It’s been a month since I last posted on the theme of disenchantment, and a lively month at that. The cracks in America’s global empire have become increasingly visible around the world. Here at home the mentally challenged resident of the White House continues to blunder through a vague approximation of his constitutional duties while the coterie of neoconservative zealots that hand him his talking (or rather mumbling) points is busy trying to start more wars the United States no longer has the resources or the national unity to win. Donald Trump is basking in the success of his recent CNN town hall, Robert Kennedy Jr. is rising steadily in the polls as he campaigns to unseat Biden for the Democratic nomination—well, let’s just sum things up by saying that it’s a good time to go long on popcorn futures.
With all this and more happening, it may not seem timely to return to so apparently abstract a point as the historical alternation between eras of enchantment and disenchantment. Here as so often, however, appearances deceive. What Max Weber called “the disenchantment of the world” is a massive political fact, but it’s by no means as cut and dried as Weber apparently thought—and it’s also not a one-way process. Grasp the way that the modern experience of disenchantment unfolded across historical time, and where it can be expected to lead next, and you understand much that is otherwise obscure about how we got into our present predicament and what we can expect in the years ahead. This is the theme I plan on developing in this and a sequence of future posts.
Let’s start with a glance back over the ground we’ve already covered. Back in September of 2020, when I asked readers what they wanted me to write about for the fifth Wednesday that month happened to have, the largest number of votes came in for a discussion of Max Weber’s claim that “the disenchantment of the world” was an essential feature of modernity. I’d brought that claim up earlier, having read several reviews of Jason Josephson-Storm’s then-recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, which challenged Weber’s notion. The resulting post was titled “The Mask of Disenchantment,” and the process of writing it brought me face to face with the serious problems at the heart of the popular claim that we live in a disenchanted world. That in turn sent me down the proverbial rabbit hole, chasing a cast of characters at least as colorful as those that stocked the Wonderland Alice visited.
The resulting research finally yielded a series of further posts starting in January of this year. The first of those, “The Nature of Enchantment,” went deeper into what it is that we’re talking about when we speak of the enchanted world of the past, and noted the significant changes in human consciousness that mark the difference between enchantment and disenchantment. The next three posts (here, here, and here), all titled “Against Enchantment,” discussed three influential authors—Ken Wilber, Owen Barfield, and Jean Gebser—who all rejected enchantment as an outworn relic of the primitive past. All of them, as we saw, assumed that the end of enchantment was a unique and permanent transformation, and all of them argued that in the future we could expect another equally unique and permanent transformation to some better state of being.
A later post, “The Reign of Quantity,” explored the very different ideas of René Guénon, who also saw the modern world as having fallen away from enchantment but saw this as a bad thing which would eventually go away, to be replaced by a return of enchantment. Before that I took a detour with another post, “The Destiny of Disenchantment,” which used the most famous work of Roman pornography and one of the most famous works of Christian hagiography to raise hard questions about the one-way timeline of history presented by Wilber, Barfield, and Gebser. In that post, I pointed out that the ebb and flow of enchantment appears to move in lockstep with the rise and fall of civilizations.
I want to make sure this last point is clear, because it’s foundational for the posts to come. One of the central themes of my blogging, since early in the days of The Archdruid Report, has been the life cycle of civilizations, ours very much included. It’s a matter of common belief in today’s industrial societies that we’ve broken free of the cycle of rise and fall that shaped the history of past civilizations. My take, of course, is that this common belief is wrong. Modern industrial civilization is in decline, it’s been gradually picking up speed on the downslope for more than half a century now, and we’re not going to get the endlessly rehashed fantasy of humanity zooming off to the stars. What we’re facing instead is something much more familiar: a long, slow, uneven descent unfolding over the next few centuries, which will end in a dark age and eventually give birth to the successor civilizations of the future.
I’ve explored this point from a great many angles over the years, but most of those have been more or less material in nature. I’ve talked about the exhaustion of nonrenewable natural resources, the disruption of ecological processes that support the industrial system, the economic blowback of empire, the loss of essential skills that might enable our societies to downshift to a more sustainable mode of functioning, and so on. All those remain relevant. Yet there’s a deeper dimension to the rise and fall of civilizations—a dimension of consciousness. People in the early and late stages of a civilization don’t experience the world in the same way, and they also don’t experience themselves in the same way. The difference in both cases is the presence or absence of the quality we’ve described as “enchantment”—that is, the capacity to experience the world as full of life, consciousness, meaning, and magic.
Enchantment covers a great deal of territory, but one aspect in particular deserves close attention in the present context. Owen Barfield is particularly helpful here, as so often in our exploration. In Saving The Appearances he defines the state of enchantment—his term for it is “original participation”—in the following way: “The essence of original participation is that there stands behind the phenomena, and on the other side of them from me, a represented which is of the same nature as me. Whether it is called ‘mana’, or by the names of many gods and demons, or God the Father, or the spirit world, it is of the same nature as the perceiving self, inasmuch as it is not mechanical or accidental, but psychic and voluntary.”
Read that again, and think about the implications. What he’s emphasizing here is the role of personhood in the experience of enchantment. When you encounter the world in an enchanted way, it isn’t a world of dead matter bobbing about in empty space. It is not, in his neat phrasing, “mechanical or accidental.” Rather, it is psychic—that is to say, it contains consciousness and mind—and it is voluntary—that is, it expresses intentions and desires. The enchanted world is not a collection of things; it is a community of persons.
It is not, crucially, “believed to be” a community of persons. It is experienced as a community of persons. The inability to grasp that is one of the great blind spots of our disenchanted mode of consciousness. It is inconceivable to most people in the modern industrial west that our ancestors weren’t simply engaged in a sort of earnest make-believe, pretending that the world was full of gods and spirits while aware somewhere in the back on their minds that it just wasn’t so. In a condition of enchantment, belief is unnecessary, because people encounter gods and spirits. They may not do so in exactly the same way that they encounter trees and porcupines, but they see gods, spirits, trees, and porcupines, as well as human beings, as inhabiting the same world, a world of enchantment. Furthermore, those trees and porcupines are also persons, also members of a community that embraces all the inhabitants of the enchanted world.
It’s amusing to me that many people who are willing to edge up to the concept of enchantment back away in considerable discomfort from this recognition. I’m thinking here among others of Christian blogger Rod Dreher. Some time back one of my readers forwarded me part of a subscribers-only post Dreher made, discussing this series of essays. As you’d expect from Dreher, it was good thoughtful stuff. He drew up sharply, though, when it came to the notion that enchantment might reflect something real. I’d suggested that in the state of enchantment, the Sun is experienced as (not just “believed to be”) a person, a great radiant being who gazes down at the world as he passes from horizon to horizon. That was too much for Dreher to handle, and he backed away, insisting that it simply isn’t true that the Sun is a person.
This would have been news to St. Francis of Assisi, whose famous canticle addresses Brother Sun among other nonhuman persons. Yes, I know it’s fashionable these days to insist that this is merely a poetic metaphor, but I’d like to encourage my readers to reflect on the possibility that it is nothing of the kind. Francis lived in the high Middle Ages, the era when the colorful marvels of Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend were treated as matters of sober fact. It was an era when enchantment had begun to wane in the European mind; a century and a half later, Geoffrey Chaucer could insert into The Canterbury Tales the Wife of Bath’s famous account of why fairies are no longer to be found in Britain—but the saint’s capacity to greet the Sun and everything else in the world of his experience as persons rather than things was understood in his day, as well as ours, as a sign of his great personal sanctity.
Let’s go a little deeper, though. Look again at Barfield’s definition of original participation. By “the phenomena” he means everything we encounter through our five material senses. In the state of original participation we experience the world of phenomena as a world of persons. In the modern condition, in which original participation has broken down, we—or at least some of us—experience the world of phenomena as a world of things. There is, however, one crucial exception, and it casts a wry light on Barfield’s definition.
The world of phenomena, after all, includes those odd objects we call human beings. To most people nowadays, it seems obvious that human beings are persons and other things are not. Yet this seemingly obvious distinction is far from obvious once you take a hard look at it.
What happens, in fact, is that each of us in childhood learns to assign personhood to human beings, and to deny it to most other things. Cognitive scientists speak of “theory of mind,” by which they mean the ability of one person to reflect on their own experience of personhood and project it onto other human beings, recognizing that these other phenomena have an inner life and consciousness equivalent to one’s own. This recognition isn’t immediate or inevitable. Most children attain it gradually over the course of their early lives, and some never get there at all.
Furthermore, the decision to apply that recognition only to other human beings is far from automatic. Most children, as they learn to project their experience of conscious personhood, do it with enthusiastic abandon, giving their toys, their pets, and any number of other things the same condition of personhood until they are coaxed, bullied and browbeaten into accepting the fixed definitions of personhood and thinghood that our society provides them. Plenty of people never quite accept the denial of personhood to animals, for that matter, and everyone who’s ever snarled at a computer for misbehaving is projecting at least some dimensions of personhood onto it—a thing, after all, cannot misbehave, since it has no inner life and no capacity to choose to behave or misbehave in the first place.
It’s crucial in this context to recognize that there is no simple objective test of personhood. This is why there’s a school of philosophers these days, the so-called eliminative materialists, who insist that no one is a person, not even human beings. There’s no way to prove them wrong by logic. That doesn’t mean they’re right; it just means that the statement “eliminative materialists are wrong” belongs to the category Kurt Gödel described in his famous theorem: a true statement that cannot be proven by logic. It’s perfectly possible to demonstrate the internal absurdity of the claims of eliminative materialism; all you have to do is treat its proponents in accordance with their beliefs. Very few people can stand being treated as mindless, impersonal objects whose mouths make sounds that, though they oddly resemble language, obviously can’t mean anything, since only persons can have meaningful thoughts. This is not a logical proof, however!
As this example suggests, the decision to treat some part of the world of phenomena as a person or a thing is a choice. Like most of the choices in our lives, it’s one we make most of the time in an unthinking, habitual fashion, but it’s one that we can make deliberately and consciously. That point was made most of a century ago by German philosopher Martin Buber in his book Ich und Du (usually translated I and Thou, though I and You would be clearer English). Buber argued that broadly speaking, people can relate to the world and everything in it in two ways. One, to which he assigned the label “I-it,” is the relationship between a conscious person and a mere thing—between a subject and an object. The other, to which he assigned the label “I-you,” is the relationship between a conscious person and another conscious person—between a subject and another subject. The difference between these two relationships, again, is a matter of choice.
The I-you relationship, as Owen Barfield suggests, is characteristic of ages of enchantment. It’s precisely in an enchanted world that the Sun, the Earth, the weather, olive trees, grapevines, and even such seemingly disembodied factors as the experience of falling in love are experienced as persons. Yes, we’re talking about gods—the ones I’ve just named were known respectively as Apollo, Demeter, Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Aphrodite by one set of people living in one age of enchantment. To those of monotheist bent, they could just as well be described as angels or saints, and of course they were so described by another set of people living in a different age of enchantment, the one in which Jacobus de Voragine and St. Francis of Assisi flourished.
People in those ages chose to experience the Sun, the Earth, and the rest as persons. Most of them made that choice in an unthinking, habitual fashion, following the customs and traditions they picked up from their societies. That is to say, they did so the the same way most people in our time unthinkingly assume that the Sun, the Earth, and the rest are things rather than persons. Now and again there were people like St. Francis who affirmed that choice in a deliberate fashion, and by and large they were honored and revered for it. Our modern assumption, of course, is that they were just being silly, since they were wrong and we are right.
Of course that’s exactly the point at issue. Psychologists know about a phenomenon known as the Pygmalion effect, whereby the assumptions you bring to a relationship affect the behavior of the other participant even when those assumptions remain unspoken. It’s been shown many times by experiment, for example, that if you bring a substitute teacher into an unfamiliar class and tell the teacher that the class consists of gifted students, they will perform measurably better than if you send another substitute teacher to the same class, having told her that the students are poor learners. That happens because every child is capable of being both brighter and duller than his or her average performance, and social cues are among the things that determine which of these potentials will come out at any given time.
I’d like to venture the utterly unfashionable suggestion that the same thing is true of the world as a whole, and of most or all of the phenomena that make up the world. Approach them as persons, and tolerably often they will behave that way; approach them as objects, and the same rule applies. I’ve wondered more than once, in fact, if the regularities of nature central to the scientific revolution were at least partly an artifact of the decision by scientists to treat nature entirely as an object, never as a subject. By refusing to consider the personhood of nonhuman things, they got the lowest common denominator of nature’s behavior, the sullen passivity of those who know they have nothing to gain by giving anything more than they have to.
It’s important, though, not to fall into the trap of thinking that we human beings get to decide all by ourselves whether the phenomena around us are things or persons. We get to decide how we approach them, but the phenomena have elements of both in them. We cannot assume that they will always respond to us as persons just because we approach them that way. Nor can we assume that they will always behave like passive, mindless things just because we choose to assign them that role. The same thing is true of human beings, for that matter—and it’s worth reflecting on just how many of our current crises are caused or worsened by the way that our current managerial elite can’t stand the thought of treating people outside their own social class as persons rather than things, and get so consistently blindsided when other people refuse to be passive and do what they’re told.
Central to the historical cycle we have been discussing, in fact, is a gradual shift over time from I-you relationships to I-it relationships. The feudal systems central to dark age societies are governed by I-you relationships from top to bottom—the foundation of the social structure is the personal bond between lord and vassal—and the same pattern of relationships extends outward from the human sphere into the realms of nature and spirit, which are experienced as part of the great community of persons making up the world. Over time, these personal relationships give way to more abstract and arbitrary interactions, personhood slowly bleeds out of the world, and in due time you end up in a situation where only human beings are considered persons.
Then the process continues, excluding more and more phenomena from personhood, until the vast bureacratic systems that run every dying civilization erase the personhood of the population, and the ruling elites of society fall deeper and deeper into the habit of thinking of themselves as the only subjects in a world full of passive, meaningless objects. That’s where we are in the modern industrial world. What happens after that is the decay and disintegration of the society, as people outside the elite classes shrug and walk away from a system that no longer even makes a pretense of meeting their needs. We’re starting to see the first stirrings of that, too—and we’ll see more of it as modern industrial civilization stumbles onward through the fog its own consciousness has conjured into existence, blind to the way that human and nonhuman persons alike are responding to its actions.
And after that? We’ll discuss that in upcoming posts.
Two things came to mind reading this post. The beauty of steppe peoples using the name Tengri as a personification of Heaven/Sky to the evil of Descartes saying nature was just a machine.
A long while ago you were in a discussion of dark ages and you said I believe it’s around 300 or so years before the ending of said dark age. Are we in an enchantment dark age? And if so, isn’t about time for a new enchanted age?
Great read, thanks. I love the focus on experience rather than belief.
I’ve provided below a link to a piece by a UK independent scholar of animism named Graham Harvey, who presented a manifesto about “other-than-human persons.”
Spooky. I got the same idea while sitting meditating on a tor on Dartmoor. To know as we are known. The quality of our relationships are determined by the depths of our conversations.
It is all alive and the magic is real.
“The same thing is true of human beings, for that matter—and it’s worth reflecting on just how many of our current crises are caused or worsened by the way that our current managerial elite can’t stand the thought of treating people outside their own social class as persons rather than things, and get so consistently blindsided when other people refuse to be passive and do what they’re told.”
It’s much, much worse than that though: many members of the managerial class are unable to handle the notion that other managers are persons: the power struggles, brutality, and general callousness they show each other is only possible once the notion that others are people with rights, dignity, and the ability to think and react are beaten out of them; and it strikes me that a lot of their odd behaviors make sense if they can’t even bring themselves to see themselves as persons. Hmm…..
There’s a lot to chew on in this post. I look forward to talking about how enchantments return to dying civilizations, and how that is likely to affect things going forward.
For what it’s worth, I’ve already noticed that I experience the world in a much more enchanted way than some of my family and friends, but less so than some people I’ve met. And that difference in ways we experience the world sometimes causes communication difficulties and a non-minor amount of frustration.
Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat.
“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”
I found this today on another site altogether and it seemed apropos. The living personhood of EVERYTHING (including outer space) was to be found in the fiction writing of the Medieval scholar C.S. Lewis, but then, he had a Medieval perspective at the end of his days very similar to that of St. Francis. I used to wonder what made his writing so attractive, despite its clearly Christian perspective, and you have answered the question for me very nicely. Indeed, I have to also add that Christianity is unsupportable as a faith without that perspective. Which might explain the many fun things that are currently happening in the West, as so many people fail to understand even the most basic things implied in the Christian teachings other than, of course, the most oppressive and mind-controlling stuff.
Does this “I-it” dichotomy explain the clearly evident efforts of our “betters” to control everything we do and even (by some accounts) a desire to eliminate us altogether? Talk about cutting off the branch you’re sitting on! I rather think it does. I am assured, at times, by living beings of a non-physical nature that, despite our rulers’ pretensions to power, they don’t have nearly enough to actually accomplish their reported nefarious schemes and goals. So the “conspiracy theorists” of various sorts could relax, I think, and see to their own situation and not worry so much about the Rothschilds, et al., or the Khazarian Mafia of myth and legend. There’s a lot of hubris available to anyone who wants to participate in it, and it’s not just to be found among those who think they govern us. It seems that also among the unofficial thinking classes one can find all-pervasive madness.
I very much look forward to your thoughts about what we can expect from here, and of course, your next volume of the “Witch of Criswell” series.
When I first go out every morning, I say, “Hello beautiful world.” I greet the animals and plants. I kiss my hand to the sun and moon and this all seems so natural and pleasant. Thank you for being my portal into Druidry and a much happier world. Maxine
“By refusing to consider the personhood of nonhuman things, [we] got the lowest common denominator of nature’s behaviour, the sullen passivity of those who know they have nothing to gain by giving anything more than they have to”.
I do wonder about the “lowest common denominator of nature’s behaviour”. I do not wonder about those who “give nothing more than they have to”. As ‘nature’ is being abused in the myriad ways and for the length of time that we of the wealthy world have been imposing upon her, might not ‘nature’ actually ‘behave’ in much more than a ‘sullen passivity’? Amid so-called ‘natural disasters’ experienced around the globe, there is so little mention of our deliberate abuse of the earth to which she is responding accordingly [if not appropriately given our best likes!].
Amid massive forest fires in my local, there is an election campaign ongoing during which absolutely no mention of our abuse of our Mother – indeed, the only campaign issue that matters, for so-called right and left politicians, is that we have to extract more tar for export; knowing that the resultant CO2 from burning that tar is not counted in our local emissions!. And totally ignoring the fact that our predicament, along with those of so many persons around the globe, is exactly caused by our determination to continue on with BAU and more growth.
Thanks very much for that; I shall need to ponder on these points, but I feel a door just opened in my head and half-sensed (or perhaps half-remembered) somethings await.
Wow! I’m so glad you wrote this–I think about things like this often, but not in a coherent way. I am looking forward to the next post.
There is a lot to unpack here potentially. So restraining myself to a couple of points you made,
“blind to the way that human and nonhuman persons alike are responding to its actions.”
This and your points prior made me think of the mass death phenomena that seem to be quite common in the news. Examples. A few years ago a herd of several hundred elephants dropped dead in (kenya try to remember w/out a google search?) for unexplained reasons. Events where hundreds of blackbirds fall out of the sky. These are usually ad hoc hypothesized attributed to some poison, or un-detected virus, etc. Also events like all the fish dying in Australia river recently also occur w/ more definable circumstances (temperatures rising blooming algae no oxygen). Or the collapse of crab in the New England waters. My read of these events is/has been to see the natural world is showing us a lot of death and that’s not good. On a personal note – on several occasions I have had the experience meditating near a body of water and see fish start pooling together and jumping. Just weird. Once in a park I saw a large fish jump in the near distance. A group of people nearby happened to be looking out and all started yelling because they thought they saw an arm wave out of the water; they thought someone might be drowning. I mention those because at those times I was struck by a strong feeling as you describe the world was showing me something different. regards!
>the sullen passivity of those who know they have nothing to gain by giving anything more than they have to
Lol. That’s a poetic way of saying dS = 0. Principle of Least Action.
I do question whether viewing everything as people is any more useful though. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you find what you’re looking for, it’s just a question of looking for the right things.
Do alchemists start to feel their mixtures are looking back at them? The way they revere the athanor certainly makes it seem like it has a personality. Is that an individual spirit or is it more like the presence of the god of furnaces?
Why does this alchemist – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Amphitheatrum_sapientiae_aeternae_-_Alchemist%27s_Laboratory.jpg – have a tent, and whatever the thing on the right with curtains is, in his lab?
Fantastic post. I think that Christianity paved the way for the materialistic outlook that it hates so much. Once you gut the world of all immanent spirit beings and forces and only believe in one transcendent being, it’s easy for others to go further and deny that being, and even deny the existence of consciousness itself.
This is one of the finest pieces you’ve ever done. It weaves so many ideas together in such an elegant way I already FEEL the book being born out of it, the previous posts in the series and those to come.
The work presented here (and, hopefully expanded on in the book bringing all these posts together–alongside other insights you’ve no doubt left on the shelf due to this presentation format) is important. It ALREADY has a similar impact on me to what Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth did, and you’re just getting started.
You’re a great teacher, JMG. Thank you.
This is rather long, but could be of some interest as a tie-in to this week´s blog post. Dr Iain McGilchrist sounds almost JMG-esque in this presentation.
One interesting point: McGilchrist claims that one can “disconnect” one of the brain halves when experimenting scientifically on the brain. When only the left brain is functioning, the test subjects see even animate things as mechanism. Conversely, when only the right brain is functioning, the subjects experience even inanimate things as alive! For instance, the sun is experienced as a living being?!
McGilchrist connects this to the rise and fall of civilizations. It also raises the obvious follow up question why evolution would have given us a brain which can experience the world as *both* enchanted-personal and disenchanted-impersonal-rational.
Evolution, after all, is supposed to be about adaptation…
Just started reading this, and “how we got into our present predicament and what we can expect in the years ahead.” caught my eye. I’ve been keeping a notebook called “Why are we in this handbasket and where are we going?” for some time. Yes. Pass the popcorn… or the barf bag.
Thonas, I don’t find it useful to think of this sort of thing using terms such as “good” and “evil” as blunt instruments. Each civilization — to bring up a theme we’ll be discussing in more detail later on — takes some distinctive way of looking at the universe as its keynote, pushes it as far as it can, runs it into the ground, and perishes. Our civilization’s keynote is the machine; it’s not accidental that the invention of the mechanical clock came right at the beginning of a distinctive European civilization in the post-Roman era. Plenty of good and evil came out of the image of the cosmos as a machine, just as plenty of good and evil came out of every other civilization’s keynote; we’re seeing a lot more of the evil just now, because our civilization is late in its life cycle and setting into its terminal decline, but that same keynote also made possible a great deal of beauty and knowledge, some of which future civilizations will have at their disposal.
Thomas, nah, that’s a different thing. I’ll be talking about the return of enchantment in a later post.
Pierre, thank you for this! It’s fracking brilliant.
Benn, welcome to the future. It’s just not widely distributed yet. 😉
Anonymous, that’s the terminal stage of the process — the stage Vico called “the barbarism of reflection,” when societies dissolve into madness and collapse. As that spreads, down we go.
Pygmycory, that’s an important point. One of the things that makes times such as these difficult is that communication between the enchanted and the disenchanted is hard, and fraught with troubles.
Clarke, that’s an excellent point! Lewis was one of the last of the red-hot Christian Neoplatonists, and absorbed from his medieval sources a very clear sense of the cosmos as a community of persons. I’d like to see his Christianity become more popular among those who find that religion meaningful to them.
Maxine, excellent. As I said to Benn, welcome to the future.
Bruce, and that’s also an issue, of course. Sullen passivity can give way to overwhelming violence very quickly once circumstances change; that’s true among all persons, human and otherwise.
Marsh, you’re welcome. It’s a door I hope many people explore.
Katherine, one of my jobs as a wordsmith is to put into words, as clearly as I can, common intuitions that haven’t yet found that source of expression. Glad to hear you like the result.
Jastan, hmm! That’s a good point and one that I’ll need to reflect on.
Other Owen, it depends on what you’re trying to do, of course. These days we have an extreme overload of I-it relationships and a shortage of I-you relationships, so it’s worth redressing the balance; yes, things can swing just as far out of balance the other way, but we’re not there yet, nor will be for centuries.
Yorkshire, they do indeed. Consider this image:
The tent is an oratory — that’s what you call a space set aside for private prayer in a home. The curtains on the other side are to keep dust off laboratory gear.
Enjoyer, polytheists have been pointing out for a long time that once you disbelieve in all the other gods, it’s easy to disbelieve in just one more…
Thank you John, your insights are fascinating and useful in understanding our predicament. One thing that seems to happen in end stage civilization, at least from my reading of history, is that those people outside the ruling class often welcome the end – it is such a relief to be free of the self-righteous failures who claim to be our betters.
Its interesting that in its final phase our tottering empire is being led by the closest thing possible to an object as opposed to an actual person. I am not sure if it is an accident that our president ( due to senility) is a kind of empty vessel or meat animatron who can act as a kind of 3D video screen to transmit the orders of the senile elite to the inanimate ( in their minds) population of consumer bots. Seems very symbolic to me.
Doug, thank you! I’m already collecting these posts in a word file as raw material for a future book.
Tidlösa, hmm! That’s a good Darwinian point.
Patricia M, oh, granted. I prefer popcorn but then I’ve cultivated a certain wry detachment from the follies of our time, and that’s not something everyone seems to be able to do.
Raymond, yes, and that’s an important point. People outside the elites usually have good practical reasons to cheer on the decline and fall, since they no longer have to support a vast parasitic upper class by their labor — compared to an imperial bureaucracy, barbarian warlords are low-maintenance, and more likely to be at least dimly aware of local conditions — but you’re right that there’s also the delight in getting out from under the endless burden of self-righteous cluelessness on the part of the self-described “good people.”
Clay, a good point! If Biden appeared in a dream, I don’t think anyone would have the least trouble interpreting that.
I think this is among the most important work you’ve done to date.
I wonder if there isn’t another pernicious take on disenchantment, slightly different form that of Barfield or Guenon. This is the idea that the enchanted worldview is real, it’s valid, it’s good, it’s correct–
But it’s only found among non-Europeans or non-Westerners, and that European, Western, or “White” culture is solely and exclusively responsible for its destruction.
This allows or forces many young people in Western countries who, on some level, see through the lie of the disenchanted world to then turn on their own culture and its resources and to participate in its demolition.
I’m speaking from experience here, of course– I never adopted the materialist worldview, and from as early a date as I can remember treated animals, trees, the Sun, the ocean, and other natural phenomena as persons. But I was never made aware of the fact that there were resources available from within my own cultural heritage to frame this way of thinking. Despite being raised Catholic, I was 30 before I read the Canticle of the Creatures; despite also being raised on Greek myth, I was 35 before I read Hesiod carefully and discovered the enchanted world to be found in the Theogony and Works and Days.
And so I turned to writers like Derrick Jensen, Chellis Glendinning, Vine Deloria, Ward Churchill and other anti-Western extremists, and wasted an enormous amount of time on the idea that the only way “back to enchantment” was through some sort of violent revolution. I found my way out of that via Occultism, which saved my life. But many young people– and plenty that are not so young anymore– remain trapped within it.
that’s quite the bizarre lab. What I’d like to know is why the table is half-covered in stringed instruments. Do they serenade the ingredients at certain points in the alchemical process? Or does the alchemist also host a music consort and that was the only place available they could put the instruments?
And having finished this post… oh, yes! When I start my walk around the lake, I always pause to greet Grandmother Sycamore. And in that part of your Handbook, when meditating on the “animals have vivid inner lives,….” lesson,I Felt – deeply, down in the gut level – what had always been an abstract principle for me…how deeply sinful it is to mistreat our brothers and sisters of the animal kingdom. Even those we raise and kill for food. And had a taste of the difference between Gut and Brain. And in the course of research for something else, the vast difference between Franciscan nuns and the nuns who ran the Magdalene laundries. As if they worshipped two totally different gods. (My hat’s off to the Franciscans and has been since an adolescence set in the city named for my favorite Catholic saint.)
With a predominately imprinted colonial DNA, it was perhaps a forgone conclusion that HG Wells would capture our collective imagination instead of George MacDonald. I much prefer the enchanting world of MacDonald, but it took me a good 40 years to cast off the modern world of Wells. It drives me nuts with all of the space geekery surrounding the new telescope and “pondering the origins of the universe”. The material analysis of it all means literally, spiritually, pragmatically absolutely nothing. How can we not see that we have discovered that we have discovered nothing?
Thinking about enchanted and disenchanted people, they sometimes do things that don’t fit with the rest of their behavior, and the balance changes over time even in the same person. I’m thinking of avowed atheists who name their computers, or ex scientists who now have conversations in their head or out loud with musical instruments, their God, plants, animals, computers and telescopes, and sang to trees as a child but did much less of that while studying science at uni and spending so much time thinking in that mindset and surrounded by that subculture.
So it might not just be a case of new people who think in a more enchanted manner coming along, but also people who hid their more enchanted moments because they weren’t socially acceptable coming out of the woodwork once they can do so safely, people changing their minds as they get buffeted by the onrushing storms of collapse and the does-not-compute rhetoric coming from those in power, and non-enchanted people learning to speak the lingo of the enchanted in order to get along. Which means a change in societal enchantment level could happen a lot faster than one might think.
I’m thinking this might have relevance to how Christianity went from illegal to the official religion of Rome in a few decades, after having existed in varying degrees of hiding and official disapproval for centuries prior to that. This is a religion change more than an enchantment level change, but I bet it’s related.
C.S. Lewis was already mentioned, Madelaine L’Engle also wrote of stars as persons, if anyone should find the idea of a Christian worldview with persons in what modernity views as merely objects to be of interest.
All this personhood of the whole world was so well expressed by Pico della Mirandola in 1486, in his thesis #9 on magic: “To work magic is nothing other than to marry the world.” Marriage is a relationship between persons, not between a person and a non-person.
