In Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), set in California of the 2020s and 2030s, protagonist Lauren Olamina establishes the Earthseed movement comprising communes, schools, farms and factories and eventually a space program. Racially diverse and gender-egalitarian from its beginnings, Earthseed manages to survive attacks from a Christian supremacist state and the intense effects of global warming.
Revering the universe's dynamism and malleability, Earthseed adherents seek to shape the world with kindness and find solace in the fact that all manifestations of suffering and injustice are temporary. They believe that humans' "Destiny" is to live in outer space. Earthseed beliefs are recorded in Lauren Olamina's fictional Books of the Living, many fragments of which appear in Butler's two published Earthseed novels and an unfinished third installment. Olamina, the African-American daughter of a Baptist pastor, maintained the language of "God" but used it in a more pantheistic sense than her father did. Her first Book of the Living introduces the Earthseed philosophy:
"All that you touch/
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
The movement begins among Lauren's friends and neighbors as they trek northward in Parable of the Sower. By the novel's end, the group sets up the first Earthseed Community, called Acorn, on Taylor Bankole's estate in Humboldt County, California. Acorn starts with 13 members in 2027 and has 59 members in 2032. Although Christian supremacists capture and destroy Acorn the following year, members escape and continue to spread Earthseed. The movement eventually becomes influential and owns "land, schools, farms, factories, stores, banks, several whole towns." On 20 July 2090, Earthseed sends its first shuttle into space, with passengers put in suspended animation so that they'll be alive when they reach their new home planet.
Asked "what do people have to do to be good members of an Earthseed Community?," Olamina responds: "The essentials are to learn to shape God with forethought, care, and work; to educate and benefit their community, their families, and themselves; and to contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny" of living in space. The rewards, she explains, are "A unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven for themselves and their children. A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape."
Earthseed emphasizes the virtues of kindness and diversity.
Olamina recommends a balance of "adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all."
Olamina explains that "God isn't good or evil, doesn't favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought." Told that this line of thinking isn't very comforting, she responds, "all the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together."
Services and Ritual
Anyone can sign up to preach a sermon at the weekly Gathering. Afterwards, members discuss it and often engage in polite criticism.
Earthseed members perceive prayer as a method of "talking yourself into things, of focusing your attention on whatever it is you want to do." According to Olamina, "You're the one your words reach and strengthen. You can think of it as praying to that part of God that's within you."
Before aquiring the space program, Earthseed members bury their dead and embrace the bodies' dissolution into the soil. A funeral oration notes:
"We give our dead
To the orchards
And the groves.
We give our dead
"The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars," Olamina says. In Parable of the Talents, Olamina's daughter Asha Vere criticizes the Destiny and insists that focus should remain on life here on Earth.
Decisions at Acorn are made at a weekly Gathering. Each Earthseed member gets one vote and an equal share of profits.
Visitors at Acorn may stay for a one-year probationary period and then are invited to become a voting member. As long as they participate in the communal work, they receive a share of the profits, although not as large a share as the voting members do.
Like most common people in the novels' semi-apocalyptic America, Acorn residents have little access to industrial technology. They had no computers except for the ones in two trucks that the community acquired. Residents liken their lifestyle to nineteenth-century living.
Members perform "a lot of hard physical work," although labor was communal and self-managed. Work includes farming, building, teaching, trading at street markets, and scavenging. Although the farm has some animals, Acorn residents' diet is predominantly plant-based. During foraging trips, members gather wild plants and herbs to use in meals, and they also scavenge from any abandoned gardens and fields.
Each school year, a child does at least one group project and one individual project. Adult mentors help them choose topics and access resources. Older children help out the younger children, and "kids begin to teach themselves and one another."
Everyone at Acorn learns to read and write, and most know at least two languages, usually English and Spanish.
- Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (London: Headline Publishing Group 2019), 184.
- Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2019), 4, 17-18.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 377.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 403-4.
- Butler, Parable of the Sower, 246.
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- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 147.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 74.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 380.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 405.
- Butler, Parable of the Sower, 208.
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- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 71-2.
- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 167.
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- Butler, Parable of the Talents, 20.