If the shift in cultural narrative from the Story of Separation to the Story of Interbeing is the central worldview shift of the Great Turning — as we move from the dominance of industrial growth societies to regenerative life-sustaining societies — then no one word encompasses this change in our cultures’ guiding stories better than Gaia.
“I will sing of
Mother of All
Eldest of all beings,
She feeds all creatures
That are in the world.
All that go upon the goodly land
And all that are in the paths of the sea
And all that fly:
All these are fed of her stone.”
– Hesiod, Greek poet, 7th Century B.C.
According to classical Greek cosmology, in the beginning there was only Khaos — the black fullness of empty space — from Khaos emerged Gaia — the mother of all. She created the first gods of the Greek pantheon and then mated with Uranos — the god of the sky — to give birth to the 12 Titans. Gaia is the personification of life’s fertility to give birth to more life.
In modern times, the atmospheric chemist and instrument engineer James Lovelock — while working on the Mars Mission at NASA and studying the compositions of gases on all the planets in our solar system — had the insight that the reason why Earth is the only planet with its atmosphere in extreme chemical disequilibrium, may have to do with the very presence of life itself.
Lovelock postulated that life itself had created the conditions conducive for more life to evolve. While on a walk with his friend William Golding, the author and Nobel laureate, Lovelock was persuaded that such a critically significant scientific thesis needed a better name than ‘Bio-Universal-Systems-Tendency’ and followed Golding’s advice to name his hypothesis after the Greek goddess Gaia.
“The Gaia Hypothesis is the theory that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shape Earth’s biosphere… The earth is a self-regulating environment; a single, unified, cooperating and living system — a superorganism that regulates physical conditions to keep the environment hospitable for life. Evolution therefore is the result of cooperative not competitive processes.”
– Dr James Lovelock in Gaia — A New Look at Life on Earth
In the years that followed, the Gaia hypothesis evolved to a well founded scientific theory, in particular through the collaboration between James Lovelock and the micro-biologist Lynn Margulis. The Gaia theory proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate and improve the conditions for life on the planet.
“Evolution is no linear family tree, but change in the single multidimensional being that has grown to cover the entire surface of Earth.”
– Lynn Margulis, in What Is Life?
Daniel Christian Wahl: I wrote this piece in April 2018 for the Gaia Education website, because we were getting more and more questions from people ‘Why Gaia?’ See: https://gaiaeducation.org/about/why-gaia/
Understanding ourselves as Gaia — intimate participants in and expressions of a living planet — regenerating our identity as animate Earth — lies at the heart of the Regeneration rising.