WHAT GOD KNOWS THE EARTH MAY FEEL
I believe that most of what was said of God was in reality
said of that spirit whose body is the earth.
A.E., The Candle of Vision
A.E. was the pen name of George William Russell (1867 1935),
an Irish artist and social reformer closely associated with William
Butler Yeats and a literary movement called the Celtic Revival. He was
a man of mystical gifts who experienced spontaneous clairvoyance from an
early age. In The Candle of Vision (1918) A.E. recorded lush
cinematic visions of worlds out of time and mystically enhanced views
of this world. The book is a beautifully written mystical memoir brief
enough to be read in a couple of hours. It stands as one of the great
spiritual classics of the 20th century.
There is precious little theorization in The Candle of Vision, but the
theory it does present is deeply challenging to conventional beliefs about the
natural world and the existence of a supreme deity beyond nature. A.E. assumed
that his experiences were memories of past lives, but not necessarily his own
memories. He proposed that the earth itself has a memory in which human memories
are stored. This is possible because the earth is a living being who can remember
as all living organisms, from whales to worms.
A.E. did not specify what things may have been said about God that could instead
be applied to "that spirit whose body is the earth" (i.e., whom we lately
call "Gaia"). But we can imagine what these God-like properties of the
earth could be. Take any belief about God and consider how it would look converted
to a belief about the Earth Goddess.
Religion asks us to believe in a God existing beyond nature, outside of time and space,
who sees and knows all. The Koran (4:1, 2) says, "God is ever watching
you," and similar assertions occur endlessly in Judaism and Christianity.
Suppose we apply this belief to the living earth. Can we believe that the earth
somehow sees us and knows our actions, perhaps even our deepest thoughts? If the
earth always knows what we are doing, it would know what we are doing to it, for
good or ill. Perhaps this belief, tested and developed experientially, could engender a
more loving and conscientious outlook about how we relate to the natural world, the
earth and all upon it that is not human.
Many people who believe God is omniscient feel guilty about some things they do, imagining
God disapproves. If we believed that the earth was our witness, would we feel a similar
kind of guilt about what we do to it?
jll October 2003 Flanders
From Not in His Image, pages 336 - 339
Gnostics taught that the sentience of the earth is an expression of Sophia’s Dreaming. Sophia dreams us out of cosmic plenitude, from the heart of the Pleroma. The optimal future for humanity is to reciprocate, dreaming Sophia.
The life force of the planet is animated and animating, giving expression to creatures who sense they are alive. The perception that the world is alive, not the mere belief, is animism. Gaia theory in its scientific form forces the question of animism, but cannot answer it. The revival of animism does not involve the mere assumption of the sentience of nature, but direct experience of it. We would already have this experience naturally and spontaneously, as part of our ecognostic capacities, if impeding beliefs were removed, including the belief in single-self identity. Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick said that Gnosis consists of “disinhibiting instructions” that allow us to access a vast store of innate, intuitive knowing. What I propose to call silent knowing is a state of rapturous attention to the presence of the earth. This is the eloquent muteness of being awed. The testimony of people who have experienced a spontaneous upsurge of silent knowing can teach us a lot about communication with Gaia. One such testimony comes from the Irish mystic, writer, and painter known as AE.
George William Russell (1867–1935), who wrote under the pen name AE, asserted that “the immortal in us has memory of all its wisdom.” In a simple, yet far-reaching analysis of his own mystical experience, Russell connected the immortal wisdom-bearing memory with the faculty of imagination. “This memory of the spirit is the real basis of imagination, and when it speaks to us we feel truly inspired and a mightier creature than ourselves speaks through us.” The emphasis on through signals what I have called transentience. Lynn Margulis’s SET theory is about endosymbiosis, creatures living through each other. Animistic perception confirms that living-through is a primary aspect of the ecosystem.
Russell’s eloquent memoir, The Candle of Vision, is one of the great classics of Western spirituality. No one else has described tellurian vision in quite this way, with such candor, simplicity, and richness. As an adolescent walking through the fields of Armagh in Northern Ireland, Russell became convinced that “a myth incarnated in me, the story of an Aeon, one of the first starry emanations of Deity, one pre-eminent in the highest heavens.” In a library in Dublin he came across a dictionary of religions with an entry on Gnostics, and his eyes fell on the word Aeon, the Gnostic term for a god or divinity. From this spontaneous clue he took his signature, AE. The starry emanation of Divinity that he intuited purely from the resources of his inner life was the wisdom goddess, Sophia.