And vast majority of persons living in our world are what one insightful anthropologist, writing about the Ojibwa world-view, termed “other-than-human persons.” We “human persons” seem to be a decided minority among all the myriads of persons on this one planet, to say nothing of the universe.
In my own efforts to do magic I have found magic is always more effective it I treat it as a fellow person and actively court “its” participation as I would a human fellow participant in some shared job of work.
@JMG (#19), replying to Anonymous (#5) and Clarke (#7), on the Barbarism of Reflection:
Your “when societies dissolve into madness and collapse” calls to mind the wise saying, “It’s our limitations that keep us sane.” (This is from Bertha Simons, Starhawk’s mother, as quoted in The Spiral Dance, — one of the very best insights in that book.) Our elites now admit of no limits to their power.
Karl Rove once famously said of himself and his fellows in DC:
“People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
That strikes me as sheer madness, the sort of madness sent by the Gods to those whom they would destroy.
Managers’ drive for narcississtic control is a thing that even outweighs class interest. It would be in the bosses’ interest to treat their workers with respect and have them working happily and on their own responsibility, and the boss can just sit back and get rich. But that isn’t usually what happens.
In the 1940s and 50s the Tavistock Institue studied productivity in British coal mining. They found the industry in a poor state, but one bright spot was a team of Yorkshire miners working the Haigh Moor Seam (almost certainly at Elsecar Colliery). They were multi-skilled, worked autonomously, and had much higher job satisfaction and better labour-management relations than anywhere else – http://moderntimesworkplace.com/archives/ericsess/sessvol2/SESS_Volume_2_Contents_Intro/sess_volume_2_contents_intro.htm.
The theory of sociotechnical systems that developed from it also became part of Volvo’s Kalmar and Uddevalla plants, which instead of a production line had independent teams assembling whole cars from start to finish – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227615824_The_Volvo_Uddevalla_Plant. This is a full book on the experiment: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/10785/1/. The fact each work team not only had their own break room but their own sauna may be the most Scandinavian thing ever. 🙂
There were multiple reasons for their ending, but the desire to re-establish control was very clear. And not just from management. Forces of obstinacy in the unions were a problem in every attempt to introduce autonomous working I’ve heard of, seen most clearly on page 132 of this report – https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/UserFiles/works/pdfs/ic9182.pdf.
Am I allowed to say that this is my favourite JMG essay yet? Ever? Well … I’ve been reading you for about 12 – 15 years, and I have missed a few.
The subject matter touches me deeply. I’m one who calls his cat “little sister”, convinced she and I have a long-standing relationship spanning life-times. My car, Conchita, still runs because when something malfunctions I ask her “how can I help you?” Every single chicken has a name, as do many of the plants in the garden. I am genuinely interested in them, their habits, language, whether their potential is far greater than I tend to assume. And so I’m training Pingu (the rooster) to be my garden manager … ensuring the hens don’t ravage the produce. Mostly by explaining to him our common interest in seeing those veggies come to fruition, rather than be decapitated at birth. We have conversations … of a kind.
I still recall that as a child, the best fairy-tales were those that allowed entry into the enchanted world. They seemed to speak of a world past, yet not anti-diluvian. I think they were written, and scripted in the medieval times you referred to. And yes, it took a conscious choice to reclaim my right to live in an enchanted world.
A propos the discussion of monotheism leading to atheism, I believe Richard Dawkins said (or popularized) the quip that atheists are really like monotheists: like the latter they disbelieve in the polytheist gods, they “just go one god further”. It struck me that if the world is enchanted, this claim makes no sense, but if Bible God has become de facto deist, then what´s the difference really between “monotheism” and atheism? Edward O Wilson, the dean of sociobiology, was a deist…
With regards to treating nature as a subject, not an object, about 20 years ago I read Sheldrake muse, in the Trialogues, I think, that there was plenty of reasons to think the Sun was conscious. Everyone I mentioned that to went above and beyond mere disagreement, but literally scorned me. It was amazing how much anger that caused.
But Sheldrake, who is one of the smartest modern scientists I’ve ever read and heard, does treat the Universe as alive. He doesn’t treat the Universe as an object and suddenly the speed of light changes from a regular constant to a habit that has been found to change over the centuries.
@JMG #19 re: Historical Periods with Out of Balance I-You Relationships
I agree with what others have said – this is a great piece that ties together a lot of what you’ve said in this series and elsewhere elegantly, so thanks very much for putting it together.
In your reply to Other Owen above, you mention that it’s just as possible to go out of balance toward I-You relationships as it is I-It relationships, which sounds perfectly reasonable, but I’m having trouble picturing what that looks like. Might you be able to give a thumbnail description of the hallmarks of such an age, and/or some historical examples that you think fell into that particular imbalance? Given the extreme dearth of I-You relationships with the world today, I’m having trouble seeing the downsides, and I’d like to have the fuller picture.
@jastan: wow, your visions (shared, it seems) seem fraught with meaning to me – a drowning arm being raised for help, indeed.
It reminds me of the findings of the Mass Casualty Report the Canadian RCMP released in April of this year, on the same theme, though slightly different key:
“community members were an essential part of the initial response to the mass casualty. Their central role was not adequately acknowledged, and the indispensable information they could provide was either ignored or not factored…”
I know _I_ wasn’t paying attention to the people she was using to speak through at the right time; for example, I only just learned that Lizzo’s (the Fat Lady Herself) Truth Hurts went out in 2017, telling us exactly what she was thinking about with fair warning. That song then rose meteorically through the charts until it swept the red carpets in 2020 (officially, no one figured out who the “Minnesota Viking” was, but I have my suspicions).
Fortunately, the next two years saw her write a new album, in which it seems a more positive note was struck while she switched to a mop. And that is her on the flute, too, she is talented flautist who puts it in all her rap.
Your remark about how we tend to project personality onto misbehaving machines or devices got me thinking about how I tend, as an engineer, to assign the pronoun “she” to the complex machines that I help create. I can also understand how a ship is “she”, even though I am far away from navigable bodies of water.
Which then got me thinking about grammatical gender in general. I have always been mystified why the word for “water” in Spanish is a masculine thing, in French is a feminine thing, and is a neuter thing in German. I wonder if grammatical gender is a linguistic remnant of those times when things were experienced as persons.
wonderful read, thank you.
have people here seen this podcast? it fits with your analysis here and is an enjoyable listen.
Thank you, JMG, for sharing these thoughts. I very clearly remember, when I first encountered your writing about 7 years ago, experiencing a huge sense of relief and possibility upon considering your model of a living cosmos. Since then, quite a few “things” seem to have come alive and revealed themselves to me as “persons”, and it has been an interesting process. It first happened with a beloved rosemary bush that I had planted in my garden, grown from a cutting I took out of a store bought plastic clam shell of poultry herbs, which happily grew to be taller than I. When this plant responded consciously to a request that I made to pinch off a sprig, I was dumbstruck. I think that plants may be a gateway to breaking this illusion of humans being the only sentient beings in existence. Some plants seem quite willing to make their personhood known, if only one takes a little bit of time to try and get to know them. Still, for me at least, this change in perspective has certainly been a process rather than a sudden shift. Some of my neighbors are more recognizable as such- bodies of water, the moon, old trees, certain herbs- but others remain quite silent.
On a related note, I would also like to thank you for your earlier discussion of The Golden Legend. Despite my being raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, and attending catholic school for a few years, I was completely unfamiliar with it! Modern RC, for me at least, at times seemed even more lifeless and inanimate than the scientific materialist worldview. In fact, I suppose the two aren’t actually that different. I have greatly enjoyed going through the Golden Legend, and have shared it with my brother, who has a budding interest in reviving the old catholic feast days.
Clarke aka Gwydion, bankers, industrialists, neo-con zealots, superannuated soi-disant nobility, and cohorts are still able to do a lot of harm to many people and to the Earth Herself.
I, for one, would welcome ideas, insights, etc. into how the rest of us can protect ourselves.
I’m glad you wrote this. I was pretty sure that I-It and I-You relationships were coming in this series. I’ve been thinking of it in terms of agency and NPCs (Non Player Characters) with regards to the USA’s foreign affairs. It’s not just the natural world or the masses, the US elites seem to regard the elites in other countries as NPCs.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to square the USA’s foreign policies with the notion that other countries have agency. Much like the Romans expecting the barbarians to perpetually remain mercenaries and never aspire to rulership, the US seems to think that Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. are only capable of responding to US actions within the narrow confines of what we want them to do.
It’s a recipe for disaster. The US elites seem to have swallowed their own propaganda, become entitled, arrogant, senile, incompetent, and corrupt AND incapable of even considering that their foreign peers, the elites in other countries, are capable of any degree of agency.
At this rate, I expect the west to lose the proxy war in Ukraine and to then decide that starting a direct war with China is smartest move. Long on popcorn indeed.
I know nothing of D. H. Lawrence, but I ran across this excerpt attributed to him yesterday at the library and thought it worth copying into my notebook. In light of this post, it seems worth sharing:
“Every natural thing has its own living relation to every other natural thing. […] The same with man. His life consists in a relation with all things: stone, earth, trees, flowers, water, insects, fishes, birds, creatures, sun, rainbow, children, woman, other men. But his greatest and final relation is with the sun, the sun of suns: and with the night, which is moon and dark and stars. In the last great connections, he lifts his body speechless to the sun, and, the same body, but so different, to the moon and the stars, and the spaces between the stars.
“Sun! Yes, the actual sun! That which blazes in the day! […] The sun, I tell you, is alive, and more alive than I am, or a tree is. It may have blazing gas, as I have hair, and a tree has leaves. But I tell you, it is the Holy Ghost in full raiment, shaking and walking, and alive as a tiger is, only more so, in the sky.
“And when I can turn my body to the sun, and say: ‘Sun! Sun!’—and we meet—then I am come finally into my own. For the universe of day, finally, is the sun. And when the day of the sun is my day too, I am a lord of all the world.”
This post makes me think of a fairy tale – the Hippogriff and the Dragon. The hippogriff and the dragon, the last of their kind, are wandering around the edges of civilization wondering if there is a place for them, when they meet a kind and friendly young woman. They feel hopeful for a moment that she will help them. When she meets them she is excited to discover new species. But then she determines that she wants to study them, locks them up ‘for their own safely’, and tells them about how she wants to count their vertebra and such to understand them better. Then she goes to get her professor mentor to help her. They realize there is no place for them here at all, and they disappear into the world of elves.
I’ve read fairy tales since I was young and never encountered this one until recently, and have particularly enjoyed reading it to my kids as it may help guide their thinking as they begin their venture out into the world.
A hunter can hunt better when they see their prey as a thou, as a being with sensory capabilities that are often much larger than human capabilities, its own social patterns, sleep patterns, migration patterns, all adding up to their desires and choices. A good hunter can imagine a deer and imagine where it will walk and sleep. It’s only a step from there to believing in a Deer spirit.
Slightly offtopic for this week but – I just ran into a fascinating example and description of how an outbreak of Caesarism works in a modern nominally democratic context – Bukele in El Salvador
Wild popularity. Getting kicked out of the party he was in, followed by basically creating his own, then wiping the floor with the others. Getting stuff done, most notably cracking down massively on gangs and dropping the murder rate through the floor, but playing fast and loose with personal freedoms, and the constitution. Major loophole abuse and creation, plus ignoring what’s inconvenient. Outright suspending of the rule of law. Questions about the national debt building up going unanswered. Still wildly popular, and looking likely to win the next election he should not be part of according to the constitution.
Steve, that’s an excellent point. The cultures of Europe and the European diaspora have a wealth of magic and enchantment; it’s just that the elite classes of those cultures, intoxicated by the dream of reducing the world to a machine that they can control, pretend that none of this exists, and treat magic and enchantment as though it belongs solely to other cultures. It’s a thinly disguised ideology of racial superiority, since of course these same elite classes believe that their mastery of rational abstractions makes them uniquely fitted to tell everyone else on the planet what to do — and the magic and enchantment of non-European cultures is as often as not treated as one more resource for the elites in question to exploit.
Patricia M, I think they do worship different gods, for what it’s worth; the name “Jesus” seems to be a generic label covering a great many deities.
Dave T, if the people who are pushing that admit that their discoveries amount to nothing, they have to admit in the same breath that their status, their power, and their lives amount to nothing — which is true, but not something they’re ever likely to admit.
Pygmycory, that’s a good point. A very good point.
BoysMom, also a good point!
Robert, thanks for this! The Karl Rove quote has always been my favorite example of the barbarism of reflection taken to a lethal extreme, and of course you’re quite right; you’ll recall, I’m sure, how reliably the evil overlord shouts “I am invincible!” moments before his incineration…
> mechanical or accidental, but psychic and voluntary.”
In this life since the 1960s and 70s on ward I have been deeply effected/affected by the work of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. To me the material, the mental and the emotional are all enchanting. I feel that both James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis conveyed that wonder in their writing and theory.
I don’t divide the world, the self, etc between material and mind/consciousness. A false division if ever there was one.
Thank you for writing on this. I am new to this thread but not to the ideas expressed here.
You’re very welcome, JMG (#45). I gather that Rove denies ever having said that to the journalist (Ron Suskind), who had printed it without naming ther speaker in The New York Times Magazine. However, a friend of mine happened to be working (in food service, IIRC) for the dedication ceremony at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, and told me how she overheard Rove say something very much along the same lines to George W. Bush. The two were looking out a window at the Arkansas River, close by, and Bush was musing about how a submarine could come up the river unnoticed and take out the entire library with a single shot. Rove responded with a version of the “we, the elite, make, unmake, and remake reality; other people have to live in it.” So I don’t much trust Rove’s denial.
Dear JMG, I’ve been reading your posts for more than 15 years and have to agree with your audience, that this one is outstandingly good.
I’m trying to open myself up to the idea of addressing the world in an enchanted way. And I wonder, whether having been raised into disenchantment is the reason I perceive the world much more… empty/uninteresting/… (I can’t find the perfect word to describe this feeling)… compared to how I’ve perceived it as a child.
On the other hand it scares me to see this trend of treating less and less (even) of humanity with personhood. Combined with you characterising this civilization to be based on the machine… and the dynamic to go to the extreme with such an idea and then run it into the ground… I’m getting a diffuse worry about tech companies’ relentless pursuit of AI development. (I’m sorry to be unable to express my thoughts more clearly, but it’s along the lines of how Garry Kasparov described the kind of chess intelligence beating him – but this time around it’s not limited to a chess game, anymore)
> I’d suggested that in the state of enchantment, the Sun is experienced as (not just “believed to be”) a person, a great radiant being who gazes down at the world as he passes from horizon to horizon. That was too much for Dreher to handle, and he backed away, insisting that it simply isn’t true that the Sun is a person.
REPLY: Revelations speaks of an Angel in the Sun. I took that passage to mean something like you replied to Rod Dreher.
I’ve really been enjoying this series. I feel that the moments of my life filled with disenchantment have been accompanied with depression. Do you think enchantment at an individual level is a process? If we aspire to live in a more enchanted way, will that experience deepen with time?
Thanks for this. I was referring to events like
‘probably a ____ experts say…’
> The feudal systems central to dark age societies are governed by I-you relationships from top to bottom—the foundation of the social structure is the personal bond between lord and vassal
REPLY: Having an I-you relationship is the sad fact that the feudal system made the lord speaking to the vassal I-you, the vassal speaking to the lord as i/You.
There are other cultures in the world where I/You and i/you are the basis of community. It appears that before 10 to 15,000 years ago there was no hierarchy. And not all cultures anthropomorphizes nature as human. That is they don’t see the clouds as projection of human forms. Some of these cultures allowed the forces of nature to disclose their forms just as animals and plants disclose theirs. We are blind to the microcosmos. But for some the senses disclose the little people.
Finally what we are allowed to see has been extremely attenuated over time. Science has show we don’t see what is really there. Just in the material sense that is true. In the enchanted sense so much more are we blind.
I’ve had transcendent experiences in nature that baffle me. One time for example, I felt fed up with life and left to hike up in the mountains for a few days. I felt compelled to go to a certain spot on the side of the mountain and just started hiking straight up. When I was there, I found a waterfall and felt some kind of presence very strongly. I have no idea whether it was the universal consciousness that underlies the universe or a land spirit or a goddess or what. It leaves me without words. But I think I may have experienced nature “gazing back” at me.
Since then I havent been able to find the waterfall again. I’ve gone many times to the exact same spot, looked on google maps and other maps, I can never find it.
Anyway, how can I come to know and experience the gods/spirits? I think you have some experience in these matters. How can I start out, how does it all work?
can’t help but share a few more with the forum
mystery die-off data points –
similar phenomena – like live fish or frogs falling mysteriously from the sky. (More ad hoc theorizing like localized tornadoes that suck them up and deposit them over land…)
google dead birds fall from sky, etc. to find many similar events.
I just realized that today, for all of you Robert Anton Wilson fans, is May, 17th, 2023. 5/17/23. Hail Eris!
Yorkshire, of course. Human beings pretend to be rational, but we actually rely on emotionally charged stories and symbols for our thinking; no matter how much better it works in practice to allow workers their own autonomy, the myth of the machine is more emotionally powerful.
Brazzart, you are indeed. As you know, it really does work better to be able to approach the world that way.
Tidlösa, I agree with Dawkins — and you’ll rarely hear those words out of my mouth! If the world is enchanted, the only way to fit monotheism into it is to use a very narrow definition of the word “god” and a very broad definition of other words, such as “angel” and “spirit” — or perhaps “eldil”. The Protestant Reformation did its level best to abolish these other words, however, and that left them in the same position that Dawkins is talking about.
Jon, of course. If the Sun is conscious — as of course he is — then other things can be conscious too, and in that case human beings aren’t free to abuse the rest of the cosmos however we like. All that drivel about “Man, the Conqueror of Nature” gurgles down the toilet the moment we admit that we’re not alone in the cosmos.
Jeff, that’s normal in dark age conditions. Prediction becomes impossible as nobody pays the least attention to meaningful regularities, and human life become very precarious until it sinks in again that spreading manure on the fields has a reliable effect that can’t simply be obtained by talking to the soil, and that some illnesses are more effectively prevented or cured by nonmagical means.
William, I bet your machines work well. As for grammatical gender, having grown up speaking a nongendered language — modern English — that still has me scratching my head, but you may be right.
Cushla, thank you. No, I haven’t — I rarely have time to take in podcasts these days.
Stephen, I’m delighted to hear that you liked the Golden Legend! If traditional Christianity is going to survive at all, as I see it, it’s got to get back in touch with its own roots in miracle and wonder, and stop trying to be reasonable. (My wife, btw, grew up as a Catholic in the 1960s, and was appalled by your description — in her day they still got the saints with all their miracles and martyrdoms intact, St. Lucy carrying around a tray with her eyeballs on it and all the rest.)
Team10tim, exactly. It does look as though the neoconservatives who pull Biden’s strings are set on war with China; I can only hope that somebody puts them in straitjackets and padded cells, where they belong, before they get their wish.
SDI, Lawrence is a great example of this kind of thinking; he had it, and put it into his fiction and essays. You might want to consider reading more of his work.
Tamar, that was an unusually patient dragon. I would have expected it to gobble up the woman and the professor, in traditional draconic style!
Tomriverwriter, good. Now consider what would be involved in experiencing — not just “believing in” — a deer spirit.
Pygmycory, he’s a classic example. Expect many more of them.
Wilnav, are you at all familiar with the work of Gregory Bateson? His work — especially Mind and Nature — is along the same lines.
Robert, I bet! I suspect Rove realized in retrospect just how stupid he sounds.
Rca, the whole artificial-intelligence business is the logical endpoint of the myth of the machine. I suspect the tech companies will finally succeed in their quest about thirty seconds before the electricity grid goes down for good and draws a line under the whole misbegotten fantasy.
Wilnav, exactly. People in most earlier societies recognized the Sun as either the dwelling, or the material body, of a conscious being far more intelligent than human beings. For what it’s worth, I think they were quite correct.
Chris, yes, very much so. A great deal of what I teach as an instructor of occultism is how to deepen the experience of enchantment.
Wilnav, the reason I cited the feudal system was precisely to avoid the tendency to treat I-you relationships as good and I-it relationships as bad. Both have their place, and an excess or deficiency of either one is not a good idea.
Enjoyer, that’s a huge and complex question, one that can’t be answered in any simple way. The nearest thing to an answer I can fit into this comment thread is simply this: take up a religious or occult practice that includes a recognition of the existence and value of nonhuman persons, and let the practice teach you.
I watched a beautifully photographed nature documentary recently and found it disturbingly voyeuristic. Similar to how I sometimes feel while watching birds with my binoculars; like I’m intruding on their private lives. Basically being a rude person, blatantly staring at them as they go about their lives without ever acknowledging that the observer is also observed! I hope I am learning to be more aware of this lack of good manners on my part.
In a similar vein, it has been said of a wide variety of indigenous human people that they would not point at a mountain or call it by it’s name, rather they would obliquely refer to the mountain as “Grandfather” or “cloud-maker”, etc. All this out of respect for the mountain, which was, as often as not, imbued with a very real level of fear or apprehension. I begin to suspect that viewing the World as a machine relieves some people of some of that fear.
I also suspect that at least some of that fear is the fear of taking responsibility. If the river floods and washes away your village, in an animistic World, you undoubtedly bear at least some of the responsibility for the disaster. Clearly your relationship to the river is out of balance; if you were on good terms with the river, you would have noticed that it was giving you plenty of hints that you ought to move further from the banks well before it flooded. Respect is at least partially about paying attention.
Re: Artificial Intelligence and Disenchantment: recently, as you know, The modestly named Future of Life Institute penned a letter asking for a moratorium on LLM research for six months. The person in charge of the institute, Max Tegmark, who’s now got his knickers in a twist about the terrifying potential of messing about with things he doesn’t understand, wrote a jolly book, “Life 3.0” some six years ago, in which he showed off his knowledge and learning and invited the reader to playfully explore and imagine what our futures could be like with AI. Well — here we are. Our futures are looking grim, thanks to the likes of Tegmark and other sorcerors’ apprentice-types.
But here’s the thing. A quotation from the beginning of Tegmark’s book:
“… Thirteen point eight billion years after its birth, our Universe has awoken and become aware of itself. From a small blue planet, tiny conscious parts of our Universe have begun gazing out into the cosmos with telescopes … before our Universe awoke, there was no beauty. This makes our cosmic awakening all the more wonderful and worthy of celebrating : it transformed our Universe from a mindless zombie with no self awareness into a living ecosystem harbouring self-reflection … goals, meaning and purpose. Had our Universe never awoken, then, as far as I’m concerned, it would have been completely pointless — merely a gigantic waste of space.”
Do you get that, dear readers? The Universe, without the brains of people like Tegmark in it, is A MINDLESS ZOMBIE. A GIGANTIC WASTE OF SPACE.
This person, and people like him, are driving us into an abyss, and they won’t even understand how it happened, because of their hubris and blindness and arrogance and — yes, in spite of their degrees and professorships — stupidity.
Tegmark and others like him begin with the assumption that their point of view is inviolable, eternal and correct. They can’t even see how parochial, how deranged it is. They probably don’t know that enchantment exists; that many peoples of this world have known that even rocks may possess consciousness.
It’s no surprise that we should be on the brink of disaster with A.I. when the journey begins with an assumption that the Universe is “completely pointless” without humans in it. A wonderful irony, perhaps, is that perhaps, thanks to this assumption and its concomitant headlong rush into dangerous and overweening technology, the Universe may very soon find itself completely pointless once again.
And the Future of Life Institute might reconsider its moniker; oh, and perhaps invite a few people onto its board who have such attributes as wisdom, humility, and perhaps a grasp of various myths from the past – such as Babel and the story of Phaeton.
Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad …
So, you’re saying I can choose to talk to the wooden spoon that I’m using at this moment to brown hamburger just like Túrin Turambar talked to Gurthang? (Let me assure you, my tongue is only barely touching my inner cheek as I ask this question…)
Here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared at ecosophia.net and ecosophia.dreamwidth.org, as well as in the comments of the prayer list posts. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.
If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below.
* * *
This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.
shewhoholdstension’s 41 year brother Robert died suddenly in bed yesterday; for a smooth and blessed journey on the other side. Robert was a single dad and he leaves behind three children: Hannah, Zack, and Jordyn; that they and shewhoholdstensions be blessed and protected, and find what comfort they can during this very difficult time.
T.A. (“Epileptic Doomer”) has seizures that have been increasing in intensity, and worries about it causing further brain damage and even costing them their job; for blessings, protection, and healing, a reduction of intensity and frequency to the seizures, and for a path for navigating their illness in a way that helps them lead their best possible life.
Patricia Mathew’s friend Al (Alison Kulp) is in the hospital with a nasty life-threatening MRSA infection; please pray for her to be blessed, protected, and completely healed as soon as is possible. (Update here.)
Lp9’s request on behalf of their hometown, East Palestine Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people and all living beings in the area. (Lp9 gives updates here and most recently here, and says “things are a bit… murky”), and the reasonable possibility seems to exist that this is an environmental disaster on par with the worst America has ever seen. At any rate, it is clearly having a devastating impact on the local area, and prayers are still warranted.
* * *
If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.
Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at this link.
@Robert Mathiesen about the Karl Rove quote – But isn’t there also a grain of truth in it? Aren’t there times when groups of persons are in the possession of enough power to shape society at least partly according to their will? Looking back I clearly sense when there was still the possibility to take a fork towards a more peaceful solution to the decline of the west and I also could name a moment when it was finally not taken.
Taking the other road would have meant for “them” – whoever they may be – to align their will with the will of the world and to accept decline. So they could have been creators of reality and they are – but while the reality we could have had would have resembled the imagined future more closely, the future we get may well be… not the future we asked for.
So I’d suggest mad as they are, they unfortunately are creators of reality and even more unfortunately to some extend of our reality, too.
Having just read the comments, I am tickled to see that my quoting “Those whom the gods wish to destroy …” is the third iteration in this thread. Clearly the feeling that we are in a time of madness is felt by many.
@Ken 57 Have you seen the wonderful film The Velvet Queen? re looking at creatures/being looked at by them … I am still, a year later, appreciating their point of view … its not all about *me* …
A propos Rove’s hubris, who remembers the classic response to the graffiti “GOD IS DEAD — Nietzsche”?
“NIETZSCHE IS DEAD — God”
“The enchanted world is not a collection of things; it is a community of persons.” – Just this morning I thought at some length about a group of persons I loosely belonged some years ago. During that time I started to experience a warm feeling of being at home, of ancient roots growing through old mossy stones beneath the crescent moon. A feeling distinct from sheer happiness. An I-you-relationship, yes that is a portal into the world, enchanted as it is. It is possible to have an I-you-relationship with yourself, too. Unfortunately most people don’t know this and treat themselves as a objects. What does it take to wake up and see and feel the person inside?
Many thanks for this essay!
Love this! St. Francis is my favorite saint. I have been trying to introduce my TikTok audience to animism. In one video, I pan around my kitchen reveal the “secret” to a tidier home.
Video for those who are into that: https://www.tiktok.com/@whitewitchoftheprairie/video/7230251592660995374
“This is my kitchen… as you can see it is very modest, and though it’s not perfectly clean, it’s clean enough. The secret to a tidier home is to thank every item that you use after you use it. Just like people, objects like to be thanked, and when you thank the objects in your home for using them, they will start to guard and protect you because they will feel they have a relationship with you. It’s not strange at all to thank your food before and after eating it. Before Japanese people eat, they often say “itakimasu”, which means “I thank my food and all who brought it to me”. You can thank your door as you would a personal security guard. If you have a dishwasher, you can thank it for cleaning the dishes. I thank the washing machine and the dryer. You are far more likely to care for and put away items you feel grateful for and if you are sensitive, you will feel the vibe of your home being raised.”
If you’re not sure where to start, always start by thanking your daily surroundings.
This brings to mind Ruskin and his “pathetic fallacy.” I wouldn’t have expected him to land so squarely in the disenchantment camp given his associations (in my mind) with the pre-Rafaelite brotherhood and Wm. Morris. .
Ugh. I clicked the wrong thing and my reply was swallowed by this bright and flat person in front of me!
There have been times of wonder, or say, enchantment, whenever I have treated nature and animals with the same dignity and capacity of understanding as I would a human being –personhood as you call it. Many times when I’ve done that I’ve gotten a reply, either the wind swaying a branch at the right time to create a sense of meaningful response to my thoughts at the time or a way-too-human blink of an eye from a pet. These experiences have always left me with a sense of magic behind them and connectedness but one thing I had not incorporated into me is that an act much closer to home, as falling in love can also be what we refer to as a goddess. I guess this can also be understood, for example, if you’ve had a bad luck with finding meaningful partners and friends after bad experiences with partners and friends to have offended Aphrodite and that is why that dimension of life is blocked?
Can “inanimate objects” such as computers also be inhabited by spirits even though their material basis didn’t “grow” out of the Earth but rather was assembled together?
Lastly, I don’t know if it was intentional but the title of the essay and the URL title of the essay “stumbling through the fog” don’t match, in case that is important.
One of the things your writings have done is convinced me that I am not crazy. 🙂 My mother always hoped I would grow out of my ‘anthropomorphic phase’, as she called it. I never did (thankfully!) and after decades of my influence, she has even started referring to her favorite plants as ‘he’ or ‘her’ instead of ‘it’.
I enjoyed your pictures of the sky, the earth, and the sea experienced as a person. I thought you might like a picture I found when I was looking for a picture to print for Gaia. The artist admits it was Photoshopped, but I think it is a beautiful image of Gaia sleeping during the winter: https://www.the-sun.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2020/08/NINTCHDBPICT000601172942.jpg?w=670
Charles Eisenstein, a firm advocate of experiencing an enchanted world, recently became associated with the RFK campaign–it’s hard to say to what degree, but clearly respected by and opining to RFK Jr. on a personal basis, if not an active advisor.
Actually, I’m sure he was and perhaps still is a reader of this blog based on some remarks about the “long descent” in his book Sacred Economics. Could get interesting if RFK Jr is listening to the themes of this blog even indirectly.
Ken, this is one of the many reasons I don’t do television. If you’re there in person, you and the birds can negotiate your mutual space.
