The Earthseed Series: Octavia's Parables



Octavia Butler's Earthseed series (Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents) paints a grim near future. Protagonist Lauren Oya Olemina fights to survive and prevail in this hellscape America plagued by religious extremists, rampant illiteracy, intense violence, and more. Lauren has found the true form of god, that of change and seeks to share the words of Earthseed: the books of the living. Butler's work is a harrowing tale of a world, though alien to us isn’t too hard to imagine. It is the exaggerated, horrifying outcome of our current actions, almost a promise. But she also offers an answer to these horrors, a comfort in the form of Earthseed; of community and resistance. Gabe breaks down the books and their themes. Kat explains the scary motivations behind Butler's series and where we are now. What can we learn from the Earthseed series?


Sources in this Episode: Why So Many Readers Are Turning to Octavia Butler's Apocalypse Fiction Right Now Parable of the Sower study guide Illiteracy is costing America — here’s why https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/state-county-estimates.asp thinkimpact https://realtimeinequality.org/ Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2021 Update

For more on the Parables: Octavia Tried to Tell Us Octavia’s Parables

Ways to Help & Things to Learn: Kat found a website that allows you to search by area what plants are native to where you live, to make sure you’re working with your environment instead of against it: This also helps climate change. There are also places that teach about foraging and herbalism https://theherbalacademy.com/herbalism-courses/In foraging be mindful of the environments around you and your impact on them. Learn about the ways in which different plants grow, and the importance of not over foraging or damaging local ecosystems: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-to-forage-wild-foodsThe Gathering Basket Cookbooks - Rooted in the cultivation of Indigenous food sovereignty and elevating and preserving Indigenous Narratives, I-Collective is developing a Cookbook and Webinar Series to assist in strengthening the connection of our people to their food. Indigenous food sovereignty is critical because many health issues are tied to colonialism and the exploitation of resources, land, and people: https://www.icollectiveinc.org/

 

Media from this week's episode:

Parable of the Sower (1993)

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future. (First of an unfinished trilogy).

Writer: Octavia E. Butler


Parable of the Talents (2001)

Continues the story of Lauren Olamina in socially and economically depressed California in the 2030s. Convinced that her community should colonize the stars, Lauren and her followers make preparations. But the collapse of society and rise of fanatics result in Lauren's followers being enslaved, and her daughter stolen from her. Now, Lauren must fight back to save the new world order.

Writer:Octavia E. Butler

 

What We Learn from Octavia's Parables: God is Change & more by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


“In order to rise

From its own ashes

A phoenix

First

Must

Burn.”


The Earthseed series follow Lauren Oya Olemina, a young empath living in an apocalyptic world of unrest and hopelessness. In Parable of the Sower, Olemina is young and growing in this bleak landscape. She introduces her complicated world, the only one she’s ever known. This world, though alien to us isn’t too hard to imagine. It is the exaggerated, horrifying outcome of our current actions, almost a promise.


Let’s glimpse into this world. Olemina lives with her family in a walled town where outside the walls is pure danger and chaos. People fight, steal, murder, and intoxicate themselves to survive. Cars are rare because gas is impossible. Food is limited due to climate change and unsustainable farming practices. Climate change also results in rampant forest fires in California where Olemina lives. The police force is small and privatized, catering to the upperclass, are incredibly expensive and entirely unhelpful. Special drugs have corrupted the mentality of entire communities of people. One drug, parateco, dubbed the ‘genius drug’ results in children like Olemina, known as “sharers” who physically feel what others feel, having been born with this trait after their mothers abused the narcotic. Other drugs like pyro inspires an intense delight for fire and flame. Olemina describes the sensation as “better than sex” to watch a fire burn. Education is no longer free but mandatory by law. Schools have shutdown and families are now expected to educate their children or they are sent to neighborhood classes. Slavery has resurfaced with a new face, with such a pathetic workforce many are forced to become laborers who work not for money, but creds they can only use on the compounds of the company. Later, we learn about the cruel practice of collaring people into working for free. These collars are controlled by a device on a belt by the captor who can send terrible, mindbreaking pain to the wearer. Children are murdered, made into workers or sex slaves, uneducated, and lost. The bleak world has inspired fear and hopelessness, making room and inspiring the rise of religious factions that seek to make America great again. Desiring to return to an impossible time that never existed. Without acknowledging any of the real issues that brought us to this point, these radicals work to cleanse the country of the broken, damned heathens that have destroyed the greatest country in the world.


