Earth As Elder and its ally, Weather, as Initiators©

Posted on November 14, 2012 by David Blumenkrantz

By David G. Blumenkrantz♥ & the ROPE® Community

What if these weather events are the Earth’s way of initiating humans? A curious possibility.

Earth is a living, sentient organism in an intimate interactive and interdependent relationship with all living species, including human beings - a truly symbiotic association. This is a constantly evolving and adapting ecosystem where Earth and its ally, weather, when needed, serve as an initiator of humans in order to transmit essential lessons necessary for whole planet survival. Intimate relationships between humans and others, of which most of us are unaware, are not uncommon. At a biological level our relationship to Earth is similar to the human microbiome that serves the individual. We are composed of 10 times as many microbes as human cells. Without these “foreign” cells we do not develop an adequate immune system or mature digestive system. The microbes are in communication with us for health and survival. Microbes can bring disease but, in balance, these microbes and our bodies are partnered for survival.

Humans are likewise in symbiotic relationship with the Earth. The relationship is complex, non-linear and requires constant monitoring and rebalancing. At present, humans could be on a dangerous course. Earth, our sentient partner in survival, may be providing us with vital survival instructions. Initiatory instructions, to be precise. The stories of people and communities that have sustained a direct "initiatory event" like super storm Sandy can be overlaid on the Story of the 20 guiding principles for youth and community development through rites of passage. A curious fit....

What if Gaia knows what it needs to survive? How would this knowledge be manifest? Through the ages, the transmission of values and ethics that inform human behavior essential for survival has been done through initiation and rites of passage. These organic processes have always served the survival of biosphere, culture, and community.

What if, in its attempts to save itself and all species, the Earth allies with weather to initiate us? Could Gaia be helping us remember, to reconnect the social covenant that requires we have compassion and consideration for the needs of strangers - a sense of community? This reflects what Michael Ignatieff, (1984) proposed in his conception of a natural human identity. This condition would have to be present and a prerequisite for a sense of community to evolve. Ignatieff says, The language of human needs is a basic way of speaking about this idea of a natural human identity. We want to know what we have in common with each other beneath the infinity of our differences. We want to know what it means to be human and we want to know what that knowledge commits us to in terms of duty. What distinguishes the language of needs is its claim that human beings actually feel a common and shared identity in the basic fraternity of hunger, thirst, cold, exhaustion, loneliness or sexual passion. The possibility of human solidarity rests on this idea of natural human identity. A society in which strangers would feel common belonging and mutual responsibility to each other depends on trust, and trust reposes in turn on the idea that beneath difference there is identity (p. 28).

...human beings actually feel a common and shared identity in the basic fraternity of hunger, thirst, cold... is a particularly compelling concept that begs the question: "What are the opportunities to feel and then share the basic fraternity of human survival of which Ignatieff speaks?"

Ask those who have experienced the brunt of a weather-based initiatory experience. They’ll tell you over and over that the experience gave them a greater sense of connection with and appreciation for their neighbors and others. In the absence of Earth intervening through weather, by and large, individuals encounter these basic human experiences alone.

Adversity Introduces us to Ourselves

The ordeal, sometimes referred to as the call to adventure or hero's journey (Campbell, 1988) is central to initiation. One of the guiding principles (#10) of rites of passage suggests that Adversity introduces us to ourselves. These ordeals are designed to promote transcendence and transformation that casts people together in their naked humanity to encounter and share the basic fraternity of human survival. Adversity introduces us to our identity as communal beings. To collectively encounter the phenomenon of being torn out of one’s own home and away from the comforts of the familiar is to share the basic fraternity of human survival.

Confronted with a weather-based initiation we are taken out of our typical patterns and forced to think about survival. Rather than automatically flipping a switch for power, letting there be light, or turning on the stove to cook, we have to figure out anew how to live. How do we live in a world turned upside down?

We don’t go into initiation willingly or without mixed emotions. The initiate is taken into the initiatory process with dread and anticipation for what they yearn for in their future adulthood. It is a paradox, a contradiction. I want to stay in the safety of childhood and the protection it affords, but deeply feel nature’s pull to fulfill my destiny as an adult.

No one goes willingly into a natural disaster. How can we see these individual and collective ordeals, these tragedies, as opportunities for collective transformation into the best that our species can be? Or will the forces of darkness, the gangs and looters - emerge to be the dominant influence on our values and sense of community? How can adversity introduce us to ourselves and others in ways that promote joy, spirit, health and survival for the Earth and us? As I was growing up, one of the central values passed down to me was to always listen to my elders. Is the Earth serving as our elder now in some way? How many more weather-based initiatory events must Gaia “speak” before we either listen or perish?

Campbell, Joseph and Moyers, Bill. The power of myth. (Ed.), Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Ignatieff, Michael. The needs of strangers: An essay on privacy, solidarity, and the politics of being human. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.

♥ In conversation with & thanks to: Oral Ecologist & Evolutionary Biologist Dr. Wm. Lavine, Louann M. Virgil, Richard O. Geer, Meteorologist Kenneth F. Heideman & M. Kalani Souza. Special dedication to the spirit and work of the Indigenous Knowledge & the Environment Hui of the Pacific Risk Management Ohana (PRiMO) of NOAA. © David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D. 2012 – Continue the conversation - e-mail:, visit our web site:

Posted in ROPE

Read more about Youth & Community Development through Rites of Passage in the new and highly acclaimed book by Dr. David Blumenkranz.

David Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M., Founder & Executive Director, the Center for Youth & Community

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