“A PaGaian Perspective” by Glenys Livingstone, Ph.D.

This is an edited excerpt from the author’s book PaGaian Cosmology.

I long considered the practice of my spirituality to be Gaian,  encouraged by Charlene Spretnak’s use of the term[1]: that is, it is an Earth-based spirituality, which requires only birth, not baptism, for belonging. We are all native to Gaia; all humans are indigenous to Her, though as Primordial Mother She does have many names around the planet.  We do all issue forth from the same Origin. Gaia, as I understand Her however is not only Earth; She is Cosmos. The same Creative Dynamic[2] that flourishes in Earth is assumed to be the same Creative Dynamic present throughout the Universe. Earth-Gaia is seed and jewel of a larger living Organism. Earth-Gaia is our Mother, but She is Daughter too, of an essential sentience that seethes through the Universe. The only faith required in this spirituality is in the Teeming Abundant Creativity (a name for Deity?) that has been manifesting on this planet in a particular way for some billions of years, and throughout the Cosmos for about thirteen point seven billion years. This is not a flimsy track record! Perhaps, as James Lovelock has said, this is “as near immortal as we ever need to know”[3]; or as Susan Griffin said more poetically, “at no instant does She fail me in Her presence.”[4]

Essential to Gaian spirituality is the development of relationship with Earth, entering into Her consciousness, expanding awareness beyond the human-centred perspective. It requires a remembering of the “real” – the actual situation of “all human thought, social or individual … in the processes of body, nature and place.”[5] As Thomas Berry describes, it requires a return to our “native place”, the recovery of a feeling of intimacy with “the earth community”, which he describes as the recovery of

a sense of presence, a realization that the earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with; nor will it simply be studied or examined or made an object of any kind; nor will it be domesticated or trivialized as a setting for vacation indulgence …[6]

He says it requires remembering

our sense of courtesy toward the earth and its inhabitants, our sense of gratitude, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of habitat, our capacity for the awesome, for the numinous quality of every earthly reality.[7]

This kind of presence may be enabled by an identification of ourselves (the human) with the entire cosmic process – Gaia’s story, which is also ours; and by an identification with the cosmic powers that sustain us – such as Air, Sun, Water and Earth: that we are this, we depend on this, we come from this and we return to this.

Earth-Gaia is not separate from Universe-Gaia. There is no seam that separates Earth-Gaia from Universe-Gaia … She is One. There is no ”up” and “down”. There is no “out there”.  Gaia is “in here”, as much as anywhere, or She is nowhere. Gaia can be known, felt, in any single articulation of Herself – within any Self. We are IN it, Earth is IN it. Earth floats in the “heavens” – the “heavens” are where we are. This IS it. Gaia is a nested reality – many fold, but at least, Universe- Earth-Self; and inversely Self is Earth, is Gaia. Many spiritualities and most language imply that Earth is a world apart from the heavens – and even that the heavens are “higher’ and thus “better”. Yet we know that Earth is a Jewel in the Womb of Space – we have seen Her. We know that “Earth” is stardust – Her dirt is transfigured stuff of the stars. We know that we and all of it, are made from the same stuff – that we come out of the cores of stars, that a significant percentage of our ‘stuff’ comes directly from the Origins, albeit recycled many times over. Spiritual language must catch up, if we are to stop killing ourselves and other beings with our words. “Higher” indicates “out there”, in “loftier” realms beyond the earth, transcending lowly earthly nature. “Deeper” indicates “within”, the depth of the earthly realm, enriched awareness of the multivalent numinous earthly nature/reality. The use of language such as “higher levels” by spiritual traditions in particular, and even by ecological texts, and the worldview that accompanies it, has created and goes on creating a sense of alienation from what is here – the stuff we inhabit and where we dwell.

In 1926 – long before the human eye had actually seen Earth from space – Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky, was able to hold a vision of Her in her “cosmic surroundings.”[8] He developed a hypothesis of the biosphere “as a unitary agent molding the earth’s crust as a primary geological force”[9] that was in relationship with the cosmic energies of radiation, particularly solar radiation.[10] Throughout his work Vernadsky scientifically and poetically describes an wholistic vision of Cosmos and Earth, and at times refers to humankind as a “geological entity”.[11] And he asserted:

The biosphere is as much, or even more, the creation of the Sun as it is a manifestation of Earth-processes. Ancient religious traditions which regarded terrestrial creatures, especially human beings, as ‘children of the Sun’ were much nearer the truth than those which looked upon them as a mere ephemeral creation …[12]

