Joseph Campbell in his books about mythology discusses early stories about the Great Goddess and Mother Earth. “[T]he older, neolithic, and Bronze Age mythologies of the Goddess Mother of the universe, in whom all things have their being, gods and men, plants, animals, and inanimate objects alike, and whose cosmic body itself is the enclosing sphere of space-time within which all experience, all knowledge, is enclosed.”1
He says that in contrast to that mythology a new concept arose common to the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, of a male God who determines human society by external rules. In these religions there is no place for a mothering Earth. The Abrahamic religions have determined attitudes in Western civilization for almost two millennia.
Aldo Leopold in his essay “The Land Ethic” states that although Western societies have ethical principles governing relationships between individuals, and of individuals with society, we lack an ethic of land. He says:
“There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land ….. is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.
The extension of ethics to this third element in human environment is, if I read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. It is the third step in a sequence.”2
The result is the common view that the Earth is an object to be used and abused as people wish. Although Oriental religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism – have a wider frame of reference that includes reverence for Earth, the national societies where these religions are observed – Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian – may not so much. One reason is that the elites of these nations are Western educated and bring back Western attitudes. In addition, the giant multinational corporations have had their extractive impact there as well as almost everywhere in the world.
The absence of a mothering Earth and the downgrading of feminine values in our society are adversely affecting our social compact and ourselves as individuals. We need new stories of Mother Earth.
1Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Penguin Books, 1976, Chapter 10, “The Earthly Paradise”, page 626.
2Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic”, in A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Oxford University Press, 1968, page 203.