We have come to a point in the history of our civilisation where our relationship to nature seems to be more of one of destruction than of nurturance and respect. Humankind has steadily distanced itself from nature, our homes are filled with dead things, plastics, metals and chemicals. Everything around us is synthetic and manufactured in factories. Some people live their lives never touching nature – the soil, the plants, the grass. I have even met people who have a deep fear of being in nature. This distancing from nature is a reflection of distancing from our Divine Earth mother, not just as the outside world, but also as the energy of the archetypal Earth Mother within our own psyche.
Many cultures and traditions herald a Great mother, Mother Earth or Mother Nature but our connection to her, especially recently in the Western world, has been severed. In the Greek mysteries, Gaia or Gaea, the Divine Mother, was one of the primal elements who first emerged from cosmic chaos at the dawn of creation. All the later Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses are said to have descended from her initial union with Ouranos (the sky) and Pontos (the sea). Her geneology and her presence in Greek myth is full of complexities, conflicts and contrasts. Her worship in Ancient Greece did in fact decline, for her role was supplanted by the Gods of Olympus. Some scholars such as Harris and Platzner (Greek Mythology: Images & Insights, 2011), maintain that the decline in her worship and the demonizing and slaying of the snake or serpent – one of Gaia’s primordial symbols and a symbol of archetypal feminine energy, represents the death of the sacred feminine brought about by the insidious reign of a patriarchal pantheon of male gods.
Gaia is not only a figure in Greek myth however. In the 1960s, James Lovelock (2000) formulated the Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock states that all life, and all living things on this planet, are part of a single, all-encompassing global self-regulating system (he avoided the word consciousness) which he named Gaia. It is this global system of interconnection that makes our planet capable of supporting life. Further, he believes, if you live in balance with Mother Nature, health and healing are yours; violate Her laws and tip the balance, you pay the price in suffering and disease. Thus Gaia does not only represent the Ancient Greek Mother Earth and the physical planet, she also represents the forces of nature: laws and intelligences that function on every level of the cosmos. She is the very fabric of existence. Glenys Livingstone says it beautifully: “She is the eternal pulse, in which each one of us flows. Gaia is Earth, is Universe, is Ultimate Mystery, is you, is me – She is multivalent.” (from her Essay ‘Gaia as a Cosmic Name‘, 2014)
I recently taught two workshops for women ‘Painting Gaia – Exploring our Connection to the Earth’ based in my belief that disconnection and distancing from nature is an issue that needs attention. We need more than ever, at this time in history to re-connect deeply with the earth and with the feminine – regardless of faith of tradition. This re-connection that will aid in deep ways in the healing of the planet and of the self. If we are not connected, how can we care about the plight of the planet and all sentient beings? And if we are not caring, how can we take action to make a difference?
I am dedicated to taking action, raising awareness and making a difference in the ways that I know how. The intention for these workshops is to connect to Gaia through the process of visioning, painting and inquiry. Our Gaias were birthed from the cosmos and as we brought her into being we deepened our connection to Her, within and without. We also strengthened our commitment to healing the earth in a capacity that is manageable. Some, including myself, expressed feelings of being overwhelmed by all the atrocities we are flooded with on the news and in social media forums. In this context, our goal was to become more mindful of our actions and choices. The workshop also called us to a deep, primal remembering of Her eternal presence, from the cosmos to the core.
It was apparent in our discussions is that Gaia represents paradox – life/death, chaos/order, creation/destruction, beauty/ugliness, peace/fury. Connecting deeply with Gaia is ultimately about living in paradox; we must accept both life and death to truly know her nature. Marion Woodman (Dancing in the Flames, 1996) states that “paradox is the core of wisdom and the core of the goddess”. The balance of both must be held.
In Greek art Gaia was often represented “tamed,” presented as a beautiful voluptuous woman, half risen from the Earth as can be seen here:
Following are two of my recent paintings of Gaia in all her elemental power. I hope you feel and appreciate the difference!
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