Under the Spell of Mother Earth - Chapter 8 

Transforming Art and Empowering Symbols

Skip down to Escape from Reason and Joseph Campbell

See also Symbols and their meaning & The Power of Suggestion




"All across the land, the basis for a new earth-centered culture is being cast. Artists and poets are turning back to the earth as a source of inspirationÖ People are creating new kinds of personal and community rituals to express their bond to the earth, viewed once again as the nurturing mother of all life." Brian Tokar in The Green Alternative [1]

"Art is not only a reflection of our culture, it also serves to shape and define who we are." A Chevron advertisement in Time magazine. [2]

"Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal god for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." Romans 1:22-23

During the popular television series, "The Power of Myth," Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers, "The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our own lives."[3] Later, they discussed the artistís crucial role in spreading those mythical images:

Moyers: "Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans?"

Campbell: "It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today.Ö."

Moyers: "So shamans functioned in earlier societies as artists do now. They play a much more important role than simply being..."

Campbell: "They played the role of the priesthood traditionally plays in our society." [4]

Artists as priests and shamans?  These radical ideas struck home as I paused for a moment by a jewelry stand at the Phoenix airport. A large serpentine pendant had caught my eye. Above it hung a set of earrings sporting the popular yin/yang symbol. Interesting! Glancing up and down the rows of silver-and gold-crafted ornaments, I counted more than thirty different occult symbols - wizards, ankhs (the occult Egyptian cross), goat heads, the Egyptian scarab beetle, pentagrams....

A few weeks earlier I had talked with students at a Christian middle school about New Age influences. When I mentioned occult symbols, they knew exactly what I meant. Many were wearing them - on their ears, fingers, and T-shirts. They had watched them in cartoons, comic books, and Nintendo games.

As I left the jewelry stand, I thought sadly that even Godís special symbols - the cross, stars, His beautiful rainbow - had been distorted to fit mythical messages. It seemed as if our world was falling in love with occult art - and the spirit behind it.

Social Progress through Pagan Art?

The headline for a full-page article in the San Francisco: Chronicle fit our times: "Puppets for Social Change - The art of protest on S.F. streets." The top picture showed a gigantic puppet named Rage swaying above the mass of demonstrators, its mouth contorted in a scream, its fist gripping a sign proclaiming "'NO!" Marching with rage were a surrealistic crow, a sun Goddess, and various mythical monsters. Together they comprised "a walking gallery of feelings that collective members want to express - need to express."[5]

Primal expressions are in. Pagan masks, charms, figurines, and pictures decorate model homes. Mythical and mystical art permeate theatres, art museums, music, libraries, and cultural centers.

Some are genuine masterpieces, showing Godís cross-cultural touch. Others disturb our senses, for they express hatred, fear, and despair - the feelings of a rootless humanity searching for meaning. Many simply show passivity. They seem to communicate what today's pagans deny: People who choose substitute gods live at the mercy of forces they cannot control.

Why do we have this influx of pagan art? Some of it has aesthetic value. And, like the above puppets, it expresses human emotions and experience to a nation that increasing-ly focuses on feelings. It can raise our appreciation for cultural diversity and promote social harmony. And it can be used to imprint mythical messages on the American mind. According to a New York Times article, it serves "to instruct, to evoke the deceased, to house the soul, to be the focus of a ritual."[6]

It is reshaping American beliefs. Most of us donít argue with a painting. "Artists can play a unique role in raising our consciousness about the changes that must be made for the healing of our planet"[7] says Adriana Diaz, faculty member at Matthew Foxís Institute.

The quarterly magazine, Green Letter, defined the artistís role in building a new environmentally conscious world:

The arts speak the language of the senses (through words, images, sounds, form, color, touch, and move-ment) and often communicate things that cannot be otherwise expressed ...

