Earlier this month, I presented an Earthseed ritual at the Earth Traditions Oasis festival. I think it went well, if the discussion at the end was any indication. There were eight participants, not including myself and my daughter.
In the first part of the workshop, I shared the story of Lauren’s evolution toward the concept of God as Change. The second part of the workshop was an adaptation of the Elements Ritual that has been posted here previously. And the last part was a ritual using clay to experience the concept of Shaping God.
As you will see, I tried to ease the group into the use of “God” language by first associating it with “Goddess”, an idea that Pagans generally are more comfortable with, and then dropping “Goddess” and speaking only of “God”.
The script below is for anyone wanting to borrow or adapt it.
You will need:
Bowls with stable bottoms
Bundles of sage
Blocks of clay
Singing bowl or chime or gong
Scraps of paper (blank)
Scraps of paper with the following instructions:
“Hand your sculpture to someone and ask them to smash it and return it to you.”
“Hand half of your clay to someone else.”
“Swap your sculpture with someone else.”
Printed copies of readings
Small items (I used acorns) which can be passed around the group as individuals take turns speaking.
A device to play music from this link.
Ask two people to be readers (at least one of them a woman to play Lauren).
Hand out moist towelettes and explain we will be handling water together.
(Text to be spoken is in bold. Instructions are in regular text.)
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
These are the words that begin Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel, Parable of the Sower.
Welcome. My name is _________. Today, we’re going to be exploring in story and in ritual how science fiction can help us survive and thrive in a changing world.
We’re going to be forming small groups. I’m going to be telling some stories from the science fiction of Octavia Butler. The workshop will be broken into two parts. Each part will focus on one of the core concepts of Octavia Butler’s stories. The first part will be about the concept of God or Goddess as Change. God as Change or Goddess as Change. And the second part will be about Shaping God or Shaping Goddess.
In the first part we’re going break into small groups for a ritual where we experience the concept of God as Change through the traditional Pagan elements — earth, air, fire, water.
In the second part, we’ll experience the concept of Shaping God through shaping clay.
Ask the group to silence their cell phones.
Break the group into small groups of 5 or 6. Hand someone in each group pass one of the items to pass around.
Have the group members pass each item around and say their name, where they are from, and one thing about themselves.
Pass around slips of paper and pens. Have the groups go around again and in 1 or 2 sentences, share about a change in their lives recently. It can be positive or negative. Large or small. Give them a moment to think of something. Then have them write it down. Then have them go around the circle and share. Give them the option of passing if they are not comfortable. Emphasize that out of respect for other members in your group, you should keep your talking to 1 or 2 sentences. Remind them to hold on to their paper, as we will be using it later. Share something yourself as the ritual facilitator.
Let me tell you a story.
The gap between the rich and poor is growing. Climate change has led to widespread drought. Diseases like cholera and measles have returned. People live in walled off communities struggling to survive. Outside the walls, theft and murder are the rule. People persecute mixed race couples. The police are corrupt and have been reduced to a private security force that few people can afford. Corporations are gaining more power, owning entire towns and keeping their workers in effective slavery. A conservative religious fanatic gains political power with the promise to “Make America Great Again.
Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. Almost prophetic?
This was the future described by science fiction author Octavia Butler in 1993, and it was eerily prophetic. Out of this landscape, emerges Lauren Olamina, a fifteen-year-old African-American daughter of a Baptist minister, who creates a new religion called “Earthseed”. She teaches that God is Change, that we can Shape God, and that our destiny is to take place among the stars.
This comes from a science fiction novel by Octavia Butler. Butler was one of the first women science fiction writers to be published and the first Black science fiction writer. The story of her life, and her struggles is worth a story itself. But today I want to tell you the story of one of her characters. Lauren Olamina. Butler said that Lauren was a kind of alter ego of herself. Many of Butler’s novels feature strong Black women as their protagonists.
This story begins in 2024. Which less than a decade off now, but Butler was writing this in the 1990s. Lauren is 14 years old, the precocious daughter of a Baptist minister. She and her family live in a walled of cul-de-sac near Los Angeles.
“AT LEAST THREE YEARS ago, my fathers God stopped being my God. His church stopped being my church. And yet, today, because I’m a coward, I let myself be initiated into that church. I let my father baptize me in all three names of that God who isn’t mine any more. My God has another name.
But I do. The idea of God is much on my mind these days. I’ve been paying attention to what other people believe— whether they believe, and if so what kind of God they believe in. Keith says God is just the adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want. He doesn’t say that around Dad, but he says it. He believes in what he sees, and no matter what’s in front of him, he doesn’t see much. I suppose Dad would say that about me if he knew what I believe. Maybe he’d be right. But it wouldn’t stop me from seeing what I see.
