We seem to have established a nascent tradition here on Ecosophia.net around fifth Wednesdays, and I’m by no means distressed by that. The first month with five Wednesdays since the new blog launched, which was this last August, I decided on the spur of the moment to ask my readers to propose a topic for the fifth post of the month, and a substantial plurality of them asked for a discussion of reincarnation, which they duly got. The level of interest and the quality of the conversations that resulted were more than enough to make me decide to try it again, and so when November rolled around the same question got asked.
The competition this time was a good deal fiercer, with quite a few readers asking for an essay on democratic syndicalism and other alternatives to the asphyxiatingly narrow range of systems of political economy that most people these days are willing to think about. They’ll get that essay, too, in the fairly near future—but a significant plurality asked for a discussion of nature spirits, and so that’s going to be the theme of today’s post. More precisely, it’s going to be the theme of the next two posts, because it’s going to take all of today’s post to establish a framework within which talk about nature spirits can make any kind of sense at all.
This is necessary because the mere act of mentioning the words “nature spirits,” or any of their synonyms, calls up shrill prejudices in most people in today’s industrial societies. It’s indicative that when members of the current crop of evangelical atheists want to be just as nasty about other people’s religious beliefs as they possibly can, they refer to gods as “sky fairies.” Against belief in gods, these same atheists deploy any number of arguments, and some of them—by no means all, or even most, but some—are serious philosophical challenges. Against belief in faeries and other nature spirits, they don’t even bother. Far beyond the bounds of devout evangelical atheism, the notion that there might be disembodied (or rather, as we’ll see, differently bodied) intelligent beings in the natural world, corresponding more or less to what’s described in traditional lore concerning faeries and nature spirits, is dismissed as too absurd to consider.
I’m far from sure that dismissal is as comfortable or as deeply rooted in the collective mind as many people seem to think. As I think most of my readers know by now, I’m a Druid—that is to say, I follow one of the odder minority religions of the Western world, an eccentric movement of nature spirituality that emerged in the 18th century and borrowed the name and some of the traditions of the ancient Celtic Druids—and I’ve always been open about this, even when attending conferences about the future of industrial society and similarly pragmatic subjects. One consequence is that in such settings, I routinely get asked questions about Druidry by people who don’t generally have any exposure to it.
A sizeable percentage of those questions come from people who don’t practice any religion, feel a certain gap in their lives as a result, and are looking for something that will fill that gap without requiring them to believe in the existence of any intelligent beings in this part of the cosmos other than us. That’s usually the sticking point. I long ago lost track of the number of times such a conversation came to an abrupt end when the other person asked me whether Druids believe in gods, spirits, and the like, and I said yes. At that point a good many people back nervously away, sometimes literally. Their reactions, and the further conversations I’ve had with those few people in this category who were willing to keep talking with me at all, have convinced me that what’s behind that sudden backward movement isn’t a reaction to absurdity; it’s rooted in visceral fear.
Thinking about this not long ago, I found myself recalling a passage in one of Arthur Machen’s tales of supernatural horror, “The White People.” Two men, one of them a Christian mystic, are talking about the nature of evil:
“And what is sin?” said Cotgrave.
“I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and the pebble you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?
“Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is.”
It so happens that my reaction to this passage, the first time I read it and indeed every time thereafter, was not the one that Arthur Machen had in mind. Literal-minded child that I was, I imagined our family basset hound Jessica striking up a conversation with me, the rhododendrons in the back yard (we didn’t have roses, they were too old-fashioned) starting to sing, and the stones in the vacant lot next door suddenly showing signs of vegetative life. My reaction, no matter how vividly I imagined these scenes, was the precise opposite of the horror that Machen apparently assumed everyone would feel.
In fact, had Jessica the basset hound come trotting over on her stumpy legs to ask me for a puppy snack and a scratch behind the ears—these being her most common preoccupations at the time—I would have been delighted, and asked her whether she’d always known how to talk or whether she’d just figured out the trick. Had our rhododendrons suddenly developed musical talents and began singing, weirdly or otherwise, I would have sat down right there on the Beauty Bark to listen and applaud, and had the stones next door come to life, I would have petted one of them to see if it would purr. I’d do the same thing now, for that matter. My reaction to these things, in a word, would be wonder, not terror.
Arthur Machen might have replied to this by suggesting that I’m up to my eyeballs in sin, and in his terms, he’d be entirely correct. His concept of sin, expressed in this and other stories, can be defined quite precisely as disturbing the hierarchy of being. In his mind, and the minds of a great many others of his time and ours, rocks, roses, cats and dogs, and humans occupy rigidly defined and defended steps on a ladder that, not coincidentally, ranks human beings above every other being with a material body, and only a single step (or, for those who believe in angels, two steps) below God. The sin committed by talking cats, singing roses, and rocks that blossom—or, for that matter, purr—is the same thing Victorian intellectuals denounced when they spoke of women or the poor getting “above their station”: that is, doing something that only some more privileged group of beings was supposed to be able to do.
That attitude, rooted in social prejudice and enshrined in a certain kind of Christian theology, passed over without the least disruption into the minds of a great many people who think they’ve renounced Christianity and all its works. Most of these people haven’t actually gotten outside the Christian worldview at all; they’ve simply chucked God off the top rung so that Man can take His place. To suggest that there may be other beings of approximately human intelligence closer to us than Proxima Centauri, in turn, threatens the supposed hierarchy that assigns a privileged place to our species, and that’s why it gets such instant and violent pushback.
I’ve noted in this and my earlier blogs, for example, that there are other vertebrates that show considerable evidence of intelligence more or less equal to ours—porpoises, elephants, and African gray parrots, among others—and in every case that suggestion has been met with considerable resistance. Why? I’d like to suggest that it’s because it disturbs the supposed hierarchy of being, and threatens our self-proclaimed status as the masters of the planet.
The traditional belief in nature spirits also threatens that alleged status, and in an even more forceful way. Even among those human beings who accept the possibility that there may be other vertebrates more or less as intelligent as we are, the attitude toward these other vertebrates tends to copy the attitude that so many people in modern industrial civilization have toward people of other civilizations: oh, yes, they’re quaint and fascinating and no doubt know a few little tricks we don’t, but we own the planet. If nature spirits exist, by contrast, we don’t own the planet. We share it with beings we don’t understand, and can’t put in their place with high-powered rifles, poison bait, and the other charming implements our species uses on other species it doesn’t like. That prospect is something a great many people these days can’t handle thinking about—well, outside of horror movies, where they’re a source of vicarious thrills founded on the serene conviction that none of it can possibly be real.
The terror of finding out that we don’t own the planet is one of the things that has to be faced if we’re going to talk about nature spirits. As far as I know, every one of the traditions of thought that take nature spirits seriously also rejects the claim that human beings are the masters of the planet. Not only that, most of these traditions of thought assign human beings a relatively modest place in the overall scheme of things, usually somewhere toward the middle of that spectrum of being that extends from pond scum at one end to gods at the other. For a species with a sense of entitlement as impressively overblown as the one we’ve cultivated, that’s a real shock.
It’s not the only shock that has to be dealt with, though, if we’re going to talk about nature spirits. There’s another, and for many people it’s even more forceful. To understand it, it’s going to be necessary to talk a little about what it means to be a person rather than a thing.
In the last fifth Wednesday post, back in August, I started off by pointing out that we all know more than we can prove. Most likely, for example, you can easily pick a photo of one of your close family members out of a lineup of photos of strangers, but you won’t be able to explain how you do this, nor—unless the family member in question can be contacted to confirm it—will you be able to prove to a skeptic that the photo you’ve picked is in fact your cousin Cheryl and not some random stranger. A vast amount of the knowledge we use to get through life is equally impossible to prove, and a certain type of intellectual hack tries to get attention by choosing some such piece of knowledge and insisting that it can’t be true because it can’t be proven.
For example, there’s a small but loud movement of pseudophilosophers who insist that human beings aren’t actually conscious persons; they’re just subject to a curious illusion that makes them think that they are. It’s hard to think of a better example of a self-refuting belief—if consciousness is an illusion, then just who or what is experiencing the illusion and being fooled by it?—but the people in question get taken seriously in some circles because it’s impossible to prove that they’re wrong. We know that we’re conscious beings. In fact, if we pay attention to our inner lives, we know that more certainty than we know anything else, because the contents of consciousness can always be mistaken but the fact that we’re conscious of anything at all, even an illusion, shows that we’re conscious. Yet we can’t prove it.
It’s even more challenging to prove that consciousness exists in other people. Back in the days when I hadn’t yet broken into print, I did a variety of low-end jobs to pay the rent, and that included four and a half years as a certified nurses’ aide working evening shift in nursing homes. During those four and a half years I had quite a few opportunities to get used to the reality of death. Rather more than once, I went over the course of a single evening from providing personal care to a patient, to taking vital signs to track the dying process, to cleaning up the corpse and getting it ready for the morticians. When you do that, if you’re paying attention at all, you won’t be able to miss the difference between a body that has someone at home in it, on the one hand, and a corpse on the other. Yet you can’t prove that the difference is there.
This is exactly the situation we’re in with porpoises, elephants, African gray parrots, and the other animals that show signs of an approximately human level of intelligence. It doesn’t matter that porpoises call each other by distinctive individual names, and thus have a sense of personal identity (one of the common lines drawn between humans and animals); it doesn’t matter that bands of adolescent male elephants in areas where elephant society has been shattered by human activity have been observed gang-raping and murdering female rhinos, and thus have a culture that has to be learned from elders and can dissolve into acts of antinomian violence, rather than purely instinctual behaviors that are automatically inherited (another line routinely drawn between humans and animals); you can’t prove that there’s a person in there, and so humans go on assuming that they’re the only conscious persons in the world.
It’s very convenient for humans to do this. Persons have rights; objects do not. It’s precisely because most humans refuse to consider the possibility that porpoises, elephants, African gray parrots, and the like might be persons that we as a species continue to treat porpoises, elephants, African gray parrots, and the like with a brutality that routinely exceeds that of concentration camps—and it is, of course, profitable for some of us to do so. That by doing so, we might be losing something considerably more important than monetary profit is not something that enters many minds these days.
Now consider the possibility that the forces of nature might also be persons, and see where that takes you.
The philosopher Martin Buber pointed out most of a century ago that broadly speaking, human beings have two ways of relating to what they encounter in the world around them. He called these two ways “I-it” and “I-you.” The I-it relationship is between a subject and an object, while the I-you relationship is between a subject and another subject. Approach the same thing from one way and then from another way, and the interactions that result are utterly different.
(I’ve often thought, along these lines, that the best way to respond to the pseudophilosophers mentioned earlier—the ones who insist that human beings aren’t conscious persons—is to take them at their word and treat them as unconscious objects, as “it” rather than “you.” When one of them tries to say something, the appropriate response would be to turn to someone else and say, “How very strange! This object is making noises that sound remarkably like human speech. Of course the noises can’t mean anything, since they’re coming from an unconscious object, but it is really odd, isn’t it?” This would point up the way that the pseudophilosophers in question tacitly rely on the fact that everyone treats them as conscious persons, even when they deny the existence of conscious persons.)
Modern industrial civilization is terrified of the I-you relationship, and goes to really quite astonishing extremes in its attempts to force all relationships into the I-it mode. The flight from the I-you relationship isn’t limited to the obvious. The frantic efforts to replace human workers with machines even when the machines cost more and don’t do as good a job—a fairly common occurrence these days—are motivated, not by the shibboleths of profit and efficiency that get bandied around so freely in such situations, but by the fear of having to relate to employees as human beings. The common corporate phrase “human resources” expresses the same fear in a different key: you don’t interact with a resource, after all, you just exploit it.
The insertion of technology into human relationships is another expression of the same terror of the I-you relationship. The internet, to cite the extreme example, is among other things a very effective way of filtering human interaction out of communication. That’s why your common or garden variety internet troll can get away with treating other people as punching bags—a punching bag, let us remember, is an object, not a subject—and also why he does it. The rush he gets from spewing unprovoked nastiness at other people is the same rush that accompanies all the other dehumanizing behaviors that modern industrial society pursues so avidly; it’s the flipside of the terror just mentioned, the morbid glee at escaping for a little while into an imaginary place where there are no other persons, just things.
Pay close attention to the terror and the glee, and you can see the rot at the heart of the entire project of modernity: the shrill demand of a spoiled and tyrannical five-year-old that the entire universe and everything in it become his own private toybox, which nobody else is allowed to touch. The kind of power our culture teaches us to crave is the kind of power you can only have over dead things, objects rather than subjects. There’s another kind of power, a power that’s found in participation with the living rather than domination over the dead, and that’s the kind of power that the operative mage attains—and I’ve come to suspect that this is a core reason why magic is so heavily tabooed in our time: it challenges our cultural narratives about the nature of power, right down to the core.
What happens if we set aside these dubious obsessions, and allow the world to contain persons as well as things—including persons that don’t happen to belong to our species? What if we take a good hard look at the hierarchy of being that Arthur Machen used in his stories, and so many other people take for granted, and recognize it as a frantic attempt to force the dancing complexities of the cosmos into a framework simplistic enough for us to understand, and flattering enough to feed our overdeveloped sense of collective entitlement? What kind of world would we then inhabit?
It’s possible to answer this question quite simply. It would be the kind of world that most human beings, though most of history, have always inhabited. I’ll discuss the shape of that world, and the role of nature spirits in it, in next week’s post.
And in unrelated news, the third volume of the collected Archdruid Report essays, Natural Economics, is now in print. If you didn’t preorder, why, now’s your chance to get one. Enjoy!
If my geckos and fish started talking to me, I’d be thrilled. Afraid I had gone insane, but thrilled. I’d have to try and test the interaction to see if I was imagining things or not, by seeing if the communication matched the animal’s behavior. It would be so useful to be able to ask an off-color fish what was hurting, or explain to a lizard that I needed to move it so that I could clean its tank. I’d probably end up with lots of fish demanding food right now, even when they’d just been fed.
Some of what they had to say would not be pleasant to hear, though. I’d probably end up knowing exactly who had been caught in the wild and hauled across continents under overcrowded conditions. I somehow doubt my boss would take information gained this way seriously, which means I’d not be able to do much about what I learned. I work in a very good store, but the pet trade is a long way from perfect. Even when things are as good as they can be, being chased with a net to be taken to their new home is an obviously frightening experience for a lot of fish. Some seem completely unfussed by the whole affair, but others try really hard not to be caught.
Some people insist fish have a four second memory, based on some study or other, and use it to justify being completely callous. I can tell you fish can remember, otherwise how do they learn that certain actions mean food, and remember it from one day to the next? The barbs and angelfish in particular are waiting for me as I open the top. Some fish show long-term pair-bonding and complex parental care that I’ve seen in action. Did I mention that not every member of the opposite sex will do in some species? This also requires memory. The fact that the whole four second-memory meme lasted so long without getting laughed out of court shows how little attention most people pay to fish.
The situation seems similar for other animals. I’ve watched a cat grieve for a dead littermate, and it was heart-wrenching. He kept wandering around meowing for many days, and wanted to spend more time with his people when he couldn’t find her. I don’t think he ever entirely got over her death though he lived another four years.
Our society is horribly divorced from the natural world, and this shows in so many different ways.
As for flowering rocks… I’d want to check if they were actually Lithops and I’d somehow failed to notice.
One reason they react so is given here. Read the questionnaire “How delusional is your thinking?” The first one is “Do you feel some people are not what they seem?” To which I thought “Go read the newspaper cover to cover, then answer that one honestly.” But further down the list is “Do you believe in the power of witchcraft voudon, or the occult?” [Excuse me, sir, that’s my *religion* you’re calling crazy.” So the people who back away from us, making Signs Against Evil, is terrified that you and I are barking mad and will start shooting up the schoolhouse!
I find the notion that we human beings don’t own the planet to be huge relief! It opens up such vistas of wonder and possibility. I really don’t understand why it is so scorned.
Corydalidae, oh, granted! If the orange tomcat who lives on our street came swaggering up to our porch and started talking to me, I’d want to see if my wife heard him too; ditto on the singing roses and the purring rocks. If it turned out to be true, though, I’d be utterly delighted.
Patricia M., of course. That’s the One Drop Fallacy again: anyone who disagrees with any part of the conventional wisdom must disagree with all of it, and is therefore a raving maniac ax murderer.
Lydia, me too! A planet owned by one species of social primates is much less interesting and enchanting than a planet that’s shared among many intelligent beings, after all.
JMG, “the kind of power our culture teaches us to crave is the kind of power you can only have over dead things, objects rather than subjects”.
Isn’t that the way the US government officials have been managing the country’s foreign policy for quite some time now? By treating enemies and allies alike as objects?
Agreed here: I always wanted animals to talk to me, and singing roses sound lovely. (May steal that concept for background in a future novel, in fact.) Although I guess it depends on the song: roses singing “The Christmas Shoes” or “Candle in the Wind” probably *would* drive me mad, or at least send me to the nearest Home Depot for pruning shears.
As you say, the belief that we’re the only really conscious beings in the world is awfully convenient in terms of going on exploiting other beings for what we want. (Applied to humans, in addition to the Internet, I saw and heard of it a lot in retail. The Customer is Always Right, and God forbid the person behind the counter be human enough to make a minor mistake when overwhelmed, not smile enough, want people out of the store at closing time so she can go home and have her own life, not be able to summon the thing the customer wants from the ether, etc etc.)
Which isn’t to say that changing that belief means ceasing all exploitation, because I’m not sure that it’s possible to live without hurting other conscious beings in some manner–I continue to eat meat, after all, though I wouldn’t eat elephant, parrot, or porpoise (and I’ve stopped eating octopus)–but I think it leads to doing so more humanely and respectfully, only when necessary, and with recognition of the fact that you’re choosing to hurt whatever or whoever is on the other end. Or trying. Or at least recognizing that life is complicated.
Wow. I’m sure looking forward to next weeks post.
Fortunately, I think several parts of my youth. Most singularly a period spent in a large cage with a lioness, that wanted to play with my wellies. Have disabused me of thinking humans the only conscious, or ‘sentient’ as I.M. Banks might put it, animals on earth.
That ‘common corporate phrase “human resources”’ has always made me shudder with its clear implication that your employer would prefer to have purchased you at the Gates of No Return.
In the essay’s last paragraph:
“It would be the kind of world that most human beings, though most of history, […]” should it be “through“?
Also, it’s really hard no to be ostracized if one dares to publicly display a more “I-You” disposition towards his surroundings rather than the more benignly accepted “I-it”.
I find your philosophy very refreshing and similar to my own. I was raised in a Christian home, though not devout. My first experience with Christianity was at a southern Baptist Christian school, first through fifth grades. Needless to say, after being beaten for having my hair too long and being scared to death as a small child that my parents would spend eternity in Hell due to their smoking and drinking ways, I soon lost any interest in Christianity.
I have since battled for many years with Christians who insist it is so very important that I have a faith (meaning their faith). My attempts to explain the fact that I do have a faith, one that differs from theirs, are routinely met with blank stares. Therefore, most people of the Christian faith think I’m an atheist.
I am anything but an atheist. One cannot spend time in the mountains or the oceans and see all of the amazing creatures who exist therein and not believe there is some power greater than our own which made it all. To assume that we are the center of the universe or owners of this planet is supremely arrogant in my opinion. I treasure life and take no pleasure at all in killing one of God’s creatures to feed myself and my family. But I do it because it is necessary for survival. Before eating, I always say a brief prayer thanking God for the life of the animal which was sacrificed so that we could go on living.
When my father was in college at a military university, he registered his religion as Druid, because that was the only religion that didn’t have services on Sunday. He did it as a joke, but I have become convinced that Druidry is probably as close to my religious philosophy as any “religion” could ever be.
Thanks for this post. Very thought-provoking.
Wow, I was not one of the ones wanting a post on nature spirits and have thought about them only a little, and yet I can’t even wait to finish reading before commenting!
Reading the dialogue between the two men, the ending simply puzzled me. Say what?
The thought of us humans being all there is, even WITH a god, seems bleak and lonely, aside from the horror of this place not having older and wiser entities somewhat in charge.
I, too,have long noted the odd similarities between the modern scientific mind and Christianity, except the former is even more dead and empty.
As for the dead bodies, I can attest to that, and remember well that I once cared for a dying woman who was so ill that she barely could even moan, and yet how different she felt when we found her expired and had to turn her body, as we had also done when alive. Completely different feel, no resistance, like a sack of flour.
So we are a Totenkopf , a deaths head cult, permanently interned . I suppose thats why Aliens seem like Aliens , because they are gray , pallid and high tech with huge elongated heads , just like us . They must be feeling very alienated by how we are ignoring them.
I have a farm where i have fenced off lots of creeks and swampy wetlands , with cows running in between . I am always grateful when the little people tell me where i have left my wrench , or give me a sense of foreboding in avoiding certain people or situations . I have seen my cows all get up and walk away from a tree, only for it to topple over shortly after.
I am reminded of the Indonesian Tsunami where all the animals , birds suddenly starting streaming up into the high ground, watched by the bemused yet frightened Totenkopfs as ocean receded.
They are all around us, all the time , and have a way of conforming to our own mental- emotional state. In that sense they are like electricity, though so much more, clearly.
If treating the myriad expressions of the natural world as subjects makes me a believer in nature spirits, well then I’m pretty well lost down the fairy garden path. I have a hard time treating them as objects even when necessary to clear some minor ethical hurdle!
A lot of the young male angst about women online, particularly in the PUA and MRA scenes, appears to be anger that women aren’t things that can be manipulated into a sexual relationship. My theory is that a lot of them have grown up playing a lot of computer games, where there is always a way to succeed at the quest, and the skill set developed that way does not translate well to dealing with independent agents who have free will.
You could include iat least one intelligent mollusc, I believe, in with the Grey Parrot et al. Smile.
I have observed aberrant behaviour in young male mallard ducks in semi-domesticated albeit river environments. Their attitudes to females was lamentable, and I have to say reminded me of … another species of adolescent in a group. A very far cry from the wild duck (same species) I see on our wild river here, who have impeccable manners and social organisation.
Sin and ‘evil’? I have never seen or heard of an evil species of animal or plant. The notion seems idiotic. One of the problems I had with Tolkein and the orcs. The film makers seem to have also sensed this and inserted a kind of genetic engineering into the orc hatchery. It was a question I did not get round to asking you last week. Evil spirits? Unless they have become aberrant in some domesticated form? A bit like concentration camp dogs?
Our family were neither Church nor Chapel, but I have had to acknowledge my Christian legacy of imagery, including some of the minor devils and little grotesques. (Imps actually are not too bad), and I guess the Christians were not the first to invent much of this, Looking forward to the wild stuff!
I should self moderate my, somewhat inflammatory, run on. I see the implication most when comparing with the old term ‘personnel’. I have seen this change happen during my own career, and growingly disliked it.
Listening to NPR (Nice Polite Republicans) recently, one of their non-commercial commercials was for an evil company I won’t name. This company helps you manage your… “Human Capital”. I guess even “resources” is not dehumanizing (see what I did there?) enough anymore.
Greetings JMG. It’s interesting to note that pretty much every non-industrial culture has or had nature spirits – be they the sidhe of Ireland, Middle Eastern djinns or – where I live – pixies and spriggans. So it’s pretty ironic that the most strident techno-industrial atheists are now talking in tones of hushed reverence about the possibility of creating some form of AI ‘deity’. Perhaps, given that this electronic god would be human-made it could be considered a ‘thing’ and they could therefore happily continue with the I-it relationship without having to believe in anything more, er, challenging.
Elephants raping rhinos! Are you sure the Anti-Christ is not waiting in the wings?
I am delighted with your choice of topic/discussion, regardless how democratically the decision was reached. I do enjoy your explorations of more mundane subjects, but it is when you venture into the metaphysical that I savour the most noteworthy “trips” in consciousness.
I’ve noticed that my recognition of sentience in other creatures, and inanimate objects too I guess, has thankfully increased with age. The I/You relationships I so spontaneously enjoyed as a child got squeezed out at some point in my teens, together with my ability to empathise. So yes, I see how this world is overweight on I/It. And it was indeed terror that drove the mutation – the ego’s existential terror of disappearing. And thus a whole series of more or less elaborate strategies are developed by the psyche to provide the ego with a semblance of the control needed to maintain the sham.
I recently heard Jim Carrey describe that existential “terror” (in the documentary “Jim & Andy”) as the reaction to a conviction that “everyone is about to blow my cover, and see I’m actually worthless, a fraud”. He points out that terror isn’t confined to those in the performing arts; its as present at all levels of any company – it increases proportionally with achieved status, it would appear – as ever more of that evil “power” has to be sourced, and applied to maintain the expected semblance of a control we don’t actually feel we have. So … everything and everyone has to be objectivised in order to dull those empathic perceptions that wouldn’t permit us to behave as callously as our fears dictate through our survival strategies. Because in the I/It paradigm everything is definitely out to get us, and it is only by the supreme exercise of our superior homo sapiens wits that we can ever hope to maintain our hard-earned place on the ladder. Its exhausting s#!& being a fraud, dude.
Ok … I’m conscious … looking forward to meeting the nature spirits 😉
P.S. I see N Korea returning to the headlines just in time to maybe prove out your Dec/Feb solar eclipse astrological prediction!
Another excellent and thought provoking essay, JMG, and one that, to my surprise allows me to address a question to you I’ve been wrestling with since last week. I don’t believe in nature spirits. The point is — I’d really like to. I’d love to encounter something wholly at odds with consensus reality, or at least my reality. But I never do. It’s the same thing I encounter when I meditate, and I’ve been quite diligent at it at times. I sit there, focusing on my breath, waiting for something to happen, some flash of insight or forgotten memory, or even better, contact — an inkling of something bigger than me, bigger than this. And it never happens. I go to church regularly, for the same reason I meditate, and get the same dreary results.
I have to describe myself as a thoroughgoing materialist, not because I’m an evangelical atheist, but because, when I really search, matter and energy are all I see. I consider this an enormous shortcoming on my part. When you talk about nature spirits, I have absolutely no doubt that you sincerely experience them. It’s just that I don’t. Do you have any advice on how I might be able to break, even just a little bit, out of this world into one I know, but can’t prove, is bigger than what I see?
I guess several things come to mind, one of which is that there are likely (though unprovable) levels of consciousness. Paul Stamets has some interesting ideas regarding this where it concerns fungi. The ability of plants to react to music, as well as animals, is also a direct indication of variety in consciousness. I am wondering when this will be tried with fungi.
Having done the dolphin swim, their intelligence is self evident when you just stand in the shallow water and do nothing. They will come and try to elicit responses from you if you are still. Remain still and unmoving, and the stimuli they use will escalate. I found that very suggestive, if not outright proof, that these animals are more than slightly cognizant. It is easily apparent when you place yourself mentally into the dolphin environment, assuming life is in 3 usable dimensions for your body, that your sounds can be heard for miles and that you do not possess any grasping appendages. It is a very valid exercise…
One gaze into the eyes of a horse or a donkey, and you know there is somebody home. With other primates, close contact makes one realize there is a person in there, albeit not a human.
When my mother passed last year, near the end, she sat up in her bed, skeletal and looking mostly gone. It was as if she was in some ethereal place, but had a hold here yet. Once all four of us (her boys) were there at her bedside – we waited. One at a time we went and spoke to her, expressing our love and letting her know we were there.
A nurse came in and attempted to force her to lay back in her bed, but she was locked rigid in a sitting posture. She did not blink, pupils did not dilate and the nurse said, “She is gone already,” and then left the room. My mother continued to sit and stare at nothing. I (eldest) leaned over and said, “We are all here Mom. All of us are here now and we love you. It’s ok to let go. It’s ok Mom. We’re here.”
After I said those words, her breathing eased. Her rigidity ceased and she laid upright against the wall next to the bed. One of my brothers held her neck and laid her head back on the pillow. Her breathing slowed, and she grasped another of my brothers hands, and then she went. This process was no more than 5 minutes in duration.
I am sure others have similar stories to share, but this is my own. I learned quite a lot witnessing my mothers journey; that even within ourselves, there are differing levels of consciousness.
There are levels of consciousness, and they are easy to see if you simply acknowledge that they can be, that they are not just possibilities, but grasp that they truly exist. This is one of the paths which leads people into respect rather than dismissal, to admission that there is a lot more to our lives than what is considered by (I use this term with some disdain these days…) ‘science’.
And you are very correct in that there is a major chunk of people that will refuse to admit any of these things I speak of and which you dare to write about. Hierarchy in consciousness exists, there are levels, but which of them can exist without the others most effectively, or at all? Is one consciousness truly above the others, or merely different? Why is it, other than hubris and fear, that this admission is so difficult for people today?
Looking forward to further comments!
Nature is a great teacher and the older I get, the more I am delighted when her other species show me the depth of my ignorance!. This summer I watched a family of Crows feed in our backyard. One of their 4 “teenager” fledglings kept exploring a discarded piece of an old electric table top fan. It was one half of the the protective structure that used to keep fingers from getting wacked by the propellers.. The one half piece layed up- a concave structure – with a center disc with radiating spokes moving out to the the edge. This teen crow sat on top and methodically ran its beak through most of these spokes… from outer edge-which was wider, into the center disc- were the radii conjoine, outer edge into the center disc- for some 10 minutes! “what is it thinking?” did it feel nice? I was soo curious! was it some kind of soothing repetitive action? I could only guess at the focus and determination.
I only had to wonder 24 hours.. the next day, to my utter amazement.. I saw the teen bird grab a tough hosta seed pod.. something they would not be able to breakapart with their relatively soft beak.. It took a pod and it ran it through the fan guard radial spoke- from the outer edge towards the center, until it wedged in tightly. Then it simply bent the fixed pod until it snapped and retrieved the fat seeds inside! Pick, wedge, repeat!! To say I was Gobsmacked ( but not terrified, hah) and delighted would be putting it Lightly!!
I had an out of body experience once where I felt what it was like be a preying mantis. The insect lives in the same world that we do, but it’s perception of what is and what is so and so is very different than the human experience. In truth all experiences overlap, in this moment the plant in my living room, is likely experiencing this moment very differently than I am experiencing it. The dog on the floor likely has a unique and utterly different experience from either myself, or the house plant. My teen age daughter, plugged into her cell phone is having yet another experience; yet all of these experiences are occurring at the same time- in the same moment. Fascinating when you think about it.
Control and dominance over the world are learned socially conditioned behaviors. Right now the primitive technology channel on youtube is among the most trending viral video channel, as the host shows people how to go out in the forest, and by using only primitive tools, he instruction on how to change and conquer nature.
Brilliant! I love every word and can’t wait for the sequel. I admit to being nervous about the thought of being surrounded by invisible intelligences with unknown powers and interests. My husband believes that the entities that hang around our yard-sanctuary, though including a fairly scary one, like me and are not a threat. Still, I garden with an attitude of carefully “not making eye contact” with anything I can’t see, as if I were at a Metro stop and there were an invisible crazy guy on an invisible grate, I didn’t know where, whose attention I was trying not to attract. There are all those old stories about people getting the worse end of the interaction, after all…
My husband, btw, also worked evening and night shifts for nine years as a CNA and orderly. Because he was pretty strong at the time they would have him do compressions for futile codes on dying gomers who hadn’t had lives, as such, for years. Being forced to break people’s ribs as they were dying was the part of the job he hated by far the most.
Also, your suggestion of applying I-it relationships to anti-consciousness pseudophilosophers is a great parallel to Epictetus’ musings on how to break a Skeptic – maybe that’s where it’s derived from? 🙂
I-it, I-you, what is a reliable test of I-I when one encounters an unfamiliar differently bodied presence.
Bruno, excellent! Yes, exactly, and you’ll notice how well that’s working…
Isabel, I find Machen an unfailing source of good ideas for stories; all you have to do is take the things that made him shudder with fear, and pet them to see if they’ll purr. (They usually do.) I haven’t yet taken his frankly appalling story about the Grail, “The Great Return,” and done it straight-up Lovecraftian, but it’s tempting!
Pip61, did you let the lioness have fun with your wellies?
Armenio, yes, it’s a spelling error. As for having I-you relationships with nonhuman existences, were you under the impression that you have to talk about them to all and sundry?
Rick, most of the Druids I know started from the same sort of experiences you described, so your Dad may have been on to something…
Onething, glad to hear it. No question, the sheer horror of the rationalist-materialist vision of the world — a vast gray emptiness full of dead things — has been underrated by practitioners of horror. Not even Lovecraft, who made the attempt, could really do it justice.
Fons et Origo, good. That’s something we’ll be discussing next week: the practical advantages of an I-you relationship with nature.
Redoak, welcome to the real world!
Kfish, ding! We have a winner. One of the reasons I’ve adopted the slogan “Game is for choads” is that the entire attitude of that end of male culture is that women are, or ought to be, vending machines for sex; the thought of treating them as subjects, rather than manipulable objects, somehow never gets through the programming.
Phil H., it’s not necessary to make use of the concepts “sin” and “evil” to make sense of hostile nonphysical beings. Is Staphylococcus aureus sinful or evil when it runs riot in somebody’s bloodstream and kills them? Probably not, but it’s still a good idea to stop it. The same is true of some kinds of nonphysical entities. We’ll get to that next week.
Pip61, nothing you said was out of line by my standards, so you’re fine.
OldClark, yep. I love “Nice Polite Republicans,” btw!
Jason, yes, I’ve watched that circus sideshow. It’s anthropolatry again — what better way to glorify Man the Conqueror of Nature than to have him manufacture God?
Rita, no, just common or garden variety antinomian violence. Young male mallards do that kind of thing all the time.
Marco, interesting. Yes, that might well be part of it.
Algin, belief is overrated. I’d encourage you to stop worrying whether nature spirits exist, and simply start treating the natural world in an I-you manner, as though it’s full of many conscious beings. The attitude “Here I am, now prove to me that you exist!” doesn’t make many friends, after all.
Oilman2, thanks for sharing that story; I saw things like that tolerably often when I was working in nursing homes.
Betsy, crows are really smart. I’ve seen an article about a murder of crows (that’s the technical name for a flock!) that brings money to a woman who feeds them. They started bringing shiny things in exchange for bread — lots of crows do that — but when one smart crow brought a twenty dollar bill, and the woman used it to buy some really nice bread for them, they caught on instantly and started bringing her every loose bill they could find.
Workdove, I’d be much happier if they were showing people how to go out into nature and participate with it!
Dewey, no, I didn’t get it from Epictetus — at least not consciously. It was simply what came to mind when I read a typical rant by one of the intellectual hacks in question, and thought about how he’d react to being treated the way his claim would logically require.
It may be my imagination but it seems there is a rise of a certain type of fundamentalism over the last century or two. Namely the belief on the one hand that everything in the bible is true, or on the other hand that nothing in the bible is true. Two sides of the same coin and both objectify the world. Everything becomes a thing including humans not of the same class/race/belief system.
Many people see that the Creator’s living flame exists in all things. I think them correct. Another way of saying this is that all things have a soul. Stronger and more apparent in some beings than others. Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
As to communication, my pets and I have always communicated just fine once we came to understand each others’ body language and tone of voice. We don’t discuss the housing bubble but we do discuss our needs.