Olemina’s world is dropped into further hell when her home is attacked by pyromaniacs who deemed this vulnerable community the villain, the rich, for having anything of substance even though it is barely enough to survive. (isn’t it so that the rich sit atop their castles while we fight amongst ourselves for scraps?). Her family is taken from her and she must walk north to survive, in the hopes of finding somewhere to be safe and heard. Parable of the Sower shows Olemina as she begins to find her tribe, slowly through her journey accumulating strays and the needy. She finds love and community on the road and seeks to build a stable home.


But there is more to Olemina and Parable of the Sower than a simple too-close-to-home apocalypse because Olemina doesn’t only work to survive and build a community. Her greatest desire is to spread the word of Earthseed, to share the knowledge, hope and destiny of a religion she found within herself. Earthseed: the books of the living, are Olemina’s understanding of god, of humanity, and of hope. Having been raised by a Christian pastor, Olemina never felt Christianity was correct. Later, seeing how the twisted version of Christian America could not just corrupt but destroy the country further only solidified this notion. For Olemina, Earthseed is truth. It is the answer. Throughout her life, she begins to right down these thoughts that she knows is true. At the heart of these text is this understanding of god. God is change.


All that you touch

You Change.

All that you Change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.

God

Is Change.


As wind,

As water,

As fire,

As life,

God

Is both creative and destructive,

Demanding and yielding,

Scultpor and clay.

God is Infinite Potential:

God is Change.


Olemina forms her community around these ideologies and eventually finds a home on the land of her love, Bankole. She dubs this community Acorn, it is a seed she intends to grow. A seed that is taken for granted and misunderstood. Olemina had grown up making and eating Acorn bread, simply bread made from acorn flour. This practice learned from the ways of indigenous peoples who sought to usilize all of our environment, was unknown to others but helped make their world sustainable.


In Parable of the Talents, Olemina’s Acorn has grown into a wonderful, family-driven community of survivors. After the rise of a monstrous political and religious figure, Jarret, Acorn is assaulted and destroyed leaving Olemina without her partner, her child, or her community. She takes to the road once again and in this journey finds that Earthseed could never grow to its full potential in the one community she had had, but rather needs to be spread. Other than change, there is one other important factor to Earthseed and that is the destiny.


The Destiny of Earthseed

Is to take root among the stars.

It is to live and to thrive

On new earths.

It is to become new beings

And to consider new questions.

It is to leap into the heavens

Again and again.

It is to explore the vastness

Of heaven.

It is to explore the vastness

Of ourselves.


For Earthseed to reach the stars, Olemina will need to transform it from one small faction to something countrywide, smart and strong.

Our Incoming Apocalypse

“I have read that the Pox was caused by accidentally coinciding climactic, economic, and sociological crises,” Bankole writes. “It would be more honest to say that the Pox was caused by our own refusal to deal with obvious problems in those areas. We caused the problems: then we sat and watched as they grew into crises.”


Much of the Earthseed series is unsettlingly realistic. From the words of the corrupt and problematic president, Jarrett “We’ll make America Great again.” His existence is an eerie parallel to the Trump presidency. At one point, when Olemina is old enough to vote she explains that her and her people did not vote for Jarrett but instead for a former vice president that they didn’t really like. Rather that he was a safer bet, better to vote for a man with “nothing in his head” than for a man who could cause irreparable damage to the country. Sounds a bit too familiar for my taste. Nods to our ecological and economical disasters throughout the series also sparks distaste and fear for the future, as we are on this very path to destruction. In Octavia’s world, we’ve ignored these warnings and live with the consequences. In our world, we still have time to change our fate.

In the dark, we find light in found family, community, and care

Despite the bleak, horrifying world Olemina and her community live in, there is still hope. The hope lies much in the pages of Earthseed but also in the actions of this community. Olemina’s daughter Asha Vere (or Larkin), explains how her mother’s philosophy, the understanding of god as change, allowed her and her follows to accept the changing world they live in. The inevitable shift of power, dismantling and reassembling of society, death and birth of human life all fit perfectly into this perception of god. God is change. Change is not always good, but it is always happening. We are always affected by change and though we can expect the horrors to come with that change, we can also hold out knowing that those horrors will not last forever.


