2005-2007: The wiki years
In February 2005, motivated by a spiritual experience and a science fiction novel by Octavia Butler, Oregonian Brandon CS Sanders started putting together the founding documents of the SolSeed Movement on the now-defunct Omidyar Network wiki. He officially declared himself the movement's first member on February 16th, followed by his wife Shelley on the 28th, and his parents and sister in March and April.
Ben joined up in July 2006. Like so many people, he discovered SolSeed through the Wikipedia page for Octavia Butler's fictional Earthseed religion--but he was already thinking about using some of her ideas to invent a real-world religion called the Church of Gaia/Earthseed. Having discovered someone else with a much more developed version of the same idea (though described at the time as a nonreligious movement), he gladly took the opportunity to merge his efforts into SolSeed.
After an initial series of contributions, and helping to move the content over to the wiki of Brandon's employer, AboutUs.org, in 2007, Ben drifted away from the wiki and was replaced by new enthusiast Kevin James Daniels from Rochester, New York, who joined in January 2008.
2008: The year everything changed
Thanks partly to Kevin's infusion of energy, and partly to a Landmark course that Brandon had taken in 2007, the SolSeed Movement kicked into high gear in 2008. Brandon commissioned painter Mark Nilsson to create nine iconic paintings in June, paintings that now grace the top-left corner of the new independent SolSeed.org wiki, created in September.
More importantly, 2008 was the year we first became more than usernames on a wiki to each other. Ben first talked with Brandon on the phone in August, the same month he started his current job at Microsoft, having moved to the Seattle area from southern California. This move helped determine the venue for the first, unofficial SolSeed gathering on September 14th, 2008, in a field behind Soul Food Books in Redmond. A few dozen people showed up to sit in a circle on the grass and discuss the potential of this nascent movement, including Brandon, Ben, and Lion Kimbro, another friend of Brandon's who has kept in touch with SolSeed ever since, viewing it as an ally to his own efforts at building intentional societies.
Meanwhile, starting in July, Brandon had been working on plans for a more official gathering called Seed 2009, to be held January 9th-11th on the slopes of Mt. Hood.
2009: An explosion of possibilities
Seed 2009, our first three-day Open Space unconference, where about twenty people from across the country came together to explore a wide variety of ideas and philosophies, set the tone for the rest of 2009. Through semi-regular phone meetings, both among SolSeed members and with members of kindred groups who had attended the Open Space, we continued the work of developing our philosophy and values that began on our wiki. The SolSeed Movement also tried out an eclectic range of projects: trash pickup days on trails and beaches, a charitable project around clean drinking water, an attempt at founding a nonprofit, Ted Ernst's Peer Coaching Triads, a music video we can't legally share, and a table at the Orycon 31 science fiction convention looking for kindred spirits.
Among those generally short-lived efforts we can count at least three enduring successes. One is the work-bee calls, now held twice weekly over Skype, which have provided a steady heartbeat for the organization. Another is the occasional Open Space gatherings; 2009 remains the only year when we held three of those, including Sol 2009 and the Longest Night Festival, but we've held one every year since 2011 and are currently planning one for August 2015. Finally, Fall 2009 marked the inception of the SolSeed One-Page Plan, a goal-setting-and-tracking effort that continued through 2012.
2010-2011: Tables, books, and backyard cottages
The One-Page Plan helped us narrow our focus to a small number of key initiatives, whose progress we began to report to members and friends in our regular newsletter emails. After one more attempt at gathering new members from the ranks of sci-fi convention goers, we turned our attention to tabling at Earth Day events and space conferences. To prove that we could offer something worthwhile to the community of space company employees and space enthusiasts, Brandon and Ben started the SpaceWiki project and offered free caricatures to anyone who would sign up to help us develop it. But the Portland Earth Day events ultimately proved more fruitful, gaining us new allies like Gus Frederick, Molly Danielsson, and Mathew Lippincott, all of whom contributed greatly to the success of the Seed 2011 Open Space.
In addition to these outreach efforts, we pushed forward on four other major initiatives throughout 2010 and 2011. We self-published a children's book and worked on writing a longer one. We developed a spiritual practice including services and Solstice and Equinox celebrations. Brandon started a sole-proprietor company called SolSeed, Inc.
And we worked on plans for an eco-village to be based around Brandon and Shelley's house. This last effort, despite getting as far as hiring an architect to draw up conceptual plans for a backyard cottage where Ben could someday live, was ultimately put on the back burner for the following three years. However, Ottawa native Eric Saumur's recently expressed thoughts on a possible move to Portland have breathed new life into the concept.
2012: The year of Eric
Like Ben, Eric found SolSeed through that Earthseed article, and like Ben he immediately decided to get deeply involved, declaring his membership on February 26th, 2012. His own effort in a similar direction, Biospheric Communionism, like Ben's much more limited writings about a putative Church of Gaia/Earthseed, were soon folded into the SolSeed online scripture. We immediately adopted his ideas for how to celebrate the Solstices and Equinoxes in ways that map the history and future of the Universe onto the cycle of the seasons. He met us in person for the first time at the Sol 2012 Open Space, for which he also provided the focus, around the concept of a "Religious Method" that would establish how religions should determine and work toward their goals.
