38. Loyal to the earth



The Egyptian god of the earth was called Geb. He was part of the ennead of Heliopolis (see: A journey to holiness ; fig. 80). The god is often seen in combination with Nut, the goddess of heaven, forming a pair (fig. 259).


Fig. 259 – The gods Nut (heaven) and Geb (earth) in an act of creation. From the Papyrus of Tameniu. 21st Dyn. British Museum, London. In: IONS  (1982/1986).

‘Earth, stay as you are’, expressed Philostratus in his ‘Life of Apollonius’ (JONES, 1970/2005; NESSELRATH, 2008). The earth can be seen as the first and last point of security in the universe. Alternatively, like Pliny the Elder (23/24 – 79 AD), who put the same idea in his encyclopaedic book on the history of nature (Naturalis Historia, Liber II, 63): ‘Terra, cui uni rerum naturae partium‘ (LENOBLE, 1969; Ch. IV). The earth is like a mother of all things covering us.

NIETZSCHE (1885/1950) phrased it differently: ‘I declare, my brothers, stay loyal to the earth and don’t trust others who speak of supermondane expectations! They are poisoners, either conscious or unconscious’. Here, in Nietzsche’s predominantly dualistic world view, the earth is the representative of the modern Third Quadrant, where the visible visibility rules the communication.

A person living in the present – using singular empirical criteria to steer its mind – has only the earth (and materialism) to reach security. All other approaches require a historical consciousness, with projections of the invisible. The security of the earth consists of the safety of the limited part, the ‘natural world’. All relations fit into the scale of the division-model. The earth gives and takes. Dust returns to dust. There are few major boundaries, because they are outside our consciousness or understanding.

The earth is, in the classical tradition, a symbol of cosmic matter (VERHOEVEN et al., 1984). The cave, in turn, represents the (dark) space of this matter. Homer used in his ‘Odyssey‘ (Ch. XIII) a passage on the cave of the nymphs (Najaden) in such a symbolic way. The (earthly) limitation has a  connection with water and with the lives of the nymphs (Najaden), the souls of the immortals.

.                                                ‘Twofold is the entrance to the cave;

.                                                A northern one, where humans descend

.                                                and a southern one, which is holy:

.                                                No human enters here;

.                                                It is only for the immortals’.

The cave of Homer represented the opposition, a hiding place for the insecurities in life. Plato’s cave – as described in his The Republic – was a more perplexing place. It pointed to the shadows on the walls and the conclusions drawn by the people who saw them.  Earth (cave) and fire (sun, shadows) played a complicated game.

The worshipers of Mithra, widespread throughout the Roman Empire in the first centuries AD, knew the cave as their place of initiation. The god Mithra was born from the rock. He was flanked by two torchbearers, Cautes en Cautopates, representing the morning- and evening light (spring and winter). ‘In the Avesta, Mithra is the genius of the celestial light. He appears before sunrise on the rocky summits of the mountains; during the day, he traverses the wide firmament in his chariot drawn by four white horses, and when night falls he still illumines with flickering glow the surface of the earth’ (CUMONT, 1956; p. 3). His fight with the sun god was successful and he also killed a bull in the cave, creating the cosmos (fig. 260).


Fig. 260 – Mithra and the bull. The cult was based on the victory of the good over the evil forces of the earth. The mystery meetings were held in caves and centered on a font (or source). This marble bas-relief was found in London. In: BORER  (1977).

The element ‘earth’ was, in comparison to air, easier to study and to divide. Plato (428 – 348 BC) distinguished, in Greek classical times, a four-, six-, eight-, twelve-, and twenty-division in mineral crystal-planes. Their names (tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron) stood for a natural division-system based on the number five.

Galilei Galileo (1564 – 1642) was the last scientist, who actually considered this division scheme as the base of an empirical model and fitted the earth and the planets in various spaces, corresponding with the five ‘Platonic’ forms. A gradual change towards the earth could be noted in the age of Rationalism, the eighteenth century in the European cultural history. The relation between man and earth, which had been imperceptible intertwined over the ages, became separated. The earth became an object of curiosity and a hunt for its history began.

