by Otter G'Zell (now Oberon Zell)
This paper represents the first published account of what has come to be known as "The Gaea Hypothesis" (the name suggested by novelist William Golding in 1972). It was the immediate result of a visionary experience that Otter had on the night of September 6, 1970. This "revelation" was delivered in the form of a sermon to the congregation of the Church of All Worlds on September 11, 1970. Subsequently, it was published as the lead article in Green Egg "the journal of the Neo-Pagan movement" Vol. V, No. 40 (July 1, 1971), republished in the first issue of The Witches Broomstick magazine (Feb. 2, 1972), excerpted in Dr. Leo Louis Martello's book, Witchcraft; The Old Religion (University Books, Inc. 1973), and delivered as a keynote lecture at the Third Annual Gnostic Aquarian Festival in Minneapolis, MN, Sept. 21, 1973. This updated and annotated edition is being prepared for the California Institute of Integral Studies' symposium on "Gaia Consciousness: The Goddess & the Living Earth," April 6-10, 1988.
Conceptualizations of Divinity vary from religion to religion, with adherents of each faith misunderstanding, often grotesquely, the nature of the Divine as understood by the members of other faiths. Thus conservatives of a given religious system often tend to feel that all other religions are "false" but their own, and that other people all worship the Devil, while liberals will go to the opposite extreme and contend that all religions essentially worship the same Deity, under different guises and customs. Both of these points of view grossly misrepresent the fundamental distinctions among the various religions, and try to adapt alien world-views to fit into their own frameworks of experience.
It may be said that all religions are "true," as indeed are all sincerely held opinions, in the sense that personal reality is necessarily subjective. In other words, what you believe to be true, is true, by definition. A Voudoun death-curse is as real to its victim, and as effective, as being "saved" is to a Christian fundamentalist, or the kosher laws are to an Orthodox Jew. A flat Earth, with the stars and planets revolving around it, was as real to the medieval mind as our present globe and solar system are to us. Hysteric paralysis and blindness are as real to the sufferer as their organic counterparts. The snakes and bugs of alcoholic and narcotic delirium are real to the addict, and so is the fearful world of the paranoiac. From the standpoint of human consciousness, there is no other reality than that which we experience, and whatever we experience is therefore reality - therefore "true." We can only distinguish the experience of the objective world from those which lie entirely within our own minds when we compare notes with other people and arrive thereby at a consensus of reality. This consensus, however, is also subjective within the entire community, and is also liable not to be synonymous with objective reality (as in the case of the Geocentric cosmos). The question then arises, "How can we know objective reality?" and the answer, of course, is that we can't; not totally. However, we can arrive at very close approximations of objective reality by careful applications of the scientific method combined with creative insight, and by refusing to fill in the gaps in our knowledge with blind "leaps of faith."
Thus religions may be considered more or less objectively true (while recognizing that they are all subjectively true) by evaluating how much they depend on blind faith and belief over scientific understanding (and recognizing that we only speak of belief in the absence of knowledge; no one would say "I believe two plus two equals four"); how much they depend on tradition and authority over intellectual curiosity and honesty; how much (or how little) they are able to accommodate new discoveries in science and how much (or how little) these discoveries substantiate their theories and world-views. These are the criteria for objective validation of religious viewpoints. No subjective validation is needed (or even possible).
Ancient tribal peoples - that is, Pagans - diversified though they were, held among them certain common viewpoints. Among these were: veneration of an Earth-Mother Goddess; animism and pantheism; identification with a sacred region; seasonal celebrations; love-respect, awe and veneration for Nature and Her mysteries; sensuality and sexuality in worship; magic and myth; and a sense of humanity being a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm of all Nature. These insights, however, were largely intuitive, as science had not yet progressed to the point of being able to provide objective validation for what must have seemed, to outsiders, to be mere superstition. Twentieth-century Neo-Paganism, however, has applied itself and the science of its era to that validation, and has discovered astounding implications.
