The article below was originally published at Witchvox in 2007. Witchvox website shut down in 2019, so I am re-publishing the article here, as it was.
PaGaian Cosmology is an Earth-based religious practice of seasonal ritual based in a contemporary scientific sense of the cosmos and female imagery for the sacred. This synthesis of seasonal ritual, scientific sense, and female imagery for the sacred, is described as ‘PaGaian’ because it combines a Pagan ritual practice of relationship with place, with a sense of that place as ‘Gaia’ – a name that is both expressive of an ancient Goddess, yet also the name of a contemporary scientific theory, the Gaia Theory, wherein it is posited that Earth’s living matter functions as a whole living organism.
PaGaian Cosmology was developed in its initial stages by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D., through decades of first re-storying female metaphor for the sacred – inspired by many writers and teachers including and notably Charlene Spretnak[i]; included in this re-storying within the context of many groups of women and some men was the practice of seasonal ritual – inspired by Pagan teacher and activist Starhawk[ii] This body of Goddess-centred practice, understood as ‘Gaian’ at first, was gradually augmented by the Universe Story[iii] as told by Brian Swimme, a mathematical cosmologist, and Thomas Berry, a cultural historian, sometimes called a ‘geologian’. This latter body of story was more consciously included during a doctoral research period that saw the deepened understanding of the annual ritual celebration of the Seasonal Wheel as the Earth-Sun sacred site, and as a pathway to the Centre of the most basic dynamics of the Cosmos, a way of making sense of the pattern, a way of sensing it and participating consciously in omnipresent Creativity[iv].
The term ‘PaGaian’ was coined in later stages of this development, by Robert (Taffy) Seaborne, who had become Livingstone’s partner and supporter of her work. The origins, philosophy and practice of PaGaian Cosmology is described in depth in the book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, by Glenys Livingstone (iUniverse 2005), which is freely available to read on-line at http://pagaian.org.
PaGaian Cosmology has its roots in the initial practice of one group in Australia since 1998, and another two groups in Australia since late 2005 and early 2006. Other groups known to be located in the UK, USA and Australia use the book, either as a guide to establish a Cosmic-seasonal religious practice, or to augment and expand their already established seasonal Pagan practice – some of whom take on the identification as ‘PaGaian’.
The core ‘belief’ or understanding of PaGaian Cosmology is that the world we live in is sacred space, and sentient: that is, alive with potentialty[v].It assumes that the Universe is a template of wholeness, and seamless – thus Earth and Sun, and all beings are directly present and central to the whole. Essentially at the core of PaGaian Cosmology is the understanding that each being is a creative place of cosmological unfolding – with every breath, and participates in a larger Cosmic cycle of never-ending renewal. This extant and multivalent Creativity is felt to be represented in the ancient motif of the Triple Spiral, which is understood in this Cosmology as an abstract expression of the Triple Goddess – a Creative Triplicity that runs through every part of the Universe.
This ubiquitous Triple-faced Creative Dynamic is most likely Lunar in its original representation – as humans witnessed the Moon waxing into fullness, waning into darkness, and re-emerging[vi].
Marija Gimbutas notes the extensive use – all across Old Europe – of the “tri-line”, appearing as early as 24,000 B.C.E.[vii]. She notes its later association with energy symbols like the whirl, or sometimes contained within uteri or seeds, or alternating with crescents, sometimes coming from the mouth or eyes of a Goddess, or with continuous v motifs on pottery: all indicating symbols of “beginning” and “becoming”[viii]. Gimbutas notes the link of this motif with the Triple Goddess, “an astonishingly long-lived image” documented as early as 15,000 B.C.E., “continuous throughout pre-history and history” down to the triple matrons of many cultures[ix].
Gimbutas says the repetition of the threes – in engravings and structure – at New Grange Ireland is striking and seems to represent the Goddess as “the triple source of life energy necessary for the renewal of life”[x]. Michael Dames suggests that the engraving of the Triple Spiral represents the Triple Goddess known as Eriu-Fodla-Banba in that local place[xi].
The Seasonal Wheel of the Year may embody this triple dynamic – like Gaia’s Breath … waxing, peaking and waning, and re-emerging. The ritual celebration of the Seasonal Moments[xii] as a whole year-long experience, when participated in fully as an art process and relationship with Gaia – our Habitat, make one’s everyday place a Sacred Site. The practice of PaGaian Cosmology may be summarised in this way:
Celebrating Cosmogenesis – the Triple Spiral
– each particular beautiful Self, new in every moment
– deep relationship and communion with Other, the web of life
– direct participation in the sentience of the Creative Cosmos, the Well of Creativity
The PaGaian celebration of the annual cycle of Earth-Sun Creativity is an expression of the dance of form and dissolution, that eternal dance in which we participate. In summary: the light part of the cycle is about coming into Being, celebrating the Virgin phase – new differentiated being, the particular self. Early Spring and High Spring are about the Beauty and Joy of particular form and its process. The dark part of the cycle is about returning to the Great Plenum whence all emerges, celebrating the Crone phase. Early Autumn and Deep Autumn are about the Beauty and Grief of transformation and its process – that can be more of a challenge: we are often filled with hubris and take it all so personally. The Solstices, which are about the fullness of dark or light, and the interchange, celebrate the Mother phase – the relationship and communion that this Place is – between the “manifest” reality (of light) and the “manifesting” reality (of dark). The Equinoxes are points of balance – in the Dark and the Light phase – wherein we may pause a moment and recognize the presence of all Three – the Sacred Balance. The ancient story of Demeter (as Mother) and Persephone (as both Young and Old One) – the Mysteries of Eleusis – celebrate the Sacred Balance of Joy and Grief, of Being and Loss, and the Continuity of Life. The Equinoxes, and the ancient icons of Demeter and Persephone, may express the delicate “curvature of space-time”, the fertile balance of tensions which enables it All.
