(Essay 2) Gaia as Universe-Earth-Self: a Unity of Being by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

[This essay is part 2 of an edited excerpt from Chapter 1 of her book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.]

As participants in Gaia, we may understand ourselves as Gaia, holons of the Large Self, as a drop of the ocean participates in (the whole of) the ocean. I regard the concepts of holons and holarchy[i] to be a crucial model for understanding a participatory universe. In Biology Revisioned, Harman and Sahtouris define a holarchy as “the embeddedness of living entities within each other (e.g., cell, organ, body, family, community, ecosystem, bioregion, planet, star system, galaxy, etc.)”;[ii]  and they define a holon as “a living entity or system.”[iii] They describe the entire Universe as a vast living entity or holon, and also as “a holarchy containing smaller holons in continual co-creation.”[iv] A most significant feature of a holarchy is that every layer/level has as much importance as any other, because they are embedded in each other – and actually the layers of simpler life forms are not dependent on the more complex, though the more complex are dependent on the simpler earlier layers. Within the context of holarchy, it may be possible to explain by physical principles how a quality of living systems “may apply all the way from the most simple single-cell life form to Gaia.”[v]

Heart Opening: Re-Emergence of the Sacred Feminine No.1" (c) 2008 Carol Hiltner; found online at http://altaimir.org/gallerystore.htm
Heart Opening: Re-Emergence of the Sacred Feminine No.1″ (c) 2008 Carol Hiltner; found online at http://altaimir.org/gallerystore.htm

Psychologist James Hillman recognizes that the cut between the self and the natural world is arbitrary, and wonders whether it can be made at all – “we can make it at the skin or we can take it as far out as you like – to the deep oceans and distant stars”.[vi] Lovelock refers to the human as Gaia – “She has seen the reflection of her fair face through the eyes of astronauts … ”, and speaks of a “commonwealth of all creatures that constitutes Gaia.”[vii] In his early writings on Gaia, he did try to hold back from Her sentience:

Occasionally it has been difficult to avoid talking of Gaia as if she were known to be sentient. This is meant no more seriously than the appellation ‘she’ when given to a ship by those who sail in her, as a recognition that even pieces of wood and metal may achieve a composite identity distinct from the mere sum of its parts.[viii]

However, in 1988 Lovelock spoke of his relationship with Gaia as possibly kin to the relationship of some Christians to Mary. He says, “What if Mary is another name for Gaia?”[ix] and later,

If their hearts and minds could be moved to see in her the embodiment of Gaia, then they might become aware that the victim of their destruction was indeed the Mother of humankind and the source of everlasting life.[x]

He had explained that

Any living organism a quarter as old as the Universe itself and still full of vigor is as near immortal as we ever need to know. She is of this Universe and, conceivably, a part of (the Divine).[xi]

Gaian researchers, scientists who study the global metabolism, generally tread more carefully, riding a fine edge in regard Gaia’s sentience applying the principles of science yet “without postulating a global organism.”[xii] Nevertheless, there is evidence of ambivalence; Tyler Volk speaks of Earth (not “the” Earth) and of Gaian “physiology”, implying a subject, while still using the pronoun “it”. Volk speaks of all of us as “cells within the embracing physiology of …’Gaia’”,[xiii] yet holds back from accepting Her as an organism. He says this because Gaia “does not evolve in a Darwinian sense”,[xiv] but that leaves it open that She may evolve in some other sense. He, like other Gaian scientists, do participate in promoting an informed reverence for Gaia’s body.

The restoration of the material reality, is a restoration of the maternal reality, is a restoration of the Mother.

For so long we’ve considered the Earth as just a big dead ball of dirt. It shocks us nearly out of our minds when we discover we’re involved with something that moves … (that) the whole process is alive.[xv]

The entire Cosmos itself has been imagined as something dead and static – the heavens as a vacuous space “out there”. Just as Aristotle storied the female body as passive matter, so the Womb of Space has been imagined. The cosmology of Earth-based religious traditions, on the other hand, have always understood Earth as Mother, and the Mother as active Creator. Starhawk writes of Goddess as

the living body of a living cosmos, the awareness that infuses matter and the energy that produces change. She is life eternally attempting to maintain itself, reproduce itself, diversify, evolve …[xvi]

Ecologist Stephan Harding, who taught on Gaia and ecophilosophy at Schumacher College, said that “the whole reason for gathering scientific information is to provide a cognitive basis for developing wide identification with nature”, that people love it when they “realize that the planet has life-like qualities of self-regulation”[xvii] – in my own words, people love to hear news of the Mother, that She is alive.