A single cell develops physically into a human being by a process of continuous division and subdivision into the myriad of cells eventually required to comprise an adult body; groups of cells specializing to become the various organs and tissues needed for full functioning of the organism. Now, when a cell reproduces, the mother cell does not remain intact, but actually becomes the two new daughter cells. Since the same protoplasm is present in the daughter cells as was in the mother cell, the two daughter cells still comprise but a single organism; one living being. The original cell ceases to exist in that form, but its life goes on in the continuous evolution of the growing organism. Thus, the three trillion or so cells of the adult human body continue to comprise a single living organism, even though different cells may be highly specialized, and some may even be mobile enough to travel independently around in the collective body. No matter how complex the final form of the adult organism, no matter how diversified its component cells, the same thread of life of the original cell, the same protoplasm, continues coursing through every cell in that body. Since the gametes, or sex cells, are also included in this ultimate diversification of a single original cell, the act of reproduction carries this same thread on in the offspring, combined with the equivalent threat of protoplasm from the other parent. Thus your children, while spatially distinct from you, are in fact as much a part of your growing, evolving organism as your blood cells (which can easily be removed and survive independently of your collective body) or somatic cells (which can also be extracted and grown in independent tissue cultures). Your children are still "you" - your own living protoplasm continues on in their cellularly-diversified bodies. And in your children's children for all generations to come. All the cells in all your descendants will still comprise but one living being.
Tracing our evolution back nearly four billion years, through mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and so on, we eventually wind up with one single cell that was the ancestor of all life on Earth. Even though there were undoubtedly many proto-cells formed in those ancient seas [or clays, as is now thought [OZ, 1988]], the first one to develop the capacity to reproduce would have quickly consumed all the available free proteins and amino acids floating in the sea, effectively preventing the development of any competitors. Cell reproduction occurs at a fantastic geometric rate, which, unchecked, would result in all the planet being buried beneath the progeny of a single cell within months. Obviously, what checked this fantastic reproductive potential was a limited food supply, which would have included any not-yet-formed or newly-formed competitive cells. But when this original mother cell reproduced itself, and continued to do so for eons, some of its daughter cells mutating and evolving into new forms, it still, as in the human body, continued to comprise but a SINGLE total organism. When a cell divides and subdivides, no matter how often, the same cellular material, the same protoplasm, the same life, passes into the daughter cells, and the granddaughter cells, and the great-granddaughter cells, forever. No matter how often, or for how long this subdivision goes on, the aggregate total of the new cells continues to comprise one single living organism!
[Note: Lewis Thomas, in Lives of a Cell, 1974, observes: "The uniformity of the earth's life, more astonishing than its diversity, is accountable by the high probability that we derived, originally, from some single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the Earth cooled. It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we take our looks; we still share genes around, and the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is a family resemblance."]
[Note: Science News "News of the Week," Jan. 16, 1988: "Seekers of Ancestral Cell Debate New Data: A new, computerized method of analyzing bacterial genes is stirring controversy among biologists seeking to characterize the ancestral cell from which all life evolved. The novel program predicts that all living things evolved from a single-celled organism that had a penchant for living in boiling sulfur springs. The prediction conflicts with the popular notion that life began in a tepid primordial soup..." [SN, Vol. 133, No. 3]]
Every amino acid (except glycine) found in the proteins of living organisms can exist in two forms, each one the mirror image of the other. Since they have the same spatial relationship as a pair of gloves, one type is arbitrarily designated "right-handed" (D, dextro) and the other "left-handed" (L, levo). The two forms are identical in chemical composition and physical properties. Were it not for the fact that they rotate a beam of polarized light in opposite directions, they would be indistinguishable. Now, when amino acids are synthesized in the laboratory, an equal amount of D and L forms are produced. Moreover, NASA recently  reported the discovery of 17 different amino acids in a meteorite, with an almost equal number of D and L forms. In any given cell, of course, only one of these two variant forms can exist; either all the cell's protein would contain D-acids, or they would all contain L-acids. And when the cell divides, whichever form was contained in the mother cell would be perpetuated in the daughter cells. If all life on Earth did not originate with a single cell, we would expect to find various creatures and plants with D-acids and others with L-acids. However, this is not the case: it is an established biochemical fact that all life on Earth contains only l-amino acids! The equivalent D-acids are simply not found in any living organisms on this planet. Therefore, it is a biological fact that all life on Earth comprises one single living organism! Literally, we are all "One."
The blue whale and the redwood tree are not the largest living organisms on Earth; the entire planetary biosphereis.
[Note: Dr. Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, commenting on origins of Life on Earth: "But the evidence that interests us most...is the uniformity of all living systems on Earth today...If life had arisen and evolved spontaneously here...it seems at least possible that many very different forms of life would be competing with each other. But in fact we know that all living things have evolved from a single cell, which inhabited Earth about three or four billion years ago - and there don't seem to be any traces of any extinct competitors which arose in different ways..." The implication was obvious. The first living cell, a single seed of protoplasm, a single microscopic organism, might have replicated itself billions and billions of times in short order. Its replicas would adjust to warmth or cold, evolving accordingly. In the course of time they would branch out along many different paths, and evolve as enzymes, genes, insulin, hemoglobin; they would organize into bone and muscles and organs and coordinate their work; they would begin the beating of hearts, the pumping of lungs, the vibrations of nerves, and ultimately, the flashes of thought. [In Search of Ancient Mysteries by Alan and Sally Landsburg, 1974, Bantam.]]
