Contemporary Voices from Anima Mundi

A Reappraisal

by Frédérique Apffel-Marglin (Volume editor) Stefano Varese (Volume editor)
Monographs XII, 270 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Frédérique Apffel-Marglin/Stefano Varese)
  • Chapter One: Western Modernity and the Fate of Anima Mundi (Frédérique Apffel-Marglin)
  • Chapter Two: Lost and Found (D. Ahmed)
  • Chapter Three: Spirit Crossings (Inés Hernández-Ávila)
  • Chapter Four: The Sorcerer, the Madman and Grace (Jacques Mabit)
  • Chapter Five: Between Matter and Spirit: An Unfinished Journey (Stefano Varese)
  • Chapter Six: To Dwell in the Thick Darkness (Rabbi Fern Feldman)
  • Chapter Seven: Andean Entifications (Guillermo Delgado-P.)
  • Chapter Eight: Mapping the Chiasmus (Neela Bhattacharya Saxena)
  • Chapter Nine: Shamanic Archaeology at Chavín de Huántar (Robert Tindall)
  • Contributors


This book is the result of many conversations among friends and colleagues over several decades: Jacques Mabit, Guillermo Delgado, Robert Tindall, Inés Hernández-Ávila, D. Ahmed, Neela Saxena, and Fern Feldman. As editors, the two of us are deeply grateful for this illuminating and creative process that has resulted in this collection of essays. All of us want to thank the many indigenous communities that have hosted us and initiated us into different ways of knowing and experiencing the spiritual in everyday life. We are particularly in debt to Randy Chung Gonzales and all the staff at Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration, and the late Eduardo Grillo, founding member of the Peruvian intellectual activist organization Proyecto Andino para las Tecnologías Campesinas (PRATEC, Andean Project for Peasant Technologies). We also wish to express our gratitude to the many friends and colleagues who accompanied us throughout the process of conceptualizing and producing this volume. We owe an especially profound gratitude to Catherine V. Howard for exceptionally careful, accurate, and wise editing of the whole manuscript. This book could not have come about without her.

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Stefano Varese

Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 24, 2019


Cosmic Dialogues

frédérique apffel-marglin and stefano varese

For the Anishnaabe people of northeastern United States and Canada, as for many other Indigenous peoples of the Americas, silence and alertness are the necessary conditions that allow the receptive quietness into which the world spirit can be heard. This state of quietness of the individual mind is consciousness, the rejoining of the personal mind with the cosmic mind. The Amazonian shaman of the Asháninka people—the shiripiari—can listen to the stories that plants, trees and animals can tell him and learn how to treat people with them. When European anthropologist Jeremy Narby asked shiripiari Don Carlos how he learned the properties of the different plants of the Amazon rainforest, the answer was as simple as enigmatic: “The plants talk to me” (Narby 1998, 38). Similar humble and still indecipherable answers given by Indigenous intellectuals and spiritual elders to Euro-American researchers reveal the fundamental separation of the modern materialist reductionist theory of knowledge and the Indigenous concept and practice of knowledge, that is, the “coming-to-knowing” as a constant process of the individual coming “into relationship with the energy and animating spirit of the universe” (Peat 1994, 55). Along thousands of miles of Andean and Amazonian mountains, the Yatiris and Yachak of each community are charged with maintaining the cosmic dialogue and keeping the Apus and Wak’as alive and satisfied of being a part of the larger sacred kinship. No human would be able to converse with rocks, mountains, and caverns unless the language of the spirits is learned and practiced in reiterated opportunities of communion between the place and the mind, the space and the timeless coming-to-knowing.

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With the extraordinary new discoveries in the twentieth century about our universe initiated by Edwin Hubble’s discovery in 1929 that the universe is expanding, our view of the universe has dramatically changed. These observations have revealed a living, expanding, evolving, sentient universe. This means, as cosmologist Brian Swimme (1996, 99) expresses it, that “we now realize we are all embedded in a living, developing universe and thus cousins to everything in the universe. The universe is not a collection of dead objects but a seamless whole community made up of cosmos-creating subjects” (1996, 103). The phrase “cosmos-creating subjects” underlies the living, evolving and sentient character of the cosmos where nonhuman as well as human subjects play an active role in its ongoing evolution.

