Stories are important. The stories we tell ourselves about human nature and the earth we live on shape our reality, and the way that we interact with everything around us. The old story of human separation from nature, the idea of the earth as a dead, mechanistic set of resources to be plundered and used at will, has led us inexorably to a place where humans are considered to have more value than other species, and indeed by extension, some humans are treated as having more value than other humans. The consequences of this are evident all around us, from massive social inequality to the destruction of the living environment and a rapidly deepening climate and extinction crisis.
I am convinced that one of the most important things we can do in this time of crisis is bring back a sense of the Earth as sacred. I studied conservation biology at university many moons ago, and we were taught that the living world has value only for what it can do for humans. Thus a forest has value as potential timber, as a source of food and medicine, because humans enjoy spending time there, as a carbon sink providing humans with ‘ecosystem services’ of oxygen production and rain generation, and so on, but that’s all. I asked my lecturer, ‘what about the intrinsic value of the living forest?’. I was told it has none. And this from those professionals who ostensibly care the most, having chosen conservation as a field of study?
I believe that when we remember and revive the ancient and ancestral Goddess, She who is not separate from the Earth, not separate from us, but who is immanent and embodied in every living creature, in every rock and river, every cloud, beetle and blade of grass, every person on this planet, we remember our true place in the living, complex web of interconnected life that exists on this planet. Not created on a whim by some disembodied sky god who placed humans ‘over’ all other life, with the implied right to destroy and take until nothing is left, but joyously emerging as a connected part of the huge organism that is Gaia. Not needing to ‘transcend’ this life or these amazing bodies we have, but part of a larger whole, which we should care for and love, as we should care for and love one another. Not ‘better’ than other species, or other humans who are different in some way from ourselves, but all equally amazing and vital parts of the web.
When we remember that the Earth is sacred, and has infinite intrinsic value, we can start to live in ways that acknowledge this, that work with the other species sharing this beautiful planet for mutual benefit. The idea of ravaging the planet with open cast mines and fracking wells, spraying poison on the land to rid ourselves of ‘pests’, dumping poison and plastic into the rivers and seas that are the lifeblood of our Mother Earth, becomes unthinkable. And change becomes inevitable.
Humans need ritual and story in their lives, and new stories need to be woven that move away from those of domination and control and towards community, co-operation and celebration. This, I think, is the essence of the work of a Priestess.
My image of the ancestral Goddess is that of Brighid, the ancient Celtic triple Goddess of Poetry, healing and smithcraft, the Goddess of fire and water, the Goddess of renewal who is maiden, mother and crone. But the Goddess is known by many names, and takes many forms. I believe that in celebration of Her, we heal ourselves and can start to move into healthy relationship with the living world, of which we are just one small part.
Brighid ( Artist: Emily Balivet )