Larkrise, Tegmark’s drivel is utterly typical. It starts from the assumption that the only minds anywhere in the cosmos belong to human beings, and then overtly or covertly whittles away at the number of human beings who count, until there’s Max Tegmark, posing and preening as he pretends to be the only mind in the universe. The thing Tegmark fears most is that there might be other-than-human minds considering him with a wry chuckle at his absurdity.
Mole End, try it. Treat that wooden spoon as a person, an ally that will assist you in cooking. Try to get a sense of what it likes, and give it that; try to get a sense of what it doesn’t like, and avoid doing that. Then watch the quality of your cooking improve. No, I’m not joking. (BTW, kudos for the Silmarillion reference.)
Quin, as always, many thanks for this.
Larkrise, yes, I noticed that! I think synchronicity is calling on line 1.
Nachtgurke, that’s a good point, and an important one.
Kimberly, an excellent first step! Thank you for this.
Phutatorius, one of the recurring amusements in the history of ideas is the number of people in Ruskin’s camp, who edge up to enchantment and then back away from it at the last moment.
Augusto, “Stumbling Through the Fog” was the original title of this essay; I changed it at the last minute, having thought of a better one.
Random, I like it:
Kyle, good heavens. If RFK Jr. has brought Eisenstein onto his team, this campaign could go very strange places indeed. I’m glad to see it!
Fascinating reading, as always, JMG.
I wonder if you noticed that science seems to have ‘proved’ faith. (Oh, Douglas Adams, I miss you!)
First, physics has recently decided that “spacetime is doomed”. (No really, Google it.) Princeton physicist, Nima Arkani-Hamed, gives several very interesting talks – available on Youtube – about how the general sentiment these days is that spacetime is an emergent phenomenon of some deeper underlying structure, since the concept is “operationally meaningless below the Planck scale”.
(Also, something to do with how the maximum amount of information that can be contained in a given volume is actually limited by its surface area, so a 3D space can be fully described with only a 2D amount of information, suggesting some kind of holographic encoding of space, at least. And there is also the observation that discontinuities in a theory – like black holes & the Big Bang in spacetime – are usually indications that the theory is incomplete.)
Second, ‘The Universe Is Not Locally Real, and the Physics Nobel Prize Winners Proved It’ is the title of a recent Scientific American article. (A bunch more ‘hidden variable’ loopholes were closed on Bell tests in 2015 & 2016.) I’ll quote the first paragraph to give you a taste of the importance of this by-now-classic quantum discovery:
“One of the more unsettling discoveries in the past half a century is that the universe is not locally real. In this context, “real” means that objects have definite properties independent of observation—an apple can be red even when no one is looking. “Local” means that objects can be influenced only by their surroundings and that any influence cannot travel faster than light. Investigations at the frontiers of quantum physics have found that these things cannot both be true. Instead the evidence shows that objects are not influenced solely by their surroundings, and they may also lack definite properties prior to measurement.”
The “local” part being false basically messes with causality, because effects can happen before their apparent causes, which propagate at the speed of light. And if the “realism” part is false, then, to use Einstein’s incredulous phrase, “the moon is not there [for you] when you are not looking at it,” like a computer game that doesn’t render objects outside an observer’s field of view.
Keep in mind, this is about as experimentally confirmed as anything gets in science: LOCAL REALISM IS FALSE. That’s a thought-stopper, right there.
From these observations, we get evolutionary biologist, Donald Hoffman, speculating that rather than a ‘Physicalist’ world, we live in an ‘Idealist’ one (I’m paraphrasing, using concepts from my Philosophy 101 days, but that’s the essence of it). See his interview with Tom Bilyeu, titled ‘Evidence We’re Living In A Simulation’ for a survey of his position. I take it he has built a model of reality that starts with Mind as the fundamental component, rather than Objects.
Physicalism – an idea I believed quite firmly, once upon a time – holds that matter & energy in spacetime is “All.That.There.Is”. But now physics has decided that spacetime isn’t fundamental to reality, so that *can’t* be “All.That.There.Is”. And given that we *know* that consciousness exists, whereas every effort to prove the existence of fundamental, inert, *objective* building blocks just winds up looking like a Russian nesting doll (e.g. atoms, quarks, strings, etc.), or even outright disproves objective reality… well then, hell, why not a reality built out of minds, i.e. Idealism?
And I’ll just tie it off with a quote from the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica, when Leoban says, “What is the most basic article of faith? This is not all that we are…”
Energy in Spacetime is not all that there is. This is not all that we are.
Science proves Faith.
How about that? I mean, really, who would have guessed?
(Douglas Adams must be ROFL!)
A great essay!
It certainly takes some people a long time to extend theory of mind to all humans. I remember vividly one day when I was 17 and suddenly realized that an adult woman in our travelling group, whom I didn’t know very well, surely had as much inner life as I had.
On the other hand, for João Guimarães Rosa even the non-talking of the hills and rocks shows their personhood:
“But…the hills stayed calm, which is their way of how they talk among themselves, if they do transmit any talk.”
“Only the buzzing of a green fly was to be heard… the animals munching their grass… The rest was the silence of the stones, of the wild plants that grow so leisurely, and of the sky and the ground, each in its place.”
O recado do morro (The message of the hill) in Corpo de Baile (my own poor translation)
There is indeed a grain of truth in what Rove said. It’s rare that hubris has no basis in the real world. That’s what makes hubris so dangerous, and what calls out to Nemesis to intervene and set things right again.
Here the overreach may lie in the unvoiced assumption that human society, which is indeed shaped by people like Rove, is the truly important part of the world in which we live out our lives, not just one of its lesser parts.
Of course, all our screens and machines lead us to overlook the countless other-than-human persons with whom we are constantly interacting, all unawares.
Sometimes I feel like there was more enchantment in the world even as recently as my younger days. Of course it’s difficult to separate that from the arc of one’s own life and the changes that brings, but still I feel as if something has changed. I’ll be contemplating what that change might correspond to – perhaps the advent of the internet and various on line virtual connectivity. Could our connection via machines be blocking our ability to connect with real beings around us?
Wow. I missed your article in March about the Satyricon. Great read.
I want to make a pitch for an anti communist Russian sociologist who wrote a book very much like the vein you’re mining, JMG. I read The Crisis of our Age about 10 years ago; what struck me was how clearly he saw things in the 1930s, like the agency problem in corporate governance, that have been left unsolved and will not be solved.
Sorokin defines three types of ages: sensate, idealistic, and a stage in between those two. He talks about sensate/materialistic ages as arising to deal with the unsolved problems of idealistic ones, and proceeding as far as they can go. Writing in 1941, he sees the end of the constitution and explicitly legalistic ways of organizing society, and suggests that the current materialist age MUST give way to an idealistic age since there is no answer possible within the materialist paradigm, to add Kuhn in.
He’s got a lot of examples. I hope you get a chance to digest him; if you’d like I can send you the notes pages I copied from his book.
One thing that survived my many years of schooling and seems to be automatic is my occasional reaction in the moments when I stub my toe or get whacked in the elbow by a wall that jumps out in front of me. In these cases I will attribute a conscious and malevolent intent to inanimate objects. At least for a hot moment. (How dare they materialize out of nowhere?) It’s quite embarrassing when I regain my composure because I have usually let the object(s) in question know how offended I am by their deliberate meanness in, shall we say, colorful language.
I’ve gone the other way, too (i.e., attributed intentional kindness to a warm sun or a cool breeze). In these cases, though, I usually keep my mouth shut and simply say a silent thank you. Most people would give me funny looks if I said such things out loud.
I’m not sure why I perceive things this way at times. Like I said, it seems to come automatically.
@jastan “‘probably a ____ experts say…’”
That’s what I hear.
So I always use protection.
“The enchanted world is not a collection of things; it is a community of persons.” This reminds me of looking up the origin of the word “druid” and reading that it’s a combination of two Indo-European roots: dru (oak tree) and vid (the root word of “wisdom”). So a druid is someone who is wise about trees – or perhaps a better translation is “the wisdom of trees” – the idea that trees themselves are wise beings. Dendrochronology illustrates that: tree rings contain knowledge about rainfall in different years, which can help to explain why, for example, the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) in the American Southwest abandoned their cliff dwellings in the 13th century – it was a period of prolonged drought.
Patricia Mathews #25: “My hat’s off to the Franciscans and has been since an adolescence set in the city named for my favorite Catholic saint”: Just curious: was that San Francisco, or Santa Fe (full name: La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco)?
Wow – this one’s a real humdinger, JMG. While reading the post, a few things popped into my mind which I figure that I should share.
“The enchanted world is not a collection of things; it is a community of persons… It is not, crucially, ‘believed to be’ a community of persons. It is experienced as a community of persons.” I am not as well-read as many in this virtual community, and so there may be better examples of this ‘experience’, but the one book which always comes to my mind regarding the ‘personhood of non-humans’ is “Black Elk Speaks”. I cannot imagine that anyone who seriously reads that book would imagine that Black Elk was just pretending to believe that Thunder Beings are real, or that him referring to all other life forms (the four-leggeds, the wingeds, etc.) as ‘people’ was either ‘quaint’ or ‘poetic’.
The photo with the caption “The earth, experienced as a person” immediately reminded me of my favourite (by a country mile) Disney film, Moana, as it involves a youth’s encounters with the spirit of the ocean, a trickster god and the dual forms of an island goddess – one as a menacing volcanic being and the other (once one conquer fear of the first one) as in incredibly beautiful verdant being, similar to the being in the photo. I am still surprised that a Disney film would be produced that is so replete with ‘I-You’ relationships instead of the usual annoying anthropomorphized animals. Then again, the story is based on a Polynesian legend.
“It’s important, though, not to fall into the trap of thinking that we human beings get to decide all by ourselves whether the phenomena around us are things or persons.” I am reminded of an interesting story told by a Christian missionary who lived for several years in a remote village in Indonesia and who one day decided to climb a particular tree. The locals advised him against it, stating that the tree is favoured by a local deity. Believing it to be ‘superstitious nonsense’ the missionary climbed the tree only to find that part-way up, he could climb no higher due to an invisible barrier that he could not pass. The missionary henceforth accepted that the locals knew certain things that he could not explain from within his theological world-view.
I am also reminded of a story told to me by a friend who grew up in peninsular Malaysia/Singapore. Apparently, he had a friend – your typical shallow but level-headed non-spiritual youth – who was shaken to the core by an experience in the Malaysian jungle. Briefly put, he ended up thoughtlessly violating a local taboo by urinating on the trunk of a tree and ended up getting lost until he found a hut that was inhabited by humanoid – but not human – beings, who did not let him leave for several days. Finally, when he was able to escape and found his way to the main road, he found that he had been ‘missing’ for a mere hour. Several days later he took my friend into the jungle to show him the clearing where the hut was located, but never found it. This person ended up concluding that the forest created this experience to drive home the legitimacy of the local taboo. Local Malays confirmed to him that ‘this kind of stuff happens here’.
“By refusing to consider the personhood of nonhuman things, they [i.e., the scientists] got the lowest common denominator of nature’s behavior, the sullen passivity of those who know they have nothing to gain by giving anything more than they have to.” Fascinating idea, which I definitely accept as possible. It certainly would help to explain the extraordinary powers of First Nation medicine people as described by ‘white’ observers in Deloria’s book ‘The World We Used To Live In’, as they accepted the personhood of all beings, visible and invisible, that form creation. And, coming full circle, I am also reminded of the experiences narrated by Black Elk and even author John Neihardt’s direct observation of old Black Elk successfully calling the rain on a cloudless day up in the Black Mountains. If we treat nature as lifeless, it will, for the most part, behave as if it is lifeless; but how much we lose by treating it as such!
It took me a very long time to figure out (of course I could be wrong) why I had a revulsion to messy houses, including my own house when it is a mess, which is more often than I would like to admit. I believe my revulsion comes from what the house and its denizens in the forms of objects is saying. When it is a mess, they seem to cry out “We wish we were cared for! Can’t someone else move in who will care for us? What is wrong with you humans?” I also tend to feel revulsion when a house is too clean, like the living rooms back in the day that featured a matching furniture set with clear plastic covers and another matching set of tables wood shined until it looked like lacquer. Those tended to scream to me as well: “If she’s not going to let anyone sit on us, why are we here? What is wrong with her brain? Why does she yell at her kids so much?”
I’m sure you already knew this, JMG, but in Japan, there is a custom of keeping the toilet very clean, which is also a custom favored in feng shui. The hypothesis goes that if you keep the toilet clean, it keeps you humble and because of your humility, the powers may smile upon you and make you wealthy just as long as you remain humble. The founders of Panasonic and Honda both attribute their success to cleaning their own toilet everyday. As an exercise in mental discipline, cleaning the toilet every day can’t be beat!
Madison Avenue does not like us respecting our rooms, cleaning our own toilets, thanking our toasters, or talking to trees and houses as you would talk to another person. People who do these things don’t have the urge to buy more than they need.
This reminded me of a poignant memory of my childhood. Of when my belief in a thoroughly enchanted world was bullied out of me in class in second grade by a concerted effort of the teacher and students. For some reason I was so sure everything that makes up the world is alive in its own way but they just would not have it. I never brought it up again.
From what I understand, many languages have more than masculine/feminine/neuter grammatical genders, and linguists tend to call them “noun cases” for those languages. According to Wikipedia, Tuyuca has between 50 and 140 cases — languages spoken spoken by very few people often become extremely complicated and it can be difficult to dilineate when one pattern ends and another begins.
Other languages make no such distinctions and their speakers are just as animist as anyone else. Chinese is one such example, and no one would accuse the great Taoist sages of being mechanistic materialists.
I don’t want to go full “nothing-buttery” and say it’s just an accident, but I doubt it has to do with animism.
This series has me continually thinking back to some of Hermann Stehr’s novels (early 20th century) that I’ve translated and which in the past I’ve classified, for lack of better terms (they don’t fit neatly into the style of naturalism which was current at the time), as daemonic realism. He had a way of enchanting the lived environments in his stories so that they became characters. It’s probably not surprising that literary critics of the time saw in him the influence of his native land of Silesia and the tradition of Silesian mysticism – particularly Boehme (though the greatest influence on him was probably Meister Eckhart). It makes me think I should go reread them in the context of this discussion.
Adrynian, yep. It’s a source of some interest to me that scientists are finally getting around to realizing what Western philosophers proved more than two centuries ago — and, of course, other traditions of philosophy proved millennia before then. Wasn’t it Sir Arthur Eddington who said, a century ago, that the universe looks less like a great machine than like a great thought?
Aldarion, once my reading knowledge of Portuguese is up to speed I’ll have to try João Guimarães Rosa. I like those quotes a great deal.
Twilight, yes, very much so. Just keep in mind that the world is just as enchanted as it ever was — it’s just that so many of us have closed our minds to it. Wordsworth had something to say about that more than two centuries ago; the poem’s good enough that I’ll quote the whole thing:
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.
Electricangel, I’ve had Sorokin on my to-read list for a while now, but I have a habit of thinking my way through one serious writer at a time, and he’s still down the stack a ways.
Blue Sun, it’s natural and normal. It’s only in our very disenchanted age that people think it’s odd.
Yavanna, hmm! Yes, I could see that.
Ron, Black Elk Speaks is a magnificent book, one that should be on the recommended reading list for anyone who lives in North America. It certainly rattled my cage when I first read it in my teens! And of course all of Vine Deloria Jr.’s books are solid, and The World We Used To Live In is better than most. I’ll keep those in mind when it comes time to revive Universal Seminary…
Kimberly, I’ve noticed that different houses have their own preferred levels of cleanliness — some like to be swept and mopped more often than others. That said, of course, your point stands.
Mitch, thanks for this. A lot of people have such experiences, and it’s useful to remember them and realize just how much abuse goes into forcing children to see the world in the disenchanted mode.
Kerry, hmm! Definitely one to add to the reading list.
Sorry, Donald Hoffman is a cognitive psychologist, not an evolutionary biologist. I thought I heard him referred to as an evolutionary biologist in the Tom Bilyeu interview and I’ve only recently learned about him.
Anyway, he was discussing how evolution structures our body’s perceptions to enhance its survival, not accurately reflect reality, which might help explain why our perceptions are so strongly rooted in spacetime even if it isn’t fundamental. (Something of a cross-over between evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology in this instance.) My bad.
“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example.”
“And what do they think? Against it, are they?”
“It’s not a simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that–”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes–”
“But they STARTS with thinking about people as things.”
The Quite Reverend Mightily Oats and the inimitable Granny Weatherwax discoursing in “Carpe Jugulum”, by Terry Pratchett. A wise man, was Sir Terry.
Having spent some quality time in the wilderness with just my sons and friends, I defy anyone to do that and still think of nature as an inanimate thing…This essay reminds me also that many years ago, I asked that question to the Tarot, and it disagreed with the notion….
Haha! There’s me revealing how deep my own indoctrination went, I suppose. I asked who would have guessed that science would prove faith and the answer is actually many, MANY people, including philosophers, from around the world over millenia. That’s excellent! Thank you, JMG.
Always-enchanting and interesting Archdruid, this topic resonates with a book I’d been given a while back and which I plucked off my shelf recently as I’d seen several tangential references to it. Unfortunately, the book, if evaluated in the realm of musical performances, would sound like “Wshhh…THUD!” Your text, on the other hand, has multiple delightful tonalities and melodies.
The book I’ve given up reading (got to page 271; I’m a fast reader, retired with a lot of time on my hands, and am usually persistent at finishing books) is “Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. He is quite insistent: “There are no gods in the universe… outside the common imagination of human beings” (p. 28), and he gets more turgid and even shrill beyond that point. Bleah.
After giving up on the book, I went to Amazon and queried for one-star reviews. Yup, though the five-star reviews far outnumber them, the one-star reviews are lucid, detailed, well written, and in manifold ways dismissive of the book.
It’s actually quite a sizable example of Disenchantment in book format; even in paperback, it weighs over two pounds. Definitely not recommended. Just sayin…
Here’s to Enchantment!
Granular space time, information density constrained by area, holograms, non locality and non causality, and living in a simulation. Fascinating.
Truely fascinating, and also meh. One the one hand it is cool to see science proove these notions, but on the other hand an elementary thought experiment reveals the same thing.
This world that I perceive might be the real deal, or I might be a brain in a jar trapped in the matrix, or a figment of someone else’s imagination. The ‘true’ nature of reality doesn’t alter anything about my existence; I’m still here perceiving stuff no matter how you slice it. All of the tangible, concrete problems, and abstract, existential problems are exactly the same either way.
Thanks, an excellent piece. It was good that you touched on the depersonalisation of humans at the end. In the UK we are seeing this increasingly, for example in the government and media description of “illegals”, “illegal immigrants” and so on, rather than people fleeing war, climate change and poverty. Very sad.
Pygmycory #24, that’s an interesting thought that alchemists played music to their works. I assumed the instruments were part of the general self-improvement occultists do – like how you learn music in The Celtic Golden Dawn. Plus it was fasionable for Renaissance and Early Modern gentlemen to have a collection of musical instruments along with the exotica in their cabinet of curiosities.
Adrynian #70, if we were living in a computer game, speedrunners would have figured out backing into a wall at just the right angle warps you to the final boss. 🙂
I don’t know who first came up with the concept of the myth of the machine, but one of my favourite theorists, Lewis Mumford, wrote a book with that title. He admired the original machine, a group of humans self organising to get a task done. He also couldn’t think his way past the oil age, like so many. There was no successor to the neotechnic, so the rest of us have to expand on his theory!
In relation to this week’s theme, I quite like the following anecdote, told by Professor Tom Shippey:
“[In 1972,] when [Tom Shippey’s colleague] was a student backpacking his way round Europe, he found himself in Oxford, and he went to the University Parks, and he found a bench there and took his backpack off and sat down on the bench and looked at the Parks for a bit. And at this point, an old guy came up, very well dressed, and he came along, and he sat down on the bench, and he started to talk. About trees. Trees – how beautiful they were. Trees – some particularly beautiful trees. Trees – now some trees he was personally fond of. Trees – the awful things people did to trees. Trees – how awful people were who did these awful things to trees. Trees – what we ought to do to these awful people in the world. But at this point, my colleague said, he was beginning to get rather nervous, so he picked his backpack up and edged away, reflecting, you know, that they haven’t got all the weirdos locked up yet by any means. But, next morning, he got the local paper and discovered a picture of the ‘old weirdo’ in it, and it was, of course, the distinguished Professor Tolkien.”
For anyone who’s interested, Shippey’s talk in its entirety can be found here:
A load of moths have taken a liking to the bathroom, in particular the bristles of my back brush. Because I it’s such an automatic movement and I haven’t got my glasses on, I never think to look and moths end up in the bath. I have to fish them out and throw them back on the windowsill. So I’ve put another brush on the windowsill as a lure and tried to explain to the moths that this is just for them, they can be safe on it and it’ll never end up in the bath. We’ll see if it works over the next few days.
This wonderful post brought back a strong memory of me, around 8, and my youngest sister, around 3, at the table in the kitchen.
There was the “spice tray” that always lived at one edge of the table, a round metal tray with an upturned edge, on which were kept around 20-25 spice jars, of various shapes and sizes, but averaging around 2 inches high.
And there was my sister, “enchanting” the spice tray. 😉
Her very complex game involved each of the spice jars moving here and there in living patterns, encountering other spice jars, having long conversations, entering into joint projects, or having arguments and stomping off, or other kinds of interactions… it kept her busy and interested for hours and hours.
As for me, I was just doing my homework,and trying to figure out something about angles… I was busy being inducted (inducting myself) into the disenchanted world.
For 20 years we had a radio program Believe It Or Not devoted to “philosophical, moral and religious topics”. The host once posed the question, “What would the eighth deadly sin be?”
My suggestion was “cynicism”.** It was ignored.
But consider this. Many people are now disenchanted with politics, not only in America, but in many countries around the world. They become cynical about politics and politicians.
Unpacking the concept, being cynical about something means having no feeling of connection, believing there is no possibility of influencing it, that it goes its own way for its own purposes with no consideration for your well-being. And as a corollary, you make no effort to align your actions with its goals. You act purely out of self-interest because why benefit something which is indifferent to you.
And I suggest that is the attitude of the disenchanted to the natural world.
**If we are allowed to mention ChatGPT, it suggested Ignorance, Intolerance, Apathy, and Violence as candidates for the eighth deadly sin.
Simply and beautifully said Maxine. Thank you.
You probably have heard this too many times, but I think one more would not hurt: You are a great master. Not just a teacher. You answer to the most silliest questions with undeserved patience. And it’s not about the amount of work and knowledge you show, but how you treat your audience, like intelligent beings capable of being persons.
After the small praise, let’s go back to the topic.
The re-enchantment you are working on (you saw the trend, and joined the forces to advance its coming!) is very much different of what I thought years ago. That’s why I could not believe it, because the fairy world I learned about was illogical, but as Lévi said, it has to convince both the logical mind and be experienced as faith.
I started to think about it when I read the discussion on what is a subject and what an object, which CosDoc talks at length, and what is an entity. I then saw how my arms are part of me, but also the shoes I am wearing, and the pletora of bacteria living inside me. All that needs my attention to exist and perform, becomes part of me, at least temporarily. And so happens with any other system that can be recognized as an entity with a will-to-live.
In a permaculture’s tree guild, the system is the most basic you can create and it is able to take care of itself, without human intervention. If the garden can’t survive without me, then, it’s a (detached) part of me. It’s an object. If the garden can survive without me, then it’s a different entity, an independent being. We can call it a holobiont, using a modern scientific term. It can also be a subject and act on its will.
And how does the tree guild achieve this miracle? By surrounding a tree with several other elements that interact among them and form a stable system, where forces though never static, find a balance. If it is able to live without my assistance, then it has will. Should I go against the balance, the guild would counteract me, should I join the balance, the guild would welcome me.
And so, permaculturists are creating tree fairies all the time. Oh, they are not little girls with wings. These are systems that reach homeostasis around a tree. But they are equally fragile.
The whole garden can become an entity if sufficiently positive relationship among its elements are put in place. Again, if I work against its balance, the garden will push me back. But it’s conscience might not be as strong as mine, so I’d probably resist the push back if I wanted to. If we were talking about an old growth forest, then the story would be different. Bears and wolves involved.
In that sense, everything can be an object, even ourselves, when we do as we are told and our reactions are so much predictable. And everything has the potential to become a subject, but obviously a tree has much more potential than a peeble. Once it becomes a subject, it is a being with a will-to-exist and wishes and impredictable reactions. Call it a person.
I think the key is that a personification is not a humanification. Maybe our mind can represent persons in that way, but they don’t have anything like a human body or reactions. This mistake leads to dogs being treated like children, which can cause them mental issues.
Now the question is how to address each of these beings. It will depend on our relationship (family, aknowledges, foreigners), our understanding of each other (language, things in common) and the difference in development of our consciousnesses. I think that all the interactions should be respectful of their natures. If I want to interact with a forest spirit, I must first understand how the forest behaves, not how I want it to behave. Talking with it as if it was a person might help me treat it as a being worth of respect. If our natures are in sync (our balances are not disturbed by the interaction), we might develop a love relationship which helps further understandings.
Thinking about the garden, I’ve come to realise why nymphs are represented as lovely women. They represent the spirits of a (natural) place. They are femenine, since they allow us to come into them (unlike threatening places). If we are not rude and give them some of our energies, following the forms they favor, we are rewarded with fruits from this relationship. But if we mistreat them, they will reject us and we will need to force them to give us fruits by hard labor and damaging the ecosystem. In that sense, industrial agriculture is not different than raping.
Sorry for the massive comment!
At William #36
Agua in Spanish is actually feminine as in every other latin language. The usage of the neutral articles (el and un) is applied to prevent an awkward alliteration (la agua, una agua). The alliteration does not happen in plural (las aguas).
The same happens in French (“l’eau” instead of “la eau”)
1) Glad you enjoyed Graham Harvey’s animist poem/manifesto!
You may find his full-length tome on animism of interest. I got it from my local university through interlibrary loan.
2) In regards to Eisentstein working with RFK Jr., you wrote, “If RFK Jr. has brought Eisenstein onto his team, this campaign could go very strange places indeed.”
Might you speculate a bit on what some of those “very strange places indeed” might be?
What a lovely series. I lived a quasi enchanted existence until well into my twenties. To the point of standing inanimate objects upright out of respectful decorum and rotating dishes from the bottom of the drawer for the sake of inclusivity.
Then I got heavy into political and economic theory post 2008. The enchantment disappeared. I’ve tried to get it back. As of yet, no luck. It grieves me.
Anyway, thanks for the posts.
Your comments about the mines has given me the opportunity to share some music from the Freakons. This is a really cool joint project between The Mekons (Leeds) + Freakwater (Louisville) exploring traditional mining songs from England & Kentucky respectively. I picked it up on vinyl at the last record store day. Here is one of the many great tunes:
Here is the whole album on their bandcamp page:
“Deep pit mines, strip mines, mountaintop removal, collapsing slag heaps. Deadly work, poisoned water, and fantastic songs. Always fantastic songs.
This is where the FREAKONS were born, from the very bowels of the earth.”
@Pygmycory, Darkest Yorkshire:
The lutes, are of course there for speculative musicians to play their transcriptions of the music of the spheres and other sacred music.
Oratory + Lab = Work and Pray
To all: What would (have) happen(ed) if we treat(ed) coal and oil as “blood of the earth”?
This is a recent publication (2012) of Rupert Sheldrake’s, Is the Sun Conscious?. It is an incredibly fascinating article.
I actually read the Dreher piece shortly after it came out, and I found it a bit baffling – here is this man saying we need more enchantment, and even citing your essays to that effect, but immediately recoiling in terror from the actual beliefs that people like you hold about what “enchantment” means.
And yes, the whole “the Sun is not a person” thing seemed silly to me to, given that it was coming from a Christian whose holy book includes passages like this one:
Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon…. [Joshua 10:12]
Seems like an I-thou relationship to me!
Or Psalm 148 (which I think was quite important to St. Francis):
Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.
Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.
Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.
Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens…
Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl…
For someone who seems to spend his every waking moment blogging about his religion, there are some parts of it he just doesn’t know all that well!
Mary Bennett says:
#39 May 17, 2023 at 3:07 pm
“Clarke aka Gwydion, bankers, industrialists, neo-con zealots, superannuated soi-disant nobility, and cohorts are still able to do a lot of harm to many people and to the Earth Herself.
I, for one, would welcome ideas, insights, etc. into how the rest of us can protect ourselves.”
Hello Mary Bennett,
Absolutely, while the idiots have their hands on the machinery of our declining civilization, there is no end of awfulness afoot and to be anticipated originating from them. My comment was simply that I had been assured that their worst schemes would not come to fruition. Their bad schemes are bad enough! My only insight for protection is coming to oneself and grounding one’s understanding in the real world around us (as in preparing however we can, etc.) and building community with the human and non-human. After all, part of the reason for magic and also the mystical is to give agency/ability to act to those (usually the “little” people) who are being thwarted in acting freely in their everyday situations. And yes, I realize that’s a very broad definition and could be sharpened up: JMG has said it better.
There is a quote from another story in the same collection that I thought you might like. It comes after a woman explains a love charm to the protagonist, Lélio:
” ‘So you need to get up before the sun, three days in a row, go pluck a twig, always from the same tree, on the bank of the creek, and when you come back, you throw the twig behind yourself, without looking, and say: I forgot you in blue… Say it three times…’ — ‘A charm?!’, Lélio asked. — ‘Oh dear, just by living among the others, we all, each of us, work charms, all the time… We just don’t know…’
Lélio e Lina
The charge of anthropomorphizing the divine is frequently leveled by those inclined to the more materialist side of the specturm. But it’s a point that’s been asked and answered long ago: the divine remains elusive and inscrutable and otherwise unapproachable by us humans except by personification…the Many partaking of the original transcedent Unity.
Perhaps you’ve discussed it elsewhere, but “Star Trek” seems like one of the most formidable workings of the devotees of Progress. Its contrivances seem to inform not only the design of our current gadgets but to have actually inspired them, and shape how those who participate in that imagining envision what the future must be.