St. Thomas Aquinas raised the question of why there are so many diverse forms of life on Earth, and answered by saying it is because of the desire of goodness to share itself and so the Divine wished to reflect and share Himself in a created world. Because of the inadequacy of any one species to fulfil this role, the whole of creation participates in and represents the richness and splendour and majesty of God more than any single creature.
The response of human beings to this has been to go to war against this diversity. When we make war on creation we become the enemy of the Creator. We will never have peace between humans until we have peace with the Earth and the wider Earth community. We will never have healthy humans on a sick planet.
It is a mystery to me why all religions are not up in arms about this. How will you feed the poor when the topsoil has blown away, the ground is poisoned and the seas devoid of life?
Lovely essay this week! What came to mind as I read the first part, though related, is somewhat tangential, but I’ll share it. When I told an urban elite friend (a scion of the National Geographic founder’s family) that I was becoming a Shinto priestess, her reaction to that was palpable, visceral. Perhaps a sudden narrowing of the pupils or electromagnetic change in galvanic skin response or heart rate. I knew immediately what the problem was. Practically any religion that has survived the modern age of rationalism with large numbers has done so by employing a certain amount of coercion. A long-term resident of Japan herself, she knew that Shinto was a rather conservative nature religion with a tendency toward exclusivity, and if I was joining that, I was taking on quite a challenge. Of course, what came to mind instead was any number of cults that spring up claiming divine inspiration and preying on the socially disadvantaged. The Aum Shinrikyo cult that gassed the Tokyo subways was one. (A group arose many years ago within our own community aiming to try something similar, centered around a leftist, nature-loving, highly active, motivated but rather clueless ideologue, they stroked his ego and set out to “create a new religion” for him.)
I was thinking about this earlier today because the Fuji Confraternity, in which I participate, involves rituals in which certain members channel spirits, acting like shamans. This has led to a certain amount of attacks on them, because claiming to speak for a god can be abused by unscrupulous schemers. So I was contrasting this with Mormonism, with which I am well acquainted and have a generally positive view of. They have a similar view to Shinto’s of the cosmos and of people’s ability to connect with the divine. The biggest differences are the coerciveness of the former and its centralization of authority. The Fuji-kyo sect has two ranks: those that have not yet been accepted and those that have, with one hereditary leader for life who coordinates activities and directs to some degree. Our shamaness is ranked exactly the same as I, except when she is actively channeling gods or spirits. She has my respect because she (or Hasegawa Kakugyo, whom she was channeling) warned me that my father’s health was in dire straits, when others were assuring me he was fine. And I could go on, because I’m teaming up with a friend to write a book about the Fuji Confraternity, but I’ll stop here and save it for the book.
Given that other animals maybe persons, is it wrong to kill persons for food and other resources? Under what circumstances is it justifiable to kill a person?
Betsy, that’s amazing – crows are such wonderful creatures. So many of us in the northern hemisphere fixate on beautiful tropical animals when there are amazing creatures like crows just outside.
Thanks for this, John Michael! I’ll be eagerly awaiting part two next Wednesday!
In the meantime, a few thoughts that spring to mind here…
(1) I’m reminded of the insightful critique Trey sunna Gwen makes of us here in the “old world”: our world is too small. When we’re unable, or unwilling, to see the personhood of dolphins, elephants, mountains, or whatever other differently embodied creatures, there’s a profound failure of imagination, an inability to consider all the other modes of personhood which there might be.
(In other words, this particular theme from this week’s post is clearly one you’ve been working with for a number of years now!)
(2) Your remark about “other beings of approximately human intelligence closer to us than Proxima Centauri” really struck a chord with me somehow. There seem to be two (not entirely incompatible) things that might be at work here.
First, this is just anthropolatry again: we need these other beings to be sufficiently far away—not so much in space as in metaphoric distance from our conceptual grasp*—as to be able to imagine them however we want, where how we want is as beings just like ourselves. If we were to acknowledge their immediacy, we would be confronted by their inhumanity.
Second, sometimes we DO think of these beings on other planets as godlike, or as demonic. This, of course, is the old problem of taking spiritual realities and transposing them into the physical realm, just as the dream of heaven becomes the fantasy of life on Mars.
In the end, so much of this comes back to our world being too small: there is only the physical, there is only our particular way of bringing personhood to the physical, etc. It will be interesting to see what happens to our notions of personhood, as the tide of materialism flows back out to sea.
* This is, in fact, yet another case of concretizing, or physicalizing, realities of another order: imaginative distance becomes spatial distance. What is it about this particular tunnel-vision on the part of our society?
On another note, I have to wonder if an additional distinction isn’t called for in your account (of your opponent’s view) of sin as “disturbing the hierarchy of being.” For the purpose of the argument of the present blog post, it seems to me that most of the work is being done by the use of the singular: the notion that there can be only one chain of being, in which everything which exists is in some way commensurable with everything else, and can therefore ranked cleanly and clearly from top to bottom. But the problem here is not with hierarchy as such; rather, the problem is in the myopic focus on a single organizing/evaluative principle.
Yet avoiding that myopia is compatible with hierarchy, or more precisely, with hierarchies, provided simply that these are not totalizing hierarchies, and that we have a genuinely diverse assortment of them. I think that much of the contemporary aversion/allergy to hierarchy is better understood as a misplaced reaction against the totalizing/reductive way in which some, but not all, notions of hierarchy get applied.
Finally, JMG writes: “We know that we’re conscious beings. In fact, if we pay attention to our inner lives, we know that more certainty than we know anything else, because the contents of consciousness can always be mistaken but the fact that we’re conscious of anything at all, even an illusion, shows that we’re conscious. Yet we can’t prove it.”
Isn’t this precisely the point of Descartes’ Second Meditation?
My wife was, before retiring, assistant editor of a journal of laboratory primatology. In that capacity, she and some colleagues attended a primatology conference in Bali in 1994. After the conference they spent a few days in a town called Ubud, located in the midst of acres of rice paddies. One day they were traveling down a road and stopped to watch some ducks in the ditch on one side of the road. The ducks swam through a culvert under the road and popped up, one by one on its other side; then they set out in singe file down one of the raised, dry paths that criss-crossed the rice paddies.
At one place on their route, where two such paths crossed, the hindmost duck stopped at the cross-paths, stood still there, and did not follow the others. Soon the other ducks noticed that, and the lead duck came back to the cross-paths where the hindmost duck stood. They quacked at one another in turn for quite a while, much as two humans might discuss something together at length. Eventually the lead duck returned to his position at the head of the file, reversed direction, and led the file of ducks back to the cross-paths and down the other path. This time the hindmost duck fell in at the end of the file, and off they went.
If that doesn’t show sentience, abilty to weigh long-range options, a system of “inter-duck” oral-aural communication able to convey moderately complex thoughts, and even a simple form of “duck government” — well, I don’t know what other sort of behavior could possibly do so.
What a pleasure it has been to open up this post from my feedreader today. I must admit I find it hard to understand those people whose first response to the possibility of Life being terribly Alive is dread and terror. Perhaps it was all those Faraway Tree rereads as a child.
Well, I mean, I get it. What I don’t understand is how people stay there. Isn’t that exactly the sort of s****y coat you fling off a second later because you know the fear is just your limbics and that freedom is on the other side? I do feel a bit mindblind at times to those who can’t or won’t cast it off.
I know you know this, but it’s worth mentioning that belief in nature spirits existed for centuries alongside Christianity. Lewis talks about this a bit in The Discarded Image– for a long time in the Middle Ages the question wasn’t whether faeries existed, but whether they were fallen angels, or spirits of the dead, or a third order of creation different from angels (good or bad) and men. And of course at least some angels were functionally nature spirits– those that governed the planets and stars. In that vision humans did occupy the middle ground, especially when you consider how big and extensive the angelic hierarchy was.
It’s funny to me that Christians that consider themselves “conservative” condemn the animistic model of the universe that was so prevalent in earlier times, and instead completely buy into the dead, mechanistic universe of the atheists. Most of contemporary Christianity seems to be atheism with a little Jesus sprinkled on top.
Plants and Animals do talk! In dreams they let me know what herbs I should use for this or that, and sometimes they shout at me in waking life; “hey bub, I am what you need!!” These are the remedies that work startling well, over and over again, for many people. The herbs that tend to not work are those I arrive at through deduction and with a more mechanistic world-feeling.
Also some plants definitely do sing beautiful songs one can hear if one listens with the heart. They can even tell you who they are and what they can be used for.
From Arthur Machen’s perspective I must have been very sinful since I was a wee little one since, to me, nature has always and clearly been filled with perceiving, communicative subjects. It is actually baffling to me that people can go about treating their fellow beings as objects. Then again these same people often treat themselves like an object, so it’s not that surprising, although, it is from my perspective clearly mad. Of course I would appear equally mad to them if I were to share with them my experiences of living world filled with subjects. Perhaps some perspectives can’t be reconciled except through respectful distance or silence.
“Algin, belief is overrated. I’d encourage you to stop worrying whether nature spirits exist, and simply start treating the natural world in an I-you manner, as though it’s full of many conscious beings. The attitude “Here I am, now prove to me that you exist!” doesn’t make many friends, after all. ”
Really good advice. I for one certainly don’t believe in nature spirits, any more than I ‘believe’ in JMG. Don’t have to believe – there they are – this whole property (15 acres of woods and fields and wet meadows) is infested with ’em. Especially my garden, and don’t we all have a good laugh when I tell them I don’t believe in them. Ha ha!
The idea of ‘my’ (ha!) bit of land without, for lack of a better term, Nature Spirits, is what would truly terrifiy me…
Switching from “I-It” to “I-You” in relationships has brought me a lot of benefits, both with human and non-human beings. But figuring it out took a bit of effort, because our current culture insists that “I-It” is the best and only way to relate to others, and that any other way is a loser’s way. Whether it is about a boss relating to his subordinates, or while interacting with people of working class or service class, it’s the same. Ordering around, contempt, snobbishness and derision are the preferred ways of dealing with others. If you can’t control others, they will control you and you will become a puppet in everyone’s hands (A rigid binary, I notice now).
For a while, I saw many people in the higher classes treat people this way, and tried to imitate it. For some reason I could not treat people like objects and manipulate them to fulfill my wishes. I felt inadequate, and feared that if I could not control other people,they would walk all over me (You will find that this terror,conscious or subconscious, is one of the reasons people are afraid of “I-You” relationships). And once you have been mean to somebody or exploited them, the threat that they will gain the upper hand in the future and do the same to you is always present. So you must make sure they never gain the upper hand. And so you get into a destructive spiral of even more dysfunctional, abusive relationships.
I somehow managed to figure out the tricks of “I-You”. Respect for others’ feelings and needs and listening top the list. Interestingly, this works for disembodied beings also.
In orthodox Hinduism there is a chant during the daily rituals that goes like this: “ I don’t do things; Desire does them; Desire is the reason for doing the things; I salute Desire , who has such powers over me.” The same is repeated with Mind in place of Desire . The understanding is that human mind and feelings are not just ours, but they are individual disembodied beings that reside in our body. Interacting with them and pleasing them can help us regulate ourselves.
I used this approach to great effect to improve my life. For example, I had a problem with bouts of laziness and mental block. For days together, I could not get myself to do many important things. My mind would be frantically crying, “Do it now! This is the right time!”. But another part of the mind would prevent me from doing it. It was as if something had tied my hands. Rather than trying to fight it, I acknowledged it, considered that some being in the cosmos was influencing me. So I initiated a conversation with it and acknowledged it’s presence and it’s effect on me. I think that satisfied it. It has diminished to a great extent, and visits me only occasionally. It comes, I welcome it, indulge it, use the opportunity to relax, and it goes away after a while. I still don’t understand it fully, but it works.
Aigin, I can offer a perspective that might help.
Everything you can see is matter and energy, including yourself and all the people around you. Is that all you are? If not, what’s special about you? Materialism would say that the difference lies in the structure and organisation in that energy and matter, ie, information (or patterns). When you die, that organisation degrades and dissipates. First the energy structures dissipate, and then material ones when they are no longer maintained by your life processes.
If you as a subject somehow emerge from the structure and organisation in the matter and energy that make up your body, what about the structure and organisation the wider world around you? Not just plants and animals, but cities, nations, cultures, histories, weather patterns, hydrological cycles, ecosystems etc. etc. etc.
Materialism holds that “you” emerge from the structure and organisation in your body, but that other structures and organisations are inherently meaningless and do not result in emergent subjects. To me this seems pretty difficult to defend (and probably impossible to test one way or another).
I wouldn’t say I believe in gods or fairies, but certainly don’t disbelieve in them, any more than I disbelieve that other humans are also subjects, or that other animals are also subjects with their own inner lives. I keep that in mind and it’s helping me see the world in a different way and notice things I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.
I’ve been reading your blog religiously every week since 2010. I rarely comment because I usually have little to contribute to the discussion. You are by far my favorite author and one of the few people I believe truly understands the reality of the human condition. In today’s case, I found myself perplexed by your assumptions, which I can not seem to relate to in any way.
Understand, I am a scientist. I went to Caltech. I have always had a fascination with trying to understand what is truth. If you ask me what consciousness is, I will tell you that based on everything I have ever been able to determine with an objective open mind, reduced to its simplest terms consciousness appears to be a process whereby the universal wave function is collapsed to an eigenstate. Anyone who has ever seriously pondered the double slit experiment in all its excruciating detail, is left perplexed at what it actually tells us about the nature of the universe. Exactly what constitutes an “observation” is a great, unanswered question that the universe knows, but we have yet to truly understand. It is clear though, that humans are not the only conscious things around.
Beyond this, I studied with some of the greats in Computational Neural Systems, so I am fairly well versed in how the brain operates and what the structures do. I tend to follow the view that the human brain may very well be an extremely intricate quantum amplifier. All of that said, I simply can not relate to your depiction that people view themselves in a hierarchy above other animals. I do not consider myself any more or less important than a virus. It is very possible the entire universe is nothing more than a petri dish for some multi dimensional beings in a grade school science class. None of what you said this week seems relatable to me in any way.
The important question about spirits is this: can they interact with us in the physical world? If so, then there should be some way to quantify that interaction in a systematic, repeatable way that is independent of the observer. Religions based on independent gnosis have always seemed hollow to me. It is certainly possible that some individuals possess a sense that I lack that allows them to operate in some kind of non material plane, but if I can not sense that, then of what use is it to me? I can never know it.
The question to answer isn’t whether spirits exist. I will grant you their existence is entirely plausible. The true question is whether or not they can interact with us in a meaningful, material, and most importantly, predictable fashion. If the answer to that is no, then their existence or non existence is entirely irrelevant and indistinguishable from chaos. It isn’t an issue of proof, as you can not actually prove most things, such as quantum mechanics. But the predictions of quantum mechanics are something that you can count on, even if you don’t like what it means or that it is only works in a statistical sense. Nobody has ever demonstrated a spirit that does something in a predictable manner independent of the observer. That is the fundamental requirement for me if a god or spirit is to make any difference in this world. It has absolutely nothing to do with me, or with my fear, belief or self importance.
That is the question that needs to be addressed for me to relate to it.
I respect everyone’s religion, in the same way I respect that some people like anchovies on their pizza and they don’t appeal to me. It is a personal choice. There does not appear any reason to believe it represents or does not represent reality.
The past few years I’ve been trying to connect with the woods and nature around me. I don’t know what nature spirits there may be here to communicate with… but I know that last year I was in the woods cutting firewood with a handsaw/axe and there was a Coyote watching me. It was weird I felt like I was being watched and stopped and looked around and there was the Coyote up by the giant rock.
Anyway when I cut wood down I always find it weird/contrary to how I was taught to think, asking the forrest if I can take this tree or that one. I think there’s so much more to the world… I feel if you want any form of an I/you relationship today you’re going to get funny looks. Even if you are dating today.
I can’t wait to read part II. I hope nothing more urgent happens in the world between now and then.
JMG – you said, “The kind of power our culture teaches us to crave is the kind of power you can only have over dead things, objects rather than subjects. There’s another kind of power, a power that’s found in participation with the living rather than domination over the dead…” and I think that sums up my existence beautifully. My neighbors (and brothers, for that matter) don’t quite understand my preference for my children, dogs, cats, livestock, and gardens over New Stuff. The neighbors in particular seem to be threatened by the amount of life on my acre. I wonder if this accounts for part of their animosity!
I’m really glad you picked this topic. Fascinating stuff. I am curious about your opinion of the Findhorn community in Scotland. The standard narrative is that the founders got in touch with nature spirits, asked them for help with gardening, at first the nature spirits didn’t respond, but eventually with the help of the nature spirits the Findhorn group was able to grow massive vegetables. Is this apocryphal or more or less true? If it is true, what can the rest of us learn from their experience?
As I was sitting out looking upon the forested hillside imagining the various species of plants, animals, and rocks being able to communicate with me, I quickly realized that there is some value is not hearing, or ignoring their presence: it would be an information overload. Just like Oilman mentioned with the dolphins, imagining all things with a consciousness and wanting to communicate with you is frightening not because they are also intelligent, but it’d be incredibly difficult to process all that information. I can’t help but thing the idea that it would be great is mostly because it seems like a novel idea. Not to diminish the value of being able to communicate with other consciousnesses, but I merely wanted to point out that it is also easy to understand the value in why we’ve passed on this tradition of hierarchial value of species. That said, we do need to begin to understand and hear what other species are trying to communicate with us. There is an immense value in getting other perspectives.
You are throwing around the word ‘antinomian’ enough that, given its historic meaning, I can only imagine you are casting a lure! Of course it might just mean lawless action ungraced by moral concern… but it also implicates a part of the Christian tradition which, by the Grace of God was free of such Earthly bonds.
Further thoughts… I have a friend (mentioned in last week’s comments) who routinely interacts with the unseen. He tells me there is a nature spirit in a particular corner of my pasture. I wish I knew how to interact with it, but perhaps I’ll just plunge ahead and speak to it as if it can hear me, and not fuss if I can’t hear it? Also – I have friends in the UK (husband and wife) who are very attuned to cats (particularly). He can communicate with any cat whose appearance he can visualize (usually by looking at a photo of the cat); she can locate a cat whose photo she has seen using Google earth maps. One of my cats was missing for several weeks. He spoke to her, told her I was worried, and asked her to head home. She brought up the Google earth map of my neighborhood and told me where I would find the cat. She was perfectly correct. Recently we’ve discovered that he can also communicate with my goats and rabbits, but not my dogs. The goat was a bit unnerved to be spoken to by “something like a cat,” – her name is Bast but she loathes cats. Still, he was able to reassure her I was treating her sore hoof. My children don’t know quite what to make of this, but I’m generally just delighted, and a bit envious. Yet another friend sees guardian dragons… yep, more envy there. I have a strong Christian faith, and this does not seem contradictory to me. Does not God tell Moses “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”? Not that there ARE no other gods, mind, just that Moses should not worship them. If, as I believe, an Almighty created all things, why would these other marvels not be a perfectly legitimate part of His creation?? (meanwhile, I seek to do as Jesus instructed: loving my neighbors [and that can be really REALLY hard], feeding the hungry, clothing the cold, ministering to those who are in pain or despair. I hope I’m doing well.
Esteemed and wise Archdruid, your discussion of that quite astonishing Arthur Machen dialog helps me make sense of something I’ve noticed in the tech-obsessed: the notion that if you somehow brought humans from antiquity suddenly into the present, they would promptly die of shock (see the waitbutwhy guy for several examples.) I always felt the notion to be ridiculous, that being exposed to something like a (gasp!) iPhone would be an event that would jar a person from a hunter-gatherer culture so badly they would keel over and die. My feeling is more that those antiquarian people, given that they could converse with you, would shrug and say something like “Nice… trick.” So techies with their delusions of Awesome Amazing Astonishingliness perhaps are just fearful that their gadgets are really only baubles rather than something much more fundamental. And who seeks to be deprecated when you’re convinced you have god-like powers?
Was hooting from the front porch with two owls last night; we had quite the trio going. Their voices were better than mine, but they seemed to tolerate my clumsiness! No big surprise I was the only human calling with them; everyone else in the neighborhood had more important things to do I guess… 😁
All the best!
Reading this post I was reminded of an old taoist story:
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi said, “The minnows swim about so freely, following the openings wherever they take them. Such is the happiness of fish.”
Huizi said, “You are not a fish, so whence do you know the happiness of fish?”
Zhuangzi said, “You are not I, so whence do you know I don’t know the happiness of fish?”
Huizi said, “I am not you, to be sure, so I don’t know what it is to be you. But by the same token, since you are certainly not a fish, my point about your inability to know the happiness of fish stands intact.”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to the starting point. You said, ‘Whence do you know the happiness of fish?’ Since your question was premised on your knowing that I know it, I must have known it from here, up above the Hao River.”
“Does not God tell Moses “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”? Not that there ARE no other gods, mind, just that Moses should not worship them. ”
Cornelius Agrippa, a very important Renaissance occultist, makes basically this argument in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy; he also cites numerous passages in the Bible that make reference to other gods, often describing YHVH as the “god of gods.” Funny enough, some modern Protestant translations of the Bible either change the word “gods” to “rulers” or something else, or they put it in scare quotes. “God stands in the council of the ‘gods.'” To the best of my knowledge, there were no scare quotes in the ancient Hebrew language. Agrippa also points out that the church distinguishes between “dulia” and “latria”– “dulia” is the honor due to angels and saints, while latria is the worship due to God alone. He makes the case that one can offer dulia to the gods without being in violation of the second commandment.
Of course one could dismiss Agrippa as just a crazy occultist, but Saint Augustine says basically the same thing. In the City of God he writes that at least some of the gods of the pagans are “immortal and blessed spirits, who dwell in the heavenly places among dominations, principalities, powers, whom the Platonists call gods, and some either good demons, or, like us, angels.” Augustine’s conclusion isn’t that the gods don’t exist, or that all of them are evil, but only that “sacrifice is due to the One God alone.”
Second the crow intelligence things. I think a book called “The Mind of the Raven” mentions a German researcher who learned ravens in his lab to fly over to him when he said “come” (in German, presumably). The dominant raven soon started using the command *on other ravens*, who would promptly come flying when he said “come” (ravens can mimic human speech).
For once, I think one Richard Dawkins was on to something: “I´m not particularly interested in humans. That´s just one species, and a highly aberrant one, at that”.
One fear I think has to be taken seriously is the fear that once you stop making humans special, it will be easier to kill some humans (those without power!) in favor of some animals. Let´s say sacrifice the poor, or the Natives, for the benefit of natural reservations. This used to be my major fear once. Of course, there must be some other way than, ahem, ecological super-crises for dealing with this situation!
David, the last century or so has seen the rise of every kind of fundamentalism — the frantic desire to force everything into extreme verbal formulae, all-or-nothing belief systems, all the stuff I critiqued in my post on the One Drop Fallacy. Helping at least some people pop themselves out of that set of catastrophically bad habits is one of the things I’m trying to do here.
Patricia, I’ll look forward to the book! Carmen Blacker’s elegant book The Catalpa Bow was my first introduction to the shamanic side of Japanese folk religion, and of course she talks a bit about the traditions that do trance mediumship on Fujiyama. It’ll be worth reading the update. (Will it be coming out in English translation as well? I hope so!)
Christopher, I encourage you to spend the next twenty years meditating on that question. it’s not one that has easy answers.
Barefootwisdom, bingo. This week’s essay is one way of approaching one of the core themes of my writing. As for hierarchy, good — yes, that’s why I used the singular rather than the plural. Some systems theorists back in the day used to use the term heterarchy for systems of overlapping hierarchies, where how things were ranked depended on context. It’s still a useful term.
Robert, many thanks for the story! Yes, indeed.
Sue, that’s something I’ve been brooding over quite a bit recently. How much terror and pain does it take to make someone that frightened of life, that they would prefer a dead universe? And where does the terror and pain come from? There’s the question I want to be able to answer.
Steve, exactly! Traditional Christianity — meaning Christianity before the Reformation and Counter-Reformation — included a great many of the things one finds in nature religions, a recognition of the reality of nature spirits among them. Later on, that got relabeled “occultism” and the like.
Violet, you’ll get no disagreement from this Druid!
Ramaraj, fascinating. It’s a teaching in Western occultism, too, that a great many of the thoughts we think of as “ours” are the bodies — on the mental plane — of nonphysical beings, which come into our awareness and then leave it again.
Chris Z, that is to say, you’ve adopted a set of criteria appropriate to certain strictly material phenomena and insist on applying them to every phenomenon everywhere; you have a hammer, and are treating the whole universe as a collection of nails. That’s common, but it doesn’t produce good results. Predictability is almost entirely a property of masses of relatively unorganized matter — “inanimate” matter — and the capacity to affect the material world directly is also something mostly found in material objects.
The planes, mages say, are discrete and not continuous — which is to say that most of what affects matter and energy is matter and energy, and when you move to the other modes of being, once again, most causality functions within that mode of being. Most does not mean all, but the exceptions are rarely predictable, as here again they’re not masses of relatively unorganized matter. (Falling in love is not predictable; does it exist?)
So you’re insisting that spirits must act like masses of relatively unorganized matter, which they aren’t, or you won’t consider the possibility that they exist. Fair enough — but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, just that you’re selecting an inappropriate set of criteria by which to assess their existence. In the same way, your definition of consciousness excludes every aspect of consciousness that doesn’t fit within the Procrustean bed of the rationalist-materialist worldview. If that’s what you want to do, by all means — you have the right to whatever worldview makes you comfortable — but in that case very little of what I have to say will make sense to you, because the worldview you’ve chosen was designed to exclude what I’m talking about.
Austin, Coyote is like that!
Michelle, very likely yes. A lot of people are terrified of life.
Samurai, I’ve talked at some length with David Spangler, who was deeply involved at Findhorn for many years, and to the best of my knowledge the stories are basically true. What can you learn from that experience? Well, I’d say that’s between you and your local nature spirits…
Prizm, somehow you can walk through a city and not have a conversation with every person who lives there. Nature is the same way.
Ray, it’s a very rich word, no question. 😉
Michelle, to the best of my knowledge there’s nothing contrary to Christian faith in recognizing the existence of spiritual beings, and interacting with some of them. (Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 lists the power to discern different kinds of spirits as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so clearly there are spiritual beings of different kinds, with whom Christians can interact.) I’ve known quite a few Christian Druids, and a fair number of Christian mages, for whom that sort of thing is an everyday occurrence.
The thing about materialism I could never quite accept is that it reduces everything to an It, including the I. Really, materialism only leaves room for It-It relationships.
While C.S. Lewis’s fiction often strawmans his ideological opponents, I tend to think of Prof. Frost from That Hideous Strength as a fairly good characterization of how a consistent materialist would have to think about the world, and his scenes are remarkable to me for their subtle but chilling horror. Thankfully no real materialist is so consistent about it.
Hi John Michael,
This seems as if it might be a good time to ask you about the little spirit people in my garden. I have never noticed them myself but a young, and quite powerful, witch friend came to visit a few weeks ago. We were standing in my flower garden where I do my SOP and Grove Opening and meditate when it isn’t raining. She closed her eyes and said something about the garden being full of little people who only came up to her knee. She said they were running all around the garden.
Who might these little fellow be and is there anything I should be doing to make them feel welcome? I have tried to close my eyes and see if I could feel them moving around but nothing so far. The garden has some magic plants in it such as vervain and Michaelmas daisy. This island used to be inhabited by Coastal Sailish people.
Thank you for the interesting post.
Bryan, I haven’t yet encountered that claim; thanks for the heads up. We know perfectly well how people from societies with very simple technologies respond when they encounter our technogimmicks, since it’s happened quite often over the last few centuries; by and large, they selectively make use of whatever bits of it serve their needs, and ignore the rest. A little knowledge of anthropology would keep people from making claims so stupid!
Valenzuela, good! Chuang Tsu is always welcome company here.
Tidlosa, well, poor and powerless humans already get killed pretty casually — consider, as a recent and topical example, what the Saudis are doing in Yemen right now — so I’m far from sure there’s that much to worry about.
James, there have been materialists that consistent. Lewis, in that novel, was very lightly parodying ideas that were actually being discussed in British academic circles in his time.
Maxine, they could be any number of things. As your own inner senses develop, and you start to perceive them, you can ask them yourself!
Bryan’s comment reminds me of something: I once made a rough sketch in my head of a dialogue between a scientist and a member of a just-recently-contacted tribe. The scientist tries to convert the tribesman to scientific materialism, but the native keeps either asking for proof (which the scientist generally can’t provide just at that moment) or absorbing every new bit of information into his current worldview in a way that drives the scientist up the wall.
I wish I’d followed up on that.
Reading this called up a nearly forty-year-old memory. I can still clearly see my friend Fritz in the back of that truck, calling out to me. That was the day he died.
I’d better mention that Fritz was a goat. I was ten when he was born, one of the first of our nascent flock. We had all kinds of fun together and I have no idea why my mother didn’t put a stop to that. Perhaps, since she was raised Amish, she had no idea that an I-you relationship was possible between two types of kids. Maybe she just didn’t know how the men taught the little Amlettes not to play with their food. Either way, it’s a pretty hard lesson you learn by eating a friend. (I couldn’t refuse the meat. We were dirt poor.)
So there’s a practical reason to seek to resolve the I-you/I-it binary. It’s our nature that we must kill to live, even if by proxy. If we’re unfettered through objectification, well, just look around and see what happens. Yet recognizing the individuality in the life around us can be personally crippling. I have no answer to this; it’s a new line of thought for me.
All this seems related to another issue I have. When I put in my vote for this discussion of nature spirits, I mentioned my general distrust of gods. A spirit of sufficient power might have, say, the kind of power my mother had over poor Fritz. He did have a pretty sweet life while it lasted. But that didn’t last long, because Mom had her own agenda. I guess I’d rather live wild and commune with intelligences closer to my own level of power. They may be tricksy, and they may not be able to do as much for me. But it follows that they’d be able to do less to me, and maybe I’ll be able to do more for them.
I’ll be honest, that’s horrifying. Then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised: academic circles are rather known for their abandonment of common sense and decency.
That reminds me: it’s always disturbed me that the American Humanist Association once named B.F. Skinner as Humanist of the Year. Come to think of it, his worldview was more than a little like Frost’s.
I think I could have been a very contented Catholic peasant back in the Middle Ages. As others have said above, many people had no difficulty believing in the Fair Folk and the doctrines of the Church at the same time.
I claim no supernatural experiences, though who knows what is going on around me unobserved? Others whom I trust have claimed to have seen such things (including near me while I slept), and I do not feel comfortable wholly discounting their experiences.
I want to believe, to quote the X-Files poster. I suppose I am hesitant about such things as nature spirits. My Evangelical Protestant faith of my younger years would likely call such things demons, if they existed at all.
Just last year, I was camped out in the field at Fort Lewis, in Washington. As the sun set, and the nearby woods grew darker, I remember thinking, “What if they are there, watching us?” I did not think elves or fairies were actually there, but I have a pretty active imagination. I thought of lights in the dark forest, and the sound of feasting and music. If I had seen and heard those things, I would probably have wandered off and followed them like the dwarves in Mirkwood Forest. Hopefully, these particular elves would have been kind and welcoming to strange travelers in their woods.
Time to keep my eyes and ears open.
you write, “There are levels of consciousness, and they are easy to see if you simply acknowledge that they can be, that they are not just possibilities, but grasp that they truly exist.”
First thank you for sharing your beautiful story. It reminded me of a certain experience that I had recently, which although very different, is in a similar vein to your closing questions:
“Hierarchy in consciousness exists, there are levels, but which of them can exist without the others most effectively, or at all? Is one consciousness truly above the others, or merely different? Why is it, other than hubris and fear, that this admission is so difficult for people today?”
So with out further ado, my story:
A few days ago I helped a good friend slaughter some animals, two pigs and two sheep, my payment being a lot of excellent meat. He is something of a freelance butcher and was helping a homestead operation and a farm respectively. He approached it as something of a teaching gig, explaining each part of the operation. One part, in particular, is relevant to what you wrote: after giving the fatal blow he explained that after cutting an animals throat it loses consciousness and doesn’t feel any pain. He explained this over the dying animal to the people who were paying him to butcher their animals and teach them skills. Twice the animals seemed to be listening to him as they died and violently disagreed. They began to kick him, increasingly forcefully as he tried to explain away their behavior as mere death spasms.
He did an excellent job; the animals died very quickly, he skillfully made them into meat, and he even led everyone in a gratitude/centering meditation before the killing. At the end of the day he paid me generously and I would happily accompany him again. That being said, I didn’t buy his spiel about consciousness leaving the body in a mere 3 seconds; the animals themselves so clearly not only disagreed, but even seemed to have understood what he was saying.
I had a dream I was looking at a mountain and I had a realization – the mountain is a song.
It felt very profound although I’ve never been able to articulate it much beyond that.
Materialism is not a love for objects but closer to the opposite, a lack of respect for objects. If people cared deeply for the things they have, they would not feel the empty craving for more and would not waste so much. Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is teaching you this, which is why it’s magical. There’s another book which teaches this in fiction, it’s A Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss.
I had another dream where I was a butterfly and then a helicopter, I felt very bouncy and light and then very rigid and metallic.
On the other hand, it worries me that people are so excited for computers to become animate. Although from an animistic perspective, they already are.
Intelligent life is everywhere. Bacteria are highly intelligent.
The way that some evangelistic humanists / pseudophilosopher atheists claim that consciousness in human animals is, at best, a bunch of chemical reactions and then claim that non-human animals with almost identical brain chemicals are not conscious puzzles me.
The Animist concept of panpsychism appeal greatly to me and give me a stronger connection to the rocks, grey parrots and oak trees than I get with some of my closer human cousins.
I happened to be reading Denning & Phillips’ “Psychic Defense and Well Being” the other day and was intrigued by a detail they mentioned regarding nature spirits. I was wondering about your thoughts on the matter. If this question encroaches too much on Part II’s territory, feel free to delete it and I’ll try putting it through then.
As I understood it, they were saying that “true” incubi and succubi (I.e., ones that have persistent etheric bodies) are actually nature spirits that have caught a discarded etheric body from a dead human* prior to its dissolution and are inhabiting it as a shell, using it to draw energy from humans.
If true, this seems to connect a few dots. You’ve mentioned before that vampires are something like humans trying to keep their etheric body together after losing their physical body, and that this is very difficult and rarely lasts long. A being native to the etheric plane using a discarded human etheric body as a façade seems like it would have a much easier time persisting without a physical body to support it and without the difficulties that human vampires face.
This lead me to speculate about those traditions that work with etheric familiars that they believe to be dead humans. Are they really dead humans whose etheric bodies are being held together by the necromancer’s magic, or might they be spirits native to the etheric plane that are pretending to be human, possibly to the length of using a discarded human etheric body as a shell in the cases where the being in question actually appears human? I can’t help thinking that a true etheric denizen would be a more useful servant than a human floundering about.
What are your thoughts on such etheric hermit crabs?
*Actually, they suggest the same thing could happen to a portion of the etheric body of a human who is currently alive, which brings up its own whole set of interesting questions.
@coydalidae- ‘lithops’ are cool. Thanks.
Thank you for the succinct and excellent explanation of the term (new for me) “hierarchy of being”.