A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of super-person. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feel in control of. Some say God is a spirit, a force, an ultimate reality. Ask seven people what all of that means and you’ll get seven different answers. So what is God? Just another name for whatever makes you feel special and protected?”
Think for a minute about what the word God means to you now. If the word God has no meaning for you now, think about what it may have meant to you at one time in the past.
Wait 20-30 seconds.
So Lauren has this idea that won’t leave her alone. The idea is God is Change. We could just as easily say God/dess is Change. Because Lauren’s idea of God is very similar to many Pagans experience of Goddess — the Spiral Dancer, Changing Woman, Gaia.
Now the word “God” can be a very problematic word. Especially because it often is understood to be a masculine term. This is not how Lauren means “God”. For Lauren, “God” is not a person, and is neither male, not female. God is literally Change. Lauren feels it is important to reclaim the term “God” from those who use it to mean a divine patriarch. It’s important for her to Shape a new meaning for God.
Throughout this workshop, I’m going to be using the word “God” in the way that Lauren does. And in parts of our ritual, I will ask you to repeat certain phrase that use the word “God”. If you feel like that word will keep you from fully participating in the ritual, I invite you to, either in your head or out loud, substitute the word “Goddess”. So if I say “God is Change”, feel free to think “Goddess is Change.” And if I ask you to repeat “God is Change”, feel free to substitute “Goddess is Change”. The rhythm will be a little off, but I want everyone to feel comfortable participating.
But I also want to encourage you, even if it feels a little awkward or unusual, to try saying God, to work with me to shape a new meaning for the word God.
So … God is Change. This idea plants itself in her mind and starts to grow. Lauren starts to write down her ideas about God in a journey, which she comes to call “The Book of the Living”, a nod to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
“For whatever it’s worth, here’s what I believe. It took me a lot of time to understand it, then a lot more time with a dictionary and a thesaurus to say it just right— just the way it has to be. In the past year, it’s gone through twenty-five or thirty lumpy, incoherent rewrites. This is the right one, the true one.
God is Power— Infinite, Irresistible, Inevitable, Indifferent. And yet, God is Pliable— Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay. God exists to be shaped. God is Change.
This is the literal truth. God can’t be resisted or stopped, but can be shaped and focused. This means God is not to be prayed to. Prayers only help the person doing the praying, and then, only if they strengthen and focus that persons resolve. If they’re used that way, they can help us in our only real relationship with God. They help us to shape God and to accept and work with the shapes that God imposes on us.
God is power, and in the end, God prevails. But we can rig the game in our own favor if we understand that God exists to be shaped, and will be shaped, with or without our forethought, with or without our intent. That’s what I know. That’s some of it anyway.”
Think about the phrase “God is Change.” Or if you prefer, you can say Goddess is Change. Say it to yourself in your mind or softly out loud and let it sit with you a moment.
Wait 30 seconds.
Lauren realizes that Change is coming when a little girl is shot through the gate to the community. She sees signs of Change all around, because she’s paying attention and not afraid to face uncomfortable realities. She realizes that the walls surrounding her small community will not hold out the world indefinitely. So she scrambles to gather supplies and knowledge. She is greedy for knowledge, anything that can help her survive on the outside.
And then the Change comes, and the people on the outside come through the gates and kill and burn. And Lauren alone of her family barely escapes. And she begins a journey up highway 101. And things are desperate for a long time. But she takes everything as her teacher. She learns and she adapts. And slowly people gather to her, in spite of her age, because there is strength in numbers, and she is a natural leader. And slowly she shares her Earthseed verses with people. And eventually they find a place to settle and form a community which they call Acorn. And once a week, they gather together to strengthen their bond as a community and to read the Book of the Living.
But even that cannot last. And Change comes again. And that community is torn apart.
Reading 3 (2 parts)
Reader 1: “How did you get your ideas about God?” “
Reader 2: “I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
Reader 1: “Change.”
Reader 2: “Change, yes.”
Reader 1: “But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
Reader 2: “It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.
Reader 1: “Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
Reader 2: “That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
Reader 1: “But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
Reader 2: “Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
Reader 1: “Your stuff isn’t very comforting.” “
Reader 2: “It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
Reader 1: “Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
Reader 2: “All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
Reader 1: “But nobody’s going to worship change.”
Reader 2: “I hope not. Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
Reader 1: “Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
Reader 2: “That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”
In the next post, I’ll shared the adapted Elements Ritual.