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When you think of "Earth" what comes to mind? Perhaps you feel the stable element of solidity and grounding. Or maybe you see Earth as the third planet from the Sun. Or for you, is Earth the rich brown soil in your own backyard? Earth is all these things and more. (One of the great things about "poly" theism is the ability to look at many aspects of an idea.) We often see Earth in vague macro terms, but we should not ignore the simple parts of everyday Earth that we see and touch each day. You may find that all these different sides of Earth - the element, the planet and the everyday things around us -- all fit together like a beautiful mosaic.
Earth as an Element
Earth is a term we use to describe one of four very basic forces in nature. We call these basic forces "elements" since they are the building blocks that make up just about everything around us. (Think about it -- you learned the basics in "Elementary School.") While Earth is a very personal thing for each of us, it is usually thought of as being very stable. Tangible. Steady. Someone who might wish to maintain status quo or slow down change in their life might think of the element of Earth. Earth might also be used to strengthen something, making it solid as a rock. Think of the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. While watery liquids may slip through your fingers; airy gas might float beyond reach, but something solid is easy to grasp. Earth can be the malkuth of tangible actions, where the rubber meets the road in deed not just words or thought. For example, if you wanted to use the element of Earth to build a museum, you might take physical, tangible action -- actually lay the brick - rather than merely signing a petition or dreaming about a plan. See the difference? Fire sparks the idea; air thinks about how to do it; water greases the wheels - but Earth actually makes it take real form.
Elements are rarely pure. For example, our own bodies are solid, but also mixed with fluids, combined with both the breath and spark of life in order to survive. We are a mix. What role does Earth play in your own body? How is this like other parts of nature? Can understanding your body teach you about other parts of life, like how the trees grow together or how rivers flow?
Elements are not stand-alone concepts; they combine and react with one another. In the early 1500s Agrippa wrote that elements can be transformed into one another, like the way salt dissolves in water or a wooden log burns away. Can we apply this principle to magically transform our own situation? Are there obstacles in your own life you'd like to dissolve? Are there problems you'd like to just burn away? Is there something flowing past you so quickly you wish you could freeze it still - just for a moment? Perhaps elemental magic works no differently than the things we see around us every day. See this transformation as you strive to change a few extra pounds into a few extra push-ups. Feel it as the warmth within your own heart melts away even the coldest barriers between you and someone you love.
People react and combine just like Earth, Air, Fire and Water. You may even find that we pass through elemental phases as we grow up along life's path. This may help you better understand why some people are blown from place to place with the wind until they mature, become more rooted and stable in their ways. Can you see the elements in your everyday interactions with people? Can this help you understand what makes people tick?
Some magical systems look at the elements in a hierarchy, where we are their master and they are our magical servants. I disagree. To me, elements are aspects of Deity. My own personal view of the Divine is the sum total of everything - all the piece-parts - past, present and future. To me, this makes Earth, Air, Fire and Water aspects of the Goddess and God. Next time you are in ritual, notice whether people greet the elements with reverence, or command them in booming voices, like calling a pet from the yard. How do you see the elements? How does Earth differ from the others?
We use symbols for Earth in a variety of magical tools. In the Tarot, the suit of Pentacles or Coins represents Earth. While both Pentacles and Coins are round circular objects that might symbolize the Earth merely in shape, lets look further. A Pentacle is an interesting choice, since the five-pointed star is often described as symbolic of all four elements, plus a fifth - Spirit. This is a wonderful description of the diverse Earth, since our world's land, sea, air and flame contain all of these forces!
The Tarot's use of Coins as a symbol of Earth may date back to agricultural times, where wealth and abundance came via the harvest as financial support for the village. A simpler idea is the Rune symbol Fehu, which also is a symbol of abundance, and comes from the same root as the word "fee." Some might say Fehu's F-shape represents the horns on a head of cattle. Cattle as a symbol of Earth? Just look to the Zodiac, where the fixed Earth sign is Taurus the Bull! If you were creating your own symbol for Earth today, what would it be?