As I recall, “hierarchy of being” was the precise concept I was having trouble getting past in the posts about Schopenhauer – which led to me getting into a “hammering on a point already addressed” situation. (Though in the aftermath, during which i continued to struggle with Schopenhauer on my own, I discovered Alfred North Whitehead – for which many thanks).
I am very much a fan of bringing the “you” (subject to subject) relationship into every aspect of life – even the less obvious ones, and wonder whether, if we *were* to treat resources as if they were people, we’d be differently oriented in our environmental predicament.
I look forward to the sequel to this post, very much.
Hi JMG et al
While I agree with the general themes of your essay I’d like to sketch out a disagreement with one of the components; ”
there’s a small but loud movement of pseudophilosophers who insist that human beings aren’t actually conscious persons; they’re just subject to a curious illusion that makes them think that they are”.
Firstly, the charge that people who think this are pseudophilosophers doesn’t line up with the evidence I have seen. Admittedly I am basing this from a sample of one, but I think there might be one drop in the mix. The philosopher I’m talking about is a chap called Julian Baggini who wrote a book called ‘The Ego Trick’, see http://www.microphilosophy.net/the-ego-trick/ for details. Or better yet, grab a copy and read it.
He has also written a number of other philosophy based books on thinking, reason, ethics (and food) and truth. His work, and he does work for himself and not a think tank funded by anyone or in academia, is philosophy and communicating the findings of philosophy. I can’t see any justification for labelling him a pseudophilosopher, in fact I think he’d be able to usefully contribute to many of the Ecospohia discussions on thinking clearly, debating, decision making and a number of other areas (he probably wouldn’t cope with nature spirits, but nobody is perfect).
I won’t try to summarise The Ego Trick beyond the defining yourself as a conscious self is more complex than you think (and just because you are cognitoing does not necessarily mean your sum adds up). Basically Julian is a philosopher, and a pretty good one as far as I can see, who does philosophy and has reached the conclusion that humans are subject to a curious illusion this gives rise to a conscious self.
Secondly, even if we are operating under an illusion of conscious self it does not affect your broader argument. One of Julian’s conclusions is that if we are operating under this illusion then it means humans are more like non-human entities than we think. What we consider is our point of difference to them is simply illusory, we are just another part of the natural world and not really any more special than any other part. Recognising the illusion allows us to lower humans from our self inflated pedestal to be closer with the rest of the world.
Sounds like the people who aren’t open to considering things such as nature spirits are also using a “delete button” against those who are.
Is it weird that I was itching to hear the word “control” throughout this whole post and felt that I heard it in other words such as “own” , “power” , “master” , “force” , “exploit”. We’ve developed a culture of control, a culture trying to control almost everything, by measuring it. If it can’t be measured or controlled, it’s dangerous. It’s unknown, and you know people fear the unknown. Fear it, hate it, dehumanize it, etc.
The last time you mentioned Buber, I made a personal note about pronouns. But I think this relates directly to your post about Shoggoths too. We’ve not only dehumanized other people to the point of great antagonism, but we’ve also dehumanized (is there a better word for this to make it less human-centric? Desubjectified, maybe?) the rest of the earth and all the creatures living here. We’ve made them lesser by objectifying them.
In fact, at some point when thinking about your blog, I wondered if some of our disconnect with nature stemmed from our use of, or lack of using proper nouns. How does it change a relationship to call the sun, the sun vs. Ra?
Also, if we’re thinking about how we actively affect our culture through media, how does the use of personification in stories (or even forming a story from the perspective of other creatures) change our human perspective toward the environment we inhabit?
And related to that, I know you’ve mentioned dysfunctional metaphors before, and I think this is another place to talk about it. What messages do we spread about nature? Is nature a beast to be tamed? Is nature chaos and we are the order that shapes it? Is nature a bunch of objects to be used – simply resources? Or is nature a home and we’re a temporary visitor who should have a bit more respect for our hosts (would you say that the species that has been here longest is more of a host than you, just as the person who essentially remains in a house and takes care of it for an extended period is the host?) Is nature a friend or a foe? Is nature you? And are you nature? 😉 We act on the messages we take in.
The words “the noises can’t mean anything” stood out to me. Part of me knows that when there’s a barrier in understanding, we try to take the easy way out and call it a Shoggoth, or an enemy, or an it, rather than really spending the time and the work to understand something complex or different from us. We only have so much energy and focus, and our reactionary behavior is an unfortunate consequence of that sometimes, but it’s also a result of an ingrained perspective that unknowns and complex variations of life [the many, many shades of gray or blooming color, (rather than black and white – those things we understand and can control, insert One Drop Fallacy)] are dangerous because we don’t know how to control or even approach understanding them. We want to simplify, and understanding takes work. So people justify their actions by dehumanizing the other. But how do we change that? How do we change the message to “All of life should be given a chance to be understood and respected?” Where ecology is concerned, biodiversity is so important. I suppose we develop more positive messages around that. Develop our metaphors around that. We also have to feel the connection, find ways to experience it and show others that experience. Let’s rebrand Magic, hah! Create a new egregore of the current times based on the old one so it can become more acceptable. Help others to see life, really see it, for more than its appearance.
One thing I’ve been battling with is really trying to grasp why space exploration is…greedy. And if it is, why are we pursuing it? And I thought perhaps the whole point of looking for a habitable planet that supports life is to show that Earth isn’t unique and we can adapt beyond our present habitat. It sounds like dominating the cosmos, but part of it seems like just a fear of death and an attempt to run toward life. Our species grasped a concept of time and we are running scared against the clock of planetary death. But do other species accept death so readily? Should we? Part of accepting your philosophy is, as you said from the start, realizing our place within the larger natural system and working with it, rather than running from it. How do we overcome our species’ inclination toward survival? How do we accept our fate in the midst of “what if”?
And I do think part of overcoming that is grasping an understanding of reincarnation and of the different levels of being. But dammit, people will still ask, “What if there’s a habitable planet out there, with life? What if Earth is just one part of a greater environment that I have yet to find and our species could live on, beyond the timeline of our current planet?” We don’t see Earth as all there is. We see Earth as all there is now, based on our current knowledge of the universe (that we choose to learn), and we keep reaching out instead of in.
Reflecting more on this, I realize that control to certain degrees is not always a bad thing, and sometimes a very good thing. And the important detail is the degree. Humans trying to have full control is an extreme when placed within a world of so many diverse beings. The midpoint between those extremes, where there is perhaps give and take (a compromise) between us as a part of the whole of life (nature spirits and all) is the goal.
Even during my materialist atheist years, it was always completely clear that cats are 100% people.
Over here, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we’ve just taken a rather large piece of land (called Te Urewera) out of our system of land ownership, and returned it to itself – giving it legal status as a person, a “she”, as we thought that was the most appropriate gender. No one owns it, or claims it. It’s the job of a small board of people to represent Te Urewera’s interests. It just so happens that the Maori tribe that has inhabited this land for nigh on a thousand years, believes that it descends from the mists that surround it, and still trains tohunga (Maori magicians/priests) in the area. It wouldn’t surprise me if before long we get direct voices from the land coming back through the Board when decisions need to be made.
The approach of giving land legal personage has now extended to a river system.
I would like to hope that over time this leads to some of us treating land as a “you” rather than an “it”.
This topic of the world’s “disenchantment” is interesting to consider in relation to mainstream religious traditions, especially those that at least used to embrace their polytheist elements until recently. This has been a topic that some academics have been considering in recent years too.
Just as an example from my own field, many Buddhist traditions, especially in industrialized East Asian countries (Taiwan and Japan for instance), consciously sanitized themselves of belief in nature spirits.
They frequently invoke the concept of “modernization” as absolutely necessary in order to keep up with the times and not become socially irrelevant. Often their authors reinterpret the nature of spirits and so forth as being archaic and unnecessary to core Buddhist beliefs. The result is often emphasis on philosophical texts that are palatable enough to a materialist worldview, which is in practice what they’ve mostly adopted. Younger generations meanwhile are displaying less and less interest in the religion.
This revised worldview has often been the basis from which Western authors have written about Buddhism, giving the impression that Buddhists in history were a bunch of philosophers, whereas when you look at the actual records and ritual manuals, you see eminent clerics frequently doing things like petitioning the Nagas to bring down rain! Kukai is famous for this.
This whole area of what really is and what is not and how we are to relate to it all is fascinating. I do not personally at this time believe that nature spirits exist but who knows what will happen at some other time? A lack of awareness on my part does not prove a lack of existence on their part.
Then on another topic which has also been mentioned, when people talk of Christianity I am always somewhat bemused. I am a Christian and have no idea of what they mean. I don’t think I was really raised in a Christian home as such but perhaps I was. One of the things which come to mind are the question of sin which to me is a lost opportunity to become more fully the person we have the potential to become. (Not an original idea of mine – the sin here being my laziness in not bothering to look up whose idea it was). When we talk of people and sin we usually point out the cheapness of someone’s actions, not forgetting our own.
Another is what the Bible is. I see it as a book of poetry pointing us in God’s direction.
Of course I am also concerned about our relationship with the earth and the people and creatures who inhabit it. I’ll stop here. Quite enough for one comment from me.
Hi John Michael,
Thank you very much for expanding my vocabulary. And yes, I do feel that was an appropriate and rather amusing choice of word for such base mages! I sort of feel sorry for them as they accrue such a great debt and they have no idea at all that it is accruing principal and interest. Oh well, that is their curse and their path.
I mentioned to you a few weeks back that the magpies talk to me. If there is a fox on the farm, the magpies find me and come and tell me to clear it off. And I clear the fox off the farm for them. The magpies fear for their young who take so long to train and instruct because they are a long lived bird species. In Melbourne, magpies are seen as pests as they swoop unsuspecting victims, but people don’t understand that they are competing for resources with the birds. The magpies here will happily swoop the chickens, but they know me, and we have come to an understanding. Of course when the chickens are swooped, the magpies sit in the nearest tree and give me stink eye which lets me know who the boss really is here – and then they go about their bird business.
Even the dogs talk. They often demand for me to “come here”, or “look at this”, or “I’m hungry” etc.
A few weeks ago I began reading E. F. Schumacher’s treatise on philosophy titled “A guide for the perplexed”. This is not a criticism of the book, but the author began discussing an abstract hierarchy which went along the lines of “mineral, plant, animal, and human”. I like the author, but far out, we are as much minerals as we are plants and animals. I just failed to understand the need for the division.
You know, I see rocks here, and rainwater seeps into the smallest cracks. Then a frost comes along and the crack gets larger. Eventually a shard breaks away from the larger rock, but some rock dust also breaks away. That rock dust is absorbed into plants and so on… We are as much a part of the environment as any rock. The whole may appear to be divisible, but in reality, people are being trained to ignore what is in front of their eyes.
The nature spirits have seen our foolishness all before. It is nothing new to them.
Oh my goodness! A huge storm is approaching here. Hang on to your hats! Victoria weather: Heavy rain, ‘massive flooding’ forecast as Premier warns of ‘challenging period’. It looks completely feral to me. My wife and I spent the last few hours getting ready for an epic downpour. Don’t laugh, but it may be me doing a Storm-watch blog entry before you (the locally affected version though)! Hehe! Other folks don’t seem to be as troubled about the consequences, which appears to be a rather bizarre conceit to me…
JMG, Dewey – re Consciousness (or free will) are illusion…
I’ve just finished the book “Quantum Mind and Social Science” by Alexander Wendt, a professor of political science.
He covers how current social sciences are based on a classical physics worldview, and current social science theory has various shortcomings, leading to incorrect predictions of human/group behavior. But classical physics has been superseded by quantum physics for nearly a century. He embarks on a short tutorial of quantum physics (and a good one), then confronts the various problems of social sciences and philosophy based on classical physics and shows how when one adopts a quantum physics view, that (new) theory now matches observed reality much closer.
Among the issues is the “hard problem” of consciousness – how does one get consciousness, (free) will, cognition, etc. out of dead matter? It can’t be done without special pleading, hence the sophistry of “it’s all illusion”.
But if one adopts a panpsychist interpretation of quantum physics, one rather naturally gets consciousness,
wholeness, subjectivity (“I-You”), causations, and a whole lot more in a very elegant fashion.
I highly recommend the book and its deconstruction of the deconstructionists.
JMG: note 5 on pg 110 says “… at least two of the founders of quantum theory who took consciousness seriously, Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schrödinger, were [influenced by Schopenhauer].”
And apropos JMG’s subject, since mind is everywhere (pan-psychism), I can think of no reason not to have nature spirits.
John Michael, with the subject of the I-It relationship instead of the I-you relationship, you have touched on a very important point. A great deal of the problems of modern Western society has its basis in the preference of the I-It relationship over the I-You relationship. The whole dating culture, the way, dating websites are set up and used, and the factor that people either don’t want having anything to do with each other or don’t really know how to engage with each other goes back to having learned how to handle I-It relationships, but not so much I-You relationships.
And besides, thanks to all for the high niveau of the discussion on this website!
By happenstance I took a break from reading Bulwer-Lyttons, ‘Zanoni’ (p214) to check your post and ‘kazam’ – the same theme pops up!
In fact, I just finished at the following paragraph..
“Now, in space there are millions of beings, not literally spiritual, for they have all, like the animalculæ unseen by the naked eye, certain forms of matter, though matter so delicate, air-drawn, and subtile, that it is, as it were, but a film, a gossamer, that clothes the spirit. . . . Yet, in truth, these races differ most widely . . . some of surpassing wisdom, some of horrible malignity; some hostile as fiends to men, others gentle as messengers between earth and heaven”.
Now, how about an evening soirée between yourself, Bulwer-Lytton (and perhaps Madam Blavatsky) discussing the above.
Can you arrange ? 🙂
Speaking of stones coming to life…
A few years ago I stayed temporarily in a house in the country. In the back yard, a small grassy area before the woods began, were two massive boulders about 5 feet high that seemed as if they had been dropped there at some point, and were covered in moss. One day, on my way for a walk in the woods, I paused at each stone, put my hands on them, greeted them, expressed gratitude for their being, and wished them well.
The following morning, rushing to my car to get to work, and thinking only of the day ahead, I “heard” someone call out to me, and looking up, realized it was the stones greeting me. Or maybe the spirits that lived in the stones. I don’t know.
But it does give a new meaning to the line in the bible (badly remembered) about rocks and stones that start to sing…
I do know I don’t tell this story to many people or I would be carted off to the loony bin.
Pay close attention to the terror and the glee, and you can see the rot at the heart of the entire project of modernity: the shrill demand of a spoiled and tyrannical five-year-old that the entire universe and everything in it become his own private toybox, which nobody else is allowed to touch. The kind of power our culture teaches us to crave is the kind of power you can only have over dead things, objects rather than subjects.
I often wonder why it is industrial society, or at the very least the North American manifestation of it, is so given to glomming on to absolutisms of one kind or another that have little to no grounding in practical spiritual reality. The mindset you describe here and the sheer cognitive dissonance it will certainly foster, is largely to blame, I think.
JMG wrote, “Redoak, welcome to the real world!” Thanks! Pretty sure I’ve been here all along. What has taken time and effort is discovering how sparsely populated the real world is, by people at least. I think I now see your interest in Lovecraft in a new light. The thing about nature spirits (from my experience) is that they participate in “person-hood” in only the most abstract sense. Possibly useful would be to consider them Kantian moral agents, which means at root that we ought to treat them as ends in themselves rather than instrumental to our interests. But they are not little gnomes trotting around the garden with wheelbarrows full of blueberries. In other words, they are alien in Lovecraft’s sense. And yet, I believe you and I share this sense of deep affinity for them regardless of their difference. I’m reminded of this sweet passage from the Wanderer:
“And while Zarathustra thus spake, he laughed at himself with melancholy and bitterness. What! Zarathustra, said he, wilt thou even sing consolation to the sea? Ah, thou amiable fool, Zarathustra, thou too-blindly confiding one! But thus hast thou ever been: ever hast thou approached confidently all that is terrible. Every monster wouldst thou caress. A whiff of warm breath, a little soft tuft on its paw—: and immediately wert thou ready to love and lure it. LOVE is the danger of the lonesomest one, love to anything, IF IT ONLY LIVE! Laughable, verily, is my folly and my modesty in love!— “
@Patricia Matthews: I’ve noticed that there seems to be a greater than usual number of such “oldthinkers unbellyfeel ingsoc” articles, as I call them, proliferating in the media and on the Internet of late. I wonder if it might be some sort of sign of the times?
As for the comment that if you make war on nature, nature will make war on you …. the best example of that in science fiction is Harry Harrison’s DEATHWORLD. By the time Our Hero arrives with an outsider’s viewpoint, the arms race between the planetary ecology and the settlers has almost reached holocaust proportions. Unforgettable – one of the s/f works which I came away from with a lesson engraved indelibly in my head. (Another – Heinlein’s ethics of your duty to your cat, or any other creature you care for which will never be able to grow into independence. Or why people treating pets as disposable property has always freaked me out.)
@Chris Z You said: “can they interact with us in the physical world? If so, then there should be some way to quantify that interaction in a systematic, repeatable way that is independent of the observer.”
I seriously doubt I could quantify my interactions with my husband, children, friends, co-workers & random strangers in a “systematic, repeatable way that is independent of the observer” (ie me), because:
1) I am the observer, and their interactions with me are purportedly the object of your enquiry, and
2) because our interactions cycle and meander, but are neither systematic nor repeatable
I wonder if you realise your “should be” is set up in an unfulfillable way, one which ordinary people you and I interact with daily would fail.
Our dogs, as well as our cat and my daughter’s bunny rabbit DO talk to us. It’s just nonverbal. Well, sometimes the dogs can get pretty “verbal”, especially when my wife’s boss brings their favorite playmates over… 🙂
For communing with flowers, there is one of my favorite poems, by Tennyson, about waiting in the garden in the very early morning for his beloved, who has promised to meet him there:
There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate. 60
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, “She is near, she is near;”
And the white rose weeps, “She is late;”
The larkspur listens, “I hear, I hear;” 65
And the lily whispers, “I wait.”
Come Into The Garden, Maude.
It was mentioned that nature spirits can’t be hurt by any of the devices of death industrial civilization has produced. Can the spirits harm us? Such a destructive culture must have done something to really screw with the nature spirits of the world beyond convincing its masses that there are no nature spirits.
If natural spirits can harm us… what’s their breaking point. Could they decide to squish humanity like a bug if they chose.
Mary Midgley’s book ‘Are you an illusion?’ is a great attack on the eliminative materialism under discussion here (the idea that we are not conscious) – she takes apart the Crick book ‘You are an illusion’ with the line “It’s notable that the title of Crick’s book isn’t ‘I am an Illusion’.
MM’s argument is that the current pseudophilosophers who push the “you are not conscious” line are symptomatic of the final collapse of Cartesian Dualism (an attempt to combine Christian ideas of the soul together with natural philosophy). As parts of that dualist project another faded away one by one, the moderns are left in a cul de sac in which their philosophy of mind collapses into absurdities of the kind pushed by Crick and Daniel Dennett (we are not conscious, mind is just an epiphenomenon, etc).
The Catholic philosopher Ed Feser described them as “Trying to sweep all their metaphysical problems under the rug of the mind, and then pretend that the mind doesn’t exist”.
As an animist this discussion comes quite easily to me. The universe is alive. Once you know that in the core of your being life becomes magical.
Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it.
My wife has been an emergency room nurse for many years now and she relates similar stories like your nursing home one. She doesn’t talk about the experience of death often, but there have been a few instances where she was compelled to refute someone carelessly dismissing the notion of a life-force. She used your exact words about paying attention- if you are paying attention, you can feel the presence of something that is there one moment and gone the next. It is a physical reality that can be experienced but not proven- it is a feeling.
I’m sure certain people are born with greater sensitivities to feel these things and the culture either develops the ability or hinders it. What makes my wife a great nurse is that she doesn’t treat people as things and you can plainly see that when she is doing her job- providing care.
I found it interesting that she relates another kind of force that is present when violence is about to occur. Again, this is her trying to relate experiences in the hospital setting that most people don’t have direct experience with or give much thought. It’s picking up on some form of energy present Before the trouble starts.
On the flip-side, there are the positive energy forces that are love and creativity- imagination. All good stuff and wonderful. Its a shame that the dominant culture really Dulls ALL.
Thanks for another great read- looking forward to next week.
When I was a boy I had an experience, a sighting, of one of the “little people”. It was August, 1977 and I was 9 years old. I had accompanied my mother on one of her trips to the Findhorn community in Scotland and we were staying at the old Cluny HIll hotel in Forres where the organization housed its attendees.
While my mom was at various meetings and meditation retreats I spent the days with a kids group; day care for lack of a better term. One day we spent in the forest behind the hotel with a teacher who spoke at length of nature spirits and “little people”. As we climbed up a path that curved to the right there was a section of erosion with various tree roots dangling out, and, about 30 feet in front of me, I distinctly saw a small human-like figure 18-24 inches tall, silhouetted and hanging by one hand off one of the roots. He had the pointy hat, boots and jacket as described in the gnome book (I’ve never actually owned or looked at it) that was published that year. As any 9 year old would do, I dashed forward to the spot but found no sign of anyone. Of course I told the teacher what I’d seen and he only smiled, somewhat indulgently (maybe even condescendingly). But I was still dazed with wonder to feel insulted.
What happened? Oh, perhaps it was an imaginative boy with a head full of tales or maybe someone chose to reveal himself to me. Like many contributors here I have had special encounters with animals domestic and wild. But I do like to think I made contact with one of the unique denizens of our world.
Regarding the I/YOU dichotomy, I’m reminded of Kant’s definition of sin as “treating another person as a thing”.
Note also that the definition of “sin” widens as you allow personhood to be applied to more creatures / entities, and narrows when you do the opposite. Widening the definition of personhood is, as mentioned by JMG, quite inconvenient for industrialism.
Also relevant to this post, Mary Midgley takes a few swings at Scientism in:
On page 112 she writes about Kant and the person/thing problem:
In another book, ‘Utopias, Dolphins & Computers’, Midgley takes a few swings at Enlightenment notions of ‘rights’ (and how they were applied solely to aristocratic men, dependent for their liberty on the unpaid labour of women, servants, proles, serfs and slaves). That the liberal project since has mostly been about extending this status to a wider circle of people, but not questioning the parasitic nature of this supposedly ‘free’ individual. Page 76:
“Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”
― Theodor W. Adorno
In order to be able to perceive the world as “Thou,” people need to be able to break free of the illusion of separateness which our ordinary senses bring to us. There is a different way of perceiving the world, of course, using different types of senses. A way of wholeness, in which one is a part of a much larger whole, connected to the entire cosmos and the full spectrum of created beings. But that way starts with love, and in particular self-love, and I think that’s where our current culture has gone astray and lost something very important. For without self-love, our pathway to these other types of senses is forever blocked and we become incapable of perceiving anything beyond our own limited, separate selves. The link to the rest of creation is closed off to us. The rest of the world stands apart from us as an ‘it’ or other to which we have no relationship.
How we came to lose this self-love is a bit of a mystery to me, but I believe it may be related to our current culture’s war against the Feminine. Is it possible that long ago, when the power of reproduction was not fully understood and was seen as a special power belonging only to women, that men somehow felt that they were somehow lacking? That they were not as powerful as the women that were able to recreate life seemingly at will? Feeling inferior and ashamed of their own selves, could men have lost their self-love and thus the feeling of connection to the rest of the universe? I know that’s the theory behind the Goddess Movement in one of the later waves of feminism, although I think they only got part of the story right. I think it needs to be explored as a possibility as it could explain much of what goes on in our culture today.
Consumed by sorrow and feelings of isolation, did men then look around for someone to blame? Women seemed to have it all – this mysterious ability to create life, love for their children and a connection to some other divine power. Did they become a convenient target for men’s anger and desire to seize that power for themselves? In today’s culture the war against all things feminine is truly vicious. We have socially constructed two binary images of what men and women are supposed to be like, and they are completely opposite and mutually exclusive. Masculinity is allowed while femininity is simply not. Young boys are taught at a very young age to deny any part of themselves which might be seen as feminine. How many boys have been taught not to cry as they need to ‘be a man?’ Real men aren’t allowed to show their emotions – in fact they are taught to lock them down and hide them. They are taught that the way men interact with their world is by dominating and controlling. Empathy is viewed as feminine and thus not permitted. Our culturally-celebrated images of men are of the hyper-masculine – the strong, aggressive, dominating individual. And sadly, women are not immune to all of this either. Women are barely allowed to be women these days – not even allowed to stay home and nurture their children. ‘Successful’ women as portrayed in our culture are the ones that most resemble our constructed idea of a man – physically strong, dominating, in control, unemotional.
But of course, real men (and women) do have feelings. And what happens to feelings that get denied? They get pushed down and away. People come to hate an entire part of themselves for being weak. They are ashamed of their own selves and come to see their own self as an ‘it.’ This causes an immense amount of psychological terror and pain. The shadow gets projected onto others, and they grow angry and hate that thing in others that they are afraid of in themselves. Less masculine men and women are often the unfortunate targets of all of this projected hate, as we see in the sexual violence and abuse rampant in our culture, in the bullying of the so-called sensitive or less manly men. Lacking in self-love, men can only see the world as an ‘it,’ and thus everything is thus a mere object to be used and exploited for their own selfish gain, then thrown away. We have even come to reject our own Earth Mother, the feminine body which supports and nurtures us all. Our response to this freely-given love from the Earth seems to be the space program, where we desperately do everything in our power to escape the earth and leave her behind, cold and alone. We would trade this beautiful, life-giving earth for a dead existence in space, on some other planet barely capable of supporting life.
The way back from all of this can only be through self-love, through the acceptance of all of those parts of ourselves that we have tried to deny. Not to swing wildly in the opposite direction and reject the masculine entirely, which is where I think the Goddess movement went astray. For to be truly human involves a unification of those masculine and feminine aspects each person carries within themselves, which are meant to be united. This is the road back to higher ways of perceiving the world, of seeing the unity inherent in all things, the divinity in ourselves which is a reflection of divinity at all levels of creation, where the world is once again a most holy, whole, Thou. For it is only possible to see another person as holy if one feels that way about their own self.
I hope you won’t get me wrong here. I’m not thinking these things because I somehow hate men, or feel victimized by all of this. In fact, I love men – my male friends and family members, my husband, and in particular my little son, whom I very much want to protect from a culture which seeks to teach him to deny and hate his own little holy self.
Dear John Michael Greer,
Thanks for another fascinating and beautifully articulated argument.
P.S. Ah but some animals do “speak” to us. I imagine I am not telling you and many of your readers anything you do not already know, but for those for whom this is news (and from many of the comments so far I would guess that it is), I can recommend starting with the excellent series of video interviews by Jeffrey Mishlove with Miranda Alcott for “New Thinking Allowed.” A four minute excerpt is here
The best retort to the psuedophilosophers is “The meat-presence is making word-sounds again” (homage to China Mieville’s sci-fi novel Embassytown, where a race of aliens can’t see anyone who doesn’t speak their language as a person).
‘Sin as disrupting the hierarchy of being’ perfectly describes Reflections on the Revolution in France. As a socialist I took smug pride that the revolutionary masses of Paris broke Edmund Burke’s mind and drove him to the most eloquent shrieking meltdown in history. His claim that the revolution was fought for abstract ideals only makes sense once you realise that to someone like Burke, the working class, women and slaves are an abstraction; they don’t really exist. So the whole book is him recoiling in horror that such people would consider themselves above cattle, never mind run a society. He is part of a long and ignoble tradition of those who consider themselves radicals and friends of the people, until the people take power, then they run a mile. Sidney and Beatrice Webb of the Fabian Socialists were also appalled by the Russian Revolution but became very enthusiastic once Stalin took over. If Edmund Burke was alive today and posting on this site he’d probably be like “Stop talking about Peak Oil and obey your superiors. Peasant.” (this could be the start of an amusing game – what would famous philosophers sound like on Twitter?)
JMG & community –
When I was 12-13, my friends and I would occasionally play a game we called “Conversations With Horace”. The game was actually invented by the older brother of a friend of my mine who, I think, amused himself by watching us play it. Anyway, Horace was actually a neighbor’s bulldog who often wandered into my yard. Even for a bulldog, Horace was, let us say, striking looking. He had a face that could stop a sun dial; it had more folds in it than an all-night poker game. Still, Horace was of a genial, somewhat placid disposition, and he would consent to you sitting on the grass and staring into his drooling visage from a distance of about a foot. My friends and I would then pretend that Horace was a visiting alien ambassador from another star system and that we were having a regular one-on-one conversation with him, human to alien. “Well, Horace”, someone would start out, “so what’s your take on Ford pardoning Nixon? Good move or what?” We then imagined a cogent reply from Horace, and so the “conversation” would continue. But never for long because most of us recoiled after a time. Even in pretense, there seemed something “unnatural” about conversing with an intelligent being that looked like Horace. So the “Conversations With Horace” game became essentially a dare game: how long can you converse with the alien ambassador Horace before freaking out?
Point is, some people are going to recoil at the notion of talking animals, and I don’t think this is just a matter of “disrupting the natural hierarchy” per Machen. For one thing, it would be a disruption of the natural order, period. Similarly, I’d probably have the pajamas scared off me if I suddenly found that I could fly if I flapped my arms. Also, for some, the concept of the talking animal conjures up the image of “the intelligent animal”, that is, the human who is wholly unchecked in animalistic passions and instincts, yet who possesses a relatively developed intellect – the sociopath, in other words. Hey, I love my cats, but if they suddenly started speaking the King’s English, I’d have to assume they were going to use their new intelligence in devising plans to murder and devour me, after batting me around for a while, of course.
Btw, since my mid-teens, I’ve accepted the idea of non-human, non-corporeal beings, and some earthly creatures such as dolphins, as being equal or superior to us in intelligence.
An old and good friend of mine is perhaps slightly afraid of life – and who certainly loves predictably ordered environments – is certainly not greatly enamoured of Nature, except as a pleasant view from the terrace of a luxurious restaurant or restaurant, or driving through, ie as ‘landscape’.
Once, buzzed harmlessly by a bee, he came out with the exasperated cry:
‘Nature! The problem with Nature is that it comes up and bothers you!’ (Revealing, is it not?)
To which his wife replied (somewhat dismayed at his jumping about as he said this, in the manner best calculated to upset a bee):
‘Yes, darling, but if you just sit still Nature won’t sting!’
Maybe applicable to some spirits?
Chris Z, I give you big props for not seeing humans as the top of a hierarchy or scala naturae – but the vast majority of people (including scientists) do. Westerners study the nature and abilities of material animals in a “Scientific, replicable” way by raising them in cages where they can be subjected to, or at best coerced to do, the same simple things over and over, to get enough replications for statistical significance. This in itself implies a hierarchy: it is okay for us to make them live unhappy lives, then kill them, so that we can get a publication.
Observations of free-living animals, showing them to have far greater capacities than lab animals, were for centuries devalued or actively suppressed – IMHO, the widespread entry of women into animal behavior research was essential to blowing the doors open. Look at all the smart-bird stories above: You can’t imagine making those things happen over and over at will. Where you could do it in a lab, e.g., rewarding multiple caged crows for bringing human partners conveniently placed dollar bills, those who wanted to would sneer that they were led to do it so it was not evidence of conscious thought. If wild crows won’t perform on command, I can’t imagine that any non-physical entities present would be more compliant.
“It is certainly possible that some individuals possess a sense that I lack that allows them to operate in some kind of non material plane, but if I can not sense that, then of what use is it to me? I can never know it.”
If I am colorblind, then what use is the fact that other people can see colors? For me, none. However, if I know that my friend doesn’t care for pink but loves orange, then I can ask a florist to make up an arrangement of orange flowers to make my friend happy, even if I can’t fully enjoy them. Similarly, I might never sense the presence of the husvaettir or the huldrefolk, but I can find out what offerings I should give or what taboos I should observe to place me in proper relationship with them. The thing is, I can choose to be in good relationship or poor relationship with my human neighbors, but whether I like it or not, I have a role in a web of relation with them because of the location in which I live. I also have a role in a web of relation with the beings of the natural world in that same location, and I have a role in a web of relation with the beings of the unseen world as well. And, if I’m going to have a role regardless, I ought to be a good neighbor, if for no other reason than it is courteous and honorable to do so.
Men’s self-love – Stefania (and others) might be amused by this bit of Basque lore and custom:
Traditionally, a few days after the birth, the husband would take up a stately position in the marriage bed, with the baby proudly displayed beside him.
His male neighbours from the surrounding farmhouses would all visit, in order to congratulate him on what he had made: ‘Well done, Sir!’
His wife? She would be there, on the side, with cakes and other peasant delicacies (offal stuffed into intestines, that sort of thing) which she and the other women were oblige to make and serve…..
If anyone has heard of a similar ritual among other cultures, I’d be delighted to hear!
JMG, Back in the 80’s I was part of one of the groups of forest activists attempting to save the last bits of old growth forest in Oregon from the loggers. One tactic that was used was to climb high up in to a large ancient fir tree within a grove that you were trying to save and stay there suspended on the hanging cloth platforms first used by Rock Climbers. In the successfull cases this was used as a delaying tactic as law suits were filed in federal court ( much of the logging on public land was technically illegal because it oftened violated the Forest Practices act. I was scared of these kinds of heights so my job was to run food and supplies to the ” Tree Sitters” often around closure blockades enforced by federal agents. Every one of the people that I knew who spent time up in these trees surrounded by what were often doomed bits of climax forest ecosystem spoke of a deep spiritual connection they felt with the trees, often to the point of sensing consciounness. This was not the same as you and I just going to sit out in the trees as these folks were risking their lives ( several tree sitters were killed over the years) to save their fellow members of the natural world, and the trees seemed to appreciate it. In most cases the tree sitters were eventually dragged down from their perch by federal marshals and allowed ( forced) to watch as the trees they had been protecting were cut down (killed). Many of them went through profound periods of grief at the loss of forest beings they had connected with for a few brief days or weeks.
You wrote: “Now consider the possibility that the forces of nature might also be persons, and see where that takes you.”
In all my druid work I have been pretending the forces of nature are persons, all the while not truly believing them to be so.
This changes everything.
Speaking of I-It relationships, I’ve seen a few ads recently on Youtube that glorify automation replacing people’s jobs, and tells the viewer to ‘get used to it’ or ‘there is no alternative to the future’. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I do remember feeling a certain simmering anger, and wondering if they considered the political mess further massive replacement of people by machines could bring.
I figure there will be a breaking point somewhere. I very much doubt any compensation to the redundant portion of the population will be adequate, and they (well, us) will undoubtedly be treated with contempt as well. A recipe for riots, and outright revolution. But will a post-revolutionary state be able to provide the jobs the people want and need if much of the world is chasing automation? I hope so, and your retrotopia does make some useful suggestions.
But then I think about some of the more messed-up third world countries, and wonder if people will simply end up starving.
Modern ecology asserts that all environmental niches get filled. Likewise the old Principle of Plenitude – mentioned in C S Lewis’ The Discarded Image, I think – says that all category-niches of existence are bound to be filled. This implies the existence of incorporeal creatures.
I suppose a “materialist” might call them simply energy-creatures, avoiding the term “spirits”. Lewis’ “eldila” are, indeed, described in scientific language, in “Out of the Silent Planet”, though in “That Hideous Strength” the “fallen eldila” are devils.