At first, it were the odd phenomenae, which drew attention, like the ‘snake stones’ or ammonites in Robert Hooke’s book ‘Discourse on Earth-quakes’ from 1703 (fig. 261), but soon some coherent theories of the earth emerged.


Fig. 261 – Ammonites were the first fossils, which put the scientists of the eighteenth century on the trail of the history of the earth. The belief that these animals were drowned in the Flood, was questioned and led to other theories. In:  DOTT & BATTEN (1971).

The German professor Werner (1749 – 1817) proposed a theory in which all rocks were formed by the sea. This point of view, later known as Neptunism, puts the emphasis on the sedimentary character of rocks. The principle of superposition stated that ‘the sedimentary layers were deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest rocks on the top’. This rule was formulated for the first time by the Danish scientific pioneer Nicolas Steno (1638 -1686).

Simultaneously, James Hutton (1726 – 1797) developed a theory in which the volcanic rocks took a central place. Volcanism was seen as the source of all other rocks. This theory became known as Plutonism. In particular, the rocks along the Scottish coast, with its nonconformities (fig. 262), pointed to enormous forces, which had acted upon the earth in the past.


Fig. 262 – An nonconformity of rock layers near Jedburgh (Scotland). This etching of John Clerk from Eldrin showed the various positions of rock layer, indicating earth movements between the times of deposition. The earthquakes were, according to the Plutonists, the result of the internal fire (volcanism) of the earth.

James Hutton studied the nonconformity in Inchbonny (Jedburgh), which confirmed his Plutonist theories. He understood that both approaches to the earth history – activated by water or fire – joined together in a dynamic environment, which did not differ much from the present circumstances. This principle became known as of uniformitarianism, saying that all geologic events are caused by the same natural processes, which are in operation today. 

The present concern with the environment looks like a renewed interest in the (element) earth: the evil spirits of the old days have changed their appearances. Modern features like hydrochloric acids and asbestos have taken their place. However, just like our forefathers in their approach to the earth, there are many misunderstandings: hardly anybody can grasp or understand the scale on which processes take place. The belief that the CFK’s in your fridge can produce a hole in the ozone layer (which, by the way, had only been measured for a limited number of years) is an example of the total ignorance of the scale of processes, and the subsequent misleading of the public.

The same confusing information, with disrespect for scale, was provided with regards to the availability of raw materials and the limits to economic growth due to a foreseeable shortage. This concern was a hot issue at the end of seventies and was fueled by writings like the ‘Report for the Club of Rome Project on The Predicament of Mankind‘ (MEADOWS et al., 1972).

Some minerals (like gold, silver, quicksilver and tin) should have been exhausted by now. This did not happen. Expensive base metals have been replaced by cheaper materials (like plastics). Economic needs caused prices to rise and made hitherto unprofitable reserves viable for mining and exploration. The graphs of the ‘Club of Rome’ were based on two moments in time with a rather simplistic linear projection in the future.

At present, the foreseeable shortage of raw materials is – temporary – forgotten and the emphasis shifts to damaging effects of certain materials. All sorts of measures are taken to limit those effects. In the end, it is solely a matter of redistribution, because nothing is gained and nothing is lost, as far as the earth is concerned. The contaminated earth, which is shoved at one place, is dispersed at another one.

Man’s concern for the earth is a good thing, even if it is for the wrong reasons. It should be realized, that the earth couldn’t be destroyed by human beings: they can only destroy themselves or make their own life miserable or impossible. There is, in geological hindsight, no reason to be concerned with the earth, which has been turning for some 4,8 billion years, nor with its ozone-layer, which was probably changing all the time. The earth has known harder times, when men were not around to witness the catastrophes (fig. 263). Some of these events took place over millions of years, simply because the continents drifted into another climatological zone and the temperature changed a couple of degrees. Other calamities might be attributed to an impact of a meteorite on the earth, resulting in more direct physiological changes.