Artists have an important role to play in creating a more sustainable society and empowering their communities. Their images and actions can stimulate changes in consciousness and behavior. Free and diverse artistic expressions are vital for challenging people to rethink their assumptions and for educating people about their past, present issues, and future visions.[8]

Seeking Utopia.

In his book, Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer traced the historical steps toward our current pursuit of a mythical Eden. Here I can only show incomplete glimpses of some of those steps. Look for the two main points:

  1. When people turn from God to secular humanism or naturalism (glorifying nature and denying supernatural interference), they create a spiritual vacuum, which soon at-tracts counterfeit spirituality.
  2. When people reject absolute truth, they lose their standard for reality. They will believe anything in their futile search for something.

Renaissance artists established humanism as a social force, but it reached its pinnacle during the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Literature celebrated the supremacy of manís reason and placed humanity at the center of the universe. Writers and poets denied their need for redemption and proclaimed man's right to absolute freedom. The fact that secular science presented humans as mere parts of a machinelike world didnít matter. Philosophers and artists would celebrate their reason and freedom - even if freedom made no sense.

In How Then Shall We Live? Schaeffer illustrates the ultimate consequences of this arrogance and absurdity. America would do well to heed his warning:

Like the humanists of the Renaissance, the men of the Enlightenment pushed aside the Christian base and heritage and looked back to the old pre-Christian times. In Voltaire's home in Ferney the picture he hung (in such a way on the wall at the foot of his bed that it was the first thing he saw each day) was a painting of the goddess Diana with a small new crescent moon on her head and a very large one under her feet. She is reaching down to help men.

How quickly all the humanist ideals came to grief! In September 1792 began the massacre.... Before it was all over, the [French] government and its agents killed 40,000 people.... This destruction came not from out-side the system; it was produced by the system. As in the later Russian Revolution the revolutionaries on their humanist base had only two options - anarchy or repressions.[9]

Consider the similarity between the Enlightenment and cur-rent Green philosophy. To Rousseau, natural meant good. Nature, no matter how cruel and untamed, determined morality. Freedom and wildness became ultimate goals.

To show the futility of this quest, Schaeffer points to the French painter, Gauguin (1848-1903). Seeking total freedom, Gauguin "deserted his family and went to Tahiti where he tried to find it in the noble savage."[10] The canvas of his last great painting expressed his disillusionment: "Whence Come We? What Are We? Whither Do We Go?"

The secular humanists had lifted Godís promise of freedom out of context. They ignored the condition: "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8.32, italics added). Genuine freedom cannot exist apart from truth.

Atheistic existentialists did nothing to help. Their futile freedom wilted in the terror of cosmic meaninglessness. We see it today in the distorted faces and bodies of Picasso's art and in the dark, grotesque paintings of modem realism. Some resemble the gruesome images of cruel Goddesses like Kali. Others exude weakness, insecurity, introspection, doubt, pain.... Broken people, desperate to understand and find meaning within, scream from the canvases of tell--it-like-it-is artists. The answer is no less devastating: What-ever is, is right!

Where then was hope? Reason had failed. What was left?

"Drugs," suggested Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932). Mind-expanding drugs would open the door into mystical experience and narrow the gap between our post-Christian West and the pagan cultures of the past. As Os Guiness points out in The Dust of Death:

... these short cuts [to enlightenment], once discovered, were given the halo of neo-divinity. Thus, peyote was divine to the Aztecs, coca to the Incas, soma to the Vedas, and ambrosia to the Greeks ... their use be-came intertwined in the blurry realms of religion, magic, and illumination.[11]

Huxley also sought answers in Eastern religions and ecology - two strange partners considering that, at their core, Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the physical world (maya) is merely an illusion that the seeker must transcend. Neither science nor practical concern for the earth can grow in such an irrational climate. G.K. Chesterton was right. When people reject God, they donít believe in nothing --they believe in anything.[12]

Since man had already rejected reason as a test for reality, the seeking masses were wide open to the next deception: Optimistic Evolutionary Humanism. Julian Huxley's utopian vision was literally "out of this world." You see its offspring expressed in the soft, dreamy, New Age fantasy art - perhaps a welcome relief from the stark, cruel distortions of realism.