I have always believed in this balance and changing nature of the world. Olemina and her people got through some of the darkest of times including imprisonment and abuse, intense traumas that suffered alone could be detrimental to any emotional growth (we cans ee this outcome through her brother Marcus). But because they had Earthseed and each other, they are able to rely on one another even after surviving the hell of Camp Christian. In Parable of the Talents, the second book of the series, Acorn is labeled a heretical cult of heathens and witches. They are collared, forced to work, stripped of their loved ones, and assaulted. Olemina’s daughter and all the other children are stolen away, moved to “good, Christian homes.” First, this idea came from the need to help children who were already in need but has since been corrupted into stealing children from homes deemed unfit. Despite the horrors Acorn suffers, when they eventually find freedom they are still able to hold on to their humanity, their compassion for one another, to heal and grow. It is believing and understanding the change that is God that allows them to bounce back so effectively.


Some might find the idea of a god as uncaring as change to be dismaying but I found it inspiring. It was a relief to not have this burden of expectation. In Parable of the Talents, Olemina explains another verse of Earthseed that releases us from the weight of sin and instead gives the power to shape your own potential and purpose.

We are born

Not with purpose,

But with potential.


The Double-Bladed nature of Religion


Religion is such a big theme explored in the Earthseed series. It can be a tool for hope or oppression. We see how religion reshapes the country, turning it ugle (or uglier) and vile. But we also see how Olemina succumbs to it. Her daughter often chides her in the second book, angry with her love of Earthseed. Asha refers to Earthseed as her mother’s most favorite child. It steals her mother from her. She sees her mother not as a cult leader, a corruptive force not too far from the likes of Christian America, another forceful shadow to live under. And so, Butler offers us the true face of religion, multifaceted. A changeling that takes a new shape in different hands can be used to harm or elevate people.


Even the titles strengthen the morals of the series. In the biblical Parable of the Sower, the man represents God and the seed is His message. Just as a planted seed starts to grow, the word of God starts to deepen and grow within a person.


In the biblical Parable of the Talents, the moral lesson of the Parable of the Talents is that we are to use and grow our gifts from God (blessings) for His glory.


Even though Olemina does not believe in Christianity. It is not the God she believes or understands to exist, she still respects the power it can hold. These lessons can be used, even now, to shape our world into something less bleak.

So what do we learn?

In an article on Slate titled, Why So Many Readers Are Turning to Octavia Butler's Apocalypse Fiction Right Now writer Rebecca Onion explains, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents contain many plot elements that seem to have “predicted” our current circumstances. But because Olamina’s story is also the story of a prophet—and because Butler is interested in how people might retain their humanity and direction through conditions of extreme chaos and change—the Earthseed books are instructional in a way that other apocalypse fictions are not. They are not prepper fiction, though reading them will teach you a thing or two about go bags and the importance of posting a night watch. According to people who love the books, myself included, they offer something beyond practical preparations: a blueprint for adjusting to uncertainty.


I had tried to read Parable of the Sower when I was younger and couldn’t get past the beginning. The world was so terrifying and horrific that I couldn’t continue with it. I had been interested in Lauren Oya Olemina immediately. I identified with her empathy, though mine is not as severe, I could relate to that feeling of connection, of understanding, and thought. Furthermore, like Olemina, I too was disappointed and unfulfilled by Christianity. It seemed to be missing much and inspiring nothing good. So Earthseed and the idea of god being change, not a man, not even a creature but the act of change, the guarantee of change was interesting to me. For me, it means we are full of infinite potential. That our world is too. It can be terrifying at times. After all, Chaos, Is God’s most dangerous face—. But there is hope for we can Seize Change. Use it. Adapt and grow.


The Earthseed series equips us with some practical skills as Rebecca Onion explains. I now am assembling my own go-bag and looking up indigeonous sustainability gardening. (If anyone has a good acorn bread recipe, I’d love to try it). But more importantly, Butler instills in us powerful, hopeful prose that can protect us further than a go-bag can. Because once we’ve survived an initial assault, we need to sustain ourselves and persevere. Butler teaches us lessons about empowering our communities. With lines like,

Embrace diversity.

Unite—

Or be divided,

robbed,