In brief, the PaGaian Wheel of the Year may be summarised in this way:
Deep Autumn/Samhain … death of the old, conception of the new
Winter Solstice/Yule … Birth of the new, Birth of All – Origins
Early Spring/Imbolc … nurturance of & dedication to the unique self
Spring Equinox/Eostar … the Joy and Power of Being
High Spring/Beltane … the fertility, Desire and Dance of Life
Summer Solstice/Litha … the Fullness and Wholeness of Being
Early Autumn/Lammas … the Harvest of Life – the Sacred Consuming
Autumn Equinox/Mabon … the Grief and Power of Loss
And back to Deep Autumn – deep transformation … the circle begins again.
There are no clergy, though each ritual is best facilitated by one or more persons who have a deep understanding of the Cosmology, and some depth psychological skills. Each ritual is essentially participatory: that is, each person present is personally engaged in the process, understanding that the ritual is a microcosm of the seamless Universe, ‘disclosing a deep self, in a deep community, expressing a deep transformative truth’[xiii]. The ritual events provide a space for personal, communal and ecological story, which over the whole period of the year, and developed over years of practice, become a journey into self-knowledge: a Self that is integral with place – Earth and Cosmos.
The term ‘Cosmology’ is used decidedly because what PaGaian Cosmology is about, is a Place – the Cosmos – as sacred (as many of our ancient forebears apparently knew their Place to be). It is not a theism of any kind – be that ‘a’, ‘pan’, ‘pan-en’ or whatever, nor even a thealogy. Any references to deities is understood to be metaphor. This is discussed in various ways in the book PaGaian Cosmology, but particularly in this excerpt where the author says:
I wish to be clear that what I am speaking of, is not a Deity: this is therefore not “theology” nor even “thealogy”. It is a cosmology: what I am speaking of and with is Cosmos – a Place. Thomas Berry has preferred to be called a “geologian” or “cosmologist”, perhaps for a similar reason: he is speaking about a place, not a deity – as such has been understood by “theology”. Earth-based religious traditions and Goddess traditions speak of this Place as sacred. “PaGaian” cosmology is a way of speaking about this Place: it implies a metaphor and a practice. … Cosmos is a Place, dynamic and moving, alive and changing, which is indistinguishable from participatory selves, which remains ultimately mysterious and indefinable; thus ultimately only able to be spoken of metaphorically. This then is Poetry[xiv].
And the Place of Being that is spoken of is understood to be a layered reality, a holarchy of the particular self, in a particular context of Earth, and Cosmos. It is a Place that is indigenous to all humans (and other beings on this Earth). It is not confined to the part, although it is particular, in relationship with the particular. All beings inherit this ‘blood-line’, may participate consciously in the cosmos-creating endeavour.
It is ‘PaGaian’ also because it requires a planetary sense – a whole sense of Gaia. In our times, as the Pagan sense of the Land/country is extended to a huge Universe, the Pagan person becomes “PaGaian” … as we come to know Gaia in Her whole Cosmic and evolutionary context. And such a perspective is more embodied when Southern Hemispheric senses – seasons, skyview and place – are reckoned into the equation: and when any ‘Other’ is reckoned into the relational web. The original perspective of PaGaian Cosmology is Southern Hemispheric, which may enable a freeing of the Earth-Sun cycle and experience from the Gregorian calendar year: placing it more clearly in its Cosmic country.
In the sub-title of the book PaGaian Cosmology, the word ‘religion’ is used, because ‘cosmological celebration’ is a ‘connecting’ practice – a consistent practice of intention, attention, meditation and ritual, that enhances a personal, communal and cosmic sense of belonging.
Thomas Berry has said that we need to understand that the challenge of our time – that is, the apparent planetary siege by the human, is not just an outcome of the last few hundred years of Western scientific thinking. It is not just Cartesian, it is not just economics; this moment, he says, has required everything. He calls the challenge of this moment, “meta-religious”[xv]. He says that we, as a species and as a planet, are in a “moment of transformation”. PaGaian Cosmology is an understanding that part of what that means for humans, is to realize that we are not in control – we never have been, and never will be. While it is true that we participate, that we are in it, that it is our Story, we are not the Story. It is Gaia’s Story. We are participants through whom Creativity proceeds … whether consciously or not, whether as compost or new growth, we participate, and She proceeds with Her Creativity.
