Muse in Brief

Naming the Water: Human and Deity Identity from an Earth-Centered Perspective » No Unsacred Place

In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I respond to Teo Bishop’s recent musings over at Bishop in the Grove, in which he contemplates hard polytheism and ancestor reverence, and the problematic issues of self-identity that might arise when we imagine our descendants worshipping us as gods:

As a Pagan, my theology is rooted firmly in the earth. To me, the earth is sacred, and so the ecological truths that guide and shape life on this tiny blue marble are sacred truths. One of those truths is that identity is fluid. I can no more name the discrete entity that is “me” than I can name the water flowing in a river. From moment to moment, that identity changes. This was the insight of the Buddhists, too: we are not the same person from one second to the next, and reincarnation is less like viscous soul-substance getting sloshed from one meat-container into the next as it is like a flame passing from one wick to another. Is it the same flame? Yes… and then again, no.

Like a river is defined by its shore, my identity is defined by my limitations, by the extremities of my being. I learned this before I even had the words for it. The first time a wail escaped my infant throat and my mother’s breast was not there to soothe my hunger, I knew what it was to be me and not her. I discovered how to move fingers and toes, how odd it was that these unwieldy awkward bits of flesh and bone were somehow responsive to my will in ways that other bits and pieces of the material world weren’t. We all experienced this as infants, learning who we are by discovering who and what we are not.

The multiplicity of human identity is not just a spiritual principle, it’s a biological fact — a basic ecological reality. The insight of the Gaia Theory — that “the Earth system behaves as a single self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components” — is as much a statement about our own physical bodies as it is about the planet. If we imagine the Earth as the body of a goddess, we can also imagine our own bodies as a sacred home to an ecologically complex and diverse array of microscopic life.

Can ecology show us an alternative to hard polytheism that honors identity as both complex and subtle, spiritual and physical? What does the earth teach us about the places where human and divine meet?

You can read the full article here.