Great post, JMG. I consider myself a child of the Enlightenment, yet in retrospect have distinctly experienced the sun, trees, oceans, dogs, even wooden kitchen utensils, as conscious beings in their own right, often without any conscious perception that I was doing so.
In the early ought’s, I spent some time on an isolated island some 250 miles north of the Fijian main island, and my sense of the sun as conscious entity grew until I came to understand that it was in fact the dominant being of our lives there in every way imaginable, a somewhat humbling experience.
I’ve always written this off as just the standard human tendency to anthropomorphize reality, but have never really wondered, until now, why we do that.
“The stars are projectors, yeah
Projecting our life down to this Planet Earth
The stars are projectors, yeah
Projecting our minds down to this Planet Earth”
-modest mouse ‘the stars are projectors’
Great song. Great band.
As far as I can tell at this point, this reality “we” find ourselves in..from the micro to the macro is not a place of piece and of rest. Planet earth is planet earth. It is a place which facilitates a substrate where chaos is played out.
It is a place meant, not for rest, but for work. To rest even for a moment is to be engulfed and swept away.
There is definitely Eden’s. This just ain’t one and will never be…
So I’m not sure if this is a type of place where souls come to evolve; work through karma and such (would explain why we have this drive toward transcendence, and all these authors trying to get to the truth to show the word) or this is just a play ground for god ( I use the word god in the pantheism sense of the word) to pretend to be all these incarnate individuals having experience. Probably it’s something I have not, or am kept from conceiving, or just have not the hardware to run that information.
Either way, it is a place of chaos we’re inhabitants struggle to find islands of some kind of piece. Islands that soon sink under another rise in the tides.
Nothing new under the sun.
Thanks for another great post!
P.s. great show with Kunstler.
“Reason has hard limits, and most the world slipped right through its grasp”
I am not sure that nature and things are persons, but anthropomorphizing them may allow us to understand they have a bit more decision-making ability then we might give them credit for, in the sense that the instinctual activity they display is more complex than we may have thought. Nontheless such action is wholly circumscribed by their physical characteristics, including genetics/epigenetics.
But saying they act as persons except when you apply the scientific method to them is unfalsifiable.
You speak as if recognizing personhood is a gateway to rights and respect, but universal human rights is a relatively new development. Respect towards others, pre-UHR, was a function of station and responsibility. A king would be afforded more respect than a maid but even a maid is afforded respect in the careful mastery of her duties even though it does not approach the level of even the master of the house.
So it is with nature; while some societies have revered it (Native Americans, for example) most of human society has always viewed nature as a resource base for unlimited extraction. This would not be a place of respect and in fact pre-modern civilizations have “disrespected” nature to the point of oblivion resulting in that civilization’s downfall.
I do not say we should disrespect nature; but neither must we view it is a person. If it is the case that nature displays varying personalities in the absence of the scientific approach, it may be to our benefit that we continue the scientific approach to avoid hostility on nature’s part, only to be sure to care for it so that it survives and thrives, in spite of our using it’s resources.
I must also push back against the personhood of things because it is far too close to the personhood of voices in my head. I have at various times been spoken to, whether by my own subconscious or other entity I cannot say, but most invariably the communications have been false or misleading, and I have dealt with this by thoroughly ignoring said voices, which after a while become silent. I do not need the messy piles in my house to become a voice in my head, for example. I was raised Christian in a way that I was told to expect God to speak to me, and that didn’t work out real well, because the voice I thought was God was not consistent at all. In fact it has only been very recently, after 10+ years of deconversion, that I think that voice has gone away completely. It asked if I wanted to it to go away and I said, yes, I did.
My intellectual side is very strong (I do not mean to imply that I am any sort of prodigy, it’s just that my intellectual side is very strong among my different faculties), and so I have been able to navigate during times of great duress and confusion by applying known facts and logic and making the logical decision even every other part of me is blowing in the wind. It may not be the best decision but it A decision and most likely not a terrible one. It is a refuge from unreliable voices and strong emotional states. I’ve learned to fly by instruments when necessary, so to speak.
@Kyle #68 (& Pierre #100, and anyone else): Thanks for this about Eisenstein. I have read his essays here and there, and always thought he was interesting, but never kept up with on the regular. However I wanted to read his essay about RFK so looked it up.
I thought that they met at a falconry event was rather symbolic, or is that just me reading too much into the living world ; ) ? What do others think.
Here is the relevant quote: “It all started a couple months ago with a “coincidence.” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. knew my work vaguely before then, as a fellow Covid dissident and environmentalist. But that had little to do with this coincidence. One of my readers won a fundraising raffle for “a day of falconry with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.” She was allowed to take a guest, so she invited me.
I have no interest in falconry, but since I’d always admired Kennedy, I accepted the offer. There were a lot of people there, at least 15 including me and my son, Cary. At lunch, one of them was declaiming at length on some topic. I was just listening. But then Mr. Kennedy turned to me and said, “Charles, what do you think?””
This puts to my mind the “Hawk of May” and of course, our national Eagle. Dana, current AODA archdruid wrote the following essay on the four animals of the four quarters in druidry and equated the Falcon, and Eagle as being related. She writes “The Hawk, the Eagle, the Falcon and other birds of prey, is another powerful symbol that we see stretching back into pre-history. I present these birds together because they are often tied together in myths or the myths do not distinguish between them.”
Anyways, yes, it may get very interesting. Grabs bowl of popcorn.
@Yavanna #77 – San Francisco, CA. Which once was a beautiful city whose Spirit was once that of a charming, tolerant, sophisticated old lady with a colorful past. (I think she’s left the Bay Area since.) I loved it when I lived there.
As a long-time resident of New Mexico, I’ve been to that other city, the one Albuquerqueans sometimes deride as Santa Fake – tourist trap, art colony, etc – though it does have an authentic and ancient Hispanic underlayer – and what those Santa Feans whose ancestors came north with the Conquistadores think about the tourists and those who’re turning the city into a theme park, you can imagine.
P.S. One very hot night in New Mexico, in a bookstore, it came to me that the desert heat had its own goddess – Sekhmet! Egyptian, not indigenous, but she surely fit the bill. I had a figurine of her, too.
“That’s what I hear. So I always use protection.”
what a performance! thanks for the information. sholom! yah safest to delete everything.
The Sheldrake article is from 2021, not 2012. My fingers played a trick on me. Here’s the abstract.
The recent panpsychist turn in philosophy opens the possibility that self-organizing systems at all levels of complexity, including stars and galaxies, might have experience, awareness, or consciousness. The organismic or holistic philosophy of nature points in the same direction. Meanwhile, field theories of consciousness propose that some electromagnetic fields actually are conscious, and that these fields are by their very nature integrative. When applied to the sun, such field theories suggest a possible physical basis for the solar mind, both within the body of the sun itself and also throughout the solar system. If the sun is conscious, it may be concerned with the regulation of its own body and the entire solar system through its electromagnetic activity, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections. It may also communicate with other star systems within the galaxy.
Enchantment has a dark side: ensorcelment. Magic is only as good as its wielder. Case in point: the orange sorcerer Trump. Awhiles back, he told us to believe nothing that we hear, except from him. If you fall for that, then you are his. But I am mine.
I call him the Dork Lard. During his rally (disguised as an interview), the Dork Lard repeated the defamation that judge and jury fined him $5,000,000 for. Most people would learn from that; but he insists that he’s never done anything wrong. That’s the sin of pride.
@Jeff Russell #34
Re: Imbalance in I-You relationships–
This is not a great example, but many years ago, I was a member of an independent ‘Charismatic’ Christian Church, where the teachings included demons, spirits and influences all around us which were associated with many things. Now that I think about it, our beliefs at the time were mostly animistic!
However, they were not big on developing relationships with these other beings. The chief interactions were along the lines of “In the Name of Jesus, I… cast you out/begone/take dominion over you/etc.
One time two professional painters who went to that church had a job repainting the inside of a house that had been vacant for some time. They came to a room where a window had been left open. A colony of hornets had built a moderately large nest near the ceiling. When they came into the room, a hornet buzzed over and stung one of the painters on the arm.
“Begone hornets!” he yelled, rubbing his stung arm. “I take dominion over you in Jesus’ name!”
The hornets stayed put, mostly inside their nest, though a few had parked on the outside of the hive and a couple were flying around close to it.
“You dope,” said the other painter. “That’s not how you take dominion over hornets!” He dipped a huge brush into a pail of paint and (getting a couple of stings in the process) glooped paint all over the nest. The painters removed it, and proceeded to paint the room.
Was there an “I-Thou” relationship between the painters and the hornets?
–I would say there was. Both of them were communicating with the other party and felt that the other could understand them.
The hornets sent a measured message to the painters – One sting to say, “Keep away from our home,” then they dropped back ready to defend if necessary.
The stung painter at least tried to communicate with the hornets, although he was arrogant–and perhaps theology was not a good approach in dealing with hornets.
How could this have been done differently/better?
Suppose that these were Animist Druid Painters (ADPs): Coming into the room with the hornet nest, the lone hornet may have detected a lack of the pheromones of fear and anger. It might have circled the head of the ADP painter without stinging, and returned home, or it might have stung.
Either way (at least, in my meditation) the ADPs address the hornets, apologize for their intrusion, and calmly explain that they need to have this room again. They ask the hornets to leave through the open window (perhaps while visualizing hornets flying out the window, and the sun and moon completing a single cycle) by tomorrow. They apologize again, and leave for a day.
I have heard that, when a beekeeper dies, someone should go to the hives and inform the bees. Sometimes the bees will leave their hives, and sometimes they are more amenable to care by another beekeeper. So who knows? Perhaps the hornets would understand the message and leave–
Let’s suppose they don’t. The ADPs return the next day with a beekeeper and a smoker. The smoker makes the hive go dormant, and the beekeeper removes the hive from the house, perhaps placing it in the crook of a tree so that the hornets can still go in and out of the entrance.
Most importantly, they shut the window once the hive is gone.
For my ongoing meditation, I ask, “How would St. Francis of Assisi have handled this?”
Awesome animism manifesto! For those who view YouTubes, here’s a link to Western Author Andrew Solomon’s account of how his depression was ‘exorcised’ by animists in Senegal, Africa:
My favorite part of it was at the end of the video– A Rwandan health worker’s description of western psychotherapy.
Rwandan: “You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the [Rwandan] genocide. And we had to ask some of them to leave. “
Andrew Solomon. “What was the problem?”
Rwandan: “OK. Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun, like what you were describing–Which is, after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, when you are depressed and you are low, and you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out of you again. Instead, they would take people, one at a time into these dingy little rooms, and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them– We had to get them to leave the country.”
Gurthang, the speaking sword of Túrin, was mentioned above. While clearly relevant to the current discussion, to me it seems that Gurthang had a very single-issue consciousness!
I have been telling the Silmarillion to my wife in instalments as good night stories. While not the most attentive listener (after all, she is supposed to fall asleep at some point), she does make pertinent critiques, such as why in all heavens would mortal humans choose to enter the fight between the Eldar and Morgoth?
I started to think about the symbolic significance of the Silmarils, and now I would reframe the question as being about the will and consciousness of the Silmarils. After all, they light up or they burn the hand of the holder.
The One Ring is a transparent metaphor of power and in that sense applicable to our own world. JMG, do you, or does anybody else have thoughts, or remember a discussion about the applicability of the Silmarils? Is there anything, or rather anybody, comparable in our own world?
PS: Tolkien’s relation with trees was also already mentioned. Mountains are equally important persons in the stories, above all Caradhras.
@ JMG The phrase “Corporations are people, my friend.” springs to mind. Treating a legal fiction as a human being strikes me as some kind of weird inversion of treating living creatures and experienced phenomena as persons.
On a related note, during my time in the fire service, I heard at least one first hand account, and several other whispered, third hand accounts, of fire as a living creature. Not from training officers, of course, but if you listed with just the right ear to people in the fire service, everyone knew someone who knew someone, who’d seen ‘something alive’ in the flames. I rolled my eyes at these stories at first, the way any sure of themselves man in their mid-twenties might, until I heard an older firefighter give me and a friend a first hand account. It wasn’t dressed up as a ghost story or anything outlandish. Instead, he framed it as a very semipro lesson; “I saw a demon moving in the flames, so respect what you’re up against.” The story stuck with me long after I left the fire service in 2013.
Justin Patrick Moore #95, that town in the video looks so like where I live, except we had textile mills and engineering works instead of mines. The music reminded me of a documentary about the Westray mine disaster – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INjINpsaRTw. It has folk songs and an interesting effect of two narrators playing off each other.
With collapsing slag heaps, there’s one of the most unsettling quotes I’ve ever heard:
“Whatever this is it’s going to be horrible. Why would they need Mines Rescue at a school?” – rescue crewman on the road to Aberfan, 1966
@ DT #110
“…the instinctual activity they display is more complex than we may have thought. Nontheless such action is wholly circumscribed by their physical characteristics, including genetics/epigenetics.”
Is this the way you see yourself? ie – as a being whose instinctual activity is more complex than might be thought, yet is wholly circumscribed by your physical characteristics, including genetics/epigenetics?
If not, why not? How would you convince anyone else that you are more than this?
@jastan – not everything! Do what I did with my old yearbooks. Save the nice parts you forgot were true, put them in a collage. Only then burn the rest. 😉
A few summers ago we had an explosion in the local wasp population. They were everywhere, and almost everyone I know got stung at least a couple times. Whenever I encountered a nest I would try my best to project “I mean you no harm” while backing away. Thinking it strongly in their direction, and chanting it aloud. My husband thought I was nuts, but guess who made it through the summer without a single sting?
A simple intro practice I was taught is to greet the moon whenever you see her. Out loud, as you would a friend. I suggest anyone looking for an entry point into this world-view try it.
Adrynian, good. In terms of evolutionary theory, there’s no justification for the claim that the human mind is capable of perceiving and understanding the truth about the cosmos; evolution selected our cognitive processes for survival, as you noted, not for access to objective reality. Thus logic is simply a systematization of human cognitive habits that turned out to be marginally more successful for finding food, getting mates, and avoiding predators — and with that, the entire justification for scientific rationality as a means of knowing the objective truth about anything (including biological evolution!) comes crashing to the ground. That is to say: every logical argument taken far enough refutes itself.
Mr. Bunny, thanks for this. Unfortunately Sir Terry, atheist that he was, never grasped that the same principle can be applied equally well to phenomena that don’t happen to be human.
Pyrrhus, I trust you had a grand time.
Adrynian, well, there you are. 😉
Bryan, I really do have to hold my nose and read some Harari one of these days. He seems to be shaping up to be the public face of shrill anthropocentric arrogance, and knowing what arguments he likes to deploy may be helpful in assisting people to see just how wrong he is.
Stuart, oh, granted. I also see in the British media a lot of depersonalization of, say, TERFs.
Peter, good! It’s a fine book; I think you’ve been commenting on my blogs long enough to remember this very early essay of mine discussing Mumford’s ideas and suggesting what comes after the neotechnic phase.
Owain, thanks for this. Yes, that sounds just like Tolkien!
Yorkshire, good! I’ll be interested to hear how it works.
Scotlyn, thanks for this story. That’s really lovely.
Martin, you might be interested to know that the sin currently misdefined as Sloth was known in the Middle Ages as acedia, which is not sloth as such but the kind of indifference and boredom that cynics turn toward the world. As Chaucer puts in his Parson’s Tale, “bitterness is the mother of acedia, and takes away the love of all goodness.” So a strong case can be made that it’s already in there.
Abraham, thank you — but it’s frankly saddening to realize that these days, treating other people as people is anything exceptional! Your comment is a fine meditation on personhood; I see you put your time studying the Cos.Doc. and Lévi to good use.
Pierre, (1) I’ll see if the library system here has it. (2) No, I think right at the moment speculation would be misplaced. I’m just going to say “watch this space.”
D., it takes work. Daily religious or occult practice is the best way I know of.
Asdf, thanks for this!
Thrown, oh, that kind of thing is pervasive. Lots of respectable thinkers will tiptoe right up to the edge of actual dissidence and then back frantically away from it into the comfort of the conventional wisdom. Thank you for those scriptural quotes! I’ll note them down somewhere so I can mess with the next Christian who insists that it’s wrong to think of the sun as a conscious being.
Aldarion, hmm! He clearly read Lévi — not surprising, of course, given the very strong influence of French Second Empire culture in Brazil.
Fra’ Lupo, that’s a valid point about anthropomorphizing, but I’d take it a step further. It is just as arbitrary to mechanomorphize the universe as it is to anthropomorphize it; the materialists who insist on seeing the world as a vast lifeless machine are projecting that onto the cosmos, with no more justification than religious people have in seeing the cosmos as the mask of God. As for Star Dreck — oh dear gods, yes. I haven’t devoted an entire post to it, but I’ve talked at length in various posts about how monomaniacally true believers in progress revert to that dreary 1960s television show and its sequels every time they want to daydream about the One True Future they think the great god Progress has promised them.
Karalan, as I see it, we experience the world as a community of persons because, in important ways, it is one. The term “anthropomorphism” is a belittling label for a set of accurate perceptions.
Travis, hmm! Not a band I’m familiar with — my tastes are decidedly old-fashioned — but I’ll check ’em out someday as time permits.
DT, I would point out first that no mental state and no set of beliefs about the world are valid or useful in every context. Treating the universe as a lifeless machine made it possible for scientists to discover things about it that couldn’t have been learned in any other way. Second, as it happens, I’m not identifying personhood with some claim to rights or respect; the voices in your head may be persons, for example, but they clearly did not deserve to be listened to or to receive your respect! Finally, nothing I’ve said denies the value of facts and logic; it’s simply a recognition that they’re not the only game in town, and sometimes a broader range of human perceptions and capacities is useful.
Asdf, I’m very pleased by the resurgence of panpsychism. It strikes me as an outbreak of sheer common sense in philosophy. After all, it’s a much more parsimonious hypothesis to assume that consciousness is an ordinary property of existence, and any sufficiently complex thing will therefore exhibit it, than it is to assume that it’s some kind of weird epiphenomenon that only occurs in those lumps of meat called human brains.
Paradoctor, “ensorcellment” — that’s a grand old word! Did you learn it from Lin Carter, as I did?
Aldarion, it’s been long enough since the last time I read the Silmarillion that I don’t recall enough about the silmarils to be sure. Anyone else?
Ben, my grandfather was a firefighter; he worked for twenty years in the Aberdeen, Washington fire department. He always referred to fire he had to fight or control as “the beast.” So I think it’s a common perception!
Svea, thanks for this! In classical times it was a common practice to greet the sun and the moon the first time you saw them each day by kissing the palm of your hand and then holding the palm toward the luminary — yes, that was also a common greeting at the time. I’ve done that for many years now, and yes, it really does help enchant the world.
Something rather relevant from the world of dowsing:
Once you start serious work in dowsing, you’ll soon find that all the ‘objects’ you deal with appear to have minds of their own. All of them – people, plants, minerals, metals, stones, places on, above and below the ground, even concepts and ideas – in their role as images in dowsing can be awkward, cantankerous, unreliable, even treacherous; as images the all have a sense of mind and purpose. Not necessarily ‘mind’ in the usual sense of the word, in fact, rarely so, but since they all exist as ideas and images in the mind, they can all act as at least semi-independent entities within it. Since in dowsing you’re operating in the mental world, the world of the mind, you have to observe and be responsive to their reactions and needs if you’re going to get reliable results from them.
Source: The Diviner’s Handbook: A Guide to the Timeless Art of Dowsing, By Tom Graves
Your of the abandon of to understand natural phenomenons and animals like human individuals , is similar to the hypothesis about the evolution of religions by the phylosopher Gustavo Bueno, who states that there are three generations of religión caracterized by the target of the prayers:
1 generation) Imaginary animals wich are considerated representants, chief or fathers of his specie. ( Prior to statalized societies
2 gen.) Gods with human figure , Who represent natural forces or human virtues. ( Statalized societies)
3 gen.) Entities similar to the idea of God from Aristotles.
(Statalized societies more ancient)
Acording Gustavo Bueno, after of religions of 3 gen. come at the same time and for diferent people:
b) return to 1 (animalism) or 2 gen religions ( aliens E.T)
I greatly enjoyed this piece and look forward to the rest of the promised series on this topic. Coincidentally, I happened upon some lectures, which are available on the internet, by Iain McGilchrist, a British psychiatrist, neurologist and author. He’s written several books now on how the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of the brain see the world. Hold on…I was ready to dismiss the topic as well, given how it’s been debased in pop culture. I was rewarded for giving it a listen. Anyway, it correlates beautifully to enchanted (right-hemisphere) and disenchanted (left hemisphere) ways of perceiving the world. McGilchrist holds that humans have become increasingly reliant on the left hemisphere, which see “things” and operates very mechanistically. This is to the detriment of the right hemisphere, which sees the world as alive and is capable of abstract thinking and creativity. He seems to be getting at the same points, albeit from a different vantage point, made in this article. Fascinating stuff.
“He always referred to fire he had to fight or control as “the beast.” So I think it’s a common perception!”
The movie Backdraft did that well. Donald Sutherland did a fine turn as the pyromaniac.
@JMG: Agreed on the mechanomorphization tendency. If I may be sold bold: Might be worth considering an installment in this series where you address Progress, as you have to some degree indirectly, explicitly as a god (I believe she (?) is). As a divine person, what are her idiosyncrasies and attributes? I think the worship of Progress tends to get conflated with those devoted explicitly to the Void (the eliminative materialists, yes, but I have literally interacted with folks who worship the Void, who is a distinct deity) or alternately various guises of the devil (not a divinity, per se, but a supernatural person with a plethora of ulterior motivations). I suspect Progress herself (?), considered separately, has a quite specific cult…
@sarad – make a collage with the comic books and yearbooks and you’re all set for winter. 🙂
Related: a wonderful conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. How many presidential candidates have you ever known who can talk about having a lifelong relationship with nature, who mentions Carl Jung, and who talks about his childhood memories of playing in puddles, finding box turtles, and raising a great horned owl? He also talks about his spiritual practices. Here, I feel, is a man who sees nature gazing back.
Video and audio-only versions:
I’ve spent quite a bit of time wildland firefighting. One of my favorite observations that I heard years ago that has stuck with me because of how well it sums up the reality of wildland firefighting is, “we don’t fight fire, we negotiate with it.”
Maybe the true test of Artifical Intelligence will be whether or not it too makes a “gradual shift over time from I-you relationships to I-it relationships”.
A future of disenchanted humans and enchanted machines awaits.
I wonder if the disenchanted worldview is also held in place by the need for moral / legal certainties and moral “purity” connected to strictly demarkated categories of person and non-person.
For example, many vegans and vegetarians say they no longer eat meat because they have chosen to reassign animals from the non-person to the person category. Where does that leave us if the plant or fungi kingdoms are likewise reassigned? (Of course, we know that past enchanted societies ate all sorts of things.)
On a related note, could it be that a yearning for enchantment might explain some of the recent trend of animal pets seen as persons these days.
I have no idea where I picked up the word ‘ensorcelment’. I agree that it has a fine ring to it. (The spell-checker insisted on ‘enforcement’!) But it’s a reality – or at least real enough – and it motivates disenchantment, for self-protection. Likewise disenchantment’s dark side is alienation, which in turn motivates re-enchantment. The solution is balance.
Star Trek had good moments and bad. What do you think of Star Wars? (My take: the original trilogy is junk food, the prequels are garbage, and the sequels are plastic.) I prefer “Babylon 5” to both of these, partly for its lack of star-trek utopianism and star-wars sensationalism. It was about plot and character, not special effects.
The attribution of personhood to the non-human realm reminds me of a book I inherited from my mother, a compilation of short stories and poems by Ursula k leguin titled “Buffalo gals and other animal presences.”
There’s “vaster than empires and more slow”, a story of colonists discovering a planet covered in sentient plants, as well as the first story I read which had an autistic character
“The author of the acacia seeds” is a mock essay on therolinguistics, the study of animal communication as regards the “poems” of a solitary ant written using patterns of seeds.
“The direction of the road” is essentially the autobiographical experience of a tree as a highway is built next to it.
And of course “Mazes” which is the story of a lab rat trying to communicate with the scientist who trapped it via the ritualistic wandering of a maze.
She is very good at writing from unusual perspectives, which was what fascinated me when I first encountered her writing in this book which my mother was originally going to throw away until I took it instead. Can’t say much about her poetry though, too post modern most of the time to really enjoy.
@Svea re: #123
I’ve been saying something to the wasps to the effect of “I won’t harm you if you don’t harm me,” and so far it’s been working. I also like to say hi to the moon if I happen to see her in the sky.
>we don’t fight fire, we negotiate with it.
Does the conversation sound anything like this?
I had to, I’m sorry, since we’re talking about personifying things that usually aren’t personified.
On another topic.
There have been whole movies about cars that have been personified. More than one. Herbie. Christine. Wasn’t there a favorite of JMG’s? My Mother The Car? A little before my time. Here and there you find superstitions peeking out under the covers. Although personally, I wonder how much of that is just someone’s aura affecting the machinery around him. I’ve seen this more than once, I call it the Mechanic’s Aura, where something broken will somehow start working just as the mechanic shows up, only to break again, once he’s left.
I wonder if inanimate things acting quirky, is just your aura making them do so. You’re looking at a person. It’s you.
re: the silmarils.
The reason they burn certain people is that they were hallowed by Varda. The result seems to be that they burn people who have done/are doing serious amounts of evil. They do this to Morgoth (Dark lord prior to Sauron and S’s former boss) and to Maedhros and Maglor after they finally regain them after doing quite a bit of war and murder to get them back. They don’t burn Beren, Thingol, Elwing or Earendil when they touch them, or Feanor before his fall.
Are they alive or conscious? I don’t think it’s really clear from the story. I’ve seen them treated as such in fanfiction, and have used the idea myself. I think I suggested there was an echo of the music of creation in them and that they were in some way alive, and that this was part of the reason people tended to flip out over them so badly. On top of the whole ‘most incredibly beautiful object ever’ thing.
And yes, just because Gurthang talks doesn’t mean it gives good advice. Ditto the One Ring’s visions, nudges and suggestions. No, Smeagol, don’t strangle your friend for the shiny. No, Isildur, don’t claim it as wereguild for your dead family members (always annoyed me given all the other people that died to stop Sauron in that war. And I doubt Elendil would be impressed that Isildur chose a weregild over making certain his death achieved the purpose of making Sauron dead permanently.) No Frodo, don’t claim it, No Boromir, don’t attack Frodo, No Sam you don’t need to claim the Ring so you can turn Mordor into a giant garden-farm… I guess the Ring resorts to some slightly odd temptations when it gets picked up by an enthusiastic gardener who isn’t all that interested in political power for its own sake.
re: Silmarils, they also burned Carcharoth (giant wolf inhabited by evil spirit) when he ate them. And when Luthien sang they blazed brightly… and its possible that the Silmarils desired to get away from Morgoth and that’s where Beren’s sudden decision to collect all three came from – which didn’t end up happening due to a snapping knife and Morgoth starting to wake up.
Regarding the attribution of personhood — it occurred to me that the corporation is essential to our capitalist economic system, and hence our current Western version of civilization, and that a corporation legally is considered to be a person. So one could say that our hyper-materialistic Faustian Civilization is based on an enchantment too. Kind of ironic.
If you like The Silmarillion and want a good laugh, try this youtube music video:
The Story of Feanor and the Silmarils IN SONG.
The music is fairly story accurate if not very serious, but the visuals are hilariously bathetic to what they’re talking about. Seriously, is that a glass ‘silmaril’ with fake lips seen through it singing? And poor quality cosplay costumes with dancing. Dancing Morgoth. And the instruments include everything from electric guitar to some appalachian dulcimer-like thing, drumset, acoustic guitar, clapping, singing, and a mini electric keyboard.
Just want to say thank you for this post, JMG. I’m always relieved and thrilled by the way you consistently give serious, even scholarly, treatment to the elements of an enchanted world.
Hi John. You ask;
> are you at all familiar with the work of Gregory Bateson
Yes I know of him through Co-Evolution Quarterly. Never read any of his writings though.
I agree with your take on i/Thou etc. There will always be those who excel in one way or another. Ramanujan is an example. Very humble, very spiritual, amazing mind that in part sensed the world mathematically.
He was never full of himself as far as I can tell from reading about him. The caste system may have it’s uses, I meet people almost daily that are not recognized for the amazing people they are.
The fire that ripped thru Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2016 was repeatedly named “The Beast” by officials. I specially appreciated how they said the Beast was sleeping over the winter and had to be watched very carefully the following spring.
Scotlyn, Graves was right on top of all of this. His book Needles of Stone Revisited is all about the reenchantment of the world.
Anselmo, interesting. I may see if I can find some of his work in English.
Christopher, yes, it’s another way of talking about the same thing; interestingly, you’re not the only person who mentioned Gilchrist in this thread.
Siliconguy, hmm! Interesting.
Fra’ Lupo, that’s an interesting speculation which I’ll have to reflect on.
Goldenhawk, thanks for this.
GlassHammer, it already imitates I-you relationships. How can you tell when it’s actually doing so?
Nathan, an excellent point!
Paradoctor, I liked the first movie (“Episode 4”). I thought the two that followed were cheap shoddy cash machines. I didn’t watch the prequel trilogy, and I haven’t watched anything since. One of the remarkable things about the first movie is that the Jedi powers shown there were by and large plausible — it was all a matter of doing things with minds. The sequels immediately switched to cheap special effects instead, as though Lucas was frantically backing away from reminding people of things they can actually learn to do.
J.L.Mc12, I read the first two stories in other contexts — “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” in its original publication in CoEvolution Quarterly, back before that cashed in its ideals and then went broke. Le Guin is a mixed bag — I’m not really a fan of her poetry either, and her fiction has lurched back and forth between really first-rate stuff and dreary political message pieces. But her best is very, very good.
Walter, excellent! Exactly; as I’ll be showing in more detail as we proceed, our current situation isn’t actually disenchantment, it’s simply another mode of enchantment, one that doesn’t have an unlimited shelf life.
Brunette, you’re welcome and thank you.
