Gaia is the Greek goddess of the earth. Gaia literally means “earth.” There is this thing called The Gaia Hypothesis that was a result of our space exploration. Essentially, it is the theory that all living and non-living beings on this planet function together as a whole to support life here.
I like to think of Gaia as Mother Nature. Yes, we have created a lot of non-living structures and systems that aren’t found in nature, but everything we create affects the planet. And, since permaculture is about mimicking how nature does things, I see Gaia as embodying that principle.
Animism is the theory that everything in nature has a soul and is connected to the spirit world and makes up the web of life. The word anima means breath, spirit, life. So in animism, all beings together make up the life of this planet, just as bodily systems and functions make up the life of a human being.
I used to call this section on my website Anima Mundi. Which literally means “world soul” or “soul of the world.” It is the concept that our world and cosmos is a living being made up of all the living beings within it. I’ve also seen it described as a spirit or vital life force that permeates everything.
If you are thinking “wah?” at this point and that these are all saying the same thing. Yeah, me too.
Truthfully, all of this (especially trying to make distinctions between all of these theories/worldviews) makes my head hurt. But what it winds down to for me is the interconnectedness of everything. The web of life. And I like to call that Gaia, now.
But, if you are intrigued and want to understand this better, here are some sources I used for this page and others that go much deeper than I wanted to.
The Cosmopolis Project – this website is intriguing. Cosmopolis means “World City” and this website was created by scholars to look at how science and the humanities can help us cultivate global community.
Study.com on Animism – to go deeper, you have to unlock the lessons, but the landing page has a good brief overview on animistic beliefs and practices.
Harvard University: the Gaia Hypothesis – An overview of the Gaia Hypothesis and its origins.
I will add books here as I find them.
Gaia by James Lovelock. This is a newer edition of the original book by the creator of the Gaia Hypothesis.
The Secret Teaching of Plants by Stephen Buhner – this is one of my favorite books. It is both scientific and spiritual. The first part explores heart and brain intelligence and the second part explores learning from the plants themselves. It’s Gaia, in action.