This is the second in a 4-part series on a new Humanistic Pagan tradition currently being shaped, called “Earthseed”. If you would like to become a Shaper of the Earthseed Movement, contact John Halstead.
In her Parable series, Octavia Butler includes many verses from a fictional book of scripture called the “Book of the Living”. These verses have been collected here and describe the basic theology, ethics, and eschatology of Earthed. Although she uses theistic language, I believe that Earthseed has much in common with Humanistic Paganism.
One of my favorite parts of the “Book of the Living” comes from the second book in Butler’s Parable series, Parable of the Talents. In this part, I want to offer an excursus on this text and elucidate a little of Butler’s theology. The text reads:
Gives shape to the light
Shapes the darkness.
Gives shape to life
Share this wholeness,
Defining the other.
Gives shape to the universe
As the universe
In the text above, Butler uses three quartets, all of which take the following form:
Gives shape to Y
The X’s are Darkness, Death, and God. The Y’s are Light, Life, and the Universe. It’s interesting that Butler equates God with Darkness and Death. Butler’s God is Chaos. In the Hebrew and Babylonian creation myths, the world begins in darkness and watery chaos, and it is only the discriminating power of light that brings order and life. Theologians Paul Tillich, Meister Eckhart, and Jacob Boehme also defined God, in part, as chaos or “Abyss”. I imagine that, when we die, the light of consciousness goes out and we return to chaos, to a less organized state. In other words, we “return to God”.
But what is perhaps even more interesting about Butler’s analogy is not the analogy of God to Darkness and Death, but the analogy of the relationship between God and the Universe to the relationships between darkness and light and death and life. Butler’s proverb suggest that the relationship between God and the Universe is analogous to the relationships between darkness and light and between death and life — in other words, they are complementary opposites. Like Yin and Yang — sharing a “wholeness” and defining each other.
This brings me back to Tillich, who states:
“The divine life is the dynamic unity of depth and form. In mystical language the depth of the divine life, its inexhaustible and ineffable character, is called ’Abyss.’ In philosophical language the form, the meaning and structure element of the divine life, is called ’Logos.’”
Tillich’s Logos is the self-manifestation of God in creation, while the Abyss is the inexhaustible and ineffable source in which all form disappears. When Butler says God and Universe shape and define each other, I imagine that she is talking about God as an inexhaustible Abyss/Source and the Universe as Logos/Form. God is the potentiality which brings change, and the Universe is the actuality which manifests that change. I am just beginning to unpack this idea, but I think it has potential.
The following quote from Butler explains how this concept of God plays out in human life:
A victim of God may,
Through learning adaption,
Become a partner of God.
A victim of God may,
Through forethought and planning,
Become a shaper of God.
Or a victim of God may,
Through shortsightedness and fear,
Remain God’s victim,
To a certain extent, I am victim of forces beyond my control — “God”, if you will. But I do have free will: I can remain a victim, or I can “wield the knife” that is my power of discernment, and become a shaper of God, or of the potentialities that God represents. However, my power to shape my life (to shape “God”) is limited by the finite possibilities that are presented to me. Thus, my life is a product of the reciprocal interplay of “God” shaping me and my shaping “God”.
In the next part, I will discuss the third tenet of Earthseed, “The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.”
The Author: John Halstead
- Learn to shape God with forethought, care, and work.
- Educate and benefit your community, your family, and yourself.
- Contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny.
If you would like to become a Shaper of the Earthseed Movement, contact John Halstead. Joining Earthseed is a simple matter of agreeing to follow the three essentials above and reciting the “Words of Welcoming” to another Shaper.