This is an example of how the issue of naturalism versus supernaturalism cuts across the issue of material versus incorporeal.
Supernaturalism – to me – is about stuff that can’t be derived from fact or definable natural laws. Value – whether religious, ethical or aesthetic, is supernatural. So is cognition (unless you think consciousness is a mere “brain-glow”). That’s why I simply can’t imagine how not to be religious.
The huge gulf that exists between the religious and the non-religious mind-set, is the gulf between those who see value as a transcendent quality, and those who see it as merely emergent.
I bet the gulf would continue even if invisible voices were to speak to us all en masse. The religious would call them angels or spirits; the non-religious would talk of energy vortices or whatever.
The sudden appearance of energy creatures might well lead to a religious revival. But equally, I suspect, if we were all invisible energy creatures, suddenly confronted, for the first time ever, with hybrid matter-mind beings, the shock of that might well cause a religious revival! Both “revivals” would be missing the point, which is that mind is miracle in any case.
The oft proved false, but common assumption that man has and is “taming nature” is probably what gives “reason” to those supporting mans supremacy. If man continues to tame nature in the manner he has done he will actually disprove his supremacy by his own decline, using any standard. Now is there no supremacy in Druid pantheon? Perhaps always shifting seeking but not finding any observable static end point?
In my twenty five years of experience with computers I can affirm without doubt that they too have spirits. I don’t have enough fingers in my four extremities to count the number of times a computer behaved badly with a regular user only to work properly once I sat in front of it. Or one specific instance when I tried to format a disk from a computer used in a hotel, only to see it fail every time, and after taking it home have that process run smoothly.
That’s why I take good care of my own computer and the one I use in my job, they are not just dead objects to me, but my partners and I apply I-you on everything around me, that’s probably one of the reasons I don’t need a lot of human interaction, save for a few friends and family I find most humans particularly shallow and boring.
Very interested. Fascinated by your Druitic beliefs and look forward to learning more.
The passage from Arthur Machen’s book that you quoted I read as quite different, but I’ve never read any of his books, although I accept your interpretation as correct since you have the context. I read it at first as “well sin would be going against your own nature,” rather than doing something to step out of your place in a hierarchy. The former of which I would rather believe. After all, how would one know quite what some disembodied omnipotent god expects of you when he won’t be telling you in plain English. If killing witches, stoning adulterers and avoiding bacon forever is required, I won’t ever be getting with that program.
I was really turned on by Heilein’s treatment of religion in general in his “Stranger in a Strange Land.” He attempted to summarize what he had learned from studying religions from around the world by saying all of them led you to the conclusion that “you are God,” which sounds a bit like your description of evangelical atheists.
But then religions tend to devolve into dogma after they’ve been around a while. But the Stranger in Heinlein’s book started one in the way the vast majority of them get started: A single person gains some insight into how to live a rewarding life and is able to share a philosophy with others, and the idea spreads. Jerry Garcia was profoundly saddened that the environment that grew around his band drew in dogmatic followers that looked to him for guidance. But, as the saying goes, “point to the stars and some people can only see your finger.”
Just as you “know” that consciousness exists but can’t prove it, my experiences have taught me that there is more to existence than the things that empirical evidence can prove. There are those that dismiss experiences of Karma and kismet as subjective coincidence, but I can’t completely do that.
thank you for another great post.
Reading some of the consciousness illusionists had an interesting effect on me some 20 years ago. Especially the work of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore were to me such a powerful reductio ad absurdum of materialism, that i found my faith shattered.
Not sure if this was their intention, but i am certainly most grateful.
Never really found a new metaphysics. I am leaning towards idealism, but dont feel very strongly about it.
My only strongly held belief is that I am too dumb to make sense of reality. Come to think of it, this is not a belief. I know this for a fact.
The interesting bit here however is, that to me, consciousness is the most fundamental experience. The one thing that cannot be denied. Like the speed of light in physics. Everything else has to give.
If somebody or something has a consciousness that is in any way like mine, he or she or it cannot possibly deny it’s existence.
I wonder Is it possible that there are people, whose consciousness is so fundamentally different from mine, that they they cannot see the absurdity of what they say?
Or have they just been smoking their shorts?
“did you let the lioness have fun with your wellies?”.
For a few moves. Once I’d played a little, I saw a rather threatening sub-game developing and thought it best to leave. That’s why it was so singular in heightening my awareness of animal consciousness.
James M. Jensen II,
“Really, materialism only leaves room for It-It relationships.”
I think what you’re saying may actually be an insightful definition of what materialism is at its core. Materialism is the view that only It-It relationships are really real.
Classical materialism was based on the tiny-solid-marbles model, which isn’t exactly current physics. A lot of materialists prefer the term physicalism these days to imply up-to-date physics, but they acknowledged that’s it’s just an update to materialism. When you dig into the complexities of modern physics, physicalists will, in my experience, generally resort to saying something that amounts to, “reality is whatever physicists currently say it is.” That’s not quite an honest statement, though, because it suggests that the speaker has handed their ability to form metaphysical opinions to an authority, when they obviously have metaphysical opinions of their own if they’re engaging in that kind of conversation. What they’re really saying seems to be, “talk to a physicist about the details, because I’m certain that whatever the current model is will still agree with the core of my philosophy.” What is that core they’re so certain current physics must agree with, even if they don’t keep up with current physics? It seems to me that, as you said, it’s that there’s only room for It-It relationships. That’s the real definition of materialism, resulting in the actual details of the metaphysics being treated as rather insignificant to believing in the philosophy.
Sue and JMG –
Re the question of why some are terrified of the concept of a universe bristling with multi-dimensional life: this is something I’ve pondered as well. I know there are such things as “negative epiphanies”; among others, the author Evelyn Underhill has written about them. It seems that a negative epiphany is a genuine epiphany or vision in which the universe is seen as essentially being a lifeless, dead emptiness, a universe without a pulse, so to speak. I’ve wondered if those who perhaps experienced such a terrifying vision in a past life may not have a carry-over memory of such – I imagine that they would have an inclination to cling to a simple, and to them a safe, materialistic view of the universe, one in which any attempt to achieve a more cosmic view is a dead end. So perhaps it’s not so much that they’re terrified of life, but that they’re terrified of what they they might discover if they attempt to have a larger vision of a life-brimming universe.
Pure speculation, of course. Still, it raises the question of whether the universe, whether God, actually falls asleep now and then.
I’ve always found Machen’s stories largely about wonder and the re-enchantment of daily life. I guess I’ve been interpreting them very differently from how he intended them to be read!
Likewise I was never spooked by Lovecraft. I think the only kind of fiction that gave me the creeps was reading purported “true ghost stories” when I was a kid.
Dear John Michael
Thank you for another most thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I am also a fan of Arthur Machen, who learned a lot of folklore growing up, and then (disastroulsy, in my opinion) joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I believe that his story “The Great God Pan” (my favourite) is an allegory about that cult. It is couched in scientific rather than occult terms, but it seems to be saying that those who seek some kind of power through certain kinds of forces are playing with things – no, with entities, active beings – that they do not understand.
Our modern equivalent is Scientology, that also reduces mere humans to the status of things; we can escape from thinghood only by becoming a “Thetan”, one of the more absurd kinds of illusory self transcendence. And I’d rather not talk about the “Singularity”, where we all become machine intelligences.
On a lighter note, I empathise with your view of “human resources”. I have worked for many organisations with a Human Resource department, and with just one – shining – exception, they have always treated me as a resource first, and as a humen a very distant second.
If you or your readers want to know my own view: I am a Pantheist, and believe in non-human intelligences, and also in your nature spirits, or Kami as the Japanese call them.
With best wishes
The post and comments are fascinating. This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately, and my view on this has been evolving. It brings a whole new meaning to the feeling of sacredness I’ve often encountered in a forest.
That feeling was even present in the hill behind our house when it was a small kind of open wooded area. Unfortunately, most of the trees were half-dead pines and had to be taken out. My children were very sad about that. A little over a year after we had them cut down, my daughter, who was still unhappy about it, told me the names of the trees we had cut down. I hadn’t known that she named them. Maybe children naturally see nature as “you”, unless and until the brainwashing is complete.
The public education system goes even beyond teaching children that nature is “it”. They treat children as objects, as things, and have even started teaching them that. I’ll never forget the day I checked my daughter’s homework in second grade and saw, in her handwriting, “I will be a human resource when I grow up.” I read the worksheet, and yes, that’s what they were teaching her. They didn’t state it that bluntly, but she got the point. I wouldn’t let her take the worksheet back to school. I told her that she is not a “human resource”, a thing to be exploited by some company, that she is a person. I also said that I was going to talk to her teacher because the school was wrong and shouldn’t be teaching her that, but my husband talked me out of it.
On the subject of PUA’s … there are also women who think the same way. As long as the two groups are finding and using each other, I don’t really care. When I object is when someone with that mindset hurts someone else who isn’t like that.
This essay was very timely for me, JMG. The department I work in is having problems that my former military husband has been describing as a lack of leadership and processes, but that I now see, essentially, as a hissy fit being thrown by a grown man (in the most cold and reasonable tones of voice) because he’s frustrated by having to run a department full of human beings. He’s had it up to HERE with people’s mothers dying and wives getting seriously ill and and employees taking maternity leave and so forth.
It’s as if he only recently realized we aren’t machines and that these pesky issues of people leaving to take new jobs or calling out sick are not going away any time soon and he’s (coldly) enraged. People are walking around looking shell-shocked. Me, I’m not all that surprised since standing anywhere near the guy makes me feel like there’s a cold draft where his humanity should be, but I feel bad for those who liked him and are being hurt by this sudden round of punishments.
You wrote “Modern industrial civilization is terrified of the I-you relationship, and goes to really quite astonishing extremes in its attempts to force all relationships into the I-it mode.” I’m watching someone do exactly that and his justifications are very rational on the surface but don’t hold up to two minutes of serious consideration. It might be kind of funny if it weren’t so awful.
@kfish, @jmg “…women aren’t things that can be manipulated into a sexual relationship.”
Actually they CAN be. It’s not even that difficult most of the time. I’m not saying they “should” be — that’s a different issue. Personally I subscribe to “what goes around comes around”.
I’m not saying all women can be put in thrall that easily but most can, especially when they are young, and a surprisingly large percentage of even more mature women are actually hoping, on some level, for that “bad boy” to come along.
And why should that surprise us? We are hard-wired for procreation. It just takes knowing how to trigger the wires. The triggers are all there. We all know what sort of woman is generally tempting and, in fact, women — as a group — have been deliberately modifying their behavior and their appearance for at least 10K years to entrap/ seduce men. And some men have been doing the Lothario thing pretty naturally and quite effectively. It’s just been regarded as a “talent” or “nature” for most of human history.
The PUA movement is just an overdue response to that, iI just happens that particular behavior patterns which can be learned, trigger women as lipstick, a bound waist, cleavage, and other easily gamed signals enthrall most men. There have been books written on how to entrap men with surface effects and millions (more like billions) of men have been entrapped; now it begins to go both ways.
It’s spiritually ugly, I know, but I view it as possibly liberating. I look for the day when humans of BOTH sexes begin to mature out of their mostly animal nature and easily gamed unconscious wiring and learn how to see.
Humans have a fundamental problem: we are wired for the paleolithic past but we are now brandishing weapons and tools somewhat more dangerous than rocks. We have GOT to wake up/ grow up soon … we are running out of time.
Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll give the sample a look-through.
The Discarded Image has had a steadily-growing effect on me ever since I read it a few years back. One of my current projects is to read the Corpus Aristotelicum and try to absorb the more organic way of thinking about that the medievals inherited from Aristotle and his peers. Eventually I hope to learn enough Latin to read the Margarita Philosophica and other medieval texts to really soak in the medieval worldview, which is to my mind the most-easily accessible of genuinely alternative worldviews.
That’s a good point. I’m also reminded of Richard Rorty’s and C.S. Lewis’ definitions of the related term “naturalism.” Essentially, both boiled down to “everything that exists is part of a single overarching causal system”—determinism, in other words. Lewis interpreted that very narrowly, since he thought any form of indeterminacy (e.g. quantum mechanics) would be a breach of naturalism, while Rorty was more generous. Rorty, as a pragmatist, was also not greatly bothered by treating an It as an I or a You even if that couldn’t be justified within his otherwise-materialist worldview.
You know, if Rorty were still alive and peered in on our conversations here, I’d like to think there’d be a sense of friendly rivalry between us. He was a devoted secular humanist but he saw his own movement as simply “strong poets” with good ideas, and I wonder if he would have understood us in the same way.
James, please do write that!
Ynnothir, fair enough. One of the difficult things about life is that we all can only survive by eating the flesh of other living things — plants and fungi being just as alive as animals, of course.
James, Skinner probably received grant money from the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments!
Christopher, having camped out in a lot of corners of western Washington, I know the feeling! One of the interesting points I’ll be discussing next week is that the traditional description of nature spirits from the Coast Salish people of the Puget Sound area is astonishingly like the description of Irish fair folk, right down to a habit of living in hollow hills…
Radha, exactly! The materialism we have these days is faux materialism. No actual materialist, nobody who paid close attention to matter and appreciated it, could stand the vile plastic tackiness of our surroundings for a moment.
Stuartjeffrey, a fine argument! You’re quite correct, of course; if consciousness is simply a matter of brain chemicals, then any living thing with those brain chemicals must be conscious, Q.E.D.
Yucca, Vivian and Leon Barcynski — the authors who wrote under the pen names “Melita Denning” and “Osborne Phillips” — were highly capable and knowledgeable occultists. I haven’t studied that end of revenant lore enough to have an educated opinion on the subject, but I’d consider their testimony worth taking seriously.
Scotlyn, glad to be of service! There’s a lot of very sloppy thinking around hierarchies of being in the Western intellectual tradition — it’s very easy to import social notions of power and privilege into levels of being, and the effects are pretty uniformly not good. At the same time, there are discrete levels of being — Schopenhauer’s “grades of the will” — and thinking about those without seeing them in terms of power and privilege isn’t always easy.
AMark, fair enough; I haven’t read him. From what you’ve said, though, it sounds as though he’s challenging the existence of a single unitary identity in each person, not the existence of consciousness — and that’s quite a different matter.
RMK, excellent. These are exactly the sort of reflections I was hoping this post would set in motion in at least a few minds.
Synthase, no argument there.
Peter, that’s wonderful news. I suspect, based on a variety of traditional lore, that the entire region will find unexpected benefits showing up as a result.
Jeffrey, yep. As for Kukai aka Kobo Daishi, I’ve always thought of him as Japan’s answer to Merlin — right down to the same destiny; Merlin sleeps in his tower of glass until Arthur returns, Kobo Daishi meditates in his shrine on Koyasan until the future Buddha Miroku comes…
Jill, it sounds as though you have an unusually sensible sense of what Christianity means!
Sorry for splitting my comments up, but I was just reading through the comments when I saw JMG’s remarks on what kind of terror could have driven materialists into their current worldview.
One thought that immediately struck my mind was “conspiracy theorists”.
I occasionally read some conspiracy-themed blogs and was struck by this kind of terror that they all seem to exhibit, often quite subtly. I’m not talking about fairly tame 9/11 conspiracies and the like, I mean full-on alien influence of life on Earth.
It seems to me that a lot of people in the conspiracy community come at non-human intelligence from materialist backgrounds, and what they find terrifies them immensely. They create elaborate but murky narratives about how elites are performing rituals, often involving mass media, that calls the attention of “the Others”, while seemingly lumping these “Others” all in one category. Somehow the “others” mainly help the elites to develop hidden technology at the expense of the world in order to help the “Others” possibly attain physical manifestation. At the same time many of them seem afraid of or at least suspicious of magic, which seems to be the main way that us lowly humans actually have to deal with the “Others”.
All in all, it seems to me to be a fairly useless way of thinking; they create all these narratives which they claim help them “understand”, but as far as I can see, their understanding consists of narratives constructed on hints and suspicions while not helping them accomplish anything of use.
Basically, they seem to me to be the true heirs to Lovecraft. They might not be racist, sexist, etc, but they seem to have that same kind of terror he had.
Maybe I’m characterizing them wrongly, I don’t know, this is just how it seems to me. At its edges there are some New Agers who are involved with conspiracy stuff but as far as I can see those are just some cults/money-making ploys.
Regarding the lack of awareness of things like nature spirits, it is interesting to consider that there are various neurological disorders which can render a person unaware that one of their own limbs is really theirs. Persons with these disorders will confabulate about aches, pains, and other conditions when asked to use those limbs. Interestingly, near-freezing water sprayed into the ear resets some neural circuits and the sufferer will become acutely aware of the paralysis which they are suffering from for several minutes, before returning to the previous state – where their leg is not really paralyzed, it’s just that their knee really hurts and they moved it for the nurse this morning so why does the doctor need me to move it now?
There is also a recorded case of a man who was confined to a wheelchair by a neurodegenerative disease, who briefly recovered from full-body paralysis in order to save a drowning grandchild. He had been confined to a wheelchair for some time, but the stress of seeing his grandchild drowning created sufficient neural stimulation to press highly degraded circuits in his brain back into action.
It’s also interesting to note that the only effective treatments for alcoholism (and other addictions) are religious conversion and psychoactive drugs.
I also present the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon as evidence – when you learn a new word, you will notice hearing it quite frequently, even though the actual frequency at which you hear that particular word likely does not change.
So it makes sense to me that if one has never properly and consciously met a nature spirit, that the experiences associated with meeting a nature spirit might simply flow over you like the experience of hearing a word you aren’t familiar with during the course of listening to a radio broadcast you aren’t necessarily interested in. Doing something new for the first time requires your entire brain to engage in the task, a metabolically an neurologically taxing effort. But once you’ve done it a few times, it gets easier.
To be clear, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with the label ‘Christian’ applying to me, with all the usual denunciations of the many corrupt branches of the faith, and have no real interest in nature spirits, but of course that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. And also, the fact that my belief system is highly anthropocentric doesn’t mean that Jesus loves fracking…
All that being said, the most profound experiences I’ve had in nature have always been encounters with animals where I was the only human present, so who am I to assume that those animals were really animals?
Chris, magpies are members of the crow family, and there’s next to nothing I’d put beyond crows and their kinfolk! As for Schumacher, yes, well, that’s one of the things I find less than useful about that book, though it does have quite a few good things in it.
Sunnnv, interesting. I’ll take a look at it when time permits.
Booklover, that makes quite a bit of sense. Maybe we need to work on I-you relationships in general. Come to think of it, delete the word “maybe”…
Michael, Bulwer-Lytton knew his occultism! As for the conversation, probably not while I’m incarnate, and I rather enjoy incarnation, so it may be a while. 😉
Myriam, you won’t have to convince a Druid that rocks and stones speak!
Mister N., I think that’s part of it. It’s a huge issue.
Redoak, “person” does not mean “human,” of course, and it’s entirely possible for beings to have a subjective life that has next to nothing in common with the sort of subjective life we humans have! For that matter, the varieties of subjective experience among human beings are a lot wider than many people think. As for nature spirits, shoggoths, et al., it’s precisely the difference that makes me appreciate them. I’m with Zarathustra; I like to scratch monsters under the chin and make them purr.
Patricia, Harrison did a very good job with that one.
Bobo, duly noted!
Onething, thanks for this.
Austin, I know people who are suggesting that the recent surge in natural disasters is exactly how the nature spirits have begun to make their displeasure known. If the people I’ve spoken to are right, it’s going to get much, much worse.
Dermot, thanks for this. What I’ve seen so far of Midgely’s work impresses me.
Gregory, exactly. That’s why I don’t get the terror this evokes in so many people.
Scott, your wife’s a very perceptive person. It took me years of meditative practice to get to the point of being able to sense those things.
Tad, it was very likely a nature spirit. They tolerably often show themselves to humans using images from our own imaginations. That’s why, as Jacques Vallee pointed out a long time ago, some of them take the form of “space aliens” these days…
Dermot, true enough. Kant’s way of thinking about morality has other problems, but we can get to those another time.
Kimberly, I’m far from sure I agree with that claim. Every culture on Earth slaughters animals, and the majority have at least some people who think of animals as “only” animals; not every culture practices genocide. The difference needs to be accounted for.
Stefania, hmm. We’ve had several decades now of systematic attempts to build self-esteem in children, and what it’s mostly produced are people who have an overblown self of entitlement and no capacity to deal with failure and disappointment. Do you draw a distinction between self-esteem and self-love, or is there something else going on here?
Millicently, of course, but we have to learn to listen — or more precisely, unlearn how not to listen.
Yorkshire, I saw that as one relatively modest thread in the whole fabric of Reflections on the Revolution in France, and far from the most important.
Will, why would it scare you to discover that you could fly by flapping your arms? I’ve been mulling over that since I put your comment through. I’d be fascinated, and would immediately talk to someone else to (a) make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, and (b) find out if other people could do the same thing. Then it would be a matter of figuring out what other changes in the previous laws of nature might have happened. I’m not saying that my reaction is right and yours is wrong; I’d like to understand why you have the reaction you do.
Xabier, highly applicable to most spirits!
Clay, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve also experienced interactions with trees that make it clear to me that they are, in a very different sense from us, persons.
Reloaded, yes, it does. Most people who get involved in this sort of thing, btw, have that sort of discovery hit them sooner or later…
Corydalidae, my guess is that the next wave of economic contraction will knock the props out from under the tech industry, and put paid to the whole fantasy. I could be wrong, of course.
Robert, I see consciousness and value as perfectly natural — but then my conception of nature is rather more expansive than that of the current crop of pseudomaterialists. And of course, in my own odd way, I’m a religious man as well.
Frederick, the idea that any one kind of creature is superior to any other is foreign to Druid thinking. Here’s a stream; the water flows from the source to the sea, and it makes various shapes as it dances over the rocks on the bed. How can one of those shapes be superior to all the others? The stream is the life force, the shapes are the various living creatures, but the principle remains the same.
Nicolas, fascinating. I don’t berate the tools I use — that’s simply a habit I picked up from the Stoics — and that may explain why computers tend to work well for me.
TheLizard, the problem with prophetic religions — the kind that get started by one person who has an insight, or sees God, or what have you — is that they so easily devolve into dogma, and then start hurting people. The problem with traditional religions — the kind that emerge out of the religious experience of a community — is that they so easily devolve into unthinking observances from which the meaning has trickled out. Given a choice, I tend to prefer the latter.
DropBear, my take on the pseudophilosophers I’ve discussed is that they’re doing the same thing as the five-year-old who walks out into the middle of Mom’s garden party, drops his shorts, and craps right there on the patio in front of everyone. They want attention, and one reliable way to get it in today’s increasingly incoherent culture is to say something really outrageous, and keep saying it as loudly as possible.
Pip61, a sensible decision!
Will, interesting. Thank you.
Alvin, I think it depends on the stories you read. Do you consider “The Novel of the White Powder,” say, to be about wonder and the reenchantment of the world?
Robert, er, if you think the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is a cult, or has anything in common with Scientology, you know very, very little about it, and might want to learn more before you embarrass yourself any further. Machen’s involvement was brief, and I know of no reason to think it affected him much; certainly his autobiographical writings on the subject don’t show any particular influence.
Housewife, dear gods. I’d have had her out of that school in a heartbeat.
Maria, do you think there’s anything to gain by pointing this out to him or to his superiors?
Gnat, in my experience, some women and some men can be manipulated in that way, and interestingly, it’s usually the ones who manipulate who are most easily manipulated. Those who don’t, generally can’t. Now of course one of the basic assumptions of PUA culture is that the only women worth hitting on are the ones who fit a definition of “attractive” that amounts to “engaging in manipulation,” so it’s probably just a matter of people of the same kind being drawn into mutually unfulfilling relationships with each other.
Alvin, I’ve noticed the same terror among conspiracy theorists, but I’ve also noticed the sort of glee in being scared you see at horror movies, and campouts where ghost stories are being told. I suspect they like being scared, and find conspiracy theories a much more effective way to get the rush they crave.
Justin, fair enough. Your choice of path is of course your own business!
@JMG, re “Patricia, I’ll look forward to the book!”
It will be a heavily annotated translation of the Fujikyo sect’s songs, therefore in English. It is not too long, but a real challenge, because it presents meanings on several levels at once and contains many ideograms that are unique to the Fuji Confraternity. To catch the “kotodama–spirit of the words” as much as possible, I plan to run the results by Quin Arbeitman, who is a jazz musician, a licensed Shinto priest and one of your followers.
One of the things that has impressed me most with the folksy Fuji-kyo and the more formal Fuso-kyo is that the followers are all encouraged to interpret these songs on their own, discussing them with elders to get a grasp, and in Fuso-kyo, inscribing them on their own, even to the point of freedom to choose a more suitable ideogram if that is what comes to them. In essence that is what I am doing, except for the radical choice of English of course. I feel a certain amount of haste, because the older members with deep knowledge of this are dying off. Our shamaness is 93.
Thank you for telling me about Carmen Blacker’s book The Catalpa Bow! That is something the libraries over here are likely to have. It will be good to have lots of resources I can refer to.
QUERY; is it fair to ask people who believe in the supernatural to be consistent. here’s a sample of what i mean.
my friend; i believe in reincarnation.
me; i thought you were catholic.
friend; i am catholic.
me in sotto voce aside; i wonder if the pope is ok with that.
i am an atheist. however, i do not want to place homo sap at the top of the great chain of being; i do not want to despoil the planet; i do not evangelize; i respect the right of all people to believe and worship as they choose as long as they do no harm to others; i am perfectly happy with the thought that parrots, porpoises and octopi are as smart as i am; i am not in fear of nature or its creatures; and i believe it is our duty to protect and preserve the natural world in all of its manifest glory not because god,faeries, tree spirits or brownies say so, but because compassion and love for our fellow creatures is the right thing to do.
all i ask of religious people is that they refrain from crusades, jihad, genocide, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual and gender identity/orientation etc., and, please, don’t knock on my door early saturday morning to bring me the good news about jesus. finally, i think people should try to be consistent. asserting fatally inconsistent belief systems is a fraud. jesus never tried to monetize what he preached regardless of what the reverend dollar says.
Speaking of the decline and fall of the tech industry and the internet, have any of you seen the latest from Izvestia on the Hudson?
If a notorious propaganda organ for the establishment is publicly taking notice and sounding the alarm, then you know things are really getting bad…
JMG, that’s one reason we’re homeschooling now.
After submitting my last comment, I asked my daughter if she ever talked to the trees she named. She cautiously answered, “Yes, but not very often!” I think maybe she thought Daddy and Mommy would disapprove. Something you said above about consciousness and people has given me an idea of how to talk to her about it. Maybe I can explain that trees have consciousness too, which makes them people, although of a different kind than us. We’re human people, and they’re tree people, and it’s OK to talk to them if she wants to. Thanks for the idea!
JMG, I was trying to draw a big distinction between self-esteem and self-love. Granted, I may have failed to do that – I admit to putting my comment together in a bit of a hurry and then rushing out the door for the rest of the day to take care of some other commitments. Self-esteem would basically be the I-it experience of the world, and self-love the I-Thou experience. I suppose the term ‘self-love’ has been casually thrown around a lot lately in the pop-spirituality scene, so maybe something different is actually needed. Self-knowledge might be better. That is, knowledge of one’s ‘higher’ Self, which is unified and connected to, well, God, or whatever being responsible for creation works in one’s ideas about the nature of the cosmos. Basically the source of real love.
Let’s say you woke up one morning and discovered you had inherited a beautiful old mansion that, sadly, had fallen into disrepair due to years of neglect. So you decide to tackle the renovation project. Self-esteem would be like putting up pretty wallpaper over moldy drywall and rotting studs. Hanging up beautiful curtains over windows with broken panes and disintegrating frames. Laying down a fancy carpet over buckling floors with missing floorboards. Self-knowledge would be more like gutting the place and starting over – getting rid of the mold and rot, actually fixing broken things instead of just hiding them, re-doing the electrical and plumbing, adding some much-needed insulation etc. so the place is actually fixed up and structurally sound instead of just papered over.
You can’t get to Self-knowledge by simply repeating positive affirmations with your regular mind, or just trying to ‘love yourself’ more. You can get to Self-knowledge by, quite possibly, and among other ways, taking a few journeys to the lower Astral plane to find all of the unpleasant feelings and/or entities responsible for blocking one’s perception of Self-Knowledge. If you don’t do that, ultimately you’re just pretending to love yourself, whereas deep down it’s not really true. That was me up until very recently.
I hope this is more clear, but it is quite late and I’m a bit concerned that it’s not! Definitely some ideas that I’m still working on.
JMG, that’s a good question. My first instinct is to say no. Not directly. But I might be able to run the idea past someone he might actually listen to. Watching his horror at discovering the world is peopled with people, and not objects whose purpose is to do his will (or watching him be baffled by the concept despite being very intelligent) might be vastly entertaining. And who knows? It might help.
It seems we are discussing a number of very difficult concepts there. For me person hood means that an entity possess the following characteristics: which are life, consciousness, intelligence, and sentience.
Elephants and porpoises are living, conscious, intelligent and sentient (awareness of self), thus should enjoy person hood. I have no difficulty with that.
However if we are to extent person hood to forces of nature, sacred lands or river systems, that would imply that they are not only living, but also conscious, intelligent and sentient.
The question is: then everything in the universe could so qualify, therefore how to make the difference between a person and an object?
In effect how and where do we draw the line between an object and a subject?
Small rectification: sentience only means the capacity to think or feel. What I mean is the capacity of self awareness.
For me person hood entails: life, consciousness, intelligence and self awareness. So the question is: if we extent person hood to forces of nature, sacred lands or river systems: how do we make the distinction between person hood and non-person hood?
Reading about fake materialists, I definitely agree about the flimsiness of things built with cheap materials. That’s another consequence of planned obsolescence. While I find that strategy necessary, to a point, when it comes to computers and software (you can’t program beyond the capabilities of the hardware so you need to enlarge it) it’s ridiculous that we have to suffer from tables that break with one unlucky hit. I rather have a solid object that will last forever than putting up with needing to replace it.
Since I apply the same criteria when I upgrade my main computer I always have perfectly working leftovers that I use to replace older parts in other computers from friends and family. I think my computer’s spirit agrees with that. And I also sense the new energy in the computers that get my leftovers. After I bought my first computer eleven years ago I’ve never replaced it completely, there is always a piece that was connected to the others that came before, and in that sense the spirit that lives in it can move to the new pieces, like a hermit crab setting in a new home.
I think that the human race is not ready to communicate with other beings. AS you can see we cannot accept other religions , other races, or even other ideas. Until our tiny minds are able to handle the extreme amount or languages. We are not ready. Most people would go insane hearing voices in their head they cannot explain. In my experience talking to trees I have found only stories from the past, mainly pictures in my head . I have not been able to have a actual conversation. There again it is the language barrier that prevents this .It is like talking to a Frenchmen when you don’t know French? you both just look at each other and stare .
On nature spirits – Leslie Fish had a delightful song about the Gremlins from World War II, who loved to target machinery, finding a brand new playground in computers! I think we can all testify that they’re running rampant throughout the digital world. And yes, I certainly do believe in gremlins. Having a lot of trouble contacting the nature spirits of the high desert, but not those of house, home, and the back yard ….including one massive elm stump who seems to be the yard’s Grandfather.
And yes, of *course* cats are people! Just don’t mistake them for human being in fur suits and you’ll be fine. Especially if you can speak a few words of cat.
Lars von Trier made a scary joke about talking animals:
When we bought our house back in 1974, one of the several things that made us want to buy it was the gigantic Pin Oak tree in its back yard, at the rear property line. It seemed then to be about 80 years old. We loved that tree! It saw our children grow up and finally leave home to become independent adults. It saw us pass together from young marrieds to old age. From time to time it dropped a limb, which gave us wood for our wood stove in the winter. But there were racoons and cavities where limbs had fallen off and rot. One day, during a light rain, one third of the tree broke off and fell toward our house. When it landed with a noise like an 18-wheeler hitting a cliff face, it utterly smashed our entire back yard, from one side to the other, from the rear fence to the house. Had it not been raining, my wife would have been out in the back yard then, and would have been crushed by it. I was sitting at an upstairs window at a computer, and I saw this mass of greenery come rushing through the air toward me. I had no time to move before it hit. Fortunately, it was one of the shorter branches that came right at the window; had it been three or four feet longer, it would have gone through the window and through me. Other branches were much longer, and landed well past the back wall of our hosue
When our very experienced tree man came to work out a plan for clearing away the fallen wood and taking down the very unstable two-thirds of the tree that still stood, we told him how very close a call my wife and I had had when it fell. He was a man who cared deeply about trees and about the ecosystem in general, and we already had good reasons to respect him highly. He looked thoughtful, and then said, “Those big old trees, when they fall, they often fall very considerately.” That was the voice of a forester, not just a crude wood-cutter.
>>Will, why would it scare you to discover that you could fly by flapping your arms?<<
Well, I think I'd find it out-of-pajamas frightening for the following reasons, in no particular order of importance:
– I'd be thinking that everything I thought I knew about the natural order of things, the laws of physics, etc., all the limitations of earthly life to which I've spent my life learning to accept, was possibly based on a cosmic scam, which perhaps could mean that …..
– the natural divine order, the order to which we must adhere if we are to eventually ascend to the Luminous Realm and beyond, had in fact been changed by …. what? And could such a disruption be "natural" and good?
– I had unknowingly died and was now on the astral plane, living out my childhood fantasies of being able to fly. This would perhaps be more startling than frightening, but I'm sure it would be startling in the extreme. In any event, if this were the case, I like to think that I'd adjust to circumstances in due course.
– I think I'd be fearful that I'd unwittingly unleashed some rogue occult force that I had little control over. I recall that WB Yeats and spouse Georgie, both seasoned occultists, once saw a clothes hanger go floating through the room they were in, this in their Thoor Ballylee castle, I believe. It scared the holy krapola out of both of them. This leads to the possibility that …..
– I was being played by astral entities, possibly the Fae, who were getting a perverse rise out of making me think I could fly by flapping my arms. This dovetails with the possibility that …..
– I was hallucinating, all on my own, that I could fly. This one, I admit, has a certain personal resonance for me. Fact is, I've had considerable experience with hallucinations. I'm the guy who had the morbid kundalini awakening in my late teens; I once posted a comment about it on your Galabes site. (And btw, to anyone reading this, please take careful heed to JMG's cautions re kundalini awakenings – you definitely do NOT want to experience a morbid K awakening). Now, hallucinating that I could fly would be on a different order than my K hallucinations, would probably be a lot more pleasant, but nonetheless I'd probably be instantly reminded of my early days with the K, which would not be pleasant.
That's it. I do like to think that eventually I'd adjust any of the above circumstances, but some would take more time than others.
This has come up a little bit here, but it’s worth mentioning that nature spirits are not always “nice”– they certainly aren’t the little fairy-girl-things of Victorian artwork– either in the traditional lore nor in the experiences of people who interact with them.
A few of my experiences…
When I was in college I was very interested for a time in magic and shamanism, but I didn’t have anything like the discipline to adopt a regular practice. On a few occasions I tried using drugs, but this ended badly, and I won’t talk about that here. There were other times when I tried to communicate with the natural world by taking my mind and opening it up to whatever might be available.