Russell was a writer, painter, and social visionary of some importance in Irish political life. He was the éminence grise behind the Celtic Revival, an Irish cultural and spiritual movement that formed part of the European occult revival, lasting roughly from 1885 to 1915. He was a close friend of Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, who led the Celtic Revival. Both Yeats and AE were members of the Theosophical Movement founded by Madame Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott in 1875. Theosophy had a profound influence upon many artists and intellectuals of the era—for instance, Vassily Kandinsky, who wrote an influential book art theory related to theosophical concepts, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. AE, who coined the word “supernature,” was a natural mystic who needed no theory to guide him into cognitive ecstasy. In spontaneous trance he experienced a series of vivid cinematic visions of pre-Christian Europa or possibly Atlantis. His understanding of these experiences was aided by reading about the Gnostics and the Sabians, a sect of stargazers who lived in ancient Iran. AE claimed that his visions arose because he was disposed to “vital contact” with the natural setting around him.
In The Candle of Vision AE identified the Celtic river god Manannan with the visionary streaming of “the divine imagination,” the sublime force that swept over him in his trances. (The root man- occurs widely in world mythology, always with the connotation of a human but supernatural guide: for instance, the Hindu Manu and the Native American Manitou, which are versions of the Mesotes.) Like that other natural mystic, Romantic poet William Blake, AE identified the power of imagination with Christ, whom he called “the magician of the Beautiful.” Describing the sensuous allure of the nymphs and dryads encountered in his visions, AE said that they had “a beauty which had never, it seemed, been broken by the act of individualized will which with us makes possible a choice between good and evil, and the marring of the mold of natural beauty.” AE was an exceptional mystic in that his clairvoyant faculties did not operate by blind “channeling,” as occurred, say, with the “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce, and Jayne Roberts, the famous medium who produced the Seth material. His observation that the strict dualism of good and evil locks human awareness into a cognitive setting that cannot accept beauty, or “go with the flow” of nature’s perpetual revelation, is a genuine Gnostic insight, and merits deep reflection.
Russell’s visions were entirely body-based, somatically grounded, and all that he saw was as alive as himself. “That Infinite we would enter is living,” he testifies. As the visions came on, he felt “a growing luminousness in my brain as if I had unsealed in the body a fountain of interior light.” The invocation of a fountain of light occurs in several revelation discourses in the NHC, as we have seen. AE’s candle is a humble metaphor for the soft glow of the Organic Light. The candle burns for us all. “In every mind exists the Supernal Light of the ineffable Mystery” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 67.10).
Russell cites the late classical mystic Proclus on the Divine Mind: “It had not yet gone forth, but abode in the Eternal Depth, and in the adytum [inner sanctum] of god-nourished Silence.” This snippet of Mystery lore could have been lifted right out of the Egyptian codices. Proclus, who was born in the year Hypatia died, studied at the Museum in Alexandria and was certainly initiated in Gnostic lore. Sige, Silence, is an Aeon in the Pleroma, the company of gods from whom Sophia plunges in her Dreaming of an emergent world. The line AE cites explains how the Aeons remain eternally placid, absorbed in the Uncreate, even when their ennoia (intention) produces worlds outside the Pleroma. This detached actuating process is typical of emanation, the cosmological process taught in the Mysteries.
AE would have had no access to original Gnostic writings, virtually unknown in his time, and he does not appear to have known G. R. S. Mead, the resident Gnostic scholar of the Theosophical Society. The Candle of Vision contains no allusion to the Aeon Sophia or an “earth goddess” of any kind, except for homage to Dana, the Celtic mother goddess. Yet everything AE says about the memory of Nature can be applied to the Sophia of Gnostic teachings. His visionary experiences were Sophianic reveries drawn from vital contact with the earth. As such, they are excellent models of animistic perception of the Goddess aspired to by people today.
AE said of his visions that their creator is transcendent to the waking self and even to the self that dreams at night, and yet this power, “a mightier self of ours,” makes itself “our slave for purposes of its own.” This language comes close to the Gnostic intuition that the fallen Sophia relies in some sense on human collaboration to achieve her correction. Russell’s sublime little book does not answer all the questions that arise on the path to knowing Gaia, but it sets the mood to contemplate those questions. His invocation of Sige, “god-nourished Silence,” is particularly apt. The self-conscious mind cannot reach silent knowing, but silent knowing can reach into it at rare moments when the internal talk ceases, allowing other things to be heard. Everyone has these moments, when the world turns quiet and an indefinable calm washes over us. To enter and abide in such moments is part of the mystical discipline that sustains the Sophianic vision.
jll December 2009 Andallucia