In ritual, we often associate directions with elements. For many, Earth is North. Why? My guess is that elemental directions probably fit the geography and beliefs of the people who made the system up. These people looked around and developed a system that felt right. (And ever since, other people have merely followed this tradition, repeating what they were taught.) To me, in my own geography and beliefs, I live on the east coast of North America. When I look to the West, I see 3,000 miles of continental land. Guess which direction I associate with Earth? The point is, you don't have to use any direction just because you are taught that way. There may be times when Earth feels like facing the place you consider home, or facing the Rocky Mountains, or maybe facing that big ol' Oak tree you've always loved. What works best for you? To paraphrase the Japanese philosopher-poet Basho, (1644-1694) "Seek not to follow in your elders' footsteps. Instead, seek what they sought." You may one day feel that it really doesn't matter which direction is which.
Likewise, in ritual we often assign colors to the elements: Green for Earth, green like things that grow! Perhaps you see Earth as a different color? Brown like the soil, or yellow like the daffodils, or sea-blue like the way Earth would look from space? Our planet is a very colorful place; feel free to use whatever hue best suits your magical palette! (Remember this the next time your favorite nine-year old artist colors a purple horse.)
Earth as a Planet
We sprang from this planet and are nourished by it, so we use a maternal analogy and call Her "Mother Earth." Every bit of food we eat, every drop of water we drink, every breath we take - and all we leave behind - are parts of Earth's ecosystem. As a planet, the Earth is also a grand elemental mix. Our world contains not just "solid" Earth, but the blue oceans, rivers and streams. Besides solid and liquid, Earth also holds fiery volcanoes, fierce and virile, building great pressure over time until they cannot be contained. They erupt suddenly, shooting their molten streams of lava and fire...and then settle down to rest. A wise friend once reminded me that as a planet, Earth constantly moves and flows. Its fault-lines naturally quake; its winds naturally whirl and storm with great motion. Like any living breathing being, the Earth by no means is stationary.
When thinking about the Earth, don't limit yourself to seeing just the sphere. Remember to include its gaseous aura, the Earth's atmosphere, which surrounds our planet. Just like you have an aura glowing around you, the Earth wears a gaseous cloak around itself. What can we learn from this? Perhaps it is the nature of things to have a primary object in the middle surrounded by a sort of ethereal glow. Remember this the next time an aroma from your fresh-baked apple pie fills your entire home. Things often stretch out beyond their shell.
"Atmosphere" is not limited to airy things. It can be anything that glows, like the warmth of a campfire felt by the people that orbit around its flame. Even the visible light that things reflect is a type of glow. Because of the visible light reflected, I can see the mountain-tops for miles! (Now that's atmosphere!) The physical object sits where it sits, but its glow shines out much farther. What "glow" do you project? What glow can you sense from others and from your surroundings?
In addition to its gaseous atmosphere, the Earth wears an electrical cloak as well, called the "magnetosphere." This electromagnetic field is generated by the Earth's two-fold core. The outer core is liquid, made of molten iron and nickel. But due to immense pressure, the inner core is solid. As the liquid swirls around the solid core, it generates a magnetic charge creating Earth's electrical aura. This too is quite dynamic. Even the magnetic North Pole is not a single fixed point, according to the Canadian Government's Commission Geologique, but rather the pole moves up to 15 kilometers each year!
An aura, an outer crust, a mid-layer mantle, inner liquids, and a solid core... Perhaps Earth shows us that the nature of things often comes in layers. Does this sound like anything else? An egg? An orange? Perhaps a city with a busy downtown, surrounded by the suburbs and rural countryside? Do the Earth's layers resemble your own body -- complete with your magnetic aura, your aromatic aires, an outer skin (upon which your furry forest might grow), a warm fleshy middle, with a solid core right down to the bone? What else comes in layers? Getting to know someone? Understanding complex concepts? Looking at one thing in nature can remind us that other things often work the same way.
Our own bodies have chakras or special energy centers. Does the Earth? Perhaps our world has special sites that buzz like chakras. Can that explain why we feel some places are high-energy? The poles? The Rain Forest? Sedona? Mount Everest? The shore? I have often wondered if there is a connection between the fact that the same small patch of desert in the mid-east that gave birth to many of the major religions (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism) is the same place where we get the majority of our energy from fuel oil.
What chakras can you see in your own personal surroundings? Is there a focal point within your community? Does your own home have certain unique energy points? In the kitchen, bedroom, or nursery -- perhaps the "altars" we use most often are not the ones with statues and chalices upon them. Magic happens most often in very everyday places!