Wilnav, give Bateson’s books a try. I think you’ll be pleased.
Bryan (offlist), thank you, but the local library system has plenty of his work, and I’ll probably start off with online essays anyway.
@Emmanuel Goldstein #117 re: Examples of I-You Relationships
Hah, that’s quite an example! More substantively, the second painter demonstrates an interesting example of doing what most folks would interpret mechanistically but putting an “animist” spin on it. Interesting to wonder if it was a “rationalization” for doing a mechanistic action to make it compatible with an animist worldview, or if he “really” thought of that as “taking dominion.”
It might be a distinction without meaning, but interesting to contemplate, so again thank you for sharing.
I am not sure that I can think of the world or reality as alive, but I am sure that too many people think of it as dead, which is not quite the same as not alive. I think that good mechanics often think of cars as not dead also. It is definitely more organic, organized, complex, and interconnected than what is acceptable for the current scientific dogma.
Certainly too many people, particularly scientists or the shallowly educated elites of today, oversimplify reality, which helps them in their egotistical belief that they can, or do, understand and control it.
Shallow, dogmatic, black and white thinking, which seems to be the result of a hollowed out society and its civilization, partly from the deliberate efforts of upper levels of society to control and loot everything. Even the purely mechanistic adherents of a century ago seemed much more complex and subtle in their thinking and beliefs with a maturity missing from the current social elites.
And adding even more to my very overlong comment, while I think that there is truth in the idea of a natural rise and fall of civilizations, it is too simple a description for what happens. Civilizations, societies, even individuals tend to succeed despite their problems. How many people, not matter how crippled or old, are always succeeding or at least making a good go at it? How many people just throw it all often for the shallowest of reasons?
Our current civilization is going through those same cycles as any other. A few civilizations or countries succeed in getting through the destructive cycle by changing and adapting to what is happening. But most are stymied by people, usually the leadership, who don’t want change because they want it all to themselves. Much like I see our current situation. I mean disenchantment of our society partly exists because it is nurtured and protected by the elites who are benefiting from it.
@Thrown (#104), JMG and others regarding the heavenly luminaries as conscious beings: as soon as I read the line from Psalm 148 (Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light), I was reminded of one of my favourite stanzas of poetry by Blake (from ‘The Tyger’):
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Blake’s line about the stars haunts me to this day…
My impression here is that the enchanted worldview has been simply equated with animism. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) I’d venture that there’s a somewhat different way of looking at the world which may also be placed under the enchanted category but doesn’t quite view trees and rocks as wearing faces. Rather all creation is viewed as coming together to form a single living body — of which I’m a part, of course. One inculcated with such a worldview (such as the Confucians since the 10th Century AD) may not view rocks and trees as persons, but would still view them as part of a cosmic organism and therefore charged with significance and value. There would be nothing in this worldview against the existence of spiritual beings, but they would also be viewed as part of the cosmic organism.
As for how the disenchanted worldview ever came to be, I believe Ecosophy Enjoyer (post #15) nailed it right on the head in crediting Christianity as a major culprit. The late David Ray Griffin examined at length in his Religion and Scientific Naturalism (Chap 5) an interesting phenomenon that arose in Europe during the 16th/17th Centuries: the three-way battle between the worldviews of Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and the ‘Legal-Mechanical’ view, according to which God is totally separated from Nature and all movement and change in Nature are nothing but the mechanical interactions of physical bodies — as opposed to the Hermeticists’ view of things, which was very enchanted indeed and therefore viewed by the Church (sigh) as threatening. After all, the Hermetic vision of God in all things and all things in God would seem to make the Church impertinent. Hence the Church gave its full support to the ‘Legal-Mechanical’ view, which as we’d have guessed won out in the end.
The irony here is that whereas the original idea was to force people to turn to the Church if they saw no sign of God anywhere else, it turned out that people would eventually see no sign of God anywhere at all. Enter the disenchanted worldview. Descartes (one of the architects of the ‘Legal-Mechanical’ view) probably saw this danger, which he sought to counteract in his Meditations, but later thinkers (I think Hume was one of them) picked his arguments apart, and the rest was history…
The Abrahamic religions have caused a great deal of terrible mischief throughout history. And continue to do so.
To Abraham #98, thank you for articulation of personhood. This makes a lot of sense to me: it helps me understand why the personhood viewpoint may work without having to argue that it is the one true way of seeing the world. And I really like how you manage to connect the viewpoint to the symbols that were previously used to encourage fruitful relationships with nature.
To JMG, I also find the discussion of enchantment both as a cyclic and evolving cultural viewpoint, and at the same time an embodied subjective experience utterly fascinating! Now I realized you used your magical training to experience it for multiple years before also using your scholar skills to connect it to broader patterns of human history and make the coming next cycle accessible to a larger audience faster and easier. I am quite impressed, to say the least, especially given the cultural context in which you did it. The relationships between the ritual of Sphere of Protection, will and divination training, as well as Tarot as training to decompose and recompose situations from their underlying concepts are making a lot more sense.
And the idea that these blog discussions are helping collectively better understand the best use of consciousness and free will, while balancing against their most destructive possibilities, is an uplifting antidote to the nihilism that becomes rampant in the down slope of civilizations.
Thank you for your exceptional persistence and dedication throughout the years, your contributions have made a tremendous difference in how I am able to navigate these troubled times.
Off-topic, but interesting nonetheless:
In Britain “Adults under 40 are much more likely than older people to call themselves atheists, but also to say that they believe in hell, which is a fascinating puzzle.”
Twelve percent of people in the UK agreed with the statement “the only acceptable religion is my religion”, compared with 90% of Moroccans.
Confidence in religious institutions had rebounded. Between 1981 and 2018, Britons’ confidence in churches and religious organisations fell from 49% to 31%, but by 2022 had risen again to 42%.
@Jastin, Thank you for the data points on wildlife losses. I am collecting these, though probably in vain. From the perspective of this week’s topic, it is interesting to note how they present the crisis birds were facing as yet another transmissible disease that we humans have to take precautions against. The terrain theory (i.e., something has gone wrong in their environment that could affect us too) is nowhere in sight, but that is probably more a matter of profit-seeking behaviors (i.e., discovering a new pathogen brings such fame and fortune, whereas identifying a simple case of poisoning does not).
Hi John Michael,
Have you noticed that the I-it mode has been pushed harder over the past three or so years? I’ve observed some unusual behaviours arising from people absorbing that push. Hardly a bright idea, but nobody asked me. 🙂 Imagine the blow-back from pushing this mode? Talk about a short shelf life.
Good to hear about ep4, and I know how you feel about visual imagery. It was pretty good. Didn’t you mention once that it had some sort of basis in a Japanese film?
How about this: These aren’t the modes of thinking you’re looking for! 🙂 It was a great scene.
It seems that disenchantment also follow industrialization and a rise in urban ( suburban life). If one is a small ( to separate it from agribusiness) farmer the world is filled with other beings to contend with. Weather, plants, insects, farm animals, wild predators, invasive species which can take on mystical or anthropomorphic dimensions. Even the most disenchanted farmer can’t help but view his livestock opponent as ” Mr Wolf” or the goat who always escapes and eats the farmhouse flowers as a ” rascal”.
When a significant portion of the population first moved to cities they lost touch with much of nature but had to contend with a wide range of human interactions.The local butcher, baker or apartment super were real people who had to be interacted with as people. Urban dwellers were less likely to see the physical world as enchanted but still viewed most of the humans around them as people.
In the final phase most people in urban and suburban settings deal with machines or “organizations”. They use the self check out at the supermarket, order things online, use the ” check in pad” at the clinic and talk to robotic “customer service”. I have even been to beer halls where you order on your phone with a QR code and your faceless server drops off your beverage with no need for interaction ( not places I go back to). So now most people have no reason to see those around them as people.
But this too will change as the “mechanical world” of big organizations falls apart and the people struggling to make it will have to learn to deal with other humans on a personal level. Which of your neighbors can you trust, do you know someone who can keep your fridge running, do you have a friend with natural medicine skills. This will all force those who successfully negotiate the future to see the world as filled with real people, and enchantment.
With regards to bureaucracies that treat humans as non-persons, saw this today https://open.substack.com/pub/paulcudenec/p/resisting-and-revealing-the-plutocratic?r=1hp4he&utm_medium=ios&utm_campaign=post It expresses the same sentiment around the French governmental response to the Yellow Vests. Sees that as a sign that we are all colonial subjects now, rather than citizens, in the eyes of the managerial elite.
“ Macron’s police are now planning to use drones against protesters, not only to watch them and bark orders at them through loudspeakers, but also to spray them with chemicals that will allow them to later be identified under UV lighting.
This is not the behaviour of an old-fashioned pseudo-democratic government trying to maintain the “rule of law” without alienating the people.
This regime does not give a fig for the people or what it thinks of them.
It is prepared simply to use the full force of its power to crush all those who dare stand up to its rule.
What we are looking at is more akin to a government of foreign occupation, such as France experienced during the Second World War.
Having no affinity with ordinary French people and their wishes, the regime treats them in the way that the French state used to treat Algerians; that the British empire used to treat its subjects in India or Ireland; that the South African apartheid regime used to treat blacks or that the Israeli state continues to treat Palestinians.”
I suppose the only way I can tell if a switch away from an “I/you relationship” has occurred is observation of the actions taken by an intelligence, it’s an imperfect measure but the only one I have to use.
Asessing intentions is something I struggle with even among people I know, I assume any assessment of intentions made by me regarding an AI would be a crude guess.
JMG, If you were to create a curriculum of enchantment using your books, in which order would you teach them?
JMG, This quote from Goethe seems immediately relevant to your essay:
“He believed that he perceived something in nature (whether living or lifeless, animate or inanimate) that manifested itself only in contradictions and therefore could not be expressed in any concept, much less in any word. It was not divine, for it seemed irrational; not human, for it had no intelligence; not diabolical, for it was beneficent; and not angelic, for it often betrayed malice. It was like chance, for it lacked continuity, and like Providence, for it suggested context. Everything that limits us seemed penetrable by it, and it appeared to do as it pleased with the elements necessary to our existence, to contract time and expand space. It seemed only to accept the impossible and scornfully to reject the possible. – This essence, which appeared to inflitrate all the others, separating and combining them, I called ‘daemonic,’ after the example of the ancients and others who had perceived something similar. I tried to save myself from this fearful thing.” https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Benjamin_Goethe_Elective.pdf
You’ve inspired me, with this series of essays, to apply this to Christianity, through the lens of Tolkien. https://matthewcsmallwood.substack.com/p/going-into-the-mountains-in-search
It’s been my experience that animals, like students, behave differently, based on your perception and treatment of them. If someone treats a cat or dog like a “dumb animal,” they are more likely to behave that way. If you treat them as rational, thinking beings, they are more likely to behave that way.
We adopted a cat which was nearly feral. It took a few months but, these days, she’s a loving, snuggly little critter who routinely sits in one of our laps, or lies next to us on our bed, and rumbles up a happy little storm. She understand “yes” and “no.” She may not like the “no” but she understands it and modifies her behavior appropriately when she hears it. If we point at something, she doesn’t look at our pointing finger, she looks where we’re pointing (that seems to be an important distinction; pets which are treated like “dumb animals” tend to look at the finger, rather than the indicated target).
With a prior feline, we got to the point that I could even understand a certain amount of his vo-cat-bulary. I could tell when he wanted fed, wanted in or out, wanted to be snuggled or just wanted to be (important distinction; they have internal lives, too, and it’s not all about you). My beloved and I tend to address felines as thinking beings and … people who don’t have that mindset are kinda baffled when they meet ours. Yours could behave that way, too, but you’d have to shift your mental paradigm.
If you want nature to acknowledge you, you have to be willing and able to acknowledge it. It can, and will, respond to same.
@Darkest Yorkshire: Thanks for the documentary. I may listen to the audio from it while I am work one day, have it boomarked! The history of mining & mining wars, etc. is all very fascinating.
@Goldenhawk: That’s definitely a good interview / chat between RFK & Eisenstein. I agree that they both definitely seem to be talking about the world as an enchanted place. It brought back a lot of my own memories of childhood, looking for snakes and salamanders, crayfish, and getting a bad case of poison ivy every summer from wondering unsupervised through the woods. I do think that is a big thing kids are missing and part of what is behind the epidemic of mental illness, this greater & greater disconnect from nature that has happened. One of the silver linings of the decline is the return of an enchanted world view.
The Other Owen,
computers often stop malfunctioning around my parent who is good with computers. As in, I call him over and can suddenly no longer demonstrate the problem I was having. We call it the technician proximity effect.
there have been disenchanted periods in history before – it isn’t unique to the modern age. If you read ancient roman works, I understand they are very modern feeling due to this. And it certainly wasn’t the Christians’ fault that time.
Adrynian / JMG,
While the human mind has primarily evolved to be adaptive, and false beliefs can sometimes be adaptive, true beliefs are much more adaptive, and so the human mind has evolved to discern truth. It is not perfect in this endeavor, but it is close enough that we can rely on it, and engage in scientific inquiry with confidence.
Jbird, it’s certainly true that old people can overcome life-threatening illnesses, but that doesn’t mean they can expect to live forever; the life cycle is what it is. In the same way, the downslope of a civilization’s life cycle can be stretched out and ameliorated by various means — but there’s going to be a dark age sooner or later. Long-lasting civilizations such as China and Egypt had dark ages of their own — they just found ways to preserve cultural continuity through the lower end of the cycle.
Ron, it’s a splendid line, by a splendid poet.
G Wang, animism is only one of many possible ways to frame thinking about an enchanted world; the option you’ve suggested — would it be called, perhaps, pansomatism? — is another, and there are still others. The approach I’m exploring in these posts might be called, with a nod to Kant, critical polytheism: a philosophy of divine multiplicity that grapples with questions about how we experience phenoman as persons in the first place. With regard to David Ray Griffin’s book, hmm! That’s fascinating, in that the book was published in 2000 and my essay “Magic, Politics, and the Origins of the Mind-Body Problem” — which made the same case — was published well before that. I don’t imagine he cited me. 😉
Viking, you’re most welcome. It’s a deliberate antidote, of course — most of my writing is aimed at providing less dysfunctional ways of thinking at a time when there’s a shortage of those!
Mark, yep. Stand by for what Spengler called the Second Religiosity!
Chris, ha! I like it. Yes, the first Star Wars movie was a pretty straightforward ripoff of the classic Akira Kurosawa samurai flick Hidden Fortress. Western producers have been doing that for years — A Fistfull of Dollars was Yojimbo relocated to the Old West, and so on.
Clay, good. Very good. There’s more to it than that, but yes, that’s a central dynamic.
AliceEm, exactly. It’ll be interesting to see how fast the insurgents start using antidrone weapons in response…
GlassHammer, that’s one of the things adding to the complexity of this moment in history.
Clark, since readers differ from one another, I wouldn’t have a single sequence. Some people would find it easiest to start with philosophical works such as Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth and A World Full of Gods; others would be best advised to start with a manual of practice such as The Druidry Handbook or The Way of the Golden Section; and still others — quite possibly the largest share — would be better off beginning with my fiction, in particular the tentacle novels or the new Ariel Moravec series, and absorbing the basic ideas that way. One of the problems with our current notions of education is precisely the tendency to try to force everyone into a linear curriculum which, by definition, will suit some people well but most badly.
Celadon, good! Goethe’s always worth reading in this context. Glad to see you exploring these ideas — a reenchanted Christianity would be a very good thing.
Meower68, exactly! Treat the world — or any part of it, such as a cat — as a person, and you help it express its personhood. Treat it as an object and you force it into an object-shaped mold.
DT, that’s a common article of faith among rationalists, but it doesn’t happen to be true. Are you at all familiar with the literature on depressive realism? Studies have found that people who are clinically depressed are more accurate in their assessment of many situations than people who have a healthy mental state. Game theory shows that mildly inaccurate optimism is more likely to result in successful outcomes than a strictly realistic view of things; successful strategies need not be accurate ones. (If you believe that a lucky rabbit’s foot will give you success in love, to suggest another example, the additional self-confidence will likely make you more successful in getting dates, irrespective of the objective qualities of the rabbit’s foot.) And of course there’s the broader point that even if the human brain was adapted to find true statements about the behavior of food animals, potential mates, and predators, that does not justify the claim that it’s also somehow adapted to find true statements about subatomic particles or galactic clusters!
@Golden hawk – thank you so much for that interview link, I’m listening to it right now at work. What a likable person.
I’m at the part where Charles ask’s him about how he’s seemed to switch from “fighting evil” and what he thinks about the corporations and the regulatory capture – are they just full of evil people or what?
And I really like this part, because I did time in Fort McMurray; the smell never leaves you, nor does the view from the helicopter for the first time. It is Mordor, that is what I said into my headset to my first boss when he took me up to our monitoring sites. You fly at 200 km/hr for an hour before you are out of the black pits, where 600 tonne loaded trucks look like ants. But the acid rain goes much much further in every direction – we were monitoring the rate at which the boreal forest was being “fertilized” with NOx and SOx , and how far away anyone had to go before they could eat the berries or the animals again.
I joined a funding drive The Narwhal was putting on to submit a truckload of FOI’s in Alberta and BC (and Ontario re: The Greenbelt) for that reason – though the headline story they used for that was about the Elk Valley in BC – and in the box where they ask why you want to support them, I said because I used to work there. They wrote me back, asking if I could give them any tips for further stories, but I couldn’t really, I love their journalism precisely because they already tell the stories I know, but to an audience I could never reach. But here’s what I told her:
I worked on all 5 of the mines to some extent, but not for about 10 years; I was a reclamation scientist, working for a consulting firm, and I monitored soil and water on the reclaimed sites (uptake of metals, nutrients, growth/coverage) to document when (if) they could get a reclamation certificate for each reclaimed site (none did while I was there. To my knowledge, though I left the industry 5 years ago, only one site in BC, at the Highland Valley Copper mine – and it might have been destroyed in an expansion of the Lornex pit – has ever received a reclamation certificate; has ever met the criteria set out in their mine permit for the density, height and vegetation diversity on their reclaimed site.
I mentioned that I had worked there because I think you folks have done the best job covering the EVC mines (and resource extraction in general – I also worked on the oil sands), not because water was my thing (by the time they even put in the selenium treatment at Line Creek, I wasn’t working directly on the site anymore), but because you covered the stories in such a way that I felt that the people I knew who worked on the sites at the mines, and lived in the towns, were still being respected. You got the complexity of the humanity in the stories so well. I met guys on the Elkford mine who were 4th generation there, and were very proud of the good life there that their families had built, and the way they produced the coal that made the steel that built stuff for everyone. Mostly I worked with the environment teams, who similarly felt they were doing good. They do those jobs because they want that rural lifestyle – they’re there for the small town, the fishing and the hunting. It’s tragic beyond measure that they worked the mines to stay with what they loved, and it’s what they loved that the mines have now destroyed. I have always told environmentalist friends not to attack the morality of the miners themselves – I had never met particular evil at my level (though I said that once to a woman who had worked directly with the big three letter suit guys in the inner offices for many global companies, and she actually shuddered and said she had). Once I was doing baseline sampling up around Tumbler Ridge, the environment guy who was escorting us through an active mining area to the proposed expansion area stopped to point up at a waste rock dump and pit wall at the old Bullmoose Mine. From our angle, it was a sheer, stepped, barren black horror where a living mountain used to be. My partner and I stared morosely – that was one of our reclamation sites. It was supposed to be trees and grass. He beamed at us, “1000 years from now, people will see that, and they will wonder at what a great civilization we were to have built that, just like we look at the pyramids in Egypt.” It was an apt statement – the craze that drove the pharaohs to build the pyramids destroyed the wealth of their kingdoms – monuments to the death of their own culture – but he was so genuinely proud! What do you even say?
Keep up the good work!”
I think the theme is so resonant in Canada because we are and always have been a resource extraction country (“hewers of wood and carriers of water” as Harold Innis famously called our economy) with a thin veneer of urbanity on top. Even in Victoria BC, when they needed to summon the fierce ache of that 4th Gen miner, they set it in Uranium City, Saskatchewan because everyone will still know it.
@ Mr Greer:
Thanks for the clarification!
I agree that certain peoples at certain times in the past have probably experienced a disenchanted view of things as well. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex for example the chorus lamented at a point the ‘death of religion’. Interestingly, ancient Greek civilization basically ran out of steam by the time Sophocles passed away. But I really don’t think the malaise of disenchantment ever affected humanity in the past on the vast scale we find today.
I haven’t commented for a while…life is busy and people are better than the internet. The line of thinking in this post is both very deep and very simple in the way that many of the most profound ideas are also simple. Most of the explicit discussion of the idea of enchantment degenerates immediately into a factual argument (either the sun really is a person with a mind and emotions or the sun really is “nothing but” a ball of hot gasses) or a moral argument (we *should* return to experiencing the world as enchanted or we *should* embrace eliminative materialism with both sides employing all the weapons of a culture war). I am very impressed that you are able to steer past these dead ends.
For me, the core beginning point of clear thinking is that I experience the buzzing cacophony that I call “the world” as a person embedded in a network of humans that is my family, social connections (in the physical pre-virtual social network version), and broader society. The claim that I can rise above my lowly origins in personhood and see the transcendent truth that I am really just atoms following the laws of physics is in the words of Pauli, “not even wrong”. It is simply so unworkable that only the most simple minded among us even seriously consider it. One twist on the “managerial elite” of our age is that we are several decades into the era when promotion to leadership roles in business and academia has depended on either (1) narrow-mindedness to be happy with depersonalization (disenchantment) of everything or (2) indifference to the health of society to act like you embrace the unworkable depersonalization (disenchantment) of everything. Once you realize how this works, then it suddenly makes sense that no one under the age of 70 is considered a candidate for the US presidency. It also starts to make sense why we have “woke” and “family values” and “authoritarian” extremists tearing our country apart because humans can’t live as objects. Our minds simply can’t work that way. We make up moral categories and tribal loyalties and Lord-Vassal bonds when our society denies us lives embedded in personhood. You also start to realize how totally crazy it is to imagine that we can move much of lives to email and social networks and web surfing and blog commenting and hope to maintain mental health 😉 .
Now I diverge from JMG by noting that it seems it really is different this time. Maybe not in a good way. Humans are not going to unlearn modern science. Technology changes are often not cyclical in history. We didn’t unlearn agriculture or metallurgy. We won’t unlearn basic chemistry, astrophysics, and biology. We won’t unlearn the terrifying view of ourselves that we are configurations of matter that reproduce and evolve when given a very special ecosystem and set of natural resources. But we also won’t suddenly emerge as creatures whose minds can live in disenchantment. The next enchantment that arises will be different than the ones that went before. The key question is how. And the practical question is whether there are choices we can make that allow a better future for us and our descendants than the one we are headed down. I want to reconnect with JMG’s train of thinking that a good path is to return to the ancient path of relating to the world and others as “persons”. Not some kind of “acting” where we do it even though we know better. Thinking about and acting toward them as more like persons than reductionist objects. For me I need to redefine “persons” to be a complex system that I can’t predict or adequately understand using reductionism. Instead I have the option to relate to these “other complex systems” using the social tools of seeing persons that we inherited from our ancestors and the religious tools of ritual and community and faith that have been passed down to us as ones that work for humans. I also use the scientific tools of approximate prediction that we have developed for simple complex systems like the weather and medicine. For the more complex systems like human psychology and economic and political interactions, we should be very skeptical of those who claim to have turned these into scientific subjects for which an I-it approach is viable. If you take this line of inquiry seriously, it starts to dawn on you that enchantment really does exist in the deepest way humans know of things existing. The cacophony of our existence might really be accounted for better with something like JMG’s occult spirituality or my Christianity than with the naive reductionistic materialism that dominates in this decadent era. Configurations of matter might have purpose and personhood that are more essential than the atoms that embody them.
Thank you very much for this interesting essay.
It reminded me of the “moral treatment” movement for treating mental health, which took hold in Europe and the US in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
This movement led to the building of stately asylums in the countryside, where a person could take refuge from the travails of everyday life. In the U.S. it was recommended that asylums be built on no less than fifty acres of land, and stable patients were encouraged to wander the surrounding countryside as part of their recovery.
Sunlight, fresh air, rest, time, and gentle social interactions were seen as important to restoring health. There were also homeopathic asylums, with the first one built in 1874 in Middletown, New York.
In the late 1870s, the field of neurology was getting its start in the U.S, and the neurologists tended to see the asylums as fertile grounds for study. The asylum superintendents were criticised for their ignorance of brain anatomy, and they were pressured to install pathology labs, perform brain autopsies, and keep up with the latest anatomical research from Europe.
The asylums soon suffered from overcrowding from a growing number of “chronic cases.” This overcrowding is commonly attributed to urbanization and population growth, and surely there is truth in this.
But perhaps the change in consciousness that had taken place — treating people not as persons but as faulty machines, or ‘cases’, or objects of study — also played a part. Perhaps this new kind of thinking disrupted the natural bend toward recovery.
The Pygmalion effect is very interesting. John’s description of it may well apply here: “the assumptions you bring to a relationship affect the behavior of the other participant even when those assumptions remain unspoken.”
@Emmanuel Goldstein–That is a great story about the Rwandan genocide survivors being restored by natural methods, not talk therapy in a dingy room!
I’m going to use that….
As many other have already commented, the trends of the last years go in the direction of ever more I-It relationships. Twenty years back, a colleague told us he would gladly buy a snack if there was a vending machine right next to our lab. He didn’t want to ask somebody who was anyway going to the cafeteria to grab something for him because “I don’t want to have to say thank you and smile”.
Well, now it is possible (and sometimes actually cheaper) to buy ready-made food, clothes and all other kinds of products online without having to say thank you or smile. It often takes longer for the product to arrive and is harder to return than if one goes to a store, so the reason for buying online is (in my opinion) often the avoidance of social interactions more than anything else. You can also rate service interactions online or through telephone questionnaires without ever having to look the other person in the eye and say “I didn’t like the way you talked with me”.
It is my impression that a subgroup of younger people have great difficulties initiating any social interaction, especially if they follow online courses or do online work. They may not live with partners or children to ground them in reality, like the partners and children that the rest of us may live with since before there were “social” media and online shops, and it takes some social skills to seek out sport teams, choirs, churches or any other venue where people come together.
@G. Wang #151: I am not sure the “cosmic organism” view is incompatible with experiencing individual parts of the cosmos as persons. Platonists, including the Christian platonists of the 12th and 13th centuries, wrote about a person “Nature” that included other persons like planets, angels and humans.
While you could be right that the spread of a materialist view was enabled in the modern West by certain turns in Christian theology, it is hardly true that a society needs first to be Christian before philosophers can propose materialism – there are enough counter-examples from ancient Greece and India. It is also hard to argue that Christianity (or “Abrahamic religions” in general) necessarily leads to materialism. After all, Christians had passed more than 1500 years without proposing the “material-legal” view you write about, and had been in power in at least some places for more than 1200 years. Charles Taylor also discusses the specific changes that happened in the 16th to18th centuries in “A Secular Age” and “Sources of the Self”, but his conclusions might be slightly different from yours.
The “rationalists”, as they so call themselves, are increasingly coming around to the idea that all information processes are on some level conscious. Though this stems I suspect from their need for mind uploading to be possible, it naturally follows that all living things, at least, are in a real sense persons. They may not believe (yet) in God, but a lot of them believe in dryads, even if they won’t admit it to themselves. And a forest network processes a *lot* of information, so even from their strange “materialist” (once you put mind at the centre of reality, I’m not sure you get to call yourself strictly a materialist anymore) position, the forest has some kind of spirit, some consciousness behind it.
I wonder how much of the disenchantment simply comes from being surrounded by, not only unalive, but unnatural things? Plastic and metallic iron, whilst reasonably common in the universe (cometary tholins, asteroids), are not found naturally on the surface of the Earth. Our modern environment is not one humans have any experience with.
As an aside, speaking of druids, I’ve decided to pursue a Master’s in ecology, a decision that was sort of crystalised by a book about a druid. A fictional druid. In the new Dungeon’s and Dragon’s movie. Hey, this is how God speaks to me, through cartoons and novels and songs…
Hi again John,
Further thoughts on Gregory Bateson.
I will give his books a try. It will take time
On reflection I learned most about I/Thou, i/Thou, I/thou etc from the book covered briefly below. In particular the Hutterite who survived the Counter Reformation as many others did not.
The book is worth a read.
Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century
Authors: Kenneth Rexroth
About the Author
Kenneth Rexroth, (1905-1982) the well-known American poet and critic, presents a study of the history of communes and intentional communities from their known beginnings to the 20th century.
His book can be found here:
A propos … I was at Evensong this eve and the choir sang Psalm 98 in which these marvellous lines appear:
Let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is: the round world and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. …
I don’t think one can entirely claim that Christianity never allowed the world to be a place of enchantment and magic. Modernity is what done it.
Floods clapping their hands! What a image …
The difference between “enchanted” and “disenchanted” is exactly what I described to my agnostic father as a way of explaining why I had taken up the animistic faith of Shinto. Our existence with its shopping carts and 3:00 appointments is so humdrum. Most people would have seen my explanation as a wish to live in a fantasy world instead. Because he had studied Buddhism in depth (and I would sit rapt, listening to his explanations of the nature of reality when I was little), he could see that I was exercizing a choice. If I had tried to explain further that there are times when I literally have seen the dragon of a lake, for example, he would likely have misconstrued it because he lacked the experience of that sense.
In urban areas, I find it very hard to exercise that sense of seeing the spirit realm. But I was out on northern Baikal with a group of Japanese ecotourists, and the boat’s captain brought out vodka for a libation to Baikal. It was “white dragon vodka” and I explained to the captain that I’d seen a blue and white dragon almost exactly like the one on the label the day before at the very spot we were now. The captain appeared to take that as a bad sign. A moment later, the engine stopped and would not restart, and we were stranded for several hours amid mists atop a sea as clear and smooth as plate glass. We had time simply to reflect.
(My tourists, you can imagine, were terrified. I didn’t tell them about the dragon.) Finally, the Navy showed up in their striped shirts and had us towed back to port.