An altar/mandala expressing the Gestalt
An altar/mandala expressing the Gestalt

For many minds today, Gaian research and knowledge of the evolutionary story furthers our knowledge of the Mother and, at once, knowledge of ourselves. The definition of self-knowledge is extended to Self-knowledge – knowledge of Gaia: scientist Mae-Wan Ho says : “It is in knowing her that we shall have intimate knowledge of ourselves.”[xviii] Just as the prokaryotes, the first cells on Earth deeply effected the planet and its future, so our small organism and the many, many others affect the planet over long periods of time. This is Gaian spirituality – taking on the mind of the Universe,[xix] participating in the Dream of the Earth,[xx] beginning to “know” from within the perspective of Earth, Moon, Sun, Tree – our Place and Habitat. I have named this perspective a “PaGaian Cosmology”, to express this totality, this integral sense of Gaia as Self-Earth-Universe, a nested reality; as the term extends the sense and vision of “country”/”Land” to include the ecology of small self, Earth and the whole Cosmos.   For me it expresses the Gestalt.

Read part 1.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Glenys Livingstone.


Barlow, Connie (ed). From Gaia to Selfish Genes: selected writings in the Life Sciences. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994.

Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the EarthSF: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Hillman, James. “A Psyche the Size of Earth” in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Roszak, T, Gomes, M E, & Kanner, A D. (eds). San Fransisco: Sierra Books, 1995, pp. xvii – xxiii.

Ho, Mae-Wan. “Natural Being and Coherent Society” in Gaia in Action. Peter Bunyard (ed). Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1996, pp. 286 – 307.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great GoddessNY: Harper and Row, 1989.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon.  Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

_____________ The Earth’s Imagination. DVD series: http://www.storyoftheuniverse.org/dvd/the-earths-imagination/

Volk, Tyler. Gaia’s Body. NY: Springer-Verlag, 1998.

Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Massachusetts: Shambhala, 1996.

[i] Originally they are Arthur Koestler’s terms. See Connie Barlow (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Writings in the Life Science,s p. 89 -100. Ken Wilber also describes the terms in  A Brief History of Everything, p.20 ff.  

[ii] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.

[iii] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.130.

[iv] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxiii.

[v] Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris, Biology Revisioned, p.xxii.  A holon itself could be said to exhibit qualities that I identify with the three dynamics of the Female Metaphor and Cosmogenesis – agency, communion, and self-transcendence. See Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.51-53.

[vi] James Hillman, “A Psyche the Size of Earth” in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Roszak, Gomes and Kanner, (eds), p.xix.

[vii] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.19.

[viii] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.3.

[ix] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.41.

[x] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.42.

[xi] Cited in Connie Barlow  (ed.), From Gaia to Selfish Genes, p.42. Lovelock actually uses the word “God”, by which I assume he means “the Divine”.  I translate it in the text for the sake of continuity of my point.

[xii] Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.ix.

[xiii] Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.viii.

[xiv] Tyler Volk, Gaia’s Body, p.ix.

[xv] Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.135.

[xvi] Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.228.

[xvii] Cited in Connie Barlow, Green Space, Green Time, p.216.

[xviii] Mae-Wan Ho, “Natural Being and Coherent Society” in Gaia in Action, Peter Bunyard (ed.), p.305.

[xix] an expression of Brian Swimme’s The Earth’s Imagination.

[xx] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth.

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Reblogged this on Goddess Spiral Health Coaching and commented:
Another powerful post from Glenys on seeing ourselves as part of Gaia and the greater Universe!


Rye logged with gratitude. Thank you for sharing these powerful ideas and state of being Glenys! Blessings!


Reblogged is what I meant to write. Autocorrect on ipad mistake. Unfortunately I can’t seem to edit it.


“Human history is a Gaian dream.”
― Terence McKenna


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