those who benefit from a program should pay for most of it. The use of gasoline taxes to fund transportation, and duck stamps to buy habitat are well-accepted examples. Structuring the tax code in this manner would lessen the sense of injustice that so many people feel, and create systemic feedback between the cost of the tax and the benefit. Personal income taxes could be directed toward social welfare programs. Value-added and sales taxes could be directed toward medical care and scientific research. Capital gains taxes could be directed toward infrastructure repair and education. Think of the interesting political dynamic that would be created in Washington if the Defense Department's budget was entirely supported by taxes on corporate profits.

7. In general, food, information, and medical care should not be taxed.

Income taxes should be restricted to individuals with very large incomes, the idea being not to tax income per se, only excessive income. The lost revenue could be replaced by increases in taxes on consumption and raw materials. Wealth has become so concentrated that ten percent of the American population owns almost seventy percent of the wealth.

If the income tax were restricted to the richest twenty percent of the population, well over forty percent of total income would still be subject to taxation. This would end a great deal of the anger people at large feel over taxation. What seems to be particularly aggravating is that people do not get their hands on much of their money before the government takes it. They feel disempowered and have no choice in how it is spent.

Good and Evil

Good and evil are terms that are bandied about quite freely in the political arena. Gaeans have no Ten Commandments to provide us with an absolute map of this territory. Most of us might agree that evil has the quality of malevolence, that it creates unnecessary fear, pain, and ugliness. Doing serious harm for selfish reasons is evil. Evil is like art: we know it when we see it, but not everyone agrees. Good has the qualities of generosity and benevolence. It nurtures and enhances life, and it creates beauty.

The mythic underpinnings of the European concepts of good and evil are found in Genesis, where human beings become as Gods by eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Godlike knowledge was a consequence of the evolution of human consciousness, symbolized by the arrival of Eve's feminine perspective, which allowed the classification of the parts of Gaea as morally clean or unclean. The discriminating mental process of ethical judgement - the identification of evil or unclean things - broke up the primal unity of the All. By evolving a discriminating mind, Adam and Eve transcended the natural state and were shamed by their animal bodies. This myth marks the end of humanity's unconscious participation mystique with Nature, which is the essence of the Fall.

Good and evil have no absolute meaning in the natural world. Tornados, earthquakes, or floods simply are; they are incapable of malevolence. When people experience natural disasters, there is a tendency to attribute evil intent to Nature, but more than likely the disaster has resulted from their own greed or ignorance. A flood may destroy your home because the mountains were deforested, as happened during hurricane Mitch in Central America , or a poorly constructed dam failed, or you built on a floodplain. Moderate sized earthquakes kill thousands in the Middle East because the land has long been deforested, and homes are built of adobe and stone.

Christians might define evil as going against God's will, as Adam and Eve did when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The difficulty here is proving just what exactly is God's will. The Bible has only its own word that it is the ultimate moral authority -- there is no objective proof exterior to the Bible, and much history to the contrary. No revealed system of ethics can demonstrate the proof of its own axioms; one either accepts them or rejects them as a matter of individual taste and preference.

This situation is analogous to Gödel's Incompletability Theorem, which states that no mathematical procedure that demonstrates the truth of another mathematical theory can prove itself true. Another proof may be devised to prove the initial procedure, but this would simply force a regress of the incompleteness problem. Interestingly, because physics is based on mathematics, there can be no ultimate theory of everything because their will always remain a least one unproven mathematical postulate.

A Gaean definition of evil could be as follows: a malevolent condition that comes about through the sustained and systematic oppression of a polar attribute by its opposite. The classic example is the Burning Times, which was made possible by thousands of years of unbroken patriarchal rule.

Consider the polarity of parent and child. If there is either too much parental involvement or too little, the child's spirit will be crushed. Parental neglect causes a child to grow up with severe psychiatric problems that in extreme cases can lead to institutionalization or suicide. A pathological outcome also will occur if the child is smothered and invaded by too much parental involvement. Such children have difficulty leading independent lives when they grow up, and typically are filled with paralyzing rage and self-loathing. Healthy children grow up in homes where they have a balance of personal autonomy and loving parental attention.

Evil sometimes results from excessive attempts to do good. A common pattern is that evil comes about through the misguided pursuit of purity. The pursuit of purity comes about generally because of the overvaluation of one member of a duality, and the concurrent denigration of the other. The Nazis were not doing evil in their own minds, but rather attempting to purify Europe of subhuman beings and protecting the racial purity of the master race.

Similarly, the Khmer Rouge attempted to purify Cambodia of decadent western influences, as did Stalin in the Soviet Union . A less extreme example of purity obsession is the negative effect of a severe dietary regime, such as macrobiotics, on the bodies of people who practice them to excess. Child abuse frequently takes the form in the abuser's mind of a self-righteous attempt to purify the child of bad thoughts or behaviors, as in the case where a small child was placed in an oven to cook out the Devil.

Ownership and Stewardship of Land

A probable outcome of the triumph of Gaean religious values will be an end to the practice of owning land. Aside from our bodies, no one can own the divine, it's that simple. Ownership will be replaced with stewardship. Land would still be bought and sold, but stewardship would be conditional on proper treatment. Consider the cognitive dissonance experienced by native Americans when European settlers tried to buy land from them. Owning a tract of land was as incomprehensible to them as someone having exclusive ownership of part of the Bible would be to us. If this were possible, Bill Gates probably would own Genesis and the four Gospels by now, and would charge you every time you wanted to read them.

Such a sea change in legal status is not as farfetched as it may seem. The papers are filled with stories of children being removed from their parents because of physical abuse, and being given to others to raise. This has not always been the case. During the time of the Roman Republic , the paterfamilias was the absolute ruler of his household. So complete was the father's authority that as long as he lived, he could legally sentence his wife, children and slaves to death if they displeased him. Public opinion gradually forced the cessation of the practice of killing one's unruly sons, which ended during the time of Augustus, but remained technically legal during the Empire.

Now consider severe abuse of the land: strip-mining, toxic dumping, clear cutting, filling of wetlands, elimination of endangered species, allowing excessive soil erosion, destruction of historic sites, and so forth. It seems reasonable that the same sort of rules apply to land abuse as applies to child abuse. Compassion aside, one of the practical reasons for stopping child abuse is that it creates social monsters that are very expensive to deal with. With abused land, we are left with a liability instead of an asset. Land abuse constitutes both the theft of natural capital from our children, as well as the unfair imposition on them of the financial burdens for its restoration.

Clearly, the confiscation of property should be an act of last resort, just as is the placement of children in foster homes. Less stringent sanctions could include probationary stewardship, temporary receivership, or transferring the title to the former steward's relatives. Some repossessed land can be allowed to revert to the wild, or could be made part of the public commons, or sold to new stewards. Unemployed people could be given work restoring abused land, thus dealing with two problems at once.


Everywhere we find people independently coming to the Goddess and sharing the realization of the sacredness of the Earth. Gaean religion is a spontaneous movement rising from below, from the very Earth beneath our feet. As such, it is the natural religion of the Left, which draws its authority from below. It is tragic that the patriarchal religions have discredited spirituality in the minds of leftist progressives. By rejecting spirituality, leftists have unilaterally disarmed themselves in the political and ethical debates now shaping our future. Leftists will remain marginalized until they get over their problem with religion, and reclaim their spiritual common ground.

One thing is clear: there is no way that the billions of people on Earth are going to be able to live decent lives without most of them holding a belief in Earth's inherent sacredness. There are too many opportunities for ecological harm for there to be enough police to stop the despoliation of the planet if most people think they can get away with it. However, if Earth is held sacred, no police or laws are needed, only the knowledge of what causes harm. Ecologically sound behavior need not be compelled, because it is an intrinsic quality of Gaean religious ethics.

Blessed Be,


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