Baikal was special. Several times my tourists have reported deep spiritual awakenings there. I had several vivid visions and realizations there that continue to enhance my life. I had a shaman (Valentin Khagdaev) lead us on one tour of the island of Olkhon, explaining how shamanism viewed the features, and my tourists really loved it.
The term “anthropomorphism” is a belittling label for a set of accurate perceptions.
I grew up a country boy and couldn’t help but think about everything around me as alive and connected. It’s no surprise to me that all the current troubles emanate from urban voters as they’ve lost touch with the world around them.
Funny how — as mentioned previously — occasionally Hollywood strikes a popular nerve in this regard with Avatar and Star War’s “The Force”.
p.s.: Great interview with JHK!
Hi John Michael,
🙂 My pleasure!
Oh, almost forgot to mention. Here’s something of a mind bender: When we look at nature, we see ourselves, yet the reflection we observe may just have other ideas. 😉
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but learn it we shall. Or at least I’d hope so.
Ganv, good to hear from you again. On the whole, I agree, but I’d point out that when you say “humans are not going to unlearn modern science,” you’re speaking at a very high level of abstraction, one that misses a lot of detail. A great many people have never learned modern science in the first place, after all, and a great deal of modern science will be unlearned in due time when it gets disproven — I recommend a close look at the replication crisis if you think that the scientific beliefs of today are less vulnerable to disproof than those of, say, 1850. While you’re right that agriculture and metallurgy are pretty durable, many more complex technologies have in fact been lost completely in the fall of civilizations — the entire suite of mechanical technologies that made the Antikythera device work were lost utterly at the fall of Rome and had to be reinvented in different forms during the European Middle Ages, and literacy itself has been lost repeatedly in various parts of the world. (Look up the history of Linear B sometime, for one example.) It’s a common article of faith in modern times that our worldview is the final human worldview and our technology will never be lost; I’ll be talking in an upcoming post about the roots of this fond but foolish belief, and how poorly it fits historical reality. We’ll talk more then!
Lavender, hmm! I wasn’t familiar with the movement that created the network of “county farms” and other humane mental asylums; thank you for this. Can you point me to some resources? It may be worth doing a bit of retrovation…
Aldarion, I shudder when I think about what will happen to them as the internet comes unglued.
Alice, ha! You and Clay are both nipping at my heels, getting to points I’ll be discussing at length as we proceed. Yes, exactly. As e.e. cummings, put it, ” a world of made is not a world of born” — and an environment created by human minds subservient to a set of mental constructs inevitably reinforces those constructs, creating a vicious circle that ends in collapse.
Wilnav, hmm! That’s not a Rexroth book I was familiar with; thank you for the heads up.
Larkrise, thank you for this. You’re right that that’s a beautiful image.
Patricia O, given that Lake Baikal is in the very heart of the homeland of shamanism, that doesn’t surprise me for a moment!
TJ, thank you. Yes, exactly.
Chris, I like that. I like that a very great deal indeed.
I read ‘I and Thou’ a long time ago so my recollection is fragmentary. Seemed to me that Buber was contrasting two ways of understanding the world. One is to see objects as bundles of attributes that can be measured, described, classified and catalogued, much as a scientist might do, a cold and dispassionate approach. The other is to see the things around us, especially people, as coherent wholes as opposed to collections of characteristics.
I read a book, also a long time ago, about Babylonian philosophy, and it appears that their concern was the classification of things, living and non-living, and where each stood in relation to the others in the grand scheme. Seemed to me at the time to be a similar mindset to modern days. So, I guess the inevitable question, can the two approaches co-exist, a detached mode of analysis and classification, and also its opposite, where observers attribute mind and life and consciousness?
Or do societies see-saw between the two approaches, never reaching any equilibrium?
you are welcome. I appreciate all you and those who comment here awaken in me.
Lightning forks a Y,
stabs a question at the sky,
roaring in reply.
I was listening to an interview with an animal communicator and healer this morning. She claimed she could have conversations with animals and do Reiki healing, even remotely if she had pictures of the animal.
I was rather skeptical, but then she told this story.
She lives on a farm with a farm dam. One evening she found a large frog in her garage. She has no idea how it got in because there was no gap big enough for it. Anyway, she gave it a bit of healing and carried it down to the dam and set it free. Next evening, same story: frog appears, she gives it a bit of healing, and carries it down to the dam. Next evening he appeared again. She became worried that she might go away and the frog would die in her absence. So she spoke to it, and made an agreement she would take a photo of him and every evening she would give it a bit of remote healing, on condition that he stays down by the dam.
Which is what she did. She gave the photo a bit of healing and the frog stayed away. Until for two days she forgot about doing the healing. Next evening, the frog was back in her garage.
You hear stories like that and you think, wooooo, we are all connected somehow.
I just started reading The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth this week, so this topic was timely. I won’t spoil the plot, but the enchantment of the world certainly features. Plus, I am a veteran who eats ramen and prefers dark beer.
When I walk in the woods or by the sea, I feel there is more than I can see, but sometimes my longing to “see the elves” like Samwise Gamgee feels like wishful thinking. But I often talk out loud, politely, to anyone who might be listening.
Thank you for these posts.
Talking of different framings for the world-as-persons, this post has really set me off thinking about how all complex systems are, or at least can be modelled as (given how alien they are, I can’t get inside their minds and understand whatever subjective experience may be in a forest), persons. I think that framing is probably the easiest for people from a certain bent to approach (post-rats!) it? And not really wrong, at least, no more wrong than other approaches (all approaches are wrong, some are useful).
I think the big stumbling block comes from, as the disneyfied version of Pocahontas sings, “you think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you.” Restricting personhood only to *human* persons. Which tbqh is incompatible with Christian theology — we talk a lot about the three Persons of the Trinity, and when we do that we’re not saying the Father, the Son (well…), And the Holy Ghost are all humans. Our central theology acknowledges that there can be different kinds of person, not all sharing relatable subjective experiences; I see no reason I cannot acknowledge the canine personhood of my dogs. They’re people, they’re just not human people. But like human people they are conscious beings with feelings and drives and an ability on some level to understand the world they live in. If we cut them, do they not bleed?
Still trying to figure out how to work Redwall into my personal statement for my application…
@JMG. Yes indeed there will be much that is called “science” that will be forgotten. Some because it is simply marketing and self-promotion and often unrepeatable. Other parts in the way new ideas that cause more harm than good are often forgotten. Much of science will be forgotten even thought it is technically correct simply because it is too expensive for a society to maintain a large fraction of its population obsessed with abstractions. But I think we need to focus on a primary distinction. We agree that the current obsession with “science” as the wonderful provider of progress through disenchantment is collapsing. But there are two ways that can happen. We could return to a pre-1500 understanding of the universe or else the basic discoveries (mostly of the 17th-19th centuries) could be sufficiently important to a militarily and economically competitive society that they could be stable. It seems to me that the basic discoveries (the elements, chemical bonds and reactions; electro-magnetism and optics; and molecular, cell, and organism biology, etc) won’t be lost because they are too useful. A society that understands its drinking water needs to be managed for arsenic and bacteria simply outcompetes one that never learned or has forgotten.
Harder to predict is the fate of a set of world-view transforming insights. They will likely also be durable although inevitably adapted to future social ideologies and needs. These insights include (1) that we live on a rocky planet that is one of many in the galaxy that orbits an ordinary star that is one of billions in the galaxy, (2) that all living creatures are part of an evolutionary tree of life, and (3) that known laws of physics accurately (not perfectly) describe the reductionistic behavior of matter over some 40 orders of magnitude in length from the sub-atomic to inter-galactic. It is possible that humans simply can’t create thriving societies that embrace these facts about ourselves. But I suspect that with a few more centuries of trial and error there will be communities that find ways to embrace the older insights of personhood and enchantment in coordination with the more recent insights about where we came from and how simple things work. In the shorter term, we could see some nasty ideological and physical warfare waged for and against the simple-minded scientism that has deluded so many.
Hi John Michael,
The word ‘retreat’ means many things. Such a place can have an impact larger than I’d imagined. Candidly, it is all very accidental, but then is it? We’ve been discussing free will for many years, and that’s a slippery topic. Anyway, nowadays I simply ask, then listen, and things unfold. Seriously, the picture unfolds. Dunno how better to explain that.
Curious, and a little confusing, that you gave this post two different names! It showed up in my email box as “Stumbling Through the Fog,” and the url copies the same way.
Both good titles, just curious.
I have to drive for work at least once a week, and both of my destinations are in north metro Atlanta. Can’t count how many times I’ve asked other drivers (as if they can hear me) if they were even aware that there are other people on the planet! And it’s just gotten worse since the COVID vaccination rollout.
The owner of our company is definitely an “I-it” sort. One day a year or so ago we were talking in the warehouse and a big fat Eastern Fence Lizard scurried across the floor. The boss reflexively grabbed a broom and cocked it back to smack the little guy. And I, completely alarmed by his reaction, growled “what are you doing??”
“Oh, should I not?”
Blows my mind. Life is far more fascinating in its enchanted state.
Yes its allive this incredible being of a planet we share an existence with. To add the flavor hear want to contribute an experience that gives credence to the obvious methinks. In conversation few years back I made a rhetorical snide how humans have a memory of a gold fish, and the person speaking with pushed back and preceded to tell me of the abilities and how sentient they are. Not even a week later the 2 gold fish(Manu and Angus) that are in this pond where I contemplate had a situation. On this day only saw Manu, and Manu finally scooted so much stuff from the pond floor at me and realized oh this is communication that something is afoot, Sure enough found Angus stuck in the mini water fall under a rock. So helped the little guy and all was well. Now this happen a just a couple years ago and have thousand stories of this nature, but this one has been in a time where the tech for our feeble memory capability can help with this inadequacy, for whatever that means my friends. Meaning it happened realtime for other to witness and others can have what we call scientific proof that this happened, and one realizes that is contestable as well.
Suspect this will happen more often and might lend to understand what is actually being communicated around us all the time and further than that the earth will be understood with the art of listening and understanding, this is not some Utopian idea my friends this is “Like it is” from what is being communicated to me as I am in this encounter suit, Great stuff JMG my heart soars that you point at this so consistently.
@lavender – I just watched Awakenings, the screen version of Oliver Sacks’ book documenting the L-Dopa treatment of post-encephalitis catatonic patients. Now I wonder how many of them would have recovered decades sooner if they’d been in country farm hospitals instead.
It is probably not a coincidence Sacks thought to try curing them – he loved plants a great deal. He advocated for the fact that the patients were still in there after discovering they could catch an object dropped or thrown near them. He said that having lost the ability to express any will on their own, they could “borrow the will” of the objects. Each patient would spontaneously come to life and move if music they liked – “it had to be the music that moves them” – was played. He is able to communicate with a patient by using a ouija board, because the patient cannot move his own hands, but he can move Sacks’. He spells Rilke, Panther.
Similarly, others can stand, walk or dance if being held by another person. But many of them had been complete statutes for years, decades – in all that time, no one had thought to try touching them like that.
Of course the L-dopa only temporarily allowed them to wake fully for a summer (summer of 1969) and then they all fell back into the catatonia, with only brief periods of spontaneous waking after that. It didn’t seem to occur to even Sacks that maybe they’d have stayed awake if they’d let them leave the hospital sooner instead of keeping them for observation. The book captures much more, but Robert de Niro’s performance is worth watching.
The optimism you speak of I think extends to our judgement of whether we understand truth or not. Perhaps we are more optimistic than the reality of the situation. I like to think mankind is improving over time, but I am not sure how we would know.
Maybe we can have a post/discussion about philosophies of “truth” sometime. Truth “is” vs truth “explains” and whatnot.
I believe “moral treatment” of the insane was an idea that came from the Enlightenment and the Quakers, though it varied from place to place.
William Tuke, a Quaker, opened a retreat for the insane near York, England in 1796, after a melancholic Quaker woman died unexpectedly in a poorly-run institution. William’s grandson Samuel Tuke wrote about the York retreat and moral treatment in 1813, popularizing the concept:
Dr. Phillipe Pinel at the Bicêtre Hospital in Paris credited the hospital’s superintendent, Jean-Baptiste Pussin and his wife Marguerite with exceptional skill in working with the insane. Pinel studied their approach and published an influential book in 1801 called Traité médico-philosophique sur l’aliénation mentale.
In the early 1800s, several asylums were built in the United States. Some were built by Quakers, some used moral treatment ideas, and others were simply custodial. A description of these early U.S. asylums is here:
The efforts of Dorothea Dix and others lead to the establishment of many state-funded asylums in the 1840s and 1850s. In 1851 and 1852 the U.S. asylum superintendents group came up with some standards for the building of asylums:
When these institutions became overcrowded or underfunded, some began looking at a simpler “cottage plan,” inspired by the ancient Gheel colony in Belgium. The Gheel community began as a pilgrimage site for the shrine of Saint Dymphna, a seventh century Irish princess who became the patron saint of of the insane.
(for these last two, I had to refresh the browser twice before they would load).
The cottage plan was tried in the U.S. at the Saint Lawrence State Hospital at Ogdensburg, New York, and the Craig Colony for Epileptics at Sonyea, New York.
The homeopathic asylums that I know of were at Middleton and Gowanda in the state of New York. There is a new book on homeopathic treatment of insanity in the 1800s called Sane Asylums, by Jerry Kantor.
I hope this helps.
Alice (@Cererean) ,
well, my decision to take up the lever harp was heavily influenced by the harps that kept showing up in Tolkien’s novels, so I certainly can’t fault you for that! I haven’t regretted it, either, even if I now use my harp to accompany church hymns instead of the SCA early music/folk songs I originally had in mind…
Part of me still really likes playing a similar instrument to the likes of Finrod Felagund, Galadriel, Fingon, Maglor, and Thorin Oakenshield. Even if they weren’t using nylon strings – some of them at least sound like clarsachs given the metal strings. Wire strung harps sound unearthly, by the way. They aren’t the most practical things in the universe (hard to change key, can’t do accidentals, heavy for the number of strings, and the long ring time can get in the way of playing quickly without it turning to mud) But boy do they sound amazing. I have a little plucked psaltery that sounds quite similar even if the range is very restricted and its super quiet, so I can get my metal harp string fix when I want it.
That big fence lizard’s name is Lord Stumpsworth, sovereign of all pallet-land, BTW. When I first met him his tail was missing. It’s grown back now, but the moniker remains…
@ganv re: #187
But what immediate, practical, evolutionarily beneficial purpose is served from knowing that we live on a rocky planet that is one of many in the galaxy that orbits an ordinary star that is one of billions in said galaxy?
It may be worldview-altering and it may be fascinating and awe-inspiring and it may be the truth, but how does knowing you’re part of a galaxy thousands of light-years put food on the table today?
JMG – your comments on how one treats what are in considered in our contemporary society as ‘inanimate objects’ and/or ‘dumb animals’ alters one’s actual experience with them got me to thinking along the line of ‘idol worship’. It is customary in Hindu culture to treat the temple deities as actual living beings (when installed, life is ‘breathed’ into them by priests in a particular ceremony prior to being worshipped). What this means, in practice, is that the deity is bathed, clothed, fed, allowed an afternoon siesta and allowed to sleep at night. Some are even paraded along the streets on selected days to have a conjugal visit with his consort with another temple in the same town. These activities took place even during the most stringent ‘lock-down’ periods of the Covid Craze: to do otherwise would be unthinkable (did anyone stop caring for their own children during a ‘lockdown’?). People are now able to watch these routines live on temple websites or not-so-live on Youtube. In more orthodox sects, these practices are even maintained at the household level, where the routines of bathing, feeding, clothing, etc., the deity in the shrine are punctiliously followed and the entire day within the home revolves around these routines.
The Brits, of course, were horrified by this aspect of Hindu civilization. They must have been perplexed by a people who had such advanced architecture, metallurgy, industry, commerce and mathematics but were so ‘batshale crazy’ regarding religion and modes of worship. Unfortunately, the Western-educated elites and much of the middle class in India have adopted this terrible ignorance regarding ‘idol worship’. I am not stating, however, that every religious Hindu has this attitude towards the idol as a living being; sadly, many take a more practical ‘vending machine’ approach: insert the ‘coin’ of paying a temple priest, press the ‘button’ of the selected deity to make a request, and expect the item requested to pop into their hands sometime soon.
The difference in this attitude towards idols, and the consequence, is well illustrated in a brief story. A person of unsteady faith had a particular prayer that she wanted answered. She prayed to an image of god ‘A’ in her shrine for a few weeks with no result. After consulting some knowledgeable people, she switched to worshipping god ‘B’; still no result. Ultimately, she was convinced to worship god ‘C’ and did so for a week; again, nothing. That was the last straw! The next morning, while preparing to do her daily worship, she angrily tied a cloth around the mouth and nose of deity ‘C’ and said to him in a taunting voice, “the incense that I light is for the other gods but not for you; you do not deserve the offering of incense because you are stonehearted and deaf to my prayers”. A moment later her shrine was filled with effulgence and god ‘C’ appeared before her in all his glory and amply blessed her. Wonderstuck, the worshipper asked god ‘C’ why he appeared to her now and not earlier, as the fervour of her prayers were the same each day. The deity replied, “until now you believed that I was a stone, and so I responded as a stone would; but with the act of binding my mouth and nose, you believed Me to be a real, living being and I have responded accordingly.”
It has been my observation that miracles are a fairly common phenomenon with communities/sects who believe wholeheartedly in the sacred power (‘life’, if one wishes) of certain places, images or holy relics; and rarely with communities/sects who worship a more abstracted/sanitized god with whom a ‘passionate personal relationship’ is not possible.
I am so glad that you mentioned St. Francis during this post. During his moment of revelation, St. Francis saw the Jesus upon the church’s crucifix cross open His eyes. I have never doubted for a moment that he experienced that. Then again, I am a mystic. I have often wondered how many Christians who dwell in a ‘dead world of matter’ can explain it; I suppose they think that it was ‘all in Francis’s head’. Their loss, I suppose.
Smith, they can certainly coexist, but it’s not common for them to do so in the same person. More often what you see is a balance between people who rely on one and people who rely on the other, with some few who can do both with reasonable fluency. We’ll be talking about this at length in a later post.
Martin, doesn’t surprise me at all. TSW!
Christopher, glad to hear it. It’s polite to talk to them, and as conditions change, you may start to hear answers.
Alice, exactly. Two persons of your religion’s trinity are certainly not humans, and you’re quite correct that from within that faith, this shreds the claim that only humans can be persons.
Ganv, oh, certainly the more useful techniques will be preserved. It’s worth looking, though, at the way Greek logic was reworked by Hindu, Arabic, and European societies into something no Greek philosopher would recognize. Thus I could easily see water treatment technology, for example, being redefined by some future society as a matter of ritual purity — gotta keep those things out of the water, or evil spirits will infest it! — and equally odd redefinitions of the basic scientific concepts you’ve proposed as long-term gains. There’s also the question of whether the “laws of nature” — a very metaphoric and myth-laden concept, btw! — are as enduring as most scientists currently think; I imagine you’ve heard of the evidence for a variable speed of light, for example. But that’s a discussion that should wait for a future post.
Chris, it’s a workable approach!
Grover, I changed my mind about the title during the posting process — that’s something that happens now and then. As for drivers, I’m especially glad these days that I use public transit — things have gotten so much worse in so many ways that I’m really beginning to wonder if, ahem, something recently done to a lot of people, /ahem, has caused significant and worsening cognitive deficits.
Hawk, thanks for this! Glad to learn that about goldfish. Maybe it’s time to compare human stupidity to the things that really deserve it, i.e., our machines.
DT, if that’s your act of faith, that’s what it is, and I’d encourage you to embrace it as such. As for a post on truth, hmm. I’ll consider it.
Lavender, many thanks for all this! Very helpful indeed — and I didn’t know about St. Dymphna, who is a fine addition to my collection of interesting saints. (I started it when I found out that my birthday is the saint’s day of the very Tolkienesquely named St. Meriadoc…)
Grover, delighted to hear it. Our reptile population in Rhode Island is regrettably shy; I miss the legions of garter snakes and lively alligator lizards of the Puget Sound area.
Ron, glad to hear that the old traditions of working with images are still very much alive in Hinduism! The ancient Egyptians did the same things with their sacred images, for what its worth. The funny thing about the Brits, and monotheists generally, is that many of them used to gave the same kind of reverence to their sacred books that polytheists give to idols; I’m not at all sure why idolatry directed to a text is any more acceptable to them than idolatry directed toward a statue, but there it is.
Hello Patricia Mathews, I was wondering if there is any update yet regarding your friend Al?
JMG, post #146:
“Le Guin is a mixed bag — I’m not really a fan of her poetry either, and her fiction has lurched back and forth between really first-rate stuff and dreary political message pieces. But her best is very, very good.”
John, I’d be curious to know which of LeGuin’s works you find to be her best and/or very, very good. One of her novels, in particular, I have returned to again and again over more than 30 years, a book which I find hauntingly compelling. I wonder if it may be among those which you consider her best as well.
It is a good question how the world-view altering features of the scientific synthesis affect our practical future. The easy answer is that they don’t. A society can go along smoothly while ignoring the evolutionary relationships between organisms or the place of our planet in the galaxy. In fact, although many don’t realize it, it is much easier for a society to thrive while ignoring evolution than it is for a society to thrive while ignoring basic features of the structure of our minds like the need to relate to our world in personal terms. My earlier comment led in the direction of taking this feature of our minds not as a limitation but as a clue that the real nature of reality, deeper than the reality of atoms and photons might be a personal reality.
But there is another line of thinking about impractical science. The evidence based reasoning that leads to conclusions about evolution and astrophysics is probably adaptive. One deep question is whether the useful pieces of this evidence based reasoning can be separated from the fervor that has taken over the scientific and progressive establishment to overthrow the human traditions upon which the institutions of any society are built. (but that is maybe another topic.). I suspect that the thriving societies of the future will train their children in rigorous evidence based reasoning and will teach them an ontology with clear connections to the present story of atoms and genes and planets and electromagnetic waves. Maybe there will be places and times where people lose this understanding, like medieval Europe lost most of Greek mathematics. Certainly they will use different names and very likely they will have qualitatively different mental models to describe how these things work. But, algebra and atoms and evolution and our place in the galaxy are facts about simple things. A society that actually learns from history would be able to incorporate these facts about simple things and teach their children to rigorously reason about them without adding silly metaphysics like eliminative materialism.
This post gives a nice description of how the development of a consciousness structure or worldview closely parallels the rise and fall of the corresponding civilisation. I basically agree with it. It also seems to fit in well with the ideas of Vico and Spengler.
The type of (re)enchantment that occurs at the end of the civilisation depends probably largely on the religions already existing within the civilisation. One could see this as a form of inheritage. But often there also seems to be something new occurring. This one could see as a mutation. So the process of re-enchantment more or less is like a process of evolution (of consciousness or worldview). The mutation part can of course be large or small.
As I see it Barfield’s final participation and Gebser’s integral consciousness structure presume that a large mutation will occur. Since the ideas of Barfield and Gebser are not well-known, the chance that they will actually influence the future is small.
On the civilisational side there is of course the description of Toynbee. He classifies civilisations in four generations. It is a fairly linear process with two civilisation for the mythic consciousness structure of Gebser and two for the mental consciousness structure. Even though all past civilisations collapsed with most by suicide, he seemed to be somewhat optimistic about western civilisation.
Enchantment’s just part of being a good gardener 😉
A garden is not a machine for producing food, it’s a community: bugs, worms, fungi, bacteria, lichens, snails, birds, plants, lizards… they are all working together, talking, trading, and transforming, all the time. I’m not growing anything, I’m just feeding the community and letting it do its thing, and it feeds me in return. The soil is alive, and if it’s not– solving that problem is the work of Creation and we should all be so honored to participate in it.
Plants are people too, and it’s important to respect them, talk to them, ask them what they need, observe, and listen. My tomatoes were getting discolored at the beginning of the season (new bed, really nutrient poor). I sat with them awhile, prayed for them, and they told me eggshells would help. I don’t think they speak English or anything, I just got that impression. So I buried some around the plants and in a few weeks they were fine. Still a product of the modern age: I have no idea if they really told me that, or if it was some subconscious memory kicking in and saying “remember Rodale said they like a bit of extra calcium”. But even if it was the latter, I accessed it by treating the plants as worthy persons to whom I owed care– results are much the same either way.
I prefer them to be people.
A little tale about an enchanted forest (and of personification, too): I don’t know if you are familiar with Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, the Robber’s daughter” (or “Ronja rövardotter” in Swedish). It’s a marvelous book (her best, as far as I am concerned). We learn about – you might have guessed it – the adventures of Ronia, who is the daughter of the chief of a clan of robbers. She, her parents and the 12 robbers of her clan live in an abandoned castle deep in the forest during a time when aurochs still roamed the lands. Most of her time Ronia strolls the forest, alone or in the companion of Birk who is the son of a rival robber chief (you might guess the source of an arc of suspense here). While the forest has an aura of enchantment you would expect from a medieval forest and is full of life, tall trees, hidden lakes and old stones, there also dwell a few fantastic creatures.
There are the “Druden” (in German) which are basically harpies, hard and cold and cruel. Very dangerous. They appear in the very first sentence of the book, because Ronia was born during a thunderstorm night and the Druden love thunderstorms more than anything else. Then there are some varieties of gnomes: The “Graugnome” who can be dangerous because if you enter their realm they might fall into a kind of blind rage and tear you apart. Ronia first meets them during her first summer in the forest. The other kind of gnomes “Rumpelwichte” (no idea how they translated this…) is basically harmless but turns out to be almost lethal for Ronia when she was stuck in a dangerous situation during deep winter and they refused to help, which they could have easily done, out of sheer dumbness and ignorance. The last fantasy species are the “Unterirdische”, which appear to be a kind of sirens who sing on misty autumn evenings and try to lure susceptible humans into their underground dwellings. On her first encounter, Ronia wants to follow their call and Birk has to fight hard to hold her back. At the end of the book, after Ronia and Birk have successfully mastered the challenges life had given them, Ronia hears the siren song again but is no longer susceptible to their call. Nor do any other creatures pose a real threat to her anymore since she knows how to approach them. How? “The best thing to do is to have no fear” is the advice Ronia’s parents give her when she enters the forest alone for the first time (and while there are bears and wolves and stuff living in the forest, the fantasy creatures are the only ones who are described as possibly dangerous to humans).
I loved the book from the first sentence. And now that I am slowly accumulating little scaps of “occult knowledge” it turns out to be even more fascinating. It would require too much space to describe the challenges Ronia has to master, but this whole book describes very clearly an archetypal initiation into adulthood (though Ronia is physically still a child, maybe 10, at the end of the book). While I like many of Lindgren’s books, this one is really one of its own kind. No easy read for some, for obvious reasons if you know where to look…
Interestingly I-It relationships is chiefly perceived by the left hemisphere of the brain. Which is for the purposes of utilizing and turning resources into tools and the methods thereof.
It is chiefly concerned with breaking things down rather than the Holistic approach of the Right-Brain. Philosophy rather than Poetry.
Whilst the Right Brain is more concerned about the I-You. Of Poetry, Beauty and so on.
I suspect its like a form of Autism that is made into a worldview. Very Autistic people have far more trouble perceiving God and the Gods. And will dismiss all Miracles by default especially if they are Materialists
They need to instead of challenged through Philosophy. And have their materialist worldview broken and replaced by Objective Idealism:
And of course that Mind which results in reality is God in my opinion. Given how fundamentally according to the discoveries of Quantum Physics. That reality is Holographically constructed by underlying Information which as explained in the Book of Hebrews is that of Christ also known as the Logos sustaining reality by the “Power of his Word”(Hebrews 1:3). Explored in this video:
I suspect playing the Piano as well as other Ambidextrous instruments leads to a more integrated and balanced perspective. Of Beauty and Functionality becoming made One. Because of the use of both Hemisphere simultaneously and increasing the link between the Hemispheres.
Here is a lovely traditional icon of Christ creating the sun, moon, and stars. You’ll notice the sun and moon are people:
There are some versions of this where there’s an entire little person-figure with arms and legs and all crouched in there, instead of just a face. There are internet wackos out there who try to make this into ancient evidence of UFOs (sigh). Really, no, it’s the sun and moon.
Alan, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, the first two volumes of the Earthsea trilogy and, despite the politics, The Dispossessed are the works of hers I consider her best. Is one of those the one you return to?
Dadaharm, the mode of enchantment that emerges in the twilight of a civilization isn’t based on that civilization’s official religion, but on whatever new religious movement emerges to become the basis of social life during the dark age and the foundation of the new civilization to come. Thus the forms of spiritual life that blossomed in the twilight years of Rome weren’t based on classical Paganism, but on the new religious movements of Christianity and (a little later) Islam, just as China in the twilight of the Han dynasty turned to Buddhism rather than the traditional Chinese religion to reenchant itself — and then, in the twilight of the T’ang, turned to traditional Chinese religion instead of the then-established Buddhist faith. So it’s always something new, and something that fills in the gaps that the old tradition left gaping.
Methylethyl, that’s a good example of the central point of this post: treat the world as a community of persons and the results are better.
Nachtgurke, interesting. The only Lindgren book that was around in the US when I was a kid was Pippi Longstocking, and I never read it — in the US, at least, kid’s books tended to be segregated by sex, and I wasn’t quite enough of a janegirl to read girl’s books.
Info, do you know many autistic people? I say this because I do, and the claim that autistic people have trouble perceiving the gods and making room for miracles in their worldview does not match my experience at all. Go to any gathering of occultists and the number of us who are somewhere on the autistic spectrum is far, far above the rate of autism spectrum disorders in the general population…
Methylethyl, thanks for this! A lovely image.
‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, by Robin Kimmerer, is a lovely book that describes her Native American family’s view of Nature as full of persons who are not human. It contains her essay, ‘Maple Nation’, which asks how we would behave differently, how would our society be different, if maple trees were recognised as citizens in the forests they help sustain?
Prof. Kimmerer is a trained botanist, so the book also describes how she integrated her scientific training and her inherited worldview into a complex whole.
JMG, what, if any, opinion do you have on why the incidence of autism os higher among occultists than among the general population,
A fun read as usual.