Once I was walking through a forest in Autumn, and I tried this technique. Immediately, and without any conscious action on my part, I imagined all of the leaves of the trees whirling about in a great golden cyclone and eventually coalescing into the form of a man, made from Autumn leaves, with wild golden eyes. A few months later in an English class we were reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the professor showed us pictures of Green Man faces from 12th century English churches. I’d heard of the green man before, but I’d never seen the medieval images. I was immediately struck by the eyes, which were identical to the being I had seen in the woods that day.
Another time, in a different woodland, I was trying to talk to some plants, again by opening my mind up as widely as I could and seeing what happened. I felt a kind of *snap,* and briefly imagined I was surrounded by strange, floating creatures like jellyfish made from mushrooms, or mushrooms shaped like jellyfish, with praying mantis claws. And suddenly the trees around me seemed like writhing tentacles poking up out of the flesh of the soil. I ignored the image, thinking, “Nature is good, Nature likes me, don’t pay any attention to that stuff.” I set about trying to talk to some plants. I kept getting the sense that they were edible and wanted me to eat them. I debated it for some time, ate a tiny corner of a leaf, and promptly vomited. I found out later that it was probably poison ivy.
Years later, I was working in the back country on a trail crew. We’d been there for five weeks. Prior to that I’d gone through a very hard time, and the experience in the wilderness, working with my hands, felt very restorative. At the end of this time I spent 24 hours alone in the woods, camping in a dried river bed in a canyon. The first thing I did upon arriving at my campsite was to invoke the powers of the four directions and ask their permission to be there. I wasn’t using any ritual system; this was just something I’d heard of, and thought it was a nice idea. So I did this, and made a shelter. And then I felt called to climb the mountain. That climb was as important as the entire previous month in healing my soul. Every step, every rock, I felt like I was stitching myself back together, and I felt like the mountain was drawing me upward, calling me, teaching me. At the end I sat on a rock and found myself speaking this wild rambling sermon to the trees and the mountain goats. Then I ran back down the mountain, paying no attention to where I was going, and arrived exactly where I’d made my camp.
Two years after that I was still working on trail crews, but now I was the leader. On a particular occasion I was sent into the wilderness area of a rather famous mountain in the Pacific Northwest– I’d rather not say which one. I was excited for this trip, and I felt an overwhelming sense of serenity as we drove through the oak woodlands along the river below the mountain. But as we drove up into the mountain I felt a sense of foreboding that grew ever stronger as our elevation increased and the Douglas firs closed in above us. Just like that time in the woods, I tried to ignore it, thinking, “No no, Nature is Good, Nature loves me, this place is good.”
By the time we got to our campsite I’d already wrecked our vehicle once, somehow managing to put a tree through one of the windows. Three weeks of disaster followed, during which my crew was not able to make any progress on the trails we were sent to work. The soil seemed to literally resist my tools as I tried to dig into it. The message from everything seemed to be “Get out– You aren’t welcome here.” And then I was struck with a horrific dental infection that swelled my mouth up the size of a golf ball and had to evacuate myself back to the city.
All of that was some time ago, and since then I’ve adopted a daily magic practice. I’ve found that when I do my practice in a natural area, I very often become aware of the life of the place I’m in, and can commune with it in my mind. I also pay very close attention to the feelings I get from nature these days. “Nature” as an abstraction may be “good,” but that does not mean that the particular spirits of this particular place have any attention of being good to you.
JMG and Nicolas,
Thanks for the insight on tools as part of an I – You relationship. My husband is a technology geek, and recently purchased two Amazon Echos. He’s totally stoked about how fun they are to set up and use. For my part, I love to see him happy, but am a bit creeped out by talking machines. He accepts my eccentricity; I can most certainly return the favor. The world is indeed alive, and who am I to impose a boundary on what lives and what does not?
Another lovely essay, with plenty of food for thought. Thank you, JMG.
This difference between the “I-you” and “I-it” relationships gives a whole new insight into the mentality of the stereotypical schoolyard bully…
Thanks so much for this. It came at a good time because I’ve been meaning to get back into CDG but have been looking for an excuse to start again and this makes it infinitely practical rather than “would be nice to not reincarnate” etc.
As a farmer I work with plants and humans, and I have found it most helpful to try and see the world through other beings perspective. Not so good at it sometimes. Still cussed someone out in traffic yesterday and felt kind of silly afterwords. But I love the choice between the living and the dead as a guide to how to relate with the world.
On another note…
I know you aren’t a car guy, but I work with machines a lot and have noticed that (especially with the older ones) treating them like there’s a spirit inside seems to make them run much longer with fewer breakdowns. Of course this sounds obvious that taking care of stuff will make it run better, but in my experience “routine maintenance” vs “let’s make this old tractor happy” gets much different results.
JMG, I really hope you’re right about that. I think we’ve gone well beyond the point where most ordinary people are losing rather than benefiting. This regardless of the opinion of certain friends who seem to think technology will solve the world’s problems… well, that and stomping on tax evasion via tax havens. The latter would certainly help, but it’s not enough.
Karim, I wonder the same thing. Human beings aren’t fully self-aware either. We do a lot subconsciously, and some people never seem to stop and ask themselves why they “voluntarily” do or believe a certain thing. I do, yet I’ve caught myself engaging in a stereotyped behavior, needless in a certain situation, that seemed exactly comparable to my cat’s years of clawing at the plastic sides of her litter pan as if she thinks she’s going to use it to bury anything. Not that the cat is an automaton: she makes her personality and capacity for choice very clear. So I am happy to say that if I qualify as “self-aware”, so should she. But she and I both have brains to be aware with. If a tree is self-aware, what is it doing it with?
But this question assumes that consciousness is derived from matter, whereas if it is or can be derived from spirit (which is essential to any hypothesis that there are nature spirits), then a tree or boulder could be self-aware to the same degree as a completely non-physical entity, which has no more brain than the tree. Conversely, if we assume that consciousness arises entirely from matter with sufficient computational complexity, then we have to assume that Japan’s lonely robot in the international space station really was lonely, and qualified as conscious. Yet the same people who would never give the tree status don’t want to give the robot status – though that’s probably because they don’t want moral conundrums disrupting their ability to treat it with an I-It approach.
I’m curious if you’ve read “The Myth of Disenchantment” by Jason A. Josephson-Storm. I’m intrigued by his argument that the loss of belief in spirits or magic in the West is not as widespread as some people claim it is.
I’ve always talked to animals when I’m doing things involving them, and have been known to talk to plants and inanimate objects. No, the lizard won’t understand the words, but they might get to recognize tones of voice. The cats I grew up with certainly understood ‘get down’, ‘no’, and ‘bad cat’, judging by their behavior when told to get ‘get down’ off the countertop they knew full well they weren’t allowed on. Also their names.
When I was a kid, I talked to trees, often apologizing for stepping on exposed roots. They didn’t answer back, but it did feel a bit like they were listening.
Being conscious of nature spirits, the intelligence of plants and animals, and the “I-You” relationship is hard in this world. Logging is big where I live; driving home to find yet another woods being cut down, hearing the scream of the saw (and the trees), understanding the devastation, the displacement of birds and wildlife, the changes in soil microbiome — it’s brutal. Frankly, I-It is easier. Morally bankrupt, but easier.
@JMG “Millicently, of course, but we have to learn to listen — or more precisely, unlearn how not to listen.”
Indeed, indeed! And I am looking forward to reading what you have to say about this.
Unrelated to the discussion at hand, so feel free to delete if you feel necessary, for people interested in obtaining your published works, what avenue provides you personally with the greatest percentage of the cost of the book?
In these hard time, it helps to form strategies to protect the things that you value. Most of my personal library was acquired by frequenting second hand bookshops and various other booksellers to a lesser degree. I’m trying to avoid Amazon on principle, but weakness sometimes overcomes me due to the lure of lower pricing.
I don’t know if you have addressed these issues in the past, but sustainable economics is very important. Support from the patrons and all that…
JMG – “At the same time, there are discrete levels of being — Schopenhauer’s “grades of the will” — and thinking about those without seeing them in terms of power and privilege isn’t always easy.”
Well, I was initially frustrated that nowhere did Schopenhauer – to my reading awareness – engage with the prospect of an I-You (or subject/subject) relationship. The subject/object relationship – which he does some interesting things with – is still basically the philosophical rendering of an I-it relationship.
And, though you may be correct that his distinction between grades of will is useful, I have no idea on what basis he (or anyone) could assume it safe to deny the co-activity of any of those grades within the make up of another being – be that being an animal, plant, fungi, bacteria, planet, star or electron. Our possible knowing of the operation of the will within a being outside ourselves, is necessarily even more severely limited than our knowing of its operation within our own selves.
In relation to the current post, it seems to me eminently appropriate to act “as if” all grades of will (the will to exist, the will to live, the will to experience, and the will to understand) may very well be co-active within any other being we might encounter (whether some or all are, or are not, is not for us to know) and proceed accordingly.
Reading the comments about looking into animals’ eyes and seeing consciousness inside, I’m reminded of some of the weirder parts of “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race,” by Thomas Ligotti. At one point, he insinuates that he can’t look himself in the eye in the mirror, because he can’t stand to see the animated puppet that he thinks he is, looking back. At another point, he says that there’s not much evidence for the human personality.
My immediate reaction was that there’s 5000 years of recorded human history, much of which hinges on specific human personalities – but also, I live in a house full of animals, each with their own distinct personalities.
It’s baffling to me that Ligotti thinks his perceptions are stone-cold objective fact, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary – but he is, after all, right in line with modern day materialism.
The hierarchy of life as you describe it also represents our society with those at the top of the class structure being considered truly alive, while the rest of us are only partially alive. The evidence for that statement is how the wealthy often talk about their various (very expensive) experiences, which the rest of us are encourage to imitate in order to be considered alive. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the statement “man, you haven’t really lived until you’ve x.”
I do wonder how far we are from a Dune like shift in our definition of alive. How long before the social elite claim to have something they call an AI, then claim that only those that support this AI are to be considered truly alive, and those who don’t are no longer alive.
Not directly related to nature spirits per se, but certainly on topic re reactions to otherness and the spirit realm.
The other day I was diligently working on a crocheted scarf I’m giving to a younger family member this Christmas and, as I sometimes do on these occasions, I had YouTube up for some ambience. Often this is meditative music or other such things, but this time I was indulging my inner gamer and listening to an audio of a group playing through sessions of Call of Cthulhu. In this particular adventure, the party (or what was left of it) had stumbled across a group of cultists in the middle of a summoning ritual and witnessed the materialization of Nyarlathotep. As the Keeper was describing the horrific sight (sanity points being lost left and right), I thought to myself, “You mean that guy in the broad-rimmed hat and long coat with the cool car?” It was fascinating to realize, despite my long acquaintance with Lovecraft’s fiction, that I just couldn’t conceptualize Nyarlathotep as anything approaching the sanity-crushing horror that the game posited.
It just occurred to as I was writing that last sentence that your novels are something of a magical working in themselves, altering consciousnesses by an act of will 😉
Speaking of I-you relationships in odd places, I found my divination is much, much better if I said something along the lines of “thank you for your wisdom” to the cards the last time I used them. It’s an odd habit, but it seems to keep them happy and more helpful.
I also find that animals can think about far more than people like to think: my family has a story of our pet cat avoiding my dad while he was the only one home for a week, and then suddenly being super friendly, as if saying sorry. Our best theory is that he thought my dad had killed everyone else, and was now scared of him. We’re accused of anthropomorphism, but I see no reason a cat couldn’t make weird leaps of thinking too. I’ve also built a cat shelter that I tended last winter (before finding out such things are not allowed), and found that a few cats shared it. One came across it and then brought others in.
Finally, communication without language is possible! Certain things are easier to communicate without it, emotions being one in particular that I find can be shared far easier without words than with them. Personal experience here, but I spent some time in India and found a few people who I could communicate with, despite lacking any languages in common, and so I know for a fact it can be done.
A thought: Has anyone ever established whether there are spirits associated with particular meteorites, or moon rocks (that were there before they reached Earth)? If they have and there are, how do they different from spirits associated with Earth rocks? It seems like it might be quite a shock, coming here from such different environments.
How does one communicate directly with beings from the non-human kingdoms? What do you think about what they did over at Findhorn in Scotland, or Perelandra in Virginia? They are the only ones that I know who have actually cracked the code in terms of communicating directly with Nature, and they provide practical tools and information so that everyone might do the same if they choose. Straight to the point, simple but not easy
Is there a reason, aside from the obvious modernization of language, you elected to write of an ‘I-you’ relationship rather than ‘I-thou’? The latter seems to be more common elsewhere.
Have you ever read Blindsight by Peter Watts? I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but the biologists in the book think like you. They end up deciding the best and fastest way to determine how to communicate with the (possibly sentient) alien life they are dealing with is to torture it. Profusely. That is one way to get a replicable response from a sentient being…
(the book itself raises some odd points about consciousness — I think the author was trying to say that it is an inefficient survival disadvantage, and that more-efficent p-zombies will take over the universe. )
If someone thinks that ‘talking to’ a tree is going to result in cocktail-party chatter, (in current English, of course), well, I think they might need to rethink the scenario. It’s going to be a bit slower than that, for a start. 😉
Someone upthread said that when he tried to ‘talk to trees’, all he got was visual stories of the past in his mind. As if this was some sort of disappointment! Good godz – that’s ‘all’ you got? You were incredibly favored to have that sharing. Cherish it, meditate on it… and take it from there. People seem to be in such a hurry…
JMG, I hope you didn’t interpret my comment as opposition to Druidry or related practices – I was speculating that I might be like those people with neurodegenerative disease who come to believe that their legs or arms are just dead flesh attached to them.
Comments seem a little slower this week so just for the record, I for one am here for all this. Really looking forward to next week’s post.
Thanks too for all those sharing stories.
Patricia O., then I’ll definitely look forward to it! The Catalpa Bow is a marvelous book — the book that introduced me to the extraordinary richness of traditional Japanese esotericism, and also just a lively and entertaining read.
Jay, I’m good with that, so long as atheists also refrain from mass murder — Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, all three of them devout atheists, racked up a death toll among them that rivals any theistic religion, you know — and stop doing the equivalent of pounding on my door to tell me how wrong I am. (I field a lot of that sort of thing.) Oh, and I’d also welcome fewer inconsistent beliefs among atheists — my current favorite is the number of atheists who insist that the universe is without aim or purpose and then in the same breath insist that it’s humanity’s destiny to colonize the universe. Destiny, ahem, is a theological concept that presupposes an aim or purpose to existence…)
Erik, no, I hadn’t seen that! Nice to know that they’ve finally gotten around to agreeing with me…
Housewife, I thought I’d remembered that, but it’s good to hear. Your daughter may well have been worried that Mom and Dad would be upset if she talked about talking to trees — children who have such experiences (and many do) routinely get punished in various ways for talking about them. The usual custom in families that have the Second Sight — my wife comes from one — is to teach children that those are things you don’t talk about outside the family; that’s a nice straightforward rule, one they can easily learn and apply, and it allows the children to talk about their experiences without getting in trouble with schools or other branches of the reality police.
@Dusk Shine re Blindsight:
I have, and the sequel, and concur with your assessment of what the author was saying (though I’m not sure how much they believe that and how much they were just exploring the idea in the book). Basically, that consciousness was an incidental development of human evolution that was detrimental but not detrimental [i]enough[/i] to keep other advantages from putting us at a local maximum; that which is like us but [i]without[/i] having to support the load of consciousness is more capable even without any other advantages.
It does occur to me now, though, thinking about it again, to wonder whether that conclusion by the characters is in fact correct. I believe I recall one bit that sort of goes into the reasoning used by the aliens, but for the most part, I don’t think we got anything from the perspective (even an unconscious one) of the nonhuman beings that human characters decide aren’t conscious. I wonder if one could read the book with the view that the humans are just [i]wrong[/i] there? They are, after all, already [i]definitely[/i] not presented as all-capable techno-gods living in a science-and-materialism-founded utopia.
(Blindsight has been posted online for free by the author here, by the way, for anyone interested:
With some extras here:
I’m not sure I’d exactly [i]recommend[/i] it to people here either, but when I read it years ago, I did find it an enjoyably interesting read.)
One can see this even in plants, where ripping out grape root stock will result in the adjacent vines having reduced growth or fruiting. Someone wrote a paper about that in the early 1900’s – I just can’t remember who right now. Yet logic says that the adjacent plants should thrive with more soil and water available, sans their lost neighbor…
When we slaughter multiple animals (rare), it is done singly and the animals are shielded from the others in the queue. It also helps to do it on concrete, where the blood can be hosed down so the smell of it isn’t so thick. Carcasses are removed before another animal brought in. I did this, because of exactly the reasons you mentioned. I think the entire Temple Grandin story has so many facets to it regarding different intelligence, cognition, communication and more, that most people should read about her. The movie, while decent enough, only scratches the surface.
I find it fascinating that many people have enormous qualms regarding plants and mammals – yet the cold blooded organisms seem to not even register as having cognition or spirits. Perhaps why the word reptilian has the sinister and soul-less connotation in many languages? I will not count dragons, as I have yet to see one!
My thinking on that differs. We can modulate the sounds, sights, smells and activity from within a crowd and focus on a single person, odor, event or noise. I think we are quite capable, since much of our gray matter is quiescent, of learning to modulate much more than currently occupies us. For me, I see no reason we could not quite effectively manage spirits; it simply requires practice, just as vision and hearing do, in order to differentiate and prioritize.
JMG & All…
I think, with respect to animal slaughter, hunting and many other instances of taking life – the mechanism of objectification is subconsciously deployed by humans to distance themselves from the shock and despair that they are removing a soul or a spirit or a cognizant being from existence. It’s like calling the hiring department “human resources” – it provides distancing and eases objectification, and thus guilt and responsibility. This is parallel with letting the vet put your pet “to sleep”, rather than someone putting their dog or horse or other animal down personally. Laws have been written to actually support vets doing this and discourage people from putting animals down. So this objectification and distancing mechanism has been coded not only into law, but has been monetized. And all to avoid the possibility of being responsible for taking a spirit or soul out of current circulation. Ask a dog or cat owner if their pet has a soul, and the usual answer is positive or at least a declaration of hope.
If one were to take most current humans and ask them to kill another, they would be repulsed. Yet many quite readily eat meat without a thought, as they are removed from the process. It doesn’t require going back very far to find references to “long pig” in human culture, and that surely requires dismissal or acknowledgement of the souls concerned. Current mass farming and consumption has removed mankind so far from nature as to render most of the western (and now eastern) civilizations ignorant of taking life as part of living it. Most deer hunters only encounter the deer face-to-face post mortem, and they are often bled and gutted and processed by someone else these days. I feel this practice should be outlawed for multiple reasons.
This also ties into that movie about the blue folks, Avatar, where the blue people thank the Goddess for their kill and wish the soul to speed to her. That scene has resonated with audiences across the world, which I find very hopeful and interesting. This is a taboo subject, any spirit being possible outside of humanity, and humans go to some lengths to deceive themselves about this. Yet they accept it as completely plausible and even admirable, in a fictional culture.
It would be interesting, for just a single day, were humans to encounter spirits in different branches of the tree. Spirits are likely to understand their position in the wholeness and flow of things much better than humans do. All it takes for us to be cognizant of this is simple acknowledgement, not anything more revolutionary than that. Kudos Mr. Greer, for forcing that…
Lovely, clear, and delightful reframing, as always.
An additional comment about our modern world and “human resources.” The modern business world, built around capitalism and consequently around the idea of sovereign private ownership, measures its ownership in terms of the binary of “assets” and “liabilities.” In an interesting turn of general accounting practice, humans (employees) are “liabilities.” That is, they subtract from the corporate bottom line, making the corporation worth less. Machines that replace them are “capital assets,” meaning that they add to the corporate bottom line, and thus add to the value of the corporation. As far as I can see, the only way to invert this in the corporate world, and turn employees into hard assets, would be to allow corporations to own them: to be free to buy them, to own them, and to sell them. Of course, the last time I checked, that was a pretty straightforward definition of human slavery, and I’m pretty sure that there’s still a constitutional amendment on the books that prohibits that. Though goddess knows what next year will bring.
It’s one of the reasons that corporations in financial trouble resort to layoffs. It’s a bit like treating a headache with an intracranial injection of bleach: the impact on institutional memory, team functioning, and even long-term viability of the enterprise is devastating. But the binary of assets and liabilities tells them that they are “cutting costs,” which is equated to “efficiency,” and they’ll all tell you — every last one of them will telly you — that this is a good thing. And then the stock market rewards the decision-makers with a short-term uptick in stock prices.
The point being that the “I-it” relationship you talk about is actually cooked into law and standard business practice.
@ Peter Wilson…
Let me know when they do that with Mt. Egmont, because I certainly would find it cool to visit “him” again! I like Taranaki – it just bit me and got into me living there for a while.
I definitely like the idea – here in the USA that is unlikely, as we have that old saying “TANSTAAFL” – so giving up anything is nigh on impossible for those having much, like governments.
@ JMG & corydalidae…
My son-in-law just turned down a huge, lucrative gig with Google. He does not want to work there due to how removed from reality the company is. The tech bunch has, apparently, begun to believe their own success is directly related to their brilliance and nothing more. Reality is they are the owners of the 2nd tech bubble, as many are likely to see much sooner than people expect. GenX and GenZ contain groups that are becoming sort of anti-tech as it exists today – the likely fallout is falloff for these tech megacorps.
I’m also of the opinion that AI, robots, cyborgs and the rest cannot deliver the realities many fear for one simple reason – the energy they require to perform things a human can do with ease. If there existed that cute little palm-size fusion battery used by the Terminator robots, then I might be more concerned. Today, the primary reason for the AI and robotics fixation is fear porn, to deliver eyeballs to web pages.
BTW – what comes after Generation Z?
JMG, that sounds like a good idea. I’ll have to tell her only to tell immediate family, not extended family. Unfortunately, if my side of the family thought that she was actually talking to another consciousness, they’d probably believe her to be in communication with a demon. Thanks for the suggestion.
This discussion reminds me a bit of a philosophical and scientific way of looking at consciousness. The mainstream idea is that once you have a brain of sufficient complexity consciousness just kind of pops into existence. That is about as far as the mainstream models go unfortunately and they have no real idea what creates consciousness. The alternative view is that all matter, living of non-living, transmits energy and processes information in one way or another. Therefore there is no magical barrier that gets crossed between conscious and non-conscious entities, just degrees of consciousness.
This matches with my personal experience. There is something moving in all living things, and something fainter and more nebulous in non-living things as well. I have locked eyes with geese, octopi, jumping spiders, mantis shrimp, mantises, lizards and a host of other animals and they all have a spark in there. You only have to touch a plant to feel it respond and acknowledge you. The jump to non-corporeal entities is a bit bigger for me. Most life on earth is a web of interacting microbes and viruses. Is it possible that this is the structure behind our awareness of supernatural entities?
Like Machen’s christian mystic, and as a Christian, I see sin as a violation of purpose.
The idea that everything is a person, or everything is sacred, as some Eastern philosophies believe, contains a problem for the holder of that position. If everything is ‘God/sacred/whatever’ what then is sin and where does it come from?
Re the challenge of sin/purpose
Quite so. The consistent message I’ve been receiving in my journey this far, in meditation and in conversations (I can only call them such) with the deity I’m developing a relationship with, is that the purpose of “the dance” is itself. This up-ends much (most, all) of my traditional perspectives.
There are too many definitions of “Generation Z” for a precise definition. The generation names I’m familiar with are: Generation X, Millennial, Homeland or Virtual and Savior. The latter two are what Michael calls them; the Savior generation will begin incarnating in 2020. It is, obviously, an Awakening generation and will supposedly jell and begin making itself known earlier than usual.
The Christian concept of Sin doesn’t apply outside of Christianity. The eastern religions have karma and lessons not learned or learned incorrectly. Karma is the limitation of someone else’s ability to choose, together with imbalance and intensity.
@ Jeff “what then is sin and where does it come from?”
Speaking for myself alone, I find myself utterly in tune with a phrase I did not invent (and I don’t know who to credit with its origination – though this particular iteration was channeled through the mouth of the character Granny Weatherwax in the Terry Pratchett novel “Carpe Jugulum”) “all sin starts with treating a person as a thing”.
Taken in the context of this post, it should be understood that “person” comprises a much larger set than “human person”…
Stefania, no, that’s quite clear, and it makes the distinction I was hoping to see. The confusion between self-love and self-esteem, the one founded on self-knowledge, the other based on an endless parade of feelgood cliches, is a massive issue these days. Thank you.
Maria, yes, it could be very entertaining! I hope it also helps. 😉
Karim, good. That’s a huge question, of course, and it’s made even more challenging by the fact that many human cultures throughout history have taken it for granted that all things are subjects, and gotten by just fine on that basis…
Nicolas, fascinating. I don’t have the technical knowledge that would be needed to swap out parts among the used laptops I buy — I think of my home as a retirement community for old computers — but you make me wish, a little, that I did.
Robert, I’ve never met the human race. I’ve just met individual people, and some of them are entirely up to talking with trees and nonphysical beings; in fact, some of them do that on a regular basis. Generalizations are tricky…
Patricia M., funny. The classic gremlin, interestingly enough, appeared in planes that were made largely of wood — which was standard in the early days of flight — and became less common when metal replaced wood. I always wondered if they were any relative to the Klabautermann, the ship-spirit of the old wooden ships of northern Europe. Here’s a project for the experiment-minded; build a computer with a wooden case rather than a plastic one, and see if you have better results talking to your computer and getting it to behave…
Fly, funny. Thanks for the clip.
Robert, that’s a classic story. Thank you!
Will, fair enough. I’d certainly consider each of those possibilities, but there’s at least one welcome possibility to each of those unwelcome ones, and I’d consider those, too — and bracket the lot of them as mere speculation until I had a chance to experiment a little!
Steve T., of course. To say “Nature is good,” as some Druids do, is to establish an axiom as the foundation for a set of values, not to presuppose anything about the behavior of individual beings. And of course there’s the far from minor point that “good” does not mean “submissive to your wishes;” a thing can be very good indeed and still slap you silly if you get in the way of the good it’s there to do.
OtterGirl, true enough.
Steve, it does indeed!
Aloysius, I’m not a car guy, but it’s not a matter of hating the technology, just not wanting to risk my life and others due to some of my neurological issues! I can well imagine that a car or a tractor will behave like a subject if you treat it like one.
Corydalidae, no question, we’re way past the point at which progress causes more problems than it solves. If you haven’t done so recently, I’d encourage you to read John Kenneth Galbraith’s classic The Great Crash 1929; the mood of hubris and gargantuan arrogance that fills the tech sector nowadays is astonishingly like the one that filled the stock market in the run-up to the 1929 crash, and I think it’s pretty certain that it will end the same way.
MG, no, I haven’t! He’s quite right, of course, given that magic is still practiced by a number of large and lively subcultures in every industrial society — but I’ll probably want to read his book sooner rather than later.
Corydalidae, I’ve heard cats do their level best to speak human words, so none of this seems at all surprising to me.
AnimaMundi, granted, but it’s worth doing anyway.
Millicently, all in due time. 😉
Scott, thanks for asking! I get the largest royalty from books bought directly from the publisher, where that’s an option. All the sales links on my book pages (the buttons marked JMG Fiction and JMG Nonfiction at the top of each page on this website go to those) go to publishers. Sales via Amazon pay the author about half of what any other source; a couple of my smaller publishers use Amazon’s POD program to produce their books, so that’s the only available option, but other than that I encourage readers either to buy direct from publishers or, better still, to shop at your local bookstore, which can order anything you want.
Scotlyn, I won’t argue with that at all. What I find useful about the grades of will is simply that it allows us to see how the will expresses itself in different ways, some more basic, some more complex (and therefore fragile).
Cliff, I haven’t read Ligotti’s nonfiction yet, though it’s on the get-to list. It seems to me that, like a good many of Lovecraft’s characters, he takes himself way too seriously — but that’s just a first impression. We’ll see, when I read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, if I end up giggling hysterically at the unintentional comedy or simply feel sad that he’s backed himself into such a miserable corner.
Varun, very likely indeed — and of course you’re quite right. I like to turn that one on its head and say, “No, you haven’t lived until you’ve been really poor, and come face to face with the realities of life.” Privileged people tend to shut up in a hurry when that gets said.
David, heh heh heh…
Will, those are all very solid points. In some magical schools, it’s standard practice to teach students that divination is a way of communicating with spiritual beings — Intelligences, to use the technical term — and that it should be approached on those terms; the results are usually quite good.
Reese, interesting! The only thing I know along those lines is a creepy story by Clark Ashton Smith…
Y. Chireau, they’re simply the people who’ve publicized the methods recently. You might be interested to know that the people at Findhorn learned quite a bit of their technique from a very capable operative mage named Robert Ogilvie Crombie, who had access — as most operative occultists do — to traditional lore about exactly that subject.
Dusk Shine, the translators the English version of of Buber’s book Ich und Du tried to use “thou” to catch some of the implications of the German pronoun Du. To my mind this confuses things far more than it helps, since (to the English reader) it drags in Biblical connotations that are worlds away from what the German pronoun means. In German as in many other languages, there’s one way to say “you” that you only use with people you’re close to, and another that you use for people in general. No native speaker of English uses “thou” in that way! Thus I prefer “you” to avoid misunderstanding, and to suggest a friendly, colloquial mode of speech rather than Olde Worlde pomposity or King James Bible diction.
Sgage, bingo. Human beings are such mayflies sometimes…
Justin, not at all. My take is simply that you’ve been taught all your life to experience the world in a particular way, so you tend to experience the world in that way. I’d do the same thing if I hadn’t strayed into some very strange lore.
Jonathan, so noted and thank you!
Oilman, granted, but there’s another side to it. The last pet my wife and I owned died in our arms. She was desperately sick from kidney failure (not uncommon in a 19-year-old cat) and we took her to the vet, got the final diagnosis, discussed it with each other in her presence, sensed very clearly that she was ready to go, said our goodbyes to her, and held her as the vet injected her with a fatal dose of painkiller. I still tear up thinking about it, but it was the right thing to do, and it gave her the best end she could have had and allowed my wife and I to pick ourselves up, heal, and move on. I’ve also killed and eaten chickens I’ve tended, and the like. If you do it yourself, acknowledging the reality that all living things must feed on other lives — even trees send their roots by preference into soil enriched by corpses — there’s a sense of participation in life you don’t get otherwise, and it’s also a good way to get over being afraid of death — the hobgoblin that haunts so many people these days, and drives them to misery.
Themon, a good point! I’ve talked about this (in my book Retrotopia) as one of the ways that the mindless pursuit of progress gets in the way of prosperity, but you’re right that it also ties into the fetishization of I-it relationships.
Oilman2, your son-in-law is very smart. When that bubble pops, a huge number of overpaid tech geeks are going to be left twisting in the wind.
Housewife, that’s usually the way of it. As far as I know, Sara wasn’t encouraged to talk about the usual family Second Sight with anyone but her parents and siblings.
Shane, we’ll talk about the difference between disembodied and differently embodied next week! As for the global web of microbes and viruses, my guess is that that’s part of what the old writers had in mind when they talked about the Planetary Being of Earth — but only part. More on this as we proceed.
Jeff, to say that everything is sacred emphatically does not mean that everything is God. Nor does it mean that everything is perfect. It simply means that it’s possible to be aware of the presence of God within all things — that, in the language of some Christian mystics, the created world is the garment of God. As for where sin comes from, well, the problem of evil has been a massive difficulty for monotheist religions all along, and I see no way to solve it from within the presuppositions of classical monotheism; that’s one of the things that suggests to me that those presuppositions are very badly flawed. (I’ve discussed this in quite some detail in my book A World Full of Gods.)
Oilman2 – Generation Y is commonly called “the Millennials” because the first of them graduated from high school in 2000. They are, or should be, filling the niche vacated by the now-nearly-gone GI Generation. “Generation Z” is looking a lot like my own contemporaries when they were that age, and I think of them as the New Silents.
This entire X-Y-Z nonsense is 90% marketing and 10% the human love of making sequences. The generation after that will probably reject the entire thing, if as I think, their youth will be spent in flaming revolt against the values created by the Boomers and more-or-less lived out by the Millies. What this will amount to, I have no idea, except that their elders will probably be horrified, shocked, appalled and will feel that they’re betraying everything good and right.
Have a good next 5 decades! If I see you in the Summerlands, fill me in on the events post-2020!
JMG – agreed. I let Shadow-Cat suffer too long , and the four days following his death at my request and the hands of the vet ended with the friend who helped me and is far more psychic than I am, telling me the cat’s last though was “Thank you.”
There is a rose bush growing over his grave, as with other cats who passed away in my house.
Although I generally consider myself to be in the atheist category (but not evangelical about it), I always thought that if “gods” did exist, they probably were just intelligent beings without bodies, at least as we understand them. And science fiction has long pondered whether beings like us might evolve one day to no longer use such physical structures. And while I don’t currently believe that gods or other non-physical life (intelligent or otherwise) exists, I wouldn’t absolutely declare it impossible. The vast majority of humanity does believe in some form of religion and for most of our time in existence that involved something much closer to nature than today’s monotheistic religions. I also want to emphasize the “as we understand them” part above. To those beings, if they exist, they may have bodies as they understand them. Maybe we seem to be non-corporeal to them. That would make total sense to me.
By the way, I would say that we humans have no “purpose” other than what purpose we give to ourselves, and I suppose to continue the species. But I think space colonizing fantasies are just so silly. I will believe in Gods long before I believe that humanity will colonize Mars, let alone the stars (though maybe we will visit Mars before the decline). This leads into one of my pet peeves: that humans are natural explorers, curious about what is around the next corner. As far as I can tell, most of us like to stay in one place – where our ancestors lived and died. We like security and habit. When we did move, it was probably due to pressures that could not be withstood. Of course there are a few who want to be hermits or explorers, more power to them if they want that, but I think that they are by far the exception. But I digress.
I apologize, but something in your phrasing reminded me of that Monty Python song “Every Sperm Is Sacred” from The Meaning of Life….LOL
I think that the issue you bring up is interesting, but – why is it necessary to classify specific acts as sins? There is enough argument over the Ten Commandments and whether they are listed in order of importance or not, and thus relative “badness” or not. The eons old debate over moral relativism of one kind or another rears up.
I think “sin” or “evil” or “wrongness” reveal themselves. They can be couched in many terms, but the fruits they bear are reasonably clear. Disorder, imbalance, disharmony, etc. are the usual rotten fruits popping out within oneself or without oneself, in the event of doing something “sinful”.
Good spirits and bad spirits, spirits that simply exist (as neither) – I think that is the way of it or else a balance is difficult to achieve to stand in the face of chaos. Within that simple construct are a wealth of possibilities. Spirits mostly are neither good or bad – they simply exist and are true to their natures, their purpose. Man expecting or framing their natures as good or bad is quite a different thing. At least that seems to be the framework I sense most efficacious. Yet I am no expert.
