I recently came across Earthdance by Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Norman Gorbaty. As soon as I started to read, it sounded familiar. It begins with a dark semicircle. In the distance there is blue space and shining stars. One of the stars seems to send down a beam of blue-white light . The text reads, “Imagine you are standing tall in an empty space.” Immediately I thought, “Well, I do this on a regular basis!” The text continues, inviting the reader to imagine him or herself as the Earth. “Imagine you are growing taller than the trees, taller than the hills, head high in the sky. You are growing so large, so tall, no one can see all of you now. Imagine you are dancing in space, even larger than the moon.” Ryder’s lyrical, delicate wording is pleasing, even relaxing, to an adult reader. The illustrations are all at once beautiful and mesmerizing.
Contrary to most Pagan meditations, this book actually asks you to imagine people running around on the Earth. “You are streaked with roads and bridges, spotted with farms and factories.” This could be jarring in some ways, but there is a certain joyfulness to it. A younger child would benefit from making a connection between towns and cities to the overall planet (a great leap for some of our younger friends – but an important one to natural awareness and sense of self). A larger child may be able to empathize with the planet after putting him or herself in the Earth’s place. The book is not meant to instill guilt in children – rather it is meant to show them how connected we are. One of my favorite pages says, “You are home to ants and lizards, fish and dragonflies, roses and redwoods. You are shelter for people who may never meet but share one thing – you are their home.” The illustrations on that page depict mountains with large flowers, their green roots reaching past ants. A dragonfly heads towards the sky while a dappled green and blue lizard crawls downward, looking to a naked, purple child who seems to be dancing over a variety of architecture. Fish look up through the waves, and below all is the blanket of stars surrounding Mama Earth.
While the book does not take a religious stance, it is permeated with an undeniable animistic energy. Pagans from any path could easily use this text to instill ecological awareness and respect towards life in your children or students. I suggest reading it to children before bed or nap time so they experience the soothing beauty and cadence of the poetry. It could get them used to relaxing their bodies when hearing such language. After reading it like that a few times, move into actually showing your child how to stand or sit to actively meditate. Ask them to shut their eyes and recall the illustrations or make new ones in their heads. You could also ask them to act out what the author says. “Stretch your arms out wide and slowly spin around.”
If you are going to use this book as a meditation, one thing it lacks is a part to ground at the end. You would definitely want to teach your child how to take a deep breath. If he or she was dancing like the Earth, ask him or her to sit down and lay on Mama Earth. Tell your child to give her a hug. It’s an easy, child-friendly way to ground. After that, have a discussion about the experience, what was imagined, and how the child feels about the Earth.