Fig. 263 – The five major catastrophes in the history of the earth, according to RAUP & SEPKOSKI (1982). The (mass) extinctions took place (flagged arrow) at: 1. The beginning of the Silurian (S); 2. The end of the Devonian (D); 3/4. The beginning and end of the Triassic (Tr); 5. The end of the Cretaceous (KT- boundary).

The human species has only recently shown up on the earth and will probably also disappear in a comparatively short time, just like other complicated animals did before us. Or, like LEAKEY & LEWIN (1996, p. 46) put it: ‘If the history of life is viewed as a drama staged on planet Earth, then it can be seen having repeated intermissions, after each of which the cast on stage changes: some characters, previously important, disappear entirely or assume minor roles; others, in the wings, now move to stage front in major roles; new characters sometimes appear, too, producing a constantly shifting, Alice-in-Wonderland effect. Inevitably, fundamental shifts in dramatis personae force fundamental changes in the story line. So it is with Earth history.’

The earth will stay as it was, with – at best – for a future intellectual animal, some imprints of our lost world.


Fig. 264 – Painted Cove TrailPainted Hill Unit – John Day National Park, Oregon (Photo: Marten Kuilman, Aug. 2010).

BORER, Mary C. (1977). The City of London. A History. Constable and Company Limited, London. ISBN 0 09 461880 1

CUMONT,  Franz (1956).  The Mysteries of Mithra.  Dover  Publications,  Inc. New York 10.

DOTT,  R.H.  & BATTEN, L. (1971). Evolution of the Earth. McGraw-Hill Book Comp., New York.

IONS, Veronica (1982/1986). Egyptian Mythology (Library of the World’s Myths and Legends). Newnes Books. ISBN 0 600 34286 7

JONES, C.P. (1970). Philostratus. Life of Apollonius. Penguin Books, LtdHarmondsworth (Penguin classics, L 234). ISBN 0140442340

 – (2005). Philostratus. Apollonius of Tyana. Loeb Classical Library, 16 & 17. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London. ISBN 0-674-99613-5.

LEAKEY, Richard & LEWIN, Roger (1996). The Sixth Extinction. Bio-diversity and its Survival. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.  ISBN 0-297-81733-7

LENOBLE,  Robert (1969).  Esquisse d’une histoire de l’idee de Nature.  ‘L’Evolution de l’Humanité‘. Editions Albin Michel, Paris.

MEADOWS, Dennis L.; MEADOWS, Donella; RANDERS, Jørgen & BEHRENS, William (1972).  Rapport van de Club van Rome.  De grenzen aan de groei (The Limits to Growth.  A Report for the Club of Rome Project on The Predicament of Mankind. Universe Books, New York). Aula-boeken 500; Uitgeverij Het Spectrum B.V., Utrecht/Antwerpen. ISBN 90 274 5246 6

NESSELRATH, Heinz-Günther (2008). Pp. 203 in: The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 128 (Book reviews). C.P. Jones (Ed.). Philostratus. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Books I-IV & V-VIII. (Loeb Classical Library 16 & 17). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, 2005. 2 vols. ISBN 9780674996137

NIETSCHE, Friedrich (1885/1950). Aldus sprak Zarathoestra. Een boek voor allen en niemand. (tr. H. Marsman). Wereldbibliotheek, Amster-dam/Antwerpen.

RAUP, Jack J. Jr. & SEPKOSKI, David M. (1982). Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record. Pp. 1501-3 in: Science 215 (4539).

VERHOEVEN,  Cornelis (Ed.)(1984).  Porphyrius. De grot van de nimfen. Over een passage uit de ‘Odyssee’ van Homerus.  Uitgeverij  Ambo bv., Baarn. ISBN 90 263 0664 4

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