Many years ago I abandoned the branch of Christian spirituality known as American fundamentalism; itself a branch off evangelicalism. The more liberal sects of Christianity sufficed for a while. Eventually, as I moved further and further away from a vindictive, judgmental god who had use for a hell and demanded worship, I had to admit that I had completely dismissed Christianity as being tenable in any guise. To cling to the label “Christian”, even though it was one I had carried my entire life, was simply to cling to a lie. I wasn’t one, a different label was necessary.
Since it seemed likely that none of the gods invented by human kind where any more viable than the Christian one, “atheist” was a label that fit as well as any other. It was not a pleasant journey but it did lead me to an unexpected place.
J. B. S. Haldane put it best, “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
The mystics almost got it right for all the wrong reasons, for we really do live in a cosmos of nearly pure mystery. We know a little bit about how some of it works, but I suspect our wisdom doesn’t – maybe can’t – go deep enough for us to grasp the why. I love the idea of “nature as you” rather than “it”. I love the idea of “nature spirits”, would celebrate a conversation with a dolphin, sharing thoughts with a King pelican, being embraced by the wisdom of a 100 year old oak tree, or understanding time as a mountain that once felt the tread of dinosaurs. Who would balk idea of learning wisdom from beings who really are wise? But those are not a part of my experience. I am often “touched” by the mystery of the universe and my being in it, but it remains mystery.
In a similar way I would love to have an encounter with a spirit, ghost, god, nymph, elf, or dryad. Far from having some kind of shrill prejudice against such things, I would love to live in cosmos full of such beings. I have no trouble with magic. The trouble comes when no one – no one – can introduce a spirit, ghost, god, etc, to a group of skeptics. No one can conjure up any magic if a skeptic is around. Somehow being cautious (which is all I mean by “skeptic) makes all the spirits and magic disappear. You can be a skeptic of gravity, but that will not stop me from dropping a bowling ball on your toe. How is magic, if it reflects the reality we live in, different?
John, the truth is I would love to live the the cosmos something like the one you envision. The fact that the cosmos is almost pure mystery leaves open the possibility that we might. I just can’t come up with any reason to conclude that we do.
“When that bubble pops, a huge number of overpaid tech geeks are going to be left twisting in the wind.” – but if it’s going to take centuries for the decline, I expect tech will still continue to provide decent incomes for people for our lifetimes at least. I suppose though that the number of them will decline, so you better be on top of that crowd. I make my income from programming but am closing in on retirement. It would be pointless for me to try and learn something new, at least with respect to income.
But maybe you’re talking more about an actually economic bubble, and not industrialilsm in toto. But this could be true for almost type of employment – how useful it is in reality is not a measure of how well people working in it do. The stock market bubble seems like the one most ready to pop, but it doesn’t always take the rest of the economy with it like it once did.
Cats … yes, goodness me! I know the feelings,JMG & Sara! Our two elderly ones went very close together more than 4 years ago. I drive as little as possible these days but was away from home for our Ellsie and drove like the wind for 300 miles and missed her by 10 minutes. I could hear her voice all the way down and was talking to her as best I could.
There was a beloved cat more than 50 years ago. i had nursed him with pleurisy when he was not likely to survive when he was less than year old. He lived to be very old. I had needed to leave him behind for several years but he came to me as I woke one morning, leaping across his first lawn as he had done; on his way out as it were.
I never did know what to make of the world!
PS Lots of goodwill around this week. Gather round the fire and observe the continuities. Oilman 2. After Generation Z? Well, we go back to the beginning again wherever that is. Google and all that? I feel sometimes I am watching radar plots and some rapidly converging trajectories.
There is a profound sense of alienation behind the mentality and behavior you critiqued in this essay. Oswald Spengler pointed out in the Decline of the West that Faustian Man is the loneliest creature in the history of the planet, precisely because of the belief that we live in a dead universe which each individual must confront on his or her own. This stems in turn from the Judeo-Christian view of humans as being uniquely different and separate from nature. Both of these worldviews have been used to justify a great many horrors, from the widespread mistreatment of animals to the wholesale biocide we see going on all over the planet.
In your essay on thoughtstoppers, you wrote in the intro
To get a clear understanding of the way that modern industrial civilization has backed itself into a corner from which the only exit leads straight down, it’s necessary to trace patterns of belief and action that go back to the early days of the industrial revolution, to the rise of mechanistic philosophy at the end of the Renaissance, or all the way back to the rejection of the Pagan gods and goddesses of Nature by newly minted prophetic religions obsessed by the glittering dream of a perfect otherworld on the far side of death.
At some point, we need to take a serious look at how and why this particular historical current developed the way it did, what went wrong and how we can free ourselves from it.
Thanks, JMG. And I shall remain attentive to “how the will expresses itself in different ways, some more basic, some more complex (and therefore fragile).” I very much appreciated the insight that the “self” is constructed like an ecosystem, if regarded as the expression (and experience) of the interaction of the different grades of will.
JMG – Thank you for writing on nature spirits! Ensueing comments and dialog fascinating as well.
One question: Can certain forms of mental illness make some people more sensitive to the presence of nature spirits? I’m wondering because some years ago i was acquainted with a young lady who had moved to a very old adobe house in a village about 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe (an historically rich area). She complained of malevolent spirits in the house. Sometime later, a competent nurse, noted that this young lady suffered from schizophrenia, which made sense given certain actions and other statements she had made. Even so, i still had/have this feeling that the young lady’s awareness of these house spirits (malevolent or otherwise) was not entirely hallucinatory or imaginary.
RE: your old cat – I don’t think we are in disagreement here, as I have put my own down my entire life. I was taught that as a pet or livestock owner, the welfare and quality of life issues are your responsibility. It is plain that you and the wife accepted this responsibility – and are likely better for the experience. What I find troubling is those who simply drop off their pet with the vet – sort of using them as a disposal service. There are myriads justifications for this, most of which can be deconstructed into simple fear. What made me arrive at this conclusion (forcing responsibility) was listening to an urban vet tech relate to me that most, not some, but most of their euthanasia is done away from the owners – per their specific request.
Where we differ, is that I think by forcing people into the responsibility rather than offloading it to a vet, people wind up being forced to think about important things. And as you say, death is a primary one every creature must come to terms with. Ignoring this only serves to further distance one from their actual reality.
@Oilman & JMG – I have held a lamb in my arms while the vet gave it a lethal injection* and had to find the will, the quick, efficient method and the courage to kill a lamb myself* and have learned from these experiences that to kill is difficult, but that my own death may not be so fearful, after all.
* The first lamb had suffered a broken jaw during a mink attack and the vet we took it to said its prognosis was poor as it was unable to feed. The second was in the latter stages of tick-borne paralysis, and though surviving on bottles, was unlikely to recover the power of its legs and spine and rejoin the company of the flock it came from.
Thursday night I had a rather disturbing experience that’s related to this post. When I laid down in bed but was not asleep yet, I had a sudden image in my mind of a light blue alien-looking being looking at me with an angry expression. I knew, without words, that he was angry about us removing the trees on our hillside. I would have thought this was just an overactive imagination, especially since we’d been talking about nature spirits here, except for the fact that I don’t think in pictures. This mental image only lasted about a second, but it felt very real.
Now I’m wondering what I should do. I’m thinking maybe I should offer some honey with an apology and a promise to plant more trees in the spring. How exactly do I give honey to a being I can’t see? Do I pour it on the ground or place a container with honey on a tree stump or on a rock that’s jutting out of the side of the hill?
Haven’t read all the comments yet, so forgive me if this has been brought up already. I did see a different discrepancy in German brought up just upthread, but the first time I learned of a qualitative difference between I-it and I-you was when I took German my senior year of high school. Germans have 2 different words (that I know of anyway) for “to know.”
There is kennen – to know someone.
And wissen – to know something.
Trivial maybe, but definitely another of those opening wedges we were talking about 2 weeks ago. Got me thinking (I think I was always a lost cause for the Southern Baptist Church!;) English sure seems to be deficient in words with highly specific meanings. Has it always been that way? Is/Was it perhaps intentional (imperial?) filtering? Seems like it would be easier to get people to see the world as “it” – and therefore exploit it more fully and more willingly – when there’s no other option.
Love this post, btw, Loremaster! (I’ve always fumbled for an appropriate way to address you that is both respectful and endearing; is that OK? Even if I’m just a wannabe druid?) As one who definitely voted for this topic, thank you! Can’t wait for next week.
On to my story about nature spirits…(apologies in advance for the length)
The qualitative difference between I-it and I-you has been a major theme in my painstakingly slow spiritual maturation of late. Ever since I asked for louder signals several months ago, well…the signals have gotten louder!! Or maybe I decided it was time to tune the station. Not sure. There were a few things earlier on – for example, the sourwood trees on my property introduced themselves to me very quickly after we moved in. I had never seen one or even read about them before then, but knew immediately who they were, and something of their ecological niche…because they told me. But I wrote it off as “yeah, maybe someone described them to me before – they are fairly distinct – and since they’re supposed to be here, and that’s the only tree in these woods I don’t recognize…”
Anyway, back in September my wife noticed that her favorite piece of jewelry was missing. This was her first Mother’s Day present after we were a complete family – the first one for our youngest. It’s a slice of bone with a very peaceful face carved into it by some Balinese artisan, encircled in silver, and hanging from a slender silver chain. It means more to her than everything else in her jewelry box put together. And it hurt her physically to not know where it was. She cried. Repeatedly, for days. And the children cried for her. I did everything I could to help her find it. We put out an APB to anyone we had seen in the previous month to be on the lookout for it. They all knew exactly which necklace we were talking about because she wears it all the time, and everyone loves it.
She knew exactly where she had put it the last time she took it off because that’s where she always put it. On her nightstand by the brown ceramic candlebox. But it wasn’t there. She tore the entire corner (and the rest of the property) apart looking for it, but it was just gone. Nobody had seen it. Heartbreak.
Skip ahead, about a month and a half later we woke up to a pitbull terrorizing our chickens and eyeballing our goats. Nothing too serious, but enough to get me dressed in a hurry and moving. Now I hate pitbulls. I know the whole, “it’s not the breed, it’s the owner” argument, but BS, almost every time I’ve lost livestock it’s been to pitbulls. I see a pitbull I want it to die. So my knee-jerk reaction was to run it off with a big stick and then drive into town to borrow a shotgun from my friend. We’ve never had a gun in our house, but upon occasion I have borrowed one to deal with rogue dogs. So I did. A single load 12-gauge and a handful of 00 buckshot shells. I also bought both of the kids a wrist rocket and a box of glass ammo balls while I was in town. Figured it was time to boost their personal firepower a little.
Throughout the rest of the day the dog kept coming back, always by the road, but I didn’t shoot it. I popped it a few times with my own wrist rocket, but didn’t even pull the shotgun out. I thought it was strange that it wouldn’t go into the woods, which surround us on all sides. It just ran up the road when I popped it, and then would wander back down the road 20 minutes later. It also had a very strange bark. More like it was trying to imitate a dog than just be one. But I finally got tired of the ineffectiveness of the wrist rocket, got tired of being on constant vigil, and went to get the gun. I stalked that dog up the hill behind us – a few steps, listen, repeat – for 20 minutes. I didn’t intend to shoot it, just to scare it. But for the first time that day it had decided to use the woods to get away from me. I guess. I mean, I couldn’t see it or hear it anywhere, and most of the leaves had fallen. I could see a long way in every direction from the top of the hill when I got up there. Nothing. Didn’t even have a sense of it being anywhere nearby.
And it stayed that way, until I took off my clothes and crawled into bed, mentally tired from a day on watch. Suddenly our male dog Sirius alerted us to its presence. (Oddly, his sister Polaris wanted nothing to do with this dog, and didn’t even bark at him.) We shine the flashlight out the back door and sure enough he’s out there, just past the back gate, eyes reflecting the flashlight’s beam back at us.
Then I told my wife, “I’m not going to be able to sleep with that dog around. What should we do? Do you want me to get dressed and go shoot it? Should we offer it some food so maybe it’ll be less interested in the chickens?” She agreed that maybe that was the best idea, so I asked if she wanted me to go out there. No, she said, you’re already cozy in bed, and he’s outside the fence, I’ll do it. So she took a scoop of dog food and poured it over the back gate.
He never touched a bite of it. And we never saw him again. It’s been a month now, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. But what we did see, the day after we offered him food instead of buckshot, was my wife’s favorite necklace. Back on the nightstand where she swore she had left it.
Hi John Michael,
Yeah, the magpies are fascinating birds, because not only did they communicate with me, they also displayed reasoning and problem solving skills in that they utilised my services to resolve a mutual problem (i.e. the fox) that they were unable to directly resolve. And now whenever the fox turns up they repeat their technique. It’s extraordinary, and I know quite a few people who can’t or won’t manage that skill of co-operation due to cultural training.
The thing is, I’m left wondering what I’m missing out on.
Incidentally, I also feel that the nature spirits bestow gifts and costs in more or less equal measure. What did you once write about there being no such thing as a free lunch? :-)!
I’ve been metitating on virtually this subject for some time. I live, with my family, in an old RV I restored (from the dead so to speak) so we move around a good bit (part of the point is to find a new place to live). We’ve been on the road for nine months now and one thing that’s become abundantly clear in that time is that different places produce very different and very obvious reactions in both me and my wife and my kids.
Some places feel instantly right and we end up stopping there for longer than we intended, other places we leave much sooner than we planned because it just doesn’t feel right.
I’ve been attributing this to things like leftover human energy because in some cases I think it is. For example, we went to lake where everyone wanted to leave the minute we got there, later found out it was where an local tribe would take care of unwanted babies (infanticide). Other times it’s been less clear. And this post has me thinking more about the spirits of a place.
My question is, is there a way to discern what is the result of lingering energy from people, what’s non-human influence and what’s things that fit in neither category? Or does it matter at all? Maybe there is no practical difference between, or maybe the former can become the latter?
JMG, you’ve frequently mentioned your preference for books by dead authors, but wonder if you’ve read Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur, and if so, what your take on his premise is. In a nutshell he proposes that the “Otherworld” and the beings who populate it exist but tend to manifest to our awareness in changeable, irregular, frequently irreproducible ways (unless it’s in their interest to do the opposite and appear regular, and in some cases there are definite regularities) and that the human experience of the ‘others’ can be understood from a depth psychology perspective (Jung, Hillman, et. al): that the (human) soul is fundamentally a connection point with the Anima Mundi (not the commenter, here, but the World Soul) and that its language is imaginal, or image-based, as opposed to the negatively connoted “imaginary.”
Harpur lumps crop circles into the realm of the daimonic (not demonic for those readers who are unaware of the difference, it’s worth looking into), a conjecture you obviously wouldn’t agree with based on last week’s open post, but I wonder what you think of this way of considering the spirits and the anomalous. Is it a cop out to put it down to “psychology” when too frequently the psychosis angle has been used against individuals or cultures who claim to connect with the ‘others’ and given the evangelical atheist opinion that religious (deific, mostly) leanings are symptom of mental instability or delusion? Or would you agree that the soul/psyche/spirit of incarnate beings (such as humans) is the “sensory organ” that allows us to connect with the discarnate, with spirits and other beings? Or some other notion altogether or combination thereof?
Personally, I found this trajectory to be one ‘acceptable’ to my early rationalist, no-such-thing-as-gods-or-spirits mentality such that the Muse theory of creativity (daimons, geniuses as conveyers of creativity/ideas/skill) presented an ‘allowable’ bit of make-believe (or perhaps, more truthfully, believe-make) such that I could act “as if” such beings/forces existed, thus gradually leading to my being more of a polytheist than a non-theist.
I am still working to nurture my imaginal capacities rather than assume that the other ways of being that exist in the universe will show up in comprehensible (ie. logical, scientifically parse-able, as-expected) ways. I’m not that good at it, but I’d have to agree that both the “as if” assumption, and a willingness to grant personhood to other beings are foundational. I’ve never comprehended the negative attitude of some toward those of us who personify other creatures/beings. Personification is not humanification – it’s allowing for agency, for will, and allowing that others experience and while they may experience differently, humans aren’t the apogee of beingness.
Also, I found that this week’s essay dovetailed nicely with the sonnet I’m currently learning to recite (The World is Too Much with Us, by William Wordsworth):
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn*;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus** rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
*taken with a large grain of salt, it doesn’t seem outworn to me.
** or whatever form/feeling/image the mysteriousness would like to use…
Wood: as a violinist, I wonder how the spirit in the wood in a violin expresses itself. The great violins go on for hundreds of years, in close contact with humans for hours each day. Mine is a mere half century old. but it’s a small amount of wood, carefully fashioned by a luthier, and handled by me for a couple of hours nearly every day. It’s one of the most civilized things a person can do, it seems to me.
I had another idea for a nature spirit offering, that maybe would be better. I could take a large lettuce leaf from my garden, place it on the stone, and pour honey on it. Somehow that seems appropriate, unless nature spirits don’t like lettuce.
I have always treated dogs and cats, as well as other animals, as if they were ensouled, and I think that’s why they’ve responded so well to me, because I was actually engaging with them. For me, it’s the most awesome experience in the world to actually transcend the barrier between species and make that connection. Dogs, especially, are very straightforward in the behavior, and easy to understand.
Regarding the tech bubble implosion that puts paid to the whole technocratic hubris and leaves a smoldering ruin in it’s place, can we host a huge bacchanalian celebration in East Providence to celebrate JMG! I’ll bring the finest bourbon to toast!
Off topic, but of a Stormwatch nature, has anyone noticed the whole Flynn pleading guilty thing? I mean, geez, the elite really is that clueless to pursue a Trump impeachment and bring about a sustained insurgency by his supporters. I mean, they really think that the underclass that voted him in will simply back down, even though they have shown no signs of doing so. Talk about crisis of legitimacy, a Trump impeachment will bring that about in short order. The elite have no idea what they’re messing with.
Another fine post – very informative. I would agree that the reaction of “visceral fear” to the idea of nature spirits is prevalent, but I’ve also observed anger to ideas outside of a simple deist view for the supernatural. While I understand the concept to be dismissive of an active God (or, as I like to think of it, the ironic description “laissez-faire Big Shifter”), I’ve chalked this up to the inherent laziness of humans, who decide it’s easier to avoid the effort to dig deeper for a greater understanding of their faith(s). It’s reinforced by society’s taboo about public discussion of religion and politics, and it seems both institutions suffer today because of this indifference.
Looking forward to next week’s post, and the subsequent hurricane of comments.
When the tech bubble bursts, are we going to have to add Twitter/Facebook/Instagram withdrawal suicides to heroin overdoses as a major cause of mortality?
I wanted to inquire about the term “created beings”, which I’ve seen a couple of times in this week’s comments, as well as elsewhere. Does it imply that there are some beings which were not ‘created’? Or is its use just intended to emphasize the relationship among ALL beings as proceeding from the same creator(s)? I am aware that the big three monotheistic religions assume the existence of God the Creator, and that many polytheistic pantheons include a single, most senior god or source as Creator. What does traditional Druid lore say about these matters?
–Heather in CA
Patricia M., it’s a real wrench to have to let go of an old friend. Sympathy.
Dean, excellent. Of course we can choose to have a purpose, individually or collectively, but the universe hasn’t specified one for us, and it’s under no obligation to give us something just because a bunch of us insist that it’s our destiny.
Tim, the reason you don’t see spirits or experience magic is that you have a false idea of what spirits and magic are and how they’re experienced, and will not relinquish that false idea no matter how often those of us who deal with such things explain that the idea is false. I can say this with pretty fair confidence because I’ve had the same conversation with scores of other atheists. Magic is the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will; you experience it all the time, and it happens all the time in the presence of skeptics, but that’s not the magic you’re looking for, so you insist that magic doesn’t exist. Similarly, unless you’re unusually imperceptive, you experience the presence of spirits all the time, and so does every other (pseudo)skeptic, but because you want them to be something other than what they actually are, you can keep on insisting that spirits don’t exist. Would you like to prove me wrong? I’d be delighted, and all you have to do is pay attention to the definition of magic I’ve just quoted and notice how often that kind of magic — that is, real magic — happens to you, and to everyone else. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Dean, I’m talking about an actual economic bubble, the bubble that has inflated the notional value of scores of tech companies to absurd heights when they have never made a profit and have no plausible strategy ever to make one. When it goes, a lot of people in the tech industry are going to be laid off. Some will eventually be rehired — though many more of those jobs will be offshored permanently — but it’s going to be a very rough road.
Phil H., many thanks for the cat stories. I don’t worry about making anything of the world; I simply let the world make things, and applaud.
Erik, in the broadest sense, that’s the purpose of my entire blogging project and the subject of all of my books. It’s not a small thing.
Scotlyn, the ecology of the self is something that I don’t think anybody yet understands well; certainly I don’t — but I want to explore it further.
Patricia T, yep. Dion Fortune, who was a trained psychotherapist as well as one of the great operative mages of the twentieth century, used to point out just how often mental illness and clairvoyance of various unbalanced kinds run together.
Oilman, we’re not disagreeing at all. I think those people who don’t know enough to do a compassionate job of putting an animal down ought to get a vet to help them, but they should be part of the process too.
Scotlyn, I had much the same experience.
Housewife, the ancient Greeks would likely have poured it on a stone, but your idea of the lettuce leaf is also very good. Be sure to explain to the entity why you took down the trees, and tell it that you’re going to plant new trees and take care of them until they’re well established — and then, of course, do so. Getting your daughter involved in the process might also be a good idea, as she had a rapport with the old trees.
Tripp, French also has two words for knowledge — savoir, to know how to do something, and connaitre, to know something in an abstract sense. Yes, the English language really is a blunt instrument! We have more words than any other language on Earth, and yet it’s so clumsy a tool for talking about so many things! Your story is absolutely classic, by the way.
Chris, ask the magpies what you’re missing out on — they might just tell you…
SNG, it’s hard to be sure, and ultimately not very important, because human activity can leave enduring traces on a place.
Temporaryreality, yes, I’ve read Harpur’s Daimonic Reality, and consider it nothing short of brilliant — a crucial book for understanding that the universe of our experience is far less solid than it looks. As for the sonnet — dear gods, yes. I consider that poem the first distant trumpet-call of the revival of nature religion in the West; it didn’t take too long after Wordsworth for other people to start noticing that the pagan creed was far from outworn!
Phutatorius, every frequently played wooden instrument I’ve ever encountered had a personality. The word “spirit” doesn’t seem too far-fetched, for that matter.
Shane, just remember it’s just going to be another crash, probably a little bigger than the one in 2008 but not the sort of world-ending crash that apocalypse fanboys like to imagine. I can definitely see raising a glass, but be sure you’ve already purchased any goods made overseas you want or need, because one possible outcome — given the way that Russia and China have been positioning their currencies of late — is a major crisis for the dollar, with some chance of wrenching foreign-exchange shifts and a fair bit of inflation.
Drhooves, that’s a good point. I tend to think of anger as being far more often than not a secondary emotion — that is, if somebody’s displaying anger, it’s usually covering over some other emotional state, such as fear or misery — but that’s not always true, of course.
Shane, no doubt.
Heather, I use the term “created beings” as shorthand to distinguish you, me, the cat on the porch, the dust mites in your hair, the bacteria who make up about ten per cent of our body weight, and all the other beings who live in time, who come into embodiment and go out of embodiment, from eternal beings. “Eternal” does not mean lasting a long time, or even infinite time — it means outside of time, timeless, not subject to coming into being or passing away. The realm of created beings, in Platonic terms, is the realm of becoming; the realm of eternal beings is the realm of being. “What is it that always is and never becomes, and what is it that always becomes and never is?” We’re on one side of that line, and there are other kinds of beings on the other — and of course, yes, there’s a third factor to resolve that binary into a ternary.
JMG- my favorite kind of answer, plenty to contemplate and encrusted with more questions. “Wonder”ful. Thanks.
–Heather in CA
Another thought on this topic, that I’m not sure is completely coherent–
I spent this morning assisting at an herb walk through a local nature preserve. Whenever I go to these, as I often do, I always make an offering– usually prayer, “energy,” and water– at the entrance to the park or forest, and periodic offerings of the same to particular trees and plants.
Partially inspired by the discussion here, I tried to pay careful attention to the spiritual feeling of the various mini-ecosystems in this place; how I felt and what images came to mind in the groves of oaks or pines or cypresses and how they differed. Also, I have lately renewed my acquaintance with the Christian pantheon of gods– er, angels and saints– and they’ve been near the forefront of my consciousness. I found that, on this particular day, I felt that I was in a place governed as a whole by Uriel– the archangel associated with elemental Earth in many esoteric systems– and the governing spirits of the various trees came through to my conscious mind as winged angels. This isn’t always the case; when I am working exclusively with the Welsh Druid powers, I often feel (in places like that) the presence of Elen, Cernunnos, Hesus and a few others. Oak trees feel like grandmothers, or like mother goddesses of small worlds, regardless. And there are a few places where the spirits simply are what they are, and have no interest in being fit into a Christian, a Druid, or a Christian Druid box.
One thing that occurred to me… It’s well known that many saints were once pagan gods, and that certain pagan ideas were assumed into Christianity, like the celestial hierarchy of Dionysius. I wonder if, at the twilight of the Christian era, the reverse might occur– if “pagan” gods and nature spirits will come to be worshiped that are actually Christian powers under a new name. Harkening back to ideas that have come up here before– your Changing of the Gods essay from a few years back, for example– I wonder if this doesn’t happen regularly.
Thank you for the advice you gave me on the open post last week – I’ll take a look into it.
Regarding nature spirits, it’s been my opinion for a few years now that since you can’t see consciousness when you cut into a human brain, there’s no reason for animals, plants, and supposedly inanimate objects not to have consciousness on some level. In fact, logically, it makes far more sense for everything to be conscious than for humans to be the one species of special conscious unicorn snowflakes in an otherwise dead universe.
We also have cats, and it’s obvious that they each have their own personalities and ways to communicate.
I’ve been wanting to try and develop some sort of relationship with the local spirits where I live for a while now, but I’m not sure a) how to find them, b) how to avoid catching the attention of any malevolent ones, c) what I should do to learn from them and maintain good relations, and I don’t want to accidentally find myself offending them and everything going horribly wrong. So far, aside from my extremely novice magical practice that I’m using your book for, I’ve mainly been greeting trees/animals/landscape features that I walk past, and trying to remember to throw things like apple cores outside rather than into the bin…
“My question is, is there a way to discern what is the result of lingering energy from people, what’s non-human influence and what’s things that fit in neither category? Or does it matter at all? Maybe there is no practical difference between, or maybe the former can become the latter?”
It seems that many factors can go into the sense of a ‘genius loci’. Then there’s the whole subject of feng shui, ley lines, that sort of thing.
Actually, the idea that inanimate objects have spirits and personalities is quite well established in our culture, and is often used to great comic effect. I’m reminded of this classic moment:
@Aigin > Do you have any advice on how I might be able to break, even just a little bit, out of this world into one I know, but can’t prove, is bigger than what I see?
– Spend a night alone in a tent in a forest.
– Think of the persons in your life that are no longer living.
– Take some LSD — it will serve to loosen you up to the possibilities
John, thanks for the reply. Next to J. B. S. Haldane’s, there is another quote that I hold onto, this one by James Hopwood Jeans, “The universe looks more and more like a great thought rather than a great machine.”
Here is something I wrote in our blog a couple of weeks ago, (we live on a small sailboat, friends and family keep track of us at theretirementproject.blogspot.com).
“I also wonder if the Druid’s magic, or that of any other mythical ideology, is actually pretty closely related to those moments that brush by while standing watch far from land on a star filled night. Maybe, if one looks at it from the other side (so to speak), “magic” isn’t a matter of us changing something that is going on in the cosmos to our liking. It could be that “magic” is allowing the goings on of the cosmos to change us, shaping our journey here to be useful and eternal. Perhaps the reason the modern world is so lacking in wisdom is that we have cut ourselves off from the source, from the cathedral of the cosmos that is the foundation of our being.”
Still, it seems that kind of inner reflection (a common experience for me) is a different experience than an encounter with a animated being that is “other” (not me, not human, not corporal). That is not an experience I have had, much as I would like one. But those of us who have escaped an ideology like religious fundamentalism have a reason for being pretty skeptical. Every person in my early life that I trusted, and nearly every one who was an authority figure; parents, ministers, Sunday school teachers, camp leaders, lied to me about the most fundamental things. It turned out evolution is how biology works. Human beings are not evil, fallen creatures who were born deserving an eternity of torture. Not all things happen for the good. Prayers don’t get answered. (I promise you that no one prays more than the person who is discovering that their god doesn’t answer prayers.) Finding one’s way out of those beliefs is very often a solo journey, beset by fears, full of heartbreak, and completed at the cost of friends and family.
So the next person who comes along and says, “I know something about god and the universe that you don’t know,” is going to have a pretty steep credibility hill to climb. In addition, I am well aware of my own culpability when it comes to being deceived. Hallucinations, psychosis, simple delusions, and wishful thinking are common human failings. I am not saying that, should a dolphin stop by for a conversation, I would instantly conclude that I was having a psychotic break of some kind, but the thought would cross my mind.
Anyway, I hope that something like your view of the cosmos turns out to be real. I also hope than any such cosmos will not judge me too harshly for being careful about the ideological ring into which I throw my hat.
I’ve been musing on the connection between narcissism and the I-It relationship many of us have with the spirit world and each other, and the inverse, the It (me)-I (other) relationship. To the narcissist, the other person does not matter. It is only about what the person can do to help the narcissist in whatever endeavor they are pursuing. Add to that a complete lack of empathy. They are simply incapable of it. Narcissists are also characterized by grandiosity, pride, and egotism. Along with psychopathy and Machiavellianism, narcissism is known as one of the so-called Dark Triad by the mental health professionals, because of the damage it can do to the psyche of others, and the seeming evil behaviour.
This seems to me to characterize much of the relationship humans have with the natural world. We are all somewhere on the narcissism scale, apparently, so to varying degrees, not only have difficulty feeling empathy for nature spirits, we have difficulty acknowledging their existence as separate beings.
The inverse of the I-It relationship, the It-I relationship, is one I am quite familiar with, having been born to a full-blown narcissistic mother. She deliberately set out to crush the sense of autonomous self out of me and her other children right at the outset of our lives. I’m not faulting her here because I recognize that in order to become so, she herself was victim at some point in her own childhood, and could not have chosen otherwise. The point is that just as my narcissistic mother has difficulty acknowledging the separate beingness of others, I can understand how humans have difficulty acknowledging the separate beingness of spirits. Especially because we need to take from nature to survive.
The relevance here is that I can see that from the spirits’ point of view, the humans of this age must seem terribly narcissistic, but with limited ability to be anything else, like my mother, because most of us are the product of damaging childhoods. Coming to the realization that one is an “I” had to begin, in my case, with understanding that there was such a thing as an “I”, then learn to apply that concept to myself, then learn to define exactly what was this “I” that I was. I’m still working on that. With the growing realization of the “I”ness of me, came the growing realization of the “I”ness of others (a healthy “I”ness, I mean, not one like my mother’s perspective) and the need for boundaries. I’m still not there yet, and may never be.
I’d like to suggest that we as humans may be less of an “I” than we think, or have a very distorted view of “I” and maybe have difficulty seeing it in others and in spirits because we haven’t yet fully understood what that is in ourselves.
I am also open to the possibility that this is a problem that other people don’t have, given their own backgrounds.
Nature spirits – a cringeworthy video and overnight enlightenment.
Until last night, I could never feel a connection to nature spirits as portrayed by artists like Brian Froud, though I could intellectually appreciate the art . They felt to me like mere grotesques. Then, at someone else’s home last night, where one of the hosts kept streaming pagan-themed videos to the group – not for his own pleasure, but as ‘wallpaper’ – a video came up showing dainty, ethereal, idealized young women with fairy wings in a plant-filled environment ….and they were dressed in stripper costumes, including one dominatrix! Absolutely no vulgarity in execution, very light touch, but the concept freaked me out.
While falling asleep that night, generally a “second meditation”, the light dawned. I’d have been happy with them if they’d been skyclad, worn light draperies, or short tunics … but Froud’s “grotesques” were what the spirits of plants *should* look like. They’re plants! Not humans! For an anthropocentric version of “should” to be sure, but an improvement over the sweet Victorian/pre-Raphaelite images populating my head space before.
So, a dubious thanks to whoever thought that delicate little strippers were what fairies *should” look like – and apologies to the the plant spirits, whom I understand quite a bit better now. I think.
Tripp, JMG – Spanish works the same way. “Ser”…. to know something. “Conocer” to be familiar with it. I’m starting to wonder is English isn’t the big outlier here among the Western languages!
Likewise, the classical languages and Old English all made the distinction between “people” and “male people.” Greek had “anthropos” and “Andros”; Old English had “mann” and “were.” That distinction was lost in modern English fairly early on. How many modern languages have kept the distinction? It’s an extremely useful one! And a lot of Biblical statements totally changed meaning when the distinction was lost …. “men” being taken in the more limited sense.
Shakes head. Or why the study of Classical languages actually has value and Modern languages should totally be required.
Reese, and actually Tim Akey too,
This is not a definitive answer to Reese’s question about spirits associated with meteorites, but it is a data point.
On February 15th, 2013, without any conscious intention to do so at the time, nor other commonly associated aids like music, drugs, or meditation, I experienced the first– and so far only– strong visionary experience of my life. I was visited in my room by two bright sparkling orbs of light, one of which touched my head and thrust me into a brief out of body experience. After it ended, at a loss for what I should do about it, exactly, I finally went to sleep. I then had a powerful dream in which I met two beautiful women; and as I was in the process of waking in morning, found myself in a unique dream where I was in an infinite space where I watched a pair of symbol being drawn in fiery light.
I went to work in a weird state of mind. There, my co-worker asked me if I’d heard the news: a meteorite had hit Russia. When I looked it up online, it turned out that it had happened on the same day that the popular science community had been making a hubbub about the closest ever observed near-miss of a large meteor to the Earth. Except that by mere coincidence (as I watched Bill Nye say with overstrenuous nonchalance) on exactly the same day, a different meteorite hit the Earth from a completely unrelated orbit. A once-in-forty-year event, it was breathlessly announced.
I personally drew an instant connection between this Fortean piece of international news and my unique visions, which had also come on the same day. Two balls of light, two women in my dream, two symbols, two celestial rocks.
The thing is– and this is why I address this to Tim Akey as well, who said he wishes he lived in a magical world but he just needs some proof– up to that point I had described myself as an atheist. Now there’s a big asterisk there. Almost exactly one month prior to my weird experience (and it must be said due in no small part to reading JMG’s old Archdruid Report)– in the spirit of fair inquiry, I had embarked on an experiment where I respectfully visited local Shinto shrines every day (I’m in Japan), followed the traditional form of prayer, and said with my best attempt at an open heart, “Hello, I’m Quin. If there’s anyone there actually listening, please feel free to show me.” Well, after my meteorite night, I felt like I’d gotten a pretty definitive answer. It would be pretty asinine to keep calling myself an atheist after that. So I stopped.
Tim, instead of relying on the external agreement of scientific consensus as your barometer, you might consider the possibility that there *is* a provable truth to many of the things you’ve listed as fantastical– if you allow for that truth to come in a form which doesn’t need to be examined by a skeptical committee, but instead only needs to pass muster with the one whose experience matters the most: you.
