Update: The Law of Mother Earth

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 14, 2011 — 21 Comments

For those interested in Bolivia’s “The Law of Mother Earth,” reported on yesterday here at The Wild Hunt, there’s some special analysis and follow-up at the PNC’s “No Unsacred Place” blog. First off, geologist and environmental scientist Meical abAwen has provided a translation of the full document.

“Article 3. (Mother Earth) Mother Earth is the living dynamic system comprised of the inter-related, interdependent and complementary indivisible community of all life systems and living beings that share a common destiny. Mother Earth is considered to be sacred, as per the cosmologies of the nations of rural indigenous peoples.”

In addition, John Beckett and Alison Leigh Lilly provide some initial thoughts and commentary. Beckett, an engineer and OBOD Druid, notes that this law aligns well with indigenous, Pagan, and scientific worldviews.

“This law fits well within an indigenous worldview, and it is no coincidence that Bolivia’s Evo Morales is South America’s first indigenous president.  Despite our tendency to romanticize them, indigenous cultures are not perfect.  But people who live close to the land understand that the Earth is alive and that it must be respected.  Some of that respect comes from gratitude, from the “blessings” (as this law describes natural resources) the Earth provides.  Some of it comes from observing the power of the Earth – volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wild animals.  When you understand that you aren’t the most powerful thing in the universe, you start to understand that the Earth should be respected and valued, and that it has rights of its own.

This law also fits well within a Pagan worldview.  The Charge of the Goddess speaks of “I, who am the beauty of the green Earth and the white Moon among the Stars and the mysteries of the Waters” – many Pagans see the Earth as the body of the Goddess.  Others acknowledge nature spirits and the Spirits of Nature.  Still others worship Gaia or other goddesses specifically associated with the Earth.  The common thread through all these beliefs and practices is the idea that the Earth is divine and sacred.  And if the Earth is divine and sacred, then it has inherent value and rights.

Perhaps most importantly, this law fits well within a scientific worldview.  Not a materialistic worldview, but a scientific worldview based on facts and observations of things as they really are.  Science has shown that we weren’t placed on the Earth, we grew out of the Earth.  We share the vast majority of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos, large amounts with other primates, much with other animals, and some with insects and plants.  We may be the most intelligent and most industrious creatures in this world (whether we are the wisest is another question), but the differences between humans and other creatures is one of degree, not one of kind.  They are – quite literally – our relatives, and we are all dependent on the Earth to sustain our lives.  If we have inherent value and rights then so do they.”

Both commentaries are worth reading, and I’m told that more are on the way. This is an excellent opportunity to engage on this topic, and to get to know the participants of “No Unsacred Place.”

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Jason, I just wanted to say that I'm really loving "No Unsacred Place". Fantastic collection of authors.

  • Haakon

    Rural indigenous peoples? Uh… Oh… Heathens!! 😉

  • Daniel

    Rights for Mother Earth, the Goddess of the Land (and the Otherworld). I am ecstatic that such a change in consciousness is coming about.

    Furthermore, we need a maxim that states: "All Creation is Holy, and all the world and all it people are the Chosen People." This includes our brothers and sisters–both of fin and fir; two leggeds, and four leggeds. In addition, the Tree People and the Stone People, etc.

    • Fire

      Our finned, furred, feathered two and four legged brothers and sisters are damned tasty too.

      • Daniel

        That they are 🙂 (I have never been much for eating meat, but I do love Salmon! My Tribe, the Blackfeet, consider the Salmon as a delicacy) I think the distinguishing factor is honoring and being thankul for the lives of the Related Ones for sustaining our own.

  • Mia

    I'm going to be nit-picky here about the whole "science and spirituality" thing regarding the recent No Unsacred Place posts, because the biologist in me is cringing at how certain details are being portrayed. This isn't a jab at the project itself, but rather a plea for better wording if scientific "fact" is going to keep being brought up for support.

    One, science and spirituality/religion do not have the same goals. They exist for different purposes; yes, sometimes individuals do use both as a means to the same end, but the two fields are not intrinsically made for the same reason.

    Two, science is not a worldview, nor is it a culture or even a sub-culture. If you had the stereotypical scientist that is an atheist, then their atheism within whatever culture they are from is their worldview, not scientific knowledge. Yes, animism and current knowledge about biological and chemical systems can coexist quite well with it, but so can other religions. Even some Christians have worked that out, despite their stereotype.

    Three, insects ARE animals; so are arachnids, crustaceans, etc.. Why do people keep separating them into their own slot, away from mammals and birds?

    And four, please don't state that humans "may be the most intelligent and the most industrious creatures in the world",as the former statement is not a fact; it's an opinion from a species-centric view (and a Western one at that). Intelligence is not able to be accurately measured or understood even within humans sometimes, let alone other species. All we can do currently is use ourselves as the guideline, and make observations of how other animals behave and their physical structures; these are not perfect methods. As far as being the most industrious…that award goes to microorganisms such as bacteria.

