Although Earthseed’s book of scripture, the Book of the Living, uses theistic language and speaks of “God” in the singular, Earthseed has much in common with Humanistic and Naturalistic Paganism.
The central tenet of Earthseed is: “God is Change. Shape God.” The Book of Living reads:
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
This verse closely resembles the familiar Pagan chant by author and activist, 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.
What’s interesting about this notion of God is not only that God changes us, but also that we can change God — that life is a reciprocal interaction between the universe and ourselves, a notion which was likely borrowed from process theology. The Book of the Living states:
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.
The fundamental insight of process theology is that reality is change and motion. Objects, things, moments in time: these are abstractions and unreal. This is true of all reality, including God and ourselves. Process theology has also inspired some Pagan conceptions of the Goddess. See, for example, Carol Christ’s She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World (2004) and Constance Wise’s Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought (2008).
Like the God of process theology, Earthseed’s God is not a God to be loved or worshiped. It is a God that is 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.
Earthseed’s God is called by many names in the Book of the Living, including “Trickster” — which recollects images of various trickster deities in ancient pagan and indigenous mythologies. Another name is “Teacher”. These names acknowledge both the malevolent and benevolent, destructive and constructive, sides of God.
Is both creative and destructive,
Demanding and yielding,
Scultpor and clay.
God is Infinite Potential:
God is Change.
The invocation of these Platonic elements — wind (air), water, fire, clay (earth) — will be a familiar motif for many Pagans.
As Pagan Catherine Madsen says in her essay, “If God Is God She Is Not Nice,” the world is a “strange combination of tender bounty and indifference”. Madsen writes:
“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.”
Similarly, in The Spiral Dance (1979), Starhawk describes the Neo-Pagan 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 (1994), Starhawk protagonist, Madrone, wrestles with this issue:
“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.”
Then Madrone hears a voice in her mind whisper:
“All means all. 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.
But why say “God”? Why not say “the World” or “Nature” — because “God” in this sense does mean the world and nature. Octavia Butler explains that, if we call the world/nature “God”, then we won’t be tempted to (consciously or unconsciously) imagine another (supernatural) agency and call that “God”. “God” is a powerful idea, and if we don’t give a place for that in my life, if we do not find “God” in this world, then there is a human tendency to project it outward into the supernatural. This is one of the reasons why some Humanistic Pagans use theistic language in ritual, while being non-theistic in belief.
When we say “God is Change”, we, together with the process theologians, deny the claim that God is unchanging, while also affirming, with other philosophical naturalists, that this world of contingency is all there is. When we say that God can be shaped by us, we, together with many pantheistic Pagans, deny the claim that God is transcendent, while also affirming, with other humanists, 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.
∞ = Δ