Gaia as the Universe, by Áine Órga

Artist's Conception of a Terraformed Venus

“For me, Gaia became the All.”

In developing my own non-theistic or naturalistic spirituality, the issue of deity was one of the most difficult to address.

Nothingness

As I wrote in my first post, the idea of nothingness – or that which is beyond infinity – is something that really captures my imagination, and trying to contemplate it generates a very powerful sense of awe for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what deity meant for me – I had turned to atheism when I decided that I did not believe in a creator or a conscious, controlling god, or any sort of being or entity in the way that most people seem to view deity. But in a philosophical sense, I found it hard to pinpoint whether there was some other essence that transcended these aspects which could be defined as “deity”. I eventually came to the understanding that for me, if there was to be such a thing as “deity”, it would be quite simply the essence of existence, or the force that propels it and makes it so.

Gaia

Originally, I used the name “Gaia” to delineate the Earth and life. This idea was based on the Gaia hypothesis, the concept of Earth as a living system or organism. However, I realised that this idea of connecting to the web of life that is Earth was not the type of connection I was trying to achieve, and did not quite fit with my personal definition of deity. Although I have a great wish to feel connected to the rest of the physical matter on Earth, this idea of deity had to be more basic, more overarching.

An ancient presence

And so at first I turned to acknowledging an “ancient presence” similar to the Dryghten as acknowledged by traditional Wicca, alongside Gaia or Earth. But this distinction between Gaia and the essence of existence of the universe troubled me. If the Earth could be one large living organism, an overarching system in which smaller organisms interacted with and affected their environment, then why stop at Earth? Although “life” as we define it has not yet been found beyond our own planet, the creative energy that propels us forward is not by any means confined to life. As organisms, we evolve in a sort of spiral where our species dies and is reborn but develops further with each physical reincarnation – but this cyclical creativity is evident across the universe. All matter in the universe conforms to the same laws and powers – and the same force of creativity has propelled everything in it.

I realised that this essence of existence that fascinates me is not the matter of the Earth or the universe, but its energy. Made as we are of the same basic kinds of particles that rocks, and space, and stars are made of, we can feel a connectedness with all matter. But it is not as inert matter that we feel this connection – it is in the process of life and of unfolding that we can touch the All.

The universe

So for me, Gaia became the All. She became the force of the universe that has sent it pushing out from its microscopic beginnings to the unimaginable vastness that it is today. She became the creative cycle of annihilation and rebirth, not just on our own planet, but throughout the universe. She is therefore the interconnected web that is life on Earth, and simultaneously the interconnectedness of everything in existence.

Along with acknowledging this interpretation of Gaia, I also acknowledge forces that are similar to the “virgin” and “crone” of the triple Goddess – the force that propels new life into existence, and the force that pushes it back into the All in death. I identify these as light and dark, as the urge to be and the urge to return, as the individuality of the Self, and the releasing of the Self back into the abyss of non-being. But drawing these together is the Mother that is Gaia – the creative process of the universe of which we are all a part.

The author

Aine OrgaAine Orga

Áine Órga:  I practice a that spirituality is very much earth-based, and the wheel of the year I follow is for the most part the same as that of modern Paganism.  My self-identification as a Pagan has been gradually solidifying over the past year, and so too has an uneasy balance between my emotional pantheism and my rational atheism.I seek a connection with the divine Cosmos on an emotional level, but I am sceptical by nature, and have a tendency to believe only in what can be proved or at least somewhat backed up by modern science. My spiritual practices are therefore largely metaphorical. However, I feel that religious or ritual observance and meditation is an important aspect to human nature, and find it emotionally and psychologically beneficial.

This post was first published at The Spinning of the Wheel.

Check out Áine Órga’s other posts:

Recent Work

Why is community the focus of HP?  by B. T. Newberg

Praying to the Goddess as good financial advice, by Thomas Schenk

The Wheel of the Year for one Naturalistic Pagan, by Renee B.

Next Sunday

John H. Halstead

How can we value nature in a way that doesn’t reduce it to the stuff of matter?

A tropical rainforest ontology: In search of a non-reductive naturalism, by John Halstead

Appearing Sunday, September 8th, 2013

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10 Comments on “Gaia as the Universe, by Áine Órga

  1. Awesome article. I think that finding a connection is definitely personal and it is a search that can take longer for some, and also a subject that tends to move as we mature. That said, Gaia is a symbol that has some commonly agreed upon features in the community and to take the name and then expound on it by saying “I see her as being the whole universe” seems to step outside of that symbol. It would be like me saying “But I see Thor as more of a home maker who can whip up a fantastic cheesecake”. At this point, we may need a new name for this symbol rather than stretching out the personality of common symbol beyond recognition. I would love to see an article that goes into the creation of personal symbols be they personified figments for personal aspirations or more fuzzy in form like Gaia.

    Thanks for your thoughts!! Always interesting.

    • Yes, that is a fair point, and it’s something I’ve struggled with on and off. I’ve certainly contemplated choosing my own name or symbol. I find the original mythology of Gaia to be very apt for me, but I understand what you mean.

      I wrote this almost a year ago now, and although I am still using the name “Gaia”, I feel that I may be on the verge of moving away from it as the primary symbol I utilise for Cosmos. She will always be a very powerful figure to me, though.

      • I can definitely relate to both sides of the issue: wanting to stick with the one around which you’ve developed an affection, and worrying that it may be misleading to others.

        I can’t think of another deity that has quite the same meaning and oomph as Gaia but applied to the universe. Perhaps Nuit, from the Egyptian pantheon, or Panthea, a Greek title meaning “all-goddess” about which Oscar Wilde wrote in the poem of the same name.

        Neither of these have quite the same connotation or oomph, perhaps, but maybe we should keep in mind that the ancient Greek Gaia wasn’t what she is today – she had to become that. Back then, she was the earth, i.e. what is beneath us, not the Earth, i.e. what is all around us. “Kosmos” was what the Greeks used for the entire world system (Epicurus spoke of kosmoi in the plural to denote multiple world systems, as we now know exist in the universe). So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, we can evolve these figures in new directions.

        • Very true. And yes, I also love goddesses like Nuit, but as you say, Gaia definitely does have a special something to her.

          When you put it like that, though, I feel less certain about her evolution. Although not in any way a hard polytheist, I feel as though the thing I call “Gaia” is not either the ancient Greek Gaia, or the Gaia she has evolved into generally in modern thought. She has similarities, certainly. But I can’t decide if this is useful or just misleading. Hmm.

      • Although Nuit was in Egyptian night sky, there is an encompassing aspect to her nature that has always caused me to associate her with the wider cosmos.

        Another goddess I associate with the cosmos is Tehom. Tehom is a Hebrew word which refers to the dark watery chaotic abyss which preceded creation and is personified as a sea monster (Job 38). Tehom is derived from the Babylonian sea dragon and mother of the gods, Tiamat, from whose body the gods created the world.

        Sometimes I just refer to the Abyss, which relates to your concept of “nothingness”. There is a lot of apophatic mystical literature in the Christian tradition which relates to God as Abyss or nothingness. You may want to check out Jakob Boehme’s concept of Ungrund (groundlessness) or Abyss.

        Finally, you might explore the Orphic god Eros, the primordial hermaphroditic deities who created all the other gods. I think the concept of Eros corresponds to your concept of “the force that propels it and makes it so”.

        • Yes, I feel the same way about Nuit, but for some reason I’ve never felt particularly drawn to her as a goddess or symbol or what have you. I don’t know anything about Tehom, and little about Tiamat or Eros – I’ll have to do some reading into them, thanks.

          And thanks for the Jakob Boehme suggestion – I will check that out. The abyss is also a very powerful concept to me.

          Thanks for all the suggestions – they definitely sound very relevant! 🙂

          I’m coming to think that I might let go a little of my general usage of any specific deity to represent such a broad concept, though – and maybe just return to Cosmos or Goddess (though that brings up issues about gender for me again… it’s all so convoluted!).

  2. I follow you, and yet I don’t. That is, I think I understand where you’re coming from. In contemplating the wonder of life on Earth, one can’t help but notice that most all our energy comes from the sun, so it seems natural to follow that, to follow the interconnectedness of all, leading inexorably to pantheism. And yet, I’ve been inclined to resist this, and my conception of Gaia has remained planetary. I’ve resisted pantheism, but it seems you are a true pantheist. Maybe I am too; I can report on this resistance in my heart, but I can’t account for it yet or explain what it means. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

    • Thanks for your comments! To be honest, I think I’ve reached a point where I feel the same way you do. I’ll be blogging about it soon, actually. The discussions here have really helped to clarify it for me!

  3. Pingback: Letting Go of the Ballast and Swinging Free | The Spinning of the Wheel

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