Zemyana in Lithuania, Pachamama in South America, Bhumi Devi in India, Aja in Africa, the mother goddess, the revered and the most ancient one. Gaia. Who created herself out of the primordial chaos. Out of whom all living beings originate and must return.
The worship of mother earth as a goddess was once widely practiced across the planet by various communities. This was when the roots of living sustainably and the sacredness of nature were closely entwined, and we lived in close balance with nature.
I for one am awaiting the archaic revival of our earlier animistic ways, of elemental gods, of people honoring and worshipping their connection with the forces of nature, wind, water, fire, trees, and animals.
Animism holds the belief that all physical phenomena have consciousness, that there is no real difference between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows.
As such, animism is considered to contain the oldest spiritual and supernatural perspectives in the world, dating back to the Palaeolithic Age when humans were still hunter-gatherers.
Among the Ojibwe communities of Canada personhood does not require human likeness, but rather humans were perceived as being like other persons, who for instance included rock persons and bear persons. For the Ojibwe, these persons were each conscious beings who gained meaning and power through their interactions with others; through respectfully interacting with other persons, they themselves learned to “act as a person”.
Across the world, there are sacred natural sites and symbols which are revered by communities. Closer home, in India we are still largely a country of people who worship rivers like the Ganga, Kaveri, and Yamuna; mountains like the Kailash, Arunachalam, and Niyamgiri; forests like the sacred groves across the country; trees like the Peepal, Bel, and Deodar; animals like the elephant and tiger.
Where then did we move from worshiping nature to exploiting it? It’s probably the question that will answer many of the problems we face today as a planet.
“It’s clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. We have the technological power, and the engineering skills to save our planet, cure disease, feed the hungry, and end war; but we lack the intellectual vision, and the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves and it’s not easy.” These are words from an essay by Terence McKenna, who was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, and author.
Right from the start of the Industrial Revolution, people have perhaps not been very mindful that the development of an industrial economy has both positive and negative outcomes. The paybacks, in terms of opportunities, cheap consumer goods, and profits, were usually felt to outweigh the disadvantages, predominantly by those in positions of power. The adverse effects on the environment were usually seen to be an inevitable cost of development and still are to this day.
But I believe change is inevitable, and I see it emerging from within the people. It’s a movement sprouting like a tiny but persistent seedling pushing its way from below the surface and rising above the soil. East Central India is home to a great number of sacred groves. It is believed that these groves house a deity called Sarna Mata. According to local beliefs, Sarna Mata has grown unhappy with the deterioration she has witnessed in these groves over the past decades.
Now, she expresses herself in the minds of local indigenous women, in the form of possession trances.
This has given rise to a movement of protection, revitalization, and re-creation of sacred groves.
The change is coming in the countless rising protests across the planet against the destruction of nature and indigenous knowledge systems. Soon those numbers will be in the millions and then the billions who will cause an uprising and a revival of the earth spirits once again. Until then, Gaia awaits.
Sacred Earth Trust is working to revive our spiritual connection with nature and protect the sacred forests of India. They are launching a campaign “Devi” or Goddess which looks to revive the beliefs and rituals around the ancient goddesses and gods of nature. They are hoping to make this a global campaign to celebrate the sacred nature of our planet and of nature.
She writer Radhika Bhagat is a wildlife conservationist and founder of Sacred Earth Trust, a nature conservation organization in India