We know that drugs, occult meditation, rock music, and other counterculture experiences failed to bring the promised fulfillment. Neither will today's visionary New Age or mystical environmental art and music. Francis Schaeffer sums up the futile journey from biblical truth to nothingness and illusion with this astute observation:

The significant thing is that rationalistic, humanistic man began by saying that Christianity was not rational enough. Now he has come around in a wide circle and ended as a mystic - though a mystic of a special kind. He is a mystic with nobody there. The old mystics always said that there was somebody there, but the new mystic says that that does not matter, because faith is the important thing. It is faith in faith, whether expressed in secular or religious terms.... Modern man is committed to finding his answer... away from reason.[13]

Back to Mother Earth.

Julian Huxley didnít believe in God. He did, however, believe that "men function better if they think that there is a god."[14] So did a growing crowd of environmentalists and eco-theologians. In 1973, Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Naess coined the term Deep Ecology. In a 1982 interview at the Los Angeles Zen Center, he explained that the phrase suggests a cultural shift from science to wisdom. "We ask which society, which education, which form of religion, is beneficial for all life on the planet as a whole, and then we ask further what we need to do in order to make the necessary changes.[15]

Environmental writer and poet Gary Snyder suggested some answers. His book Turtle Island, which won a 1975 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, linked Zen Buddhism, American Indian traditions and a string of other Eastern religions to Deep Ecology.[16]

Others echo their call. The Dalai Lama tells us the ancient arts of Tibetan Buddhism will produce the unity needed to heal the earth. He hopes to make Tibet an international haven where all can learn peace and harmony from his followers.[17]

In Transforming Education, Andy LePage writes, "When the artist has been awakened in every student, there will be a renaissance of aesthetics in our country which will enable us to understand more deeply the native peoples of our land, and bring us into harmony with the earth."[18]

America seems to be moving back to where it started, seeking meaning in life and power for living in occult wisdom. This revival reaches far beyond deep ecology and contemporary paganism. We are not looking at a phenomenon limited to the Green Movement or radical Goddess worshipers. While languages and idols may differ, essentially the same deception permeates our Western world and links it to the pagan beliefs of the rest of the world.

The Common Language of Art and Symbols

Since pagan beliefs express the myths and inclinations of human nature, pagan art speaks a global language. Matthew Fox illustrates this fact with a personal experience. After he completed a series of lectures at a Mennonite seminary, a woman in an Indian sari approached him:

"You are the first Christian theologian I have ever met," she commented, "who spoke Hindi"

"Goodness!" I replied, "I was trying to speak English."

"No," she said, "I mean that you speak in images that are thoroughly Hindu and speak to my heart from my own deepest Indian roots; and those slides you showed from Hildegard (Hildegard of Bingenís twelfth century mandalas) - they too, are deeply Hindu."

I was not altogether surprised by this exchange. I knew of the influence of Hinduism on Celtic spirituality [witchcraft] and that Hildegard was part of the Celtic movement along the Rhine. But I was moved by this Eastern womanís power of making connections at the level of mysticism. After all, it was the Japanese Zen Buddhist Dr. Suzuki who first convinced Thomas Merton to take Meister Eckhart seriously, just as it was the Hindu scholar Coomeraswamy who first alerted me to Meister Eckhart. [19]

Pagan art has two sides: the enticing mystical illusions and the ugly, shadowy horrors of life under occult guidance. The latter is about as compatible with "traditional" American art as heavy metal music is with Beethoven. Not surprisingly, those who love the shadowy attractions have little affinity for art that communicates grace, beauty, and harmony.

The National Endowment for the Arts seems to prefer the former. A New Dimension article, "Art Censors: A Closer Look at the NEA," compares the art it favors with the art it censors. You have probably read about some of the art it funds. Among the worst examples was Andres Serrano's incredible desecration of a crucifix and mockery of Christ.

