When the Earth is sick and polluted, human health is impossible.... To heal ourselves we must heal our planet, and to heal our planet we must heal ourselves.Bobby McLeod (Koori aboriginal)
Gaia was the ancient Greek Goddess of Earth who, in Hesiod's Theogony of 700 BC, was the 'first to arise from chaos'. In the Homeric Hymn to Gaia of 500 BC, she was called 'Mother of all, the oldest one, the foundation'. Yet the term 'Gaia' is even older than Greece, coming from India a thousand years before. In Sanskrit, Gaya meant 'Moving Song' and, as the Gayatri Mantra, was the first hymn to arise from the orginal seed sound of Om.
So when we use the term 'Gaia' today, we are invoking an idea with a very ancient history, which for many millennia expressed the feeling of early people that Earth was the Universal Mother, such that the human story and the Universe story were one and the same. The significance of the name 'Gaia' for us today is that she was the last Goddess of Earth in the west, the last time that our Earth was formally revered as sacred.
It may seem to some an arbitrary coincidence and to others a significant synchronistic event, that, in the late 1970s, the novelist William Golding, who was also a classicist, suggested to the physicist James Lovelock the name of Gaia for his Hypothesis that Planet Earth was a self-regulating system. The distinction between Mythos (story) and Logos (word) was common to ancient Greek thought, where both were necessary for understanding, so here the image of Gaia as sacred Earth may serve as the Mythos to Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis which explores the Logos, the language of heart and mind united so each may inform the other.
Yet no-one had anticipated that the image of Gaia would catch the Imagination of the time, almost as though it had an autonomy of its own. The 'Gaia Hypothesis' soon became more radical even than Lovelock had intended, as though the hypothesis which excited less scientific minds were primarily to do with Gaia herself, with a holistic vision of Earth as not dead, not governed by mechanistic laws, but rather animate, intelligent, purposeful - in a word, ensouled - a Zoon, a 'Living Being', as Plato called the Earth.
Gaia Theory - Science of the Living Earth
The Earth is a dynamic living organism which maintains the conditions for life to evolve. It is a jewel in the Universe, the only planet we know of which sustains life and its abundance of life forms. This is because the Earth has been able to maintain the very narrow range of temperature, atmospheric composition and climatic conditions in which life, as we know it, can flourish.
The extraordinary thing about the Earth is that it is the biosphere, the life forms themselves, which work together to maintain conditions for life, in which they can continue to evolve. It is the biosphere which ensures that the greenhouse gases are captured and stored in the Earth, so that they do not overheat the planet.
Gaia Theory was first proposed in the 1970s by James Lovelock, a scientist working for NASA with the American space programme. Briefly stated, in his words, "the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere and of the oceans, has been, and is, actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself ... in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it, and they, evolved their separate ways.''
In order to align ourselves with the capacity for regeneration and resilience of life on our planet, we need to understand the laws of living systems, as Stephan Harding explains:
"Ecological communities can be thought of as superorganisms which function more smoothly and predictably as biodiversity increases. As soon as species in a given place begin to web themselves together, the whole community becomes a superorganism, with powerful emergent properties. The member species work together to create an emergent self-regulating network, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In order to fully understand, rather than explain, the profound animate quality of Gaian ecological communities, we need to complement reason with knowledge given to us by our sensing bodies... as indigenous traditions have done here for centuries." - Stephan Harding, Animate Earth