Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Earth Sign: Greeting Each Other in the Age of the Coronavirus

In these rapidly changing times, we need to change our behavior in many ways

My students doing the "Earth sign" or the "Gaia Sign" while floating in space. It is a gesture of greeting symbolizing respect for our mother Earth It might be a good idea to resurrect this kind of greeting in the times of the coronavirus. 

Humans have been greeting each other all over their long history. The standard hand-shaking is also very ancient, although it came back in fashion only in recent times. Mainly, it was only during the 19th century that hand-shaking replaced hat-tipping. The latter was seen as elitarian because hats were used to mark one's social status.

Some greeting gestures have an ominous ring, such as the "Roman Salute" that the Italian Fascists had adopted and diffused. Conversely, the traditional Buddhist greeting gesture has no such bad fame. It is called the Anjali Mudra, or Namaste in Hindi. It is done with the hands joined in front of one's chest and bowing forward a little, as you see done by Richard Gere. There are other kinds of gentle gestures. For instance, in Iran, I saw people greeting each other by putting their hand on their chest and bowing slightly forward. I think it is old-fashioned even in Iran, but it is a nice way to show one's respect to another person. 

Any of these gestures and many more could be good for a new style of greetings in the age of coronavirus, when it is not advisable for people to touch each other. The idea seems to be spreading: in Italy, some idiot even proposed to go back to the Fascist salute! Personally, I have been often using the namaste gesture. It is very nice and I see it is diffusing, although at first people are surprised if you greet them in that way. 

But I had been asking myself a question even before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Could we devise some new gesture, suitable for our times? What could be a recognizable gesture that would define the various movements we call "Extinction Rebellion," "Fridays for the Future" and the like?

A few weeks ago, I was with my coworker Ilaria Perissi and we were discussing this idea. Ilaria had a flash of thought. She joined her hands together in the shape of a sphere, and said, "this is the Earth sign." Here are Ilaria's hands, in a picture taken that very day!

I was blown away: I recognized something I already knew. Ilaria's idea is similar to an ancient Sumerian gesture, the one you see below.  These Sumerian statuettes go back to about 2700 BCE. Are these people praying? Or maybe they are singing? It might also be that this is a gesture of greeting.

I don't think that the Sumerian knew that the Earth is spherical, so that this gesture may not be related to showing one's respect for the Earth goddess. But, on the other hand, they might have known, why not? In any case, the Sumerian gesture provides a remarkably interesting background to the idea. After all, the Sumerian were very much involved with the Goddess Inanna, an ancestor of Gaia, the Goddess of Earth.

Here is Ilaria showing the Earth sign again. The background is consistent with her expertise in marine resource depletion, the subject of our upcoming book, The Empty Sea.

We have been experimenting with this sign. It seems to work nicely, it is very much like the namaste sign when accompanied with a slight forward bowing, but with the added meaning of an expression of respect for our Mother Earth. Who knows? It is an idea that might spread!

And if we want to be good Sumerians, this is how to greet each other:

I would also like to thank Anna Lord with whom I discussed this subject some time ago, although we didn't arrive to devise a sign!


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)