You may also remember ex-prostitute Annie Sprinkle's "Postmodern Porn" show at New Yorkís fashionable Kitchen Theatre. A mixed audience of well dressed artists, entertainers, and politicians participated in this scene:

Annie herself was ecstatic. As she chanted prayers to the "spirits of ancient sacred temple prostitutes," a delegation from PONY (Prostitutes of New York) shouted encouragement. Ecstasy spread across Annie's face as she invited the audience to examine her ... (What followed cannot be published in a family magazine ... ) Overwhelmed by the response, Annie uttered the now immortal fine, "Usually I get paid a lot of money for this, but tonight it's government funded." Not since Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake," has one phrase captured the decadence of a regime so unerringly. [20]

In contrast, what kind of art does the NEA censor? Apparently, it rejects any expression of the "aesthetic criteria that are the foundation of Western culture." For example, the NEA refused to fund artist Frederick Hart who created the Three Soldiers for the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, Washingtonís most popular attraction after the Lincoln Memorial. Hart worked three years in an unheated studio to complete the magnificent Creation sculptures now adorning the main facade of Washingtonís National Cathedral.

"The NEA told me what I was doing wasnít art,"[21] he explained.

Why such upside-down values? One major difference between pagan and Christian art is that earth-centered cultures are usually based on myths and natural inclinations, while Bible-centered cultures are based on truth and moral order. Their respective art expresses their opposing values. Artists who promote paganism cannot tolerate the expressions of those who follow God.

"Today's true radicals are the realist painters and sculptors who refuse to conform to the modern art establishment. Going up against this establishment ... is letting oneself in for the 'most intense vilification you can imagine.'"[22] James Cooper quoting author Tom Wolfe


  • Pray for discernment
  • Discuss ...
  1. Godís purpose for art.
  2. The misuse of God-given talent.
  3. The power of images and imagination.
  4. Using your imagination as God intended.

1. GOD'S PURPOSE FOR ART. God created artists. Their earliest recorded assignment was to build and adorn His tabernacle, where He first established His presence with man (Exodus 25-27). Its design and function shows us the Master's delight in fine craftsmanship and the biblical purpose for art:

  • to delight and edify.
  • to bring glory to the Creator.
  • to show the wonder of His creation.
  • to illustrate His truth.
  • to record significant events.
  • to communicate beliefs to the next generation.

Speaking from an artistís point of view, H.R. Rookmaker explains his standard for exemplary art:

If we say that love is ... the supreme norm for art, it certainly affects the subjects we choose, the way we treat them, the forms we give them, the materials we handle, the techniques we employ. In Philippians 4:8 [whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely], Paul formulated this for all of life as well as for art.23

2. THE MISUSE OF GOD-GIVEN TALENT. As always, Satan seeks to distort God's gifts to fit his plan and purpose. Art and God's truth enhance each other, but so do art and pagan myth. Together, the latter pair can fashion an imaginary world filled with false hopes, untamed passions, counterfeit gods, and deceiving spirits.

Earth-based religions used art, including signs and symbols, to express their beliefs, worship their deities, and invoke spiritual powers. Imaginative figurines and primitive paintings tell us about volatile earth mothers to be appeased, animals that served as hosts of gods and spirits, and spiritual forces that could be manipulated to meet human needs.

What a contrast to the ever-present God, who always watches over and cares for His people! Those who reject Him for a capricious Mother Earth face the worst of human nature and demonic powers. For example, in the magical universe ruled by Aztec gods and spirits in pre-Columbian days, earth Goddess Coatlicue was mother of all gods and humans alike. But she was no gentle and nurturing parent. Her stone image depicts a decapitated monster of a woman from whose neck spring two serpent heads symbolizing streams of blood. She wore a necklace of hands and shears, while her own hands are serpent heads and her feet eagle claws.

