top of page

The Psyche, Economy and Ecology 

Paula Ishtar

The current global ecological catastrophe is debatably  analogous in scale and scope to previous mass extinctions. It appears as if the human species and the wider Earth community as embarked on a; “..trajectory of initiatory transformation, into a state of spiritual alienation, into an encounter with mortality on a global scale—from world wars and holocausts to the nuclear crisis and now the planetary ecological crisis” (Tarnas, 2002, p. 8).

A planetary destruction will not leave any humans immune from misery or death. What prompts us in this suicidal trajectory? What is the mental process behind decisions which are counterproductive to life and happiness?

Environmental policy and social research tend to neglect the inner, experiential dimensions of human life. Yet, the ways in which individuals seek to achieve psychological and emotional well-being in their lives are inevitably expressed in behaviour that impacts on ecological (and social) processes. (Maiteny 2000 ).

The social and physical environment is created by us, but also shapes us. Ecopsychologists view the relationship between humans and nature as deeply bonded and reciprocal. Denial of this connection is a source of suffering for the environment and the human psyche. Ecopsychology recognises an essential non-duality between humans and the natural world. Failure to act from this position creates misery for all. Winter's (1996) book, Ecological psychology: Healing the Split Between Planet and Self, talks of how the schism between people and environment needs to be resolved to prevent cataclysm.

The terrible and frightening destruction of the earth and her ecosystems by a capitalist, monotheistic dominated, patriarchal society, is but a reflection of the illusion of separateness and disconnect ‘man’ has towards the rest of the world. Hillman and Ventura’s, We've Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse, question the modern practice of psychotherapy in the face of the sustained deterioration of the natural world. The basic thesis is that personal suffering is linked to more than the individual’s psychological pain.  An integration of ecology and transpersonal psychology is useful in both understanding the problems causing environmental catastrophe and beginning to address them.

Ecological theory and many spiritual systems assume that the universe is one entity. William Blake described our experience of the universe thus; ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ Why are the doors of perception dirty? Who makes our perception so contaminated? Why do some of us recognise and attempt to address the problems in themselves and in the environment and others don’t?  ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way.’ William Blake (1757 - 1827).

The dominant economic, societal, familial and religious systems in our society are harmful to both environment and psyche alike. The outer world is a play and display of the inner world, ‘as above so below’. I often wonder how much the micro generates the macrocosm and vice-versa. Maiteny (2008) observes that; ‘There is still resistance to accepting that the causes of apparently ‘outer’ problems are rooted in our ‘inner’ selves.’ But how can we resolve psychic discord in a society that seems to use its ideological apparatus to enable it to perpetuate a vision of reality based on competition and uncontrolled consumerism? The disconnect in many humans to their environment is also reflected in the mass cruelty inflicted on factory farmed animals misogyny, homophobia, and racism and institutionalized child abuse.

We are not set in stone and neither are our social and economic systems. The brains cultural and religious programming account for much of our behaviour. Our genes also have plasticity,( a concept called epigenetics).  In The Origins of the Family,  Engle’s divided human evolution into Epochs and social structures. The original culture was called ‘Primitive Communism.’ Various relationships to the state created certain types of social grouping, sexual stratification relationship to resources and family and sexual relationships. Relationship with the state creates hierarchies and ways of relating to, or exploiting the environment. Capitalism(the ego)? Is seen as a necessary prerequisite for socialism (The collective mind)?

Conspiratory theorists have much to say on the inequality of our society. However, Wall (1985) describes capitalism not as a conspiracy but rather as a complex embedded system. ‘Under capitalism, human beings are transformed into tools of labour and become instruments of environmental destruction.’ Keller 1979 p83. Fromm argued that the process of the current economic system ‘threatened human subjectivity making us alien and passive objects ‘. In The Concept of Man ( 1961). Fromm argued for an ecological socialism. Fromm believed that the true aim of Marxism was for the ' spiritual emancipation of man which would mean liberation from the chains of economic determinism’. Which would, ‘enable him to find unity and harmony with his fellow man and nature.’ ( Fromm 1961:1).

Most people assume the current social system is an inevitable expression of human nature. All belief systems or worldviews are ultimately inside human heads though their effects are concrete and applied to the physical world. Capitalism has become ‘second nature’ and habituated. There appears to be no alternative. Yet it risks leading its believers and perpetuators towards social, ecological, and therefore economic, ruin. 