Contrary to common belief, science is full of wonder, it’s just the way we approach it that opaque its essence in my opinion. Science have always been related to religion and magic in one way or another, you just have to look at “magic squares”, the hieroglyphs of Qabalah and the Enochian system to know that even intuitively. Modern scientists need to know their own history.
I’ve been following a cognitive scientist who graduated from MIT and worked with DARPA at some point, I quote him saying he witnessed the “unfolding of the internet from the inside” and he really knows his stuff, he’s also a member of the The International Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Symmetry, here’s another quote from him: “We ally with the community of mathematicians and scientists who believe that the world (or our perception of the world) is inherently geometric and that symmetry is a fundamental primitive.”
I’m mentioning this because I’ve thought of it immediately after reading your conception of personhood applied to nature, which I partly agree with. I personally believe that nature has a spirit and intelligence of its own, doesn’t mean necessarily that it is a fully developed person in the way we are. It could be that mystics have had beatific visions where divine intelligence manifested through a material vessel, which makes sense. I have to say it’s a beautiful characteristic of Indo-European religions where nature is holy and venerated, something we really need at this point after thousands of years suffering under sola scriptura doctrines.
I’m reminded of anime movie called Night on the Galactic Railroad, it explores the inner and spiritual life of animals (cats in particular) from this exact perspective, really one of the best I’ve seen recently and totally recommended.
More than one commenter has touched on vegans and vegetarians viewing animals as people but having no trouble devouring loads of plants. My question for many years has been, “why do they disrespect the plants so much?” They can’t even run away.
Besides, do human herbivores have any idea how many small mammals, insects, reptiles, and ground birds (or their eggs) are flattened or brutally hacked to pieces whenever a combine harvests a grain or pulse field? When we eat (grass-fed and -finished) beef only one animal has to die…and then the 4 of us eat from that one animal for two years…(while another family eats the other half!)
I’m not judging people for their preferences, but I think this is a pretty major glitch in the logic.
@info I was going to ask for a clarification on that too. Practically *all* the autistic folks I know (self included) are devoutly religious (social circle bias). It can be nice to have a solid, predictable liturgical calendar to build your life around, for one. But that’s hardly the whole picture: IMO the chief reason is the perceptual “disorders” that are so often comorbid. It is not talked about much, but researchers like Olga Bogdashina have noted two things (not sure she’s connected the dots on them): 1) Autists seem *more* likely than average to be spiritual/religious (often in idiosyncratic ways), and 2) sensory/perceptual issues are not only extremely common… they may be the central defining feature of the disorder. We react differently to the world, because *we perceive the world differently*.
I can’t speak for other autists (not all have the same sensory oddities, and “autism” is probably several disorders with similar behaviors and different etiologies), but in my own case, the *behavioral* stuff is directly downstream of perception… and I see a whole lot of things that aren’t strictly, materially “there”. If you look up a description of HPPD (the long-term disorder some people get after taking psychedelics), it sounds spookily similar, minus the flashbacks and anxiety. I’ve never taken drugs.
Materialism explains this as “dude dropped acid and fried his brain”. There’s an alternate view: “that’s part of reality, but normal brains filter it out because it’s too much information”. I lean toward the second… and that affects how plausible I find it that, say, there is a God, or that the world is full of disembodied spirits, or that the material plane is far from the whole picture. Given a sensory reality where furniture fidgets, and words move around on the page, but oak trees and icons are more solid and *real* than most other things, it is an easy choice between “all that stuff is in your head, and you’re probably crazy” and the traditional religious: “the world is full of things most people don’t see.” and I can see where others, in the same boat, would go the more pagan route. I mean– the oak trees aren’t just more solid… they’re also kind and generous people 🙂 I don’t have any trouble integrating that with “and God created them and we can all be friends” YMMV.
Drastic oversimplification on all counts, but… already too long.
Within all your writings and reasonings, JMG, I have to confess to still feeling a little confused. Not because of the idea of the universe essentially being alive on so many levels but because of what often feels like a dismissal of at least a sort of cyclical progress, though obviously not quite as materialism has envisaged. I’m thinking along the lines of Sri Aurobindo’s involution/evolution philosophy together with the idea of ‘plane appreciation development’ à la Dion Fortune and yourself. If I was going to be poetic, this masterpiece ever seems to fit the bill:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.”
T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets
@Quin #199 – I’ve texted Jay and emailed him and never gotten an answer back. I don’t know why. I should probably try to phone him, over a 2-hour time difference and despite hearing problems. Thanks for asking.
What a story. It’s so interesting that the people in Awakenings were able to move if another person moved with them.
I do not know if catatonic patients got decent treatment in these old asylums, or if they were just “taken care of.” In one asylum I looked at in New York, there were just two doctors for 250 patients, and one of the doctors had many managerial duties. So despite the beautiful setting, the patients probably did not get much individual attention. That was in 1877 though. It might have been different with the earlier asylums, but I don’t know too much about them.
I read an Oliver Sacks book awhile back and loved it (I think it was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). And I had never seen that Rilke poem, it’s powerful. Thank you for the link!
You’re welcome. I also had never heard of Saint Dymphna until recently – perhaps she is better known among Catholics. Meriodoc is another good one. I am always so surprised by how much information has survived on these early Medieval saints.
Snowflakes in winter,
Pear blossoms swirling in spring,
under the same tree.
Moments of recognition like this is enchantment for me.
Since Jay Pine has just quoted T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (in #123), with its “half-heard” voice, I cannot refrain from mentioning one of the things that the voice in the poem said:
“Go, go, go, said the bird: humankind
Cannot bear very much reality.”
Indeed, in my own experience we humans cannot bear very much reality, and our weak and feeble frames learn very early on not to perceive more that they can bear. Indeed, such expanded perceptions are not only discouraged by our communities, they seem also to be rejected instinctlively by most of us out of a sense of self-preservation.
Here is how this all worked itself out for me in my own boyhood:
When I was a boy of 13, I was a loud-mouthed, know-it-all atheist, with a passion for science and mathematics. And then one day in the early morning, as I was walking down the Alameda from the corner of Monterey Avenue in Berkeley toward my Junior High School, without any warning or preparation all my surroundings were transformed: some new sense opened up, and while I still dimly saw the world around me as it had been through my every-day senses, that newly opened sense perceived the entire universe, from the place where I stood all the way out to the boundaries of the universe, and from my present moment all the way back to the creation of the universe and all the way forward to its final destruction. And everything in that universe was not made of matter and energy, after all, but of something else that I can only conceptualize–quite inadequately–as living sentient fire. And everything in the universe was all “co-present” in every moment in time and every place in space: time and space were wholly irrelevant to what that new sense perceived.
My every-day senses and habitual routines got me through that day without others’ noticing anything odd, while I remained quietly thunder-struck by my vastly expanded new perception of the universe, far grander and mightier than anything I had ever experienced before. This perception lasted for hours, gradually fading away, and it was almost gone by the time I set out for home after school. I said nothing to anyone about it.
A few days later it happened again, more weakly. This time I mentioned it to my mother when I got home from school. She looked at me strangely, and said in an odd tone of voice something like, “Oh, you poor kid! Now you’ve seen how things really are, and you’ll have to live with that horrible knowldege all the rest of your life. I really feel sorry for you!”
This expanded perception brought me no new wisdom with it; I gained no new information about the specifics of the universe. It tore at me and overwhelmed me as if I had been trying to drink from a firehose in full blast.
Even so, it was my single most important experence in all my 80 years of life. It transformed me in ways that I much later came to see had enabled me be of benefit and service to others.
And yet … I also sensed that my perception of all that ineffable glorious fierce reality had been hugely muted for my own sake. Had I preceived that living sentient fire in all its full power, I would have been destroyed on the spot, “vaporized,” as it were. Not even a grease spot on the sidewalk would have been left of me. No one would ever have seen me again, or know what had happened to me.
There was no other-than-human person, not even any Deity, present during that experience. I was dimly aware that such a vast Being was off there somewhere “on the margins,” tending that particular universe, but also that that vast Being was merely one among many such Beings, tending merely one among many such universes. Among them all, our own finite universe was not wholly unlike the children’s room in some huge library, and the Being who tended it was rather like a children’s librarian, who by no means was the most wise and awesome (or awful) such Being there was, nor the “brightest bulb in the chandelier” of all those metaphorical librarians.
I have never been entirely neurotypical, though my oddities are probably on some other spectrum than the usual autistic one. Neither were my father and my mother neurotypical: my father had trouble with all human relations, and my mother saw fairies in the garden of her Berkeley house on Woolsey Street until she married and left home. And one line my mother’s ancestors for 13 generations before me had never been able to “go along to get along” with the majority in their communities in religious or spiritual matters, but always went their own odd ways.
During the 15 years when I was teaching courses on magic at my university, any number of undergraduates came to my office to talk about similar experiences they had had, hoping to be reassured that they were not insane, or defective humans. From what they told me, experiences of expanded perception like mine are not all that rare among the young. And very many of those students said something like “You know, I’ve never told anyone about this until now.”
We Westerners need to talk far more openly about such things, I think. Fortunately our host provides a welcoming place to do so.
Lavender, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat is one of my favourites, too. (Though perhaps unsurprisingly I also adore Musicophilia.) In River of Consciousness he describes his own mental process around his progressive deafness (chapter: Mishearings) in a very similar way the man reasons his wife is a hat. His first assumption is always that he heard correctly, and he’d document the elaborate hypotheses he’d come up with to explain why it was true – why it was so that his friend Kate who did not sing, and never had, was going to “choir practice” rather than immediately assuming he’d misheard (“chiropractor”).
Unless it was something utterly outrageous like “a big time cuttlefish diagnosed with ALS”. He conceded that cephalopods do have complex nervous systems, and thus could have ALS, “but the idea of a big time cuttlefish was ridiculous”. Sorry, Cthulu fans 😉 it was a “publicist”.
His world is so enchanted, and he describes it so beautifully – he had such a deep humanist faith and kindness he extended to the nonhuman world, but he takes such a tortuous route to make it just so in the end because there are certain tragedies in his life he can never reconcile with god.
It’s interesting that the patient:doctor ratio was so high in the natural setting – I suspect funding would have been a limitation, and staffing always is (Sacks was not qualified for the job at the chronic hospital at all! He was the only applicant though – it’s not a desirable job). But I also wonder how many made the opposite bad idea and simply assumed the human and the constructed had been the sole source of madness, and thought that nature was all good, good enough to heal it all.
I know in my case all of my profound spiritual experiences have been in interface situations, where the natural and the built collude meaningfully (I wrote “collide”, but see, my phone swype had a much better idea and replaced it).
I have a photo looking down on the Vancouver public library central branch, one floor of which is a daycare (the kids have the best field trips). The photo is the outdoor play area balcony (there is a really really cool public playground around the corner, too, where someone had made all this graffiti with hexafoils I took photos of, too). The fence to prevent them falling also prevents weeding on the outside, and so a 2 dimensional forest is growing all around them. Some of the trees were undoubtedly planted, but other species were clearly “invasives”. Once, I saw a ten year old girl sitting in a street tree – newly planted and barely big enough to hold her – across the street from her newly built affordable housing apartment. All around her were the scaffolds of the other 5 story buildings under construction; breweries, a bank, a theatre, condos above making a canyon. But the setting sun slanted down the street, and she was sitting in the warmth of it in her tree, and it was one of the must magical things I’d ever seen. A beach hemmed in by a seawall, but now undergoing an extensive estuary and salt marsh restoration. The top of a coal mine rock waste dump, where the grass and alfalfa did take, and one misty morning, an entire herd of Stone sheep snuck up on me while I sampled alone. The lead ram was six feet from me, and I had no idea whether standing up, meeting his eyes or lowering my head would be the thing that might make him butt me; probably ridiculous to worry, I’m sure at no time did I appear a threat or a rival to him! I mumbled what I was doing and gestured where I’d go next, and they all streamed past me imperiously to the higher pasture. The elk and moose and deer and bears love it up there too with all that natural high elevation forage – and the Golden Eagles love the kids and calves and fawns. The sheep and goats also love to lie in the middle of the expanses of the bare rock piles – no flies. A large reason we can’t get trees to grow is the sheep will just follow the planters, eating the seedlings. They have no idea these places are “unnatural” and anathema to them. If it’s still alive, they will live there. I’m reasonably certain I even smelled Bigfoot once, on a wide trail – far too wide to be the elk – on an older reclamation site with a quasi-successful tree plantation.
The back-to-the-land neopagans I knew always hated those stories more than any “materialist” hated stories of wild lakes or old trees being alive. The idea that the human was also alive and part of the process seemed to be even more frightening, in a grandly ironic way – the people who are people despite not looking, thinking and acting like you might already be those who are legal persons. There would be no going back to enchantment and gods, the enchantment and gods never left, they just might also live and work and speak now in manners they misheard, too.
@lavender #215: In the more hard-hit (former) areas of the Roman Empire, saints’ lives were practically the only thing written down for a couple of centuries. After the Roman Empire lost access to Egypt with its papyrus supply in 639, not a single work in Greek written by a subject of the Roman emperor has survived from the whole of the 7th century – except the Miracles of St. Demetrius, written in rather colloquial language. Every bare fact we know about the Roman emperors and their administration during that time is pieced together from chronicles written in places like Damascus, Jerusalem and Armenia. People in today’s Greece used their precious little stocks of writing material for what they thought was most important – the miracles that had been witnessed. The situation in Britain and Brittany in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries was not much different.
Greetings to you all from the edge of the Colorado Plateau in the arid southwest, which has gone from drought to damp spring into an unknown summer. Yesterday and this morning, I can see the haze from Canadian smoke, reminding me of the days of fire in those very cliffs a few years ago. These mornings I walk along the Colorado River at it’s highest in a decade, but nowhere near 1983-’84. When I saw the “Dragon in the Canyon”, a lichen-headed dragon mouth of carved out sandstone, with a hand-sized piece of wind or water rippled stone being the answer to my question: What is deep time? That was not the first time I met the spirits of those cliffs probably not the last. That is not the only place around here full of more than meets the eye, but it is the one I can’t see because of the smoke. I’ve gone out to my compost pile, churning this post with compost and being introduced again and again through microbial interface into this reality, accompanied by music of Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, and Rakesh Chaurasia indicating that I can stay amazed, while watching USA USA pretending to ignore any sign of looming discord. I think building subdivisions and high density housing a couple of miles away from grocery stores, in a county run by good old boy conservatives full of conspiracies against someone like me, a “young radish”, or the butt of a cosmic joke; as in, my philosophy of music, constantly revised to fit playing a new song, hearing new music, or singing an old song and giving it new life. Music helps me when I can’t see out of my self. Sometimes it reminds me of “Nature’s Way”,”Wasn’t Born to Follow”, If Not For You”, “Four Strong Winds”, “If You Could Read My Mind”, Bristlecone Pine”. Of course for me to know any of those songs required the media player and the manufactured plastic. I drive out to desolate places to meet what is out there, or walk along the river, and eat food grown from river water, just like the Fremont. My Rocky Mountain Bee Plants are happy. My I Ching Says be Receptive of the stored groundwater, and my cottonwoods are happy so far this year. Coming from the clown prince side of the cosmic joke, I think Ursula did a fine job with her cover of Lao Tzu, though I am still forced to recall, David Bromberg’s “The Jokes on Me’.
A curious incident happened, or rather concluded, yesterday. Ten years ago, my wife asked me for a ring of silver with a blue stone, sold by a jeweller at a street fair. She treasured it more than any other jewelry she had, but when we moved house, she lost it. We assumed she had left it on the bathroom table and that the person contracted by the landlady for cleaning after us had taken it (though of course we never accused anybody). This was a continent away from the street fair where we had bought it, and we couldn’t find any substitute.
More than two years later when travelling, I had the chance to buy a similar ring from the same jeweller, and she cherished it just as much as she had the first one. One day, the windows in our bedroom were changed, and the ring disappeared from beneath her pillow. Once again, we supposed the person who changed the windows had taken it (though of course we didn’t accuse him).
A year later again (all the while remembering the lost rings), I arranged for the jeweller to send a similar ring to a relative who was going to visit us here (they don’t send rings by international mail). She treasures it like the other two. Imagine our dismay when last week, it, too, disappeared. Nobody had entered our apartment. My wife searched for days without success. Yesterday, suddenly, she called me in a very strange voice and asked me if I had found the ring. No, I hadn’t. Then why was it there on the table right beside her bed, with the metal arc turned upwards for maximum visibility?
We can’t tell. The only rational explanations would be that she sleep-walked or that our daughter took it and returned it, which she denies. She has never in her life lied to us. At this point, other explanations suggest themselves. Though the ring resembles Nenya, its behavior recalls more the One Ring…
Kfish, interesting. I’ll put that on the look-at list.
Your Kittenship, it’s quite simple. To be an occultist, you have to be ready, willing, and able to ignore the immense amount of social pressure against getting involved in occultism; you also have to be comfortable with solitude and with putting countless hours into obsessive study of an odd, socially disapproved, and not usually lucrative field of study. If you’re anywhere on the autism spectrum, those are easy. My Aspergers syndrome certainly helped me!
Aziz, now consider the possibility that whether nature is or is not a person isn’t a purely objective matter — it’s also a question about whether you, personally choose to approach nature as a person or not. That’s really the core theme of this post, and it interests me that many scientifically literate readers don’t seem to be able to process that.
Grover, oh, granted! I have no objection to people who personally prefer a vegan or vegetarian diet — the world has room for many dietary choices — but people who insist on trying to push their diet on everyone else irritate me, no matter what the diet is, and vegans at least as much as any. You’re right, too, that the logic simply doesn’t work; growing plants is even more disruptive to local environments than raising animals, since you have to tear out the entire existing plant and animal ecosystem down to bare dirt in order to turn it into a plowed field. By contrast, pasturage can be done in very ecologically benign ways.
Jay, it’s a lovely bit of Eliot; Four Quartets is far and away my favorite of his works. That doesn’t require me to agree with the progressivist ideology you’re hanging on it. Let me take your confusion and turn it back toward you. The world of nature does not progress; this spring is not necessarily an improvement on last spring, and the birds who are busy outside my window right now, while they differ from the birds who were in this same part of the world ten million years ago (or the small pterodactyls who filled the same ecological niche here a hundred million years ago), are not an improvement on either. The same is arguably true of everything else in the cosmos. Why should you be obsessed with a need to impose some kind of arbitrary notion of progress on things? Why not just accept the possibility that the point of the dance is the dance itself?
Lavender, people in the early Middle Ages cared a lot about saints! There were plenty of other things they didn’t write about, but saints got recorded.
Robert, thank you for this! I’ve had similar experiences, very often, with people who were desperate to have someone listen to their mystical, occult, and paranormal experiences without bullying or mocking them. That’s one of the reasons I maintain this space the way I do.
Jdm, thanks for this.
Aldarion, the traditional explanation for this is that the fairies take things sometimes, and sometimes give them back. You might talk to them — you don’t have to see them to do so — and ask if there’s something they want that you can give them so that they won’t need to keep taking jewelry from your wife. The answer is likely to show up in an unexpected way.
Thanks for the reply JMG and Rob @217 – wow!
So, no steps to potentially become a ‘higher level’ choreographer?
No soul’s journey? No spiritual evolution?
Is that not progress ‘of a fashion’, at least from a limited viewpoint for a while?
I can certainly see scope for many a merry dance:)
So I have a few thoughts. 1) This enchantment and its population of human not human members, and human only members. Impresses me as a bit like benedict Andresons, imagined communities. And I wonder if both Andersons imagined communities is a cataloging of a small neighborhood of the series of communities and combined communities in this abstraction, enchantment.
2) I agree with the arguments, but my players (participants) in the political system, are populated I by the opposite actors. However, ultimately, they all are (to my mind) part of the old systems of elites. All in cooperation with plutocrats of our time.(cash is king)
3)Also agree peak oil and its effect are going to be a slow collapse, our “Long fall” of our “American”(not Roman) empire. I do think as things (or rather elites) get more desperate more and will be done to drag every last microgram of petroleum out of the ground…
4) ME, I am for the movement stuck, …family responsibilities. and I live in “the bowl of death” …Los Angeles.
Aldarion & JMG
Last winter my daughter and her partner did a mountain bike ride in the snow for which.I didn’t think they were adequately equipped for possible emergencies. They didn’t get back until after dark and I was quite worried. I asked/prayed to the mountain gods or whatever gods or spirits might be able to help them to keep them safe, and that i would give what they asked, even my life.
They made it back safely and quite exhilarated by their experience, though realizing they had pushed the boundaries a bit. The next day driving home I had a knitted alpaca hat that I loved sitting on top of my jacket on the passenger seat. When I got home it wasn’t there, though the only time i stopped on the way, I didn’t open that door. If that was their price, I got off very lightly.
Jay, er, you just won the non sequitur of the week award. Do you think that you “progressed” from childhood to adulthood, and that you will continue to “progress” from adulthood to old age? The soul’s journey is on a larger scale, but it’s a cycle of the same kind — or, if you will, a greater dance to the same music. My question remains: why are you obsessed with imposing the rigid monotony of progress on a cosmos that laughs at such simplistic dogmas?
Keith, the political system of every dying civilization ends up populated by people who only know how to follow some fixed set of rules, no matter how dysfunctional and out of touch with reality those rules have become. Plutocracy is part of that; so is the ongoing struggle to monopolize access to fossil fuels (disguised, especially where you are, under a molecule-thick veneer of “respect for the environment”). As for Los Angeles, I hope your family gets a clue and decides to relocate in time.
Stephen, that was well done.
Hi John Michael,
Had to laugh about the ‘ploughing up the earth to grow grains and/or vegetables’, mostly because you’re right! The funny thing is, out in the forests in remote locations around these parts are what remains of timber mills. The mountain range isn’t far from the trainline between the big smoke and the goldfields of Bendigo. And it’s all downhill to the trains. Tramways used to be used extract the sawn lumber, and away and down the carts travelled. Those dudes who operated them had a serious sense of adventure, what with the timber brakes. Hmm.
Anywhoo, I’ve never seen the remains of a timber mill up here, but reliable sources tell me that there isn’t much to see other than rusting hulks (the remains of boilers presumably) and mounds of sawdust. The forest encroaches.
After the area was cleared, the soils were planted out to potatoes and berries. Both heavy feeders. A few weeks ago I had a chance conversation with an old timer local potato grower, who told me his mum used to own and run a strawberry farm within walking distance of my place. It’s funny the stories you stumble upon. Had a lovely chat, and the area he spoke about sounds unrecognisable to me. Eventually the fertility in the soil was depleted. The forest encroaches.
It’s funny, but us animals, birds, insects, you name it, all dance at a faster pace than the trees. We can maintain that fast pace, by inviting everything in, except that we have to accept that the consequence will be lower yields, because by ourselves, our species alone, cannot be nature. This is obvious, but try explaining that to people and they’ll give you this funny look which suggests: ‘That’s not true’. And yet all the while the slow dance of the forest encroaches, and the trees ultimately set the speed of the dance, and it does not progress, it just is. Oh yeah.
Thanks for providing this forum of discussion.
Speaking of our Sun. In C. S. Lewis’ children’s book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader an old man Ramandu is revealed to be a star at rest in the far islands of Narnia. One of the characters, Eustace Scrubb says, “In our world, a star is a huge ball of flaming gas”.
Ramandu replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of”.
The writings and words of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are laced with what could be termed a type of Christian animism and magic probably reflecting personal experiences of that and their respective immersions in medieval, ancient writings and various mythologies.
Thank you for the article and for this forum!
@Robert Mathiesen #217:
After reading your post I googled you and came across the fact that you taught the course Esoteric Russia. That’s fascinating! I’m from that part of the world but, unfortunately, know next to nothing on the subject. Would you kindly point me toward a few books on the topic?
“The situation in Britain and Brittany in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries was not much different.”
With Britain at that time, it wasn’t saints lives, but rather Gildas’ On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain. Gildas’ work is essentially an angry rant about how the depravity of the Christian Britons, and how the invading pagan Saxons are God’s punishment for British sins.
I’m not sure if my last attempt to comment got through, but here goes again.
I saw an interesting article on unseen presences recently which may interest you – at https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-it-possible-to-feel-a-presence-without-sensory-cues (hat-tip to https://niccolo.substack.com/ for the link).
“I say this because I do, and the claim that autistic people have trouble perceiving the gods and making room for miracles in their worldview does not match my experience at all.”
Going off of studies. That could be searched up on the search engine there is also a correlation between autism and Atheism:
I think your personal experience as with a few others in occultist circles are self-selected. But in regards to statistics with a wider sample. They are more likely to be atheist.
The exceptions may be being able to make sense of the miraculous in logical systems that account for consciousness and a non-materialist worldview like the one I talked about above.
“the political system of every dying civilization ends up populated by people who only know how to follow some fixed set of rules, no matter how dysfunctional and out of touch with reality those rules have become.”
Its like those people have collectively become elderly in a sense.
Its like Civilization does need to perpetually renew its youthfulness in Spirit in order to continue.
Thanks for this. It is a very interesting explanation.
My wife and I had an experience like that several years ago (one of the big pushes that started our occult journey). She had a beautiful pendant made from a round slice of bone with a happy, content face carved into it, polished and ringed in silver, with a small citron stone set underneath. It was a gift from me and our two children for the first Mother’s Day we were a full family. She always left it on her nightstand in the same place.
Well, as you can guess I’m sure, the pendant and chain disappeared one night. We tore the place apart looking for it – house, car, farmers market, asked everyone we knew if they’d seen it. Nada. And it stayed missing for a few months.
Until, one day we had a pit bull lurking around our homestead, eyeballing our chickens, just generally making me uncomfortable. I don’t like pit bulls. After nightfall it was still there, and I just knew it was going to break into our chicken coop and kill all our girls. So I asked my wife if I should just go shoot the beast so we could get some sleep. She said, no, let me give it some food and see if that will take its mind off our chickens. So she did, and she said that when she set the bowl of food down outside the back gate she felt the dog disappear. Not run away, just vanish.
The next day we were making lunch and our then-6 y.o. son started yelling excitedly, “Mama! Mama! I found your necklace!!”
It was right there on the nightstand where she knew she had left it. Looked like it had been in the woods for 3 months…my wife’s eyes were so wide, through the tears of joy.
The same fairy, I’m convinced, saved me from an Old Hag attack in the middle of the night a couple of months later, by turning a 5 gallon carboy of hard cider I had going into vinegar and filling the room with its vapors.
And boy has the world opened up in a fascinating way for us ever since!
JMG wrote to Aziz: “it interests me that many scientifically literate readers don’t seem to be able to process that.”
But not all! I think I am scientifically literate and I have little trouble with nature as a person. Nature is simply a different type of person(s), persons with whom communication is not that easy.
It could be that people who study the sciences are simply more apt to reductionist thinking and given that to ascribe personhood to non-humans implies a holistic view this does not come naturally to them. I used to think like that too! But I have been reading an Archdruid’s stuff for far too long!
And also, once I realised that consciousness is, in all likelihood, NOT an epiphenomenon nor a byproduct of matter and energy but could well be a really fundamental feature of our universe, then it follows that lots of aspects of nature could in turn be endowed with consciousness and then eventually to self awareness and off we go to personhood. Note that there is nothing in science that precludes the above given that there still is no evidence that consciousness is a material phenomenon.
By the way, I have NEVER experienced anything that could be understood as non-human personhood communication except from my pets. God, Gods, Angels, Spirits, Intelligences, sun, moon. rivers and others seem to be ignoring me superbly. I don’t mind, after all, its their choice! I respect that.
You’re very welcome, JMG. I’m not surprised that you, too, have often met people who had such experiences, only to have them dismissed or mocked if they tried to talk about them with someone else.
On another note, by chance a few days ago another website pointed me to an article by a primatologist, Barbara Smuts, who has spent years living with a troop of baboons in the wild — as primatologists do. In it was a stand-out paragraph (pp. 300-301):
“One experience I especially treasure. The Gombe baboons were travelling to their sleeping trees late in the day, moving slowly down a stream with many small, still pools, a route they often traversed. Without any signal perceptible to me, each baboon sat at the edge of a pool on one of the many smooth rocks that lined the edges of the stream. They sat alone or in small clusters, completely silent, gazing at the water. Even the perpetually noisy juveniles fell into silent contemplation. I joined them. Half an hour later, again with no preceptible signal, they resumed their journey in what felt almost like a sacramental procession. I was stunned by this mysterious expression of what I have come to think of as baboon sangha. Although I’ve spent years with baboons, I witnessed this only twice, both times at Gombe. I have never heard another primatologist recount such an experience. I sometimes wonder if, on those two occasions, I was granted a glimpse of a dimension of baboon life they do not normally expose to people. These moments reminded me of how little we really know about the ‘more-than-human world’.”
If that was not a religious experience (to use William James’ term) that encompassed an entire troop of baboons, I cannot imagine what other sort of experience it might have been! It’s not just people who have such half-hours.
[The source is her article “Encounters with Animal Minds,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 8 (2001), pp. 293-309. Anyone can read and save it for free at: mikehoolboom.com/thenewsite/docs/1280.pdf]
@JMG that image of the creation is one of my favorites 🙂 But it is not the only one where you can find things that could be classified as nature spirits. The Sun and Moon also typically bear witness to the crucifixion:
And in icons of Christ’s baptism, if you look in the water at the bottom of the image there are often one or two figures– some variation on a guy with a water-jar, and a guy riding a fish. These are river gods.
As Christians, we don’t worship them. We have an exclusive contract with Christ. That’s not at all the same as “none of those other gods exist”. I think of it more as… all business with other gods gets directed through the main office– I’m happy with that deal since at least some of the others seem rather sketchy if not downright bloodthirsty and I’d just as soon not deal with them directly. Christ, the Theotokos, and the community of the saints are sufficient and have always dealt kindly with me.