Primitive people around the world were well aware of earthís turbulent tempers and cruel actions - far more so than are today's owners of snug homes and piped-in water. To people who battled droughts, storms, floods, and locusts, Mother Earth and her brood of nature deities were formidable and angry rulers who demanded worship for their favors.

Like other religions that worshiped the Mother Goddess and the Sun God, the Aztecs offered human sacrifices to their gods:

A cylinder-shaped stone, on which the victim was stretched and his heart removed, remains as a memorial from an era when the sun and the earth were worshipped as gods. The human sacrifice was thought to provide nourishment for those gods, and for life itself, through the blood and hearts of the victim.... In sacrifice, the heart of the victim was extracted with a flint knife, but prisoners were also burned or eaten in a ritual form of cannibalism, not for food but as a sort of communion between men and the god. [24]

Those who saw the bloody sacrifices to Hindu Goddess Kali in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom can best imagine the horror of this worship. Yet similar patterns for human sacrifice were practiced by the Incas and even by the American Indians. Dr. Clark Wissler describes a Pawnee sacrifice of a virgin to the Morning Star - a practice which ended in the early 1800s after a wise Pawnee leader rescued a young maiden from this terrible death:

When the ritual required, a war party was organized, purified and sanctioned by serious ceremonies. If the [astrological] signs were pronounced auspicious, this party set out for the enemy's country. The object was to surprise a camp, kill and scalp, but to spare an ado-lescent girl. The captive was carried home, where she was treated with great respect, attended by women, all in charge of a priest of the ritual.... A kind of scaffold was erected, upon which the girl was induced to climb, her hands and feet were bound, then a priest rushed upon her, cut out her heart and offered it to the gods. Afterward her body was laid upon the prairie as a further offering. [25]

As you study the chart below, you will see what social studies and world cultures curricula wonít admit: that cruelty, fear, and death have always permeated pagan cultures and their art. Only cultures founded on biblical truth and protected by God Himself have enjoyed freedom from the tyranny of Satanís reign.

3. THE POWER OF IMAGES AND IMAGINATION. Images influence cultures in three ways:

1.  By the value we give them. Carved and painted idols are central to earth-based cultures. Ancient Israel encountered idol worship, including astrology, on every side; therefore, God gave explicit warnings: "Do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape.... When you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars - all the heavenly array - do not be enticed into bowing down to them (Deuteronomy 4:16-19). See the second chart on this page: Three Paradigms

We may not be tempted to bow to idols. Our kind of idolatry is more subtle. We practice it by replacing our devotion to the Creator and His unchanging reality for created and changeable images - either God-made nature or man-made things. Brooks Alexander explains the latter:

We speak of being driven (or seduced) by the "image" of success, of beauty, vitality, and the good life, etc. Thanks to the technology of television, those abstract "images" have now become literal and visible; what's more, they come alive and speak to us.... Certainly all of television advertising, and much of television in general, purposely stimulates our craving to possess, thus fitting Paulís most basic definition of idolatry.[27]

2.  By their association. Magic signs, symbols, and drawings are tools used to cast spells and invoke occult powers. While idols in themselves are worthless, they are, says Brooks Alexander, "a mask for demonic entities, and a channel for demonic influence" [28] (I Corinthians 10:19-20). Dabbling in magic or bringing pagan art and symbols into your home can cause spiritual bondage and oppression, es-pecially if they are used in occult rituals. Have nothing to do with them.

3.  By their content. The most obvious effect of art - paint-ings, sculpture, music, dance - is to stir the imagination, influence thought, and touch the hearts. While God wants to use our imagination to make His truth alive to us, Satan will use our imagination to give an appearance of reality to his mystical illusions.

Frequent exposure to images that violate our moral boundaries will desensitize the conscience and begin to mold the mind to fit the message. Films, plays, stories, and music filled with profanity, sensuality, and violence are not merely exposing reality." They transform our view of reality. We become like the "art" that fills our mind and vision.