Our conscience should be a voice that directs us to ethical behaviour. Sadly it seems that those who want to be leaders of others are often motivated by self-interest or elitist ideas and make decisions from this position. Humans are frequently brutalised by societal or familial agencies and this is often worked out by sadistic behaviour to others. Unintegrated shadows project negative onto the ‘other’. (Daniels) Eco psychology embraces a planetary view of mental health. This school of thought recognizes that we need to live in balance with nature and that this is essential to human emotional and spiritual well-being. ‘ (Maiteny 2012).

Gimbutaz talks of how prehistorical people lived in peaceful harmony with the environment. She relates this to ancient peoples spiritual beliefs reflected in archeological finds of goddess images. We all exist within the womb of the great divine mother. We come from her and will return to her. Our material bodies are composed of the elements of the earth. The ancient peoples had rituals and ceremonies which honoured the planet. Today some traditional peoples sustain this, but mostly modern civilizations have no ingrained rituals to show reverence or gratitude for the planet or their own bodies. Many modern people despite having the comforts of civilization are not happy; they have forgotten to look out at the universe with poetic reverence. Goddess spirituality embraces ecology in an age-old sense and naturally links mind with matter.

Our individual happiness is connected to universal happiness, we need to nurture all our relationships and extend our "Self" identities outside the personal self and see ourselves in all the phenomena that surround us. Goddess focussed beliefs break through the templates of patriarchal myth and metaphor, which reinforce patterns of domination and suppression of both women and nature alike. The goddess is a symbol that bridges feminism, politics, spirituality and ecology. The corrupted versions of Abrahamic religions have become overriding culturally and harnessed by those interested in domination. Pagan or ancient spiritual ideas propagate interconnectivity and recognition of the one that lives in the all as well as concern about ecological issues.

Engels (1985), argues that humans haven't always lived in a society based on competition. Earlier societies, particularly hunter-gathering, were founded, (according to Engels), on primitive stateless communism. In these societies, resources were shared and human relationship based on egalitarian principles. The nuclear family is not a natural consequence of our species. The human psyche is profoundly affected by the economic system that it finds itself in.  A system based on hierarchy creates cognitive representations of a hierarchy of life forms, with humans at the top. Brown and Garver(2000), argue that that indigenous people have ‘remained within the circle of a particular wisdom about human relations and human-earth relationship.’ Hunter-gatherers did not create excess commodity and lived from day to day they usually have a very different, more integrated, intimate and respectful relationship to the environment, which includes a sense of sacredness in the surroundings.

Capitalism needs consumption to function and indoctrination is used to encourage the purchase of gadgets and fripperies which end up in landfill and don’t make people happy. Pre-industrial people often have a more keen aliveness and vibrancy than those who have affluent life’s styles. Many believe that our minds are hindered by modern living and people are depressed due to their taming. ‘‘Wild Therapy’, by Nick Totton, talks of the Wild Mind as a state of awareness which early humans experienced and is possible to find through ‘Eco therapy.’ In this mode, ‘humans will not want, or be prepared, to damage the world for our own short-term comfort and convenience’.

Engels (1884) noted, ‘The decline of the mother-right was the world-historical downfall of the female sex’. Monotheistic religions focus on God the patriarchal all-powerful Father. Goddess Spirituality aims to also include God the Mother, or the Goddess. Goddess Spirituality is open to all faiths and works alongside many belief systems and has no doctrines or rule book.

The concept of women's oppression being connected with the destruction of the environment is demonstrated by the ecofeminist stance, which calls for a more feminine morality that stresses cooperation and a nurturing concern for all life; Fredrick Karen J. Warren, links the domination of women to the historical domination of nature. Warren argues that hierarchical classification is in all forms of discrimination. Therefore anthropocentrism is merely another form of discrimination created as a result of an intrinsic flaw in our collective value systems.

Heidegger(2000), alleges that particular metaphysical assumptions are accountable for ecological destruction, and contends that transformation can be created only through a changed awareness about the world. 

W need to change our understanding of world to an understanding which sees it as a place for other life forms. Feminine spirituality, Ecofeminism and goddess worship share these concepts at the heart of their belief. Feminist political ecology endeavors to incorporate gender issues into a political and ecological analysis.

