This is the third 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 the movie Interstellar, catastrophic food shortages threaten the human species. It’s implied that this was caused by humankind’s own shortsighted actions and their effect on the biosphere. As a result, humans are forced to travel outside the solar system in search of another planet to colonize. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I had just finished reading the second of Octavia Butler’s parable series, The Parable of the Talents, and I notice an overlapping theme with Interstellar.
The Parable series is set in the near future when the United States has all but collapsed due to economic pressures. 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.
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, wrote about the the first two tenets of Earthseed: God is Change. and Shape God. The third tenet, called “the Destiny” for short is: The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars. When I read the first book in the Parable series Parable of the Sower, the “Destiny” didn’t appeal to me. The idea of escaping this planet to go to the stars seemed, well … escapist. It seemed like a way of avoiding the real consequences of our way of life on this planet. But the more, I read of the second book, Parable of the Talents, the more the Destiny started to make sense to me.Butler writes in her fictional Book of the Living:
The Destiny of Earthseed
Is to take root among the stars.
It is to live and to thrive
On new earths.
It is to become new beings
And to consider new questions.
It is to leap into the heavens
Again and again.
It is to explore the vastness
It is to explore the vastness
Butler’s character Lauren Olamina, the young founder and leader of Earthseed, explains that the Destiny is Earthseed’s vision of heaven or immortality. Because Earthseed is a naturalistic religion (meaning it eschews supernaturalistic explanations), Earthseed’s heaven is literally in the heavens — i.e., in space. And while we likely will not reach it in any of our lifetimes, we don’t get there by dying. While there is no personal immortality in Earthseed, the Destiny creates the possibility of a species immortality. Olamina explains in “The Book of the Living”:
Each of us is mortal.
Yet through Earthseed,
Through the Destiny,
We are purposeful
And while our individual morality may not determine whether any of us get to the heavens, how we collectively live will determine whether we as a species get there at all.
Now, the Pagan in me wants to revolt at this idea as escapism, and the skeptic in me suspects it as fantasy. But the Destiny that Olamina describes is neither irresponsible, nor unrealistic. Many Pagans, pantheists, and religious naturalists believe the concept of heaven is at the root of our environmental crisis. But because Earthseed’s heaven is material, the Destiny has very real practical benefits for us and the planet in the here and now. Olamina explains: “The Destiny is important for the lessons it forces us to learn while we’re here on Earth, for the people it encourages us to become. It’s important for the unity and purpose that it gives us here on Earth. And in the future, it offers us a kind of species adulthood and species immortality when we scatter to the stars.”
Olamina goes on to explain that the Destiny has the potential to create a kind of species-consciousness for humankind, to bring us together to work toward a common goal, and to do so in a sustainable way with the Earth.
“I wanted us to understand what we could be, what we could do. I wanted to give us a focus, a goal, something big enough, complex enough, difficult enough, and in the end, radical enough to make us become more than we ever have been. We keep falling into the same ditches, you know? I mean, we learn more and more about the physical universe, more about our own bodies, more technology, but somehow, down through history, we go on building empires of one kind or another, then destroying them in one way or another. We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger, and set the stage for the next war. …
“We can go on buildings and destroying until we either destroy ourselves or destroy the ability of our world to sustain us. Or we can make something more of ourselves. We can grow up. We can leave the nest. We can fulfill the Destiny, make homes for ourselves among the stars, and become some combination of what we want to become and whatever our new environments challenge us to become. Our new worlds will remake us as we remake them. …
“Earthseed is about preparing to fulfill the Destiny. It’s about learning to live in partnership with one another in small communities, and at the same time, working out a sustainable partnership with our environment. It’s about treating education and adaptability as the absolute essentials that they are. …”
I think the Earth-seed metaphor is key here. If you want to spread the seeds of a tree, you don’t chop down the mother tree. You care for it and nature it so that it can continue to produce seeds. The Earth is the mother tree for Earthseed.
