Implicit. Metamodern. Regenerative. Gaiapunk?

Applying newly learned religious studies terms to the Gaian Way after the “Myth, Ritual and Practice for the Age of Ecological Catastrophe”

Some years ago I wrote about the film Kumare and the filmmaker who reveals that even a completely made-up belief system can offer deep spiritual value and an anchor to one’s life—a theme that was quite present in the “Myth, Ritual and Practice for the Age of Ecological Catastrophe” conference as well.

One speaker at the conference, Joshua Bergamin, who presented on the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, introduced the term “metamodern spirituality.” He explained that to mean religious practices that do not invoke the supernatural. He made an interesting point that today, in the post-modern era when many people no longer believe in the supernatural, they struggle to participate in practices oriented on the supernatural. But metamodern spirituality ‘naturalizes’ ritual and belief—in an either ‘sincerely ironic’ or ‘knowingly naïve’ way—and makes it palatable even out of the context of a coherent belief system.

While violence is inherent in nature, does it make good ritual? (2024 Beltane Fire Festival Flyer by Hester Aspland Illustration)

In the context of the Beltane Fire Festival, where hundreds gather on Calton Hill in Edinburgh to celebrate May Queen’s effort to murder her consort, the Green Man, and resurrect him, Bergamin showed the potency of this ritual, even without true belief, especially to those participating, who spend two months preparing before the festival. Bergamin pointed out that in those two months, in which participants gather on Calton Hill, they experience a liminal period, working together towards a greater goal, bonding, and experiencing the eruption of spring and its shift into summer (which anyone who has been reading the Cycles of Gaia series, knows is quite sudden and intense!).1

Another example of metamodern spirituality is that of the Satanic Temple, a non-theistic new religious movement. Through sincere irony, the group is very effective at drawing out religious hypocrisy and advancing the fight for religious freedom and the separation of church and state, such as through their After School Satan clubs, and their reproductive health clinic, called “Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic.”2 Yes, over the top, but ironic and audacious, and effective at drawing attention in a world where the media often needs sensationalist hooks to cover the news.

Though for me, I want real sincerity; an understanding of and reverence for the living Earth and our part in it. So I don’t see Gaianism as metamodern. Maybe just plain old modern? Or metametamodern? (Or would that be meta2modern?), in which we shed the supernatural and and recognize the mystery and beauty of the natural. Unlike a playful/pretend spirituality, the Gaian Way is grounded in the only knowable truth: that we are utterly (and permanently) dependent on the living Earth.3 So, it was helpful to learn of this term to understand more clearly where the Gaian Way fits.

We are part of this great whole. (This blue marble image comes from NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite)

From the Implicit to the Explicit

Whether modern or meta2modern, the Gaian Way is certainly a religion (as Bart Everson explores so effectively in this reflection). Another participant in the conference talked about “implicit religion,” that is, practices that take on religious elements even if not overtly religious, specifically pointing to environmentalism as an example. Implicit is a potent word for me, as I actively studied “implicit priming” as a psychology student, even crafting an experiment using implicit priming cues (words with strong connotations) to unconsciously influence people’s behavior.4 But this term was new, and I can certainly see environmentalism as an implicit religion—it was for me for 19 years. But that wasn’t enough, I wanted it explicit! Not in the vulgar sense, but in the sense of it being clearly religious, shaping my spirituality, my day-to-day practices, and community. I don’t think that was a conscious ‘upgrade’ but the implicit/explicit distinction certainly fits my experience.5

Regenerative Practices

One final talk came from an anthropologist, Hannah Fitchett, who studied Extinction Rebellion organizers and the regenerative practices they work to incorporate into the very intense and apocalyptically-framed climate crisis struggle. She explored the tension between these, capturing it well with the description of how one (male) activist was frustrated with offers of backrubs when ‘there was no time’ (as the struggle is so urgent). Balancing that need for sustaining the activist, even in a frame of extreme urgency is critical—and is addressed with recognizing and prioritizing expanding circles of care: self-care, community care, people care, and Earth care. Recognizing that this struggle will continue on (even if the immediate battle of ‘stopping climate collapse’ fails, means there is and needs to be a continuing space for reflection, learning, and sustaining oneself for the long effort ahead. This, too, is a critical belief in the Gaian community, though I admit, we don’t do enough in community care, being virtual and perhaps too cerebral for our own good. (Any ideas on some online sessions to encourage self- and community care, or how to enable folks to seek this out locally, are welcome!)

Making time for the awe-inspiring beauty of nature is a critical self-care practice. (Eight second exposure image of the aurora borealis on May 11, 2024 by NASA/Bill Dunford)

Time for Gaiapunk?

This last term actually doesn’t come directly from the conference, but listening to an Earth Eclectic episode en route to the conference. Laura Dedelow shared a song that the artist called “Naturepunk” and that got my head spinning. Solarpunk is really trying to create a vision for a sustainable happy future, but it has a gross anthropocentric, techno-optimistic slant to it. But naturepunk, or even better, Gaiapunk, would be about getting our relationship with Earth right first, even if in many cases that means a low-tech, simpler future (or it means living in a world of accumulated damage, and dealing with that—both surviving it and healing it). I think the time is ripe for a Solarpunk upgrade—a vision of what a Gaiapunk future looks like. There have been some stories that may fit this genre, such as Star’s Reach and World Made by Hand, but perhaps it’s time for our own collected anthology of Gaiapunk stories!

So that’s it for me. A lot of new thoughts coming out of the first conference, and a few more to share next week, stemming from the second conference on the global polycrisis. Stay tuned!


1) This shared liminal period has real value, with folks interacting with each other and the land. It suggests we, Gaians, need more opportunities to strive together, not just learn together. To go through shared efforts. I’m not sure how, but that’s something worth exploring.

2) Another example, which I learned about at the conference. This artistic effort “Remember Us,” by the Golden Hare company. This Dutch performance uses the Christian liturgy to draw attention to extinct species and humans’ role in that. Instead of bread and wine for Christ’s body, audience members eat of the flesh of extinct species, asking for forgiveness, and repeating “Alas, Humans,” which in Dutch sounds remarkably close to Amen! That is until, another player challenges the priest, saying why should humans be forgiven for these transgressions. Again, sincerely ironic or perhaps knowingly naïve, it was both beautiful and provocative, but not attempting to develop a deeper religious, spiritual or philosophical path or community.

3) Even if somehow we venture into space, which I’m certain we won’t, the resources to supply the colonies will almost entirely be drawn from Earth, and the colonies will be frail things that when Earth-based human civilization fails, so too will the colonies.

4) It’s a fascinating research field, where, for example, by priming someone with words that connote being old, subjects will walk more slowly down a hallway than those who were not primed with age-related words.

5) Actually, talking to this participant, we also discussed how traditional religions very much were nature-based (in part because humans were more nature-connected), but may not be using that language any longer (perhaps because we’re now less nature-connected). The participant, who was Muslim (or at least his grandfather was), pointed out that his grandfather knew (by sun position) when to pray. And the Koran actually describes when to end one’s daily fast, as the point when one can’t tell the difference between light and dark rope (a poetic way to recognize the dark—yes, using human artifacts rather than light and dark plants, but still quite interesting). Further, Ramadan fasting is full moon to full moon. (He also noted that now it’s more about eating more calories, feasting not fasting, just in dark hours, which suggests an interesting nutrition study: do Muslims eat more or fewer calories during Ramadan?

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