Let us consider the following corollaries:
An organism is composed of many organs - more, obviously, in complex organisms than in simple ones. As an embryo develops, groups of cells specialize into each of the organs that the adult organism will require. At very early stages in cell differentiation, unspecialized cells can be moved from one part of the embryo to another, and the transplanted cells will still develop into whatever organs are needed in their new locations. Just so, the Planetary Organism (to which I will hereby give the scientific name of "Terrebia") needs various organs in order to function properly.
[Note: As is customary in scientific nomenclature for living species, I based my name for the planetary organism on the Latin for "Earth life." When, in 1972, James Lovelock independently came up with the observation of the organic unity of all terrestrial life, his friend, the novelist William Golding, suggested the name of the ancient Greek Earth Goddess: "Gaia." Even though Greek is customarily used only in designating extinct species, in this case I yield primacy of the name to Golding, as I much prefer the connotations thereof. But I will use the American spelling, "Gaea," to distinguish my development of the concept from Lovelock's. Henceforth in this updated edition of my paper I will replace "Terrebia" with "Gaea." [OZ, 1988]]
Continuing the analogy with the human body, each animal and plant on Earth is the equivalent of a single cell in the vast body of Gaea. Each biome, such as pine forest, coral reef, desert, prairie, marsh, etc., complete with all its plants and animals, is the equivalent of an organ in the body of our biospheric Being; sub-structures and tissues consisting of types of plants and animals, such as trees, insects, grasses, predators, grazing ungulates, etc. All the components of a biome are essential to its proper functioning, and each biome is essential to the proper functioning of Gaea. If some essential elements of a biome are removed or destroyed, it may be possible for relatively unspecialized "cells" of plants and animals to differentiate out by adaptive radiation to become all the required components. The most classic recent case of this is the radiation of marsupials in Australia, following the demise of the dinosaurs, to fill all the ecological niches occupied elsewhere by placentas with creatures virtually identical in structure and habits with their placental equivalents. Moreover, recent [as of 1970] papers and books on the genetics of evolution, including Biophilosophy, stress that modern Darwinian theory has abandoned the notion of individuals determining the direction of the evolution of a species. Rather, the entire species seems to migrate towards a fortuitous ecological niche as if it had a sense of whither it needed to go. If all the mutations in the direction of such a change are destroyed, the species will produce more.
The non-living components of the planetary structure of the Earth itself itself serve the developing organism if Gaea much as the non-living components of our own bodies serve us. These components are the Lithosphere, the Hydrosphere, and the Atmosphere. The Lithosphere, the rock and mineral foundation of our planet, functions in the body of Gaea much as the skeleton functions in the human body - as foundation and structural support (like the Lithosphere, our own skeleton is largely mineral). The Hydrosphere, the water of oceans, lakes and rivers that covers three fifths of the surface of the Earth, functions homologously with the plasma in the blood of the human body, which, incidentally, has a composition very like the water in those primeval seas wherein life first appeared. The ocean tides may even be viewed as our planetary pulse, driven by the heartbeat of our orbiting moon. The atmosphere serves the great organism of Gaea much as it does us, as individual "cells" - in a carbon-cycle respiratory process, involving breaking down carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen by plants and building carbon and oxygen back up into carbon dioxide by animals.
[Note: The observations which led to Lovelock's formulation of the Gaia Hypothesis were concerned with the Atmosphere, in the same way that my own observations were of the Biosphere. Lovelock, an atmospheric biochemist, analyzed and noted a remarkable homeostasis of atmospheric composition and surface temperature over the past three billion years, and concluded that this could only be attributed to a biospheric regulatory mechanism.[OZ, 1988]]
What is the ultimate source of energy for Gaea - her "food?" Sunlight, which, through photosynthesis in green plants, converts materials of the Lithosphere, Hydrosphere and Atmosphere into the materials of life: the Biosphere.
