“Earthseed, Part 1: ‘God is change. Shape God.'” by John Halstead

This is the first 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.

Octavia Butler was one of the first African-American science fiction writers, and one of the first women to break the science fiction gender barrier.  In two of her novels, The Parable of the Sower (1993) and The Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler describes a an invented religion called “Earthseed”  In the novels, Butler includes many verses from a fictional book of scripture called “The Book of the Living”, which sets forth the basic theologyethics, and eschatology of Earthseed.

The Parable series is set in the near future when the United States has all but collapsed due to economic pressures.  Theft, rape, and murder are the rule.  The heroine creates a new religion, which she calls “Earthseed”, which is adopted by a small community of refugees.  Although she uses theistic language, I believe that Earthseed has much in common with Humanistic Paganism.

The central tenet of Earthseed is: “God is Change.  Shape God.

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change.

This resembles the Pagan chant by Starhawk:

She changes everything she touches and
everything she touches, changes
Change is, touch is; touch is, change is.
Change us, touch us; touch us, change us.
We are changers;
everything we touch can change.

Butler writes:

Why is the universe?
To shape God.
Why is God?
To shape the universe.


God is Change.
God is Infinite,
God is Trickster,
God is Change.
God exists to shape
And to be shaped.

octavia_butler-02-700x550What’s interesting about this notion of God is not only that God changes usbut also that we can change God — that life is a reciprocal interaction between the universe and ourselves, a notion which I believe was borrowed from process theology.

The fundamental insight of process theology, as I understand it, is that reality is change, motion, flux.  Objects, things, moments in time: these are abstractions and unreal.  This is true of all reality, including God and ourselves.  God is a verb.  I am a verb.  I am the dancer and God is the Dance.

This God of process theology is not a God to be loved or worshiped.  It is a God that is, in Butler’s words, perceived, attended to, learned from, shaped, and ultimately (at death) yielded to:

We do not worship God.
We perceive and attend God.
We learn from God.
With forethought and work,
We shape God.
In the end, we yield to God.

I like that Butler includes “Trickster” in her list of God’s titles, along with “Teacher”.  It acknowledges both the malevolent and benevolent, destructive and constructive, sides of God:

As wind,
As water,
As fire,
As life,
Is both creative and destructive,
Demanding and yielding,
Scultpor and clay.
God is Infinite Potential:
God is Change.

As Catherine Madsen points out, in discussing the “strange combination of tender bounty and indifference” of this world:

“However certain one may be that one is loved by some presence in the universe–and it is possible, at moments, to be very certain of that–that same presence will kill us all in tun, will visit our lovers with sudden and devastating illness, will freeze our crops, will age our friends, and will never for one moment stand between us and any person who wishes us harm.”

Starhawk describes the Neopagan Goddess as:

“the ever-diversifying creating/destroying/renewing force whose only constant is, as we say, that She Changes Everything She Touches, and Everything she Touches Changes. ‘Nice’ doesn’t seem to be a relevant concept.  In some aspects, the Goddess is nurturing and comforting, in others She’s the Sow Who Devours Her Own Young. […]

“The Goddess is not some abstract thought whose qualities we can decide.  She is real–meaning that when we call Her in Her various aspects, ‘shit happens,’ as the T-shirt says; the rivers of life-force burst the dams and it’s paddle-or-die. But of course that power is not separate from us; it is the deep stream that runs through the secret heart of each and every cell of our bodies. […]

“Ultimately we don’t decide who or what the Goddess is; we only chose to what depth we will experience our lives.”

In her post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk addresses the issue thusly:

“One of the names of the Goddess was All Possibility, and Madrone wished, for one moment for a more comforting deity, one who would at least claim that only the good possibilities would come to pass.”

“ ‘All means all,’ she heard a voice in her mind whisper.  ‘I proliferate, I don’t discriminate.  But you have the knife.  I spin a billion billion threads, now, cut some and weave with the rest.’ ”

In other words, the Goddess is the force of both preservation and destruction at the heart of nature.  If we want to survive, we have to fight for it like the rest of creation.  “It’s paddle-or-die,” as Starhawk says.  The Goddess does not discriminate, but that does not mean the we should not.  As Starhawk writes, “we have the knife” — the power to discriminate.  And this power to discriminate gives us the power to shape God, as Butler says.

But why say “God”?  Why not say “the World” or “Nature” — because “God” in this sense does mean the world and nature.  Here is why I think it is useful to call these things “God”.  If I call the world/nature “God”, then I won’t be tempted to (consciously or unconsciously) imagine another (supernatural) agency and call that “God”.  “God” is a powerful idea, and if I don’t give a place for that in my life, if I do not find “God” in this world, then I think there is a human tendency to project it outward into the supernatural.

When I say “God is Change”, I am simultaneously denying the claim that God is unchanging and affirming that this world of contingency is all there is.  When I say that God can be shaped by us, I am simultaneously denying the claim that God is transcendent and affirming that we have only ourselves to look to for a better future.  “God is change — Shape God” is a challenge to see, to learn, and to work to shape our reality, just as we are shaped by it.

In the next part, I am going to analyze part of Earthseed’s book of scripture, “The Book of the Living”.

The Author: John Halstead

photoeditJohn Halstead is a Shaper of the Earthseed Movement. The essentials of being a good member of the Earthseed Community are to:

  • 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.

12 Comments on ““Earthseed, Part 1: ‘God is change. Shape God.'” by John Halstead

  1. I recited the words of welcoming to Shaper Ben and Shaper Eric today on our business call. I hope this will resonate widely! — Shaper Brandon

  2. I have recited the Words of Welcoming to my fellow dedicants, Ben and Brandon, on the SolSeed business call, just now and I agree to follow the three essentials of EarthSeed membership. I have joined EarthSeed.

  3. Pingback: Non-Theistic Paganism | Dancing with the Divine

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