Of course, not everything was about Eric. 2012 was also the year we got involved with Hank Burroughs's West Coast Ecovillage/CELSS Planners group on Facebook, visited his rural Oregon home on Earth Day, and invited him to Portland to help us make CELSSs in jars on the Fall Equinox. Ben also attended two space conferences on his own, participating in a Cultures of the Imagination team at the Contact Conference in March and following Brandon's lead by giving a talk at the 2012 Space Elevator Conference in August. Also in August, we made a major contribution to the Kickstarter for a CD of songs about science called Terra Lumina.
2013: Songs and ceremonies
The musicians behind Terra Lumina, John Boswell (creator of the amazing Symphony of Science music videos) and Will Crowley, honored our Kickstarter contribution by writing a song called "The Seed" based on Ben's draft lyrics, completed in May 2013. Ever since we failed to get the rights to Peter Gabriel's song "Down to Earth" for my 2009 music video, Ben had dreamed of having a worthy replacement. Sadly, he hasn't yet found the time to make much progress toward matching moving pictures to John and Will's beautiful music.
What we did complete in 2013 was an extension of Eric's Universe-story calendar to encompass the opening ceremony for the weekly service calls, which had remained essentially constant since that practice began in December 2010. Starting shortly after Sol 2012, we devised eight rituals that would each be practiced for half a season, with the original ritual, "Genesis," beginning the year on the Winter Solstice with a story of the deep past, and the final ritual, "Viventibus Galaxia," with its dramatic green-fire component, ending the year with a vision of the far future.
Meanwhile, following discussion at Sol 2013 (the first SolSeed Open Space held in Canada), our outreach efforts entered an experimental phase, with a beautiful new main page and Google ads directed to it from the keywords "Carl Sagan religion." When this met with little success, Brandon decided to take a different tack, hiring John and Will again for the Gaia's Heartbeat project, to write a song based on his draft lyrics and create a video for it.
2014: Getting serious about outreach
Up until the publication of Gaia's Heartbeat, posted to YouTube in April 2014, it's fair to say that the SolSeed Movement's media presence had been virtually nonexistent. True, we've had a Facebook page since December 2011, and it's been "liked" almost 1300 times, but that's about it apart from a single dismissive mention in a Slate article (also from late 2011, reporting on the 100 Year Starship Symposium). But given the legions of passionate and dedicated believers in Gaia out there, and John Boswell's past success with getting millions of views for his Symphony of Science videos, we thought our new video stood a chance of really going viral.
Just in case that happened by accident, without a big marketing campaign, we quickly set about trying a new governance system called Holacracy that ought to scale well if our group suddenly gained a number of new members. Meanwhile, we launched a variety of other outreach efforts. Early in the year, we worked on orientation emails to send to new people who signed up for our email list. Later, we discovered and made contact with two kindred authors, Dr. Michael Mautner and Steven Wolfe. Around the Fall Equinox, we invited climate activists to the Sanders' home for Ben's SolSeed-style, science-based but upbeat take on the global climate crisis and solutions to it, followed by sign-making for a big protest march the following day. Shortly thereafter, Eric and Brandon became bloggers on the Humanistic Paganism website, we all joined the Atheopaganism Facebook group, and Eric gave a sermon about SolSeed at a UU church in Ottawa. In November, thanks to some more Kickstarter donations, we gained the right to add SolSeed-related messages to a new computer game called High Frontier. And starting in December, we worked on burnishing our Gaian credentials by creating Gaia Wiki.
Of course, outreach is of limited value if people don't see our group doing anything interesting. Eric took a stab at solving this problem by starting a new project to build automated CELSS greenhouses that could grow food, first for Earthlings in desolate regions, and ultimately for space colonists. At the Sol 2014 Open Space, we assigned roles in this project for Brandon, Ben, and Eric's son Patrick. Like our first CELSS effort in 2012, Eric's first round of experiments with growing duckweed didn't succeed in establishing a self-sustaining system, but he's prepared to try again as soon as more duckweed becomes available this spring.
And thanks to Eric's aforementioned desire to move to Portland sometime in the next few years, we've also jumped into a new planning cycle for a SolSeed eco-village and SolSeed businesses. It's been very exciting.
2015: Onward and upward!
In February 2015, Ben reminded us that our tenth anniversary was coming up. Brandon had already made plans to attend Pantheacon 2015, the largest Pagan convention on the continent, around the anniversary. This event inspired him to get to work again on his long-held dream to hold a Kindred Festival with several like-minded groups. Meanwhile, Ben fulfilled his dream of visiting Biosphere 2, the world's biggest and most famous CELSS experiment.
By the time we actually celebrated our tenth anniversary with a canoe trip and camp-out on an island in Portland's Willamette River, it was clear that 2015 would kick off the SolSeed Movement's second decade with a bang.