Olamina proposes the Destiny as the alternative to the post-apocalyptic world she lives in, where the United States has exhausted its physical and moral resources, where education has become a privilege of the rich rather than a basic necessity, where convenience, profit, and inertia excused greater and more dangerous environmental degradation, where poverty, hunger, disease became inevitable for more and more people, where people have become commodities … a world that looks increasingly like our own present.
As for whether the Destiny is realistic, Olamina has no illusions about it, but she points out that there is nothing logically impossible about it either. It would be incredibly difficult. But that’s the point, in fact. We need something “big enough, complex enough, difficult enough”, but still possible, to bring us together, in a way that not even the immanent destruction of this planet’s ability to support human life has been able to. The Destiny is so challenging, we might just be forced into a paradigm shift. We might just move beyond the ideal of international cooperation to a truly global community. And because every human being might potentially provide a breakthrough necessary to achieve this monumental goal, universal health and education would be seen as a necessity, not a luxury.
In the next part, I will present a Earthed ritual which I created, based on excerpts from Earthseed’s book of scripture, the “Book of the Living”.
The Author: John Halstead
John 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.
Love it John!
My friends and I have often talked about different motivations for going to other worlds. On one axis is fear vs. hope. To go out of fear, running from a collapsing Earth ecosystem is crazy. We will never find a world as good as Earth and get to it. We will have to create new worlds and creating new worlds will be much, much harder, than keeping Earth alive and healthy and growing in living diversity. To go out of hope, is to go because if one living world is beautiful, then a community, a family of living worlds is even more beautiful. That is a motivation with vision. It is a motivation at the top of Maslow’s pyramid instead of the bottom.
On another axis is humanity vs. Life. To go because we want to keep humanity going, is a greedy, petty, motivation. Humanity is a species and species last 1 million, 10 million maybe 100 million years. That is the way of things. Then comes extinction or evolution into something else. We can keep the Earth alive that long if we work at it. We can keep the Earth alive 10 to 50 times that long if we work at it. So we don’t need other worlds in order to keep humanity going. Only if you are worried we will destroy this one, is going to another world worthwhile for humanity’s sake. Sort of Cosmic fire insurance.
But to go because humanity has an obligation to serve Life as a whole. That again is a vision. Service to something higher has always been a religious theme. Humanity as a whole has a chance to serve Life by giving it new worlds to live on. On those new worlds, it will create new diversity. Diversity is the highest value of Life.
God is change. Shape God.
I like that. The idea of humanity in service to life is something that is hinted at, but not elaborated on, by Butler. It’s an aspect of Solseed that I really like.
How would you describe the values of Earthseed? For example, Reclaiming values include relationship with Earth; intellectual, spiritual, and creative freedom; ecstatic ritual celebration; personal and collective empowerment; peace; diversity; and social responsibility and service. Are interstellar exploration and colonization core values of Earthseed?
Anna, I was just talking to someone else about this. As I understand it, the Destiny is a means to an end — or perhaps an end to a means. As I see it, the path to the Destiny involves environmental, social, and economic justice. The point of the Destiny is actually to get us to focus on these things. How we do that is both an individual and collective challenge.
Well written John. This reminds me of the current Seasonal Moment of Lammas that we are are about to celebrate in the Southern Hemisphere … we celebrate the Larger Self into whom we dissolve, to whom all return: even Earth Herself, even Sun – call this Larger Self what you will (I call Her Gaia-Universe). As I expressed it here: “At Summer Solstice, as the Wheel turned into the Dark phase, we sang of how “we dissolve into the night”. The “night” that we dissolve into is the Larger Organism that we are part of – Gaia. It is She who is immortal, from whom we arise, and into whom we dissolve.
Whereas at Imbolc, we shone forth as Her – individual, multiforms of Her; at Lammas, we small individual selves remember that we are She and dissolve back into Her.
We are the Promise of Life as we affirmed at Imbolc, but we are the Promise of Her – it is not ours to hold. The fulfillment of the Promise is that it becomes interesting food for the Universe. My personal peaking is not for my immortality – it is Gaia who is immortal. We participate in Her immortality. At Lammas we remember that. The Old One of Lammas is the Return to the Great Subject.” … and ongoing Cosmic Creativity.