But it does boggle the mind that such large segments of Christianity have gone the route of… not just “we defeated those guys” but right through to “they never existed.” I can’t help but wonder what the implications are of not even being able to imagine a world that ever had such beings in it. It seems to diminish God Himself, and puff up humans to an unhealthy degree. And of course, if the world around you is just matter, and not a community of sentient beings, it’s infinitely exploitable and you can take without ever offering anything in return 🙁 One does wonder if “they don’t exist” is simply an ex-post-facto justification for behaving badly toward the community of nature, much the same as “they aren’t really people” got used to justify chattel slavery. “Never existed” is also a wonderfully arrogant shorthand for “we’re smarter than our ancestors” and but a wee tiny step away from “and God doesn’t exist either”.
If re-enchantment is part of what’s going on out there now… it might explain why so many mainline Christians are making the jump to Orthodox and trad Catholic churches lately.
Speaking of animals as persons, in my limited experience with them – cows are weirder than you might ever suspect. Weirder than cats even.
I suspect the ranchers know this at some level but I also suspect they have to maintain a certain distant coldness too, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to bring us all that delicious beefy goodness inside those weird wacky cows. I get the feeling nobody really looks too deeply into the cow, because if you do the cow gazes back. They really do.
Anyways, something to think about next time you’re grilling burgers or stirring that pot of beef stew or pan frying that ribeye.
re: Forgetting scientific advances
In a more recent context, did you know that the cause and treatment for scurvy was discovered and then forgotten and then re-discovered again during the middle 19th and early 20th centuries?
Knowledge is fragile, the more complicated the knowledge, the more fragile it is. Anything that requires a highly trained small priesthood to keep it going – you might as well go ahead and kiss it goodbye, IMHO.
Hello Mr. Greer.
Lately I have been putting in a concerted effort to try and increase my mind’s sensitivity to nature. Its sort of an epistemological experiment I have been running. I want to know if after spending a lifetime in the western academy if I physically can see the world the way indigenous folks do. I know you use ritualistic magic to achieve these ends, but I was wondering to what extent hunting, gathering, and natural navigation achieve the same thing. In particular I have been looking into the work of Tristen Gooley. He has written a bunch of books on the subject and is the only living person to both sail and fly across the Atlantic in one man vehicles (as well as do a bunch of other expeditions). I’ve been learning how to tell direction from the sun, rocks, plants, basic animal behavior, and so on. So far the exercises are still very academic. The only things in nature I experience as conscious are animals. Do you think that this kind of approach would eventually lead to a more personal experience of natural phenomena, or do you think you need more occult spiritual practices to get there? I know indigenous groups and Christian mystics also arrived at a similar place to you, but I am not sure how much of that comes from spiritual beliefs/practices and how much comes from reading the land’s information.
The more I read this series on enchantment, the more I realize that the greatest myths in history were composed in enchanted ages, and they described events which took place in disenchanted times. The Golden Legend, a medieval text about the last days of pagan Rome, falls into this picture rather easily. But I think that the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Illiad, the Odessey, the stories in the Shah Namah, and several more in this vein are stories of this very nature.
Troy was probably a real city which fell in the days of the Minoan disenchantment high, and then the story came to be composed in the successive enchanted age. The same is probably true of Lanka.
I read this last week, then listened to your interview with Kunstler, and it made the interview even more enjoyable. There were points where I could sense the incredulousness especially from Jim oozing into my ears.
I’ve been amazed that there are a bunch of post-apocalyptic shows on TV these days, all created and filmed since covid started in 2020. I’ve watched them all fascinated by why they would release these stories now. In The Last of Us (based on a video game), it’s a post apocalyptic wasteland everywhere. The government was unable to stop the virus outbreak which turns people into zombie. Same plot in Station Eleven, except the virus this time is a deadly flu that kills people. No government left to run anything and people self-organize into their own groups, each making their own meaning. The most recent one is The Silo which has 10,000 people in a what looks like a repurposed missile silo. They’ve been there at least 140 years, although all records are lost before “the rebellion” so could be much longer.
What’s interesting is in each of these stories the people who survive seem okay with their life. For the most part, there’s no complaining or stress or desire to go back to something in the prior (current) world. It’s not great, but it’s not woe-is-me awful either.
It feels like a new spell is being cast on the general public. Much like the previous spell cast in movies prior to covid that in a pandemic the CDC and US military would band together and squash it by stopping travel, then distributing a vaccine. It’s one possibility of why people were so passive – they were living out the movie version they saw and it was all going to be okay.
This post really hit home. I’m a father of three. My eldest (5 years old) has a fascination and a fixation with his maternal grandfather who has passed on. He talks to his pictures around the like he’s having a conversation with him, and his tone suggests a familiarity like they have met. One of his favorite activities is to take this one picture around the house and include his grandfather in his play. I mentioned it to my mother-in-law who is the personification of East Coast elitism. I thought that it was at least a nice thought that maybe they were somehow able to interact with each other beyond the vail in a way that’s not understandable. She seemed taken aback– frightened even– at the notion. She seemed to think I was suggesting my son had some sort of early onset schizophrenia.
Now, this kid is probably in some sense neurodivergent (much like his old man). He’s manifesting the same sort of intellectual precocity, but also some of the motor skills issues, “odd duckish” tendencies etc. Which is fine. He’ll learn to deal with it in his own way. But there’s nothing “wrong” with him psychologically.
I mention all this in that the people who propose things like cold materialism seem to have some sort of compulsion to label wonderment and unexplainable things in otherwise perfectly healthy children mental as illness. Now that is madness!
On a parting note, I’ve tangled with some eliminative materialists in my ill-spent days in university. Usually they prattle on about pragmatic ethics this and that. I’ve always wondered what one of them would do if I suddenly bopped him on the head with a stick or stole his paycheck and split it between three homeless people. Glad to see someone else had a similar thought!
Thank you as always,
I think your examples of the collusion of people and nature are very interesting. I think about this kind of thing too, except the ‘collusions’ between people and nature are usually over time rather than space. I wonder about things like: if a river is dammed up for irrigation, is it still a holy river, or a civil engineering project? If a gas station is built on old riverbed, is it holy for being on that spot? Or is this part of the riverbed now neutralized? Does it make a difference if it’s an old gas station, or one with self-checkout lanes and loud commercials? etc. etc.
Thank you for this. I really like this time period, the overlap of the Byzantine and Islamic empires around present-day Syria and Turkey. I did not know that sources for seventh century Byzantine history came mainly from Damascus, Jerusalem and Armenia. It does make sense, as it seems Damascus remained Byzantine in culture and language at least while the Umayyads were in power. Maybe the Crusaders destroyed the 7th century chronicles when they sacked Constantinople in 1204. But, it sounds like the dearth was more general, and not just limited to that city.
Have you ever seen a book called The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts, by Cambridge medievalist Montague James? I think it is a really enjoyable book. It discusses “the lives” of manuscripts, mostly Latin, and some Greek.
Stephen, Grover, thank you for sharing your experiences. JMG, thank you for your advice. I tend to agree with methylethyl’s view (and thank you for the beautiful icons!), but I will give it a try to start communicating respectfully, as I would with a neighbour with whom I have had some disagreement.
@strda221: yes, for the 5th century ( which, following Guy Halsall, I consider more probable for Gildas), we still have three contemporary sources: the Life of St. Germanus, the letter of St. Patrick, and Gildas. All three ecclesiastical, two connected to saints, but only one an actual Vita. For the 6th and 7th centuries, I believe there are only saints’ lives, though I don’t know them well.
Since back when I learned to repair my own childhood toys (the alternative being throwing them away, knowing they would not be replaced), I’ve tried to “get along” with not only living organisms but “inanimate” things as well. This never seemed odd to me, and was irrespective of attributing intentionality or awareness to the things in question.
For instance: I think it’s good practice, if injured or nearly injured by a tool you’re using, to apologize to the tool for disrespecting it. That reinforces the necessary lesson from the event, given that in all likelihood you will have to keep working with that tool in the future. If your reaction is anger, fear, or indifference instead, that’ll make the same injury, or a worse one, more likely going forward. No one can teach you all the wrong ways to use a pair of pliers, except the pliers themselves, if you pay respectful attention. I use various tools that are statistically hazardous for major injuries, so it’s all the more important to constructively process the minor ones. (And if you ever say out loud in my presence that you’re about to “show [some piece of equipment] who’s boss” I’ll be sizing up the escape routes, because you’ve just informed me, it’s not you.)
Such I-you relationships make sense whether or not your mental model of the world attributes memory or emotions to a hammer. However, I can see how panpsychists would reach such understandings more readily.
Writing about tools and injuries reminds me of deodand laws in English common law, which appear to be another indicator of the previous age of enchantment. Their diminished final versions were finally abolished when they couldn’t coexist with railway accidents.
“But it does boggle the mind that such large segments of Christianity have gone the route of… not just “we defeated those guys” but right through to “they never existed.” I can’t help but wonder what the implications are of not even being able to imagine a world that ever had such beings in it. It seems to diminish God Himself, and puff up humans to an unhealthy degree.”
I’ve always found that a bit odd. The First Commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
That clearly says, at least to me, that there are other gods. Yahweh knows there are other gods, but claims to be the top of the heap.
It’s one of many reasons, many of them listed in the Old Testament, that I follow none of the Abrahamic religions. Although 8 of the 10 commandments are good advice or can be with a bit of tweaking.
@owen #239: I don’t know about North American cowboys, but at least in the stories I have been reading, Brazilian cowboys know very well the names of the milk-cows, and also know very well the character of many of the wild bulls and cows – they even make stories about some of them. That doesn’t stop the cowboys from herding those bulls and cows to the slaughterhouse.
@JMG “Grover, oh, granted! I have no objection to people who personally prefer a vegan or vegetarian diet — the world has room for many dietary choices — but people who insist on trying to push their diet on everyone else irritate me, no matter what the diet is, and vegans at least as much as any. ”
I am 100% on board with this. I have a friend that is 100% non-vegan – all meat diet. To that I don’t really care as it is his choice. But he just won’t shut up about it and brings it up all the time even when it is entirely irrelevant!
I think I have said it before, there is one point to the vegans and vegetarians I do admire. They have identified a problem they dislike and then made the change to themselves. That is a lesson I think many could learn from.
If they acted like most environmentalists nowadays they would be in the streets protesting for a government/corporate approved ‘more ethical cow!’. So kudos to them in that respect, but once they get pushy, I lose a lot of respect.
Related but an aside. I tend to flip from carnivore to vegetarian/vegan from time to time. Just listening to my cravings and a certain something else that I cannot explain. Currently I am sensing it is about to be a flip back to veg/vegan for a few weeks. It is as though the veg side clarifies direction, the carnivore side provides the fuel to do it. But that is just me.
With respect to the interest you show in finding texts translated into English from the philosopher Gustavo Bueno, because his theory on the three generations of religion, I have not found texts in English, but I have verified that the ones on the page of its foundation are well understood when using an automatic translator and the comprehension problems that they may present would be due to not being familiar with his philosophical system. In the following text you will find Bueno’s exposition of his theory on religion.
In that reference text, the definition of religion wich is employed consists of nucleus, body and course, which is what Bueno calls plotinian definitions, which are the ones that he applies to things that evolve.
In case you´ll want more details or non-automatic translations, please let me know.
In reply to a recent poster, you wrote “As for Los Angeles, I hope your family gets a clue and decides to relocate in time.” I’m curious what you foresee happening to the west coast? Relocate in time before what happens? This one stuck in my head because I’m from the west coast as well.
Hi JMG, I love your work.
Curious about your take on Nazi occultism in the context of broader disenchantment of Western civ at the time. Seems like they were an exception to that trend, with varying (and horrifying) results.
It occurred to me while out walking this morning that your challenge for me to consider other things in the universe as persons, has a flip side – considering persons in the universe as things. If humans act in the world based solely in response to environmental and social stimuli and without agency, are they persons or things?
In the past I would have reflexively said all humans are people. After my experiences in the past few years, I don’t think so. Prior to 2016 I would encounter individuals in my day-to-day who seemed to have little thinking going on, but they were mostly harmless and I could work around them if needed. Since 2020, I’m convinced there are many humans who are essentially bricks. Their entire personality and sense of self is defined by the other bricks around them. There were way more than I could have ever imagined and it wasn’t until just recently that I realized how much of myself was brick-like.
I’m still working this out for myself. One thing for sure is I’ve fundamentally changed and there is no going back to pre-2020 me.
Thank you, JMG, for this post. It was eye opening like none I’ve read before, and I say this after having read your blog since near the start of the Archdruid Report, and after having read many of your books.
Though I like to think I already had an open mind and generally avoided taking things for granted, I know this shift in perspective will require a bit of time to fully appreciate.
I finally read through this article and its incredibly inspiring. I was working a large gem show a couple months back and I love going because of how loud the crystals are. I am aware of the impact of mining activities, and so its not quite ideal. However, I set my mind to ask this massive gathering of crystals to sing so loud we can no longer ignore them. Sitting where I am now, asking all of nature around me to not let the black magic spells of human ignorance silence our observation of that Spark in everything, or worse have the spark pretend to be inert. Reading this series so far has my conviction of this belief running strong. Feels like this is the real deal evolutionary leap happening before and around us. Thank you.
@lavender #245: This is getting a bit off-topic, but I find it astonishing, when people discuss the end of the Roman empire and of civilizations in general, how little attention the fate of the Balkans in the 7th century gets. Around ~550 CE, there were dozens of flourishing towns in the Peloponnesus alone. An academy of philosophy in Athens packed and left for political, not economical reasons. In 602 CE, the Roman frontier was again at the Danube. Constantinople had half a million inhabitants. Numerous works of history, strategy and theology were being written.
Things failed rapidly after 602 CE. Towns were abandoned right and left without archaeological traces sign of war or invasion (though we know from chronicles about the Avars). On the Balkan peninsula including Greece, after 632 CE, use of the alphabet and of coins seems to have survived only in Constantinople with its immediate surroundings, in Thessalonike, where the Miracles of St. Demetrius were written down, (barely) in the villages where Athens, Thebes and Corinth had once been, and in the fortress of Monembasia.
It’s a bit more astonishing when Sparta, Argos, Olympia and Elis lose the alphabet than when Londinium or Eburacum do… And no sign of invasion. Around 610, around 650 and again around 711, the emperor was at the point of abandoning Constantinople (the population of which may have fallen to 50 000) and moving to Sicily.
A slight attempt at tying this back in to the main subject of the week is that the rare burials from 7th century CE Greece suggest the families of the buried maintained some connection with Christian tradition: they were buried in or near churches. However, those communities seem to have lost not only writing, but also all contact with clergy or hierarchy. I find it very hard, but worthwhile, to try and imagine the worldview of Christians without a bible.
Chris, thanks for this! Yes, exactly; the forests set the pace, and behind them the great cycles of climate set the backbeat. Human beings? We’re mayflies by comparison.
Moose, exactly. Lewis was one of the last of the red-hot Christian Neoplatonists; I hope his style of Christianity, complete with eldils, catches on as the age of disenchantment gutters out.
Kerry, hmm! Many thanks for this.
Info, as someone on the autism spectrum I have a different perspective on this. The issue as I see it is that Christianity as generally practiced in the western world is very social — it’s all about going to church, and involves a lot of surfing on collective emotional states. Autists tend to dislike crowds and they don’t have the mirror neurons that let neurotypical people get caught up in mass emotions, so attending church, to them, is like being deaf and attending a symphony. Thus they avoid conventional religiosity and gravitate toward any setting that doesn’t demand that of them. Occultism is certainly one of those!
Karim, certainly not all! I hope that in the future we get to see more scientifically literate people recognizing that the world of matter and energy is only a portion of the whole cosmos.
Robert, hmm! Thanks for this. I recall, though it was years ago, reading about chimpanzees welcoming the coming of the rains with what looked, to the observer, weirdly like a ritual. For that matter, there are a couple of birds here in East Providence who invariably respond to sunrise by perching on a nearby rooftop — it’s always the same rooftop — and watching the sun rise in perfect silence, before they go on to their usual business of singing and looking for something to eat. It’s as though they’re adoring Ra in his rising…
Methylethyl, that kind of Christian henotheism makes perfect sense to me — you have a covenant with your god, and that requires you only to worship him, fair enough. It’s the ones who are into a kind of hostage logic — “There’s only one god, we’ve got him, and if you ever want to see him again you’d better pay your tithes!” — that make me shake my head.
Other Owen, somehow this is making me think of the famous Gary Larson cartoon about cow tools! As for scurvy, yes, I did know that, but thanks for the reminder; I’ll want to get the documentation and use it in an upcoming post.
Stephen, I think it’s a good start, but you’re probably going to need to add some form of meditation to the mix to get excess mental chatter out of the way, so you can use the other capacities of your mind.
I was traveling and, at an independent bookstore, stumbled across this book, which is related to JMG’s essay this week– A very interesting book about the internal lives of trees! Funny how things happen like that!
Wohlleben P. The Power of Trees; How ancient forests can save us if we let them. Vancouver 2023; Greystone Books, 271pp. ISBN 978-1-77164-774-8.
Originally published in German as ‘Der lange Atem der Bäume: Wie Bäume lernen, mit dem Klimawandel umzugehen–und warum der Wald uns retten wird, wenn wir es zulassen. C. 2021 by Ludwig Verlag, Munich.
Wohlleben makes a good case that trees within a grove communicate, share resources, and learn, over the course of hundreds of years, how to be better trees and to better manage their environment.
Sample chapters headings:
Part I The Wisdom of Trees
1. When Trees make mistakes.
2. A thousand years of learning.
Part II When Forestry Fails
14. Good intentions, Poor Outcomes
16. Wolves as climate guardians
Part III Forests of the Future
23. Every tree counts
Afterword: Accepting ignorance and treading carefully in the Forest
I’ve not finished the book, but the author seems to have an appreciation of the personhood and consciousness of trees– Perhaps this one is available through the library, particularly in Germany where it has been out for a few years.
Tech, true enough! I hope that in some future life I have the chance to read some of the grand epics that will come out of our age, once the bards of the deindustrial dark age get to work.
Denis, interesting. For obvious reasons I had no idea that these existed.
Anonymous, you may not want to mention anything like that to your mother-in-law again! Children who make the mistake of talking to adults about their paranormal perceptions get a lot of bullying in our society.
Walt, hmm! Thanks for this; that seems like a very sensible approach. I wasn’t familiar with deodand laws — I wish they’d stayed in effect. It would have made for much safer railways and workplaces…
Grover, good heavens. I haven’t yet had the misfortune of meeting a carnitarian who babbles constantly about his diet, but it doesn’t surprise me to hear about it; it seems to be a law of nature that the more things a diet leaves out, the more the dieter seems to need to try to pressure other people into it.
Anselmo, thanks for these. I’ve added them to my get-to list.
Joshua, the west coast is rapidly becoming the 21st century’s rust belt, complete with the political failure, economic implosion, rampant crime, and social disintegration that afflicted the big rust belt cities of the east in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s going to get steadily worse for the next twenty to thirty years until things bottom out — and they may bottom out very, very far down the curve.
Nick, that’s an exceedingly complex question — rather too complex for a brief response here. I’ll consider a post on the subject one of these days.
Denis, I think that you (like some other people) are missing the point of this post. Being a person or a thing is not just an objective quality of the person or thing. One of its most important dimensions is that of your choice as a subject. Do you, personally, choose to treat human beings as persons or as things? That’s at the heart of this week’s discussion.
Poseidon and Mack, thank you both.
Emmanuel, you’ll find few Druids who disagree with any of that! I note also that, unless my German is much rustier than I think, the author’s name, Wohlleben, literally means “living well.”
Like Robert (#217), I was a loud-mouthed teenager, know-it-all atheist with interests in maths and physics. Several life experiences, immersion in natural settings, and many readings (including our host blogs) help me to open to other worldviews, and accept that modern science is just one way amongst many to apprehend the universe around us. Even if doing and teaching physics is my day job.
As a hobby I have been keeping beehives since 15 years in different places. Bees are strange and fascinating animals. When you open a beehive, from the sounds and the way bees move you immediately get a feeling of the beehive state; if everything is going well or if there is something to worry about (not enough food; the queen is gone/dead/in the process of being replaced, etc.). When all is going well, as soon as you remove the beehive roof hundreds of bees climb and stays on the top of the frames, looking at you. Watching you with hundred of compound eyes. As I was taught by an older beekeeper, as long as the beehive is open, I talk to the bees (calling them “girls”, as the huge majority are females). I know that they have no ears (but they are sensitive to some sound as using any noisy machine around a beehive is one of the best way to anger them), but I believe talking to them as persons is an important way of showing them respect, in a I-you relationship, where you care about them.
With some experience, you recognize that each bee colony has its own “character”, either easy to go with or not, building honeycombs in slightly different ways, producing more or less honey, more or less good cleaners, and so on. It seems that they have a way to identify the beekeeper who is opening the beehive, reacting differently with different beekeepers (odors probably play a role in that). As each individual bee lives around 40-50 days during the warm season, the permanence of the beehive “character” over several years is a strange thing, probably related to genetics but there may be more than that. As if the beehive itself was somehow a (collective) person too.
On my last birthday I was walking through a forest, and got the idea to ask it for direction for the next year. The next word to enter my mind was … “Patience”. Which makes sense, coming from a forest.
I also recently got a deep sense of gladness from a creek at ‘Zealandia’, a nature reserve outside the capital city of Wellington. It was very distinctly coming from outside of me. In surprise, I said out loud, ‘The creek is happy!’ and almost cried.
Now, of course, to work out what to do about all this …
Denis, I wonder if some of the seeming brickishness of other people is just a result of information overload.
I grew up in a town with about 15,000 people. The number of individuals I’d see everyday was quite small, the same teacher, the same class, a school which had just a few hundred kids, the same dozen kids in the neighborhood for years on end. In such a situation it’s relatively easy to ascribe personhood and even to those you don’t know all that well.
Fast-forward to a university with thousands of students, with lecture halls that seated hundreds, in a city with more than two million people and personhood dissolves before your very eyes. Other people become a blur, you are a nobody in a roiling mass of nobodies.
I still live in that same city, which now has around three million people. You can walk down the streets for months at a stretch and never run into anyone you’re acquainted with. The staff at the local grocery stores seem to change all the time. You rarely see the same cashier twice. Strangers all.
Another thing I noticed, the older I got the more I realized how preprogrammed I am. Maybe it’s just by simple inheritance because I began to notice that some of my dominant personality traits are also strongly one or the other of my parents. I’d see other people I grew up with, who had very different personal predispositions, some whose traits were just as dominant in their own parents.
So, are any of us really thinking? Are we all all poured into molds and therefore as unchangeable as bricks? Or maybe robots with neural algorithms running us, each of us almost completely unable to reprogram ourselves and to change what we do and how we think except by dint of the greatest effort?
Dear John Michael,
Regarding Ursula K. LeGuin, the novel to which I have returned again and again over more than 30 years is The Dispossessed. Although her characterizations are very good, it was possibly her incredibly vivid sense of place that really captured me in that book. That, and the presentation of an anarchistic ‘utopia’ that is both believable and yet far from perfect, and the growing realization by the book’s main character, Shevek, that despite his society’s ostensible anarchism, politics had come to play almost as significant a part in it as it does in the overtly statist societies of the parent planet Urras.
My first introduction to LeGuin’s works, though, was The Lathe of Heaven, which I enjoyed, and then The Left Hand of Darkness, which I found deeper and more engrossing and thought provoking than TLOH.
There are many of her other works, such as EarthSea and The Word for World is Forest, which I have never yet gotten around to reading.
“The issue as I see it is that Christianity as generally practiced in the western world is very social — it’s all about going to church, and involves a lot of surfing on collective emotional states. Autists tend to dislike crowds and they don’t have the mirror neurons that let neurotypical people get caught up in mass emotions, so attending church, to them, is like being deaf and attending a symphony. Thus they avoid conventional religiosity and gravitate toward any setting that doesn’t demand that of them.”
In my experience, that is much more true of “Revivalist” Evangelical Christianity, than it is of their historical sacramental predecessors (Catholicism and Orthodoxy).
I grew up in Central Texas in the middle of the last century, and “Revivalist” Southern Baptist Christianity was the dominant force there. I was repelled by that. Since that was all the “Christianity” that I knew at the time, I concluded that Christianity was for primitive, hysterical morans for decades.
Now, in San Antonio, that was a large Mexican and Mestizo population which was Roman Catholic. However, when I went into their churches, I was equally repulsed by all the “Bleeding Hearts of Jesus” that I saw there. I now recognize that this was a Catholic sublimation of Aztec influences, in a true Spenglerian Pseudomorphosis.
Genuine sacramental Christianity (in my opinion, the only real Christianity there is) does not depend upon riding emotional waves at all. A major failing of Protestantism is that, when it is not coldly rationalistic (e.g., Calvinism), then it fails to distinguish between emotional and psychic states, on the one hand, and genuine spirituality, on the other. These things are not identical at all!
Laurent, fascinating. I’ve read other accounts by beekeepers who suggest that the individual bees are like the individual cells in the body of an animal — each cell lasts for only a very small fraction of the animal’s lifespan, but the animal retains its identity nonetheless.
Kfish, you have a couple of nonhuman friends. Build the friendships!
Alan, to my way of thinking The Dispossessed is far and away her best book, so I can well imagine wanting to return to it over and over again!
Michael, so noted. Back when I was occasionally visiting churches, I found it to be true of Protestant churches generally — not just the evangelical wing of that movement — and also of many thought not all Catholic churches. (I never visited an Orthodox church so can’t speak to that.) The difference between emotionalism and spirituality is of course of critical importance, but it’s easily misplaced, because most people can get caught up in collective emotions but spirituality is not anything like so accessible.
After reading your excellent arguments against monotheism and for polytheism I recognize that my experience based Christianity at best can be argued to be an effective form of Henotheism and a magical system that at will changes consciousness (does for me) and is at the same time a variation on Pascal’s wager, a sweet spot to be in. I laugh and accept the ongoing mystery. Too far gone with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for me to apostatize now. Thank you for your gracious and peaceable yet realistic take on things
The experiment of putting out an extra brush to attract moths didn’t really work. At first it worked once, with a moth on it. But there was also one on the back brush – they seemed to like the handle as well as the bristles and one appeared on it a couple more times. And a moth was crawling down into the bath while I was in it. Maybe they wanted to go for a swim while I was there to rescue them. After that the number of moths went down quickly, at least partly because we were putting them back out the winow at every opportunity.
I-you and I-it relationships
First of all, thank you, JMG, for this series. These are truly living – reviving waterfalls of meaningful words! 🙂
There were several themes resonating deeply – both in the essay and in the comments; I chose the I-it/I-you topic for my question. Based on my experience, in our world anything that people can perceive as a unity might share – for lack of a better word – a unique feeling; be it a human being, animal, plant, stone or a building, book, musical instrument… I was – and still am – intrigued by the second group; nevertheless, they can share these “feelings”, too – not as a category, but as individuals. The difficult question for me is: when anything (that can be perceived as a unity) can be also related to as I-you, when/where does the I-it fit in?
I realized that “it” does not necessarily refer to a thing that cannot be conscious (in principle, in possibility, at a time), but to a thing that is not (being perceived as) conscious in the moment/time period.
May I ask what your take on this is? Where do you find the balance between I-you and I-it?
With deep regards,
That was Michael Grey’s comment, in response to your response to me, but I totally agree.
There’s no “one size fits all” diet, and I wish folks would just keep it to themselves…
Me, I could live on cheeseburgers and stout, but I know better!
For me the clinching argument you presented on the subject of monotheism was that my experience of the Christian God of having the taste of ultimacy could be just an experience of a finite being of a greater being, which didn’t necessarily indicate the overall supremacy of the greater being. Though still possible IMO. Happily praying to the Father.
Slept on what you said. If I choose to treat human beings as persons rather than things, then they are participants in an enchanted world. If I choose to treat them as things, then they will be unaffected by any magic. Yes?
I’m still dealing with a concussion so if I not getting it, then please just tell me no, and I’ll just stop reading these posts and go away, because I’ve obviously become too stupid to understand the conversation. I don’t want to take away from others enjoyment of it.
I went to St. Clement Catholic Church in Chicago last Christmas. It was an older church (built 1919), and while the outside was plain enough, the inside was filled with paintings of multiple Saints on the ceiling and other forms of beauty, both abstract and realistic, on the walls and the ground. I can imagine the people keeping their faith by oral and visual memory using the Church building itself as their catechism until The Church could return with her Priests, monks and nuns.
More likely, though, is that the Churches were situated at former Greek Temple sights, which were situated at pre-Greek cult centers of Goddesses who would eventually be given roles as Zeus’s (or another God’s) mistresses, which were situated at earlier temples, etc. Thousands of years will make a ground holy no matter how many Gods/Deities had come and gone.
JMG – Totally, I get it; books have been written on it.
Among many things, I wonder about the human sacrifice dimension; the industrialization of human sacrifice. While many cultures have practiced this, i.e. the Aztecs, none have done so to such a degree.The coupling of science and technology with intentional occult view and practice to form some kind of hybrid on a scale heretofore unseen on this planet.
I am also curious about your take on Oppenheimer’s citing of the Bhagavad-Gita upon the first detonation of an atomic device, and the implications of a hybridization of Indic philosophy/spirituality (very enchanted) with atomic science (a product of the increasingly disenchanted cultural milieu you are discussing here).
@Patricia Mathews, I hope everything is fine. If you find out anything, do feel free to post a message somewhere that you think I’ll see it.
> People in those ages chose to experience the Sun, the Earth, and the rest as persons. Most
> of them made that choice in an unthinking, habitual fashion, following the customs and
> traditions they picked up from their societies.
I think this not how Owen Barfield would have described enchantment or “original participation”. His main thesis (one that he repeated in one form or another over decades of writing) is that human consciousness has changed. This is very different from saying that human ideas have changed. It is also extremely difficult to prove. Read “Saving The Appearances” just to appreciate the effort that a master like Barfield has to put into demonstrating it.
“People in those ages” didn’t choose to experience the Sun etc as beings (no not persons). A participatory consciousness would experience everything as ensouled. In exactly the same way that our observer (non-participatory) consciousness experiences everything (except perhaps other human beings) as soulless. We no more choose to see the world as unenchanted as “they” chose to see it as enchanted. Our consciousness has changed.
Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG