In Earth-centered spirituality, we sing, “She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.” We acknowledge that everything in our world grows and changes continuously, and nothing remains the same. This is what it means to be alive, to be of the Earth. If something stops growing and changing, then it is dead. Being alive means moving through the Wheel of the Year and the ever-changing Earth cycles of life, death, and rebirth. On the macrocosmic level, we are moved by the waxings and wanings of the sun that create the rhythms of the seasons and keep them perpetually changing from one to the next. On the microcosmic level, we are moved by our own internal cycles: the squeezing and relaxing of our heart muscles that keep blood cycling through our bodies; the expansions and contractions of our lungs that keep our cells refreshed with oxygen and cleansed of carbon dioxide. While the earth is moved by the Wheel of the Year to burst into growth, expand to maturity, and sleep deeply in winter, we too are moved by the turning of the Wheel, compelled to be hungry and to eat, to be thirsty and to drink, to be tired and to sleep and to awaken once more, fulfilling the cycles of our own sacred wheels – our bodies.
Think of your body as a wheel with cogs that mesh neatly with the cogs of the much larger Earth Wheel. Like gear mechanisms in an elegant clock, as the Earth Wheel turns, you move as well, expressing your life in all its splendid and unique individuality. The Earth Wheel fits into the cogs of the great Wheel of the Year, and as it turns, the Earth moves, and we move along with it because, as living creatures of the Earth, we are intimately connected to the Earth and its cycles.
The Earth moves because it is alive and sacred. This is the foundational concept of Earth-centered spirituality. The Earth is sacred because the Divine is immanent, present in the world here and now, not far off in some abstract realm. The Divine, the Earth Mother, is the world making the Earth itself, and all things in it, sacred. This includes humans, for humans are as much a part of nature as all the other animals, birds, insects, fish, reptiles, plants, rocks, wind, rain, and lightening. Earth-centered practitioners revere the Earth and all of nature, and seek to connect with the Divine by consciously experiencing the natural world. Being transfixed by a rainbow, enchanted by the intricate song of a hermit thrush, refreshed by the smell of the air after a rain shower: we all have moments like these that connect us to Earth and to Spirit and move us to feel alive, to be of the Earth.
However, many of us might not see these experiences as spiritual moments. This is partly because many of us have come to mistrust the institutionalization and commodification of spirituality, and therefore we want no part of anything labeled "spiritual." Another difficulty in recognizing our spiritual connection to the Earth is that our culture places us humans above the Earth. We have been taught to see ourselves as the highest of all God’s creatures, and we have acted as though the Earth and everything in it was given to us for our use alone. Furthermore, we have been taught that only humans have souls. This belief separates us even further from the Earth and the rest of creation because ultimately our souls are supposed to leave the Earth forever and dwell in some other realm.
More recently, some have taken the opposite position that humans are below the Earth. We are told humans are destructive, wasteful, and cruel, and human greed and carelessness are responsible for environmental degradation. Humans contribute nothing to the ecosystems that keep them alive, but instead take, take, take. The Earth, this reasoning goes, would be far better off without humans. While both of these positions color our view of ourselves in relation to the Earth, neither one is useful if we are trying to be of the Earth, to live in sacred connectedness with the natural world and to experience the Divine. We need an Earth-centered awareness that integrates us, body and soul, with the Earth and all of nature.
But there is another problem that makes this integration difficult. In our dualistic culture, Earth-centered spirituality seems like a contradiction in terms. The Earth is a material body. It is physical, sensual, carnal. Spirit, on the other hand, has no body. Spirit is the opposite of body. The body is concrete, spirit is abstract. Furthermore, it is the goal of many religions to get away from the body and all of its animal functions, desires, pain, and limitations, and to somehow experience the purity of the soul unencumbered by the body. Faced with this duality, how can we possibly bring body and soul, earth and spirit together when for thousands of years we have sought to make them separate?
The premise of Earth-centered spirituality is that no separation exists between body and soul. There are no boundaries, no cell walls, and no overlapping dimensions of material and spiritual realms. Body and soul are one. They exist seamlessly together to form the whole. After all, for there to be life, the one cannot exist without the other, because body without spirit is dead, and spirit without body is not among the living. For there to be life, for us to be whole, we need to rediscover the Earthy rhythms that move us, change us, and connect us to the natural world and the Divine.
There are many ways to connect with Earthy rhythms. For example, many Earth-centered practitioners find these connections through ceremonial observances of the seasonal holidays that mark certain points on the Wheel of the Year. As we come to the Fall Equinox, we enter the darkest quarter of the year, the time of “the light that loses, the night that wins.” From now until the Winter Solstice, the days get progressively shorter, and the nights grow deeper and longer. Much has been made, in modern times, of the notion that people of old grew grim and fearful as the light waned, anxious about whether the sun would return and whether they would live through the winter.
This is nonsense, of course. Humans for countless upon countless generations had experienced the regular rhythms of the seasons and the annual waxings and wanings of the sun. They, like all other beings in the natural world, knew in their very cores that the sun would grow fat again in its proper time. And, unless some natural or man-made catastrophe interfered with their practiced abilities to produce and store food and fuel, they did not doubt they would smell the sweet spring air once again. Instead, people welcomed the growing dark time like a cozy nap. Just as the seed at harvest returned to the Earth for a period of dark sleep before sprouting in the spring, so too people embraced the dark quarter as a time to restore themselves. Mother Earth was resting from Her labors, and so would they.
In some cultures, the dark quarter of the year was a time of storytelling, of recounting tales that could only be told in this season. This is how children learned of their history and heritage, and how adults remembered the ways of wisdom and responsibility. This was a time for repairing and strengthening the fabric of family and community through feasting and merrymaking, a time to gaze contemplatively into the fire and reflect of the meaning of life.
Our modern culture has a different rhythm and has gotten out of synchrony with the seasonal cycles of outward and inward, light and dark, laboring and resting, that are traced out so lyrically by the Earth’s movement around the year. Now, instead of being a time to slow down and restore oneself, the dark quarter has become frantic with activity. We return from summer vacation. School begins, work resumes. And even though we too prepare for a season of holidays and celebrations, the pace is hectic, strenuous, and compulsive. It is not even a dark quarter anymore, really, because instant, unlimited, artificial light has made night virtually obsolete, and therefore meaningless.
How then, in our modern age, can we move with the Earth’s seasonal turnings, and stay alive and changing? How can we avoid becoming static and dead, never really experiencing the change happening within us and around us as our days turn like the spokes of a wheel around the year? Perhaps the structures of our modern lives dictate that we cannot slow down, alter our pace, tell stores by firelight; but we can acknowledge that cycles are constantly beginning and ending, and that the end of one cycle creates the beginning of the next. How will you mark the dark quarter? And how will you celebrate it? How will you feel yourself part of the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth? Experiencing our seasons, months, days, and moments as points on a perpetually revolving wheel keeps us moving, changing, and alive. Blessed Be.
Rev. Dr. Anu Dudley is an ordained Pagan minister in the International Fellowship of Isis. She is affiliated with the Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor, Maine, where she teaches the curriculum on Earth-based spirituality. She is a retired college history professor. Rev. Dudley contributes regularly to Esoterica and Voices on Maine Community Radio Station WERU. She makes frequent appearances as guest minister for Unitarian-Universalist congregations, and gives workshops on Earth-based spirituality, spirituality for activists, and herbs for spiritual practice. She is also available for life passage ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. Contact Rev. Dudley through her website at www.anududley.com.