Ecofeminism brings together elements of the feminist and green movements, while at the same time offering a challenge to both. It takes from the green movement a concern about the impact of human activities on the non-human world and from feminism the view of humanity as, " gendered in ways that subordinate, exploit and oppress women." (Mellor 1997).

Ecofeminism connects elements of feminine spirituality, feminism and green politics and provides a theoretic and active critique of a global scheme that exploits multiple systems of dominance and state power that is used to enforce its destructive and divisive paradigms. In the capitalist, patriarchal world we live in, the planet is perceived as a resource to be exploited.

Deep ecology has parallels to some ecofeminist orientated thought. It holds that all aspects of nature have intrinsic value apart and outside their worth as commodities and resources. Cultivating an ecological consciousness is a process of education; learning how to be more receptive, to perceive the world holistically. It is characterised by a vision of non-exploitive technology, working co-operatively for all life's ecosystems. Developments in technology have the potential to liberate the goddess as a symbol of unity into mass human consciousness. The internet connects minds and ideas, it is a metaphor for a global mind and can be used as a tool to connect people and raise consciousness and hopefully stop environmental catastrophe.

A core theme of goddess spirituality seeks to counter the dominance of masculine values that manifest in destructive tendencies towards the environment and human relations. Bandana Shiva (2004), argues that energy is ‘Shakti’ which is the primal force that is ‘self-organising self-generative self-renewing diverse force in feminine form’.( p. 136.)

Shiva (2004), argues that; ‘A top-down model for sustainability is not workable.’ She suggests a bottom-up earth democracy bases on living communities. She stresses that recognising emergent properties requires a paradigm shift. She suggests an economy of living energies, democracies and economies. She believes that we all have the capacity to do this and we are all channel as of energetic creativity flow.

Authors such as Elizabeth Gould Davis (2002)in The First Sex and Merlin Stone in When God Was a Woman. have also advocated the concept that humanity experienced a golden age of harmonious idyllic matriarchy in the distant prehistoric past. This belief has been combined with the view that there is a conspiracy that denies it is possible for humankind to live in such societies. This conspiracy is believed to originate from male centred ideologies, spawned to eliminate the idea that there has ever been a social system other than patriarchy. Gimbutas (1989)and others argue that the ancient ancestors would not have the mindset to generate the environmental destruction. Nearly all mythologies and religions tell of a time before the fall, when people lived harmoniously with the land and nature. Gimbutas had a keen belief that recognising a goddess-worshiping past can guide the world toward a sexually egalitarian, non-violent, and earth-centred future. (Gimbutas 1989). Despite methodological critiques, Gimbutas's book, The Language of the Goddess, has provided an astonishing record of the art of early humans and an inspiring vision of what may be possible. 

The inner world of human reflects in the outer world. This is both reflected and created by religious and political systems. Transpersonal psychology with its multi-disciplinary approach can uncover what underlies the irrational consumption and self-defeating behaviours of people and how environmentalists can win people over.

If people were removed from the earth then all the problems we create for other life forms would disappear. But we must be here in mass for a reason. Overpopulation and mass consumerism is a problem, but the annihilation of a species which such high cultural development would seem like a great loss to the universe. While I do not think people are essentially kind and good. (a study of our close relatives, chimpanzees cruel behaviours,  illustrate primates potential for evil without the influence of social systems). I do believe that the religious, social and familial ideologies create emergent properties in individuals which affect the world. Peoples good and cooperative natures clearly need to be nurtured more. The removal of humans as a cure for the environmental problems of the world is an extreme conclusion/solution for the deep ecologists. A Robert Greenway and Theodore Roszak(2005) have used the framework of deep ecology as a means to promote ecopsychology perspectives and practices. These continue to be reinterpreted by a variety of disciplines. Boochkin (1996) and others have critiqued deep ecology for its hatefulness towards humanity. People are a part of nature just as much as everything else is. Shantivanam Ashram and Tamil Nadu Griffiths, suggests that the egocentric/atheist phase is a part of individual and societal evolution. 'Undifferentiated unity' is transformed to' conscious unity' via the individualism which he refers to as the 'narrow gate’.