Now, it follows that if a biomic component occupies a particular ecological niche in a given biome, it does so because it belongs there and is necessary to the proper functioning of that biome, and hence of Gaea. Further, if some plant or animal is missing from a particular biome, it is probably because it doesn't belong there. Now, everybody realizes that the human body will not function properly if one removes, replaces or rearranges parts of it. You may survive if your leg is amputated, but you certainly won't walk as well as before. This same principle of coherency applies to Gaea, as we are beginning to learn only too well. We cannot kill all the bison in North America, import rabbits to Australia, clear cut or burn off whole forests, or plow and plant the Great Plains with wheat and corn without seriously disrupting the ecosystem. Remember the dust bowl? Australia's plague of rabbits? Mississippi basin floods? Recent drought in the Southwestern US? Gaea is a single living organism, and her parts are not to be removed, replaced or rearranged without consequence.
Just as in the human body the brain and nervous system is the last organ to develop, so in Gaea the last biome to develop is the Noosphere, composed of Earth's aggregate population of Homo Sapiens.
[Note: "In man," says Lovelock, Gaia has the equivalent of a central nervous system and an awareness of herself and the rest of the Universe. Through man, she has a rudimentary capacity, capable of development, to anticipate and guard against threats to her existence. For example, man can command just about enough capacity to ward off a collision with a planetoid the size of Icarus. Can it then be that in the course of man's evolution within Gaia he has been acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure her survival?" ["The Quest for Gaia," New Scientist, Feb. 6, 1975]]
What function does humanity, as the Noospheric organ, the planetary "brain," perform? It would seem at the present stage of evolution that the function of a biome of awareness would be to act as steward of the planetary ecosystem. Humanity's purpose in Gaea, our responsibility, is to see that her whole organism functions at its highest potential and that none of her vital systems become disrupted or impaired. We might judge the state of humanity's functioning in the macrocosmic realm by evaluating our performance of this organic responsibility.
[Note: Since writing the preceding paragraph back in 1970, I have radically altered my perception of humanity as a kind of planetary cerebral cortex, which function I am now firmly inclined to attribute to the Great Whales. Apropos of this attribution, I am now even more appalled than ever at humanity's near-extermination of these vastly-brained leviathans, as I cannot avoid viewing it as a kind of planetary lobotomy. I have developed this idea at some extent in another paper, entitled "Mind Beneath the Silver Sky." Regarding our own proper function, I have come to perceive us in a far different role: that of a reproductive system. For it is not true that the brain and nervous system is the last organ to develop in an organism; the ultimate objective of a living system is to reproduce itself, and the reproductive organs are the final product of physical development, be it embryological or evolutionary. Maturation essentially means achieving reproductive capability. I envision our greater purpose, capability and destiny as agents of planetary reproduction via extraterrestrial colonization and terraforming. However, I still include an ancillary and continuing function of ourselves as peripheral neurons and planetary stewards; after all, we as humans need not die in childbirth, but ideally continue to live long and productive lives beyond merely reproducing ourselves. [OZ, 1988]]
When in the human body some cells start multiplying all out of control and excreting toxins into the bloodstream, we have a cancer. One of the ways cancer can be controlled is by radiation treatment At this moment, humanity as a species is multiplying wildly out of control and excreting vast quantities of deadly pollutants into the air, water and soil, If our own cancerous population growth is not halted - indeed, drastically reduced - our numbers and poisons will severely cripple or kill our planetary organism, Gaea. Perhaps nuclear war - a global "radiation treatment" - will be needed... But it is still to be hoped that it is not to late for us to wake up to our responsibility of stewardship.
[Note: In reading these words, 18 years later, I am appalled at how casually I invoked nuclear holocaust as an antidote for the cancer of our species. Studies on the "nuclear winter" scenario, as well as the recent discoveries concerning asteroid/comet impacts as agents of massive extinctions in the past, have severely curtailed any prospect of Gaea's ability to survive a nuclear war. She has her own devices for regulating overpopulation: plague, famine, drought, flood, etc. Or we could save ourselves a lot of grief and just decide not to have so many children...[OZ, 1988]]
Gaea is nearing maturity. All the physical ecological niches have been filled, and the recently developed Noosphere now extends over the entire globe. . . Projecting a bit, it would seem most reasonable that Teilhard de Chardin was correct in his vision of an emerging planetary consciousness, what he called the "Omega Point" (The Phenomenon of Man) and Carlton Berenda calls "The First Coming of God" (The New Genesis). The maturation of a Planetary Biosphere requires the evolution of total telepathic union among the "cells" of its Noosphere (its most intelligent species; humanity). When such an intelligent species ultimately develops telepathy to the extent that it eventually shares a single global consciousness, a planetary mind awakens in the "brain" (Noosphere) of the Biosphere.