    Alright, I'm done with my nit-picking now. Western culture's had 500 years of nonsense with regards to Christianity and modern science mixing, I don't want to see Neopaganism go down the same route. Especially not when misinformation can spread so quickly with just a click of the mouse.

    • grimmorrigan

      I would hate to see a Pagan version of this : http://creationmuseum.org/

      • That might actually be cool. Then again, I feel that the Norse, Celtic, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian creation stories should be told alongside Evolution and the Christians' Intelligent Design.

        • sarenth

          I very-much believe in the concept of non-overlapping magisteria…that is:
          "Science and religion are not in conflict, for their teachings occupy distinctly different domains."
          -Stephen Gould.

          I do not think that the theory of evolution should be taught along any other creation myths because the two realms do not operate from the same basis; one is the realm of science, the other, the realm of religion. At least in our teaching of the subject, we should keep the concepts separate. It is fine if you believe in creator-assisted evolution, or creationism itself. I may disagree or agree with you on concepts found in them. However, creationism should not be posing as science, nor should other creation myths or intelligent design. None of these are science or scientific. They are religious and/or philosophical perspectives, beliefs, and the like. The same cannot be said of the theory of evolution.

          • Sarenth: "I do not think that the theory of evolution should be taught along any other creation myths because the two realms do not operate from the same basis; one is the realm of science, the other, the realm of religion."

            Actually, the theory of evolution has very solid roots in ancient Hellenenic Paganism. The two most important features of evolution are: (1) that species change over time, and (2) that all living things are related to one another. Both of these ideas are found in Ovid's Metamorphosis. And it turns out that Erasmus Darwin, Charles' grandfather, developed his own theory of evolution before Charles was even born, and Erasmus directly cites the famous speech by Pythagoras, towards the end of Ovid's Metamorphosis, as a primary influence for his theory. Erasmus Darwin also cited the Eleusinian Mysteries and the poetry of Vergil as influences as well.

            It turns out that understanding the origins of modern evolutionary theory requires us to study Pagan thought and literature.

        • whitecrane

          Yes! It would be interesting to teach the Poetic Eddas as faith….

    • As long as we are picking nits, science and spirituality only have different goals and exist for different purposes IF one decides to define things in this way. And, most importantly, it is not necessary to define things in such a way. And not only is it not necessary to do so, I would argue that it is inadvisable to do so.

      If nature is sacred and intrinsically divine, then the study of nature is a sacred undertaking. Furthermore, if reason is a gift of the Gods, and if our minds/souls are in fact of the same divine essence as the Gods, then the exercise of reason is a completely and thoroughly spiritual activity.

      And we can come at this from the other way around, as well. If my spirituality is based on direct experience and observation, and, furthermore, if my experiences and observations are subjected to rational analysis as an intrinsic part of my spiritual practice, then my spirituality is "scientific".

      Of course Uncle Al said it much better than I ever could:

      We place no reliance
      On Virgin or Pigeon.
      Our method is Science.
      Our aim is Religion.

      (I do agree completely with the taxonomic correction regarding insects, and also with the anti-species-centric position with regard to intelligence and "industriousness." Beavers and ants are incredibly industrious. They are practically freaking Calvinists.)

      • Mia

        Science and Religion do have different goals; it even shows that in your quote. As I said before, whether or not an individual chooses to mix them or utilize them for the same purpose does not mean they are actually the same. Personal preferences do not define the words, and therefore the fields, themselves. Without the separation, we cannot distinguish what concepts came from where.

        For example, I do not use my spiritual beliefs to figure out how things work and by which processes they occur. I can believe that a spirit or divine force created the ground plan for evolution and kicked it off, but my beliefs are useless in analyzing mutations and the effects they have on a population. I cannot use my belief of a soul to study an animal for scientific research, I have to use my five senses and other instruments instead. When science and religion/spirituality are mixed, that becomes philosophy, which is a separate field from science. If they were the same then Aristotle would still be a serious resource to use, and Intelligent Design would become an accepted scientific theory, not just Christian philosophy on evolution.

        As for your second paragraph, that is your opinion, or personal philosophy. That is not science, even if you came to that conclusion using the scientific method. You cannot demonstrate or support your spiritual ideas to others using experimentation or physical evidence, all you can do is talk about it. Talking is simply hypothesizing, at best, and is no longer acceptable in scientific fields without actually doing some work to back ideas up.

        Now, obviously, I could use whatever I get from a study in my beliefs or practices, but it is not the goal of science to be used in religion, spirituality, politics, etc. It is to simply see what happens, and whether or not the question is supported by the result. Whatever one does with those results then goes beyond the scope of science and into another field, another purpose.

        Regardless of all this, if concepts are going to be presented as scientific fact, then they should be presented accurately, hence my original comment.

        • Mia: "For example, I do not use my spiritual beliefs to figure out how things work and by which processes they occur. I can believe that a spirit or divine force created the ground plan for evolution and kicked it off, but my beliefs are useless in analyzing mutations and the effects they have on a population."