As Swimme and Thomas Berry (a Catholic priest cum cultural historian) formulate it, “This story, as we know it for the first time through empirical observation and critical analysis, brings us back to the fifteenth-century Renaissance world of intimate presence of all things to each other” (Swimme and Berry 1992, 228). This fifteenth-century world was called Anima Mundi. It did not survive beyond the seventeenth century for reasons detailed by Apffel-Marglin in her essay in this volume, “Western Modernity and the Fate of Anima Mundi: Its Murder and Transformation into a Postmaterial Ecospirituality” (Chapter 1). As she points out, however, the primal peoples of all the continents share an

insistence on establishing a close relationship with the psychic depths of the universe …. The drum was part of the sacred techniques for orchestrating the unity of the human/universe dance. The drum beat … the songs, chants, and dances … expressed the visions … awakened in them by the spirit world, by those dimensions of nature beyond the phenomenal world, but integral with materiality. (Swimme and Berry 1992, 44)

The essays gathered in this volume speak from within these worlds rather than about them in the classical anthropological manner. They come from many different parts of the world, some from Indigenous North and South America, and others from religious traditions in Bengal and Pakistan, as well as one from a mystical Jewish tradition. They speak of the spirit world as being both beyond the phenomenal world as well as integral with materiality since it brings about real changes on the material, phenomenological plane. This means that the spirit world is not spoken of as either a facet of the collective human unconscious à la Jung or as projections of the inner world of humans as many varieties of psychology maintain. Nor is the spirit world seen as somehow expressing some facets of the sociocultural worlds of humans in the manner of much anthropology. Rather, the spirit world is spoken of as an experienced tangible reality resonating beyond the world of the one experiencing the spirits. The spirit world has been denied in modernity, but it is a real world beyond the empirical world which ever since the Age of Reason has been called simply “reality.” Jacques Mabit, a physician and shaman who apprenticed in the Upper Peruvian Amazon for many years, and who has thirty ←>no>2 | 3→years of clinical experience at his center in the Peruvian Upper Amazon healing drug addicts using Indigenous healing practices, knows that the external invisible world is inhabited by spirits and other invisible entities. In his essay in this collection, “The Sorcerer, the Madman and Grace: Are Archetypes Desacralized Spirits? Thoughts on Shamanism in the Amazon” (Chapter 4), he states:

these are objective realities, which will later, of course, be interpreted in varied ways according to the cognitive capacity, cultural background, and personal outlook of each individual subject. From this point of view, “animism,” in the sense of the attribution of a living soul to natural phenomena, is not merely a belief but, rather, an acknowledged, verifiable fact, established by those who have taken the trouble to explore this world—the “otherworld.” (Mabit, Chapter 4, this volume)

The casting of this “otherworld” as an unreal one, the fruit of projections from humans’ inner world onto the outer world or simply as hallucinations or superstitions is dominant in modernity today. It is the result of the murder of the Soul of the World in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe and the propagation of such views outward through the slave trade, conquests, colonialism and globalization.

The new cosmological and other scientific revelations of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries impel us to leave behind our European colonialist mindset born at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a mindset that has cast the spirit worlds encountered in those continents as a mark of backwardness and inferiority. Such a mindset, born of the murder of Anima Mundi in Europe, exported its view of the spirit world as an irrational, superstitious and backward mode of knowing. As the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers put it:

“We” on our side presume to be the ones who have accepted the hard truth that we are alone in a mute, blind, yet knowable world—one that is our task to appropriate ….

Science, when taken in the singular and with a big S, may indeed be described as a general conquest bent on translating everything that exists into objective, rational knowledge …. What is called Science, or the idea of a hegemonic scientific rationality, can be understood as itself the product of a colonization process. (Stengers 2012)

What Stengers—following Bruno Latour (1995)—calls Science with a capital S has been called by others materialist reductionist science or simply classical and/or Newtonian science. The science emerging especially since the twenty-first century has been called by some “post-materialist science” (Beauregard, Dossey, and Miller 2014) and by others “New Materialism.”1 As the manifesto for a post-materialist science referred to in the endnote makes clear, this label is meant to convey a transcendence of the dominant materialist reductionist classical science paradigm and not a rejection of the relevance of matter. As Swimme and Berry (1992, 44) put it so felicitously, the spirit world refers to those dimensions of ←>no>3 | 4→nature beyond the phenomenal world but integral with materiality. In other words, what they are saying is that although the spirit world is invisible, it is real since it is integral with materiality.

In the Amazonian region, every aspect of existence has a “mother/spirit” (madre), the life-giving soul that has form, energy, and intelligence and that communicates with humans (Mabit, Chapter 4, this volume). With his long clinical experience in his center for the treatment of addiction in the Peruvian Upper Amazon, where he combines ancestral Amazonian shamanism with a Western form of psychotherapy—Mabit bases his assertions on this long clinical experience. However, too often such views are understood either as superstitious beliefs or as superseded prescientific notions. If we contemplate them in the light of the kind of post-materialist science exemplified by Swimme, they take on a completely different significance.

Swimme and Berry (1992) offer a radically different view with what they call the “cosmogenetic principle.” The first feature of this principle is that form-producing powers are latent throughout the universe, and the second is the relationship between such powers through time. For example, a star formation cannot be activated in the primeval fireball. Only a coordinated sequence of transitions makes possible the emergence of new realities. This contrasts with an indifferent universe in either a chaotic or an equilibrium state, in which the chances that a galactic structure will evolve in a billion years are negligible—even in one hundred billion years (1992, 70). It is well to recall that our universe began some fourteen billion years ago, which is far short of the one-hundred-billion-year threshold of chance.

