“The beauty of the planet from 100,000 miles should be a goal for all of us, to help in our struggle to make it as it appears to be.” Astronaut Michael Collins said these words reflecting on seeing the Earth from space. To me, he is expressing the truth that the Earth is our community that we share with all other beings on the planet, our home base. But what does this really mean in its most profound perspective?
Over the years, I have heard people express over and over how they desire “community,” whether that means a neighborhood café or an ongoing circle to share our deepest lives over decades, or any of many other expressions. The emotional and physical impact of isolation and divisiveness over the past months of the pandemic has shown how essential “community” is to our well being, and how we need to think of it as more than just a sense of being part of a group. True community provides us with a sense of belonging and relationship, of being part of a vibrant, interdependent web, of assuming everyone will act in the best interests of all.
I think one reason for the challenges in finding and creating community in our contemporary western society is that our usual definitions of community centering on people are missing something important — the Earth. In traditions from around the world, the Earth is envisioned as an integral part of the human community. To ensure the well being of the community in abundant harvests, the people would pour libations, sing, and dance, and in other ways interact with the Earth so as to make the crops grow. For millennia, people have revered the land their ancestors lived on as the sacred bond that ties them and all those in their family and community together.
We can also see the relationship between the Earth and the well being of our communities in goddess myths and stories from around the world. In some cases, such as that of the Sumerian goddesse Ninlil, who was both an Earth goddess associated with grain and the founder of the city of Nippur, Earth goddesses are the deities of specific communities. In others, such as the pre-Hellenic Greek Augralids worshipped in Athens, goddesses were associated with the land’s abundance and thus, according to Patricia Monaghan, “the social organization of the people living on the land” (p. 62). Other Earth goddesses, as creators of the world and humanity, were also entrusted with ensuring that humans behaved as they should to one another. These include Benin’s Mawu, the Igbo’s Ala, and the Greek Themis. Other Earth goddesses are associated with oath-giving or hospitality, essential aspects of the community’s social contract, such as the Slavic Mati, the Germanic Nerthus, and the Roman Tellus.
What if we recalibrate our understanding of “community” to include the Earth and all living beings — the wild creatures, the forests and meadows, the birds and insects, as well as the soil, water, air and other elements that enable life? When we begin to think this way, the concept of community begins to both come into clearer focus and expand beyond our usual perspective.
Most obviously, caring for all living beings and the Earth is essential to the basic well being of all those living in a particular vicinity. Clean air and water, adequate and healthy crops, and the spiritual benefits of nature promote everyone’s well being. Taking into consideration how our actions as a whole impact our environment is an essential task of living responsibly in community. When we revere the Earth as a living being to whom we are connected through community, we are more likely to treat Her with respect and dignity.
Feeling connected to the Earth and nature are essential to our overall health and deeply connected to our sense of being in community. Spending time in nature improves stress levels and mood, reduces pain, and more. Simply having trees and green space around an urban housing development increased the sense of “community” — belonging, helping and supporting others, and reduced levels of crime, domestic violence, and aggression. All these are key to effective communities.
Considering Earth as part of our community helps us to see our connections to a unified whole of the places where we live that so often define our communities. The Earth through its rivers, oceans, and overland passages link communities together. This isn’t just conceptual because the effects of climate change that occur in one part of the world can be devastating to other parts of the world. When we see ourselves as part of community with the Earth, we also better understand our relationship to all other beings on the planet.
Some cities and towns are beginning to bring the Earth into their sense of community, though perhaps not perceived of this way. They are providing assistance to residents to plant pollinator gardens, offering tax rebates for electric bikes and cars and heat pumps, and more, all for the benefit of the community as well as individual residents. I have found that all these efforts greatly enhance my sense of belonging in my town and connectedness to the land that we dwell on in common.
When our sense of community is fractured, women and other disempowered people suffer the most. Without communities where caregiving is spread among many members, women are more likely to be sole or primary uncompensated caregivers of children, elders, and others. Without communities where the basic needs of all are met as a mutual obligation, people lack shelter, food, water, and health care. Climate change affects lower income nations the most. When we envision our communities as including the Earth, not just as a common home base but as a participant, we can begin to form the kinds of communities we really need to address ecological catastrophe and injustice as well as enhance our own and our neighbors’ well being.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.
Photo of Earth from Space:
NASA/JSC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Illustration of Tellus:
Tangopaso, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons