Gnostics on the loose


Tim Pemble-Smith


The late Pope John Paul II spoke often about the “culture of life” and the “culture of death” – the “culture of life” being based on acceptance of biblical values and the love of God and the “culture of death” being based on rejection of biblical values and the love of God.  The struggle between these two incompatible cultures, between good and evil, between reason and unreason, can be seen on many levels including within the human soul itself and within the life of the Universal Church.


There is no immunity for the Australian Catholic Church from this great struggle of our times.  Well informed Australian Catholics are not overly surprised when they see signs of the rejection of biblical values and the love of God even within the structures of their Church.  Cardinal Pell has himself been quoted in the media acknowledging the presence of paganism within the Australian Church.


While the presence of paganism within the archdiocese of Brisbane has at times received widespread media attention, there has also been a public emergence in recent times of similar influences within the Melbourne Church.  Michael Gilchrist raised the question in his April 2006 AD2000 article, Earthsong: Green Christianity or a New Paganism?  He said, “On the basis of information gleaned directly from the Earthsong Website, an official investigation is warranted, given the use of Catholic venues and the nature of the listed topics and resource materials – with reference to a “new cosmology”, “ways of honouring the sacredness of all creation” and rituals to celebrate nature – none of them suggesting any connection at all with the Judeo-Christian tradition, let alone Catholicism.”  Gilchrist was careful to point out, “Christians, of course, ought respect, conserve and utilise wisely God’s creation, but it is another matter to be worshipping creation as if it were God Himself.”


Given that no action appears to have subsequently been taken in relation to Earthsong by the relevant Church authorities, it is perhaps now appropriate that the purportedly Catholic Earthsong ‘project’ be examined anew and in more detail.  Earthsong maintains a website in its own name, offering programs in “Exploring the New Cosmology”, “Earth’s Imagination”, “Powers of the Universe”, “Celebrating Cosmogenesis: The Triple Spiral in the Seasonal Wheel” and “Spirits of the Australian Desert”.  The programs are offered on several Church properties.  As Gilchrist had noted, Earthsong is co-sponsored by the Brigidine Sisters, Christian Brothers, FCJ Sisters, Loreto Sisters, Presentation Sisters, Mercy Sisters (Ballarat East) and Mercy Sisters (Melbourne), “with several other unnamed orders providing funds..”.


Far from exercising discretion, the Earthsong website says of its “Powers of the Universe” program, “This study circle focuses on an eleven part DVD series by mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme.  The series aims towards a synthesis of scientific and spiritual world views, empowering people to rediscover and remember who they truly are in the greater story of life.  One segment will be watched during each session and followed by discussion and ritual.”  Brian Swimme’s website is more explicit.  There, the “Powers of the Universe” DVD series is labelled “an exploration of the powers coursing through Universe and in each of us”.


“Celebrating Cosmogenesis: The Triple Spiral in the Seasonal Wheel” also features in the Earthsong program.  The website declares, “This seminar, led by Glenys Livingstone a Sydney based author, is jointly sponsored by the Centre for Ecology and Spirituality and Earthsong… (and is offered in) lecture style presentation based on the content of Glenys’s recent publication PaGaian Cosmology which explores an eco-spirituality grounded in indigenous Western religious celebration of the Earth-Sun annual cycle ... participants will be involved in an experiential workshop developing ritual in the context of the current season.  This seminar will appeal to all who are seeking for a more creative use of season and symbol in a southern hemisphere perspective.


The full title of Glenys Livingstone’s book is “PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion”.  The back cover of Livingstone’s book says, “PaGaian Cosmology brings brings together a religious practice of seasonal ritual based in a contemporary scientific sense of the cosmos and female imagery for the Sacred.  The author situates this original synthesis in her context of being female and white European transplanted to the Southern Hemisphere.  Her sense of alienation from her place, which is personal, cultural and cosmic, fires a cosmology that re-stories Goddess metaphor of Virgin-Mother-Crone as a pattern of Creativity, which unfolds the cosmos, manifests in Earth’s life, and may be known intimately.”


Further, from the back cover, “PaGaian Cosmology is an ecospirituality grounded in indigenous Western religious celebration of the Earth-Sun annual cycle.  By linking to (the) story of the unfolding universe this practice can be deepened, and a sense of the Triple Goddess—central to the cycle and known in ancient cultures—developed as a dynamic innate to all being.  The ritual scripts and the process of ritual events presented here, may be a journey into self-knowledge through personal, communal and ecological story: the self to be known is one that is integral with place…PaGaian Cosmology may be used as a resource for individuals or groups seeking new forms of devotional expression and an Earth-based pathway to wisdom within.”


The Earthsong website also includes a ringing endorsement of PaGaian Cosmology from well known religious sister and former ABC board member, Veronica Brady, who says: “…this is a practical book which arises from Livingstone's sense of alienation as a woman in search of a faith. In effect she develops what Thomas Berry calls a ‘functional cosmology', a way of learning to live with and celebrate the life of the cosmos reflected in the seasons of the year but also in the seasons of a woman's body, virgin, mother, crone, acknowledging also that, dwelling in the southern hemisphere but living in a culture brought from the other side of the world, we need to adapt to where we live—though, mercifully in my view, she resists the temptation to appropriate Aboriginal culture in the process.


Sister Brady continues, “So far so good. Few people will have problems with this.  Some, however, may be troubled by her sub-title, Reinventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, sensing an attack on divine transcendence.  What is at issue here, I think however, is the fact that for many, women especially, institutional religion no longer seems to offer abundance of life but its restriction, not a call to reverence but to power over others.”


The November/December 2004 issue of Madonna, a Melbourne based Jesuit magazine, featured an interview with religious sister Anne Boyd, the director of Earthsong.  The feature refers to her “desire to find divinity in the earth”.  The article says: “‘The risk is if we don’t quickly revise our place on the planet, we will bring about the extinction of ourselves’, Anne says…We are coming out of a Christian tradition, so we are trying to find meaning within that context. The cycle of life, death, resurrection is really, in a way, the grammar of the universe: emergence, chaos, transformation.  It’s not just a Christian belief.  We have it only in a human context, but if you put it in a total life context, you deepen and expand the role of the human in the whole universe story.”


Here, Sister Anne Boyd expresses the classic position of the Gnostic in the Church, both “coming out of a Christian tradition” and at the same time claiming Christian status for her Gnostic positions.  By remaining within the Church, this Brigidine nun participates in the project of Gnostic “transformation” while seeking to maintain a formal Catholic identity.  This is the very essence of subversion.


Earthsong is by no means the only option in the Melbourne Church where openly New Age, Gnostic spirituality is on offer.  The Christian Brothers Centre for Ecology and Spirituality at Glenburn is another case in point.  Via its “Sacred Earth” program, the Centre offers “Deep Ecology”, “Cosmology”, “Mysticism” – (“How to be(come) an Earth Mystic”), “Mythmaking for the 21st Century” and “Drama as Spiritual Journey”.  Brian Swimme is featured, as is Jean Houston, who as Francis Wheen recounts in his book How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, is said to have channelled the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi for Hillary Clinton.


It is clear that there is an active and by all accounts growing New Age, Gnostic movement in the Catholic Church in and around Melbourne and that this movement appears to enjoy protection from the exercise of legitimate Church authority.  Any Church which tolerates the above in its midst is incapable of effectively promoting and fostering the culture of life.  If the culture of death can not be dealt with inside the Church, no progress is possible in the wider sphere.  If disunity is death in politics, what is it in religion?



Tim Pemble-Smith’s “News From The Pews” website is  He can be contacted at