Vernadsky understood scientifically that the phenomena in the biosphere are “related to the structure of atoms, to their places in the cosmos and to their evolution in the history of the cosmos.”[13]

Earth does not need to be named Gaia – Charlene Spretnak refers to “Earthbody”[14], and the Primordial Mother has many names[15]: but it is a name that now has large appeal in the West, due to James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ scientific theory named thus, first published in 1974. The name “Gaia” now not only invokes the ancient Greek myth of the Creator-Goddess, but also the present scientific inquiry. Lovelock points out that the Gaia theory is now

spurring a great deal of scientific research into the geophysiology of our living planet (and) it is also spurring philosophic conceptions of what it means to our species to be part of a living planet. Some of these conceptions stay carefully within the accepted limits of science; others have a religious bent.[16]

The naming of a spirituality as “Gaian” today, signifies the integration of scientific knowledge gained by humanity into the vision and metaphor of that spirituality. For Charlene Spretnak, knowing Gaia, is knowing that we are

inextricably linked at the molecular level to every other  manifestation of the great unfolding. We are descendents of the fireball … glimpsing the oneness of the sacred whole.[17]

As participants in Gaia, we may understand ourselves as Gaia, holons of the Large Self, as a drop of the ocean participates in (the whole of) the ocean. I regard the concepts of holons and holarchy[18] to be a crucial model for understanding a participatory universe. Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris define a holarchy as “the embeddedness of living entities within each other (e.g., cell, organ, body, family, community, ecosystem, bioregion, planet, star system, galaxy, etc.)”;[19] and they define a holon as “a living entity or system.”[20] They describe the entire Universe as a vast living entity or holon, and also as “a holarchy containing smaller holons in continual co-creation.”[21] A most significant feature of a holarchy is that every layer/level has as much importance as any other, because they are embedded in each other – and actually the layers of simpler life forms are not dependent on the more complex, though the more complex are dependent on the simpler earlier layers. Within the context of holarchy, it may be possible to explain by physical principles how a quality of living systems “may apply all the way from the most simple single-cell life form to Gaia.”[22] The cut between the self and the “natural” world is artificial in fact – all the ‘way out’ and through the the Cosmos.

James Lovelock refers to the human as Gaia: “She has seen the reflection of her fair face through the eyes of astronauts … ”, and speaks of a “commonwealth of all creatures that constitutes Gaia.”[23] He has spoken of his relationship with Gaia as possibly kin to the relationship of some Christians to Mary: he said “What if Mary is another name for Gaia?”[24] and later wondered if

… hearts and minds could be moved to see in her the embodiment of Gaia, then they might become aware that the victim of their destruction was indeed the Mother of humankind and the source of everlasting life.[25]

Some Gaian researchers, scientists who study the global metabolism, generally tread more carefully, riding a fine edge in regard Gaia’s sentience applying the principles of science yet “without postulating a global organism.”[26] Yet for for many minds today Gaian research and knowledge of the evolutionary story, furthers our knowledge of the Mother, and at once, knowledge of ourselves.The restoration of the material reality, is a restoration of the maternal reality, is a restoration of the Mother.

For so long we’ve considered the Earth as just a big dead ball of dirt. It shocks us nearly out of our minds when we discover we’re involved with something that moves … (that) the whole process is alive.[27]

The entire Cosmos itself has been imagined as something dead and static – the heavens as a vacuous space “out there”. Just as Aristotle storied the female body as passive matter, so the Womb of Space has been imagined. The cosmology of Earth-based religious traditions, on the other hand, have always understood Earth as Mother, and the Mother as active Creator. Starhawk writes of Goddess as

the living body of a living cosmos, the awareness that infuses matter and the energy that produces change. She is life eternally attempting to maintain itself, reproduce itself, diversify, evolve…[28]

Ecologist Stephan Harding, teacher of Gaian ecophilosophy, said that “the whole reason for gathering scientific information is to provide a cognitive basis for developing wide identification with nature”, that people love it when they “realize that the planet has life-like qualities of self-regulation”[29] – in my own words, people love to hear news of the Mother, that She is alive.

True self-knowledge includes knowledge of the larger Self: that is, knowledge of Gaia. Scientist Mae-Wan Ho says “It is in knowing her that we shall have intimate knowledge of ourselves.”[30] Just as the prokaryotes, the first cells on Earth deeply effected the planet and its future, so our small organism and the many others effect the planet over long periods of time. This is Gaian spirituality – taking on the mind of the Universe, participating in the dream of the Earth, beginning to know from within the perspective of Earth, Moon, Sun, Tree – our home and habitat. I have named such a perspective a “PaGaian” cosmology, to adequately express this integral sense of Gaia as Self-Earth-Universe, combining as the term does, the pagan/indigenous sense of country/place – that we belong here, with an extended vision of GaiaMother, the larger primordial country of whom we are part.