What else can we learn by looking at planet Earth? Our home is the third planet in a system of nine worlds. (And you wonder why things often come in threes?) All these worlds orbit the Sun; most have their own moons also in orbit. Perhaps it is the nature of small things to orbit around greater things. If so, this can help us understand a great many parts of life where small things circle around larger ones -- from education, to economics, to group dynamics, and even religion. What great things do you orbit around? And what revolves around you?
If planet Earth has a Spirit, do the other planets have Spirit too? If so, how do they interact with the Earth, and with us? What chemistry exists within this pantheon of planets circling the same Sun? Perhaps the chemistry between planets is one way to view the influence of astrology.
In the children's book "Planet Earth" (Martyn Bramwell, Franklin Watts Publishing, 1987, New York) the chapter on our solar system is entitled "The Sun and its Family." Children's books often make valid points in the simplest terms and may be the most magical books you will ever read! You are part of your family, and your family is part of society as a whole. Likewise our solar system is one of many in this galaxy, one of many galaxies in a very vast universe. And we -- you and me -- are part of it all! Each of us is connected to this grand whole, like the way your little finger is connected to your arm and your arm is connected to your whole body. It's a part of you. And likewise, you are a part of the vast "Family of All Things." Seeing this might offer comfort in times where you feel isolated, alone and cut-off.
Don't be scared by the vastness of "all things." You don't have to think about it all at once. Start by noticing that familiar feeling you have when you sleep in our own comfortable bed. Know what I mean? It just feels like home, a part of you. Try looking at how you feel connected to sentimental objects, old jewelry, keep-sakes, photos or whatever items you consider most sacred and magical. If you are connected to these items, can you feel some way you are connected to other things too? All parts of this Earth are linked to you -- every branch, every leaf, every ant upon the hill.
All things are alive. Talk to your house, your yard, your car, your dinner -- and listen just in case they talk back! Try it with not just your own sentimental items, but with strangers you encounter along your path, new places, new things. If you can find a connection to all things in some way, nothing is beyond your reach! You already have a link to every goal, every dream, every person, place and thing you could ever imagine. Use it.
We often say that modern-day culture has forgotten its connection to the Earth. If that is true, then such a culture will certainly feel disconnected from the cosmos! But over time, things are changing. Our culture is shifting to seek harmony with nature. More and more each year, people are drawn to things that help reconnect them to the Earth, such as today's Paganism and other forms of Earth Spirituality. Other reconnections might be as subtle as popular trends towards natural food. Think about it. What makes you feel more connected to the Earth - a fresh crispy carrot from your garden, or a polysorbate-hydrogenated-yellow # 3 cheese-flavored doodle from a plastic bag?
Since we all spring from the Earth, perhaps it is no accident that the Old ways are making a come-back now - when the Earth's ecosystem is under attack. Living things often change to seek balance, to adapt. We sweat to cool ourselves down; we shiver to warm ourselves up. Does the Earth do the same? If so, can these changes explain why society changes over time? If we are of this Earth, perhaps we go through seasons of change no different than the leaves on the tree. If you believe in an Earth Religion, how has this spiritual path influenced the way you treat the world? Its living creatures? Its natural surroundings? Do you see recycling as a religious act? Conserving? Voting? If so, why? How are your own everyday actions - your job, your homelife, your love for others - part of the Earth?
Perhaps social trends are part of Earth's own metabolism, rising and falling within the Earth's own cycles. If so, our wish to care for the environment might be like Earth's antibodies fighting the disease of pollution. Perhaps culture reflects the Earth's cycle between creative periods, followed by destructive ones, creatively renewed again over time. Why not? This isn't far off from other cycles. If you see society linked to Earth's own cycles, does this give you a new perspective on history -- including both our shining accomplishments as well as our darkest misfortunes? Can it help us understand cultural beliefs that might differ from our own? All people -- whether naughty or nice -- are Children of the Earth. If social trends are part of Earth's cycles, we might even use history to predict where we as a people are headed! Look back over the last thousand years. What parts of history speak to you? Where do you think we will be in five years? Twenty? A hundred? What signs make you feel this way?
Earth in Your Everyday Life
Revering the Earth, in all its forms, is not limited to your religious practice. All parts of your life can be sacred and magical! The Earth is your breakfast, your back yard, your neighbors. Is there anything you might touch that is not part of the Earth?