I want to return briefly to my story, as there was one final part which ties neatly into the theme of this post. Shortly after my life changing experience, for some reason I became just absolutely obsessed with nature spirits. Just crazy about faeries. I couldn’t get enough of them. Never cared about them before, had always thought the imagery silly and well, um, fey. But something changed in how I viewed them.
Well, a couple of years ago, I was searching the web about February 15th, 2013… and I discovered that the near-miss meteor had been given a formal name: 367943 Duende. “Duende” being a Spanish/Portuguese umbrella term for various varieties of… you guessed it… fairy.
As to future tech employment, I expect it will decline. I think Musk might trigger the end of the tech bubble if and when he likely misses a debt payment. But for the huge firms making billions on ads it might be more complex. Amazon is not profitable, but could be if it chose to. I make my income from tech and wonder about that working migrating to India. There are people in India and elsewhere who are every bit as good as I am technically and only ask $10/hour. What they tend to lack is an understanding of how long-term business relationships work. I’ve seen excellent foreign programmers fall by the wayside because they didn’t understand client relationship-building. This should probably get me through to my approaching retirement. I have no idea what makes most sense for young people. Every field has perils, including those that are of the most practical use. Some of them are the most dependent on abundant physical resources. It seems like if the decline comes faster, then there won’t be money to employ people. If the decline comes slower than we think, then automation will get them. Going into tech might not be a bad idea as long as you prepare for something else in the mean time. Getting yourself a piece of land with shelter on it free and clear at a young age isn’t a bad plan.
This is a fascinating thread! I periodically sense the presence of other beings or awarenesses, but a don’t have a background that allows me to make sense of them. In 1996, I went on a medical relief trip to rural Romania (this was a short time after the Ceausescu regime fell). You could tell that there was an ecology of spiritual beings much different from what there was at home, and it surprised a lot of us. Not all of them seemed friendly.
I wonder most about how anyone can know what are the ‘rules of engagement’ with these beings. Religious traditions and folk traditions are often contradictory. I have trouble enough dealing with other humans (the most dangerous species!), so I wonder how I would do with ‘differently bodied beings that may inhabit an overlapping set (or superset) of our reality…
@Fons Et Origo
Re: Greys/Aliens — It always seemed to me that the whole Whitley Streiber / Alien Abduction thing was some sort of spiritual blowback from the phenomenon of abortion. You have a grey alien that in many ways resembles a fetus. Without permission, the alien invades a home and removes a sleeping person from the safety of their own bedroom. The abductee is helpless to stop it. Once removed, the abductee is subjected to tortures including rape, generally without explanation.
There are a lot of parallels between the abortion process and the alien abduction process. The major difference is that abductees are returned to their safe place with memories covered over.
JMG has written a book about UFOs, and there are other interpretations of it, including Jasun Horsley’s extensive analysis, linked below;
I am not sure that any of the above is a good explanation of the alien abduction story, but I do feel that what’s really going on is not what Whitley Streiber thinks it is.
Patricia M– strangely enough, immediately after I posted my previous comment, yours came up mentioning Brian Froud. It was Froud’s art in particular that sparked the fairy obsession I referred to.
Patricia O– it feels a little bit weird being called JMG’s “follower”, though I suppose to all intents and purposes it’s basically true… Anyway, if you have any trouble tracking down a copy of The Catalpa Bow, I’m happy to lend you mine. It’s definitely a must-read for you, for some reason I’d thought you’d already read it.
John: Shadow-Cat, a private rescue, was a very difficult cat. Abused, neglected, bullied by other cats and two dogs, and given a derogatory name his fosterer thought was funny. I had to set myself the task of loving him, and it was hard work. At times in his long illness I wished him dead, and could not do the merciful thing until I had conquered that. But he died in my arms and those of my friend, even though the vet did take him into the back room to insert the IV now considered mandatory.
After a very rough four days, I got a distinct message absolving me of all past guilt in that department and assuring me that the long vigil had freed me to do what was best for animals thereafter.
I strongly believe his spirit has joined the Mother of the Cats, and perhaps one day a kitten will be born into far better circumstances.
It’s been years since I read up on ley lines, but I seem to recall Tesla and Bucky Fuller talking about them. It’s interesting because some places we’ve been have a very obvious energy to them that everyone seems to pick up on, the big one I’m thinking of is chaco canyon. It’s a fascinating place for many reasons, but from a purely practical standpoint, not an easy place to settle, which makes explaining it a hard problem for anthropology, whereas it seemed pretty obvious to me: there’s something there, presumably something people could commune with in some beneficial way, perhaps mutually beneficial.
Hi John Michael,
I have a vague memory that many years ago you mentioned that you had read a book on the topic of crows. The memory also tells me that it was perhaps written by a Reverend or Minister – or the equivalent. I realise it is a big ask, but is my memory false, and do you happen to recall the title of the book? I’m a slow learner when in unchartered waters as is to be expected, and a guide to the species would certainly assist such matters and the knowledge may be quite useful.
Has your growing season finished for the winter? I discovered a few small-ish and unripe quinces on the trees yesterday. They have taken many years to get to the point of fruiting.
This short essay by Master Herbalist Matthew Wood showcases his experiences talking and negotiating with the plants he uses to make his medicines. I’ve found his suggestions useful and would love to read what others think of what he wrote. It can be found at full here: http://herbcraft.org/wildcrafting.html
My husband and i have learned to understand a bit of the “catish” or “felinish” language, but have realized that it is largely non-verbal, but quite specific. For an example: if our cats want to be fed, one will stand near the food bowl, make eye contact with one of us, and then his eyes will briefly and very quickly shift to the bowl (without moving the head) and back to us. One of my cats used this the other day when he had vomited near the bottom of the stairs. As I was coming down the stairs he was looking me in the eye, and as I neared the bottom, there was that quick eye shift….when I looked where he had looked, I saw it. I was thankful that he warned me. The eye movement is so quick that if you didn’t know about it you would miss it.
Regarding “Human Resources”, my opinion is that the term was coined as a catch-all for all of the different roles that exist in every kind of enterprise big enough to need such a department. It used to be called “manpower”, but that’s been thoroughly discredited. Now we have employees, volunteers, contractors, sub-contractors, labor, management, executives, etc., etc. We’ve tried to purge the sexism by papering over the gender (which all people seem to have) by papering over the person-hood.
The other plausible approach comes from the kind of management theory described in a classic book “The Mythical Man-Month”. The book’s title contradicts the assumption of its day that the effort to complete a software development task can be estimated in a specific number of “man-months”: 10 developers x 4 months, or 4 developers x 10 months, or any other factorization you like. Any industrial process requires space (factory floor or offices), time, materials, and people: all resources which can be tracked so that project management can allocate “resources” optimally. It’s not a desire to dehumanize the workforce, even if it turns out that way. [However, one of the lessons of the book is that adding people to a project does not bring it to completion more quickly; quite the opposite, in fact. Such discoveries pass for wisdom in the management section.]
The difference between living and dead is what persuades me there must be a spirit. Not that I am formally religious, but if there is such a thing as a spirit, there must be such a region as the deosphere in which it operates, and to which I believe I shall return whether I have been naughty or nice.
Regarding intelligence, AI will soon overtake us in ability and assume primacy in the ‘intelligent being’ ecological slot. Which means our brains will shrink, being redundant, and we will revert to being partially intelligent creatures of instinct like our brother apes. I just hope the AIs adopt us as pets, because I don’t fancy our chances in the wild.
Greetings Señor Greer, I exist, similar to Gary Snyder, at the hinge of neo-pagan and Buddhist philosophies and communities–a pretty good place to hang out, if you want acceptance of nature and its inhabitants as a living, sensate entity to be standard practice. (Notice, however, that it hasn’t been enough to stop countries with Buddhist heritage from devastating their environment.) A while back, I had the privilege to live ten miles back in a dirt road in an isolated and beautiful part of Northern California. I felt the presence of nature spirits, including a healthy fairy contingent, so strongly that I couldn’t believe I was the only one feeling it. (I have found that those oriented around scientific materialism do have those same feelings, but express them differently, or hesitantly, as they often think they’re crazy if they have them.) I have found a strong correlation between intact (relatively! hardly any primordial land really left) wilderness and intact nature spirits to be very strong. I have heard that Christian missionaries cut down sacred oak groves of Druids, a practice repeated the world over to sever connections between native people and their environment–source of medicine at once physical and metaphysical. So there is a connection to be made between deliberately de-sacralizing the world, attacking indigenous religions, and then discrediting them by ridiculing the encounters of power and mystery many human beings experience in nature–even though this is a worldwide phenomenon that has continued throughout centuries and resulted in much great art and poetry. What say?
Hey hey JMG,
I had, past tense, a question. And, often I ask you questions that get an answer that I’m unhappy with. Where I didn’t ask the question well enough to get what I really wanted to know addressed. So, I was spending the time to think my question through and I think I have answered it.
You said “the kind of power that the operative mage attains” and think I know what that power is. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if one spends the time to become an operative mage one gets good at I-You relationships and one gains greater empathy, understanding, insight, etc. of oneself and of the various Yous out there. And as a direct consequence one has a better chance of influence, cooperation, access, and support from all of them, human or otherwise. One can directly manipulate things in an I-It relationship, but one can have friends and allies, advisers and consultants in and I-You relationship.
PS The universe has been sending me a message lately and I’ve been ignoring it and putting it off and the consequences have been unpleasant. It’s past time to listen. It’s time to act.
Our house abuts a large wild area in the Arizona scrub desert. Twice in the last 5 years what I will call energy creatures have intruded on my bedroom at night. The first time, a birdlike creature in my window was so bright that it woke me up, flooding the room with light. The second time, a few weeks ago, it was a smallish candle-like creature that flickered somewhat like a firefly. “Wonder” is the only way I can describe my reaction…..
I had an odd thought a few days ago as I thought about I-it and I-you. As a lifelong packrat, I wondered if part of my problem was because I might have a too all encompassing or inappropriate I-you relationship with all my stuff. I find it really difficult to get rid of things even if I know it would make my life easier to do so and in truth, I will never miss them if I do. For the best success in making my space more usable, I have to feel the urge to purge, act quickly and but the things in a box, I can’t think about them, I can’t look too hard at them, I can’t give them any consideration as to their possible uses or where they came from and just move them out of the house. Usually to the thrift store.
However, I can’t maintain this attitude for very long as it is exhausting. It occurred to me that I have to basically adopt an I-it relationship to the stuff if I want to get rid of. I think all of my life I have felt that I needed to care for my stuff (what ever it is and some of the stuff seems really silly to others) and that it would feel bad if I abandoned it. I hated those books/shows that try to “help” packrats declutter. They have never worked in my case and their tactics and attitudes usually made me angry. What seems to have worked best was to accept that my brain is wired to keep things and not feel bad because of it and to also honor the urges to purge and not to feel bad about getting rid of stuff.
And kudos for a wonderful post, JMG, the best I have ever seen on this kind of subject.
@Chris at Fernglade,
The place to start, in my opinion, if you want to learn about corvids and their intelligence, is with the works of Bernd Heinrich. He was a professor of biology (now emeritus) and the University of Vermont (my alma mater), and I’ve met him several times. A very interesting man.
His works include “Ravens in Winter” and “The Mind of the Raven”. Good stuff. I happen to live in Raven country, and as I said in another comment on a different topic, I don’t believe in corvid intelligence. Don’t have to, because I know it and experience it every day. 🙂
AT the University of Vermont. Sheesh.
Heather, thank you!
Steve, fascinating. It does indeed happen regularly, so it’s entirely possible, for example, that a couple of thousand years from now scholars will learnedly write about how Jesus got quietly transmuted into a tree-spirit worshiped by the Gaian religion…
L, exactly! If consciousness exists, it’s far more economical a hypothesis to assume that it’s present everywhere than to work out some elaborate gimmickry to explain why it only exists in certain lumps of meat called human brains.
Sgage, true enough.
Phil K., funny!
Tim, fair enough. I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist church, thank the gods, so I don’t have the scar tissue around issues of trust that you must have. The passage from your blog is in fact much closer to the reality of magic than most of what I hear from atheists, which is heartening. One thing I’ll say, which I hope is reassuring: from a Druid perspective, the universe is not worried about what we believe; in fact, it quite literally couldn’t care less. Nor are those great centers of consciousness we call gods and goddesses concerned with what notions about them we might happen to come up with, any more than parents worry about the somewhat far-fetched notions of causality and the like their children come up with around age two. The universe is not out to get you, and you have all the time you need — as in, countless lifetimes in human and other-than-human forms — to sort out exactly how you want to relate to it.
Myriam, I think that’s a very important point. You’re right that most of us don’t really have a clear idea what we’re talking about when we say “I”, and routinely get bollixed up for that reason — think of how often we get bent out of shape because someone has an idea about “I” that we don’t like!
Patricia M., oog. The tricky thing about faeries, of course, is that they habitually borrow images from our minds to use as vehicles to communicate with us, so I suppose strippers in bondage gear are as likely as any other… 😉 As for languages, no argument there at all; English is really a clunky language, and as Goethe said, if you only know one language, you don’t actually know any language at all.
Dean, oh, you’ll probably squeak through — but advertising is not necessarily a permanent source of income to Google et al., as it’s becoming painfully clear that a vast amount of internet advertising doesn’t actually move product. It’ll be interesting to see just which of the big tech companies come crashing down when the bubble pops…
E. Goldstein, trust the folk traditions. Religious traditions are very often deformed by ideology; folk traditions come out of lived experience.
Patricia M., it sounds as though there may have been some important business left over from other lives, and now that’s taken care of and you can move on.
Sng, Bucky Fuller talked about leys? Good heavens. I’ll have to try to track that down.
Chris, if that was me, the memory has escaped me completely. Growing season’s over here — we’ve had a couple of hard freezes, though it’s still unseasonably warm.
Violet, thanks for this. I have a fair number of Wood’s books and use them extensively, not least because he has that attitude toward plants.
Lydia, good! Your cats are doubtless comparing notes: “Yeah, they’re actually starting to understand what I’m saying. They may be trainable yet!”
Lathechuck, the term “Personnel” was popular for a while, too. My guess is that it’s mostly just fashion, and will be replaced in due time by “Meatware” or something similar. 😉
Martin, believing the promoters of AI schemes may not be a much better idea than believing people who want to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, you know…
Roberta, very much so. The source of it all is a complex question — what drove the frantic attempt to cut the connection between people and nature? — but the attempt was certainly made, and played a huge role in giving us the mess we’re currently facing.
Tim, that’s very precisely correct. One of these days I need to do a post on the goals and purposes of magic, and talk about what the Renaissance mages called cacomagic, the corrupt and debased magic of manipulations based on a purely I-it view of the cosmos.
Pyrrhus, that’s a worthy reaction!
Kay, the thing is, an I-it attitude isn’t a bad thing to have. There are times when it’s useful and even necessary. What’s problematic is when people get stuck in that attitude and can’t or won’t take an I-you attitude toward anything. I suspect all I-you all the time would be just as dysfunctional!
Pyrrhus, thank you!
Interesting. Thank you for sharing that experience, and I’m glad you got to have it. 🙂
I’m somewhat puzzled by this line in one of your replies to Tim:
“Nor are those great centers of consciousness we call gods and goddesses concerned with what notions about them we might happen to come up with, any more than parents worry about the somewhat far-fetched notions of causality and the like their children come up with around age two.”
Do not different gods and goddesses have their different associations and preferences for methods of worship, though? To continue the analogy, while the parents might not care about those notions of causality, they’d presumably like their two-year-olds to be saying “please” and “thank you” instead of swearwords, and I expect they’d like their children to be able to recognize them instead of wandering off with random people.
Regarding SNG and Ley lines: All of the atheist Bodhisattvas talked about phenomena which doesn’t really fit in with strict atheism.
Oh, JMG, I wasn’t speaking in the broader sense of an apocalyptic collapse, and, besides, apocalypses are notoriously localized–what will be the apocalypse for the US will be known as “dawn” in the various up-and-coming scarcity industrialism powers. I was just speaking in the narrow sense of putting paid to the entire technonarcissism of which Martin’s AI comment above is evidence–when the tech bubble bursts so thoroughly that people like Martin would be thoroughly embarrassed to make such a comment about AI, knowing that everyone in the room will be laughing so hard they can’t catch their breath, that was what I was looking forward to and wanting to celebrate by raising a glass. When technofetishism is consigned to the “jetpack” dustbin of history.
JMG, what will become when people who have invested so much of their identity into their online presence if it just disappears? What happens if Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Tumblr shuts down and its contents are lost, never to be retrieved? What are the chances that one of these biggies may just pull the plug just like that? I always thought that the social media collapse would be more gradual–a vicious cycle of subscription fees, reduced subscribers, higher subscription fees, even fewer subscribers, lather, rinse, repeat, kinda like the Kmart/Sears kabuki by which that retailer is going into oblivion, but I don’t know what you think the chances are of one or more major social media companies abruptly pulling the plug. Regardless, tubs and tubs of popcorn are in order–this will be entertaining!
Since you mention it, though, the long-awaited collapse of the US$ as reserve currency is exciting, and much anticipated. IMHO, the US-based consumer economy is the biggest ecological threat out there, and putting a wrench in it by ending the US$ reserve currency status is good news for the environment (all the products that won’t be made/consumed, all the fossil fuels that won’t be burnt). Since I view the US currently as solely a consumer, capitalist society, I equate the collapse of the US$ with dissolution of the US. Certainly, it should be crisis enough to accelerate Calexit, and, you know the old saw, “As goes California, so goes the nation.” Certainly, the 21st century Confederacy couldn’t be far behind.
@Patricia, John Roth,
I think that Savior generation will need a good Gen X leader/figurehead to lead them–we are a nomad generation, after all, and we were witness to what all went down from 1980-present, and won’t be too terribly old in 2020…
Regarding spirits, I’m still overcoming a bad case of Baptist upbringing, coupled with a rational materialist reaction to that in early adulthood. Am just now coming around to the idea of gods, spirits, fae, etc., and have not yet directly experienced them, but if you do, I trust that you do, and that if I do what you do, and practice what you practice, maybe someday I will as well. The best I can do right now is to feel and take in the energy of places, animals, plants, and things, and trust that they are spirited.
Thanks much for the answer. Balance is my ongoing project when it comes to my stuff.
Alas, no, I was wrong. Fuller did not talk about ley lines, but his isodecahedron shape, when projected inside the sphere of the earth happens to map pretty closely to some ley models, which is probably how the two got linked in my head.
Patricia, Tripp & JMG: Italian also has two separate words: conoscere is to know someone, whereas sapere is to know a fact or idea or way of doing. English is an outlier in that respect, but we have a lot of duplicates deriving from the languages of the various invaders: lawyer/attorney; important/essential; & c.
Today after church service, I was chatting with a couple of younger women, one of whom I know as a witch. We got onto the subject of the advice John had given me on how a mutual friend could best dispose of Tarot cards, and why flowing water is the best way to get rid of emotionally freighted items. This segued into the regenerative powers of fire, so burning would not have worked well. I should have known that, with a phoenix in flames on my arm. The woman whom I didn’t know as a witch said that she didn’t expect someone of my demographic (60ish middle class white guy wearing a coat and tie) to be so open to the whole discussion. I told her that reading the ADR and Ecosophia had slowly been opening up my thinking. Since our host has been so obviously correct on his analysis of politics and the end of empire, I have come to recognize his wisdom in a lot of things that I would have scoffed at 10 years ago. Who could have known that a little acceptance of magic would also impress the women? What did impress them was I was treating them totally in a I/you relation, understanding that they know more than me in this area, instead of being the kindly elder man tolerating their cute little “magic”.
I don’t always get there, but I’m trying.
I think that HR has become infested and overrun with ‘I-it’, simply due to expediency. In the current job market, and within current HR groups, actually speaking with a potential employee is discouraged. The grounds used are to avoid potential litigation. Similarly, HR in big corporations is done using algos to parse a CV for key phrases, both good and bad. Hit a bad one and your CV goes in the trash bin. Hit a good one, and a human may actually look at it, but likely it is a human that has zero authority to make any decision.
I recently had mine rejected kindly, with a note that they found my CV ‘creative’, but it was obvious that no real person could have this type of background in a span of just 30 years. I did laugh, as I left a full ten years of oilfield experience off my CV. The real way to land a job is simply to know someone – where they can get your CV out of the HR department and into the hands of the manager actually doing the hiring. I’m just fed up enough that I would rather make less working for me, than make more working for someone else.
My point – the ‘Human’ portion of HR is already lost in most corporations – it is simply algos sorting things, and delivering a pile of CV’s to a manager based on parameters. HR also handles other things like health insurance, retirement, etc – and that is rapidly being eroded by software as well. HR has gone full Ouroborous, so discourage your kids – if they seek that field, redundancy will be more and more likely.
@ Patricia Matthews…
I am decent in a few languages, but fluent in English and Spanish. There is a lot to be said for the ‘romance languages’ in terms of subtlety of expression. Japanese also appears to have this feature, but I am only dabbling in that when I have time.
My span/eng fluent friends often term English “lengua embotada” – a blunt tongue. Subtleties possible in the romance languages with a simple juxtaposition require an entire sentence to execute in English. And with gender currently being either executed or completely macerated in the English language, the future doesn’t look promising.
Thanks John Michael; looking forward to the next installment. But, curious, is not the worthiness cutoff (something like as intelligent as humans) quite arbitrary? I see, for example, that bees and butterflies don’t make the list — yet without the former we’d all be dead, and without the latter the world would be far less beautiful. But even more important than other species’ utility, wasn’t the whole point of Socialism (“From each according to his ability to each according to his need”) that *everybody* is worthy of the same rights, by the simple fact of being? Not that Druids and Socialists are of exactly the same philosophical bent — but that seems to me a most admirable tenet.
@Quin Arbeitman, that was awkward of me! But you must have read through 200 comments to spot mine! You are not merely a follower, you are quite a devoted one!
@Everyone else, I’m enjoying the discussion on listening to/seeing spirits. Each time I’ve talked to people about Shinto I’ve been amazed at how many of them want to discuss their own experiences with the spirit world. My own family is so unfavorable to such talk that I am reticent to open up very much. (I still cringe when I read the article years-old about myself in which I talked about seeing the goddess of Mt. Fuji as part of why I became a priestess, and it was a favorable article, nicely written.) But these are life-changing, empowering, deeply meaningful experiences, and I am very glad JMG is giving you a forum for talking about them. Within Shinto you can talk freely about these experiences, but the other priests have cautioned me not to talk widely about it . Atheists are more polite in Japan, but they may shun you.
@Violet, I envy your ability to hear the flowers sing! You do indeed hear (and see) with your heart. With me, it is sporadic
Years back, I was talking to my mentor priestess (Quin, you never met her, but she’s living just north of Tokyo) about how I had tried to recite the Heart Sutra for the Dragon King and had the words just slip away, hidden from me until I was on the trail down the mountain again. She told me it was his message that the day was a Shinto day (it was a major festival), not a Buddhist day, therefore the Shinto prayer I gave was appropriate. This is a small shrine, and power spot known to a devoted group of followers, who might even shun the great Kompira Shrine below it and visit only the Dragon King. Even my spiritually blind-as-a-bat husband has had impressive experiences there. Since that time, the Dragon King has had a handy way to communicate with the still-rather-myopic me: I recite a litany of Shinto and Buddhist prayers followed by whichever one of about 100 Russian songs I know that comes to mind first. All he has to do is snatch away a few of the words, and on the way down the mountain, I’ll put together his message.
Christian saints and angels have already been transformed into pagan gods, look up haitiian voodoo.
As petroleum spread us across the economy the figures of speech changed. (That was a wonderful reminder, by the way, by lathechuck, of old ‘management’ terms. Heavens, I once briefly worked for a company called ‘Manpower’, doing what we in UK called (call?) ‘temping’. ! I was for a few weeks given a lift to work in a fascinating factory by a nice man called a ‘progress chaser’. The place is still full of stories for me now.) JMG is right it is fashion, but sometimes we can read it as history. The British 10 yearly census really got going in the 19th century and our youngest daughter has explored it for family genealogy as well as local history associated with our house. The terms people gave or were given for work are equally as fascinating as my now long-gone factory. Long before the days of tar macadam there were road contractors and their overseer living down our rural lane. And all those horse and garden-related jobs, or even the world of hats a world away now. One great grandfather’s mother was listed as ‘pauper’, which itself is worth a meditation or two.
@Kay …. I can relate. When I was a child, I would stand over the trash can after I had thrown something away, and apologise to whatever it was. I’ve mostly outgrown that habit, though often a quick “goodbye and thank you” is helpful*. A few years ago I read Kondo’s “Life-Changing magic of tidying up” and I think one of the ideas she presents there is very helpful: gratitude. When you send something off to the thrift store, for instance, thank it for its service to you, and tell it that you are hoping that someone else will give it a good home.
Ask yourself this: if I have a bunch of unused, half-forgotten “stuff” jammed in closets and spilling over shelves, is that stuff fulfilling its purpose? Is it happy? No. Better to thank it and send it on its way.
As for non-thrift-store, i.e. actual “trash” I find composting and recycling as much as possible helpful. The composted stuff actually seems grateful to be placed in the compost pile. I still offer up apologies when I haul the non-compostable, non-recylable trash bin to the curb.
*But not always sufficient. Many years ago, I bought a toy car for about $1 as a joke** for a friend who was hoping a Camero would suddenly appear in his driveway. My attempt to repaint the little car ruined it, and I ended up throwing it the trash. I actually cried for the little toy – it never got its chance to be played with. My so-called friend laughed at me when I told him this. Don’t know if he ever got his Camero.
**Lesson learned: don’t buy stuff as a joke.
@ JMG et al
A quick nature spirits story: A friend was travelling to Arizona on vacation. I asked her to bring back a rock. She did. I placed in in my office. A series of minor but annoying events occurred in that room over the next few weeks. Finally, it occurred to me to ask if she had asked the rock permission to take it away. She said she did. But when I picked up the rock, I got an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I took it outside and placed it in the garden. The annoying events stopped, and last time I picked up the rock, it seemed happy.
possibly related: I sometimes wonder if part of the bad vibes of modern, industrial, consumer-driven culture is the creation of so much stuff, that is regarded as disposable. I have a collection of antique woodworking tools, and they have a totally different vibe than the plasic-encased ones at the big-box hardware stores. They have been, and still are, used, cared for and respected as the valuable things they are. When so many things are brought cheaply into the world then carelessly cast aside, how can there NOT be some influence on the general atmosphere? Raspberry Jam all over the place….
This note is already overlong, so I won’t bore you with cat stories, other than to agree with what some have stated above – that communication with cats requires learning to interpret their language rather than expecting them to use yours.
There is no doubt that AI is overtaking a subset of humanity in ability and assuming primacy in the ‘intelligent being’ ecological slot. Whether you include yourself in that group is your problem, not ours. IMO, this is happening not because infotec is progressing at exponential speed as it true believers like to claim, but because overreliance of humans on technotrinkets make their abilities and general intelligence fall like a rock. It is not hard to jump over the bar when said bar is bussy digging a trench where to bury itself.
As a personal example, when I drive I never use the thingy that tells me what street to take (even when going to unfamiliar places, I do cosult a map beforehand). However, when it is rush hour and my wife is riding along, I have her consult the online application to figure where all the traffic jams so I can navigate around them. If she’s not available I still go through, though maybe take a bit longer. In any case, the trinket cannot tell you all the good backstreet routes because nobody takes them. And the reason nobody takes them is that they are short and disconnected; you need a fairly good mental model of your city traffic in order to even think how to connect 2 or 3 of those in order to arrive to your destiny.
Towards the end of his blogger career, Steve Yegge wrote a series called A Programmer’s view of the Universe, where he discussed among other things how technology can either be used as a crutch or as an extension of human capabilities. (I think, though I am not sure, the individual article is this http://steve-yegge.blogspot.mx/2008/12/programmers-view-of-universe-part-2.html). He was in the middle of a Deathmarch project and already beginning to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, IARC. So the piece was a bit rambling, but it still informs much of my understanding of our relationship with computers.
And, in order to not fall too much outside of this week’s subject, let me pose a theory. What if the type of software which comprise (but is not limited to) hacker’s tools is imbued with a symbiotic rather than parasitic spirit, whihc in some limited sense is a fosilized fragment of it’s creator’s soul. Comercial software’s, on the other hand, is stitched together out of the collective greed, frustration, agression and contempt of the company that produces it.
That much should inform you on how likely it is to have working AIs in the near future. All the greybeards are wanning now. The new kids are in many ways smarter and better prepared that we were, but they are absolutelly obsessed with disrupting this or that industry and straking it rich. How could they create anything but abominations?
I am intrigued by your question because I don’t see the problem. You said:
“The idea that everything is a person, or everything is sacred, as some Eastern philosophies believe, contains a problem for the holder of that position. If everything is ‘God/sacred/whatever’ what then is sin and where does it come from?”
In my opinion, the idea that the creation is separate from God is not logical, and is a shortcoming of Christianity. The rock bottom definition of God should be that which is causal to all existence and which exists, mysteriously, outside of causation. It doesn’t get more basic than that, and existence is an unsolved mystery, the Great Mystery.
Therefore, all of creation comes out of God in some way. Perhaps God creates through the power of thought and imagination. Who knows. Somehow a universe manifests. This matter and this universe must have one cause and that cause is God. If that is not the case, then matter is also acausal and matter is therefore God. Because everything comes “out of” God as it were, everything is part of God in some way. Perhaps the universe can be likened to the body of God.
It is for this reason that eastern religions regard everything as divine. Truly odd for a western mind, but once you grasp it you can’t unsee it. There just is no outside to God. There is no other game in town! God is so gracious though, that we can hide from this fact by lowering our awareness because it is a bit overwhelming.
However, within this unity and oneness, there are also many individualities, with consciousness and some degree of free will. These can fall short of their purpose. As to where evil might come from, it in my opinion comes from free will and ignorance. My own definition of evil is when one being aggresses against another to take advantage to their gain and the other being’s detriment, which is not in accord with natural law. By feeling the consequences of their actions, in this life or the next, one slowly learns to prefer to be in accord with natural law, which is reality. But God is the ultimate respecter of free will, and we are free to err but it will not make us happy.
Strauss and Howe make a point that there are always four Generations at any time (actually 5, but let’s not complicate it at the beginning). There’s a generation that’s being born and growing up, one that’s coming of age, one that’s in mid-life and one that’s the elders that are in power. The fifth is the one that’s leaving the scene.
At present, the Homeland/Virtual generation is still being born and growing up. The Millennial are still coming of age and growing into midlife. Generation X is at midlife and the Boomers are the older generation that’s in power. The Silent Generation is in old age and the very last of the G.I.s are in really advanced old age.
The prediction is that the next generation, the Virtual generation, will start incarnating in 2020. Since they’ll start making their presence felt a bit earlier, let’s say when they’re 16 instead of college age, the next Awakening will be around 2035-2036. They’ll just be leaving the growing up stage and entering coming-of-age. The Homeland/Virtual generation will just be leaving coming-of-age and entering midlife while the Millennials will just be leaving mid-life and enter adulthood and the power positions. Generation X will be in Adulthood and have the levers of power, but they’ll start being replaced by the Homeland/Virtual generation.
This makes more sense if you diagram it out. So you’re quite right – Generation X will be in power when the next Awakening starts, but they’ll start being replaced by the Homeland/Virtual generation.
Re: the future incarnations of Christ:
I’m on the fifth draft of a deindustrial novella. In the world, set in a future New England, I saw in my investigations that Christ has become a tree god, associated with the White Oak (Quercus alba). If I may, here is a small section where Christ is described from the perspective of Spider Clan, the group traditionally tasked with eliminating troublesome ghosts:
“For hundreds of years, and even sometimes now, the ghosts who refused to die in the Blood Years would haunt us with their anguish. They attack at night, corrupting dreams. My bruja swore to me that she, with her own eyes, had seen livestock and children mummified by ravenous hordes of phantoms. Those were dark times. We had been helpless against this great onslaught of ghosts. Luckily though, Little Deer is generous and good hearted. She convinced her lover Christ of the Oaks to teach the mysteries of redemption, and Christ taught us the mysteries of the Spider, and it is through these mysteries I learned to tame ghosts and release them to the Land of the Dead. Christ could do this because he himself is married to Death, and she shared her secrets with him in the bed they share by where the Irises grow.”
In this world, Christ is quite a bit less popular than Little Deer a love goddess who lives in, around and through the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), or Death who is worshipped much more ardently south in the Ohio River Basin. That being said, he is a very important minor deity given his relationships with these two more powerful gods.
Hi. Long-time reader, rare commenter here. I just wanted to say thank you to all the other commenters for their fascinating stories, and to JMG for hosting another delightful discussion.
Re: meatware. I worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 5.5 years in the nineties. The supervisors liked to refer to us workers as bodies. As in “hey, Joe, I need another body on DB 6.” It was great for employee morale.
Re: spirits. I was getting ready to say that the idea of spirits doesn’t spook me out. This is because when I’ve had weird s#it happen (some of it poltergeist activity), I’ve always been really calm. But the thing is that usually I see spirits in my mind’s eye, not as with my physical eyes. And usually I sense them more than seeing them.
The idea of seeing a spirit with my physical eyes scares the daylights out of me. I’ve seen energy patterns and other visual phenomena with my physical eyes, and it was way more interesting than scary. It’s the personhood of the spirit that makes me nervous, I guess.
I’m also frankly scared by the idea of flaking out on making offerings, thereby pissing off the Good Neighbors, who will punish me. I know that according to traditional lore, they can be fiendishly clever with punishments.
Any idea how I can get past this?
Speaking of language, a line in the Eddas, “Ottar…believed in the goddesses” was translated in one version as “Ottar….trusted the goddesses.” I can not help wondering if that was the meaning of “believe in” Jesus meant, which later became the modern “agree that I exist and accept the entire doctrinal baggage accumulated throughout 2000 years.” Even though there is no connection between Old Norse in the 10th century and Aramaic in the 1st century Roman Empire! Except the concept of personal loyalty and trust, which is apparently timeless.
I’m relieved to hear your response to Harpur’s work because I found it so useful an entry to my conceiving of what kind of common- or meeting-ground we might share with spiritual ‘others’ considering my lack of occult background but willingness to engage the Imaginal.
I’m thinking of taking the book a selected sentence at a time to explore discursively a la the method in the Druid Magic Handbook after I complete some preliminary preparations I sensed were indicated.
Using Harpur’s book thus wouldn’t be jumping into too deep water for a newbie, would it?
I have been absent from the “intertubes” since Aug. (the reason may provoke a question on the next open post) I am glad hopped back in with this essay. I currently work a game farm and the state park. Although the pheasants may not be “persons” as we are told persons exist, they certainly have personalities. Like the little hen who puffed herself up and hissed when you came to collect her eggs and the two roosters who escaped and live in the tallgrass by the filterstrips.
I look forward to next weeks post. I am quite convinced there are nature spirits who live in the park, particularly in the bottoms. Most people up here think I am a nutter.
Anyways, Thank You.