Know and discuss the following verses. Apply them whenever you choose movies, music, pictures or jewelry. Psalm 97:10; Isaiah 5:20; Proverbs 3:7; Colossians 3:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Review Ephesians 5.

4. USING YOUR MIND AS GOD INTENDED. David, Godís beloved shepherd king, wrote the imagery of Psalm 23 based on his intimate relationship with his Lord. When we, like David, allow the Holy Spirit to fill our minds with images from Godís Word, He draws us close to Himself. Focusing our hearts on Jesus, we are transformed into His likeness by "beholding" Him as God reveals Him to us (2 Corinthians 3:18).

God tells us that we "have no excuse" for not seeing Him: "For since the creation of the world Godís invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Romans 1.20). When we truly know God (primarily through the Bible), we wonít make nature or images our idols. Instead, nature becomes evidence of His infinite wisdom and power.

A tree becomes His living sculpture. The sky becomes His canvas and a golden-pink sunset His masterpiece, conceived in His eternal mind before He even created the moisture and energies that formed them. The exquisite orchid or the velvety petal of a rose, the fluorescent feathers of a hummingbird, the brilliant stripes of an angelfish ... all show us the indescribable beauty of the Master Artist Himself.

In the same way, human art can remind us of Godís greatness. It need not be so-called "Christian" art. If it fits the criteria of Philippians 4:8, it will turn our spiritual eyes to the Creator with and adoration - and we will see His glory.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable Ė if anything is excellent or praiseworthy Ė think -about such things." Philippians 4:8


1. Brian Tokar, The Green Alternative (San Pedro, Calif.: R. & E. Miles, 1987), 150.

2. Chevron advertisement, Time (12 February 1990).

3. Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth (New York. Doubleday, 1988), 207.

4. Ibid, 99.

5. "Puppets for Social Change," San Francisco Chronicle, 3 March 1991.

6. Michael Brenson, "African and Other Portraits, Side by Side," The New York Times, 3 August 1990.

7. Adriana Diaz, "The Earth's Alive! Festival," Creation (May/June 1990): 35.

8. "Arts and Culture," Green Letter (Summer 1990): 51-52.

9. Francis Schaeffer, How Then Shall We Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1976), 124.

10. lbid, 159.

11. Os Guiness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, III.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 234.

12. Ibid., 325.

13. Francis Schaeffer, Escapefro?n Reason (Downers Grove, M.: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 56.

14. Ibid, 55.

15. Bill Devall and George Session, Deep Ecology (Salt Lake City: Pere-grine Smith Books, 1985), 74.

16. Ibid, 84.

17. Galen Rowell "The Dalai Lamaís Tibet, San Jose Mercury News, 9 December 1990.

18. Andy LePage, Transforming Education (Oakland, Calif.: Oakmore House Press, 1987), 129.

19. Matthew Fox, "Mysticism: The Universal Experience," Creation (September/October 1988): 11.

20. James F. Cooper, "Art Censors: A Closer Look at the NEA;" New Dimensions June 1991): 26.

21. Ibid., 28.

22. Ibid., 28.

23. H.R. Rookmaker, Art Needs No Justification (Downers Grove, III: Intervarsity Press, 1978), 45.

24. G V editores, National Museum Of Anthropology Mexico (Mexico City: Grupo Cultural Especializado, 1990), 54.

25. Clark Wissler, Indians of the United States (New York. Doubleday, 1966), 155.

26. Information gathered from the various volumes of Encyclopedia of World Art (note #25) and Encyclopedia Brittanica; from the National Muse-um of Anthropology Mexico; from Bill Musk's The Unseen Face of Islam, (Eastbourne, Great Britain: MARC, 1989); and with helpful counsel from Brooks Alexander, founder of Spiritual Counterfeits Project.

27. Brooks Alexander, SCP Journal (Vol 9:3, 1990): 9.

28. Ibid., 10.

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