We are most familiar with the parts of the Earth closest to us. See the Earth in your own "village" and even in the patch of ground upon which your home is built. When you eat from your garden, you take in a bit of the specific land upon which you reside. If you don't have a garden, you can still enjoy locally grown produce. Where I live, we pride ourselves on local corn and tomatoes! What does your region have to offer? Is your bay filled with fresh crabs? Do you live near where steers are raised, or maybe where the salmon swim? Experiment with the geography in foods. Get to know your local delicacies, but also reach out across the globe. We live in an age where we can sip Italian Chianti squeezed from grapes grown on the same land where Leonardo Da Vinci dreamt of great flying machines or where Michelangelo chiseled great works of art. We can enjoy Earth's olives picked not far from the ancient Greek temples of Aphrodite. We can pour rich dark ale brewed on the same isle as Stonehenge. Near or far, Earth is a wonderful place!
Gnomes, faeries, elves et al. We have age-old tales of Earthly spirits inhabiting the woodlands. While I do not believe in little green men, nor winged Tinkerbells - I do feel the Dear Ones that bring a wooded place to life. During a recent walk in the woods, someone dear to me shared her own definition of Earth Spirits. She explained to me that the forest is made up of unique individual beings - each tree, each flower - is as unique a life as I am. I often forget that individual Spirits reside in the very place we spread our picnic blanket. I often forget that the wooden beams in my living room, or even my kitchen table, once came from something alive, a specific tree, one that may have even had a name given to it by local tree-climbing kiddies at play.
And like we have our own by-gone ancestors, each tree and flower sprang from its own individual set of genetic parents, and grandparents, and so on... We live and walk upon the brown Earthy humus of past life forms. Perhaps it is no accident that the word humus, the rich outer layer of soil where plants grow and later decompose, comes from the same Indo-European root as the words human and humility. This reminds us that we too are of the humus.
Earth can be found in the language we use everyday. Next time you hear the phrase "down to Earth" think about the words and what they mean. Other languages are just as Earthy as our own. For example, in Holland the Dutch use the term Aard Appel to describe a potato. This term literally means "Earth Apple."
The Old English/Germanic word Earth is unique since it is the only planet not named after a Greek or Roman Deity. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, authors of "The Universe Story" (Harper, 1992, San Francisco) marvel at the idea of naming planets after Deities since the creation and actions of planets are still quite a mystery to science! But our planet has many names. The Norwegians call it Jorda; the Finns call it Maa. (Ma? How maternal can you get!) In Russian, Earth is Zemlja; in Latin it is Terra. Since Latin is familiar to us, we can see that words like territory, terrace and terrain all have Earthy roots. But so does the word terrier, which describes a dog prone to digging holes! Even the word mundane is rooted in the Latin word mundus, the world. (See, mundane things really are magical after all!)
The Hopi Indians wrote a song called "The Earth is Our Mother, We Must Take Care of Her." An interesting concept! In what specific way did the "Earth" give birth to you? In my case, Mother Earth is a kind-hearted woman with lovely green eyes, who met my Father in a small-town roller skating rink. This particular aspect of Mother Earth bore two girls and two boys; I am the youngest. If you revere the Earth as your Mother, can you revere your own Mother as the Earth? As the Hopi say, we must take care of her.
How else can Earth be seen in everyday terms? We often ritualize a form of libation, where we might reverently spill a sip from the chalice onto the ground, or maybe return a morsel of food back to the Earth. What if we did that not just in Circle, but on other occasions? Next Thanksgiving, pass a small plate around the table and ask each person to contribute a taste from their own dish. Take your collection and place it outside in the yard. Any meal can become a ritual, whether a simple crumble from your lunch-bag sandwich, or a romantic gesture during a candle-lit dinner for two.
Earth, like most broad Spiritual concepts, can have many meanings. So do Air, Fire, Water - or just about anything else you might see as magical and sacred. Try to step back a bit from traditional teachings and cultural norms. (You may find that a mosaic becomes a bit clearer when viewed from a distance.) Look at things from a variety of angles. Look for how these magical forces manifest in very simple ways within your own surroundings. Often we draw the boundary between magical and mundane; nature does not.