Speaking of soulless things, how is it that people who drop by this blog and know the inherent collapse we are facing are remotely worried about AI? It feels very dissonant to have people worried about AI when considering a lot of the content JMG has churned out.
Even if things attempt to go that way, there is a giant energy deficit looming on the horizon. Only feeble attempts have been made to acknowledge this across the world, the primary one being to try and control oil resources via several methods. We are realistically near peak production or past it in most natural resource classes, all of which are mined or gathered with oil energy. There is no nuclear fusion, no tiny fusion battery, no energy density remotely close to oil and natural gas has appeared or is on the horizon.
Everyone in any position of control still assumes we need growth for prosperity.
I feel this would make nature spirits more easily accepted in the future than AI, as AI only produces benefit for those locked into the current paradigm. That will change, regardless of those wishing it to stay as it is.
JMG & Myriam
I had to look up the Dark Triad (mental health issues) mentioned by Myriam.
Your (JMG) earlier description of Aleister Crowley seemed a pretty high-scoring fit
@Shane, sudden permanent disappearance of people’s loving work and invested time has long been a feature of the Net. It’s permanent if it’s embarrassing; ephemeral if you value it. The very first blog I participated in a little over a decade ago was a fan club featuring loving artwork and fictions, run by a particularly emotional fan, who happened to be rabidly anti-gay. When somebody who was merely connected with the object of veneration made an openly pro-gay statement, she had a fit and deleted the entire contents of the site. (I’d moved on, having offended her, but heard about it from the victims.) I think one of the things driving depression among Net-heads is that this is one of the ugly realities of that world. There is a physical addiction that is helping to keep them tethered (endorphine stimulation), but talking about it seems to be taboo.
Regarding the spirits, I didn’t see them either (or at least I was not aware of it) until a friend told me about his own experiences with Native American religion. With your heart open, you have a better chance of finding them. Try going out in the hills at dawn.
@Patricia Mathews : the teacher of our Bible literacy group has said that the Greek word which is generally translated in the KJV as “faith” actually means something closer to “trust”. He works as an editor for many authors of the Westar Institute, home of the Jesus Seminar.
A minor item.
Add squid and octopuses to the list of animals that can solve puzzles and are on the verge of being able to use tools, at least in some cases.
To be fair I don’t actually believe in AI, just the rich techies proclaiming they have one, then demanding the rest of us get in line. A crisis cult.
Regarding Heather’s comment about created beings. Is it possible for a created being to move into the realm of beings who exist outside of time? Is that like getting into Gwinfid… the point where the I doesn’t need to incarnate anymore.
JMG – Created versus eternal beings seems a lot like the creation lore in LOTR. Gandalf and the Balrog for example being Aeinar, they look vastly different but they are on the same level.
I’m not sure if this matters or not, but the description of Christ in your story fits pretty close to some visionary work I’ve been having sporadically in my spiritual life for the past couple years. The image of the Oak; and Christ being a lover of Death in an i-you relation has come over and over very strongly, communicating redemption, sacrifice, and well…. the sacred mysteries of Christ if that makes any sense. Or another way to put it… Christ giving himself to the cross, embracing death and the seed of the tree which is the cross and Christ as a willing sacrifice merging and birthing a mighty Oak with living roots filling the Earth. I’d be very interested to read your story.
@Patricia Matthews: You are quite right about that.
In the old Christian creeds (“I believe in one God, the Father, etc. etc.”), the Greek verb that is usually translated as “believe” is _pisteuō_, and its basic meaning is “to put trust” in someone or something. The noun from that verb is _pistis_, which usually means “trust” ot “faith.” When these creeds were translated into Latin, the verb used was _credō_, which is much closer in its meaning to English “to believe.”
In general, more or less equivalent words in different old languages do not mean precisely the same thing as you move from one of those language to the next. The language one uses goes a very long way toward shaping thought and even molding sense-preception of the world around them for speakers of that language. This is because, for most people, thought is generally accomplished by means of words and sentences. — We already dealt with something of this sort in the discussion above of “to know” and its several equivalents in other languages, for example, German _wissen_ vs. _kennen_ (and also _können_ “to know how to do something”).
Offtopic post, which may be of interest to readers.
I found a freely accessible copy of a paper from the Monsters bibliography,
Palmer, John. “A Community Mail Survey of Psychic Experiences”,
first published in the Journal of the ASPR, 73 #3 (July 1979), pp. 221-251.
Getting a copy of the original journal may be difficult, however, the book below, “Parapsychology” by Caroline Watt republished it.
If you get the free sample, you will have access to the first 56 pages of the book, which include the full text of the paper.
Reese, where’s the contradiction? Like parents with two-year-olds, gods have certain expectations about the behavior of their worshipers, but it’s not a matter of having to pass a multiple-choice test about theology or you fry in hell forever.
Shane, fair enough. I think it’s quite possible that one or more of the big social media platforms could implode overnight once the next tech bust hits — think of what happened to Pets.com — and the shrieking ought to be pretty entertaining. Mind you, if it helps at least some people grasp the inherent fragility of the internet, that’ll be a good thing…
Kay, you’re most welcome.
SNG, okay, that makes more sense. The thought of Bucky getting into ley theory made my head spin.
Peter, glad the advice proved helpful in more than the obvious sense!
Oilman, have algos become equally common in other aspects of corporate life? That would certainly explain why so many really idiotic decisions get made by big corporations these days. We may not achieve artificial intelligence, but we’ve already succeeded in creating artificial stupidity…
Eddie, where did you see a worthiness cutoff? I was simply pointing out that other living things are as smart as we are. That doesn’t impute any unworthiness to those who are less intelligent than we are, or for that matter to those who are more.
Phil H., “pauper” was a tolerably common social status in those days; there were arrangements made for their support. Those will need to be rebuilt as the temporary boom of cheap energy that made the welfare state possible goes away.
Other Michelle, thanks for the story! That’s something a lot of Druids experience, by the way — one of the reasons we like really big rocks in circles.
Violet, now I really want to see that novella in print!
Victoria, by all means relax. Nature spirits have plenty of other things on their minds right now. Most people never do see spiritual entities with their physical eyes, for good reason — such entities aren’t physical, after all — and entering into the kind of relationship that involves leaving offerings is only for those who specifically want to do so.
Patricia, yep. The phrase “have faith in” used to mean “trust,” not “accept a vast load of ideology concerning.”
Ah, okay; thank you for the clarification, and sorry about the bother. I interpret “what notions about them we might happen to come up with” far too broadly, it seems, but I’ll give priority to your clear-to-me reply to me over your confusing-to-me reply to someone else with a different starting worldview.
Temporaryreality, not at all. Because Harpur’s book is meant for people who start with a relatively ordinary view of the world, it would be a good text for a beginner to explore via discursive meditation.
William, you’re welcome. I’ve never had the chance to meet pheasants, but my experiences with the animals I have met leads me to assume you’re quite correct.
Oilman, it’s precisely because AI is part of the acceptable paradigm that makes it so easy for people to get worked up about it. Me, I consider AI right up there with commercial fusion power, commuting by jetpack, and Jeff Bezos showing some sign or other of basic human decency as one of those things we’re never going to see, but I lost my faith in the officially approved paradigm a long time ago.
Phil H., well, yes.
John, I knew about octopi, but not about squid. Good to hear that Cthulhu will have plenty of interesting company when he awakes… 😉
Austin, not in the Druid understanding. Beings in Gwynfydd aren’t eternal, they just don’t have to put up with physical death any more — they still grow and change, which eternal beings don’t have to do. As for the Tolkien reference, why, yes — he was a sufficiently traditional Catholic, and a fairly deep student of medieval thought (though not half as deep as his friend C.S. Lewis, the last of the red-hot medieval Christian Platonists), to make that distinction.
Packshaud, thanks for this!
Reese, no need to apologize. I figured I hadn’t been very clear.
The Other Michelle,
“Ask yourself this: if I have a bunch of unused, half-forgotten “stuff” jammed in closets and spilling over shelves, is that stuff fulfilling its purpose? Is it happy? No. Better to thank it and send it on its way.”
I don’t dispute the intellectual worth of what you say here and if it was just a matter of logic I wouldn’t be a packrat. However, it is a very visceral thing for me to try and get rid of things. That is why if I feel the urge to purge I need to act on it to avoid the visceral attachment to stuff. Cultivate an I-it relationship to the stuff. I can tell you that going to the dump can be a very painful experience. Like looking at pictures of the Jewish holocaust almost.
Thanks for your idea of thanking things as they go to the thrift store. Could help convince my innards that yes, it is indeed ok to let that thing go and be of worth to someone else. I have already cleared quite a number of books and the next lot that goes out will be thanked along with anything else that goes out the door.
I also compost and recycle as much as I can and I don’t feel too bad about stuff that goes into the compost pile. Unfortunately, a lot of things can’t be recycled where I live, mostly plastics. I am also working on using less and less plastic to avoid having to trash it rather then recycle it.
I share your objection to the notion that only smart creatures are worthy of respect. (I also very much doubt that Mr. Greer ever meant to imply this.) It’s a result of society’s long-standing strategy of putting intelligence on a pedestal in order to justify exploitative practices.
That strategy also cultivates habits of thought that cause people to overlook or misinterpret displays of intelligence right in front of them, when such displays come from creatures “known” to be unintelligent. It’s not only a lousy metric, it encourages a narrowing of perception that could be said to make proponents of said metric, well, less intelligent.
That being said, this issue factors into my earlier vote for this discussion of nature spirits.
Everything alive today is the progeny of a being that was at least able to reproduce, in an unbroken chain that goes back to the beginning of life on Earth. That takes functional intelligence, and it’s pretty strictly enforced. (I myself didn’t even make the cut, due to a prolonged high fever in young adulthood.)
I once negotiated a lawn mowing treaty with a hive of ground hornets. The process was rather complicated, more than I want to type out here, but it involved ouchies on both sides. Corporeal, physical consequences. Despite our different modes of understanding, a working compromise was reached, due to our ability to hurt each other…
Okay, wait. I was going to say something about noncorporeal forms not having a feedback mechanism to drive the sort of development that I see in the physical world. But pain, pleasure, contentment, they don’t necessarily need a physical component, do they?
Anyway, hi Eddie! The book club discussion should be touching on the planes of existence in January. My guess is we’ll both find it illuminating.
A couple thoughts, one somewhat random first:
I ran across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism used to describe what I would’ve called Social Christianity. I find it rather appropriate. (The source is Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option.) There’s a god, and he wants us to be happy, and so whatever makes us feel happy . . .
Yeah, no, not quite how Christianity works, but a very common belief these days, and very compatible with the Religion of Progress.
It seems that the vast majority of youngsters within Christianity are very undereducated about their own faiths. My eldest (15, ninth grade, previously home schooled, on a full scholarship to a private Christian school) has been getting into it with his Theology teacher as well as his Sunday School teacher lately, and what information they are offering is simply pathetic, or as he puts it, appropriate for pre-school children. (Since youngest is in that age, he has a basis for comparison.) This lack of knowing Who they are reaching out to may be a good part of the reason for the perceived absence of God, somewhat as if you mailed a letter to me but put the address wrong. If it got to my neighborhood, I would surely see it, but if it ended up elsewhere . . .
So, a little talk about angelic hierarchy, which I’m sure you, Brother Greer, are clear on, but many others are probably not, since American Christians generally seem to be rather influenced by the absolute ignorance of the entertainment industry on the subject. The named Archangels–Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, Uriel, and so forth, are very near the bottom of the angelic hierarchy, which puts them very close to humans, which is, in my opinion, why they can involve themselves with humans. Rather in the same vein as we can have conversations with dogs that are two-way discussions, but have rather more trouble carrying on a discourse with an amoeba. Cherubim probably find us as difficult to discourse with as we would find the amoeba. I suppose if an Archangel comes calling I shall be rather alarmed but not horrified, but they do generally say “Fear not,” as a greeting. If nature spirits are kin in power to Archangels, then fear and terror would be predictable reactions, wouldn’t they? Especially if they are unexpected visitors?
One reason I wondered about household spirits is that the traditional beverages shared with them vary widely. Would one that tagged along with my husband and was supposed to get palm wine, hailing from West Africa, be likely to be lactose intolerant? Would one from my side that traditionally had milk find beer–another possibility from my side–to be intoxicating, even dangerous? Or is it more the thought, the intention, that counts, rather than the material item?
The similarities you mentioned between different nature spirits are intriguing. I have a feeling the local ones may’ve inspired a story my mother told about the “Night People” when I was a child, down to a specific underground location where they dwelt! But if they are there, they have been sleeping, I think . . . Perhaps I need to put my snow boots on and go tromp around the place and see if anyone’s alert besides that twelve point buck that mutually spooked us a month ago! Other than the climatic changes, I’m trying to get some idea of what ought to be done here . . . done right, eight acres ought to do a great deal more than breed Russian Knapweed and Canadian Thistles, which is mostly what it’s been doing.
About that ‘spirit is in everything’; I spent an unknown amount of time, some years back, standing across the street from the local masonic lodge seeing the manifestation of the purpose and intent of the building from the facade through to the bare ground and the present day back to the original founder. But don’t expect me to describe what occurred with words, it was and remains a ‘straight through the soul’ experience. This was after i started reading the adr but before wog. I had previously had experience of seeing and feeling what most other people don’t acknowledge. Many here may relate to that. Synchronisity and serendipity have been following and leading me for several decades now. I now converse with what I feel to be ‘that which looks after’ and I mentally term “goddess’ (although I may not yet understand the subtlety of the communication going on )
Thank you John Michael for your thoughts and for the interaction with the other people who come to this space.
Will & JMG – I invoke my preferred divine force prior to divination, and thank It for sharing Its wisdom with me afterwards. Now I’m thinking that I ought to include the deck itself, and its images in that round of “hellos” and “thank yous”. It would only take a few extra words. I think I’ll give it a try.
What do you make of the current “excitement” over the idea of the end of cash and the “cashless society”? Do you consider this to be in the same realm as AI and fusion power?
Geez, JMG, I’m kinda slow and it takes me a minute, but if what you’re saying about the Russians & the Chinese and the US$ is true, if you have US$ savings, you better be getting it into hard goods or another currency PDQ
@Yucca: this idea of etheric hermit revenants is interesting. They should be easy to identify.
One doesn’t meet human familiars in the etheric plane, because real humans disintegrate after a few days. So, in the traditions where there is contact with the dead, this is not done in the etheric plane. If it is done in the etheric, yes, there’s something very odd with this “human.”
I find this idea plausible for incubi and succubi, with the disclaimer above for familiars.
I too would be delighted if the rocks sprouted, dogs spoke to me, and various other sundry exotic phenomena occurred.
But would it all be benevolent and benign?
Not to mention, except when dancing with Carlos Castaneda’s muse, it just doesn’t happen.
Robert Mathiessen beat me to it about “pisteuo”, though I would add that “credo” in Latin does not entirely lack the meaning “trust”, just as English “believe” doesn’t entirely lack it (“I believe her”).
You originally mentioned Aramaic, which I know hardly anything about. However, it is far from clear if Jesus didn’t also speak Hebrew, he would certainly have cited scripture in this language. While in the Hebrew Bible “to believe” is not a very frequent or important concept (more important are “rely” and “respect”), there is a Hebrew root “aman” for “faith” or “truth”, and I suppose Jesus would have used some derivative of this root wherever he is translated as using “pisteuo” in the gospels (“your faith has saved you”). In Aramaic the same root exists, too.
For the following I relied on this.
The Hebrew verb for “to believe” (“he’emin”) is of a form that would usually mean “make somebody do X” or “declare that somebody is X”. Now what is X? The simple verb is only used in Biblical Hebrew with the sense of “nourish”; another verb form (“ne’eman”) means “to be planted solidly, to be reliable”, and there is a related noun meaning “a master artisan” (so much for concrete words; there are also the abstract terms translated “faith”, “truth” and of course “Amen!”).
The best I can understand is that “to believe in somebody” (“he’emin”) means: “declare that somebody is solid, that somebody makes solid work, that somebody supports, that somebody nourishes”. This obviously does not require any statement about the “true nature” of that somebody.
“There’s another kind of power, a power that’s found in participation with the living rather than domination over the dead”
Druids vs. Necromancers, it seems D&D and instead it is real life
BoysMom, “moralistic therapeutic Christianity” is a keeper! Thank you for bringing my attention to that. You’re certainly right about the very poor standard of theological knowledge among Christians these days, at least here in America; more than once, as an unbaptized outsider, I’ve had to explain to Christians that “eternity” does not mean “a long time” or walk them through the logic of the Trinity to show them how it makes sense, and let’s not even talk about the angelic hierarchies!
The nature spirits human beings encounter are mostly either on the same level as those beings your tradition calls angels, or on a simpler and less powerful level; elemental spirits, which make up a large portion of what people encounter, are more or less on a par with an ordinarily bright dog. (There are other beings on a much simpler level still — the elemental realm, like ours, extends down to the simplest forms that can have independent life — but we don’t usually contact those consciously.) There are also beings on an archangelic level, and on higher levels still, but here again, most humans aren’t going to run into those.
As for what to offer the household spirits, good question; I tend to follow tradition here, but you can always ask them for some kind of hint…
Clarence, you’re welcome! I’ve had experiences somewhat like the one you had facing the Masonic hall, for whatever that’s worth.
Bonnie, by all means.
Phil K., I see it as a power grab. Transactions that use cash can’t be tracked easily; transactions that use electronic media are visible to the government, and anyone else who wants to observe them. (Yes, I know, security blah blah blah. Nothing electronic is private, full stop, end of sentence.) If governments succeed in abolishing cash, some other portable and easily fungible item will become the standard of value, and the rapidly swelling number of people who are outside the official economy will use that instead. The one good thing about it is that it’ll help speed the transition to the moneyless economy of the coming dark ages, by getting people used to nonmonetary ideas of value.
Shane, better still, get it into skills, and you’ll be prepared for whatever happens to money.
Karalan, who said it would be benevolent and benign? I certainly didn’t. A sense of wonder does not require harmlessness in the things that inspire it. If you want to quibble with a metaphor because it’s a metaphor, by the way, you may be missing the point.
Phitio, good. I mentioned in a post in the old blog that metaphors from pulp fantasy fiction are far more relevant to our current situation than any of the currently acceptable mythologies…
So belief in animal spirits, while not shared by me, is one thing. But “believing” often then leads to worship, and to some form of the afterlife, so I’m wondering how that fits in – if at all, with your conception of nature spirits. Should people pray to these spirits for rain in a drought? Do they watch over every billions of us and send what remains of us to a place of reward or punishment if we behave badly or – even worse – fail to adequately worship them? I mean no insult to those who believe in such things – which includes most of us billions of humans. But for me personally, while the existence of some kind of animal spirits is something I can at least conceive of, not so for the latter. Maybe this will be covered in another post since it’s not a trivial topic.
I think much of what you’re alluding to is what drew C.S. Lewis to George MacDonald. His fruitful mix of Christian allegory, visceral use of nature imagery, and a dose of Christian Universalism really struck a chord with Lewis as it does us. When the industrial revolution hit full stride, MacDonald was a ‘Hail Mary’ from the medieval times. A fresh wind of unexplainable truth from a better vanished time.
Subjective truth in all of it’s forms, hits me like a defibrillator. It’s something so sorely needed in today’s western world.
I had the privilege of spending a half hour today with a beloved friend, age 100, who’s in hospice. I asked her if her late husband had been to see her yet. He hasn’t, but she told me some other things she’s ‘seen’ recently. She attributes it to her brain not working properly; I wonder if the veil is thin enough now for her to be able to see what we can’t. I will miss her… so full of love and joy, so sharing of her experiences and knowledge. I know I’ll dance with her in the Eternal, though.
An English nature writer who worked in WW2 on two farms, recorded the following observations made to him about the very same place, a wood:
The land agent, rather annoyed, said to him: ‘It’s nothing more than dead money!’
The retired woodman and hurdle maker: ‘You do have to think that some great god has made this.’
He found the woodman much better company, and an apparently much happier man.
Lydia, I have hardly noticed my cat doing the quick glance thing, at least consciously, yet I started doing it to her as a way of communicating that I could see she understood. To invite her to come sit on my lap when she’s in the room, I make prolonged eye contact, then quickly trace with my eyes the path she would follow to get on my lap – flicking to the lap for just a second, then back to her. She plainly understands it and hops on unless she has something better to do.
She is SUBTLE! For example, when she wants to be picked up she will stand by your ankle and arch her back, without a sound. If you don’t pick her up within seconds she will wander away disappointed, possibly before you knew she was there. Someone who was not able to pay close attention, or who was committed to a belief that cats aren’t communicative, would never even notice her little requests, and she would probably long since have given up trying and become one of those sad dispirited indoor cats. As it is she is an adored, spoiled and happy little muffin, and we are far better people for having developed friendship with her.
JMG, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve explained the situation to my daughter, and she’s very excited to be a part of it.
On a different topic, I saw a book yesterday named The Obesity Code. When I saw the title, it brought a startling illumination that maybe others have already had. It suddenly occurred to me that a big part of the problem with health and weight is that we treat our own bodies like things, like machines. My husband has struggled with his weight his entire adult life. He’s done different diets that always promise if you don’t eat these foods, but do eat these other foods, then you’ll lose weight, guaranteed.
It just doesn’t work that way. Different people’s bodies are different. And it’s so goal-oriented – lose this many pounds in this amount of time, get down to this weight, etc. By the time he gets to his goal, he’s so worn out with it, he just stops. Then the weight starts coming back.
I’ve been trying to tell him to just eat healthy, with no processed garbage “food”, and do a reasonable amount of exercise. He shouldn’t worry about the number on the scale, but instead just see where a reasonably healthy lifestyle gets him. My guess is that he’d weigh less than he does now, but more than the 165 lbs. he’s “supposed to” weigh. He’s stuck in the diet trap though. Maybe that would change if I could convince him to stop treating his body like a thing.
I personally am skeptical that the next tech bubble burst will take the currency with it. Not impossible but I think unlikely. It certainly won’t be pleasant for Seattle, but sometimes bubble bursts are isolated in the economy, unlike the housing bubble in 2008. A key factor is that there isn’t really any global player with economic heft that wants the US dollar to crash and burn. Either they’ve got too many of them or they just don’t see a viable replacement, at least yet. China likes to whine about the US, sometimes with valid reason, but they really don’t want to fill the shoes everywhere yet, though they would be thrilled if the US Navy exited the western Pacific. It might be kind of pathetic to say, but we might in the years ahead become the modern Ottoman Empire – well past it’s prime but held up by everybody else because it serves their purpose. We’re not that bad off yet, but we seem to be racing toward it as fast as we can. I’m a lemming – lead me to the cliff!
Whew, I finally caught up to the end of the comments! I like how someone asks a question, or delivers an experience that is my need to know. I have been using this commentariat for years and years to extend my information base. And the range of experience reminds me how the stories of one might not fit my story at all, even as I can accept its validity.
I am currently impaired by tinnitus for a decade, and I have used your site as a way of exploring different ideas about the world while struggling with a phantom sense of hearing that is mine and mine alone. The phantom sound alters my awareness of things present or my train of thought, but not always. Thinking about deep time ideas, spirits in the wood, magic in the age of the Myth of Progress, technology and compost is far better than holding my suffering “out there” at arms length from me. Without medical technology, cutting the infection out of my ear, I would be dead. Now I have a BAHA implant, and I am cyborgian.
Forty years ago, after eating peyote, I climbed with two friends up to a ridge while being whipped with snow by the wind all the while inside a cloud, around 9000 Ft. elevation. We lit a small fire and stood around for a while until the wind opened a portal to Mt. Evans, directly south of us. The mountain had clouds below, above and on each side, but the sky behind the mountain was clear blue. Within a few minutes the clouds returned and we walked back to the cabin and a fire. An image or the mountain appeared in the fire and a voice told me ” Don’t kill live trees”, which resonates today. An old cottonwood in the back of my property has been my guide over 35 years of living here.
I have planted around 50 trees over the years and about half have died, but not from my intention to cut them down. My next-door neighbor, cut down over 30 trees over the years, and three years ago, he started cutting down a honey locust and it scratched him enough to give him blood poisoning and death. I wonder if his attitude toward trees hastened his demise?
Tim, it’s understandable that you’re angry because you feel lied to and betrayed. What might help is to remember that your parents, Sunday School teachers, childhood pastor, or whoever believed that they were telling you the truth. It isn’t really fair to call them liars when they were not deliberately deceiving you. Think of the times when you’ve told someone something only to later realize that it was incorrect. You would have been very hurt if they had called you a liar for it.
I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, and my path out wandered through various churches, atheism, a vague belief that there’s “something” out there, and now possibly some form of paganism or nature spirituality, I’m not sure yet. There are an awful lot of people in that journey that I could be angry at for teaching me things that I no longer believe in, but what’s the point? All of that was part of what led me to where I am now and made me the person I am today. I just think the anger holds you back from learning what you’re supposed to learn and moving on with your life.
Anyway, whichever way your path leads you, good luck on your journey. I hope you find peace with your past.
JMG, Varun, all…
I still think that, WRT driverless vehicles, AI, expert systems and most digital tech – we are employing resources and capital trying to take the most efficient and flexible computer known in our existence (our brains) out of the equation. This is a super-colossal waste of time and energy to deliver a few bucks to a very few people, and a tremendous waste of resources as well. I MIGHT buy it, if it were being used to diagnose disease or otherwise benefit humanity in general – but as one can easily see, the efforts are directed at military applications, applications to control human decisions and ostensibly to improve bottom lines. Yet the bottom line productivity increases are obviated by the cost (purchase, licensing, maintenance and increased hardware requirements) of this crap. And the alleged ‘improvements’ are vaporware when compared to simply training and retaining people.
The phrase “digital masturbation” came to mind. Watching vids of many of these “AI gurus” leads me to believe most are seriously myopic and unstable.
Does someone have a Heinlein or Asimov quote for this? – LOL
Listening to the wind sing through the falling leaves to lower my BP….
Oh – in the spirit of full disclosure, my income next week will be from a day long seminar to a herd of “big data” nerds, to explain to them where their data comes from and how it can be used to generate what their clients want. I got this gig because they accepted a contract for big data manipulation without knowing a single thing about the data or their what their clients’ needs even were. This, apparently, is considered the new normal in big data…
I am making money by unhitching the cart and placing the horse in the front for guys who do not even know what the reins are for. I wish there was an audience…
JMG, consider this a valid answer to your query regarding algos in the corporate milieu.
@ Shane W…
If you want to understand what will happen, and what you need to do to prepare for it hitting in the next year or three, then just imagine this:
You wake up and go to the bank. It is closed. Eventually, it opens up for those with certain account numbers. You are one of them, so you quickly withdraw the maximum. You proceed to the grocery store, only to find that your $2.50 gallon of milk now costs $12.50, and your $3/gal gasoline is now $15/gal.
Welcome to the new world, where the dollar is kaput. The only thing this makes less expensive is your mortgage, but that is only if your savings are in Yuan or silver or gold – then you get convertibility and can pay the mortgage off with the worthless dollars it is contracted with. If your savings is in dollars – they are just made more worthless than they are today (worth about 13 cents compared to the dollar pre-WWII).
Tangible, unleveraged assets are the only thing that makes the transition. Although the mortgage industry, with their MBS bundles and such, will likely NEVER sort out the mess, especially with banks failing all around, so it may very well fall back to possession being 9/10ths of the law. Nobody knows due to the number of weird financial instruments they created to trade debt as if it were money.
Thanks for that story – it resonated with me, as I have tinnitus and honey locusts – LOL
I cut trees on my farm, a lot of them, but we replant others that deliver fruit or nuts or other things we need. In general, we take out weak trees or misshapen ones that will fall eventually anyway.
I took out 5 honey locusts but left the largest one – the others were offspring making the area around the big daddy dangerous. The big old boy is doing even better now, and everyone knows to keep well away unless you are needing a blow dart or such. And as anyone familiar with this species knows, respect is required to simply walk near one. Quite a great spirit dwelling IMO…
IDK, JMG, considering that two, possibly three whole generations are defined by their dependence on digital technology, and considering that Gen X was the last generation that had any semblance of rebellion, and the two most current generations have all but accepted their digital identities/addictions as handed to them by Silicon Valley, no questions asked, I think the upheaval could be huge if tech imploeded messily.
if you read JMG’s comment, he said that the Chinese and the Russians are moving to end the US$ reserve status, which indicates they must’ve had enough w/the American order, or consider us too unstable, or both–regardless, they must now feel that its in their best interest to squash the US$’s reserve status. According to JMG’s comment, they’re already setting things up.
Hello! I work in tech. (Not for AppAmaFaceGoogSoft.)
Oilman2, I lose zero sleep over the potential dangers of AI precisely because of looming energy constraints. Current machine learning tech works essentially by throwing profligate amounts of computing resources (read: energy) at a problem. That model is yielding interesting results right now, but it seems obvious to me it isn’t sustainable.
As for the tech bubble bursting, which several commenters have mentioned, I don’t see it happening in the near future. When it does, somewhere down the line when people I imagine it will turn out something like the correction in the market for high-end legal services that followed the ’08 crash: there will still be grossly overpaid people doing that work, just substantially fewer of them, and they’ll have to work harder to justify their existence.
(Also, please don’t pray too hard for our comeuppance! Some of us are nice, and just happen to deal better with machines than people.)
Bringing things back to the original topic, approximately once a year I’m obligated to trim some thorny bushes the previous occupants of our house put up against the sidewalk as a privacy hedge, lest the city fine us for encroaching on the sidewalk. Is there a polite way of doing this? I’ve always felt a bit cruel just hacking away.
Between the giant old pine in the front yard growing up, and a fantastic trip up to the Humboldt redwoods recently, I am sold on an I-you relationship with trees.
(P.S. As always, I’m happy to be corrected on any factual point by anyone with superior technical expertise!)
Re: personhood for Te Urewera, I’m reminded of the (in)famous “trees have standing” opinion for which the late Justice Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court is to this day ridiculed. He argued that we should establish a legal fiction under which a natural entity like a tree could be granted personhood such that it could have its interests represented directly in court. Why not? A corporation is nothing more than a nexus of contracts, and we grant corporations legal personhood. Personally, I think Justice Douglas had the better of the argument.
Dewey, thanks very much for telling me this! It definitely sounds like the same kind of communication. “Subtle” and “Quick” seem to be keywords for cat communication. Yours is a lucky cat indeed.
Michelle, that sounds so much like my own mother, who I wrote about here a few weeks ago. She too ‘saw’ things that we couldn’t, and also thought her brain wasn’t functioning properly. (age 94). Perhaps hers, and your mother’s brains, are/were functioning absolutely properly for that stage of life, helping to make a transition we younger folks don’t yet understand.
@Shane – that’s not really how it works. It isn’t up to Russia and China to set something up. JMG said that they were “positioning their currencies.” That would be hopeless for the Russian Rouble. The Chinese are doing so but some of the things required to see that through are very risky for them to do and they have been resisting. I won’t be surprised if it happens some day, but not any time soon. Having one’s currency be the global reserve has some major advantages, but it has some serious risks as well.
Indeed, if you have been watching Russia and China’s moves over the past five years, they’ve bought up massive amounts of gold, established their own financial systems to bypass the previously established dollar-dominated ones, and negotiated international deals for direct currency transactions, bypassing the dollar. In the past, any country attempting either of the latter two measures was bombed into the stone age, or if that was not feasible, as with Iran, sanctioned into penury. It is also a major reason the price of gold has been suppressed. All these measures have become less effective, sometimes counterproductive, as countries find ways to defend themselves from a rampaging resource hog. This is why Putin is the Devil Incarnate to the basement-crazies running our swamp, and I really think the so-called left ought to be lined up on the left and right coasts, where they can go ahead and declare war on Russia.
Regarding digital technology, as a teacher, I’ve seen it ruin far too many kids. Twenty-five years ago, maybe one in a thousand kids was disruptive. In Japan, society emphasizes self-discipline and parents/teachers impart strict values early. Even among the second and third generation Japanese in America you see this, and their kids are notoriously good students. Five years ago, I had my first ADHD student. The other students shunned him, sitting silently, and ultimately quitting my non-compulsory class, so I’d take him outside and elicit English as we played. Two years ago, the kids, particularly the girls, started bringing smartphones to class. Since I forbid their use in class, they would play with them outside and come in to class later and later, unable to focus on classwork. They sat in little groups chatting quietly among themselves. This year, I acquired a new ADHD student, with two normal kids at grade school level. What’s different now is the two normal kids act just as disruptively as the ADHD girl in her presence.
This is just anecdotal, but I’ve heard other teachers having similar problems. Witnessing the phenomenon from the outside, I feel so screamingly lucky to be electrosensitive, unable to tolerate the close presence of this technology, and miserable when I am forced to.
People like Machen must live incredibly narrow lives that a talking animal would send them into madness
I can say from personal experience when one of my cats learned how to warble “out” whenever she wanted to go outside, my reaction was one of delight and wonder. I also was curious just how much English she actually understood .
I felt much the same way first time I saw a crow court, crows you see have something extremely similar to a trial system when young male crows, who are allowed a certain leeway in making trouble go too far. I remember thinking “I wonder what crime was committed” and what was illegal in crow lands
Truth is I feel pity for those people raised without wonder. I was blessed to be otherwise and so know nature spirits are out there. Cautious too but nature may have wonder but its not nice
“Karalan, who said it would be benevolent and benign? I certainly didn’t.”
You’re right, I said it, in hopes you might expand on that aspect a little.
A friend o mine, and also a blood brother, sent me your August blog. Reading it gave me the strong feeling of following you naturally, foot after foot. I even translated it into French, where I belong. Your November blog gave me the same feeling, althoug it seems less important to me as a crucial issue for manking. I look forward to the next part. Just be aware that your explanation of the huge movement of souls towards improvement, and the fringe of the next state of consciousnes has opened a fantastic perspective. For, after my 33 degrees of Free Masonry, I can understand precisely where I stand, on the threshold of another 100% new and exciting state of life. Thanks a lot, dear brother. Claude
”A lot of the young male angst about women online, particularly in the PUA and MRA scenes”
Disagree. Grossly unfair divorce laws and many innocent men impacted as a result of said divorce having their children and property taken from them is a huge contributor.
Then there is the nightmare of domestic violence somehow being a male problem most of the time.
Thank you John, for reminding us of one root cause of recoil when we encounter instances of our own feelings or push back from others that directly relate to the concept of “getting above their station.”
It is only in the past few years that I learned that from the DNA standpoint, the physical presence I see in the mirror is a bacteria/fungi/human/virus symbiont, over 90 percent non-human DNA. Bonnie Basler at Princeton univ. has a good TED talk that speaks to this line of reasoning and research.
” These bacteria are not passive riders, these are incredibly important, they keep us alive. They cover us in an invisible body armor that keeps environmental insults out so that we stay healthy. They digest our food, they make our vitamins, they actually educate your immune system to keep bad microbes out. So they do all these amazing things that help us and are vital for keeping us alive, and they never get any press for that.”
I feel it is important that we continue to learn to trust our “gut” feelings. The feelings are there for a reason, our microbiome are our most intimate partners in life. I trust my “Gut Feeling” and believe it when I hear mycologist, Paul Stamets describe fungal networks as sentient.
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