© Glenys Livingstone 2015

Image by Pearl WhiteCrow


[1] Charlene  Spretnak, “Gaian Spirituality”. Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991

[2] I capitilize this term here because I am implying or offering another name for the Divine.

[3] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Sciences, p.42.

[4] Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature, p. 219

[5] Charlene Sprenak, The Re-Surgence of the Real, p.4.

[6] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, p.2.

[7] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, p.2.

[8] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.6. Elisabet  Sahtouris questions whether Vernadsky really did perceive Earth as a whole live entity (Earthdance p.118), and refers to Scottish scientist James Hutton, as having such a view in 1785 (Earthdance, p.69).

[9] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.iv.

[10] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere, p.1.

[11] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere,, p.2.

[12] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere,, p.8.

[13] Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere,, p.9.

[14] Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.144-145.

[15] “Mago” is a name for Her in East Asia: see Dr Helen Hye-Sook Hwang: http://magoism.net/2013/07/10/meet-mago-contributor-helen-hwang/

[16] in James Lovelock’s Foreword to Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.xiii.

[17] Charlene  Spretnak, “Gaian Spirituality”. Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991, p.17.

[18] Originally they are Arthur Koestler’s terms. See Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Science,s p. 89 -100. Ken Wilber also describes them in  A Brief History of Everything, p.20ff.

[19] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.

[20] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.

[21] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxiii.

[22] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxii.

[23] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.19.

[24] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.41.

[25] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.42.

[26] Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.ix.

[27] Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.135.

[28] Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.228.

[29] Cited in Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.216.

[30] Mae-Wan Ho, “Natural Being and Coherent Society” in Gaia in Action, Peter Bunyard (ed.), p.305.


Barlow, Connie (ed). From Gaia to Selfish Genes: selected writings in the Life Sciences. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994.

Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the EarthSF: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. NY: Harper Colophon, 1980.

Ho, Mae-Wan. “Natural Being and Coherent Society” in Gaia in Action. Peter Bunyard (ed). Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1996, pp. 286 – 307.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Sahtouris, Elisabet. Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution. Lincoln NE:iUniversity Press, 2000.

Spretnak, Charlene. The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern WorldNY: Routledge, 1999.

________________.  States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age. SF: HarperCollins, 1993.

________________. “Gaian Spirituality”. Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991, pp. 10 -17.

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great GoddessNY: Harper and Row, 1989.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green DragonSanta Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

Vernadsky, Vladimir. The Biosphere. London: Synergetic Press, 1986. Volk, Tyler. Gaia’s Body. NY: Springer-Verlag, 1998.

Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Massachusetts: Shambhala, 1996.

The Author: Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Glenys LivingstoneGlenys Livingstone Ph.D. has over thirty years experience on a Goddess path, which has included diverse spiritualities and a scientific perspective, inner work as well as academic scholarship. Her studies have been in theology, ritual, archaeomythology, social ecology, psychology, sociology and education.

Glenys is the author of PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, which was an outcome of her doctoral work in Social Ecology from the University of Western Sydney. Glenys’ doctoral research was an experiential study of the three phases of the Triple Goddess – Virgin, Mother, Crone – as Creative Cosmological Dynamic, and the embodiment of Her in seasonal ritual as a catalyst for personal and cultural change. More recently, Glenys’ continued ritual practice of the seasonal Wheel of the Year and research, has deepened her identification of this Cosmic-Organic Creative Triplicity with the Triple Spiral engraved by the ancients at Newgrange (Bru na Boinne) in Ireland.

Glenys grew up in country Queensland Australia. Glenys considers herself a student of the Poetry of the Universe – a language expressed in scientific story, mythological metaphor, ancient and contemporary images of integrity, body movement and dance, stillness, chants and songs. By these means, she conducts geo-therapy – ecological reconnection – for herself and with others.

Glenys’ work is grounded in the Old European indigenous religious practice, integrated with evolutionary perspective and Goddess scholarship.

Glenys’ M.A. is in Theology and Philosophy and included education in liturgical practice at the Jesuit School of Theology Berkeley California. She lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her beloved Taffy (Robert) Seaborne, who is also a graduate of the School of Social Ecology and rich life experience. Glenys teaches, writes and facilitates the seasonal rituals in her Place with an open community.

See Glenys Livingstone’s Posts

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