The cosmogenetic principle has three aspects: (1) differentiation (diversity, variation, disparity, heterogeneity); (2) autopoiesis (subjectivity, self-manifestation, sentience, self-organization, voice, interiority, identity); (3) communion (interrelatedness, interdependence, mutuality, kinship, reciprocity, complementarity).

Were there no differentiation, the universe would collapse into a homogenous smudge; were there no subjectivity, the universe would collapse into inert, dead extension; were there no communion, the universe would collapse into isolated singularities of being. (Swimme and Berry 1992, 73)

In other words, the cosmogenetic principle speaks of a diverse, sentient, and interrelated universe. It is not a far stretch to recognize the Indigenous and other non-Western cosmovisions of a universe filled with a diversity of sentient beings, spirits, demons, or deities with different identities interdependent among themselves as well as with humans as portrayed in the essays gathered in this volume, as particular expressions of this cosmogenetic principle. It is also our act of poeisis to stretch the discursive reach of Anima Mundi beyond its original home in ←>no>4 | 5→Renaissance Europe and have it poetically evoke this cosmogenetic principle of Swimme and Berry with its universe-wide reach.

What the new science of cosmology has also shown through empirical observation is that these three aspects of the cosmogenetic principle are embedded in a universe that is unbelievably finely tuned for the emergence of structures, life and sentience. In the Orchestrated Objective Reduction theory (ORCH OR) of the physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose and his collaborator, the anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff (Penrose and Hameroff 2017), they name this sentience “consciousness” and the principle that makes it possible the “anthropic principle.” This principle refers to

The 20 or so fundamental constants which govern the universe (e.g., the mass of the proton, the gravitational constant, etc.) are all precisely, exactly what are needed for stars, life and consciousness—a coincidence of astronomically unlikely probability … consciousness is intrinsic to reality, as suggested in ORCH OR, its quality woven into the 20 or so fundamental constants which regulate the universe. (Hameroff 2016, 370–71)

We must immediately point out that this view is rather controversial and that among professional physicists it has become standard practice to ignore the seeming encounter between quantum mechanics and consciousness.2 However Penrose and Hameroff are not alone in making this link.3

Although Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker (2011) do not speak of cosmic consciousness, their concept of autopoiesis imply it, covering as it does subjectivity, sentience, and interiority.4 In fact, all three aspects of the cosmogenetic principle together amount to the recognition of consciousness in the universe. As the essays in this book make abundantly clear, the invisible beings with which humans interact are at once different, sentient, and in a relation of reciprocity or mutuality with humans. What makes Swimme and Tucker’s new story of the universe quite different from the ORCH OR theory is their recognition of, and emphasis on, the numinous quality of this universe revealed by the latest scientific discoveries.5 This is not surprising coming from scholars of religion like Berry and Tucker, but it is more unusual for those working in the sciences. Swimme, an evolutionary cosmologist and mathematician, does not shy away from spirituality; in fact, he insists that it is not only impossible not to recognize it in the new vista opened by the latest cosmological scientific discoveries but, rather, such a lack of recognition “is to live a life that is vulnerable to fundamental distortions” (Swimme 1996, 48). He and Tucker assert that “we have identified a nonmaterial realm suffusing not only the great macrocosm of the universe but suffusing as well the microcosm of the human and of every being of the Earth and universe” (2011, 104). In this their work converges with that of the post-materialist science manifesto and their many signatories.

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In the context of this volume, primal and other non-Western traditions recognize the reality of spirits, deities, demons, and many other invisible beings and interact with them as possessing the same type of consciousness as we humans do. In his contribution to this volume, “Andean Entifications: Pachamamaq Ajayun, The Spirit of Mother Earth” (Chapter 7), Guillermo Delgado-P. suggests that what he witnesses in his native high Andes could be named after Pachamama, the Earth Mother of Andean peoples:

Their ritual and sustained spiritual activity could also be named the Pachacene, just as some Native peoples in the Maya area propose the Mayacene, both pointing to the renewed cycles of spiritual regeneration. This regeneration implies the restoration of the multiple forms of intricate life: nature, humans, and other-than-humans acknowledging each other as equal, possible “alter-Natives” to the Anthropocene. (Delgado-P., Chapter 7, this volume)


XII, 270
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XII, 270 pp., 6 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin (Volume editor) Stefano Varese (Volume editor)

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin (PhD, Brandeis) is Emerita Professor in Anthropology at Smith College. She is Director of the Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration in Peru and has authored 6 books and over 55 articles and has edited 8 books. Stefano Varese (PhD, PUC-Lima) is Professor Emeritus of Native American Studies at the University of California-Davis. He is the founder of the Indigenous Research Center of the Americas and has authored 8 books and over 100 articles.


Title: Contemporary Voices from Anima Mundi