[Note: "Lewis Thomas can readily see the worldwide community of humans as a kind of giant brain, exchanging thoughts so rapidly 'that the brains of mankind often appear, functionally, to be undergoing fusion.' With mankind as its "nervous system," the whole earth becomes, in one of Thomas's highest flights of fancy, a breathing organism of finely meshed parts, all growing together under the "protective membrane" of the planet's own atmosphere." [ "The Boswell of Organelles," Newsweek, June 24, 1974]]
This is our human destiny - our ultimate function in the organism of Gaea.
[Please, gentle readers; forgive this hubris. I've outgrown it. I consider that we could - and should - be participants in this awakening of planetary consciousness, but I hardly believe any longer in our exclusive claim to sentience on this planet! As I mentioned earlier, I heartily do believe that whales, for instance, are way ahead of us in this department. Actually, I think that the planetarization of consciousness would, by its very nature, include "all creatures great and small..."[OZ, 1988]]
And just as the brain in the human body is capable, via the conscious mind, of controlling virtually everything that goes on in the body and a good deal that goes on outside it, so a planetary consciousness would be in complete control of virtually everything that goes on in the planet - from earthquakes to rainfall to ice ages to mountain building to hurricanes - and perhaps influence the rest of its local stellar system as well.
[Note: Dane Rudhyar writes: "...mankind is to fulfill a definite function in the total operation of this vast, yet closely integrated, system of activities which we call the planet Earth - provided we do not think of the Earth as merely a mass of matter. This function appears to be to extract consciousness out of all the activities within the Earth-field - a field which may extend at least to, and perhaps in a sense include, the Moon." ["The Astrology of Self-Actualization and the New Morality", pp. 24-25]]
At this point it becomes necessary to define Divinity:
Divinity is the highest level of aware consciousness accessible to each living being, manifesting itself in the self-actualization of that being. Thus we can truly say, "All that groks is God" (Heinlein; Stranger in a Strange Land). Divinity is a cat being fully feline, grass being grassy, and people being fully human. Collective Divinity emerges when a number of people (a culture or society) share enough values, beliefs and aspects of a common life-style that they conceptualize a tribal God or Goddess, which takes on the character (and the gender) of the dominant elements of that culture. Thus the masculine God of the Western Monotheists (Jews, Christians, Moslems) may be seen to have arisen out of the values, ideals and principles of a nomadic, patriarchal culture - the ancient Hebrews. Matrifocal agrarian cultures, on the other hand, personified their values of fertility, sensuality, peace and the arts in the conceptualization of Goddesses. As small tribes coalesced into states and nations, their Gods and Goddesses battled for supremacy through their respective devotees. In some circumstances, various tribal divinities were joined peaceably (often through marriage) into a polytheistic pantheon, being ranked in status as their followers' respective influences determined. In other circumstances, one particularly fanatic tribe was able to completely dominate others and eliminate their own deities, elevating its God to the status of a solitary ruler over all creation, and enforcing His worship upon the people, usually upon pain of death. However, no matter to what rank a single tribal deity may be exalted by its followers, it still could be no other than a tribal divinity, existing only as an embodiment of the values of that tribe. "Gods are only as strong as those who believe in them think they are" (Alley Oop). When the planetary consciousness of Gaea awakens, She too will be Divinity - but on an entirely new level: the emergent deity Carlton Berenda postulates in The New Genesis. Indeed, even though yet unawakened, the slumbering subconscious [and dreaming?] mind of Gaea is experienced intuitively by us all, and has been referred to instinctively by us as Mother Earth, Mother Nature - The Goddess for whom She is well named. Indeed, this intuitive conceptualization of feminine gender for our planetary Divinity is scientifically valid, for biologically unisexual organisms (such as amoebae or hydra) are always considered female; in the act of reproduction they are referred to as mothers and their offspring as daughters.
[Note: I came later to the conclusion that Gaea may have indeed achieved consciousness in more ancient times, and that she was actually "knocked unconscious" by the worldwide cataclysms and attendant destruction of Her worshippers which ended the Bronze Age and ushered in the Age of Iron around 1500 BCE. This hypothesis is more fully developed in my 1977 research paper, "Cataclysm and Consciousness - From the Golden Age to the Age of Iron." [OZ, 1988]]
Thus we find that "God" is in reality Goddess, and that our ancient Pagan ancestors had an intuitive understanding of what we are now able to prove scientifically. Thus also we expose the logical absurdity of a concept of cosmic Divinity in the masculine gender. These few pages, however, have only been the briefest of introductions to the implications of a discovery so vast that its impact on the world's thinking will ultimately surpass the impact of the discovery of the Heliocentric structure of the solar system. This is the discovery that the entire Biosphere of the Earth comprises a single living Organism.