Berry lists three rights of all creatures: the right to Be, the right to Habitat, and the right to Fulfill its role in all existence[xvi]. These three rights correspond to the three faces of the evolutionary cosmic dynamics: it is an ethics based on the Creative impetus of Gaia, an ethics that may enable Life as we know it and as we don’t yet know it, to proceed. Intrinsic to it is a balance and a recognition of, Love of Self, Love of Other, and Love of All-That-Is. It is based in a balance and recognition of, Urge to unfold, Place to be, and Subjective Space. Deep in the present moment, all the Creativity that is necessary, is present.
Consistent practitioners of PaGaian Cosmology notice an opening to subtle perceptions and sensitivities that do enable and evoke a passion for adopting everyday changes to their domestic lives; that is, how we relate to the use of water, the food eaten, the methods of transport chosen, the social and cultural context. As each actually feels what Charlene Spretnak calls “the unitive dimension of existence”, feels themselves to be “a node within a vast network of creative dynamics”, becomes more mindful of flux, wonder and awe[xvii] – as one may with artful practice of this Cosmology, that one does in fact begin to devise strategies for change. The strategies for change are ones whereby the participants become more authentic in their relationship with this expressly sentient Earth and Cosmos. Some participants have given up their cars, found ways to reuse water, are learning how to garden organically, relate more consciously with the flora and fauna around them – care more, and feel that their small care does make a difference.
This translates on a broader scale to an increasing ability in the hearts and minds of participants to step outside the anthropocentric frame, as increasingly each one becomes more conscious of an “Earth Jurisprudence”[xviii], that is, that Earth Herself has innate wisdom and integrity. It is a wisdom that they can sense and come into relationship with, that is primordial, as they do constantly express and enact in the rituals. There is in participants more humility about the place of the human in the scale of things, more willingness to step back from the human impress on the planet and other beings, and to reframe more inclusively.
© Glenys Livingstone June 2007
[i] Mostly through her book “Lost Goddesses of Early Greece”.
[ii] Primarily her work in the books The Spiral Dance and Truth or Dare, though she remains an inspiration currently.
[iii] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era.
[iv] This is a term used by process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead for ‘the Category of the Ultimate’, Process and Reality, p.28.
[v] The dictionary definition of “sentience” is “intelligence … the readiness to receive sensation, idea or image … unstructured available consciousness … feeling”, Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language, p.2069.
[vi] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess, p.18 and p. 596.
[vii] Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess (NY: HarperCollins, 1991), p.89.
[viii] Marija Gimbutas, p.92-95.
[ix] Marija Gimbutas, p.97.
[x] Marija Gimbutas, p.97.
[xi] Michael Dames, Ireland: A Sacred Journey (ELEMENT BOOKS, 2000), p 192.
[xii] A term used by Thomas Berry for the points of transition on the Seasonal Wheel, traditionally known as ‘Sabbats’.
[xiii] This is a phrase used by Ken Wilber to speak of a ‘tanspersonal practice’ that may enable real change. A Brief History of Everything, p.306-307.
[xiv] Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, p.42-43.
[xv] Thomas Berry, ”The University: Its Response to the Ecological Crisis”, a paper delivered before the Divinity School and the University Committee on Environment at Harvard University, p.8.
[xvi] Thomas Berry defines these in a talk he gave on June 4 2000, at the Center for Ecology and Spirituality , Port Burwell Ontario. It was a 5 day colloquim on “The Cosmology of Religion”. He also suggests them in ”The University: Its Response to the Ecological Crisis”, p. 5.
[xvii] Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.22.
[xviii] Mike Bell, “Thomas Berry and an Earth Jurisprudence”.
Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules. The Myth of the Goddess. Penguin Group, 1993
Bell, Mike. “Thomas Berry and an Earth Jurisprudence”June 2001. http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/deep-eco/earth%20jurisprudence/Earth%20Justice.htm
Berry, Thomas. “The University: Its Response to the Ecological Crisis”. A paper delivered before the Divinity School and the University Committee on Environment at Harvard University, April 11 1996. htpp://www.ecoethics.net/ops/univers.htm
Dames, Michael. Ireland: A Sacred Journey. ELEMENT BOOKS, 2000.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Livingstone, Glenys. The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as Catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change. Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2002. http://www.academia.edu/27860395/The_female_metaphor_-_virgin_mother_crone_-_of_the_dynamic_cosmological_unfolding_her_embodiment_in_seasonal_ritual_as_a_catalyst_for_personal_and_cultural_change
Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
_______________ States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age.SF: HarperCollins, 1993.
Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. NY: Harper and Row, 1979.
________ Truth or Dare. SF: Harper and Row, 1990.
Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story. NY: HarperCollins, 1992.
Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1986.
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Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Massachusetts: Shambhala, 1996.