 A considerable body of psychological research looks at the mental health benefits of immersion in the natural world. Many Western people no longer engage with the natural environment and many studies show how this disconnection causes problems for the mental and physical health of the individual. A lack of connection to nature also means it is easy to hurt and exploit her.  Most of the research into nature immersion are focused on the relaxation and restorative benefits and the ability to focus. (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). A valuable subset of this research identifies transpersonal features of nature experiences.

Humans must have value or we would not be here. Perhaps there are so many people alive on the Earth now, because Gaia wants it that way, so she has more minds to recognise and process her. A different story can be told about the Earth; Our environmental crisis can be helped through the raising of empathy and a broader identification outside humankind to include the natural world. Political and economic systems can change and so can individual mind sets. These two dimensions are entwined together. The ideas of Goddess philosophy and ecofeminism have worldviews that include humans as part of the environment. Goddess philosophy promotes nurturing and the connection to divine deities as archetypal heroic templates. Here cooperation is more important than competition, as well as the notion of holism. These ideas could be a salve for the individual psyche and the social and natural environment. We each have within us the potential to re-sacralise the earth we live on.


Mellor, Mary. Feminism & Ecology, New York Univerity Press,1997, p.1

Starhawk: The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989.

2 describes how beliefs and environments can change gene structure.

Source: The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake


Binford, Sally R: (1982)Myths and Matriarchies. In The Politics of Women’s Spirituality. ed Charlene Spretnak, Anchor Press, New York,

Davis, Elizabeth Gould: (1971) The First Sex. Penguin Books, Baltimore

Cowen, Douglas E: 2005 The Mists of Cyberhenge: Mapping the Modern Pagan internet. Routledge, New York

van Dooren, Thom: I would rather be a god/dess than a cyborg. The Pomegranate Vol 7 No 1 May 2005

Eisler, Riane: The Chalice and the Blade, Our History, Our Future. Harper Collins, 2011

Engels, Frederick: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. 1884


Gimbutas, Marija: The Language of the Goddess Goswami, Amit: The Self Aware Universe. Putnam, New York 1995

Goode, Stephen: Sophia and Feminist Theology. Insight Magazine July 25th 1994

Hutton, Ronald: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Blackwell, Oxford 1991

Jacques, Leslie: The Goddess Theory. Los Angeles Times Magazine, 11 June 1989

Mallory, J.P: In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Thames & Hudson, London, 1991

Matthews, Jay: Did Goddess Worship Mark Ancient Age of Peace? The Washington Post, Jan. 7, 1990

Rich, Adrienne: Of Women Born, Motherhood As Experience and Institution. Norton Company, 1995

Staunton, Ishtar: Living Out the Gods and Goddesses.

Staunton, Ishtar. Living out the Gods and Goddesses Last accessed 24th May 2014

Staunton, P.M. Beyond a Technology vs Nature Society. Last accessed 26th May 2014

Staunton P.M. The death of the Goddess under exploitative economic, religious and patriarchal systems and the need for her resurrection

Steinfels, Peter: Idyllic Theory of Goddess Creates Storm. New York Times, Feb 13th 1990

Stone, Merlin: When God Was a Woman. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012

Walker, Barbara G: Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper and Row 1983


The lmpor1ance of Psycho1herapy as an Eco-sys1emic Ac1ivi1y

Paul Mai1eny The Psychotherapist. 2008

Roszak, T. (1992). The voice of the earth: An exploration of ecopsychology . New York: Simon and Schuster.

Roszak, T., Gomes, M, and Kanner, A. (Eds.). (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth/healing the mind . San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Shearwater Books. pp. 42, 39. ISBN 1-55963-465-0.

Jump up ^ Kheel, Marti. (1990): Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology; reflections on identity and difference from: Diamond, Irene. Orenstein. Gloria (editors), Reweaving the World; The emergence of ecofeminism. Sierra Club Books. San Francisco. pp 128-137. ISBN Warren, Karen J. (2008). "The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism". In Pojman, Louis P.; Pojman, Paul. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 33–48. ISBN 978-0-495-09503-3. 0-87156-623-0

Talbot, J., and Kaplan, S. (1986). Perspectives on wilderness: Re-examining the values of extended wilderness experiences. Journal of Environmental Psychology , 6 , 177-188.

Winter's (1996)

bottom of page