          Moi: Mia, what do you mean by "spiritual belief"? Do you mean opinions that are arrived at randomly, or even in the face of contradictory evidence? If so, then such "beliefs" have no place in either science or religion. If, on the other hand, you mean opinions that are based on evidence and sound reasoning, then such beliefs are arrived at precisely in the same way for both religion and science.

          A "belief" that has a sound basis is no different from a scientific hypothesis or theory. Such beliefs are open to modification and even rejection in light of new evidence, or further analysis of the already existing evidence. Anyone who approaches "beliefs" in any other way is doing it wrong, whether "it" is science or religion.

          Mia:"Talking is simply hypothesizing, at best, and is no longer acceptable in scientific fields without actually doing some work to back ideas up. "

          Moi: This is not different in the field of religion. Isn't that obvious? And, by the way, I happen to know quite well how science is done. You seem to be assuming otherwise, for some reason. I assume you have experience with doing science, but you obviously are not familiar with the history and philosophy of science. If you were, then you would know that not only Eratosthenes, Ptolemy, and Posidonius, but also Kepler, Newton and Boyle all made extensive use of their "spiritual beliefs" in the course of their scientific activities.

          • Mia

            Beliefs weren't the point of my comments, but I'll bite.

            Contrary evidence exists all the time in religion and spirituality, that's part of the reason why there are conflicts and disagreements between groups. To use a specific example, one person may have beliefs that say a rock is merely an object, while another's beliefs says the rock is a living being. How do you find out which one is objectively accurate?

            You can' t, since such a situation cannot be quantified and put to a test. Both ideas came about using logic and reason in accordance with their experiences, but that's not enough to make either a real hypothesis. It has to be testable as well as be able to be disproven, otherwise the ideas will never move beyond the hypothesizing stage and give a conclusion. If you think that, or any other spiritual belief (let's say, the idea that nature is sacred and intrinsically divine) is testable regardless of who's doing the testing, please show me exactly how you would be able to do that.

            And the term "theory" in science is different than the common use. To call something a theory means that idea, or hypothesis (usually a collection of supported hypotheses), has been put to many different tests over time *by many different people* and has yet to be disproven. Few hypotheses ever reach the rank of a theory, so it's actually a big deal to call something that. It's not merely an individual's belief, regardless of how much logic and reason they used, or what they feel they experienced.

          • My spiritual beliefs do not require me to have opinions about things unless I have some good reason for those opinions. Systems that require "belief" with no firm basis for that belief are not religions. They are ideological systems of control. Some people have a hard time telling the difference. I thank the Gods I am not one of them.

            You can try, as you seem to be trying, to limit "science" to some special sub-set of reality that is "objectively" verifiable. Good luck with that! As Thomas Henry Huxley pointed out well over a century ago, all of our knowledge is ultimately knowledge about states of consciousness. Empiricism, positivism and scientism are dead ends, but everyone has to find that out on their own.

          • Mia

            "You can try, as you seem to be trying, to limit "science" to some special sub-set of reality that is "objectively" verifiable"

            Nope, not trying to do anything except respond to your posts.

            I feel that we are talking about two different ideas here. You keep referring back to philosophy, and I was not even near that subject. As you have noticed, I am not familiar with the philospohies, hence why I was speaking literally.

            All I was saying in my original comment that the goals of science and religion are not the same, as in they're not automatically the same. Individuals have to make the choice first to utilize them for the same purpose. The post I was referring to made it sound otherwise to me.

            Thank you for the link however, it's a really interesting read.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Yeah, the elephant and the dolphin have bigger brains than we do, and communicate on frequencies we can't hear. We are just beginning to assess their intelligence.

  • "Mother Earth is considered to be sacred, as per the cosmologies of the nations of rural indigenous peoples.”

    really? 'cause

    "At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods,
    Shrines and temples | they timbered high;
    Forges they set, and | they smithied ore,
    Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned."

    that sounds an awful lot like "industrialization" to me…not that I take the Eddas literally I'm just saying…and the fact that the Icelanders cut all the damm trees down to make housing, ships and when they ran out they had it imported from the mainland as well as Ireland and other places, not very "sacred" if you ask me.

    The scandies/germanics held certain land sacred, not all.

    • Actually, the Norse did consider the land sacred, but we also considered technological advancement and the pursuit of knowledge to be of equal sacred importance to the land. Nothing is gained without sacrifice, be it the bounty of the earth, man, or mind, and all is made sacred by that sacrifice.

  • they held certain land sacred not all land, land that was manipulated by their hands and through reciprocal gifting relationships with the gods, this "they held all the land sacred" nonsense is hogwash, they created what amounted to an ecological disaster by stripping all the trees from Iceland, groves were held sacred, certain natural features were held sacred, anything outside of your inneryard was to be feared and respected but it was not all sacred.