The archetype of earth

Many of us view Gaea as a comforting figure, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, a goddess who gives each of the Planeteers special rings by which to summon--by your powers combined,"--the green-haired hobgoblin known as Captain Planet. Yet most of us don't enjoy cartoons that stem directly from the mind of Ted Turner--some of us conceptualize the earth as the grand aina, full of life and promise. The mana or energy of the earth is seen as something that environmentalists seek to protect against the threats of global warming, deforestation, and other forms of pollution (there are corresponding villains in the pantheon of evildoers in the cartoon).

Despite all of these innocuous celluloid visions of Linka and Kwame and the other Planeteers, cultures around the globe have always had a respect and reverence for the earth. The earth is an origin, a beginning, and it is an ending. The phrase, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," common to Christianity is equally related to the idea of "White Ashes" common to Buddhism. In the very image of earth is contained the image of human mortality. As such, the archetype of earth is most potent in our reading of it as a symbol of the final myth of our lives: the myth that we continue to live beyond our set time on this planet.

The earth myth in this class:

Mortality scares us. One of the central motifs in the world's major religions is the motif of what happens after we pass from the earth. Some of us conceptualize a resurrection of the flesh in accordance with Christ's divine mercy stemming from God. Others of us believe in a voyage to the Pure Land once our physical bodies have returned to the soil. Empiro-rationalists see our bodies as returning to the minute components found in the soil--we begin to nourish the cycle. Cynics see us as worm's meat.

In our investigations of this motif, we will meet Orpheus, the grand musician who infuriated the Furies with his plaintive singing--the very man who attempted to thwart the death of his beloved, Eurydice. The voice of this divinely-inspired poet confounded the beasts and made the forlorn spirits of Hades weep with remembrance.

Transmission into literature and pop culture:

Takami's text revolves around the issue (among many) of how people view and react to death; he challenges us as readers to answer the question: Given my own mortality, how would I behave? Is my survival instinct strong—is it so strong that I would do anything it takes just to live?

The motif of earth, death, and rebirth is a popular one in films today. Most heroes typically experience a death prior to their apotheosis as a hero/demigod. Neo must be shot to death before he becomes the One.

Perhaps our society has become a tad more obsessed with the morbid. Tim Burton seems quite popular, given titles involving brides, ghouls, and the macabre. Zombie films abound. We had British zombies running about London in Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later; Romero's films still conjure up the frights. Halloween up and down Kalakaua is a popular yearly activitiy, full of mummies, daddies, and other weird folk.

In a strange, macabre incident, Jason Scott Lee was accidently killed on the movie set while filming The Crow, a film that still relies on the basic message of resurrection from the earth that undergirds this archetype.

The questions we can ask:

Do these myths serve a cathartic purpose for societies? Across all cultures, why is death the ultimate horrific tale?

Is the story of resurrection a story of the hero? What does the hero's triumph over Thanatos represent?

Is there a redemptive, consolatory message provided behind our return to the earth?

As technology begins to encroach upon the earth, how can we show more respect for the earth? How can we show more respect for the people and things that went before us?


The Crow (official website)

Black Orpheus (filmed in Brazil during Carnival, this movie is a Criterion Collection Classic)

Orpheus (basic information)

Corpse Bride (official website)

George Romero site (website of the king of zombie movies)